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BNT’s Efforts to Preserve the Rare Kirtland’s Warbler
By Eileen Fielder
May 2, 2013 - 10:17:03 AM

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The serene setting of The Leon Levy Native Plant Preserve in Eleuthera where the Kirtland's Warbler Research Project Workshop was hosted.

Governors Harbour, Eleuthera  - Relatively unknown to many Bahamians are the many natural wonders of which our country can boast and which Bahamas National Trust (BNT) is mandated to preserve and protect. One such marvel that BNT has dedicated history-making efforts to save is the Kirtland’s Warbler. This rare and endangered songbird annually migrates from Michigan in the United States to The Bahamas, where it spends seven months out of the year.

Recently, the Trust hosted its Workshop for the Conservation of the Kirtland’s Warbler at the Leon Levy Native Plant Preserve, Governors Harbour, Eleuthera.  The forum brought together international scientists, who lead the Kirtland’s Warbler Research Programme (KWRP). Vital to the gathering and the success of the overall conservation work was the participation of local college students who completed BNT’s Research and Training Programme headed by Eric Carey, the Trust’s Executive Director.  The training initiative is one of the major planks in the Trust’s conservation plan to raise awareness generally and prime Bahamians for leadership in the preservation and protection of The Bahamas’ natural heritage.

Outstanding student graduates of the Kirtland's Warbler Training Programme. From L to R: Ingeria Miller, Zeko McKenzie, Scott Johnson, Leno Davis, Everton Joseph, Keith Philippe

“The Bahamas are absolutely crucial to the survival of the Kirtland’s Warblers,” said Joe Wunderle, Research Wildlife biologist who joined the programme near its inception.  Mr Wunderle had high praise for BNT’s contributions in this regard. “Their biology and behaviour was poorly known before this project, but Bahamas National Trust helped us carry out the conservation of this endangered migratory species that is unique to the Bahamas, where it spends more than half the year, and nowhere else.”

Working alongside Wunderle was conservation scientist David Ewert, who also contributed to the success of the training programme, which targeted recruitment of College of The Bahamas students. Ewert noted one of the most pleasing successes of the local Kirtland’s Warbler efforts. He revealed that just the week before the Eleuthera workshop opened, the conservationists had found an unprecedented number of Kirtland’s Warblers on the island of San Salvador. He said the group hoped that more findings would be made on the other islands in the central part of The Bahamas.

Lead Kirtland's Warbler Research Project environmentalists Dave Ewert & Joe Wunderle take a little time to smile and pose with main supporters of their cause

Student reaction to participation in the Kirtland’s Warbler endeavor has been highly enthusiastic and positive. “My experience, as a student with the project was phenomenal,” said Keith Philippe, whom Eric Carey recruited.  Keith asserts, “It enabled me to do field-based scientific research, biological science wildlife, and it also enabled me to network with American scientists and get more direction from them in terms of what a career in wildlife biology would look like.” Philippe maintained, “It steered, it provided vision, but then also a practical means of actually obtaining that vision”

As an added incentive for the Bahamian research interns, on completion of the training initiative, the students were all awarded scholarships, up to $30,000, to continue their undergraduate degree studies at notable universities in the US.

One-time student of the KWRP, Ingeria Miller, explains “The project revolutionized my life; I went on to Cornell University where I received my Bachelors degree in Natural Resources Management, Ecology, and Policy Analysis, and came home after and quickly found amazing work in my fields of expertise.”

Bahamas National Trust, with the able partnership of the Nature Conservancy, has scored this and a number of other accomplishments for the conservation and study of rare species, such as the Kirtland’s Warbler. Eric Carey notes that BNT is determined to continue the Kirtland’s Warbler initiative and develop more programmes to affect positive change in young Bahamians as regards environmental stewardship.

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