In a region that seems blessed with eternal summer, one of the most noticeable signs of autumn is the arrival of countless migratory birds. Leaving their summer breeding grounds in North America, they transform Caribbean wetlands and forests with their colors and songs. Events celebrating these birds and their miraculous migrations are also arriving this month with International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD).
IMBD is coordinated across the Western Hemisphere by Environment for the Americas (EFTA), and events are held in over 700 locations from Canada to Argentina. BirdsCaribbean is the regional coordinator for events throughout the Caribbean, which begin in October.
Two Caribbean IMDB events have been announced for St. Martin. The third annual Migratory Bird Festival will be held on Saturday, October 17th from 9am to 1pm at the University of St. Martin in Philipsburg. Organized by the non-profit association Les Fruits de Mer, the event will include guided bird walks on the Great Salt Pond, a Portable Pond Discovery Station where visitors can see the tiny animals that many of these birds eat, presentations about migratory birds, art activities for children and more. The event is free and kid-friendly.
Environmental Protection in the Caribbean (EPIC) will be hosting a guided bird walk at Little Bay Pond on Sunday, October 4th. Learn more and sign up on their Facebook page: www.facebook.com/epicislands.
The theme of IMBD this year is “Restore Habitat, Restore Birds.” This theme is particularly relevant in the Caribbean, where natural habitats share limited island real estate with dense human populations and intensive development. The migratory pathways and overwintering grounds of the Caribbean are an indispensable part of the life cycle of about 350 bird species, from egrets and ducks to hawks and songbirds.
“We use birds as an inspiration to restore forests and wetlands,” explains BirdsCaribbean President Leo Douglas. “The underlying truth is that supporting habitat restoration is always a wise focus. Healthy local habitats are essential for human health, our agricultural base and the natural beauty that drives tourism.” Douglas further notes that the mangroves that protect us from storm surges and form critical fish nurseries are simultaneously important habitat for birds. Similarly, island forests, which shelter a rich diversity of bird life, are critical for preventing erosion and devastating land-slippages and mud slides.
St. Martin’s Migratory Bird Festival will highlight habitat restoration with a giveaway of Lignum Vitae seedlings, also known as Gaïac. Les Fruits de Mer’s heritage tree project—Club Gaïac—aims to restore this endangered native tree to both minds and gardens. The Festival team will share an interactive map of Lignum Vitae trees on St. Martin, tips on how to cultivate seedlings and information about the history and ecology of this tree. Hundreds of seedlings have been distributed since the Club Gaïac project began earlier this year.
As part of this year’s festivities, BirdsCaribbean has produced a free ebook about native trees: Heritage Plants. This illustrated book explains the importance of native trees to birds and other animals, includes a guide featuring dozens of native trees of particular value, and serves as a resource to foster habitat restoration within local communities.
“Planting a native tree is a fantastic way to beautify your backyard or neighborhood,” notes BirdsCaribbean’s Executive Director Lisa Sorenson. “Along with birds, native trees are some of the most iconic features of the Caribbean landscape, and their roots are deeply intertwined with both the wildlife and the cultures of the region.”
The ebook Heritage Plants is available for free download on the Resources page of birdscaribbean.org. For additional IMBD resources, visit www.migratorybirdday.org. For more information about the Migratory Bird Festival and Club Gaïac, visit www.lesfruitsdemer.com. The 2015 Migratory Bird Festival is hosted by Les Fruits de Mer and University of St. Martin, and funded by sponsorships from Hotel L’Esplanade, Calmos Cafe, Delta Petroleum and Aqua Mania Adventures.