EPIC identifies Lesser Antillean IBA's
BirdLife has contracted Environmental Protection in the Caribbean (EPIC) to identify Important Bird Areas (IBAs) using existing information and through EPIC surveys in the Lesser Antillean islands of Saba, St Kitts, St Eustatius and St Maarten/Martin. Saba (13 km²) harbours globally important populations of Red-billed Tropicbird Phaethon aethereus and Audubon's Shearwater Puffinus lherminieri, and the entire Saban Coastline has been proposed as an IBA.
On St Kitts (176 km²), the St Kitts Central Forest Reserve has protected all areas of moist forest above 300m since 1904. The proposed IBA hosts several restricted-range species, including Bridled Quail-dove Geotrygon mystacea and Antillean Euphonia Euphonia musica. A second potential IBA comprises eight salt ponds in the Southeast Peninsula where regionally important nesting colonies of Least Tern Sterna antillarum can be found.
St. Eustatius (21 km²), or Statia, has a regionally important population of Red-billed Tropicbirds within the coastal zone of the Boven Sector, an arid, hilly area with dramatic seaside cliffs. The Quill mountain, and the evergreen seasonal and elfin forest within its caldera that hosts species like the restricted range Bridled Quail-dove, is also proposed as an IBA.
St Maarten/Martin is a condominium belonging to France (52 km²) and the Netherlands (33 km²). On the Dutch side, the proposed IBAs of Fort Amsterdam and Pelikan Key host regionally important populations of nesting Brown Pelicans Pelecanus occidentalis. Fort Amsterdam is afforded some protection as an historical site while Pelikan Key lies within the St. Maarten Marine Park. Other proposed IBAs are the urban wetlands of Fresh Pond and Little Bay Pond, nesting sites for Caribbean Coot Fulica caribaea, Snowy Egret Egretta thula, Pied-billed Grebe Podilymbus podiceps and Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus. Between these ponds lies Great Salt Pond, where regionally significant congregations of Laughing Gulls Larus atricilla gather prior to the breeding season. It is unclear if this is an historic occurrence or a result of the expanding landfill in the pond. On St Martin, the French side, a regionally significant population of Red-billed Tropicbird breeds in the coastal cliffs of Tintamarre Island, part of the Reserve Naturelle St Martin. At the proposed IBA of Grand Etang is a regionally important breeding colony of Least Terns, whose nests are frequently predated by neighbourhood dogs. Since 2001 Bridled Quail-dove and Scaly-breasted Thrasher Margarops fuscus, both once thought extirpated from the island, have been recorded at Pic Paradis, a proposed IBA partly protected as a private eco-tourism destination.
On islands like St Eustatius, only one or two bird surveys have been carried out in recent decades and further research may identify more IBAs for this region, particularly in view of the sporadic breeding patterns of many species. A Centrehills project in Montserrat is assessing the impact of rats on the forest environment and on the endemic Montserrat Oriole. Both black and brown rats are heavy predators of oriole nests, but also have other serious ecological impacts.
"We know rats are responsible for spreading invasive species such as guava plants, which create ever larger gaps in the forest canopy," said Dr Geoff M Hilton, Senior Research Biologist for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB, BirdLife in the UK). "We also believe rats feed on insects pollinators, and their foraging disrupts re-growth of vegetation on steep fragile slopes."
Three staff members, Calvin Fenton, Jervaine Greenaway and Stephen Mendes, will survey 11 ha of forest. Tunnels will be used to catch rats to determine the species present and their abundance, and a representative sample will be dissected to determine their diet and used for genetic analysis. The results will be used to draw up a strategy for rat removal from the site without impacting on native wildlife, and the effects of these measures will be compared with a control site of similar elevation and forest type.