Conservationists excited to find surviving Barbuda Warblers on devastated island

The first Barbuda Warbler spotted by Andrea Otto and Joseph Prosper of the Environmental Awareness Group on their survey trip to Barbuda on Sept. 22nd. No warblers were seen on the first survey trip to the island on Sept. 15th. Photo by Andrea Otto.

On Wednesday, September 6, Hurricane Irma engulfed Barbuda with 185 mph winds, leaving most of the population homeless and a landscape ravaged by wind and surging waves.

Since the storm passed, the Caribbean birding community has been increasingly anxious about one bird in particular: the endemic Barbuda Warbler, a near threatened species. Had this charming little bird survived the storm?

Well, at last there is some good news. BirdsCaribbean is delighted to report that, during a one-day survey trip to Barbuda on September 22, a team from its Antiguan partner Environment Awareness Group (EAG) and the Department of the Environment discovered a total of eight Barbuda Warblers.

As the only endemic species on the island and country of Antigua and Barbuda, the Barbuda Warbler has a special place in the small community’s hearts. The bird has a perky posture and constantly flits around, searching for insects in trees, thorny scrub and coastal areas. Its estimated population is between 1,000 and 2,500, but before the hurricane its population trends were not determined.

The first bird was spotted by EAG’s Andrea Otto and colleague Junior Prosper in a fallen acacia tree. “I saw a flash of grey…” Otto reports. “I whispered to Junior – it’s a Barbuda Warbler!” They managed to get a good view and confirmation of the smart little warbler’s grey and yellow plumage. After that, “It took us a while to get a clear photograph of the bird as irrefutable proof of its survival,” notes Otto. The team recorded the birds in a relatively small area near the secondary school in Codrington, the main settlement on the island.

BirdsCaribbean is supporting the EAG and Department of Environment to conduct bird and wildlife surveys over the next five weeks. They are helping the team design a survey plan that will cover the habitat on the island and provide an estimate of the warbler’s population size. Ornithologists and other skilled birders in the region and beyond will assist with an intensive survey effort in the coming weeks and months. The team will also devise a plan to help the Barbuda Warbler and other wildlife on the island recover, such as replanting native trees and mangroves that were destroyed in the hurricane. (Caribbean News Service)

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