During the annual Christmas Bird Count in Anegada on Jan. 6, Nancy Woodfield Pascoe noticed something new.
“We saw nesting mounds [for flamingos], and you can see them from the lookout through the telescope,” she told the Beacon on Tuesday. “I’ve never seen nesting mounds there over the years.”
Ms. Woodfield Pascoe, deputy director of the National Parks Trust, speculates that this has to do with the lack of aircraft traffic in the area for most of 2020.
After hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated bird populations in the territory in 2017, she added, they have been making a steady comeback.
“The number of birds we were counting and variety really was on par with what we had seen before Irma,” she said.
On Anegada alone, the birdwatchers logged 957 birds from 34 different species. Ms. Woodfield Pascoe also has been delighted to see an increase in “nature lovers” in the past year during lockdowns.
“We’ve had a lot more people being more observant about wildlife, especially photographers. We can often [identify birds] from those good pictures,” she said. “I noticed so much more activity online with people noticing bird life. They’re building a whole community of nature lovers.”
First pandemic trip
The annual bird count, which also included a Dec. 28 session on Tortola, was the first time the NPT has taken a trip to do fieldwork during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The NPT, along with the Center for Applied Marine Sciences at H. Lavity Stoutt Community College, took the opportunity to cover as much ground as possible in the few hours it had on Anegada. The team of nine people split up into three vehicles, trekking the island and recording data wherever they went.
Susan Zaluski, head of Marine and Maritime Studies at HLSCC, brought along staff members of the school’s mangrove nursery, including Nia Jeffers, Shaquille Lewis and Joseph Wells.
Mr. Lewis was an intern at the nursery over the summer. He is currently a part-time lab technician as well as a college student studying construction.
Mr. Wells is the workshop manager for the nursery and employed full-time at the college with the mangrove programme.
The team has begun replanting mangroves throughout the territory, most recently planting 623 seedlings in Sea Cows Bay, West End and Virgin Gorda in October. Their next planting will take place this month.
“We’re also looking at monitoring these sites and seeing what happens,” Ms. Zaluski said, adding that they used this year’s bird count as “an opportunity to train the staff in wetland bird monitoring.”
This included visiting existing mangrove sites, identifying new sites, testing water quality and chemistry, and monitoring the growth of seedlings.
“We went to a couple mangrove sites and identified an area by Fisherman’s Wharf that was healthy,” Ms. Zaluski said. “What we need is healthy sites to get propagules from, and we did identify a site that would be ready in a couple months.”
In addition to the fieldwork the nursery staff did in Anegada, Ms. Zaluski said her team was grateful to be able to participate in the bird count itself, which she described as one of the “longest standing citizen science monitoring programmes” in the territory.
“One of the things I liked is engaging the HLSCC mangrove staff in a citizen science programme,” she added. “The staff seemed to enjoy it, and different members had different skill sets when it came to bird identification.”
For example, Mr. Wells, who works with systems and engines, was able to identify birds by their calls. Ms. Zaluski found it “gratifying to see the way the staff improved their skills” on an island she called a “biodiversity hotspot.”
Indeed, throughout the count as Ms. Woodfield Pascoe ran into acquaintances and made new friends, she told the residents that Anegada has the best bird watching of all the other islands she’s visited for the Christmas Bird Count.