Must-see Aerial Insectivores in the Greater Antilles: Part 5/5

Northern Potoo perched on a fence post near the Windsor Research Station, Trelawny Parish, Jamaica. (photo by Justin Proctor)

This post is part of a series; visit Part 4 here.

Let’s move now from the diurnal species to a nocturnal favorite, the Northern Potoo (Nyctibius jamaicensis), which has been featured here before a couple times. These birds actively hunt for insects at night by sallying out from low-lying perches where they remain camouflaged and motionless until prey is spotted. If you’ve got a little bit of energy left in you after the sun goes down, and you also remembered to pack a decent headlamp or flashlight, I can’t encourage you enough to just go for a little walk down a quiet road nearby.

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Must-see Aerial Insectivores in the Greater Antilles: Part 4/5

White-collared Swifts in flight, Jamaica; top photo is a good depiction of the species viewed head-on from a mountain top. (with the observer positioned at the same elevation that the swifts are flying) as they come together to flock in the evening. (photos by Justin Proctor)

This post is part of a series; visit Part 3 here.

In Part 3 I introduced you to the smallest swift you’ll find in the Greater Antilles, so it seems appropriate to bring the largest swift of the region into the equation. An all-around phenomenal bird, the White-collared Swift (aerial insectivore 4) doesn’t get the attention it deserves, and I think I know why. Wetmore and Swales summarize the problem perfectly:

…through its great speed in flight so annihilates distance that flocks may appear temporarily almost anywhere.” (1931)

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Bad News for Lionfish in Costa Rica, Good News for Costa Rica

After a long day of fishing, the lionfish are fried and served up with rice and beans. Lindsay Fendt/The Tico Times

We’re always keeping our eye out for updates on the lionfish situation, and that’s why we’re happy to see that some more efforts are being made in Costa Rica to control a problem that is pretty out of control. More from Lindsay Fendt from the Tico Times:

Local efforts to curb the encroachment of invasive species in Costa Rica’s Caribbean got a big boost this week with the formation of a National Commission for the Management and Control of Lionfish. The new commission will provide government support for Caribbean fishing associations that are already actively combatting the proliferation of lionfish (Pterois).

Introduced to the Atlantic Ocean from the Indo-Pacific sometime in the 1980s, the lionfish has been wreaking havoc on Caribbean fish populations. The fish can gobble up two smaller fish every minute and lay up to 30,000 eggs each year, depleting catches for fishermen and damaging the ecosystem. Though not the hardest hit country in the region, Costa Rica has approximately 90 lionfish per hectare and fishermen have reported an 80-87 percent decline in their catches since 2009 when the fish began to appear off the country’s coast.

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Cave Swallows in Jamaica

Our last big video from the Jamaican Golden Swallow expedition was from the Blue Mountains. This time I have some footage of a colony of Cave Swallows we found at the end of our trip when we were driving along the north coast of the island. About fifty or sixty birds live in this shelf of rock overhanging the ocean, having created nests in the walls with mud pellets.

In the video above, you can see Justin swimming under the natural bridge to get a better view of the birds as they circle around to check on their nests, possibly Continue reading

Citizen Science in Belize – Update – If You Can’t Beat’em, Wear’em

Lionfish spine earrings crafted by Palovi Baezar, Punta Gorda, Belize. Credit: Polly Alford, ReefCI

In earlier posts about my volunteer experience in Belize with ReefCI, I talked about the lionfish invasion that is threatening coral reef and other marine ecosystems throughout the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and Southern Atlantic Seaboard of the United States, and noted that, at least for the foreseeable future, human intervention, particularly the establishment of a commercial fishery for the species, appears to be the only solution to keep the invasion under control.

I mentioned the idea of lionfish jewelry as a possible way of increasing the economic return to fisherfolk who may otherwise be reluctant to go after lionfish given the difficulty of catching them (the fish must be harvested by spearing or hand netting rather than through traditional methods such as lines or nets). I’ve been pleased to learn that at least one artisan in Belize has picked up on the idea, using some of the lionfish spines that I collected while I was there. She has already crafted some beautiful earrings (see photo above) and is working on other jewelry items as well as decorative mirrors. Elsewhere, jewelry crafted from lionfish tails and fins is being sold online, and through a retail outlet in Curaçao.  Continue reading

Citizen Science in Belize: Part 2/2 – If You Can’t Beat’em, Eat’em

Photo by Alexander Vasenin

Lionfish sushi – Photo © World Lionfish Hunters Association (click on photo to visit their website)

In Part 1 of this post I talked about the lionfish invasion that is threatening coral reef and other marine ecosystems throughout the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and Southern Atlantic Seaboard of the United States.  Scientists, environmental groups and governments that are studying the problem have all come to the conclusion that it is probably impossible to eradicate lionfish in the Atlantic – they are here to stay. Continue reading

Citizen Science in Belize: Part 1/2

Photo © ReefCI

Photo © ReefCI

It might seem strange to accompany a posting about marine conservation with a photo of a fish on a spear, but in this case, it is entirely warranted.

I recently returned from the Sapodilla Cayes Marine Reserve in Southern Belize, where I spent two weeks working as a volunteer with ReefCI, a NGO dedicated to coral reef ecosystem conservation. Located 30 miles off the coast of Belize on the southern tip of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef (the second largest in the world, after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef), the Sapodilla Cayes constitute a unique ecosystem.

Along with other volunteers, I assisted the ReefCI marine biologist with population surveys of conch, lobster, and commercial fish species, as well as coral reef health checks. At least one, and sometimes two surveys were carried out each day. The data collected is provided to the Belize Fisheries Department as well as to other cooperating NGOs.

Now about that fish on a spear. One of ReefCI’s projects is lionfish control. Spears Continue reading