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Bonaire Joins the Caribbean Birding Trail.

Many of Bonaire’s visitors have a keen interest in nature, and that has been amply documented as thousands and thousands of divers and snorkelers flock to the island each and every year, many with fish ID lists in hand!

Bonaire’s topside fauna is just as diverse as underwater.

The Pearly-eyed Thrasher

The Pearly-eyed Thrasher

But what many of these visitors don’t understand is that the island boasts of having a topside fauna which is just as diverse.  And, most of Bonaire’s visitors are, well, “missing the boat.”  That’s because they have their eyes focused under the water line instead of glued to the tree line.

Globally, the tourism market for wildlife watching and wildlife photography is growing, and bird tourism is a significant part of this. Another growing segment is that of the independent traveler; individuals that prefer to go “off the beaten path” and seek out authentic experiences. The Caribbean Birding Trail (CBT) is an initiative that seeks to connect the natural and cultural heritage of the Caribbean islands through the training of local naturalist guides who will then be able to identify and interpret the birds and their habitats for local and foreign visitors. The CBT is being developed to raise global awareness of the unique birds and biodiversity of the Caribbean and to create a sustainable economy around these rare species, in an effort to protect them.

Bonaire’s tourism sector is trained on birding.

Bonaire's workshop attendees are birding out in the field.

Bonaire’s workshop attendees are birding out in the field.

Last week, an intensive five-day workshop was held on Bonaire to train 25 guides in the art of bird-watching, as well as leading birding tours.  The workshop offered skills in identifying birds, how to use binoculars and spotting scopes, avian ecology, and guiding and interpretation techniques. The training also included daily field visits to some of Bonaire’s best birding sites, such as Lac Bai, Gotomeer, Salina de Vlijt, and the LVV/waste water treatment ponds. Interactive presentations and demonstrations were given by staff of BirdsCaribbean, STINAPA Bonaire, and Echo. Certified Interpretive Trainers from the National Association of Interpretation (NAI), Venicio Wilson and Rick Morales, who work as guides in Panama, wowed the participants with in-depth sessions on the birding market, communication skills, and the principles of environmental interpretation.

Watch for resident and migratory birds.

Many species of resident and migratory birds can be easily seen here. For some, it was their first time seeing Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Semipalmated Plovers, Black-necked Stilts, and Caribbean Elaenias, and even the trainers were excited about seeing Bonaire’s national bird, the American Flamingo.  Venicio “Beny” Wilson, one of the trainers and a keen birder, had this to say about his birding on Bonaire:

Throughout the week, I was constantly amazed at how “tame” Bonaire’s birds are.  By that I mean they are generally unconcerned about close proximity to humans and simply go about their daily routines.  It was fabulous to be so close to the action!

Bonaire's national bird, the American Flamingo

Bonaire’s national bird, the American Flamingo

Digiscoping will become a popular part of Bonaire bird tours.

For those workshop participants who had never before seen a bird through a pair of binoculars or telescope, this workshop was an enlightening experience. The art of “digiscoping” was popular among many, especially those who don’t have a fancy camera but still want to take–and share–great bird images. Using this technique, visitors can easily take fantastic bird images using their own smart phone and their guide’s scope.

Keep track of your bird sightings while on Bonaire with eBird Caribbean.

Others were eager to sign up on eBird Caribbean, an online checklist program, and start entering their sightings. This can be a useful tool for any visitors who wish to add birding to their Bonaire vacation itineraries, as the web site illustrates which birds have seen on the island and their general locations.  It’s a fabulous way to see if a life bird you wish to see has been found on Bonaire.

Soon, we fully expect many Bonaire visitors to arrive with their fish ID list in one hand, and their bird ID list in the other!  We invite you to comment below if you believe this is a good initiative for Bonaire.

The CBT Interpretive Guide Training was made possible through the generous support of sponsors and local partners. These include: BirdsCaribbean, the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance, Vogelbescherming Nederland, the U.S. Forest Service International Programs, Echo Foundation, STINAPA Bonaire, Cargill, Kooyman, Wild Conscience, Vortex Optics, BONHATA, Rento Fun Tours, Bonaire Rent-a-car, and Boutique Hotel Sonrisa.

(Source:  Bonaire Insider Reporter, photo gallery images courtesy of BirdsCaribbean)

 

 

 

 

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