From 26 to 30 September, two representatives from St. Maarten and St. Eustatius attended an Interpretive Bird Guide Training Workshop in Bonaire for the Caribbean Birding Trail program. The 5-day training was given by BirdsCaribbean, a regional non-profit dedicated to bird and nature conservation, and hosted locally by Echo Bonaire and the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (DCNA). Hannah Madden of Ecological Professionals Foundation and Binkie van Es of St. Maarten Nature Foundation were among the 25 participants, which consisted mainly of tour operators and guides, but also park staff, nature educators, and Bonaire’s salt industry.
A Northern Crested Caracara, locally known as Warawara (photo by Lisa Sorenson).
Globally, the tourism market for wildlife watching and wildlife photography is growing, and bird tourism is a significant part of this market. 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 seeks to attract these markets to Bonaire and the Caribbean as a whole. Integral to this is having well-trained guides who can help connect these travelers with the cultural and natural resources of the island.
The five-day 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. Interactive presentations and demonstrations were given by staff of BirdsCaribbean, STINAPA Bonaire, Echo, and certified interpretive trainers Venicio Wilson and Rick Morales from the
(L to R) BirdsCaribbean director Lisa Sorenson, Venicio Wilson, Holly Robertson and Rick Morales (photo by Hannah Madden).
National Association of Interpretation in the USA. Despite the threat of Hurricane Matthew, the workshop participants’ enthusiasm could not be dampened and they showed up every day. For some it was their first time seeing White-cheeked Pintails, Black-necked Stilts and Caribbean Elaenias, and even the trainers were excited about seeing Bonaire’s national bird, the American Flamingo.
Madden’s participation was sponsored by BirdsCaribbean and van Es by DCNA. Based on their extensive field and conservation experience on Statia and St. Maarten, both became certified birding interpretive guides at level 4 (expert), the highest level offered by the Caribbean Birding Trail. Level 4 can only be achieved if guides have completed at least 80 hours of birding time in the field, entered 40 or more eBird Caribbean checklists, can identify (by sight and/or sound) all the birds in their area, participate in regular Caribbean Waterbird Census counts, incorporate birds into tours or educational walks, and have given at least two dedicated birding tours.
Participants of the interpretive guide workshop (photo by Lisa Sorenson).
Both Madden and van Es are working with BirdsCaribbean to offer packages to Statia and St. Maarten, as well as working with other operators such as Seagrape Tours to promote birding opportunities on their respective islands. According to van Es, “The workshop was a tremendous experience that brought together a wide variety of professionals to give them an insight into the fabulous world of birding. Hopefully they will see the value of this multi-million dollar niche market and the many opportunities it brings.” As well as the invaluable knowledge gained, all participants also received a pair of Vortex binoculars, copies of field guides, “Birds of the West Indies” and “Birds of Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire”, a BirdsCaribbean buff and hat, and bird identification cards for Bonaire and Curacao.