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ABA’s Ned Brinkley Makes Birders’ Voices Heard En Français: Some Reason for Hope for Guadeloupe Shorebirds

Whimbrel 3C in Chile by Pablo A. Cáceres_7286

The tagged Whimbrel “3C” in Chile by Pablo A. Cáceres

In my “Birding Together” column in the July issue of Birding, I wrote about Whimbrel 3C, and how a group of Chilean birders went out to see it, not because it was an unusual species there (it wasn’t) or just generally liking Whimbrels. They went to see 3C simply because 3C was a known individual, just like you might go see a band or a friend passing through your area.

I noted the rising phenomenon of satellite and otherwise tagged birds and said that I thought it held out hope for people becoming emotionally involved with individual birds and both caring and doing more as a result about the human and other hazards faced by birds. If a single individual bird that people knew met its end in some dramatic, affecting way, I guessed you’d hear about it.

I didn’t expect it would be a scant few months until a rather vivid example of just this phenomenon played out in the international press, and I really didn’t expect that it would also involve Whimbrels. As I’m sure most of you have heard already, two known-identity Whimbrels, Machi and Goshen, were killed on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe as part of annual shooting of shorebirds that takes place in mangrove swamps there. See this excellent post by Bryan Watts of the Center for Conservation Biology for the story.

The deaths of Machi and Goshen, who both had survived transits of tropical weather systems as they migrated south (Hurricane Irene for Goshen, Tropical Storm Maria for Machi) adding to the pathos of the whole event, attracted much international attention and discussion, followed by a significant chorus of calls from the bird conservation community for this dangerous, unsustainable practice to be stopped.

I’m proud to tell you that the ABA was part of that chorus and that there’s now reason for cautious optimism for the situation to improve.

And I’m especially proud of Ned Brinkley, editor of the ABA’s journal North American Birds.

Ned Brinkley bins Chincoteague by JAG

Ned scans the Wash Flats at Chincoteague, quite likely looking for shorebirds. Photo by Jeffrey A. Gordon

Ned, as most of you know, is a talented guy with a wide-ranging intellect. And he really, really likes shorebirds, so it made sense that he took the initiative in drafting a letter on behalf of the ABA to the authorities in Guadeloupe seeking an end to the needless slaughter of not only Whimbrels, but Red Knots and other declining shorebird species.

Besides, Ned has a rather direct link to Machi and Goshen. Those Whimbrels were satellite-tagged on the Virginia Eastern Shore very, very near Ned’s house. They were part of a population that nests in Alaska, stages in migration on the Delmarva Peninsula, then flys through the eastern Caribbean en route to wintering areas. So he feels a special attachment to them.

What you might not know is that besides his knowledge of birds and birding, Ned holds a doctorate in Western European literature. So he was able to write the letter to Guadeloupe in French which it, of course, needed to be. I know a lot of the world’s population is multi-lingual, but still, how many of us can be diplomatic in our native tongue, let alone in our second, third, or fourth?

View Ned’s letter as sent (in French)

I know Ned would want me to mention that he had the letter looked over by native Francophone Normand David, Québec regional editor for NAB, and also AOU’s chief linguist for French and Latin. But that just points up another thing that’s impressive about Ned: his network and connections and his attention to detail.

As the letter never had an official English version and as my 4 years of high school French have eroded to the point of vanishing, here’s a Google translation with minor corrections:


Dear Mr. Prefect,

We want to add our voice to all those who have requested that your office help put an end to hunting of protected bird species on Guadeloupe.

Our organization is composed of birdwatchers and environmentalists, numbers of whom have traveled to Guadeloupe for bird watching, especially the Guadeloupe Woodpecker, which is found nowhere else in the world.

We are very concerned because the hunting of shorebirds, like the two Whimbrels recently killed in the swamp at Port Louis, will accelerate the decline in populations of species, some of which are already very low.

The last Eskimo Curlew was shot on Barbados in 1963, and we do not want to lose another species of curlew to unregulated hunting.

We have great respect for local traditions, including hunting, on Guadeloupe, but we ask you to take all necessary measures to stop the hunting of protected species in your country, for the survival of these species and so future generations of all countries can still observe these wild creatures.

Please kindly let us know your position on this issue and what steps will be taken to ensure the survival of these birds.

Please accept the assurances of the expression of our highest consideration,

Jeffrey A. Gordon

President, American Birding Association

Ted Floyd

Editor, Birding Magazine

Edward S. Brinkley

Editor, North American Birds journal


And it seems that the letter had an impact. Over the weekend, Ned wrote:

On the day after our letter was sent to various officials in Guadeloupe, France, the United States, and to many Caribbean wildlife groups, meetings were held in Guadeloupe to address the killing of protected shorebirds. A half-dozen letters were reproduced for all in attendance, including ministers and the media, and our letter was one of them.

Apparently, the deluge of letters and emails had the desired impact, and both the government officials and the groups representing the interests of hunters are now keenly aware of the concerns of the world’s conservation community. North American Birds’ excellent contributor from Guadeloupe, Anthony Levesque, was able to make his points effectively and eloquently in open meetings.  So there is hope now for migratory shorebirds and other birds in these important wetlands on Guadeloupe.

Readers of North American Birds will recognize the name “Anthony Levesque” immediately. Not only did he supply the sublime cover image – of a Corn Crake – from Guadeloupe (Volume 58, No. 1), but he also wrote a very nice article on migration of seabirds there, with Pierre Yésou (“Occurrence and abundance of tubenoses at Guadeloupe, Lesser Antilles, 2001-2004”) in the next volume, and he has supplied us with countless records and photographs of significance from that marvelous island over the past decade.

In addition to Anthony’s presence at these meetings, one of the biologists from the United States — Fletcher Smith, from the Center for Conservation Biology — was in attendance and urged protection for the shorebirds he works with.  Fletcher was in fact one of the team who fitted these Whimbrels with satellite markers, so his presence there added real gravity to the proceedings – a grassroots effort by a real conservation biologist.  Fletcher has also worked intensively with both Nelson’s and Saltmarsh Sparrows on the wintering grounds, and he has contributed a major Photo Essay to North American Birds (the issue currently in the mail) that summarizes his team’s research as well as ongoing research on the breeding grounds.  We are lucky to have people like Fletcher and Anthony among the ranks of our ABA family – at once birders, biologists, and conservationists who are on the barricades, trying to save our birds.  We all owe them a big clap on the back.

Indeed, Ned, indeed. Thanks so much for running with this ball. I’m very proud of your work and I’m sure the ABA community is, too.

Here’s to Ned, and to Anthony, and to Fletcher, and to Normand. And to Machi, and to Goshen. And to the birding community speaking out. May future generations of Whimbrels and other shorebirds breathe just a bit easier as they make their perilous, miraculous flights.

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Jeff Gordon

Jeff Gordon

Jeff Gordon is the president of the American Birding Association. There's very little about birds, birding, and birders that he doesn't find fascinating, though he's especially interested in birding culture and the many ways we all communicate our passion for birds, including this Blog.
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