The findings of a Bird-Life International expedition offer hope for the conservation of a few endangered petrel species:
Searches at sea off the eastern coasts of Jamaica in November 2009 have revealed the presence of significant numbers of Pterodroma petrels. The pelagic expedition was part of the global Tubenoses Project coordinated by Hadoram Shirihai and Vincent Bretagnolle and was supported by BirdLife International’s Preventing Extinctions Programme with funds from the British Birdwatching Fair. Its primary aim was to look for the Critically Endangered (and possibly extinct) Jamaica Petrel Pterodroma caribbaea. This mythical seabird – known locally as the ‘Blue Mountain Duck’ – has not been recorded since 1879 when the last specimens were collected in Jamaica’s Blue Mountains.
No Jamaica Petrels were found. However, 46 individual Black-capped Petrels Pterodroma hasitata – an Endangered species – were seen and photographed. This species had previously been recorded just once in Jamaican waters (it is known to breed only in Hispaniola and possibly eastern Cuba). Although it is impossible to be sure that these Black-capped Petrels were Jamaican breeders, their behaviour suggests they are and that their nesting area lies in the John Crow Mountains. They were observed coming close to the island during the late afternoon and evening, in small numbers, and sometimes in pairs (including one case of a displaying pair). They nearly always flew toward the island or would mill around at sea below the mountains, as if waiting for darkness before flying inland. If these Black-capped Petrels were indeed breeding on the island, it is also possible that, just maybe, the Jamaica Petrel also clings on in these same mountains.
“There is still much to discover about seabirds in the Caribbean, but these targeted searches off Jamaica made some exciting and important discoveries which could have important conservation implications”, David Wege, Senior Caribbean Program Manager, BirdLife International.
[Photo: Patrick Coin]