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Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Youth Birder Writes Guide to Caribbean Birds

A guest post by former NBNC youth birder, Aly DeGraff:

As a Vermont native, I grew up attending the Vermont Audubon Youth Camp at High Pond and participating in the World Wide Series of Birding youth team through the North Branch Nature Center. Banding birds was one of the coolest things I had ever done as a 10-year-old and wandering around Cape May, New Jersey at the wee hours of the morning trying to identify birds with a bunch of other middle schoolers made us feel like bird detectives. 

Skipping ahead 10 years, I've continued to fuel this excitement for conservation and the natural world which started with this Vermont community. I graduated from Middlebury College in February 2011 and received a prestigious fellowship from the Compton Foundation to complete a self-designed participatory mapping project in the Caribbean. The transboundary Grenadine islands are divided between the small island developing states (SIDS) of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Grenada, and derive their economies largely from foreign tourism and fisheries. These 50+ islands and cays (the largest of which is only 32 sq km) are biologically rich and diverse, yet extremely fragile and vulnerable to environmental change and developmental pressures. My research involved the collection of data on important historical, cultural, and ecological heritage sites for use in the countries’ joint application for designation as a mixed (natural and cultural) marine transboundary UNESCO World Heritage Site. I worked closely with local communities and organizations to create a comprehensive local knowledge database of over 325 sites through interviews, community meetings, and workshops, as well as intensive fieldwork across 26 islands and cays. This information filled data gaps and served to strengthen the current joint application of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Grenada as a mixed (natural and cultural) marine transboundary UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was the experience of a lifetime!

Getting community feedback on marine spatial planning maps
At the end of my fellowship, I wanted to continue giving back to these communities who had been so open to working with me, so I teamed up with my ethnobiologist/ornithologist friend, Juliana Coffey, to create a comprehensive, user-friendly avian field guide, which includes scientific and local ecological knowledge (LEK) and folklore from Grenadine citizens, and showcases a collection of photographs taken within the Caribbean. In an area where there is an increasingly intense demand for such little space, we strive to encourage both foreign and community-driven stewardship of species and their habitats. This guide will be a valuable resource for training local bird monitors, educating the general public, promoting sustainable tourism initiatives, enhancing the overall conservation and management of Grenadine resources, and will be useful to both locals and foreigners with an interest in the avifauna of the region.

Flyways and Grenadines Reference Map in the Guide

The Grenadines are straight down the Atlantic Flyway from Vermont, so it's exciting to write about and see birds like Belted Kingfishers and Barn Swallows in this tropical environment next to the Caribbean birds, especially when you get to learn their local names (e.g. Barn Swallows are called weather birds). If anyone is interested in more information about this project, the Grenadines, and birds, please feel free to visit our website: Birds of the Transboundary Grenadines or contact us directly at grenadinesbirds@gmail.com, we'd love to hear from you!


  1. Who's the author -- no name given. Wonderful writeup of neat work.

  2. I wrote the article, thanks for your kind words, Dick!

    Aly DeGraff
    Middlebury, VT

  3. Thanks, Dick, for pointing that out... and thanks, Aly, for a fabulous post! I've updated the post to include the author's name, my apologies for neglecting to include it in the first place.