Science and Perspective.


January 2018

Audubon, Earth Day and Haiti

Thinking about what it means when someone calls a Caribbean nation a “shithole” (sorry for the profanity, but the word is presidential now).

Not long ago, I gave a series of presentations telling ornithologists and bird enthusiasts about the race, gender and nationality of the history of ornithology. One of the most profound realizations I came across was the fact that John James Audubon was born in 1785 in St. Domingue (now Haiti). His birthday (April 26th) is often part of Earth Day (April 22nd) celebrations and he is lauded as the first to illustrate and publish America’s birds.

Now, keep in mind, Haiti gained independence via a slave revolt and was declared independent in 1803. J.J. Audubon was born to a chambermaid on a plantation owned by his father Jean Audubon and he is referred to as being “majority-white” when his father moved them to France. He moved them “because of growing unrest among the slaves”.

So does that mean J.J. is not only of Haitian descent but that the changes in his life, his education and the opportunity to travel across America happened because Haitian slaves fought for their freedom? Yeah. In my opinion it does.

We are all intricately intertwined. Someone’s ancestors walked through a shithole barefoot so you could walk on the boardwalk in designer boots. Don’t forget.

This Earth Day, when you celebrate, fly a Haitian flag and let someone know.

Ancilleno Davis, PhD. Candidate
Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology- Miami University, Oxford Ohio



It is a convenient trick to rob a person of all they have, even their own body, and then mock them for their poverty, and blame it on their nature. -Adam Serwer, writer and editor

Citizen science power and challenges

Today (January 8 2018), a powerful image was shared with me via Facebook. Ken Kaufman posted screenshots of the distribution of Killdeer records on the island of Bermuda for January 2017 and January 2018, highlighting the huge difference in maximum numbers. 12 in 2017 versus 500 in 2018.

In his post, he describes and discusses the weather effects that may have resulted in the presence of so many Killdeer this year as opposed to past years. An amazing visual and it really shows how responsive eBird can be when we have significant impacts on an island scale.

But there is something he does not mention.

For a bird observation to be presented in eBird, you need three things. The bird must be there, the observer qualified to identify the bird must be there, and that observer has to be able and willing to enter that observation into eBird. These requirements are the same for any Citizen Science Database.

When we look into the data, there are about 7 observers that were responsible for this data in 2017 and the group did not change much in 2018. what did change was their effort. They went to more places in the first week of January 2018 than in all of January 2018 and they conducted more surveys. And although the group did not change much, there were several new observers in the data set in 2018 and those observers went to locations that the rest of the group did not visit.

This means that:

  1. maybe those Killdeer were not there
  2. maybe those Killdeer were there, but no observers were there to identify them. (nobody went or observers went and did not see any, or observers saw 5 bazillion Killdeer but did not know what they were*)
  3. OR the observers went, saw killdeer, and maybe even recorded the observation, but did not enter their observations in eBird.

Part of what I see when I look a this data is a need to work on our engagement within the local community. bird watching is still stigmatized as an activity for "OWLS" (Old White birders with Leisure time and of course Scientists)

If we could engage local bird watchers at the primary, high school or university level across the Caribbean, the data will be more consistent, and of a much higher quality, Churches should have a bird watching group, every boy and girl scout group should have their birding badge for the entire group, The General Certificate in Secondary Education for Science should have identification of 20-30 birds, BJC and BGCSE exams and practical research can include bird observations from your island.

God forbid, but should something happen to Peter Adhemar, Andrew Dobson, or Paul Watson, who contributed most of the birdwatching effort that Bermuda saw in 2017, what would happen to their bird diversity records?

This is a new year, next time you go to one of our islands, take an extra pair of binoculars and share them with a student, your taxi driver, and share your enthusiasm. show them how to start an ebird account. If you live on the island and are retired, go ask a science teacher if you can get into their classroom, just once and engage with their students.

I hope to see lots more observers on all of our islands this year.

*I am not sure bazillion is a number and I do not think the accepted global population of Killdeer nears this number.

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