Whimbrel with tracking device

A tragic ending: two of the whimbrels were gunned down

Half the quartet of whimbrels that survived encounters with Hurricane Irene  also made it through Tropical Storm Maria—only to be killed in September by hunters in Guadeloupe.

The shootings of Machi and Goshen—though tragic—were perfectly legal, says Bryan Watts of the Center for Conservation Biology. Guadeloupe is an overseas department of France and shorebird hunting is legal and even traditional there.

“Machi and Goshen highlights a conflict that has been brewing for quite a while now,” Watts said. “The situation is that we have countries like the U.S. and Canada who are spending millions of dollars for the recovery of shorebird species, yet we have these holdouts in some places that continue to support legalized hunting.”

Watts said that Machi was an experienced storm flier. “This bird has had a number of encounters with storms. She ran into a storm coming back from Brazil to the Atlantic coast in spring of 2010 and set down in some sugarcane fields in south Florida,” Watts said.

On her southbound migration this year, Machi encountered Tropical Storm Maria. Tracking revealed that she sat down on Montserrat, then flew over to Guadeloupe.

“The legal hunting there is just a holdover from the past,” Watts said. “It’s something that needs to be addressed. What happened to Machi and Goshen highlights this ongoing political issue.”

The dead-bird count from legal shorebird hunts throughout the Caribbean is unknown. Watts pointed out that Machi and Goshen were the first tracked whimbrels to set down on Guadeloupe. The fact that both were killed within hours of their arrival suggests that the hunting pressure on the island is enormous, he said.

Before their deaths, the birds contributed a great deal to our understanding of shorebird migration. Machi, for example, was tracked for over 27,000 miles back and forth between the Hudson Bay Lowlands of Canada and Brazil. Following the birds’ migrations has provided scientists with greater understanding of the importance of comparatively small areas—including the Eastern Shore—to the continued well being of the species. Scientists will continue to track the remaining members of the whimbrel quartet.