Conserving Wildlife, Expeditions and Travels, French Guiana

The Mystery of French Guiana


Most of what I know about French Guiana comes from movies about Devils Island, the notorious Caribbean Island prison where the French housed their most heinous criminals.  But now, with funds from the Canadian Widlife Service and the Neotropical Bird Conservation Act, Yves Aubry (CWS) Amanda Dey ( NJ Fish and Wildlife) Steve Gates will learn much more as we investigate the mystery of migratory red knots and ruddy turnstones in this Caribbean nation.

red knots feeding on the Mana Rice Fields in French Guiana

red knots feeding on the Mana Rice Fields in French Guiana

Why French Guiana?  First the Caribbean Coast of this province of the French Government includes some of the best coastal habitat for migratory shorebirds in northern South America.   Forty one percent  of  the 100 or so resightings of flagged red knots were flagged in Patagonia, the fastest declining population segment of red knots.  The remaining 59% were flagged in Delaware Bay in migration and are very likely birds wintering in Tierra del Fuego as well.   French Guiana could be an important thread in the tangled fabric of migration pathways used by the knot.  We hope to understand more.

The second reason for our visit is a consequence of the French allowing the hunting of shorebirds.  It’s a century old tradition in some places, long predating the catastrophic decline of the hemisphere’s arctic nesting shorebirds.  But unlike hunters who insure yearly production of young to replace harvested birds, these hunters only shoot shorebirds as they desperately make landfall after 4 to 6 days of nonstop flight.   We hope to understand why.

The many pathways of red knot migration unfolding with new data from geolocatorsIn the process we will enjoy our own discovery of one of the least known segments of the knot and ruddy turnstone migration.  Tomorrow we begin our field expedition.