GAINESVILLE, FL, January 5, 2016 - Author, educator, and wildlife biologist Dr. Robert L. Norton recently returned from leading 10 U.S. citizen scientists to Cuba for the country’s fifth year of participation in the Christmas Bird Count, an annual census of bird populations conducted by volunteers throughout the Americas. The data they collected will help future conservation efforts by allowing scientists to track bird population statistics over time. Dr. Norton and his group also delivered much needed optics donations to Cuba’s Ornithological Society in partnership with the American Birding Association’s Birders’ Exchange program.
Dr. Norton has been an integral member of the team of scientists, ecologists, and volunteers that has brought the CBC to Cuba in recent years. An expert on Caribbean birds, he has led and organized multiple CBC expeditions on the island nation since 2011.
“When you start looking at these creatures and then you start looking at the wider picture of where are they, why are they there, their interaction with the ecology and other organisms, it opens up a whole new view of how the world works,” Dr. Norton says.
On December 13th, 2015, Dr. Norton brought 10 enthusiastic volunteers from across the U.S. to help with the count as well as experience authentic Cuban culture. The group, together with Cuban volunteers, recorded 104 bird species, including many endemics (those that can be found nowhere else in the world). Count locations included La Güira National Park in San Diego de los Baños, Las Terrazas (a UNESCO-designated Biosphere Reserve), Viñales National Park, and Las Salinas in Ciénaga de Zapata National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site).
The participants engaged with local scientists to discuss conservation projects, identified endemic species, explored Old Havana, attended a special presentation by the Korimacao Community Project, and ate at traditional paladares (restaurants in private homes). The trip was organized with the help of Gainesville-based Holbrook Travel.
“Once again I am grateful to Holbrook Travel,” Dr. Norton says. “The team at Holbrook was vital to making the trip a success, both for the cultural exchange and for our collection efforts.”
In addition to recording wildlife, the group also participated in the American Birding Association’s Birders’ Exchange program, which distributes donated optics to researchers, educators, and conservationists in Latin America and the Caribbean. Scopes and binoculars were presented to the new president of the Department of Ornithology of the Society of the Cuban Zoología, Maikel Cañizares Morera, who was thrilled to share them with graduate students as well as local youth.
The Christmas Bird Count (CBC) first began Christmas Day in 1900 with ornithologist and pioneer conservationist Frank M. Chapman. Chapman implemented a new holiday tradition that focused on preserving wildlife: a Christmas Bird Count rather than the traditional Christmastime hunting competitions. Today, the CBC is overseen by the National Audubon Society and has become an international tradition, continuing the precedent of conservation and respect for nature.
Holbrook Travel was founded on the mission to facilitate a true connection between travelers and destinations. Since 1974, the company has taken thousands of travelers on expeditions across Latin America, Africa, and destinations beyond. Holbrook combines reliable travel support with deep knowledge to create enriching travel experiences that last a lifetime. For more than 40 years, Holbrook Travel has served the needs of teachers, students, academic institutions, conservation organizations, and nature lovers.