Report from the field: Exploring the riches of the Bahamas with Andrea Holbrook
President and CEO Andrea Holbrook traveled to the Bahamas in late January to learn more about the islands’ potential for birding and natural history travel programs. She found that despite the Bahamas’ reputation as a mass tourism, resort destination, the islands have much to offer Holbrook travelers in the way of birding, natural history, horticulture, and more.
“This program served to open my eyes to the tremendous assets that the Bahamas offers the nature traveler,” she says. “I would call the Bahamas a plus-plus destination. In other words, a birder or nature traveler might go there because of the birding but also because of other aspects that represent a whole picture.”
During her three-day trip, Andrea visited the islands of New Providence, Andros, and Abaco, where she met with the non-profit Bahamas National Trust, tourism officials, and tourism service providers, and attended the graduation ceremony of newly certified Audubon birding guides.
A Prime Birding Destination
The trip was timely given the recent launch of Holbrook’s Flyway Expeditions initiative in cooperation with National Audubon’s International Alliances Program. The IAP has selected the Bahamas as one of five destinations in the Americas to develop sustainable bird tourism projects to conserve habitats and support local economies.
There are six endemic bird species in the Bahamas (the Bahamas Yellowthroat, Bahama Oriole, Bahama Woodstar, Bahama Warbler, Bahama Swallow, and Inagua Woodstar). Plus, there are some 19 Caribbean species that fly through Andros alone that are not seen in the U.S., and Andros has some regional endemics found only in the Caribbean.
“Also, though I did not have the opportunity personally to visit Inagua, from everything I have learned about the island, Inagua is a ‘sexy crown jewel’ of the birding/nature experience,” Andrea says.
Together with the newly certified guides and friend and expert birder Joe Steensma, Andrea birded Blue Hotel National Park as well as other sites on North Andros. “The local guides showed tremendous enthusiasm and passion for birding; that in itself was the real hallmark. They also took the time to share information about other aspects such as the plants and their medicinal uses. They are switched on and ready to go,” she says.
Opportunities for public gardens, adventure, family travel, and more
Although she did not visit Eleuthera on this trip, Andrea learned more about the Leon Levy Plant Preserve on that island. This 25-acre sanctuary, which opened in 2011, features more than 2,000 native trees, shrubs, and herbs, including over 100 varieties of medicinal plants and more than 25 different endemic plants. Due to Holbrook’s specialty in working with garden and horticulture programs, the preserve could be an asset to Holbrook’s programs, especially if complemented by a knowledgeable botanist and naturalist.
Additionally, future programs may incorporate a broader scope for travelers interested in a more active experience or that the whole family can enjoy, such as fishing, kayaking, snorkeling, hiking, and more. The Forfar Field Station is a promising option for field study programs for academic groups. The Bahamas’ proximity with the US, common language, common-rated currency, and reliable internal flights make for a relatively easy travel experience.
According to Andrea, having behind-the-scenes or special access to experts in education, conservation, and natural history will also be a value for Holbrook travelers. Though this brief, initial trip does not convey the full experience in the Bahamas, Holbrook is excited to continue exploring additional opportunities for our group leaders.