The Bird Man of Bermuda
Indulge in something you love long enough and with enough passion and you are very likely to become quite good at it.
Bermuda Audubon Society President Andrew Dobson certainly has. After nearly 23 years in Bermuda he has become quite an authority on birds. He knows their migratory habits and regularly watches them at his favourite birdwatching spot, Spittal Pond.
And as one who has also made quite a reputation with his bird photography, it is not surprising that he never leaves on a bird watching outing without his camera … and binoculars.
“Without a doubt Spittal Pond is the premier spot that bird watchers come to, we’ve got the coast, the brackish water and the woodland … a good variety,” he says.
“There is even some salt marsh here as well that you can see the birds in at the moment. You’ve got that opportunity to bird watch at any time of the year and see different species. For me the best time is the fall months … September, October, November. It’s when a lot of the birds are migrating south and many of them get pushed offshore by bad weather and end up in Bermuda.”
Mr Dobson provides a bit of history on some of the birds he saw around the pond during one recent walk.
“We’ve got four American Wigeons on the pond and also a lovely little Eastern Phoebe, a small little flycatcher,” he explained.
“What’s great about that White Ibis over there is when it turned up in late fall it was all brown as in immature and lots of people have got to enjoy seeing it gradually change its plumage. It is going to become all white in its breeding plumage with black wingtips. In the past it might stay a whole year but if it gets the migratory urge it’s going to leave in the spring and fly back to the continent.”
Mr Dobson, who teaches business and environmental systems at Warwick Academy, estimates Bermuda has been visited by about 380 species of birds over the years, many stopping here for a rest while migrating between the Americas.
“That’s what’s so exciting to me in such a small island,” said the Audubon President.
“Islands in the Caribbean, even Cuba, which has a large land mass, have a smaller total bird list than we do. We only have about 20 resident species in Bermuda which is probably about right for the size of Bermuda.
“Then of course, in addition, we have our visiting Longtails arriving, Cahows and the Common Tern. These are the only three species of birds that migrate and breed here in Bermuda. The vast majority of all species recorded are migrants, or vagrants, birds that get blown here by mistake. The White Ibis is a very good example of that. It shouldn’t really be here.”
The Warblers, Mr Dobson says, are one of his favourite groups of birds.
“They are very small songbirds in North America,” he explained. “The warbler make their way 1,000 miles to get to us which is pretty special.
“We’ve now recorded 39 species of Warbler in Bermuda which is quite extraordinary. They come from the eastern part of the States and Canada and we occasionally might get one of the west coast Warbler species.”
Mr Dobson developed a serious interest in birds while at university in Norfolk, England. “I used to go regularly to the Norfolk coast for bird watching and things went from there,” he explained. “I’m from south London and my first date with my wife Katrina was taking her birding on the Norfolk coast. Obviously that didn’t put her off, she’s a biologist and keen on nature, too.”
He thinks he has photographed about 300 Bermuda species probably more than anyone else. “You always take your camera with you because you never know what you are going to stumble upon, whereas in the old days scientific proof was from specimens that were shot, which was frowned upon. Now you shoot with a camera.
“My aim is to produce a photographic record of Bermuda’s birds that I can share with other people.
“What I want to do is educate Bermuda’s public about Bermuda’s birds, and of course I did one book, ‘Birdwatching Guide to Bermuda in 2002’
. The second one will be a pictorial.”
He added: “This year I produced the Bermuda National Trust calendar, not just birds but other aspects of nature and historic buildings, too. It was quite an honour to be asked to do that. On the photography side, I’ve had photos in bird magazines outside Bermuda but most recently I was approached by the conservationist Jane Goodall to submit some photographs for her latest book, ‘Hope for Animals and their World: How endangered species are being rescued from the brink’.
“What she wanted from me were some bird photos to go with a chapter she was doing on David Wingate and Jeremy Madeiros and their work with Cahows. She is one of the most eminent living conservationists. It was a thrill to have photos in her book.”
He added: “I suppose my interest in nature goes back to having parents who always took me camping and out on walks.
“And I hope that’s true for my two daughters, too, we’ve taken them all over. We had the holiday of as lifetime last year when all four of us went to Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador. It is as good an eco-tourism experience as you can ever have.”
Useful website: www.audubon.bm