The oriole is considered extirpated from Abaco, which means that in the country of the Bahamas, it lives only on one island group, not two. This is significant in conservation, but it became even more significant when scientists decided to split the Greater Antillean Oriole into four unique species. The Cuban Oriole lives in Cuba. The Hispaniolan Oriole lives in the Dominican Republic and Haiti. The Puerto Rican Oriole lives in Puerto Rico. And the Bahama Oriole, which once lived on Abaco and the Andros Islands, now only lives in Andros.
Today, I get to help the Doctor determine if there might be any truth to these reports. We’re going to look for a needle in a haystack – to prove whether the Bahama Oriole lives in Abaco.
Rediscovering a bird in a region can be significant. For one, it helps nature tourism. But more importantly, the Bahama Oriole’s fate is uncertain. In Andros, another bird species, the Shiny Cowbird, which parasitizes nests of orioles, moved north from other islands, to Andros. So, as development encroaches on the Andros oriole habitat, and the cowbirds continue aiding in the decline of the species, the Bahama Oriole has become critically endangered. To rediscover the bird in Abaco would be to alter its fate.
The doctor and I meet in the dark of early morning. We throw our bikes in the back of his pickup. “In case something happens to the pickup, we can bike out of there.” Last time I had been driving Abaco with the Doctor, his pickup did break down, which is why I double-checked the bike tires.
We drive south in the dark, to the road to Hole-in-the-Wall Road, a rocky 16 mile road, which winds first through the pines, and then to a segment of coppice. Fires have been raging in this unusually dry spring, and so for much of the drive, we see plumes of smoke rising on either side.
The Doctor unrolls a large map of the area. Dozens of unmarked roads, most of which are overgrown and impassable, would get us to the area where scientists had last seen the oriole in the early 1990’s. Finally, we reach the correct section of the pine forest, which has been heavily burned only a few weeks ago.
We proceed by foot down the road. According to the American scientist who had conducted field studies here, there was an area along the road where cabbage palms were plentiful among the pines. Proof of the oriole would be finding the hanging nests they create dangling off of the palms.