Exploring the white, sandy beaches of the ABC Islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao), a couple pulls out their binoculars — not to get a closer look of the ocean’s horizon, but to explore the hidden creatures in the trees. From the ruby-topaz hummingbird to the bananaquit, the birds of the ABC islands are just as warm and vibrant as the islands themselves. And when former Ithacans Jeffrey Wells and Allison Childs Wells traveled over the years to the islands for jazz band performances, they finally crafted a field guide bursting with detailed maps, alluring photos, helpful details and anything else necessary for birding experts and beginners.
Birds of Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao was just released at the end of 2017. Jeffrey and Allison penned the book by combining Allison’s creative writing skills and Jeffrey’s background in ecology and evolutionary biology — and their love for birds. Growing up in Maine and living in Ithaca for nearly two decades, getting caught up in the birding culture didn’t just become a hobby for the two but also a lifestyle.
The book itself, as Jeffrey describes it, is four books in one. He and Allison put together a comprehensive guide for the birds of each island with large photos and maps with exact directions for bird watchers new to the area. In addition to these aspects, the guide delves into the ecology and climate of the places, which is not limited to discussions on environmental conservation.
Jeffrey noted how disorienting traveling to a new country can be — especially when trying to bird watch. Signs are in different languages, and asking directions from locals can be difficult if you don’t speak the native tongue. But with Birds of Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, Allison and Jeffrey have created maps to overcome those hurdles. With the book, the two also seek to heighten awareness on conservation, as efforts in preserving the animals and wildlife have diminished over the years. And with tourism more accessible through the field guide, it continues the conversation on the topic.
The idea of writing the book came after the couple published two previous books, also on birding: one on Sapsucker Woods (The Birds of Sapsucker Woods) and one on Maine (Maine’s Favorite Birds). Jeffrey has published some books about birds on his own as well.
After covering the two places they’ve lived together, they sought to cover somewhere they’ve traveled together: the ABC Islands. Jeffrey and Allison are a part of a big-band jazz ensemble and have played at hotels in Aruba since 1993.
“We would get up in the morning and look at the birds, and we kind of fell in love with the birds and the islands,” Jeffrey said. “Then we started going to the other islands at different times of year, so on and so forth.”
Over the years and through their education at Cornell University, their interests in music and birding began to intertwine. They’d practice and play music together, and they’d also travel to the woods and peek at the birds flying between the trees. They’d create music, and they’d go outside to listen to the songs of the birds.
“Sometimes I think the interest in music and sounds translates into some interest with birds, just because they sing and make music and you identify them by their sounds,” Jeffrey said. “Both Allison and I were interested in birds from junior high school age from parents who got us hooked on birds a bit.”
And this interest in birding hasn’t waned over the years. With three books completed as a team, Jeffrey and Allison’s newest guide breaks ground for the birding community they love and the creatures in the wildlife.
“We still have great memories of the community and that just kind of fosters a wonderful connection of science things and birds and all kinds of things in that area,” Jeffrey said.