|Summertime bird watching on the Leeward Cays|
|Written by Kathleen Wood|
|Thursday, 19 May 2011 09:48|
As the dog days set in and the chirping of cicadas becomes so loud a person can’t hear themselves think in the heavy heat, summertime bird visitors and residents gear up for an annual mating extravaganza.
While humans turn up the AC or sweat it out placidly under the ceiling fan, feathered folks are taking advantage of the unique environmental variables extant next to Providenciales on the Leeward Cays.
Although geographically small in scale, the Leeward Cays — including the islands of Water Cay, Pine Cay, Fort George Cay, Dellis Cay, Parrot Cay and the cays of the Princess Alexandra Nature Reserve — are a treasure trove for birds with an affinity for freshwater resources. The late spring and early summer season usually brings a few drops of rain, filling low-lying palustrine flood plains and providing the precious elixir required by waterfowl to fledge their young.
On Pine Cay, the only permanent fresh water lakes in the TCI archipelago provide a reliable source of water for American coot (Fulica americana), least and pie-billed grebes (Tachybaptus dominicus and Podilymbus podiceps), and various species of duck including the regionally-endemic white-cheeked pintail (Anas bahamensis). These birds are also observable in the temporary ponds and marshes that form this time of the year on all of the Leeward Cays.
The wide variety of wetland habitats throughout the Leeward Cays include estuaries, shallow salt ponds and floodplains and provide extensive foraging and breeding areas for wading birds. Almost anything goes this time of the year, and those armed with binoculars are likely to catch a glimpse of a wide variety, including but not limited to reddish egret (Egretta rufescens), great blue heron (Ardea herodias), black-necked stilt (Himanotopus mexicanus), greater and lesser yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca and T. flavipes) and great white egret (Casmerodius albus).
Native fruit trees are also in their full glory following the seasonal rains attracting the fruit-loving species of the thrush family. The fruit of locust berry (Byrsonima lucida), Blolly (Guapira discolor) and lignum vitae (Guaiacum sanctum), to name a few, are among the culinary favorites of the thrushes.
On the Leeward Cays, this is a great time to catch sight of the pearly-eyed thrasher (Margarops fuscatus). This medium-sized (11.5 inches) local specialty is easily identified by his pale blue, pearly eyes. On Pine Cay, you need only go as far as the Meridian Club to enjoy an interactive experience with one of these intelligent birds.
The thrasher has become a regular customer at the restaurant, waiting in the rafters of table canopies for unsuspecting guests to abandon their plates. On the rest of the cays, these curious birds will readily reveal themselves with their ear-catching melodious song, “chur, see-up, see.” Other thrush species like the northern mockingbird and Bahama mockingbird are also prevalent and active at this time of the year.
The greatest ecological asset to the birds of the Leeward Cays is the islands’ remoteness. Many summer breeding residents, like Antillean nighthawk (Chordeiles gundlachii), snowy plover (Charadrius alexandrinus) and Wilson’s plover (Charadrius wilsonia) are ground nesting birds that are vulnerable to feral animals and human interference.
The sparse development of some cays and isolation of others provides sanctuary for numerous bird species that are rapidly declining on a global scale due to habitat loss.
It is hoped the conscientious residents of the Turks and Caicos Islands will maintain this last vestige of refuge into the future as developmental pressures resume with the improving economy. Some values cannot and should not be exchanged for dollars.
|Last Updated on Thursday, 19 May 2011 09:53|
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