Get to know Cayman’s birds

Michael J. Gore served as Governor of the Cayman Islands from 1992-95. Throughout that time, his commitment to the conservation of the most important areas of natural habitat on these islands was well known, as was his reputation as an enthusiastic and expert wildlife photographer.

West Indian Whistling Duck

The Governor Michael Gore Bird Sanctuary was so named in his honour. Situated in the Spotts Newlands area of Grand Cayman, it is more often known locally as the ‘Governor’s Pond’.

Although relatively small, just 1.84 acres, the site is representative of a fast vanishing habitat in this rapidly developing area of the island. Over 60 species (a quarter of the entire bird species native to the Cayman Islands) have been observed here at one time or another!

The Pond’s popularity with the birds is seasonal, with greatest activity during the dry season when this may be the only substantial body of fresh water for some distance. The area around the Sanctuary was, until recently, a seasonally flooded grassland maintained for grazing, with fresh water ponds scattered throughout.

Residential development is now leading to the filling of many of the wet and flooded areas, causing the waterbird population of a previously wide range to gather at the Governor’s Pond.

The Pond retains water throughout most of the year, although it has been known to dry out occasionally, at the end of a particularly severe dry season. Some of the many different types of birds that can often be seen at the Pond are Moorhens, Herons and Egrets, Grebes, Ducks, Rails, Plovers, Sandpipers, Terns, Pigeons and Doves, Kingfishers, Woodpeckers, Kingbirds and Flycatchers, Vireos, Warblers and Grassquits.

The native freshwater turtle, the Hickatee, is also often spotted among the reeds. The native freshwater fish Gambusia xanthosoma is also found beneath the pond’s surface.

The support of Government and local residents for the establishment of the Governor Michael Gore Bird Sanctuary set an important precedent for future conservation efforts in the Cayman Islands.

Devastating Hurricane Ivan of September 2004 totally destroyed the site, not only demolishing the blind but raining debris into the pond and path and killing a majority of the trees fringing the pond. Funds for rebuilding the site were appropriated from both Government and the private sector.

The Department of Tourism, BNP-Paribas Private Bank, a grant from the US Fish and Wildlife Services Migratory Bird Conservation Act, Mrs. Patricia Bradley and the family of the late Mr. Arthur Biggs all contributed to the project.

Another blind was built with a new boardwalk leading to it. A fence was placed around a new parking area. An interpretive sign was added to aid the casual visitor. A few choice native plants were added. Finally the debris was hauled out by an industrious volunteer team composed of Trust General Manager Frank Roulstone, Trust Council member Darvin Ebanks, and Field Officer Paul Watler.

More recently a team of Sunrise Rotarians led by Desmond Ebanks pulled the last of the debris, an extensive amount of pressure treated lumber, from the pond itself.

The interpretive sign is situated at the start of the boardwalk, which leads to the blind. Please do not disturb the birds in any way, and refrain from releasing domestic ducks or aquarium fish etc. into the pond as the Trust manages the site for Cayman’s own native wildlife. Please remember to keep the gate closed in order to prevent the entry of neighbourhood dogs.

Directions: From George Town, follow Crewe Road on to the main coast road going east (Shamrock Road). About three miles out of town just past Spotts Landing, turn left into Spotts Newlands Road. Take the first right (Pennsylvania Avenue) and the Pond is signposted about 100 yards up the lane on the left.

Visit the National Trust Calendar of Events for the latest birdwatching activities. Photographs provided by Frank Roulstone.

Grow Cayman Plants and encourage Cayman Wildlife! For more information, to share your knowledge or if you would like to get involved with the many activities in the National Trust’s Know Your Islands Program, please visit www.nationaltrust.org.ky, www.caymanwildlife.org or call 949-0121.

Last week’s answer: Shake Hand is one of two trees so named in jest for their abundant, sharp spines.

Trivia question: Name three endemic bird species in Cayman – birds found in Cayman and nowhere else in the world?

Look for the answer in next week’s feature!

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