Know your islands
The first step toward understanding anything about the natural environment relies on the efforts of those individuals who are prepared to spend time observing what goes on around them.
It is only then that a comprehensive picture can be built up of the many creatures and plants that inhabit a specific area.
This is an invaluable part in understanding the riches -and the problems – presented by certain habitats, and in becoming aware of how things develop and change.
One example of this is birdwatching.
The Cayman Islands offer some unique opportunities for this popular hobby, as they are host to a surprisingly wide range of resident birds.
They also act as a staging post for many migratory birds and other occasional visitors. Cayman is particularly fascinating for the study of wildlife, as species long resident on one island can evolve slightly differently from their mainland counterparts, and develop characteristics not seen anywhere else.
The first studies of birds found in Cayman were published by CBC Cory in 1886, but were restricted to descriptions of birds found in Grand Cayman at that time. Numerous brief visits by ornithologists then followed.
Then in 1982, Patricia Bradley came to live in Grand Cayman and began to put together comparative monthly records of bird sightings on all three islands. Her highly regarded field guide Birds of the Cayman Islands (now in its second edition) describes the biogeography of the area, and gives details of the history of bird settlement and migration.
Full bird descriptions are provided, with colour pictures by Yves-Jacques Rey-Millet and the author.
Some of the most important locations for birdwatching in Cayman are held in trust for the people of the islands. These include the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, the Mastic Reserve, the Cayman Brac Parrot Reserve, and the Little Cayman Booby Pond Nature Reserve.
Other interesting and protected sites include Meagre Bay Pond in Pease Bay, Colliers Pond in East End, Vulgunners Pond and Palmetto Pond at Barkers in West Bay, and islanders’ own gardens. An astonishing variety of birds can be seen right outside the window of island residences. Several native species have become quite happy to live in built up areas, and can been seen feeding on garden plants and insects. To date, a total of over 200 different species (both resident and migrant) have been recorded, 17 of which are found nowhere else in the world!
For would be birdwatchers, very little skill or equipment is necessary to begin this intriguing pastime. A good pair of binoculars is recommended and a field guide to assist in identifying the birds spotted is helpful. The National Trust also has local bird cards for sale at our office on South Church Street. The best time for birdwatching is either early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Just remember that birds depend on their habitat for everything, so on field trips (especially to reserves and sanctuaries) take nothing out and leave nothing behind. If you should see a bird you believe has not been previously recorded, make careful notes about when and where you view and at what time. Take a photograph if possible, then contact the Trust. Every birdwatcher is a potential discoverer!
The National Trust organizes regular birdwatcing activities conducted by local ornithologists and avid bird enthusiasts. Weekends often see members gathering at a selected location, usually in the Botanic Park, for a field trip. Check our Calendar of Events for the latest activities. Please contact your Trust if you are also interested in participating or organizing regular birdwatching activities!
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: Four sea turtle species occur in the Cayman Islands, the green sea turtle, the hawksbill turtle, the loggerhead turtle, and the leatherback turtle.
Trivia question: Name three invertebrates that make their homes on the submerged mangrove trees and roots.
Look for the answer in next week’s feature!
The weekly column from the National Trust is submitted by Marnie Laing, Education Programs Manager at the Trust. The Trust can be contacted at 949-0121 or via email at [email protected]