Birds of the Mastic Trail

The Mastic Trail is a rugged
historical track that passes through the Mastic Reserve, the largest contiguous
area of untouched, old growth forest remaining on the island. The area is home
to a wide variety of animals and plants unique to the Cayman Islands and also
to large populations of trees which have vanished from more accessible places
through logging in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Guided nature walks of the Mastic
Trail, provided by the National Trust have always been well received by
residents and visitors alike. The tours cover a variety of subjects, from the
history of the trail, to the geology of the Island, as well as an exploration
of the various habitats encountered along the way. We discuss the trees and
shrubs and their historical uses, such as in shipbuilding and herbal medicine.
We sample the fragrance of certain leaves and taste seasonal fruit. We also encounter
numerous animals on the trail, such as ground-dwelling wasps, soldier (hermit)
crabs, snakes, lizards, tree frogs, agouti and, of course, birds.

Birds are the most abundant and
active animals that we encounter. The trail is home to all 13 endemic
sub-species of birds found on Grand Cayman. For novice birders, this is a
manageable number to learn to recognize, and on a typical tour we see upwards
of nine. These birds include the raucous and colourful Cayman Parrot, the approachable
Caribbean Dove, the stunningly beautiful Western Spindalis and the cheeky
Bananaquit. Our two endemic woodpeckers, the West Indian and the Northern
Flicker frequently provide exceedingly close and extended views. For visiting
birders, a sighting of our bright yellow Vitelline Warbler is often a highlight
of their tour. This species is considered near-endemic, occurring only in Grand
Cayman, the Brac and Little Cayman and the Swan Islands,  with each location having its own distinct
sub-species.

In addition to these endemics, we
also encounter other breeding woodland birds, such as the shy White-crowned
Pigeon and the approachable La Sagra’s Flycatcher. The curious flycatcher frequently
responds to the sound of my voice by hopping closer and closer, often getting
within touching distance and on one memorable occasion a La Sagra’s actually
perched on my outstretched fingers!

Between autumn and spring we also
encounter winter migrants; birds that breed in North America, but spend the
winter in warmer climates. Some of the migrants are long stay visitors, but a
greater variety and number are passage migrants, on their way to and from their
wintering grounds in Central and South America. The position of the Cayman
Islands, close to the boundary of the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico puts
us at the crossroads of bird migration, with migrants accounting for over 75
per cent of our recorded bird species! On the Mastic Trail, the majority of migrant
birds encountered are North American Wood Warblers. In the autumn many warblers
are drab and difficult to identify, but by mid January, most adults resume full
breeding plumage, and the males of many species are brightly coloured. Now is
the best time of year to observe these beautiful creatures, for most have
departed by late April.

The best time of day to see birds
on the Mastic Trail is early in the day, when they are most active. It is also
cooler, with less chance of rain. For these reasons, my tours usually commence
fairly early in the morning. Although the trail is only a little over two miles
long, the terrain is fairly rugged, and with frequent stops,   tours generally run about three hours in
duration. 

This weekly column from
the National Trust for the
Cayman Islands is submitted
by Stuart Mailer, Field Officer.
The National Trust can be
contacted at 749-1121 or via
email at [email protected]
For more information on the tours, please contact the author at (345) 749-1124,
or email [email protected]

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