As the winter season approaches, the Cayman Islands welcome many northern visitors seeking warmer climes – including many types of birds.
The Mastic Trail, which runs through North Side’s Mastic Reserve, is a great place to check out some of these winter visitors, along with the birds which call Cayman home year round.
A National Trust property, the 843-acre Mastic Reserve protects part of the largest area of untouched, old growth dry forest remaining on the island, parts of which have been evolving undisturbed for the last two million years.
According to the National Trust, the Mastic Reserve contains some of the last remaining examples of the Caribbean’s subtropical, semi-deciduous dry forest, which has been the target of particularly intense deforestation throughout the West Indies.
Thanks to its relative inaccessibility, thus reducing the impact of humans, the Mastic Reserve features rare trees and other plants and many animals that cannot be found elsewhere in Grand Cayman.
Providing a way for people to experience for themselves this unique natural area, the Trust’s 2.3 mile-long Mastic Trail runs through the heart of the Mastic Reserve.
The Trust’s Field Officer Stuart Mailer noted the first origins of the trail are lost in time, but at least 100 years ago, William Steven Watler and his contemporaries forged a trail incorporating a causeway of mahogany logs and beach rocks across a deep mangrove wetland at the southern end of the current trail as a way to access agricultural grounds to the north.
This was grueling work, using only basic tools and donkeys as pack animals. Their efforts resulted in a trail which became a major thoroughfare until the coastal roads and the modern Frank Sound Road took its place, and it was abandoned.
The Trust notes that efforts to reopen the trail commenced in 1994, with grants from the RARE Centre for Tropical Conservation and the Governor’s Fund for Nature. Rebuilding was a major task and a true testament to the determination of the original trail builders.
The local Rotary Club cut through about 8,000 feet of fallen trees and dense shrubbery, then contracted workers who took up the work of breaking rocks to smooth the walking surface and completing the trail clearance.
Rotary Central Club volunteers then brought in barrow loads of crushed rock to restore the traditional causeway. The trail was finally opened on April 21, 1995.
Mr. Mailer notes the trail passes through a variety of habitats: Black Mangrove wetland, stands of Royal Palms and Silver Thatch Palms, abandoned agricultural land and extensive ancient dry forest. Trees such as cedar, mahogany and mastic are all visible along the trail and, in June, the Wild Banana Orchid, national flower of the Cayman Islands, blooms on the trailside.
“Black and white warblers can be seen picking tiny insects from the trunks and branches of trees, and keep an eye out for black-throated blue warblers which have a steel-blue back, and black under-throat.”
Other animals that can be spotted along the trail include butterflies, lizards, nonpoisonous snakes, frogs, large hermit crabs and the carton nests of termites.
During the rainy season, the south entrance of the trail tends to be flooded, so anyone interested in taking in the sights should enter from the northern end.
No matter the time of year, precautions need to be taken.
“The trail is not suitable for children under 6 years old, the elderly and infirm, or for persons with physical handicaps or conditions that may require emergency medical assistance,” cautioned Mr. Mailer. “In addition, the trail is for pedestrian use only: it is much too rough for bicycles or horses, and dogs are not allowed, to protect ground nesting birds and other sensitive wildlife.
“By staying on the path, walkers also will be less likely to encounter poisonous plants such as Maiden Plum which can cause serious skin reactions – so exercise reasonable caution.”
For maps and information, visit www.nationaltrust.org.ky; click on ‘Tours or call 749-1121 to reserve a guided tour.
At this time of year, the known 13 birds unique to the Cayman Islands, which include Cayman parrots, resident West Indian Woodpeckers and Northern Flickers, Caribbean doves, and Vitelline Warblers, some tame enough to allow a close approach, are joined by migratory visitors.