Cayman’s birders flocked to Malportas Pond in North Side last week to catch a glimpse of a visitor who hadn’t been recorded on island in four decades: the American White Pelican.
The species is one of the largest birds in North America with a nine-foot wingspan, according to the National Audubon Society.
Stuart Mailer of the National Trust for the Cayman Islands had taken a tour group to the pond on 21 Nov. when he spotted two of the animals.
“These birds are magnificent. They are significantly larger than the regular pelicans we get and those are quite eye-catching. These guys are just gorgeous,” Mailer said.
“It was quite a thrill [to spot them]. That’s certainly not the first time something like that has happened. In the years I’ve been with the [National] Trust, I’ve had a lot of first-ever bird sightings. Now this wasn’t the first ever but the second ever, and a very beautiful one.”
The only previously recorded sighting of American White Pelicans in Grand Cayman took place in North Sound, where three of the birds were seen in May 1977.
While some had believed the birds were first spotted by James Bond – the Caribbean birder who was the inspiration for naming Ian Fleming’s British secret agent character – it appears the sighting was reported by Cayman resident Barbara Cargill in 1977 and recorded in Bond’s 1978 book, ‘Birds of the West Indies’.
“Barbara Cargill sent bird notes to the Jamaican Gosse Bird Club Broadsheet that were published in 1978, the same year as the Bond 22nd supplement … came out,” explained local birder Christine Rose-Smyth.
“Barbara may have received the original report of the pelicans and it made its way to Bond via the Broadsheet.”
Mailer noted that the most recent sighting was first made in South Sound by Nick Ebanks, who observed the pelicans flying north. After Mailer spotted them again in North Side, word quickly got around the bird community.
Local bird enthusiasts began making their way to Malportas to search for the pelicans. By Saturday, 23 Nov., enough birders had gathered at the pond that it felt like a reunion.
“It was like a little impromptu meeting of the birding [community], entirely without any arrangements being made,” Mailer said.
“For many years that’s how the bird club has operated. It doesn’t have any meetings. It doesn’t have any members. But the birds bring them in.”