BIRDING REPORT: March 2nd, 2013


Saturday 2nd March, 2013

Christophe Harbour area focusing on the Cockleshell Pond and the “side-ponds” around the Great Salt Pond.

By Percival Hanley

I visited the Cockleshell Pond on February 16th and was pleasantly surprised to find, among the treasure trove of birds there, two unusual sights, a Tricolored Heron and the first recorded sighting in St.Kitts of a pair of lovely elegant Northern Pintails. On that day, I was on day’s birding trip with a visiting couple from the UK. They were absolutely delighted with that day’s birding as we spotted 52 species. But the highlight of the day was the visit to the Cockleshell Pond. Apart from the two special sightings noted above they were treated to over 300 Blue-winged Teal accompanied by a great variety of other wading and shore birds. They were very impressed with such a rich habitat that attracted so many species in such large numbers, all in one spot, truly one of our best birding hot-spots on the island.

As a result of the above visit I decided to return alone to the pond on March 2nd to keep a check on the activity there. I arrived at the pond about 12:30pm and as I approached, the first sight that greeted me was a large Osprey on the ground at the edge of the pond. It looks like it was just finishing the last morsels of its latest meal and flew up and away as I stopped to get some photos. I continued to my usual observing spot at the edge of the pondand saw only about 50 or so birds at the very edge of the thick mangrove border of the pond. But I know that was only the tip of the iceberg as the birds were simply enjoying the shade from the noon-day sun. As we are now deep in the dry season, the pond’s water level is dropping and more “shoreline” is being exposed. So I walked across the newly exposed shoreline, which was under water just two weeks earlier to get a little closer to the other side where the birds were. I was quickly spotted and the parade began! Slowly the birds began appearing from under the mangroves, in droves! Well over 300 hundred Blue-winged Teal, in breeding plumage, and scattered among them were Green-winged Teal, numerous common Gallinule, American Coots and Caribbean Coots. As I drew closer, gingerly, the teals eventually took flight across the pond in three “waves” to the other side. It was such a beautiful sight to watch such a large flock of ducks take flight, flashing the blue in the wings as they flew across the pond.

Remaining in the mangroves I counted 9 Yellow-crowned Night Herons and 3 Cattle Egrets, while under the mangroves and at the water’s edge were two Little Blue Herons, a group of 5 Willets, a group of 20+ Ruddy Turnstones, 3 Greater Yellowlegs and about a dozen Lesser Yellowlegs in another group. In the centre of the pond was a lone Great Blue Heron and a lone Great Egret.

In the bushes around the pond’s edge, there were numerous noisy Gray Kingbirds and several Zenaida Doves, Common Ground Doves and Black-faced Grassquits. I also spotted 3 Yellow Warblers and heard several others in the bushes as I drove around it later.

After I left the Cockleshell Pond, I travelled across to what I call the “side-ponds”, a group of dug-outs around the Great Salt Pond that eventually became filled with less salinated water than the Great Salt Pond. These man-made ponds have become a new habitat for many birds, especially the beautiful White-cheeked Pintail. I have observed them over time in these ponds with chicks and their numbers are definitely growing. This lovely West Indian species is listed as “endangered” and therefore it is a great delight to see the numbers on the island increasing over the past several years. Between three of the side-ponds I counted about 36 White-cheeked Pintail, the best numbers I’ve ever seen on the island so far.

There were numerous other species in the ponds. I spotted 3 Sora, about 30 Blue-winged Teal in breeding plumage, and three Green-winged Teal, with one male in full breeding plumage, numerous Common Gallinule, and about a dozen Coots (a mixture of American Coot and Caribbean Coot), one Pied-billed Grebe, 3 Spotted Sandpipers, 3 Great Blue Herons, one Wilson’s Snipe and 5 Brown Pelicans.

The bushes around the side-ponds were also very alive with many species such as Yellow Warblers, Lesser Antillean Bullfinch, Gray Kingbirds, Zenaida Doves, Common Ground Doves, Cattle Egrets and Black-faced Grassquits.

Apart from the bird life I saw quite a few Mongoose and Green Vervet Monkeys as I walked around.

My two hours at Christophe Harbor that day was certainly enjoyable and confirmed my rating of this area as one of the island’s best birding hotspots. It is my hope that the development in progress there will take this into account and ensure that the valuable habitats are preserved. In 2006, British Ornithologist Alan Vittery, after a two week visit to St.Kitts, was very impressed with the bird life on the island and in particular the salt ponds on the Southeast Peninsula. In his subsequent report he said “ I was very surprised at the variety and numbers of migrating North American shorebirds using the salt lagoons………as well as the numbers of ‘uncommon’ Caribbean species present. The latter included regionally significant counts of Black-necked Stilt Himantopusmexicanus and the endangered White-cheeked Pintail Anasbahamensis, a species restricted to the Caribbean”. He went on to say that “The salt lagoon complex is, on the basis of the numbers of waterfowl and shorebirds seen, internationally important and undoubtedly qualifies for ‘Ramsar’ designation (‘The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat).”

It is encouraging that the developers of Christophe Harbor have indicated their intention to incorporate preservation of the flora and fauna of the area in their development plans. I do hope that this will become a true reality, as it will not only be of importance to the environment, but can prove to make the area an even better attraction for nature loving visitors and locals alike.


Percival Hanley