This Little Island is a Haven for Migratory Shorebirds

Fernando and I are at our one of our “high density” points (counting stations) on the Cargill Salt Production Facility in southern Bonaire. We are driving the dike roads stopping every 400m to carry out a 6-minute count, recording all the birds in a 200m radius around our point. A second team, Jeff Gerbracht (Cornell Lab of Ornithology) and Binkie van Es (St. Maarten Nature Foundation) are covering another part of the facility. The conditions can only be described as harsh—non-stop winds of 25-30 knots, blazing sun and salt foam blowing at us constantly. But the shorebirds love it, and so do we—there are not very many places where you can see such large concentrations and diversity of shorebirds so close.

We have so far encountered over 20 species of shorebirds and waterbirds using the Cargill ponds, including American Flamingo, Great Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, Reddish Egret, Black-bellied Plover, Snowy Plover, Greater yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs, Ruddy Turnstone, Stilt Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher, Red Knot and more. Depending on where the point is in the Cargill Facility, we might encounter zero birds in areas of deeper water, or mixed flocks numbering in the hundreds or even thousands in areas with shallow water or exposed flats.

How and why did these surveys get started? Two years ago, I had the chance to visit and tour the Cargill Salt Production Facility for the first time, thanks to Daniel Deanda (Production Manager), who attended our Wetlands Education Training Workshop in May 2014, hosted by STINAPA Bonaire. I was amazed at the number of migratory shorebirds and waterbirds on the property, including the stunningly beautiful American Flamingos which dot the stark landscape like pink flowers. I recognized that this small island and even smaller site was probably hugely important to migrant and wintering shorebirds, perhaps even qualifying as a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN) site, a program set up by Manomet 30 years ago to protect the most important breeding, stopover, and wintering habitats for shorebirds throughout the Americas.

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