Early Birds

Beyond Anguilla’s famed white beaches lie some of the largest concentrations of bird species in the Caribbean. As it turns out, humans are not the only ones who flock to the island in search of seclusion and warmth.

Anguilla might seem like the last place in the world for a large gathering of any kind to take place. At just 35 square miles, the island is famous for its pristine, deserted beaches, crystal-clear turquoise waters and uninhabited cays. Moving inland, quiet roads gently slope and intersect towards a handful of hamlets. You are more likely to cross paths with a small herd of curious goats than you are with anyone else.

A different picture awaits, however, when you venture off the beaten path. Hunkered down within the craggy nooks of cays, or skimming over foamy salt ponds, are scores of migratory and tropical birds. They call this little island home for months at a time and some even year-round. Of the twenty ponds and wetlands that dot the island—accounting for over 500 acres—an astounding 11 of them are earmarked as Important Bird Areas or IBAs. This is a prestigious designation given by Bird Life International, one of the world’s pre-eminent bird conservation organizations.

The large number of birds and designations spell endless opportunities for birdwatching. At any given point, of the 38 bird species that are endemic to the Lesser Antilles, five of them can be spotted across Anguilla. This includes Cove Pond, a sanctuary for the Green-throated Carib and the Pearly-eyed Thrasher, a stone’s throw from Cap Juluca, A Belmond Hotel, Anguilla.

“130 species of birds have been identified for all or part of the year” says Jackie Cestero, a local conservationist and avid birdwatcher. “You can find up to 95 of them regularly.” A longtime resident for over 22 years, Jackie launched Cap Juluca’s Early Bird Nature Walks in February 2020. An early morning guided tour through Cove Pond, it is a remarkable opportunity for guests to witness the birds’ nesting habitats.

Dating as far back as the Arawaks, wetlands such as Cove Pond have been prized for their salt-producing qualities. Today the ponds continue to be extremely productive ecosystems, housing a variety of species of microbes, plants, insects, amphibians and mammals. Also known as ‘food webs,’ these wetland environments attract different birds depending on what thrives above and below its waters. “What helps us are the salt ponds. It’s what gives us our diversity” says Jackie. East End ponds in Anguilla have fiddler crabs and fish hatching that egrets and herons like to eat. Meanwhile, in the West, sandpipers and plovers scour for Brine flies. On this enchanting island, birds flock and nature responds in tandem.

“Any good birding happens from 6:30-8am, when it is cooler outside and birds tend to be more active,” Jackie continues. Growing up in Upstate New York, an interest in nature and the outdoors as a child led to a passion in bird photography. In Anguilla, bringing awareness to the protection of the island’s wetlands is a top priority. “These birds, they come here just to nest and spend the winter with us. Least terns, osprey, brown boobies… Birds change with the seasons. Different times of the year, different things to see.”

To be a birdwatcher is, in essence, to be in communion with nature. Enclosed within the stillness of Cove Pond, every sight and sound exhilarates. It is a place suspended in time, creating a meaningful and lasting connection with the land and its visitors—however temporary their stay may be.

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