The COVID-19 protective measures which Bonaire has had in effect have limited the number of visiting birders. However, Bonaire’s local birders have been out in force throughout 2020 and they have still logged an enviable number of rare bird sightings for the island.
Bonaire Rare bird sightings July through December 2020.
Last year, Susan asked me to write an article on the bird records for the first half-year of 2020. That was a spectacular period with two new birds for Bonaire as well for the ABC islands with sightings of the Common Swift and White-winged Tern, both Old World species. Although the second half of 2020 could not surpass the first half, there were lots of entertaining birds. And I was personally happy to be able to spend several weeks on the island after nearly a year’s absence.
Let us have a look at what these six months brought to Bonaire bird-wise.
On July 6, Susan took pictures of a Brown Noddy at the southern saltpans. The Brown Noddy is a seabird that is most often seen flying low over the waves of the sea, so it was rather unusual to see it perching in a tree. This individual was recorded until the end of the month and many great pictures were taken of it.
A really difficult one was the Long-billed Dowitcher recorded and photographed by Susan at Salina di Vlijt on August 1. Fortunately, she not only saw the bird but heard it calling as well. As this bird looks so utterly identical to its short-billed family member, the call gives a much better clue for ID. American experts confirmed its ID, well done, Susan! Actually, there are only a very few confirmed records of this species in the ABC islands. My only one to date (more below) was back on March 24, 2016, an individual that was also calling at Lac.
Buff-breasted Sandpipers, Belted Kingfishers, and Striated Herons
As to be expected, the arrival of autumn meant more migratory birds showed up. On September 16, the first Belted Kingfisher was recorded by Rob Portielje. A nice find by Rob was four Buff-breasted Sandpipers at Lagun on September 18. The few prior records (October 2016 and November 2018) of this species were at the very same location.
A Striated Heron was recorded on several occasions and at different locations (salt pans, wastewater ponds) from September 18 through October 12.
There were much fewer warblers at the wastewater ponds this year than we were accustomed to in this season, but a great find was an adult male Connecticut Warbler on October 11. I saw it perching for a few seconds, but then it disappeared into small bushes. But, after some “pishing,” it reacted strongly and almost flew into Susan’s head. Steve Schnoll and I had seen this species a year ago in the very same location, so one may wonder if this was the same individual.
On September 25, Lia Avis found a male (eclipse plumage) Northern Shoveler at the wastewater ponds. This bird was recorded by several birders and stayed through at least October 19. This duck liked to swim together with Blue-winged Teals in Jerry’s Pond but was very wary. Often after being noticed by a birder, it soon flew up and disappeared somewhere into the main pond.
Susan was the lucky one to be the first to find a group of no less than 6 Glossy Ibises near Lagun on September 27. Some of these ibises were seen now and then at various locations through the end of October. The last record was in the early morning on October 20 when Steve noticed three of the ibises at the main pond (wastewater ponds), where they apparently had spent the night. The Glossy Ibis is irregular in its appearance on Bonaire and hadn’t been seen for three years.
In the month of October, Soras were common at the wastewater ponds with sometimes up to ten birds in a loose grouping.
Bobolinks congregated in great numbers at the pond near Washington-Slagbaai National Park’s entrance. On October 13, I counted no less than 325 individuals in one dense flock, which is, as far as I know, the largest number recorded so far for the ABC islands. Normally we can find the highest amount of Bobolinks at the wastewater ponds, but this year only small numbers frequented those fields.
Yellow-billed Cuckoos were seen in small numbers at various locations starting on October 12, and on three different days in October, I saw one or two Fork-tailed Flycatchers at Lac.
The Warbler Hot Spot
Just beside the road to Lac Cai, there were some tiny freshwater pools that acted as magnets for many birds. Plus, they provided great bird photography opportunities. Many ducks, waders, and passerines used these pools for feeding and bathing. On several days, dozens of Blackpoll Warblers took a bath in these pools together with a few Northern Waterthrushes and a beautiful Prothonotary Warbler. Especially towards dusk, the comings and goings of birds were spectacular. It was Steve Schnoll who had a great find in this spot in the late afternoon of October 17 when a Black-throated Blue Warbler flew in and fed for quite a time in the small bushes around these pools. Unfortunately, these small pools shrank quickly; once these had dried up the birds went somewhere else.
Another Long-billed Dowitcher and a Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Two other rare birds that I was able to record were another Long-billed Dowitcher on October 12 at Lagun and a Rose-breasted Grosbeak at Goto Lake on October 13. The dowitcher was resting far away and didn’t call, but I noticed an unusually long bill. The rather poor images which I could take of this bird persuaded American experts, and they confirmed it as the second Long-billed Dowitcher for Bonaire for 2020.
American Golden Plovers, Red-footed Booby, and Ring-necked Duck
Other noteworthy records were that of the only American Golden Plovers for 2020 by Steve at Washikemba on October 17 and that of an adult white morph Red-footed Booby, flying north along the west coast. I saw this bird on October 21 in the vicinity of several Brown Boobies.
The year 2020 ended with a surprise when Sietse Nagelkerke found a female Ring-necked Duck in the pond near the entrance to Washington-Slagbaii National Park. Perhaps it is the same bird that spent the 2019-2020 winter at Bonaire’s wastewater ponds?
All in all, 2020 was a good birding year, but the number of species in autumn was significantly lower than that in 2019. This was clearly reflected in the number of birds we could find in one single day. On our big day on October 24, Steve and I recorded ten species less than one year earlier (October 26, 2019) when we set the record at 93 species. That’s one of the great things about birding–you never know exactly what you are going to find.
By now the first month of 2021 has already passed. Let us hope lots of birds will find Bonaire in the months to come and, more importantly, let us hope we can leave the COVID pandemic behind us.
Happy and healthy birding in 2021!
About the Guest Author, Peter-Paul Schets.
Peter-Paul is a Senior Inspector for the Law Enforcement Council. He lives in The Netherlands with his wife and enjoys family visits from his two sons and their families, including three grandchildren.
Peter-Paul has recorded seven new species for Bonaire, and also four new species for Bonaire’s sister island, St. Eustatius.
When not birding on Bonaire, he is hiking along canals, dikes, waterways, forests, and other great birding habitats in the European Netherlands.
He has contributed many of his bird images to the Bonaire Bird List.
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(Images courtesy of Peter-Paul Schets, Rob Portielje, and Susan Davis.)