Peter-Paul Schets tells us about his birding on Bonaire.
Peter-Paul Schets currently holds the honor of being Bonaire’s top birdwatcher. On his quarterly professional visits to Bonaire, he manages to bird both early mornings and late afternoons, and, at the time of writing, he has recorded 152 different species of birds on Bonaire (only four individuals have reported more than 100 bird species on Bonaire). On Peter-Paul’s most recent visit, I had the opportunity to bird with him on two occasions.
Peter-Paul has been birding for nearly 50 years.
After receiving his first pair of binoculars as a 13th birthday present, Peter-Paul began exploring his neighborhood in Holland and started looking at birds. When he heard new birds singing, he would go try to find them, to see what they were, and this activity launched his birding, nearly 50 years ago!
He learned by birding. He taught himself by finding birds and looking them up in field guides. Like so many nature pursuits, learning by doing is often the best way to educate yourself.
After his education finished, he worked for a few years, but he then took a sabbatical to travel all over the world to birdwatch. He started his international birding adventure with a seven-month backpacking trip around south-east Asia.
Peter-Paul began birding on Bonaire.
With family relatives living on Curacao, it wasn’t long before Peter-Paul made a visit to Bonaire, his first of many back in September 1992. He found a quiet and quaint island, perfect for birding. His occasional family visits over the years were suddenly augmented in 2010 when Bonaire (along with St. Eustatius and Saba) became public entities of The Netherlands when the Netherlands Antilles was dissolved. Peter-Paul, a Senior Inspector for the Dutch government, first spent nine months in 2012 on Sint Maarten for their Law Enforcement Council, but in January 2016 he was named to the council for the BES islands (Bonaire, St. Eustatius, and Saba) and began regular professional visits to the islands.
In October 2015, he was on Bonaire for a family visit, which happened to coincide with the annual fall bird migration, and, according to Peter-Paul, it was probably the best bird migration Bonaire has ever seen, with an amazing assortment of migratory warblers. He habitually visits in October, but never has it been as exciting as it was in 2015. Peter-Paul attributes the amazing diversity in 2015 to the rainy season. That year, it was extremely wet which changed the habitat, and the birds appeared in great numbers and great diversity.
Peter-Paul has now enjoyed 17 visits to Bonaire, for either work or pleasure, and he manages to get in some birdwatching on each visit. His species count on Bonaire is now 152 species (out of 235 reported species on Bonaire) and he has accomplished this in just the last five years since 2015.
Working as eBird’s reviewer for Bonaire bird sightings.
As a native Dutch birder, Peter-Paul began his online sightings on observation.org. However, after finding several rare birds, eBird contacted Peter-Paul to request that he add his sightings to eBird, which would help with their citizen-science programs. So his sightings are now included in both databases.
Then, approximately 2-1/2 years ago, eBird asked Peter-Paul to work as a volunteer reviewer for Bonaire (and later Curacao) to ensure that submitted checklists are correct. In fact, this is how Peter-Paul and I met after I repeatedly submitted checklists for the rare Striated Heron.
When an unusual sighting is reported, Peter-Paul will contact the person and ask questions…..do they have an image? Where did they see it? Did they consider other possible species that are more prevalent? Working with the citizen scientist in this manner, the data collected via eBird is more likely to be correct. Peter-Paul recommends that those visiting Bonaire for birding do a bit of research in advance so they are better informed in knowing what birds to expect here.
Peter-Paul’s best tips for birdwatching on Bonaire.
October is a very good month in which to visit Bonaire for birding–the warblers have arrived, and the waders are still here. September can be good as well.
One of his favorites places are the freshwater ponds of the island’s wastewater treatment plant (interior tour). Although it’s not necessarily a scenic location, the freshwater attracts the birds, and Peter-Paul has seen nearly all of his rare birds at this location. Other locations that he prefers are Lac Bay (interior tour) and the Salt Ponds (southern tour).
Peter-Paul’s personal favorite time is to start at first light (usually about 30 minutes prior to sunrise) and to use the first few hours of sunlight. However, he concedes that late afternoon can be very good as well.
Peter-Paul’s “best” sightings on Bonaire.
With the myriad species which Peter-Paul has sighted on Bonaire, it’s very difficult to find the “best” one. But Peter-Paul has two sightings of which he is proud and was delighted to observe.
The first is of a Piping Plover, which he observed in the Salt Ponds (March 2016). Although his sighting was not the first one on Bonaire, it was a life bird for him, as he had never observed it anywhere else in the world where he traveled.
However, he was particularly delighted to observe the first reported sighting of the Crowned Slaty Flycatcher (September 2018). What was unusual about this particular sighting is that the Crowned Slaty Flycatcher breeds in the southern part of South America and migrates north to the middle of South America, usually not north of Brazil. So, seeing one on Bonaire was definitely a very rare occurrence as it was far out of its range. That is one of the joys of birding on Bonaire–one can still make new discoveries!
Peter-Paul’s favorite birds.
When asked which birds are his favorites, Peter-Paul responded:
“I like the waders–with so many species, it is always a challenge to identify them. I also like ducks, but there are not that many ducks on the island. And, I like the warblers. There are many which come here, and I haven’t yet seen them all, so it’s a challenge. In the fall of 2019, I saw a Connecticut Warbler, which I feel is my second best sighting, after the Crowned Slaty Flycatcher.” (Editor’s note: Peter-Paul found the Connecticut Warbler on a Big Day with local birder, Steve Schnoll, when they identified 92 species on Bonaire in one day of birding!)
Words of wisdom for Bonaire.
Although Peter-Paul has traveled all over the world to enjoy birdwatching, he continues to feel a kindred spirit with Bonaire, and he looks forward to each and every return visit. He wishes to see the island ensure that its nature stays healthy.
Peter-Paul feels that the governments of the island need to be very careful with future developments on Bonaire. The island’s habitat is unique and very fragile, and it’s so important that the development is kept in balance with nature. The island yearns to be a nice place to visit, but as more people relocate to Bonaire and more visitors come to the island for vacations, it can’t be helped that that island gets busier and busier. With the burden of more people, there comes a time when nature loses terrain and habitat. Bonaire is still a special place, and it should be a special place forever.
About 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.
He has been involved with bird inventory programs and bird counts in the Netherlands for over 30 years and has led dozens of voluntary bird excursions near his hometown.
Peter-Paul has recorded seven new species for Bonaire, and also four new species for Bonaire’s sister island, St. Eustatius.
He has contributed many of his bird images to the Bonaire Bird List.
About the author
Susan Davis has been living on Bonaire for over 25 years. She is a certified bird guide, a PADI SCUBA Diving Master Instructor, and an underwater and topside photographer.