Famous for its scuba diving, Bonaire is also a bird watcher’s paradise
- March 17, 2023
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At Po’s Mangel, a spring-fed waterhole, we observed the pecking order: Tiny commoners were pushed from their perches by white-tipped pigeons booted by scaly-necked pigeons whose burgundy neck feathers were ribbed like car grills. We traversed an ancient lava field to look over the cliffs at magnificent frigatebirds soaring to six foot wingspans. “Frigatebirds have lost leg mass evolutionarily,” explains Davis. “They can’t walk or swim with weak legs, so they steal from other birds instead of hunting.”
The next morning, Davis took me to the flamingos breeding grounds in the southern salt pans of the island. After the Spaniards, the Dutch conquered the island and looked for salt to preserve the herring. Centuries-old stone huts lined the shore, providing shade for enslaved Africans harvesting salt. Nearby male and female terns exchanged views, perched on small depressions in the ground where they discreetly hatched their eggs.
Across the street stretched the salt pans, some white with crystals and some pink. On the horizon hundreds of flamingos sheltered from the wind in the bird sanctuary.
On my last day, Davis took me to an unusual hiking spot: a cluster of ponds filled with filtered effluent from Bonaire’s sewage treatment plant, teeming with birds. Beside the fenced compound, black-bellied wigeons scoured a pool for insects while a ridge-billed animal clawed at the dirt nearby. Davis has requested protection of the area and I cheer her on. Set aside for industrial uses, this sombre place next to Bonaire’s prison might not be on every tourist’s itinerary, but it’s a highlight for bird watchers like me – because it’s a bird’s paradise.
Dawn Oliver, founder of Well Xplored, can arrange a similar eight-day trip that includes dives to explore Bonaire’s many coral reefs and shipwrecks, with binoculars and a bird guide on hand when you surface for air.
More bird paradises
Before humans came to the New Zealand islands, they were devoid of predators, which is why so many birds are unable to fly here. Donna Thomas of New Zealand Travel showcases the many strange species with excursions that can include excursions to spot the nocturnal kiwi bird or after-hours access to a yellow-eyed penguin sanctuary.
Iceland has been a stop on annual migration paths for millennia. Chris Gordon, founder of Icepedition, has access to private land where various species of birds build their nests. Guests will see dozens of varieties grouped together.
To discover the best aviators in Brazil, South American Escapes founder Jill Siegel recommends spending 16 days in the company of a birding expert. The Pantanal has over 400 species and the Atlantic Forest region has over 930 – about 15 percent of which are found nowhere else.
This article appeared in the April 2023 issue of Condé Nast Traveler. Subscribe to the magazine here.