Bird Watch SXM: Strange Sights on the Pond

This diminutive duck has been an infrequent visitor.
This diminutive duck has been an infrequent visitor.

On St. Martin, there’s no better place to do a little birdwatching than your local pond, whichever one that may be. Late summer and early fall is also the best time to see a surprise visitor or two.

On St. Martin, we’re blessed with an abundance of ponds. Over the years, we’ve chipped away at the edges, filling them in to make land for buildings and roads. They may be smaller today, and quite a few are gone entirely, but they still perform many valuable functions. They reduce the potential for floods during storms, they capture sediment before it runs out into the sea and they’re home to loads of animals, from snails and crabs to fish and birds.

In August, the migratory season is just beginning. Some birds from far in the north are already making their way down to the island. Spending time on your local pond between now and October will be richly rewarded as you watch the progression of species arriving in greater and greater numbers.

On a recent day at the airport pond in Grand Case, an infrequent migratory visitor was dabbling in the shallow water near the bridge. The Green-winged Teal is a small duck that spends its winters everywhere from the southern United States and Mexico to the Caribbean. It was first recorded here in 2012, when a handful of ducks spent the winter. The presence of this species is doubly surprising, because arrival in August is very early for ducks, which usually stay further north until the fall or even early winter.

Some surprising visitors to the pond.
Some surprising visitors to the pond.

In addition to the tiny Green-winged Teal, a bulky pair of birds stood out from the dozen species that are usually on the pond. This time, they weren’t migrants or Caribbean natives. The Helmeted Guinea Fowl is an African species that has been introduced to many places. Somewhat related to chickens and turkeys, they are often raised for their meat.

Although guineafowl can be seen in quite a few locations on St. Martin, it was odd to see this savannah dwelling bird foraging on the mudflats near the water’s edge. Although it probably wouldn’t be considered an exciting sighting for a bird enthusiast, there’s always something exciting about encountering the unexpected.

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