In the peaceful silence of a hot afternoon – one so warm even the grassquits had retired for a siesta – a red-tailed hawk, held aloft by thermals, lazily patrolled the bushland. I watched him idly from the pool, the only place to be when the sun has reached such heights. Who knows how long we passed in each other’s soundless presence before the scene was suddenly interrupted by an enraged bundle of feathers erupting from a nearby palm tree.
A small but determined gray kingbird had decided the hawk had circled close to his nest one too many times, and set about clearing him away by the only method he knew: flying above the hawk and dropping down onto his back before bouncing cheekily away. This dive-bombing has earned the kingbird the local name of pick-on-me-head, and it’s a remarkably efficient method of bothering a hawk so much he’ll wheel away to another valley. ‘Though she be but little, she is fierce!’ wrote Shakespeare of Hermia, and it’s also the perfect description of the feisty kingbird.
Male Frigate – Photo Credit: Paul Krawczuk
It’s often scenes such as these that first draw people to bird watching on Nevis. Even those with the dullest feathers have a quirky tale to tell, and Nevis is home to an enticing variety of avian delights.
The ubiquitous bananaquit has a flash of yellow on his chest, and it’s either that or his propensity to destroy whole bunches of bananas that inspired his name. Rows of trees will have their bananas wrapped in polythene in an attempt to defend the developing fruit from this determined little bird and the multitude of mischievous green vervet monkeys.
The common ground doves put in regular appearances, the Caribbean’s prettier version of everywhere else’s problem pigeons, and the zenaida dove comes with a smart dash of purple on its throat. Heading into the rainforests on the slopes of the mountain will enable glimpses of the shy bridled quail doves as they scuttle away. You’re more likely to hear than see the scaly-naped piegon; listen out for his call of ‘who are you?’ when walking through the forests.
Locals on Nevis often confusingly call the pelicans boobies, although the two birds are easily distinguishable. Head to Cades Bay to watch pelicans swoop low over the water; in the early morning when the waves are little more than ripples makes for a particularly magical setting. Boobies also fly by there and past the headlands of Oualie Bay, and out to sea there are occasional noddies, named for their habit of constantly dipping their heads during their breeding display.
Bananaquit – Photo Credit: Jason Crotty
Frigatebirds with their extraordinary red gular pouches can often be seen at Fisherman’s Wharf in Charlestown; with a wingspan of up to 2.3 metres, this majestic bird is able to stay at sea for more than ten days at a time. It was called the Man-of-War by English mariners from the 1500s, and although it may be a relatively common sight it is also one of the most awe-inspiring.
The area around Nelson Spring is home to the migrational belted kingfishers, birds with the rare distinction of the female being more colourful than the male; ospreys and egrets also patrol the wetlands here. At Nisbet pond there are waders such as whimbrels, and the gorgeous splash of sunshine that is the yellow warbler can often be found on Saddle Hill. Head to the north of the island for sightings of the red-tailed hawk, and to the south for his broad-winged cousin.
Between November and May, Nevis is bustling with birdlife. The above is by no means an exhaustive list: there are enough rare and accidental species visiting the island to ensure keen birders are kept transfixed, and sightings of some wonderfully quirky species are common enough to lure newcomers to the twitching game. Be on your guard, though, for the plucky little Gray Kingbird: his sobriquet is amusingly appropriate.
Jane Thomas is a freelance writer who has loved spending the last month on the beautiful island of Nevis. She is creating a series of pieces for the Four Seasons Resort Estates, exploring the unique charms and corners of an island that will inevitably draw her back time and time again.
Banner photo – Gray Kingbird courtesy: Tony Hisgett