Special report: Seabird breeding in Jan Thiel saltpans

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Female Wilson’s Plover checking out potential disturbances.

Several species of sea and coastal birds have started the breeding ritual on Curacao as early as the month of April. The Jan Thiel salt pan area is no exception. As an official Important Bird Area (IBA) the saltpans are not only important as a feeding ground for American flamingo’s (Phoenicopterus ruber), but are also the feeding ground of hundreds of migrating species during both the fall and the spring migration. Least, Western and Semi-palmated sandpipers (Calidris minutilla, Calidris mauri and Calidris pusilla), Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipens & Tringa melanoleuca), spotted sandpipers (Actitis macularia), stilt sandpipers (Calidris himantopus), Ospreys (Pandion haliaetus), Belted Kingfishers (Megaceryle alcyon) and many more find a resting spot and food supplies, and some stay the entire winter season.

Shore bird and sea bird breeding

It is in the months of April, May, June and early July that the breeding season for shore and sea birds start, of which many chose exactly the area of Jan Thiel, with its hyper-saline salt ponds, incredible insect activity, and limestone surface, including the man made salt pan walls, as their breeding grounds.

Bird Monitoring in Jan Thiel

Monitoring of breeding in the area in this 2018 breeding season revealed breeding populations of Black-necked stilts, Wilson’s plovers, Killdeers, Least terns and Common terns. And although American Flamingo’s do not breed on Curacao (at the moment), copulation was observed this past week (May 28). Well out of the presumed breeding season for these flamingo’s. (For the complete check-list please look at this Ebird link: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S46117821


Conservation area under pressure

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Wilson’s plover with ‘6 legs’. If you look closely you will see the tiny legs of 2 chicks hiding out under the adult.

As is often the case with small nature areas on Curacao, Jan Thiel is under heavy pressure, as it is one of the few accessible nature areas in a heavily populated area. And it is under threat. Uncontrolled recreation, which include commercial quad tours and non-commercial quad users driving on the small trails and deviating from them by crossing over the salt pan walls. Commercial and non-commercial sport tournaments which allow hundreds of participants to enter the fragile area at the same time. Hikers walking (big groups of) dogs without them being on a leash. Constant development of new hiking and biking trails. Underground influx of sewage water from unsealed sewage tanks of all the housing developments around the area. And the government plans to develop a new highway through this conservation area to reduce traffic flow on Caracasbaaiweg. All these factors make this an IBA and conservation area under threat.

EOP Conservation area – No rules and regulations

Even though the Island Development Plan (EOP) declares the area to be a conservation area and it is an official IBA, no specific rules and regulations or protective measures in the bird breeding season exist. The few stipulations, written in the EOP for conservation areas, are mostly not enforced and there is little control over what happens in the area.

Many environmental organizations on the island and individuals who see the importance of conservation measures have called for better rules an regulations, as well as protective measures to make sure the threats are lessened and the area can maintain its worth as a resting and breeding place for many species of birds, as well as reptiles and mammals (e,g, the Cottontail).

WARNING to users

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Common terns breed on salt pan walls.

For now we want to keep warning all visitors to the area to be very careful when walking or biking in the salt pans. If you are attacked or hear shrill and loud calls of birds in your vicinity, turn around and go away. Chances are you are too close to a nest or chicks. Also preferably don’t walk with dogs in the area and if you do ALWAYS keep them on a leash! Even the most tranquil dog, can kill a chick. And DO NOT walk on the salt pan walls or any historical structure in the area.

All pictures taken in Jan Thiel salt pans on Monday May 28 2018 by Bird Watching Curacao. To not disturb the birds, these are not prime shots, but taken from a large distance, hence the graininess and long distance unsharpness of most pictures.

Pictures below: 1. Killdeer with ‘Broken wing act’ trying to lure us away from the nest.
2. Try to spot the tiny Wilson’s plover chick in the picture. 3. An adult Wilson’s plover with 2 chicks hiding in the bushes.

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