One the southern end of Bonaire lies a flat series of vast salt pans and shallow lagoons called the Pekelmeer. For centuries salt has been harvested from the Pekelmeer using the power of the sun to evaporate saltwater leaving the salt which can then be scraped up. At one time slaves were forced to labor under the intense heat and windy conditions to harvest the salt. Today the area is owned and managed with modern techniques and machinery by an international company that exports salt around the world.


The Pekelmeer is also an incredible place for birds. Its most famous inhabitants are the Greater Flamingos that have a long-established breeding location within the salt pans but the many pools and flats are also home to a diverse array of shorebirds, wading birds, terns, and others. The Pekelmeer is ringed by a well-maintained public road so that one can easily bird the area by following the road and stopping wherever there are birds. No matter which way you go you will eventually circle back to the main road and can drive back to Kralendijk.


Seeing and hearing hundreds of flamingos is a stirring sight and, especially for first time visitors to Bonaire , is often the birding experience that remains the highlight. But there are a number of other long-legged wading birds to enjoy here including Reddish Egrets (both red-phase and white-phase), Great Egrets, Tricolored Heron, and Snowy Egret. Watch closely as there are single records of both Whistling Heron and Boat-billed Heron for the island and Little Egret and Western Reef Heron will almost certainly eventually show up as they are now regular in the Lesser Antilles . Depending on the season you could see any of many shorebird species that winter in South America including Semipalmated Plover, Black-bellied Plover, Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs, Stilt Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher, Sanderling, Ruddy Turnstone, and even the sharply declining Red Knot among others. Several shorebird species breed on Bonaire and can often be found in and around the Pekelmeer including Snowy Plover, Wilson's Plover (the aptly named cinnamonues subspecies), and American Oystercatcher. During summer you may even find Collared Plovers that have left their South American breeding areas to travel north to the island. With all the shorebirds around watch for Peregrine Falcons and Merlins in winter.

Juvenile Reddish Egret at Pekelmeer. Photo Jeff Wells.