Washington-Slagbaai National Park

 

Washington-Slagbaai National Park encompasses the very northern end of Bonaire . Established in 1969, the park's 13,500 acres include a diverse array of landscapes - inland bays, lagoons, salinas, water holes, sandy beaches, rocky coasts, hills, and valleys are all part of the magnificent scenery. The vegetation varies from being very sparse, with a few prickly pear cacti and low-growing shrubs, to three- to four-meter scrub thickets, to larger, more luxuriant trees (gum trees, brazil wood, acacia) in the steep mountainous areas, especially on the western side.

The gravel roads through the park are winding and in some places quite steep. Although maintained as well as can be expected, they can be impassable during rainy periods. Most of the roads through the park are one-way and quite narrow. There are turn-outs here and there that afford spectacular views of the hills and, in places the Caribbean sea beyond. Although a jeep makes one feel less nervous about driving around the park roads, such a vehicle is not necessary.

The park is open from 8am to 5pm every day. It is about a 45 minute drive from Kralendijk and is well marked on local maps. You will need to stop at the gate to pay an entry fee that helps maintain this ecological treasure. Be sure to pick up a park map and to inquire whether any of the areas are currently closed. You can lend further support to the park by purchasing your souvenir t-shirts and tote bags at the gift shop in the headquarters. The store also offers a surprising variety of island-based natural history books as well as snacks and cold drinks.

It would be easy to spend an entire day birding from the more than 20 miles of roads and trails throughout the park. Throughout much of the park you should see and hear abundant Tropcial Mockingbirds, Black-faced Grassquits, Yellow Warblers, Bananaquits, Brown-throated Parakeets, Scrub Flycatchers, and Troupials, (introduced to Bonaire from Curacao in 1973) to name a few. The park is best known as one of only a few locations in the world still supporting a native breeding population of the now globally threatened Yellow-shouldered Parrot. Finding one of these parrots may not be straightforward especially in dry years when many of the birds fly down into Kralendijk to feed in backyard fruit trees or on fruit set out for their benefit. However, wherever you are in the park keep an eye out for the large, stubby-tailed parrots that are quite unlike the more abundant smaller, slimmer, and long-tailed Brown-throated Parakeets. You never know when you may turn a corner and find a small family group sitting on the tops of a few tall cacti in this arid landscape that is their native habitat.

Yellow-shouldered Parrot, photo Allison Wells

Although there are many interesting and varied locations for birding in the park the two freshwater wells or waterholes are always highlights for the incredible numbers of birds that often visit them. Pos Mangel and Put Bronswinkel are the names of the two sites and visit to one or both will be well worth any birding trip. You should be able to locate them readily on the park map obtainable when you pay the entrance fee. Perhaps the best way to enjoy and bird these waterholes is to sit down near them and watch what can sometimes be hundreds of birds coming and going. Flocks of Common Ground-Doves, Yellow Warblers, Banaquits, and Troupials (yes, flocks!) can be sipping water from the edge or sitting in a nearby bush. Some of the birds have learned to try for handouts and will follow you closely around hoping for a crumb. We had a Yellow Warbler at Pos Mangel one year that insisted on searching repeatedly throughout our car for food by flying in an open window as we sat outside. It is around these waterholes also that you have some of your best chances of finding two of the more localized species on the island—the Scaly-naped Pigeon and the Pearly-eyed Thrasher. The pigeons are sometimes a bit shy so watch for them in the further, shaded recesses around the waterholes or in the trees above waiting to see if you are a threat. Among many other species to watch for at Pos Mangel and Put Bronswinkel are Bare-eyed Pigeons, Ruby-topaz Hummingbird, Blue-tailed Emerald, Caribbean Elaenia, Scrub and Brown-crested flycatchers, Black-whiskered Vireo, Northern Waterthrush, and Yellow Oriole.

Yellow Warbler, photo Jeff Wells (Allison's hand!)