The small island of Salt Cay has a wealth of bird-watching opportunities. The old salinas and salt pans provide a varied habitat for waterbirds of all kinds, and at all seasons. The mangroves and recovering dry tropical forest provide habitat for both migrant and resident landbirds. Bird-watching possibilities include migrants from northern breeding areas as well as summer and resident breeders. The offshore cays, with important breeding seabird colonies, can readily be visited by boat.
Due to the highly seasonal nature of migratory bird life histories and rainfall, every season offers something new for birding enthusiasts. In the autumn, winter and spring months, anything goes – with the passing through and stopping-off of myriad migrating perching, shoreline and seabirds, and new species are recorded regularly. Biome-restricted and breeding species such as Antillean Nighthawk, Gray Kingbird and Whitetailed Tropicbirds are common throughout the spring and summer months. Year-round, birders can enjoy frequent sightings of birds, such as Ospreys, Flamingos and Pelicans that are rare elsewhere in the world due to habitat loss.
Salt Cay does not have any paved roads, and the pace of life is beautifully slow. Meandering along “main street”, as well as the tracks around the island, you will be sharing your time not only with the birds, but with the donkeys and cattle, left behind when the salt industry ended, roaming freely on the island. The sea is an inviting turquoise, and the sand is fine and white. If you visit in the winter (January to March) there is the opportunity of close encounters with migrating Humpback Whales.
A guide booklet, “Bird Watching in Paradise – Salt Cay; Turks & Caicos Islands: A guide to birdwatching and heritage sites”, with full color photographs of birds, maps and guiding text, can be purchased from the National Museum gift shop and other outlets (e.g. Salt Cay Divers on Salt Cay), or from the UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum (UKOTCF) as a PDF download suitable for tablets. It gives practical information such as hotels, restaurants, shops, and car and bicycle rental. The two trails are marked by numbered posts and are interpreted with full-colour laminated guides, including photos. The booklet (in hard copy or download) retails for $10, and the trail guide cards for $5 each. Part of the purchase price goes back to supporting conservation in TCI, and maintenance of the trails. There are no entrance fees for the bird trails.
Salt Cay is a UK Overseas Territory, which means that it is not eligible for most international environmental funding. Salt Cay was at the heart of the Turks and Caicos Salt Industry, until this became uneconomic in the 1950s and 1960s. A major development proposal, which would have totally changed the nature of the island and would have had a huge adverse effect on its biodiversity, has now been stopped, but in the interim the small-scale tourism industry based on world-class diving declined, and the catastrophic effects of Hurricane Ike in 2008 devastated the existing infrastructure, an event from which Salt Cay has not yet recovered. The international importance of Salt Cay, both for biodiversity and history, has been recognized in that it has been included, as part of a wider area, in UK’s Tentative List of Sites for World Heritage Status. Thus Salt Cay has a great deal to offer in terms of wildlife, enhanced by its quiet, unspoiled nature. Indeed, it calls itself “The island that time forgot.” It is hoped that the booklet produced by UKOTCF and its partner the Turks and Caicos National Museum will encourage more visitors to Salt Cay, and thus support its local economy.
The Turks and Caicos Islands have nine species of endemic plants. Salt Cay has particularly fine areas of the Turks and Caicos Heather Limonium bahamense. There is a very small population of the endemic rock iguana, but this is badly affected by cats. Some of the seabird cays hold healthy populations. Humpback whales pass very close to Salt Cay on migration to nearby calving grounds, around Mouchoir and adjacent banks, in January to March. Great Sand Cay is a nesting area for Green and Hawksbill Turtles. For protocols for visiting this
Sanctuary see Big Sand Cay, Turks & Caicos Islands Protocol for visiting.