North Caicos has remained largely undeveloped, and retains a quiet, rural, village atmosphere. It was once the administrative centre of most of the Caicos Islands, and the site of the most successful loyalist plantation, as can be seen at the ruins at Wades Green. The Premier of TCI between 2003 and 2009 (when UK Government had to take back direct rule for a period of 3 years due to allegations of serious wrong doing and corruption) had big plans for North Caicos, wishing to turn it into another developed island like Providenciales. Large resort developments were started, but not finished, including the marina and yacht club, and the airport, which was enlarged to international standards (impacting on the Ramsar Site) but to which no international flights ever came.
In TCI development plans never quite go away; one of the latest to be promoted is a large trans-shipping and cruise center dock on East Caicos, with the development of a causeway linking East Caicos to the other Caicos Islands, and the development of a land transport business. It is difficult to see how such a development would actually benefit local people rather than multinational corporations, and such a development would clearly have a major impact on the environment. North Caicos offers great opportunities for developing a high value ecotourism industry, delivering economic benefits directly into the local community, with birdwatching at its heart.
North Caicos has a good main road across the island, from west to east. There are many minor roads and tracks, some of which are not suitable for vehicles. It is a large island, and has many interesting and varied areas for the bird watcher and naturalist. Some of the suggested sites for birdwatching, detailed in the guide booklet, are mentioned below.
Cottage Pond is a deep sinkhole, with freshwater on the top, so is attractive to a variety of birds. Very quiet approach is needed because the small pond comes into view suddenly. Flamingo Pond is a large salt pond to the south of the main road, just east of Whitby. There is a car-park and viewing platform just by the main road. This area has suffered somewhat from hurricane damage, and the structures not repaired. However, the Department of Environment and Maritime Affairs (DEMA) is embarking on a native planting program to enhance the site. The main Flamingo flock can be distant, so a telescope is advisable. However, part of the flock is often much closer, and can be viewed with binoculars. Other waterbirds, and some landbirds, can be seen here also.
At Kew you can buy tickets for Wades Green Plantation, a Turks and Caicos National Trust site, with an entrance fee of US$8 at time of writing, and arrange a tour. The UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum (UKOTCF) worked with the National Trust to develop two trails, now managed by the National Trust, through the unusually high tropical dry forest at this historic site. A number of land birds, including the Key West Quail-dove and migrating warblers can be seen here. Information on visiting Wades Green is included in the guide booklet.
The Government Farm is a good place for Anis, Cattle Egrets and migrants. It also has the native plant nursery featuring about 100 species of plants and is also the base for the Caicos Pine Recovery project. Contact the Department of Environment and Maritime Affairs (DEMA) about visiting arrangements. The Government Farm is also the start of the proposed trail, Silver Buttonwood Field Road, which starts through tropical dry forest and then reaches the flats in a fairly short distance. It may be possible to undertake this beautiful walk (which is a bit on the wild side – be prepared to get your feet wet) by making arrangements with the Caicos Pine Project Manager, Bryan Naqqi Manco, who can be contacted via DEMA. Interestingly, the flats here were the site of the first landing strip on North Caicos.
Oak Tree Park in the centre of Kew has large trees, and a walk in this area may reveal a variety of bird life, including warblers and Cuban Crows.
At the eastern end of North Caicos, before the causeway to Middle Caicos, the road passes through an extensive marsh of low Red Mangrove bushes. The pits on either side of this road (where material was dredged to make the road), offer good opportunities to see a variety of waterbirds, including White-cheeked Pintails.
White-crowned Pigeon (Photo by Dr. Mike Pienkowski)
A guide booklet, “Bird Watching in Paradise – Middle & North Caicos; 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. Daniel’s Restaurant and Blue Horizon in Middle Caicos), or from the UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum (UKOTCF) as a PDF download suitable for tablets. It gives full details of how to get to North Caicos via the ferry, and practical information such as where to stay, restaurants, the small variety stores, taxi operators and guides. Car rental is available on North Caicos, and rental companies meet the ferry by prior arrangement. 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.