High Street, in the city of Roseau, is the access to the main entrance to the grounds of the Parliament Building; an all-boys primary school; the water and sewerage company; a police department and a few government agencies. One will also find a petrol station, a popular grocery store, a tyre-repair shop, two snackettes and a bar on that very narrow, busy street.
At the eastern end of High Street, near its intersection with Bath Road, one will also find what once served as the Dominica Club, with its own tennis court. The building which was later used as the Grotto Night Club subsequently housed a squash court, and until recently, was used as housing for disadvantaged persons when it was then known as the Grotto Home for the Homeless.
On the grounds of the old Grotto Home are a few trees including 6 Royal Palms, a few very young ‘Century Palms’, a Flamboyant tree, a Red Cedar tree – the only one in the city of Roseau, a Ficus tree rooted in the wall near the tennis court, and a bearing coconut tree, among others.
A visit to the grounds of the Grotto and around the tennis court will reveal that there are several species of birds in the area. These include the Black-faced Grassquit (sisi zèb), Carib Grackle (tjoupit), Bananaquit (sikiyé), Eurasian collared dove, Zenaida (toutwèl), Lesser Antillean Bullfinch (pennwè/m, mwéson/f), Grey Kingbird (pipirit) and thrashers (gwiv), among others.
However, some readers may be surprised to know that the coconut tree has been serving as the nesting site for one of Dominica’s largest native species of birds for several years now. This bird, the YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT HERON, is known locally by at least two names: Kwabyé jenga and Kwabyé sann. Crabs such as ‘siwik’, ‘kòbo’, and black crabs are included in the diet of these birds.
On Wednesday, April 18, 2018, during the first nesting season following Hurricane Maria, Joseph “Ras Jo” “Tiger” Henry who operates the tyre-repair facility at the eastern end of High Street across from the Grotto, tried drawing my attention to what he described as “a big bird” that was nesting in the crown of the coconut tree. I took a casual glance at the tree, and to be honest I did not observe any nest, far less a bird. But nonetheless, I shot three photographs of the tree crown, and sometime later, after I got home I examined the photos on my computer just to find out that there really was a bird, a Yellow-crowned Night Heron sitting low down in its nest of twigs in the crown of the coconut tree.
I did not pass along that street again until May 7, 2018, and on that day, I could clearly see the heron’s back now, as it may have had chicks by then. And so, for the next twelve weeks until shortly after July 29, I continued making observations on the occupants of that nest which was perched precariously on the stalk of a ‘branch’ of the coconut tree. The occupants of the nest comprised three chicks, and when she was present, the hen usually stood on a branch close to the nest. I actually got my first glimpse of the chicks on May 27, 2018, and that was with the aid of my zoom lens.
Some time between 3rd and 5th June the number of chicks in the family was reduced by one. The third chick may have either fallen from the nest to the ground and died, or it may have been pushed out from the nest by its siblings (a phenomenon known as sibling rivalry), or it may have fallen victim to a predator while the parent was out foraging. Unfortunately, I never checked the ground below the coconut tree’s crown.
Over the next few weeks, the writer continued making observations. Tiger had also taken a keen interest in the occupants of the nest and the adults. He made observations from his tyre-repair shop and from his bedroom window from which he could get a clear view of what was happening in the nest. He even reported seeing four adults visit the nest tree area on June 16, 2018. Several other High Street residents were also taking note.
We watched the two remaining chicks continue to grow and get stronger, occasionally doing their wing flaps and leg stretches, squabbling, and sunning themselves by standing facing the sun with their wings open. We also observed, on several occasions when the hen would return from her foraging trips to feed her chicks, the agitated behaviour of the chicks before they were fed.
Some other interesting observations were made from June 21 through July 5, 2018, when up to three “renegade” juveniles who were probably hatched in that same nest tree the year before were visiting the Grotto area. On one occasion one of the intruders even tried to get onto the nest, but the hen and her two chicks did not allow that ‘renegade’ to further intrude.
On July 15, 2018, only a single juvenile was observed in the nest tree as the other may have fledged, and on July 19, the hen was observed collecting twigs, taking them to the nest and the lone juvenile would fix them in the nest. The third juvenile from the 2018 brood was last seen on July 29, 2018.
2019: A pair of Yellow-crowned Night Herons (possibly the same pair from the year before) again nested in the crown of the coconut tree, in the same general area (south-west of the crown), and possibly on the same ‘branch as obtained in 2018. Nesting was somewhat delayed that year due to rains in April, but by May 30, 2019, the hen was sitting on eggs which I had earlier gotten a glimpse of from down below, through my camera lens.
On the morning of May 31, 2019, the hen was met perched on a branch, but there was no nest in the tree crown. An inspection of the ground below the tree crown revealed several scattered twigs, as well as pieces of egg shells with yolk present in some of them. The night before had been rainy and windy, and it is believed that a strong gust of wind may have caused the nest to be blown off the tree.
Following the unfortunate incident, the hen remained in the tree crown for a couple of days before moving on.
2020 – 2022: There was no heron nesting activity in that tree – or any other tree on the Grotto compound – in 2020 or 2021, but come 2022 nesting activity by the Yellow-crowned Night Heron resumed in the same tree, and it can be reported that on June 2, 2022, the hen was sitting on her nest, but the pair was still engaged in nesting activity (even after sundown), and by June 7, it appears that they abandoned the nest.
It must be noted that with all of the nesting activity going on in the coconut tree crown, on several afternoons a few tennis players including Carlos, Dave, Dicky, Henry, Mackie, Milton, Rawlins, and Roslyn were recreating (not all together) on the tennis court and occasionally the players would even cast an eye on what was going on with their ‘feathered friends’ above; the birds were certainly not distracted by the tennis activity below.
Making observations on activities going on in the nest in 2022 proved to be very challenging, as the Flamboyant Tree, branches of which are now touching the coconut tree crown, is totally obstructing the view of the nest from Tiger’s tyre-repair shop and his bedroom window. Most of the 2022 observations were made only from certain vantage points on the tennis court.