The Mastic Trail
Part 3

Best time to see parrots is when they're nesting, in May and June.

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Leaving the swamp behind, we entered a drier woodland containing mahogany, bitter plum and huge royal palms. Royal palms in remote locations are one of the best places for spotting woodpeckers, which like to drill holes and build their nests in old royal palms.

Cayman parrots also favor the older palms and nest at their very top, in the hollow created after the crown of a tree rots off.   Albert told me an estimated 1,600 Cayman parrots are found on the island--a lot more than I would have guessed--but that nest robbing sometimes is still be a problem.

A number of royal palms here had been cut down by nest robbers, so someone usually patrols during the height of the parrot nesting season in May and June.

I didn't see or hear a woodpecker anywhere on the walk, but I did spot several parrots and heard others squawking in the distance.

"To see lots of birds, you must start early," Albert advised. "I begin the special walks for birders at 6 a.m. "

Beyond the royal palm hammock the trail enters an orchard of wild mangoes and tamarinds. No fruit was in season, but Albert reassured me I wasn't missing anything.

Wild mangoes tend to be stringier than the ones I'd buy in a market, though the wonderfully delicious taste is often the same. I would have liked to sample some of that taste right then.

After we passed the fruit trees and another stand of royal palms, the trail gradually went uphill a few feet, then we entered the heart of the Mastic Reserve where rocks and boulders perform the function of soil and hardwoods actually are rooted in stone.

The trees can succeed here only because they are able to reach the ground water that is stored in the cracks and fissures of the rocks.   

Anyone who has seen Grand Cayman 's "Hell" rock formation would have to admit the attraction is second rate compared to the incredibly rocky terrain of the Mastic heartland, which is quite ancient.

It was laid down as an underwater limestone sediment some 11 to 16 million years ago. Over time, the limestone turned into dolomite, a much harder rock.

Geologists say this particular rocky section has remained above sea level for at least the last two million years, and over that period some 100 species of tree and 550 species of plants have evolved.

They grew by happenstance, according to the seeds carried here by wind, birds and the ocean.

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