Flamingos of Curaçao's Williwood
Traveling across Curaçao you'll find lots of cacti and some incredible beaches, but did you know theres also a pretty reliable flock of flamingos to be found as well?
As you're traveling northwest to the beaches and parks of Westpunt you'll pass the little town of Sint Willibrordus nicknamed "Williwood." Its here that you might miss one of Curaçao's most amazing sights if you don't stop and look carefully.
In the image below I get my first glimpse of a distant flock of Caribbean Flamingos as we head north along the Saliña Sint Marie. I look at my Google Maps app and see the notation "flamingos" here, and decide to investigate further.
From this little mostly unmarked spot I gotta say it doesn't look like much. There's a soccer field to the right and the "Williwood" sign in the background. I'd quick checked images of the spot online and found that one could frame the Williwood sign with the little dead tree (far right of photo above) if standing in just the right spot. A little photoshopping then removes the power lines behind. That little dead branch with a little photographic magic frames the sign, below.
There is a little information sign about the area on the green and white sign post. This area is what we would call in America a salt marsh. It is kind of a little bay coming off of the ocean but very shallow and brackish. The green and white sign identifies the marsh as the Rif St. Marie while the little blue sign identifies the road as Kaminda San Willibrordus.
The main attraction in the guidebooks is this little bar and cafe (below), the Toko Williwood. It sits directly across the street from the soccer field, sign, and the salt marsh (aka Saliña Sint Marie) just down the hill from the little town of Sint Willibrordus. On this day it is deserted so we have the place and the distant view of flamingos to ourselves.
After lunch I decide to take a closer look at the flamingos. After much walking and getting wet feet I get a bit closer and see hundreds of flamingos.
These flamingos are Caribbean Flamingos (Phoenicopterus ruber).
These gregarious wading birds are between 3 and 5 feet tall. As I get closer I see they are mostly busy preening or upside down feeding. They curiously only feed with their heads completely upside down in the mud at their feet.
These flamingos like salt marshes because they contain their primary food sources. They filter-feed on shellfish and algae.
Flamingos have oddly shaped beaks specially adapted to separate mud and silt from the food they consume, and uniquely, are used upside-down in the mud.
It is no easy feat getting close to the flamingos but with some moderate effort and a few hours you can hike and wade out close enough to see them better without disturbing the birds or their habitat
The salt marsh is kind of rocky and the bottom is hard on bare feet, so wear your water shoes if you attempt this.
A little further down the road is a sign that identifies the area as Saliña di Jan Kok. The sign says to stay 100 meters from the birds. I don't think anyone got within 200 meters while I was there.
Whatever the waterbody is called, its all near Williwood and appears as such on Google Maps
While at Williwood you might as well stop in and check out the Church Sint Willibrordus (below). The church sits atop a little hill in the small town. It was constructed in the 187u0s in the gothic revival style and is one of the most well kept remaining examples of the Utrecht style of the gothic revival. So says a guide pamphlet and wikipedia. Churches aren't really my thing but this one is lovely. Its too far to walk from the cafe at Williwood but you can drive there in a few minutes.
Once up the hill I discover the church is framed by a nice cactus and rock garden.
And if this hiking and walking and wading is too much of an effort, do not despair. There are more opportunities to see Caribbean flamingos all across the Netherlands Antilles, Colombia and Panama. I manage to get very close in some other encounters. The birds do not seem all that smart but they are friendly. They spend their time eating and preening in a communal group. It seems a pretty good life for a bird.
I get very close in other encounters on Aruba, Bonaire and Colombia (below).
and on a beach in Aruba. . .
. . .and another way some tourists frame the Williwood sign, below. . .
. . .or this
. . .or my favorite, at sunset. . .