Birdwatching in the rain
06 May 2013 | Barbuda
George picked up a juvenile bird that accidently landed in the water and launched him. Frigate birds can't take off from the water!
Dave and Jackie flew to meet us in Antigua last Thursday. When we asked where they would like to go, Jackie quickly responded, Barbuda which is a small island 24 miles north of Antigua. Why she wanted to go to Barbuda? Because on the plane flying over, Barbuda was the only island that was sunny, not to mention the turquoise water and pinkish beaches were hard to pass up.
Our downwind sail to Barbuda was uneventful. We easily navigated through the reefs and dropped anchor off the south west side of Cocoa point. We were told the anchorage was full of turtles and they weren't kidding. The snorkeling off the reef was some of the best we've seen. The beach and water breathe taking!
Personally I was thrilled to be in Barbuda. They say Barbuda is the Galapagos of the Caribbean. The frigate birds nest and the chicks are hatching during the month of May. You can visit the nesting sanctuary in the lagoon only by a guided tour. We weighed anchor and moved to Low Bay to better position ourselves for the tour. This morning was the day. We called George Jeffrey, a certified tour guide and set up to meet in some arbitrary place, where Torben said, he knew exactly where it was. (Northern Barbuda has an internal lagoon that is 11 miles long and 2 miles wide. If you want to take your own dingy to the lagoon from where we were anchored in Low Bay, you'd have to carry it several hundred yards over a sandy spit.)
On the dingy ride to this meeting place, it began to sprinkle. I look over at Torben he looked puzzled. This started a four way, spontaneous conversation on where we were to meet George. (All four of us with different opinions). One thing we did agree on was the meeting place was a quarter mile down from a shack that they called the "Out bar". The difference of opinion was exactly how far was a quarter mile to a local Barbudan. Torben won out (of course) and headed us into a part of the beach with breaking surf. We ended up walking another mile in the opposite direction of the "Out Bar". Can't tell you why but we did, and ended up on a dock on the lagoon side. We sighted George sitting in his panga a mile up the lagoon, just about where we beached the dingy on the other side. A few waves of the yellow dry bag got George's attention.
Now we're in the panga with another cruiser, their two kids and dog. We come to this huge red buoy in the middle of the lagoon. While George was explaining how this northern Canadian buoy landed on their island, it began to rain. Not just any rain, I mean pouring. My long sleeve sun shirt was no match for what came down the next 60 minutes. Jackie, ended up being the all-knowing one, she brought her rain jacket!
Dave whispers to me, "Another Torben shenanigan?" Meanwhile, George is racing us up the lagoon at 60 miles per hour in pelting rain and zero visibility, to where the old bird sanctuary used to be. Dave put a stop to that right off the bat. He kindly asked if we could skip that part and get to the birds!
We took a series of turns through the mangroves and suddenly the rain lifted. There in front of us were thousands of white dots poking out of the thick green leaves of the mangrove trees. As we got closer we could see they were baby birds sitting in nests waiting for their mothers to return with a meal of flying fish. The frigates lay only one egg. Once hatched, they stay in their nests up to four months. The juveniles have white heads where the adults if male, turn completely black. Females will have a black head but white chest.
George stopped the engine and guided us along using a long pole. He spotted a chick that had fallen out of its nest. He promptly jumped out of the panga and waded over and picked up the bird with his hands and placed it back in the safety of its nest. This caused an up roar on the part of the other birds. One juvenile took flight and landed in the water. This was a problem because frigates can't take flight from water even though at two or three pounds, they have the greatest wing area in proportion to their weight, of any bird. I thought one of the kids was going to start to cry. George, again with big gentle hands, reached down, grabbed the bird and threw it up into the air. The bird, as if embarrassed, quickly flew back to its nest. George told us a story of once seeing a frigate bird fall into the ocean. Then saw two other frigates immediately come to its recue. With one bird on each side, they lifted the frigate back into the air.
Spending the day with George in the rain with the frigates was well worth the $60 US for the four of us. That's easy for me to say now since I'm writing this from the coziness of my bunk. We are motoring back to Antigua in no wind and cloudy sky. All this activity, I think calls for a nap!