Antigua and Barbuda, W.I.

BEYOND, Birds, Carribean, Travel
the ever curious Bullfinch

When I first started planning a December trip back 8 months ago or so, I had hoped to visit Central America.  I decided that was not a trip I’d feel comfortable doing alone and put the feelers out for someone to join me but in the end realized I’d be travelling solo and revised my plans.  Costa Rica or Columbia will have to wait, and Turkey is next on my list so it will not be soon if ever, but the universe decides at times.

My trip research became focused on closer, safer areas to visit that might have rain forest and excellent swimming, and the Caribbean started looking like a better possibility for me.

I’d never heard of Antigua and Barbuda, and their rainforest is basically non-existent at this point, but it is a safe, English speaking, area with ridiculously beautiful beaches and no shark problems.  The girl who loves to swim in the ocean was intrigued!  I had looked at some other Caribbean destinations as well but the solo travel safety factor, and the Magnificent Frigatebird Colony, urged me to book my flights to Antigua in the end.

I was a little concerned initially that the Frigatebirds were not going to be around because of Hurricane Irma in 2017 but discovered most of them had returned due to volunteer efforts to restore their habitat.

The people of Barbuda have not been so fortunate.  I’m glad that my research led me to take the day trip and tour of Barbuda with the Barbuda Express.  It was eye opening for sure. 

The part of visiting the Caribbean that most people don’t think about is that the history of the Caribbean is slavery and plantations.  That was only a short 200 or so years ago and the effects linger in varying degrees throughout the islands. Sobering to think of indeed and we must never repeat this.

In the case of Barbuda, a large part of their reparations are in the form of the land ownership structure.  “People in Barbuda own the land collectively. Any citizen over 18 years old has the right to occupy residential land, graze animals and use land for commercial purposes, as long as projects are not considered major developments. ” from Wikipedia – Barbuda Land Acts of 2007

This has all been recently disrupted, and Robert De Niro is at the center of the controversy.

From YouTube watch : De Niro’s Barbudan Land Grab

There is not a lot I can do other than sympathize with the cause, but I am glad I supported local people and local services and learned more about this in person.

I have no opinion one way or another about Robert De Niro (of course I love his movies and consider him to be one of the best actors of our time), but I will say I believe his security people thought I might be a Paparazzi as I pointed my large telephoto lens and binoculars into the bushes to photograph this Barbuda Warbler.

Barbuda Warbler near the gate to Princess Diana Beach

In fact, a lot of rich natural habitat surrounds the Princess Diana Beach area and is part of the land he has purchased, and it is all worth protecting and development would be unfortunate. In addition to the habitat on land, there is the nearby Mangrove stand in the lagoon which houses the 2nd largest colony of Magnicent Frigatebirds in the world, and a healthy corral reef surrounds the island of Barbuda.  There is pink corral sand in Codrington Lagoon in fact.

It would be wonderful if for once humans left a bit of habitat unspoiled.  If you read this Mr. De Niro I hope you understand the importance of this and work with conservation groups and local people to preserve the habitat.  I’m sure anyone visiting for at least 2 weeks would enjoy the natural beauty too. 

Everything doesn’t have to be about money and development.

I will say that the foreign aid that was designated for the people of Barbuda certainly does not seem to have reached them.

Instead of large development on the island, I think small businesses owned and operated by local Barbudan people would be more charming and in keeping with the landscape. 

Perhaps Robert De Niro can enjoy his property on the end of the island as a retreat and soak in the natural beauty and share it with friends. Would be a great place for Kayaking and other slowed down activities.

I am sure this could all happen with some cooperation and vision of keeping the island pristine from large development.

A small corner of the world largely untouched I hope it stays that way as there is so little left.

Codrington Lagoon – on the other side of this strip is the 2nd largest breeding colony for Magnificent Frigatebirds in the world
Magnificent Frigatebirds in Codrington Lagoon – these are males in breeding plumage – they are also the national bird of Antigua
the “birdy” side of Codrington Lagoon and the air filled with the national birds of Antigua in their sanctuary
Princess Diana Beach near the old K Club property that was purchased after the Hurricane Irma disaster

Anyway, the rest of my vacation was on the larger island of Antigua.

As promised the people were friendly, and there is nowhere on the island that is not safe to visit.  I don’t want to focus entirely on the politics, but you can bet that the history of Antigua and their courageous battle to form their own government and protect their people has a lot to do with the hospitality of the island.

Many places in the Caribbean are not safe for tourists to leave the resorts and plain and simple that is because the local peoples are still being unfairly exploited.  Poverty and adversity do very little to create happy people.

That is not the reason I’m not the type of person to visit a resort, but it does make me happy that I did not spend my money in a resort.  Foreign enterprise largely removes the money from a local economy to my understanding. 

If you can do it, it is far better for the local people of any area to shop local and stay in local accommodations.  I did this largely due to finances as I also certainly cannot afford an all-inclusive resort, but I will tell you that I still had a million-dollar experience.

Any food I ate on the island cooked by locals was wonderful (except I don’t like Choba it turns out, so pepper pot was a flop with me…LOL) and the prices were great.  Mostly I ate chicken rice and veggies but if you are a seafood lover the Conch and Lobster are great choices.

yummy home cooked food at a little hole in the wall heavily frequented by locals at the corner of Hawksbill Road and I believe Gray’s Farm Road – you can’t find this place on map and I can’t remember the name of it but it is very close on foot to the Five Islands Moravian Church

My host Marco, and later my local taxi driver and new friend Omar took me to the grocery store so I wouldn’t have to travel too far.  I stayed very close to Five Islands Village which is quite remote if you are staying off resort.

so you just know I told Omar he has to watch the Wire….LOL – thanks for all the local knowledge and safe travels Omar I wish you much happiness in your life!

I opted not to rent a car as driving in Antigua is not for the faint of heart.  A drive through downtown St. John’s is stressful and tough to navigate for anyone not local.  So instead I laid low, rested, went swimming, and arranged a taxi for anywhere I needed to go. Of course I did get a taxi into downtown St. John’s to pickup some Susie’s Hot Sauce for my Dad. Yup, it’s HOT!

I was also super fortunate as Five Islands and Galley Bay area has some of the best bird habitat on the island and so I was surrounded by birds at my accommodations.

Right on the property I had the following list of birds:

(Note as of December 12th – I will add more bird photos later still processing them all!)

  • Black- crowned Night Heron
  • Caribbean Martins (who were exhibiting nocturnal behavior and confused with bats by the locals…I saw them clearly and I will assure you there were birds)
  • Scaly-breasted Munia
  • White-crowned Pigeon
  • Common Ground Dove
  • Zenaida Dove
  • Bananaquit
  • Black-faced Grassquit
  • Antillean Crested Hummingbird
  • Caribbean Elaenia
  • Gray Kingbird
  • Lesser Antillean Bullfinch
  • Carib Grackle
  • Brown Pelican
male Antillean Crested Hummingbird – the female is actually more striking which is not the norm with most bird species – I believe it implies they are faithful mates
there was a family of Antillean Crested Hummingbirds just outside Spice cottage so I got to see them feeding this young one while having my morning coffee
Omar had asked me if I knew what the birds with red eyes that stared down from the trees on the hills were and I was stumped until later when I was sitting on the deck and got this creepy feeling – juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron pretty much harmless but certainly looks menacing!
Brown Pelican very common bird in Antigua
another bird I photographed while having my morning coffee – Caribbean Elaenia which is a type of Tyrannida Flycatcher
so the reason I was awake early most morning was the noisy and very gregarious Gray Kingbirds insisted
the resident White-crowned Pigeons on the other hand were one of the shyest birds I have ever encountered

And within a short walk to Five Islands Village for lunch I found:

  • West Indian Whistling Ducks
  • Scaly-breasted Thrasher
  • Cattle Egret
  • Great Egret
  • Broad Winged Hawk

Because there were so many birds where I was staying I really didn’t have to do much other birding around the island to find target birds, but I did have a pretty great birding experience in the habitat across the street from Runaway Beach (a popular tourist area where Sandals and other resorts line the beach).  The area is an IBA named McKinnon’s Saltpond.  Here is my list.

And after almost 2 hours of birding, yes I did take a 5 minute dip at Runaway Beach.  It would have been ideal to balance that better, but meh.

Runaway Beach

I did stay one night on the other end of the island near Seatons, but my accommodations did not live up to my expectations so after one night I returned to the Galley Bay area and the heavenly accommodations.

I was supposed to have a kayak tour in Seatons with Antigua Paddles but the swells were very bad and it was cancelled.  I was really sad about that because the owners had been wonderful to deal with when I booked, and I heard many good things about them and really wanted to have an experience where I could go slowly and look through the clear waters to marine life without snorkeling but the sea was super rough and there was no way to reschedule before returning to Nova Scotia.

a new favorite corner of the world at Galley Bay Beach

It was not really even safe for swimming in Galley Bay as there were 3 series of large waves breaking you had to swim out quite far to avoid them and since I was alone, I decided to spend some time practicing wave photography instead.

no swimming for me this day! storm surge in the Caribbean Sea at Galley Bay Beach

My island guide Omar recommended that I take a Wadadli Cat day tour around the island as an alternative and it was a great way to spend my last full day in Antigua.

We did zoom by the Greater Bird Islands and Captain George called out the White-tailed Tropicbird for me and I pulled the camera out of the dry bag briefly and got a doc shot between waves. I spent the rest of the boat tour explaining about birds to the tourists of course.

what us birders call a “doc shot” of a White-tailed Tropicbird – thank you Captain George!

With the birding accomplished, when we docked for a couple of hours at Green Island, I decided that floating on my back in the Caribbean Sea while drinking several Rum Punches was exactly what I needed to be doing.  How I held onto my camera gear later when disembarking down the steps into the ocean is a miracle for sure!

Yeah mon! Swimming and Rum Punch in Green Island Bay

I was in Antigua and Barbuda, W.I. for a week by myself and I was often alone, but never lonely.

many Anoles kept me company on my visit to Antigua
one of the animals I had most hoped to see in Antigua was the Mongoose – there were two on the property where I was staying and although they were extremely shy I caught this one at sunrise one morning while drinking my coffee