Magnificent Frigatebirds and Other Deals
There’s nothing like a week on a southern beach to help us get through a northern winter. But I say to beach lounging, meh. Beaches are great, but what if we skipped the over developed, over populated sandy strands and headed to southern climes for more enriching, more constructive experiences? I’m excited to tell you about a once in a lifetime experience on a little-known, less visited Caribbean island that will make a lasting impression, both for you the visitor and on the lives of the handful of people who live there. It’s a visit to the home of a strange creature, the Magnificent Frigatebird sanctuary, on the island of Barbuda that promises to give you a memorable experience while supporting local people and helping preserve the habitat these crazy interesting birds depend upon.
Barbuda is the smaller sister island of Antigua. The beautiful island of Antigua is a natural bird watcher’s paradise. This beloved vacation destination is also home to over 120 species of birds, many of which are endemic to the Caribbean region. Many captivating bird species can also be spotted at different scenic spots around the island, making every hike an opportunity to see something new.
Antigua has an indented coastline with numerous islands, creeks, inlets, and wetlands. This diversity of habitable land and the constant proximity to water makes the island a perfect habitat for shorebirds and waterbirds. McKinnon’s Salt Pond, North of St. John’s, is a top-notch spot on the island for spotting waterbirds, including the West Indian Whistling Ducks and White-cheeked Pintails. It’s also not uncommon to spy Least Terns, Wilson’s Plover and other shorebirds in McKinnon’s Salt Pond, who are known to use it as a pit stop during their migratory routes.
When spending time on the beach, keep your eyes out for the Brown Pelican. These daring divers can often be seen skimming the water in search of tasty fish to scoop up with their large, net-like bills. It’s never a bad idea to have your eyes on the sky when exploring Antigua & Barbuda: the Brown Pelican is known to fly inland as well, and may plunge into lagoons or ponds from as much as 70 feet up.
Antigua also has tropical forests dispersed throughout the island, providing desirable habitats for traditional tree-dwelling birds. In particular, Antigua’s verdant Wallings Nature Reserve can claim an incredible amount of biodiversity: its evergreen deciduous forests are home to Ruddy Quail-Doves, Scaly-naped Pigeons, and Broad-winged Hawks. Just as human hikers flock to Wallings to avail themselves of its many trails, the reserve draws migratory species from other islands in the Caribbean, including the Barbuda Warbler.
As anyone who has ever enjoyed a tropical cocktail can attest, few places do fresh fruit quite like the Caribbean. The various tropical fruits that grow in the forests of Antigua (such as mango, avocado, and guava) draw countless hungry birds to its leafy canopies, including Antillean Crested Hummingbirds, Green-throated Caribs and Bananaquit birds.
But Barbuda wins hands down in the birdwatching department because it’s home to the largest frigatebird colony in the western hemisphere. Frigatebirds —also known as a “Man-O-War”— are large, graceful birds that are seen soaring both on and offshore in Antigua and Barbuda. The male is glossy black. During mating season, he’ll inflate his scarlet throat to attract females until it looks like he’s swallowed a balloon. In comparison, the females are larger, with white chests. In the Caribbean, frigatebirds are known as “Weather Birds,” as they will circulate inland when a storm is brewing. Fishermen appreciate frigatebirds as they dive down and help locate schools of fish. They even have a mischievous side, as they’ll rob other sea birds of their freshly caught fish.
Based on a recent trip to Antigua and Barbuda, which included a guided tour to the home of a colony of nesting frigatebirds on Codrington Lagoon, I wrote this story for Dreamscapes Magazine. And, okay, the pink beaches on Barbuda pass the “this beach is worth visiting” test. Check it out to find out how to get there and to decide if the birds beat the beach.