Beach Thursdaze

One more Island Note…

It is time for another edition of Beach Thursdaze, those days when the garden crew blasts their terribly loud blowing machines and round up renegade leaves, dust and iguana poop at Playa Lechi.  It’s our cue to evacuate the place, get outta town, vamanos, or in the local language of Papiamentu, Laga nos ban!.  And in our determined avoidance of the high-decibel disruption, we do the only sensible thing. We head to the beach.

This week it’s up the Tourist Road, a twisting, 2-directional, one-lane asphalt path that hugs Bonaire’s rocky island coast from the Oilslick Leap dive site to Karpata, a century-old abandoned plantation.  Half way up, the road becomes one-way to the north, a point of no return.  Continue past this spot and there are only two ways to return to town.  One is over a bone-crunching dirt road up to Subi Rincon and then across the high ridge of the island and back to the pavement.  The other is a long route along the Wild Side, the east coast of crashing waves and erratic speedsters that roar down the highway.

We opt to stay in the 2-way zone today and settle upon a rock ledge 20 feet above the surf and white-capped sea.  With beach chairs set up, we scan the horizon.  Two tankers, one full and then other empty and high on the water, wait their turn to dock at BOPEC.  That’s the Bonaire Oil Petroleum Company where ships either dump oil into land-based storage tanks or fill up with Venezuelan oil, which they deliver to ports around the world.   In the meantime we watch a 2-foot long green parrotfish bob in the gin clear water in search of food.  It is an incredible site watching the fish roll with the incoming waves.   Soon a small green turtle goes floating by.  It’s just another afternoon down in the land of bon bini.

We usually head to the flat, sandy south for Beach Thursdaze, but this high vantage point delivers sights that we rarely see at sea level.  The Blue Moon, a dive boat from Harbour Village speeds by.  One of the crew is sitting on the bow and waves to us as his ride heads home after a day on the water.  The sun starts to shine under the protective limb of the shady divi divi tree.  Soon we will be out of the tree’s cool southern comfort.  Plus, Sparky the dog awaits my return for her afternoon walk.  It is time to conclude yet another episode of Beach Thursdaze.

•photos by Hettie

Beachkeepers Diary #3

Beach Birds

One neat thing about walking the beach just after sunrise is that it is prime time for beach birds, those feathery friends that dance at water’s edge and just make the whole experience that much better.  Come later, as will many other people will, and fewer birds remain.  They flee for their solitude and refuge from the rising heat and madness.  I am definitely in the minority this morning.  Birds 100+, Humans 1.

I like the odds because it puts me into the stream of life that flies, squawks, pecks and postures along the beach.  The first birds I spot are terns.  From my days spent on Aruba last year with my buddy and world-renowned avian biologist Adrian Del Nevo, I have come to adore terns.  Adrian refers to them as the swallows of the sea, but more then that, he explained to me the enormous energy these tiny animals expend just to get a meal.  I see them now, hovering above where the waves break, waiting for an opportunity to snag a small fish.  There are pint-sized Least Terns, tiny birds that defy wave and wind to thrive in the harsh environment of the sea.  Sure, seaside is everyone’s dreamtime for a day away from the buzz of humanity.  But it takes its toll, even just chillin’ by the water.  The sun is intense.  The wind wicks your body moisture away.  Better slug down that Gatorade.

The larger terns along the tide line today are Royal terns.  Their regal label reflects the beauty of their color and form—bright orange/red beak, sleek form built for hovering aerial acrobatics, and black markings that make it look über sleek.

Need some comic relief?  Just gaze out to the blue and watch the Brown Pelicans smiling as they dive down for the catch.  There is no doubt where dinosaurs evolved from when you watch these primordial hunters of the sea.  Fishermen have told me that the repeated impacts from diving for dinner eventually robs the older pelicans of their sight.  Once that happens, the end is not far away.  The blind miss fish, get weaker and eventually perish.  In the meantime, they smile their gusty lives away.  And so it goes.

Another beach comedian is the Laughing Gull.  When mating season is in full blast, these oversexed fliers literally laugh their way through the mating season.  And why not?  Shouldn’t sex be fun?  It is now July and their randy laughs are gone, but not their subtle smiles.  These birds seem to have a joie de vivre no matter what time of the year, a keen enjoyment for living that presses on into the heat of the summer.

Today I am treated to two American Oystercatchers.  The first time I saw this robust bird was back in the 1980s with my dear friend, Chandler Swanberg.  Chan was always turning me on to things in the natural world that I had no clue about.  That included rocks since he was a geologist.  While we roamed the cold Pacific coast near San Francisco one spring, he pointed out my first Oystercatcher.  Now I get to see the bird’s glory in the warmth of the Caribbean—a flaming red bill, a yellow eye with a scarlet ring around it, an attitude and strut that would only make my friend, Chan, laugh so hard that his pipe would have dropped from his lips.

And to ensure I’m not walking the San Francisco beach anymore, I spot a small flock of pink flamingos, flying.  Nearly every morning during my Beachkeeper walk, I see at least a dozen headed to breakfast at the nearby Pekelmeer Sanctuary.  Today there are only three, but what an amazing trio of flamboyant color.  Small, but mighty and majestic.

Then there are the plovers, tiny but mighty wanderers of the beach.  I see only Semipalmated Plovers.   But there are also Wilson’s, Snowy, Piping, Collared, American-Golden, and Black-Bellied Plovers on Bonaire.  Plovers are known throughout the world and feed mainly on insects.  I watch today’s Semipalmated Plovers doing their rounds, scurrying back and forth between shoreline bush and seawater in search of the bug.

In spite of the beach scene, there are a couple of terrestrial birds that you don’t want to miss.  Tucked up in the buttonwood bushes that hug the coast are flashes of chirping gold, Yellow Warblers that flit within the green.  Not to be upstaged are the Tropical Mockingbirds. They live up to their name as the island’s ventriloquists, mimicking (and perhaps mocking) the other birds that they share the island with.  Today’s Tropical Mockingbird’s call slightly resembles a Pearly Eyed Thrasher.  It is a cheap imitation that sounds like a juvenile trying to find its voice.  But the TM doesn’t blush.  It simply tries harder.  I have to bow to the bird’s moxie.

The end of my walk is near.  It must be after 7:30 for I see the first kite surfer of the day, a dedicated radical that always breaks water with a screaming yellow/green kite alone before the sun has fully awaken.  That’s my cue to point the Subaru back to Kralendijk.  I’ve walked three miles and it is time for breakfast.