Gossamer Tapestry

Reflections on conservation, butterflies, and ecology in the nation's heartland

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Bonaire and the Mysterious Parrot Eclipse


As our cruise adventure headed south out of Dominica, we visited Grenada, Bonaire, and Aruba. Grenada and Aruba were two of the islands that I felt that I got to know the least on the voyage. That’s probably because we did packaged shore excursions on both of those islands. On Grenada, we went sea kayaking.

Remote Beach on Grenada

Red Hemipterans

I enjoyed the kayaking, though I have few pictures. All of our items like day packs and cameras were stored safely on the skiff while we all paddled. I didn’t trust myself not to send my camera into the drink, so I only have a few pictures of the beaches where we stopped. It was very windy that day, which meant that paddling turned out to involve quite the upper body workout. We did see some interesting red seed bugs on the beach in Grenada. As we were returning to town, we encountered a torrential tropical downpour. I actually rather enjoyed that, though I opted not to wander around town on my own before we put out to sea again.

Departing Grenada

We did not get to Bonaire until early the following afternoon. I spent much of the morning on deck, looking at the sea life. There was a surprising amount to see. The bird life included my first ever view of a storm petrel. I only got a brief glimpse, so I neither have a photograph nor an identification of which species of storm petrel I saw. A small pod of dolphins began playing along side of the ship at one point. Some were jumping more than a full body length out of the water.

As we approached Bonaire, we began encountering hundreds of flying fish- something else I’d never seen before. Again, no photos (alas), but I was really surprised at how well they could fly. They could stay aloft for up to 30 seconds and travel the better part of 100 meters. They flapped their winglike fins, and seemed able to steer. I was completely fascinated by them.

Remnant native scrub vegetation on Bonaire

Towering cacti dwarf the thorn trees

Bonaire, only about 20 miles off the Venezuelan coast, proved to be the unexpected surprise of the trip. I opted to rent a bicycle and tool around a bit on my own. Part of my plans involved insect collecting. I hoped to see other wildlife on the trip, as well, though I didn’t think that there was much chance of seeing either of the island’s endemic parrots. They are mostly confined to the national park on the west end of the island- too far away even by bicycle.

Tree snails. Identity unknown, but likely a Bonaire endemic.

Columella hairstreak

I headed west out of town, and was soon wandering among Bonaire’s scrubby vegetation. True to form with the other islands that I visited, there were few insects. It appeared to be the dry season, as many trees like the gumbo limbos had shed their leaves. The tall, columnar cacti were most impressive. I did get to see, and photograph, the huge arborescent milkweed that I had seen throughout the Caribbean, as well as some cool bone-white tree snails that I saw only on Bonaire. Columella hairstreaks are abundant on the island, and posed nicely for me. Despite much searching, I found no evidence of tiger beetles along the mixed sand/coral/mudflat beaches that I visited.

Strange arborescent milkweed. I've not been able to get an ID.

Milkweed flowers. I saw this species on many of the islands we visited.

Even though the milkweed was strange, some of its inhabitants were very familiar.

Coral-littered beach

On my way back to the cruise port, I noticed a nice patch of native vegetation that I detoured off the road to check out. Wile checking out the vegetation, including lots of native cotton plants, I heard a small flock of birds land near me in a leafless gumbo limbo nearby. Bonairean parrots? Looking up, I saw a beautiful oriole. Not parrots, but beautiful, none the less. But wait- it wan’t just an oriole. The birds were a mixed flock. There were also five parrots mixed in with them. Both native species were present. They even allowed me to get close enough to get a photo that, with cropping, shows them off nicely.

What's in that gumbo-limbo tree?

Troupial (Icteris icteris), a resident oriole.

Yellow-necked parrot (above) and Caribbean parakeet (below)

Tired but quite satisfied, I headed back into port. What could possibly cap off this kind of day? Easy. After we departed from port and had dinner, we were treated to beautiful views of the total lunar eclipse out at sea. Others have posted much better photos of it (I learned that you just can’t get a good shot of the moon on the pitching and rolling deck of a ship), but I have some wonderful memories of its copper-red glow just off the coast of South America.

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At 07:45, Blogger Chilmarkgirl said...

Doug- WOW what a great trip- LOVED the pic of you and Leon under the rainbow. I cannot believe what a great shot you got of the parrot and parakeet-NICE! Looking forward to hearing more about the trip!

At 15:14, Blogger Kathiesbirds said...

Doug, some of that scrubby vegetation looks like Arizona! Those red hemipterans are really pretty. Do they have a common name? The view from the back looks like the insect has a black vest on with a red shirt and buttons! Maybe we could call them Scarlett black-vested beach bugs!

That milkweed and the monarch caterpillar remind me of New England. I would love to go sea kyaking. Sounds like you are having a great time making wonderful memories. The birds were a great surprise, a gift from nature just for you.

At 17:14, Blogger Doug Taron said...

Chilmark Girl- It was a lot of fun. My next (which will be the last) post about the trip will cover Puerto Rico. I'll be interested to hear how my experiences there compare with yours.

Kathie- The scrubby vegetation reminded me of Arizona as well. In addition to the cacti, a lot of the thorn trees were either mesquite trees or something that looks much like them. There were also acacias with small yellow flowers that look very much like a species I know well from southern AZ.

By the way, have you ever been to the other Sycamore Canyon in Arizona? It's not in that Santa Ritas, but right on the Mexican border. You get there by driving West on Ruby Rd. It's one of my favorite spots in the state. and the only place I've ever seen a coppery trogon. It has great insects, too.

At 19:25, Blogger Dave Coulter said...

It's odd to see a desert type landscape in the Caribbean!

At 23:28, Anonymous Mark H said...

Repeat: It's odd to see the desert landscapes there. I was completely surprised, but why should I be? Oregon itself has rain forest, hi desert, low desert, plains, alpine forest, dry forest...about everything in one state. Hm. Beautiful parrots, so, again, thanks, Doug for the education.

At 08:33, Blogger Doug Taron said...

Dave and Mark- the three islands located off of the northeast coast of Venezuela- Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao- are all arid or semi-arid. The wind currents keep rain away from the islands. It's also not at all uncommon to find cactus on a lot of the Caribbean islands. We were seeing lots of a really cool barrel-shaped cactus on St. Martin.

At 10:48, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have I ever mentioned how much I love to see your pictures? Bugs and birds and scenery...ahhhhhh! There's just something about it I love!

Hope you are home safe and sound!

At 22:50, Blogger Ur-spo said...

i liked the parakeet the most.

At 05:37, Anonymous pablo said...

Still waiting for that neon blue tarantula though.

At 09:14, Blogger Homer said...

Actually, I'm not surprised to see desert vegetation there- many other places right next to the sea have desert conditions (Peru, the west coast of northern Mexico). It puzzles me somewhat because you'd expect it to be lush and jungle-like.

At 13:37, Blogger Doug Taron said...

Butterfly Girl- Yep, I've been home for over a week now. I'm glad you enjoy my pictures, I really love sharing them through my blog.

Spo- It was my favorite bird sighting of the trip.

Pablo - Me too. If I ever go to Martinique, without question it's on my hit list.

Homer- The costal desert in Peru makes the desert in your part of the world look positively lush. I think that most people don't associate desert with the Caribbean.

At 14:50, Blogger rodger said...

The milkweed blossom is stunning! It sounds like you all had a great time and it was nice of the parrots to drop in and cap off your day.

Looking forward to the finale.

At 20:19, Blogger valown said...

Great post Doug. I really enjoy reading about these areas. It seems as though y'all kept yourselves busy. Great photos of the habitat on these islands.

At 18:05, Blogger Kathiesbirds said...

I haven't been to that Sycamore Canyon yet, but it's on my list of places to visit. I hear there is another Sycamore Canyon up near Sedona also.

At 20:41, Anonymous Liz at Yips and Howls said...

Never thought of Caribbean Islands having cactus, but I guess it makes sense given the latitude. Hawaiian Islands have their desert sides too. I really liked the parrot picture.

At 21:05, Blogger Doug Taron said...

Hi Liz, welcome to the Tapestry. I'm not sure that the latitude is the primary factor here. There are cacti in other sandy places at much higher latitudes- Cape Cod comes to mind. The cacti on St. Martin are coping with sandy (or very limited) soil. Those on Bonaire are also coping with low rainfall.


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