Sunday, February 28, 2016


North of Antigua, about 30 miles, lies the other half of this double-island nation:  Barbuda.  Unlike Antigua, Barbuda is a sparsely populated (approx. 2000), low-lying island with more donkeys than people and miles of uninterrupted, uninhabited beaches.  There is a small town called Codrington where most people live on the eastern shore of a large, protected lagoon and the island's biggest claim to fame and most visited site is the Frigate bird sanctuary hidden away in the mangroves of the lagoon.

We headed out of Deep Bay and turned almost exactly due north for the 6-hour sail to Barbuda.  We had patiently waited for the seas and wind to make an agreeable ride so it was delightful to switch off the engines and sail without incident or change of course all the way to Low Bay on the west shore of Barbuda.

Along the way Wild Cat passed us (being a much bigger, faster boat) and we were able to have a little mid-passage photo op.  I love these pictures with the big fluffy clouds!

Wild Cat zoomed past us.

Reefed for the gusts to the mid twenties, Mowzer was happily making way at 6-7 knots.

Left in Wild Cat's dust - but still happy with our progress.  The seas were relatively flat but this shows that the waves were still around 4-5'.

On Barbuda, Low Bay is a large bay, about half of which is accessible by boat, the north half being too dangerous with coral heads and reefs.  The entire bay is fringed by a 17-mile long beach on a narrow spit of land that separates the inner lagoon from the sea.  On occasion in the past there have been inlets through the sand spit created by hurricane activity, but the wind and ocean waves have filled in those inlets.  This means that there is no easy dinghy access to Codrington and even if you did pull your dinghy over the spit, it would be a wet 3-mile ride straight into wave and wind to get there.  The much easier solution is to use a local water taxi.

Saturday morning we called up the local well-known tour guide and made arrangements with his sister for an afternoon trip to see the Frigate birds.  Our tour guide was out lobstering and apparently didn't get the message so Pat, one of the water taxi drivers, took us out instead.  He was very knowledgable about the Frigate birds and gave us lots of info and good views of the birds.  We had to zip over the Codrington first to pay the $2usd park fee and then the ride up to the sanctuary and the tour was only $14usd each.  It is strange working in US dollars again after all this time with Euros and Caribbean dollars, and ECs are accepted here, but everything touristy is quoted in USD.  You have to be careful to make sure you know which currency you are working in to avoid misunderstandings.

The Frigate Bird Sanctuary is well worth the visit, and especially if you can go at this time of year (or even a little bit earlier) as it is mating time.  After May, it would not be nearly as interesting as the males would not be on display and the females and chicks would be out hunting more than likely.  The rookery on Barbuda rivals the one on the Galapagos, with each one being touted as the biggest.  Regardless, it was amazing to see thousands of birds wheeling in the air overhead and perched in the delicate mangrove branches just above the water of the lagoon.

The males are equipped with a large red sack on their throat that they inflate to attract the white chested (black headed) females.  Any bird with a white head is immature and therefore not considered as a potential mate.

A quick ride in the water taxi with Pat took us to the sanctuary.

The first birds we saw were young pelicans.  It's amazing to see these big web-footed birds perched in the branches.

A whole group of immature brown pelicans in the trees.
We then moved on to the main rookery full of Frigate birds.  Also known as Man-O-War birds, Weather birds and Robber Birds - all of which describe their various behaviours.

Like a wattle, this male's red sack is deflated on his chest.

The piercing stare of a young bird.  Until maturity it is difficult to tell males from females.

Glimpses of red in the bushes

And finally, a fully inflated male.  It's amazing they don't pierce themselves with that wicked beak.

A young chick barely out of the fuzzy stage.

This male finally attracted a female who landed beside him at his chosen nesting site.

Getting a little more friendly!

Frigate birds have no oil sacks to waterproof their feathers.  If they get wet, they have to dry out, and if they land in the water they have to get out immediately or they will drown.

Another male working hard to attract a mate.

Lots of chicks have already hatched.

Where's mom??

Proud parents with their ball of fluff.

Females only have one chick so the one of the left is patiently awaiting it's mother's return.

Dudes with cool 'do's!
Next up on Barbuda - more exploration around the southern coast and some time ashore.