Adventures with Dr. Birdy*: Searching for Parrots on the Syndicate Nature Trail

 

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A Chatannye, with its broad buttresses, remains standing in the Syndicate Nature Preserve near Portsmouth, Dominica. The Gommier trees (with white trunks) also survived the ravages of Hurricane Maria.

There are tears in my eyes when Bertrand ‘Dr. Birdy’ Jno Baptiste  picks me up at my apartment in the home of longtime neighbours and friends, Vernon and Geramise Gordon in Wallhouse. It’s my last morning in my old neighbourhood in Dominica, and I love it there so much, I really don’t want to go! Alas, all good things must come to an end, but this visit is not quite over yet.  I am going to spend some fun-filled time near Portsmouth, in the north of the island, stay at the hotel of friends, and search for parrots on the Syndicate Nature Trail!

When Birdy drops me off at the international award-winning Hotel the Champs, I am warmly greeted by Lise Van de Kamp, who welcomes me like an old friend.  I had already seen her, along with her partner and co-proprietor Hans Schilders in Roseau, but only briefly, and I looked forward to catching up with them and hearing their ‘Maria’ stories during my short stay with them. More on their activities in the next post!

Birdy quickly arranged pick-up time for our tour the next day.  He could not linger, as he was taking a small group to Syndicate later that afternoon. I wished him luck in sighting parrots,  and  hoped I would be fortunate to see some birds the following morning.

Bright  and early, on Sunday March 25, 2018, I am ready for today’s adventure with Birdy just before 9 a.m.. I’ve had a filling breakfast and I am all set!  Of course, he is already there when I exit the hotel.  We drive down the hill to the main road, and Birdy has

Birdy and Me
Dr. Birdy and Gwen are ready to hit the Syndicate Trail in search of parrots! Photo taken by Lise at Hotel The Champs.

already spotted a Jaco in a tree not far from Hotel the Champs.  I see it too. I am off to a good start!

We have only just begun the short drive to the Syndicate  turn-off as we proceed along the Picard portion of the E.O. Leblanc Highway.  Suddenly, Birdy pulls over, stops the vehicle, gets out, and says that he has something to show me.  He takes out his high-powered ‘telescope’ from the back of his bus, and sets it up on the shoulder of the road. We are facing a marsh, that is, wetland, and I know I must be in for a treat.  The sun is beating down, even though it is still early, and I start to sweat while I wait a few minutes for him to position the scope and locate this ‘surprise’.

“Ah hah! There it is!” proclaims Birdy,  “Gwen, come and have a look and tell me what you think it is.” I shut one eye and position the other over the view-finder. “Wow!  That is amazing.  Oh I love it.  It seems so close.  What is it doing?” I asked.  “It has young and

American Kestrel
American Kestrel as photographed through Dr. Birdy’s high-powered telescope.

that is the nest in that broken tree stump. It’s feeding juveniles right now. Tell me what you think it is,” coached Birdy.  “Hmmmm. I see the sharp beak and the claws.  Could it be a Chicken-Hawk, also known as Malfini in Creole?” I ask timidly.  “Well… you are on the right track.  It is a bird that is in the same family (Raptor or Bird of Prey) as the Hawk,” he replies encouragingly, “It is actually an American Kestrel. I hope you will remember that!” he chuckles.  “Oh Birdy, I’ll try my best.  Ask me when we pass by here later,” I laugh in reply. “I am sure you will.  You are doing well,” coaches Birdy as we continue the drive to our intended destination.

When we reach the village of Dublanc after a few minutes, we turn inland and immediately commence our steep ascent to Syndicate, in the foothills of Morne Diablotin, Dominica’s highest peak. As we drive higher and higher, I note devastated farms, mainly citrus and banana , and the strangest looking trees I have ever seen.  Somehow, their odd post-Maria appearance is more striking to me here than on the other adventures with Birdy  this trip. Maybe it’s the mighty  mountain (Diablotin) and the sparsely covered fields which form the eerie backdrop. There were moments when those twisted, bent, broken trees looked other-worldly to me.  Maybe it’s the mystery surrounding the elusive Black Capped Petril (aka Diablotin) bird that makes me feel this way.  If you’re curious, check the details by clicking here!

The other-worldliness (vine shrouded or exposed terrain) of the Syndicate Estate in the foothills of Morne Diablotin six months after Hurricane Maria:

 

 

Despite the changed beauty, I gasp with delight at the lush green terrain and inhale the fresh pure mountain air as we arrive at the trail-head.

As soon as we are out of the vehicle, Birdy  draws my attention to the beautiful flowers that line the start of the track.  It has rained here last night and the trail is slightly muddy.  I am so glad that I have worn my hiking boots, as the

going is a bit rough in spots.

I have been here numerous  times over the almost two decades that I lived in Dominica, and I find it hard to believe that there is no longer any rainforest canopy.  The foliage of tall Gommier, Chatannyé and Karapit  trees once densely covered the trail.  Now the whole area is exposed to sunlight, and regrowth is obvious. Dr. Birdy shows me several saplings in various stages of growth.  He is very encouraged by how quickly the young trees reach towards the sky in a few short months since Maria.  As always, he declares and I have come to believe that “nature is resilient.”

The rainforest canopy is still drastically reduced six months after Hurricane Maria, but there is hope that it will recover, as evidenced by regrowth on the forest floor:

As we take in this changed beauty, Dr. Birdy first hears and then points to a pair of Jaco Parrots perched in the trees not far from us.  I take this to be a good sign, and am hopeful of catching a glimpse of a Sisserou (Imperial) parrot, whose numbers have always been significantly less than the Jacos.  Since Hurricane Maria, there have been a few sightings of this endangered bird (as per the IUCN Redlist in 2016), which is only found in Dominica, and is a national symbol. I am hopeful that this will be my lucky day. If anyone can locate them, it’s Dr. Birdy, who has occasionally seen them since the destructive storm hit the island in September 2017.

As we near the look-off over the Picard River far below, Dr. Birdy has already shown me a Blue-Headed Hummingbird  perched in a tree just behind where we have already walked.  As I’ve seen several on this visit, I trust that this tiny, beautiful bird, found only in Dominica and Martinique is indeed thriving.

All of sudden, Birdy picks up his pace.  With his large telescope in hand, he rushes to the edge of the look-off.  He has heard the distinctive squawk of the Sisserou on the opposite ridge and is hopeful that we will catch a glimpse of it today! I heard it too, but I am definitely not moving as fast as he is.  By the time I catch up with him, he has already set up the scope and is gazing with intensity into the lens as he scours the opposite ridge for the reclusive bird.

 

Patiently, seemingly endlessly, we watch and wait.  I take in the whole scene: a slope of Diablotin, the Picard River far below, the verdant ridge directly opposite, the broken and bent trees, the blue sky, the serenity of this special space in the wilderness of Dominica.  I wander around and content myself with thoughts of the possibility of seeing a Sisserou. Suddenly, Birdy calls me over to look into the telescope.  Nope, it’s not the national bird, but instead is a Jaco feeding on a fig-like fruit on a Ficus tree.  The agile bird balances precariously on a thin

Jaco Parrot Botannical Gardens
After unsuccessful attempts to photograph a Jaco in the wild, I was thankful to have taken this photo of one in rehabilitation following Hurricane Maria. It was recovering at the Parrot Aviary in the Botanic Gardens on February 9, 2018.**

branch, even hooking his claws around it to feed upside down.  I squeal with glee in the forest.  It’s not the big bird, but it is a thrill to observe the smaller parrot as if it were only a few feet away – instead of a long distance across a ravine!  As it  moves with agility from tree to tree and branch to branch, we watch it for a good long time – until it can no longer be seen in the range of the scope.  Once more, Birdy has heard the Sisserou.  It’s over there somewhere but did not come into our view during the couple of hours we spent at this site.  It’s okay: I am really not disappointed – except that the photos I took of the Jaco through the scope did not turn out!

We make our way back to the trailhead,  and the bird sightings are not over yet. I hear a call that sounds familiar to me, once Birdy has drawn it to my attention.  We back track a little and Birdy sets up the scope again. He finds the bird perched on a high tree branch and tells me to look.  It’s a Mangrove Cuckoo and I have never knowingly seen one, although I have heard it many times over the years in my old neighbourhood south of Roseau.

With the sighting of that pretty bird, it is a fitting end to my adventures with Dr. Birdy during this return visit to Dominica.  As we drive back down the mountain, I tell him where I would like to go next time: nearby Syndicate Falls; Segment 12 of the

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In the valley between these ridges, the Syndicate Falls waits for me in the continuing saga of my adventures with Dr. Birdy!

Waitukubuli National Trail; and Middleham Falls from the Cochrane Village track are tops on my list.

Learning about Dominica’s flora and fauna with Dr. Birdy is an ongoing process and I am very grateful for his enduring ‘lessons’ over the past 21 years. As we pass the wetland area where we stopped to observe a bird several hours earlier, Birdy asks: “Gwen, do you remember the name of the bird we saw his this morning?” I pause for only a second. “American Kestrel!” I shout out.  Birdy smiles. “Yes!  Now you’re getting it.”

Even after 21 years of traversing trails on Dominica, there is still so much more to see, visit and learn. I can’t wait for my next adventure with Dr. Birdy on the Nature Isle!

*Bertrand ‘Dr. Birdy’ Jno Baptiste, a retired Forestry Officer in Dominica is a renowned and highly regarded local tour guide and birding specialist.  He can be contacted at: (767) 245-4768 (WhatsApp, text or call) or by email at: drbirdy2@cwdom.dm

**Sisserou (Imperial) and Jaco (Red-Necked) Parrot were photographed on February 9, 2018 and are published with permission from Dominica’s Forestry, Wildlife and Parks Division and the International Fund for Animal Welfare. In March, the Sisserou, along with a “mate” and several Jacos at the Parrot and Conservation Research Centre (Aviary) in the Botanic Gardens were transferred to the Association for the Conservation of Threatened Parrots  (ACTP)’s facilities in Germany.

 

 

 

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Adventures with Dr. Birdy*: Emerald Pool After Hurricane Maria

 

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An exposed Emerald Pool in multiple shades of green on March 15, 2018.

After my more challenging hikes of the past two weeks, to Freshwater Lake and Middleham Falls, I didn’t even bother with boots during my next adventure with Dr. Birdy. This time, we were heading to the Emerald Pool, another renowned eco-site in Morne Trois Pitons National Park, in the heart of Dominica. I anticipated that my all-terrain sandals would be suitable for our shorter “walk”on this popular track

Although not a challenging trek in my estimation, our day would be a full one.  We were going to visit with longtime friend Mark Steele of Castle Bruce on the east coast. He is the proprietor of the former Beau Rive Boutique Hotel which had sadly been destroyed by Hurricane Maria.

As we were heading up the Imperial Road to cross the interior of the island, I chose to meet Dr. Birdy  at the  convenient location of the National Bank of Dominica “on the flat” at Canefield. He is the most punctual person I know on Dominica, so I left my apartment extra early to make sure that I would be on-time for our rendez-vous.  I caught a bus to Canefield from Roseau and was at our meeting point well ahead of schedule.  Or so I thought. I had no sooner left the bus and situated myself in the shade of the bank’s entrance than who should drive up but the man himself!  As I entered Birdy’s vehicle, we  laughed openly about being early as we didn’t want the other to wait!

We were still chuckling when we commenced our climb in to the mountains along the Imperial Road.  Birdy explained that he had found a nail in his tire and had taken it  to a shop first thing  for the repair.  It was fixed right away. Hence, his reason for the early arrival. I told him that I  feared lateness, and could never do that to my friend who has always been ready to roll right on time for all adventures in Dominica over the past 21 years!

As we continued in to the higher elevations, I noted that the road was good in most places, with the exception of the Antrim area (below Springfield), which had become increasingly problematic over the years. The rest was relatively smooth and the views of mountains both north and south were simply gorgeous.

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Northerly view from the Imperial Road, near Pond Casse. Morne Diablotin, Dominica’s highest peak is in the distance. There is a Jaco Parrot in the tree on the left.  Can you spot it?

It was a perfect day in paradise, and  there were occasional moments when it was almost possible to forget that a category 5 hurricane had demolished the entire country six months earlier.  But there were constant reminders: scenes of my beloved Springfield Plantation in a now dilapidated state; broken bridges; bent guard rails; eroded pavement; and ubiquitous landslides in the higher elevations brought it all home to me.  Nevertheless, I was thankful to be on the Nature Island once again, and to appreciate Birdy’s repetitive affirmation that: “Nature is resilient.”

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Morne Trois Pitons from the Pond Casse round-about on March 15, 2018. Dr. Birdy chats with a man  who is waiting for a ride . Birdy’s tour bus is parked on the left.

As we headed in a southeasterly direction from Pond Cassé and then turned east (left) at the junction of the Castle Bruce Road, we noted once again the extreme destruction of the forest caused by Hurricane Maria.  Some areas looked to be “burnt” but it was more likely that the trees were stripped and the ground was very exposed without dense tree coverage.  As well, it was evident that Maria’s catastrophic winds wiped out some ridges and valleys, while on the opposite hills, the devastation was not quite as extreme.

When we arrived at the Emerald Pool parking lot and Visitor Centre, it seemed that no one else was there yet.    After a little snack, we proceeded on the trail, noting portions that were stilled closed as they had either not yet been cleared of debris or fallen trees or had experienced landslides.

In the stillness of the morning, Birdy did hear Jacos but we did not actually see any at this time. In this portion of Dominica’s wilderness, the extensive damage caused by Maria was clearly evident.  Massive trees, especially stately Chatannayé (sha-tan-ney) with expansive buttresses but shallow roots felled, broken branches everywhere, spindly saplings, plentiful vines,  lack of canopy, regrowth at ground level, varying shades of green at the now-exposed Emerald Pool made it hard to believe that I was at the same site that I had visited dozens of times over my almost 20 years on Dominica.

Magical View
Emerald Pool’s open exposure from the Viewing Platform offers more than one shade of green for the visitor’s pleasure six months after Hurricane Maria.

As we neared the viewpoint for the cascade, Birdy spotted a Rufus Throated Solitaire and I actually saw a Plumbeous Warbler, once he had pointed it out to me.  These sightings prompted Birdy to go  back to his vehicle to get his binoculars. Meanwhile, I sat on a bench overlooking the Emerald Pool, and poked around the area nearby.  The distant view of Morne Neg Mawon (aka Laurent) took my breath away, as I had never seen it so clearly from this vantage point.  But at the same time, I was saddened by the stripped foliage and barren tree trunks wrapped in climbing vines, even though their altered appearance offered a changed beauty.

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Morne Neg Mawon, aka Laurent as seen from the Emerald Pool Trail on March 15, 2018.

When Birdy returned, we paused for a while directly in front of the Emerald Pool on the well-worn stone path nearby.  For about 20 minutes, we watched a Purple-Throated

Purple Throated Carib Humming bird Photo Credit
Purple Throated Carib Hummingbird. Photo Credit:  Charles J Sharp.

Carib Hummingbird flit about the rocky “wall” to the left and just above the pretty cascade.  Birdy said that it was foraging for food for its fledgling (juvenile), that must have been nestled in a crevice on the ledge.

Then we continued on the section of the trail that is known as an ancient “Carib Trace.”  It also intersects there with Segment 5 of the Waitukubuli National Trail (WNT), which was not cleared at that time. There had been landslides and rock slides along this section, so we proceeded carefully, admiring the distant vistas as we gently ascended the damaged pathway.  After a few minutes, we stopped at a covered picnic table to have a snack.  While there, Birdy pointed out a huge ‘Day-Flying Moth’ that was not readily visible in the shadow of the wooden beams of the shelter’s roof.  It took me a few minutes to see it, with Birdy laughingly and patiently waiting for me to spot it.  He definitely has the visual acuity of a bird!

The trees in the Emerald Pool area were no match for Hurricane Maria. Photos taken about six months after the catastrophic storm:

After our refreshments in the forest, we carried on to the second look-off: it took in the Belle Fille River Valley and opposite slope from our vantage point.  Hurricane Maria had certainly wreaked havoc there.  The trees were broken and seemingly leafless, but according to Birdy, in time, the exposed saplings beneath the dead wood would certainly rise and the verdant forest would be born again.

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The upper Belle Fille valley, as seen from the look-off at the Emerald Pool on March 15, 2018.

A short distance further along the trail, we arrived at the third look-off and my favourite view of the area: in the distance, to the east, St. David’s Bay on the Atlantic and the Castle Bruce environs were waiting to welcome us!

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The distant Atlantic, St. David’s Bay and the Castle Bruce area as seen from the look-off at the Emerald Pool on March 15, 2018.

As we drove away to reunite with our mutual friend Mark Steele and spend an afternoon in his  congenial company on the east coast, I felt so grateful to experience another of Dominica’s stunning sites.  Not even a hurricane could destroy my passion for the extraordinary Nature Island!

*Bertrand ‘Dr. Birdy’ Jno Baptiste, a retired Forestry Officer in Dominica is a renowned and highly regarded local tour guide and birding specialist.  He can be contacted at: (767) 245-4768 (WhatsApp, text or call) or by email at: drbirdy2@cwdom.dm

 

 

Adventures with Dr. Birdy**: Dominica’s Freshwater Lake Trail in March 2018

 

Freshwater Lake Dominica, as seen from the heights of the Freshwater Lake Trail near the village of Laudat, on March 1, 2018.

On March 1st, 2018,  I waited  anxiously at the Fort Young Hotel  for my long-time friend and tour guide, Bertrand ‘Dr. Birdy’ Jno Baptiste**. The renowned birding specialist, who is also a retired forestry officer was taking me to the Freshwater Lake Trail, at the top of the Roseau Valley.    After a year and a half away from Dominica, I was more than a little concerned that I might have lost my hiking capabilities after having lived at sea level “up north” for that length of time.  Then there was the ‘Maria’ factor: I had no idea what to expect in terms of terrain challenges or altered vistas following the devastation of that catastrophic hurricane in September 2018.

As always, Birdy arrived punctually and greeted me like a long-lost friend.  In his company, it has always been difficult to not laugh and joke around, which is part of the reason why outings with him are so enjoyable.  And then there is his inordinate patience as I am “academically challenged” when it comes to remembering bird names and identifying plant life. I’ve been hitting the trails of Dominica with Dr. Birdy as my instructor since September 1997, and he hasn’t given up on me yet!  In fact, I credit this highly knowledgeable and personable guide with teaching me more about the history, culture, geographical, botanical and ornithological features on Dominica than anyone else. So much so, that I was able to write a visitor guide to the Nature Island between 2003 and 2011 called Dominica: 100+ Things to Do, with this extraordinary person as my primary resource!

We drove up the Roseau Valley en route to the Freshwater Lake.  During the 20 minute drive,  Birdy updated me on his ‘Maria’ story.  Like many others, his home had been severely damaged, and  he recounted the terrifying events of that night, including flash flooding from the nearby river.  He and his wife Nella lived to tell the tale, but it was enough terror for my friend, and he was in the early stages of building a new house at a higher elevation in a more sheltered area.  Birdy was occupied with the planning and  construction process while happily taking interested parties on tours and birding expeditions around Dominica whenever requested.  I considered myself very lucky, as the tourist season was understandably slow following Hurricane Maria, and I was able to easily book four tours in March while I was on-island. Normally, I would have to schedule trips with him well in advance!

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Uprooted tree at the junction of the Freshwater Lake Road and the turn-off to the mountain village of Laudat.

After about 20 minutes,  we passed the junction of the Valley Road going on to the interior mountain village of Laudat. A heavy mist hung over the lush terrain as we continued along the Freshwater Lake Road, and the sun broke through intermittently as we neared the eco-site. Suddenly, Birdy pulled over, stopped the vehicle and opened the door.  I followed his lead. As soon as we got out, Birdy excitedly exclaimed that he had just heard a Jaco Parrot.  “Listen,” he instructed, “Do you hear it?  There it goes again.”  And then: “There it is!  Right over there on that branch.  Do you see it?”  I was definitely rusty, but within a few moments I spotted the brightly coloured

Jaco Parrot Botannical Gardens
Before my tours with Dr. Birdy, I was fortunate to observe  Red Necked Parrots (Jacos) in rehabilitation post-Hurricane Maria at the Parrot Aviary in the Botanic Gardens near Roseau*

parrot.  Of course, all of the birds on-island had been traumatized by the storm, and had lost habitat.  But Birdy was not discouraged on their behalf.  He explained that there were some food sources such as wild tamarind in the higher elevations, and nooks in damaged trees where the parrots could shelter. It was not known how successfully they would breed at this time, as understandably these birds had undergone tremendous stress as a result of ‘Maria’.   While there, we heard a Mountain Whistler, a shy bird that normally nestles in the tree-tops.  I think Birdy actually saw it, if I recall correctly, but my eyes failed to spot the pretty bird, formally named a Rufous-Throated Solitaire.  It was comforting to know that some birds had made it through that terrible storm. “Nature is resilient,” Birdy reassured me repeatedly over the course of my four tours with him this visit.

After waiting and watching for a few more minutes, we resumed our drive, while observing areas that had been more severely impacted by the cyclone, as compared to other sections that looked more intact. Birdy explained that Maria’s trajectory and resultant winds had directly struck some areas harder than others.  It was easy to observe the stripped, barren mountainsides and then turn 180 degrees to look at greener, forested areas that showed much less damage.

When we arrived at the Visitor Centre, we met two men who were repairing the structure.  I was very encouraged by their work, and remained hopeful that this conveniently situated and sheltered building would soon be fully operational again.  I had always appreciated their facilities, which had included a snackette, covered porch, picnic tables, washrooms and an exhibit on the geological features of Dominica.

As we started out on the trail, we were completely shrouded in a chilling “fog,” which is commonplace at this lake at an  elevation of 2,500 feet.  With its eerie aura, it is no wonder that this inland body of water is reputed to have a monster in its depths! Despite the persistent drizzle at this eco-site, which is located in Morne Trois Pitons National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Birdy and I commenced the climb on the southern side of the lake.

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The Visitor Centre at Freshwater Lake (upper left) as seen from the trailhead on the south side.

 

Along the route, we noted not only the devastation of the forest, but as Birdy quickly pointed out here, there and everywhere, the remarkable regrowth of trees and plants during these few short months after the hurricane. As always, Birdy trekked slightly

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The Freshwater Lake Trail can be slick but well worth the effort!

ahead of me, calling back cautions when he encountered a slippery wooden step, loose soil or slick mud. In the damp and saturated surroundings, it was necessary to tread carefully.  Occasionally, he offered a hand if a step was missing and the leap was long for my short legs.  There were also a few places where earth slippage revealed precipices much closer to the trail than previously. I have relied on one metal hiking pole for many years, and as before, have come to depend on it for balance and stability, thereby  preventing many possible tumbles. However, we did proceed with caution and made note of any areas that could be considered treacherous to hikers.

 

 

One of the many blessings of a tour with Dr. Birdy is that it is never rushed and there is always something else to discover along the trail.  As usual, Birdy pointed out absolutely everything that he observed, in terms of orchids, wildflowers and plant-life.  I do not recall any bird sightings or sounds on this particular day.  However, I was provided with so much information that I swore to Birdy that I would have to bring a notebook with me next time.  The man is a veritable fountain of knowledge, when it comes to natural features in Dominica!

And there were always ample opportunities to catch our breath and marvel at the spectacular, dramatic views of the east coast (Atlantic side) from the highest points on the trail. As  a result of Maria, I saw more villages, mountains and ocean views than ever before. With drastically reduced tree-lines, the landscape was much more exposed.  Despite the devastation, the scenes were extraordinarily beautiful.  I have learned that Dominica is a place where, regardless of circumstances, the Nature Island remains true to its self-proclaimed moniker, as it rebounds from the destruction caused by Maria.

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In terms of my fears about having lost my hiking “feet,” I should not have wasted time with needless worry.  On a tour with Birdy, the focus is on taking it all in, and enjoying the splendor of Dominica, in all  manners, shapes and forms.

The colours of nature along /near the Freshwater Lake Trail:

 

After having spent a few hours on the Freshwater Lake Trail, covering all of it and discovering more under the tutelage of Dr. Birdy, I  enthusiastically looked forward to the next adventure.  In a week’s time, we would hike to Middleham Falls  from Laudat and I felt ready to undertake this slightly more challenging trek.  Until next time!

*Jaco Parrot was photographed on February 9, 2018 and is published with permission from Dominica’s Forestry, Wildlife and Parks Division and the International Fund for Animal Welfare. In March, this Jaco and several others at the Parrot and Conservation Research Centre (Aviary) in the Botanic Gardens were transferred to the Association for the Conservation of Threatened Parrots  (ACTP)’s facilities in Germany.

**Bertrand ‘Dr. Birdy’ Jno Baptiste, a retired Forestry Officer in Dominica is a renowned and highly regarded local tour guide and birding specialist.  He can be contacted at: (767) 245-4768 (WhatsApp, text or call) or by email at: drbirdy2@cwdom.dm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dominica’s Awesome “Rivers, Valleys, Hills and Mountains”* Recovering from ‘Maria’

 

Southerly view from Eggleston
View of the heights of Giraudel, Dominica and Morne Anglais from Eggleston at the junction of the road to the Retreat House. Photo taken on February 28,2018

I write this post thanking God that Dominica was spared from the latest storm to approach the Nature Island: Beryl. The remnants of this weather event passed over the island on July 8, 2018. It was a very stressful and worrying time for Dominicans, as the country has not fully recovered from the ravages of Hurricane Maria. It seems that everyone on-island did his/her best to prepare for a possible hit, despite terrible anxiety about the possibility of further devastation.

This post is intended as a meditation on spectacular mountain views that I experienced on my travels around Dominica between January and March 2018. At that time, much of the foliage was yet to fully recover from the ravages of Maria about five months earlier. However, these glorious scenes of  Wai-tu-ku-bu-li** provoke a sense of awe and wonder in me as I review them ten months after the catastrophic event.  It is hoped that readers will experience similar reactions, along with a firm realization that nature is truly resilient. On Dominica, there is natural beauty rebounding everywhere, as I can attest after having seen it a few short months after the category 5 cyclone.

My first full return immersion in mountain splendor occurred during  one very hot afternoon in late February 2018. It was steamy at sea level and I was sweating profusely as I eagerly waited to be transported to a much higher, cooler elevation, in the heights of the village of Giraudel. Within a few minutes, longtime friend Gijs Van Omme came along and we commenced the steep ascent to his mountain home on the slopes of Morne Anglais, where his wife Georgie was organizing our lunch. On the drive up the “hill,” Gijs told me their ‘Maria’ story.  Thankfully, they experienced only minimal damage to their home, despite spending a wet and terrifying night wondering how it all would end.

During the 20 minute uphill drive, I gazed at more exposed mountain views and gasped with shock at the dire condition of the Giraudel Road, as we bounced in and out of gigantic potholes.  I laughed when I thought about the little car that I had owned while living on-island.  It would have been swallowed whole, as at that time only 4WD vehicles such as Gijs’s or highly skilled resident drivers would have been able to take on that “track!”

I enjoyed a delicious meal on their sea-view veranda, along with a lengthy chat to catch up on our lives since I had last seen them in June 2016. During a tour of their property, Gijs showed me spots where stately trees no longer existed, previously secluded neighbours were now in full view and hydro poles leaned at odd angles.

Giraudel to Diablotin
Distant view of Morne Diablotin, Dominica’s highest peak, as seen from the heights of Giraudel in February 2018.

After a few pleasant hours in their part of post-Maria paradise, the lovely couple drove me back down the mountain to my apartment at Wallhouse, above Loubiere. But this time we took a different route: the Eggleston  side of the loop road between the two villages was in slightly better shape than the Giraudel side.

We stopped at several places along the quiet road so that I could take photos of the astounding mountain scenes that surrounded their community.   After that pleasant afternoon, I only saw them briefly in Roseau, but I do look forward to seeing them again when I am next on-island.

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Interior mountains on a clear day in Dominica.as seen from Eggleston/Giraudel Road in an easterly direction in February 2018. Highest peak in the centre is Morne Micotrin, at the head of the Roseau Valley.

Other interior mountain photos were taken in the company of Bertrand ‘Dr. Birdy’ Jno Baptiste,  extraordinary tour guide, renowned birding specialist and longtime friend of 21 years. Chronicles of my adventures with Dr. Birdy during this visit ‘After the Hurricane’ will be detailed in forthcoming posts.

 

Closer to home base in the Roseau area, I regularly meditated upon these sensational views:

Even now, after all the devastation caused by Maria,  the words to Dominica’s National Anthem, written by the late W.O.M. Pond still ring true when gazing at those mountains.  Here is verse one.  You can find out more about the lyrics and music by clicking here.

Isle of beauty, isle of splendour,

Morne Trois Pitons Mar 2018
Morne Trois Pitons, in the centre of the island, as seen from the Pond Casse round-about in March 2018.

Isle to all so sweet and fair,

All must surely gaze in wonder

At thy gifts so rich and rare.

Rivers, valleys, hills and mountains*,

All these gifts we do extol.

Healthy land, so like all fountains,

Giving cheer that warms the soul.

GOD BLESS DOMINICA!

*from verse one of Dominica’s National Anthem. Words by W.O.M. Pond

** Waitukubuli (pronounced Why-too-koo-boo-lee) is the indigenous word for Dominica.  In the Kalinago language, it means “tall is her body.”