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

 

 

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

 

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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.

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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,

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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.”