We didn't think Saba could be matched for beauty, wilderness, wildlife.... then along came Statia, hitting us with laughter and friendliness and revealing hidden valleys and lush rainforest. No sooner had we bombed the Marine Park offices, then Lee Mudson (Marine Manager) threw open the office doors, library, internet, marine park boat.... to speed us along on our surveys (hospitality matched by no other island) while Hannah Madden (National Park Ranger) and the rest of the team prepared to march us to hidden jewels and co-ordinate media for us.
Megan and I sped off on bikes after our quarry, Red-billed Tropic Birds and began searching for nests on the windswept spectacle of Zeelandia beach, quickly finding Tropics sticking out like raisons amid the layers of shale cliff. So the days were filled scaling the cliffs counting Tropic Birds and watching their repeated, failed attempts to alight upon their nests. (This would happen time and time again, the white, rapid, 'rowing'' flapping birds would emerge as a white dot from the ocean haze. They would come into land again and again before a final bungled landing would have them splayed across a boulder, where they would precede pulling themselves along on their belly- their tiny black legs being ill adapted to land dwelling).
Next the boat, with Lee and Gadget manoeuvring us around coral reefs and crashing waves as we searched for seabirds on Statia’s cliffs and beaches. Red-billed Tropic Birds were the spectacle, with their screeches resounding around the cliffs as they wheeled through the air. A flock of Magnificent Frigate Birds loafed in a ravine, Brown Pelicans and Brown Boobies perched onto cliff ledges or plunged for fish, but only the Tropics were hell bent on breeding. We were getting a feel for Tropic Bird life- with their daily routine of fishing and alighting back to the nest. Accordingly, we did another water-based survey checking out parts of the island that we had not been able to reach during the ‘witching’ hour, 1530 and 1700. And so we discovered Tropic Bird paradise- tens of birds looping and squawking over the cliffs.
Statia felt more ‘real’ than picture perfect Saba, with its dilapidated housing areas and a more mixed population. Unfortunately, both islands had their rubbish tips; Saba’s sprawled down a gulley and was guarded by a hundred eerie cat eyes, Statia’s slumped into beautiful Zeelandia beach in a tumble of water bottles and packaging, a reminder of humankind's excess and our love-affair with plastic, packaging and inability to re-use, recycle or just stop buying in the first place.
Together we walked up Gilboa Hill with Hannah pointing out orchids, edible fruits, lizards and butterflies to us. She has been working on the island for over three years and has been compiling a diary of terrestrial plants and fauna (http://web.me.com/hannah.madden/Site/Welcome.html). Dave and I returned late one night to Gilboa Hill after eyeing potential Audubon’s Shearwater nesting habitat, but after blasting the male and female duet across the hills for half and hour, we padded back down the rocky track, the night void of any answering calls. Crickets, cicadas and bats clicked and buzzed in compensation and finally fire flies lit our way, dancing and fizzing through the scrub.
Megan had reached the tender age of 24 (I do sound like an old crock) and we we thought is about time we had a dance... So we met in bar, found a few bevies and our dancing moves... Next morning, somewhat bedraggled, we scaled the Quill, the fabled dormant volcano with a rainforest growing within. Round and round the slope we went, accompanied by Hermit Crabs marching their laborious ascent of amour in quest of mates and peppered with Mahogany stands atop huge buttress routes straining for the sun. The view was incredible- we looked out over tree tops worthy of tarzan with lianas swinging into the distance,
Megan and I made our final sortie for Red-bill Tropics, whilst Dave sloped off with ropes and climbing gear to check out potential nesting habitat. We all met up on the beach for surfing and battered our way through the waves in a washing machine spin, finally leaving the waves as the sun went down.
The daily data entry aboard Lista, a view to our next destination throught the tree tops of the Quill, St Kitts and a final image of the chief character in the preceedings- a Red-billed Tropic Bird. Photographed by Hannah Madden, this time a sub-adult, without the flashy tail.
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