The Birds – Aves de Barlovento

IMG_2451This is why we go cruising. To see those small corners of the world that are still pristine and mostly unscarred by mankind’s heavy footprint. Those places that you can’t get to by plane, or car, or cruise ship, only by private vessel. There can’t be too many left in the world, so when you come across them it’s a rare and special privilege. Aves de Barlovento is one of those places.

Islas de Aves (“islands of the birds”) are two separate reef archipelagos about 35NM west of Los Roques, on the way to Bonaire. We left the anchorage in Cayo de Agua just after 7am, when there was enough light to navigate our way back out through the reef. We haven’t had much luck with fishing, so this time we changed the lure over to our favourite ‘silver spoon’ and as we cleared the top of the island I set about putting both trolling lines out. I was just getting the second one out when ‘Bang’ – we had a fish on the first line! In less than two minutes we’d caught our first Barracuda, a very fine fish indeed. Barracuda obviously like their bling!

Dexter on the back step, dispatching our first barracuda. Photo courtesy Rob Curtis
Dexter on the back step, dispatching our first barracuda. Photo courtesy Rob Curtis

As you may have guessed, Las Aves are populated by thousands of birds living in the dense mangroves that line the coral cays. As we approached Aves de Barlovento we could see them perched in the trees and wheeling overhead.

the southern approach to Aves de Barlovento
the southern approach to Aves de Barlovento

 

We could also see a couple of yachts anchored behind the reef, seemingly in the middle of the ocean. A very strange sight!

Another yacht anchored behind the reef, Barlovento
Another yacht anchored behind the reef, Barlovento

Sadly, in 2012 a New Zealand yacht ran aground on this reef in the middle of the night. The crew was rescued unharmed but the boat was unsalvageable. A grim reminder of the need to be ever so vigilant and to not trust the electronic charts, which can be hundreds of metres in error in this part of the world. Have a close look at the following image of our track into and out of the anchorage (our track is the dotted line) and you can see that according to the chart we were travelling over land and reef in many places! I can assure you we weren’t, but we needed our eyes and good visibility to weave in and around the many reefs before we finally got the anchor down.

Our track in and out of Barlovento - why you can't trust the electronic charts!
Our track in and out of Barlovento – why you can’t trust the electronic charts!
The anchorage with surrounding reef, Barlovento
The anchorage with surrounding reef, Barlovento

And then we had the most glorious couple of days exploring, bird-watching, snorkeling and reveling in this jewel in the middle of the Caribbean Sea.

A pile of empty conch shells close to the shore, Barlovento
A pile of empty conch shells close to the shore, Barlovento
Visitors to the island mark their presence by adding to the coral cairns
Visitors to the island mark their presence by adding to the coral cairns
IMG_3196
Accommodation is at a premium in Barlovento!

Most of the birds on Barlovento are various types of boobies – red-footed, blue-billed, white, brown, many with their comical fluffy white chicks peeking out from their nests in the mangroves.

parent and chick, Barlovento
parent and chick, Barlovento
You looking at me?
You looking at me?
Almost grown
Almost grown

There are also pelicans, huge frigate birds and various other herons and sea-birds, all jostling and arguing for positions amongst the branches of the mangroves.

Pelicans roosting side by side with the boobies
Pelicans roosting side by side with the boobies
the magnificent frigate bird
the magnificent frigate bird

 

pelican amongst the mangroves
pelican amongst the mangroves
It's a noisy place!
It’s a noisy place!

At dawn there would be a mass exodus of those chosen to go foraging out to sea, and at dusk there would be a cacophony of noise and hustling as they returned to roost. A bit like rush hour in the city!

dawn in Barlovento
dawn in Barlovento
the squadron leaves for the day's work
the squadron leaves for the day’s work
The return at the end of the day
The return at the end of the day

With the vast population of birds, it was no wonder that there would be abundant fish life too, and we weren’t disappointed. We took the dinghy over to snorkel on the reef, and it was like swimming in an aquarium – the water was crystal clear and the fish life amazing.

The reef at Barlovento
The reef at Barlovento
the crystal clear water at Barlovento. Photo courtesy Rob Curtis
the crystal clear water at Barlovento. Photo courtesy Rob Curtis

We also had a very large barracuda take up residence under the boat. They look fiercesome, but in fact are very inquisitive and harmless (unless you’re partial to wearing bling in the water!)

"Barry" our friendly Barracuda
“Barry” our friendly Barracuda

Someone unkindly suggested that our adopted “Barry” was stalking us after I caught his mate the other day. Geez, talk about a guilt trip! It makes it hard to consider putting the lines out again!

The exquisite colours of Barlovento
The exquisite colours of Barlovento

All too soon it was time to say goodbye to this wonderful sanctuary, which will definitely rate as one of the highlights of our trip so far. Next stop, Bonaire.

sunset over Barlovento
sunset over Barlovento

 

 

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