Bird Life in the Tobago Cays

Mon 6 May 2013 13:59
12:37.933N 61:21.43W

It was lovely to be back in the warm, clear water of the Tobago Cays. To clarify, the sea is about 27ºC at the moment, just about perfect, cool enough when you've been out in the hot sun, but warm enough to stay snorkelling in 'till you've had enough of turtles and parrot fish and coral and angel fish and....

Almost as soon as we dropped anchor some guests arrived. The first were a pair of Laughing Gulls, who perched on the pulpit and made it their home base for the duration. Small silver fish, about 2 inches long, decided the shadow of our boat made good cover and took up residence, a silvery swirling cloud, like our own flock of Starlings to watch every time we ducked our heads under the surface. A school of larger fish, up to a couple of feet long and darker came after the silver fish, sending them leaping out of the water in spectacular synchronised swimming displays, which is when our two Laughing Gulls went swooping down to pick them out of the air or from the surface. Altogether a dramatic spectacle, heralded by loud splashing, which took place at regular intervals during our stay.

The second were a pair of Grackles - the ones who say "Bequia is Sweeeet Sweeeet!". They are cheeky, inquisitive little birds and these two thoroughly explored their new domain. 


Phil furthered his career as animal whisperer by tempting them with food and after a day or two they would both take food from my hand. It was such a pleasure to be able to observe these birds at such close quarters for a few days. They had a wide range of calls, from the greeting 'Churup' that we woke to as they arrived in the mornings, through the clucking sound they made just to their mate, heads pointing straight in the air, copying each other, to the full "Bequia is Sweeet Sweeet!" complete with full feather fluff, just before mating or to warn off a rival. 


When we arrived we recognised Michael and Gill on Bluejacket, who we met in Portsmouth, Dominica, at  the Sunday evening Jump Up. This was a splendid affair, run by the local association of boat boys, with free flowing rum punch and many hours of dancing in the sand. There were lots of local chaps there very keen to dance with any lady whose husband was slow to take to the dance floor. The, shall I say 'sensuous' way in which they danced caused many a usually reluctant dance partner to come and reclaim their ladies. Gill and I discovered that dancing barefoot in the sand was an excellent way of reviving never-in-shoes boat feet. Next morning all the hard skin was gone and we had squeaky clean pink tootsies. Much more fun than pumice. We also met up with Lee and Kirsty on Jon Jon, along with Kirsty's sister and brother in law. We first met in Gijon and then again in Lanzarote. Pretty cool to see them here, especially as they were only heading for Gibraltar. They sort of got swept along by the current, not wanting to stop when they got to The Rock. All this socialising meant that excited Grackles turned up in the morning to find delights such as pistachio nuts, pop corn and pretzels left in the cockpit.

It's breeding season for many sea birds just now, not just for Grackles, and we spent some magical time watching the Laughing Gulls on the beach. Often a female will pester a male for food, pecking at his beak and squeaking at him until he reluctantly gives in and regurgitates something for her. They then move on to synchronised head bobbing and calling, making little runs up and down the beach, then in a twinkling of an eye the deed is done, and they are preening and settling ruffled feathers, still staying close to each other. There were also Ruddy Turnstones in full breeding colours and little delicate Sandpipers with legs a blur zipping between them. A solitary Blue Heron fished the shallows, deftly picking out fish after fish as we watched him.

A lonely Laughing Gull pining after her French Lieutenant. 

We took the dinghy over to Jamesby, a beautiful semi circle of sand, backed by rocks, with palm trees on the beach and iguanas and all kinds of cactus and shrub on the rocks. There we had Boobies fly right up close to us - we backed off, we must have been near their nest, and we sat quietly and watch a pair of Bridled Terns take turns guarding the entrance to their nest. Such beautiful delicate birds, sadly I wasn't able to capture them in flight.


The last time we were here we were blown away by the wonderful clear water and superb snorkelling. We loved that this time too - I'll make another entry to show off our further attempts at becoming underwater photographers, however it's the birds that we'll specially remember this time.

"Oi! Get off this boat - it's my territory!"