“Galapagos, Galapagos, Dragon Fly”
At the wheel, Mike answered the radio. We were in Barre de Navidad, between the entrance and the anchorage in the lagoon here.
“Dragon Fly, this is Galapagos.”
“Hey, how’s your day going?”, Jay on S/V Dragonly said. Cruisers. They are so droll.
Jay could see us from his position in the anchorage. We were stuck on one of the many sandbars that lurk beneath the surface of the water near the unmarked channel between the entrance to this area and the anchorage. Le sigh. A good laugh was had by all and we made a new friend. The tide was coming in, so we waited about 15 minutes and then our trusty Beta Marine engine, Hiram, powered us off. We’ve come a LONG way in the two years we’ve been cruising, to be able to laugh this off.
No harm done and having checked that off our cruiser’s list (Apparently we are now members of the Sand Bar Club. I hope that comes with some benefits.) we got settled in the anchorage and looked around. The thing about lagoons, as we’ve learned, is that they are shallow and have mud banks abounding at low tide. And you know what that means? No, it does not mean we will get stuck on the mud again on our way out of this anchorage. We have a GPS track to follow now, and we have the lay of the land, or at least, the water. It means great bird watching!
Bird watching to me is as fishing is to other folks. I can sit around in the dinghy and watch and photograph birds all day long. It’s generally a solitary endeavor because I don’t know anyone who wants to be bored silly waiting for me to call it a day and go home. Anyhoo, I was excited to be in a lagoon with easy access to large flocks of wading birds. I could see them in the distance at the head of the lagoon and I took my binoculars out for a quick look.
Scanning the far distant mud I could see many tall, white birds. Cool, I thought. Lots of Egrets, Ibis, and probably a number of different Herons and smaller birds with pokey bills. I was going to have a great game of ‘identify that bird’. But WAIT! Was that a flash of pink? WHAAATTT? Could it be??? Was that a group of Roseate Spoonbills? We were too far away to be absolutely sure, and I couldn’t swear my eyes were not lying to me, but heart pumping wildly, I decided then and there I would be doing a ‘Grand Explore’ of the surrounding area in my quest to see and photograph a large pink bird with a bill shaped like my favorite eating utensil. Exotic Bird Bingo was back on the table! I began to like this place right away.
Later that night we were gathered on S/V Dragonfly with a few other cruisers having a good time just visiting and comparing stories. You know how cruisers are. We just chew the fat forever. Just as the sun was getting low I saw a flock of low flying birds skimming the surface of the water. I’m sure I completely insulted the women I was talking to when my jaw hit the floor and I wheeled around to get a better look. Black Skimmers!! Holy toledo, I was in heaven. Why was no one else jumping out of their seats to get a look? Why did my new friends look confusedly at one another and shrug? Did they not realize what they were seeing here? I had not seen Black Skimmers since we lived in Biloxi, MS as a newly married couple.
Sure, maybe I was overly excited. Or maybe not. Skimmers are very cool birds. We have a large woodblock painting of Black Skimmers that has been hanging in our home for 37 years. We bought it from the artist in Gulfport, MS way back in our first year of marriage. It was the first piece of artwork we bought together and back then it was a pretty big expense. We both still love it. To see these magnificent, graceful birds with their comical beaks skimming the water actually brought a tear to the old sailing eye. The Grand Explore was definitely on!
The thing about ‘Grand Explores’ is that these are the times when I am literally so excited about what I’m about to see or do that I lose sight of the fact that I could get myself into a ‘situation’, as it were. Whatever. What could possibly happen? Let’s go!
Knowing the water to be very shallow out by the birds, I decided on the paddle board as my vessel of choice. I can sit on it and paddle it like a kayak. I put my stuff in my waterproof bag and set off in the direction of the mud.
The tide was starting to come in and it made paddling down to the head of the lagoon really easy. Pulling up next to the flats at the mouth of the small river, the current slowly carried my paddle board through the shallow water along the mud. It was the stuff of dreams for an avid bird watcher. I just sat on the board, snapping away. Finally, there were the Skimmers, congregating with Royal Terns, squatting on the mud in a large flock. HEAVEN!! Look at their terrific beaks! And the Terns with their Einstein shock of black feathers on their heads!
I wished I had brought a small anchor to keep my paddle board in one place, but even so I spent maybe an hour watching and photographing the Black Skimmers, Reddish Egrets, Marbled Godwits, Little Blue Herons, Anhingas, and countless other little wading birds I’d have fun identifying later. It was like a city full of birds, all busy poking around in the mud. But no Roseate Spoonbill. Had my eyes been lying after all?
I was having trouble keeping the paddle board from drifting onto the mudflat and I didn’t want to put my feet down because GROSS, so after awhile I paddled over to the mangroves along the edge of the lagoon and started back to the anchorage. Maybe I’d come back another day with an anchor.
Suddenly a large bird flew up out of the mangroves and came in my direction, flying toward the mud flat. I saw pink. And as my brain registered my heart’s dream of the Roseate Spoonbill, it soared almost overhead. I grabbed my camera and rapidly fired off a few shots. Recall I was sitting on a paddle board. The photos didn’t go that well but I didn’t fall off and also at least there is proof that this glorious bird flew in my general direction. I watched him as he landed on the mud, back where I had been. Damn it! This ‘Explore’ wasn’t grand enough. I needed more.
Back at Galapagos I loaded up the new old Avon dinghy, now affectionately known to me as ‘The Family Truckster’. Slinging my waterproof bag with cellphone, assorted cameras, assorted binoculars and a water bottle into the bottom of the dinghy I announced my Spoonbill sighting to Mike and shoved off. I was prepared with a long stick for fending off, and half of a kayak paddle, plus my dinghy anchor. Maybe I actually got up on a plane as I powered over the water to the flats. Who could tell? There was a big pink bird out there to see and I become single-minded in such circumstances.
Approaching what I knew to be the shallows, which were still too far away from the mud for me but that’s what a long shaft on the dinghy engine will get you, I threw out the anchor and tied it off, waited to be sure it set, then relaxed onto the forgiving hypalon tube for a long and satisfying birdwatch. It was the happiest I’ve been since we left Isla Isabella. There they were: literally hundreds of birds all congregating, stuffing their faces with small skittering things that live in the mud. And there was my precious Spoonbill!
He swung his bill back and forth in the quest for his evening meal, ruffled his feathers, preened and showed off his large, well developed gams. He bathed in the muddy water. He was magnificent. I could hardly take my eyes off of him.
I don’t know how long I sat there comfortably on the pontoon observing and clicking away taking photos. At some point I noticed an overall change in the birds’ behavior. Where they had been spread out over the mud, a city of individuals, they began to cluster together in species groups. White Ibis began taking off in small groups of 3 and 4 birds, flying off to the mangrove trees, the end to their busy day. Skimmers took flight for their evening forage. The sun’s rays were long as it headed behind the hill to the west.
Filled with the bluster of success, viewing the world through a long lens and a pair of binoculars, I had failed to notice that the wind had picked up considerably and that my anchor had actually been slowly but surely oozing toward the mud flat. Taking stock of my nearby surroundings I realized the dinghy was sitting in 6 inches of water and the wind and little waves clearly wanted to ground me. Soon I would be on the mud. Merde. It was time to go home.
I got out my long stick and began poking into the mud, fending off and trying to push the inflatable into the wind and waves into deeper water. You know, these inflatable dinghies have a lot of windage to them. It was no bueno. A few yards behind me, an American White Pelican sat on his muddy spot, eyeing my progress. The Pelican was not getting further away. He looked me in the eye then looked away, clearly disapproving.
I got out the half of the kayak paddle and tried desperately to paddle to freedom. Paddle on the right. Paddle on the left. Hahahaha! I’m sure by now the pelican was giving low chuckles. Unfortunately the wind was blowing too hard for me to hear him. But I witnessed him shaking his head at me and knew he was right. This would never do.
Gathering up the anchor I decided to try to kedge off. This is a term used to describe placing an anchor in deeper water, getting it set, then using it to pull your boat off whatever land its stuck on. I stood up in the boat, gave the anchor a little swing, David twirling his slingshot against Goliath, and tossed it hard, out into the lagoon. Slowly, carefully, I began pulling the boat forward, inch by inch. Or. So. I . Thought. I heard a sound behind me and turned to see the pelican, closer than ever, throwing back his head and clacking his beak in the air; his pelican way of laughing, I’m sure. The wind and waves were definitely winning this one.
Ugh. There was nothing for it. I was going to have to get out of the boat and walk it into the deeper water. In case you were wondering why I had not already done this, I had been asidulously avoiding just such a fate. The water here is not inviting even a little bit. It’s filled with murk and the color is brown because it’s part of the river bar. And there are so many things that live in this lagoon! Things that splash, unseen things that ripple the water surface, things that roil in a ropy kind of way that seems reptilian, possibly stingrays, fish I don’t know how to identify, definitely crabs, probably crocodiles. This Jurassic lagoon is primitive, like someplace the Kraken would choose to give birth to all the baby Krakens.
Considering that I was now thinking I could get eaten by the Lagoon Monster, I decided this would be a good time to let Michael know what was happening and that I loved him; you know… just in case. I pulled out my phone and discovered he had been watching me through binoculars. (Of COURSE he had. He knows me all too well.) Only two minutes before he had texted me, “Everything OK out there?”. I texted that I might be stuck and might have to wait the tide out. Or I might have to get out and push the boat into deeper water, something harder than it sounded. No sense in him worrying. Besides, I had the dinghy and engine. How was he going to come riding to the rescue? On a paddle board? My knight in swim shorts.
I poked the mud with my poking stick to dislodge any lurking creatures, you know, just to give them fair warning of my lumbering presence and put myself at their mercy. “Hey, all you creatures, I’m getting in and my skin is tender and delicate! Go for broke!” Gingerly placing my feet on the muck, I did not, as I had feared, sink to my knees in the sticky stuff. Nothing skittered across my bare feet. I felt no stingray’s wrath. Just very slippery, kind of firmish mud that squished up between my toes. I decided to not think too hard about that.
Mud-skating, I tried to pull the boat along with me to the deeper water. The wind pushed, I slid little by little. I checked the pelican. He nodded pleasantly, almost encouragingly. I was making slow headway but I found it hard to control the boat in the wind. It kept wanting to go sideways. It was cumbersome and heavy, not at all like the Portland Pudgy. You know, the dinghy with oars. The one nestled on our foredeck.
“Oh please don’t let anything run over my foot. Please don’t let there be stingrays. Please don’t let a crab pinch me. Please don’t let the Kraken babies be hungry for human blood or the Creature from the Black Lagoon loom large over me. Please don’t let me fall into this disgusting water.”. Then I fell into that water. Damn it, that mud was slippery as hell. But given all the other options of bad things happening, falling into 12 inches of water wasn’t so bad. I mean people pay good money to be covered in the kind of mud that now clung to my legs.
I was back on my feet mighty quick and I began to feel a righteous indignation. How dare this lagoon try to trap me on the mud! Was I going to let this stupid lagoon get the better of me? I could be spending the last rays of the sun photographing my beloved pink Roseate Spoonbill; his rosy plumage glowing in the light of dusk, gently spooning the mud in search of small tasty bits. But NOOOOO! Instead I had to be slipping along the mud searching for deeper water, invoking every god on my side and all the angels as well to keep me safe from whatever could be lurking. I mean, even the locals don’t get in this water!
As it is wont to do, my anger gave me strength. I grabbed the stern and boldly pushed forth, daring the Kraken to breech, kicking out sideways on occasion just to let any lurking creatures know I meant business, was probably bigger than them, and was definitely angrier. Soon I was in water to my thighs. I wouldn’t be lying to say I leaped into the boat and pulled the starter on the engine in one well-timed swoop. Adrenaline. The fuel of champions. It started on the first pull, kicked up some of that nasty mud, and I roared away home. Victorious! Huzzah!
The sun was just going down by the time I got back to Galapagos. Mike was on the paddle board (!!) already, paddling to the rescue. I’m almost sorry I managed it alone because it would have been too fun to see him paddling out there coming to get me. Almost. My adrenaline was riding high. I was possibly irrational about that.
The dinghy and my person were filthy with lagoon mud and Mike had been understandably concerned but BY GOD I SAW THOSE BIRDS AND I HAVE THE PHOTOS TO PROVE IT. Score two points on Exotic Bird Bingo!
Next time I might just take the Pudgy out there with the oars. It’s a great place to row and I’m pretty sure I can find that Spoonbill and maybe even some of his friends.
We might allow this to be as far south as we get this season. Next season is up for grabs but we are considering the possibility of the Galapagos Islands and the South Pacific. We need some good snorkeling. We might have to go that far to get it.
Until next time, S/V Galapagos, standing by on Channel 22a.