Why should I let the toad work Squat on my life? Can’t I use my wit as a pitchfork And drive the brute off?... Ah, were I courageous enough To shout, Stuff your pension! But I know, all too well, that’s the stuff That dreams are made on: For something sufficiently toad-like Squats in me, too; Its hunkers are heavy as hard luck, And cold as snow... Extract from Toads by Philip Larkin
It finally feels as though spring is unfolding here in Rome. The sun is strong today as I plant out a few seedlings on the mini-balcony. Work and weather have conspired to keep me fairly house-bound of late, so touches of nature have been few and far between. I did enjoy finding a baby gecko inside the classroom clock yesterday as I went to wind it on in preparation for daylight saving, but I feel I have been out of touch with the pleasures of the natural world of late.
This time last year we were preparing to go on a trip to Bonaire. This small island, not far from the coast of Venezuela, is more arid than its Caribbean cousins – although in its favour, it is a world class windsurfing spot.
We had one of the best days ever birding while we were there. Looking at these photos and reading the extracts from my journal has certainly helped to put that toad work back under its stone for today.
22nd April 2014:
“We hire an enormous pick-up truck for the day which is the only vehicle available. I’m glad I’m not the one having to steer this cruiser around the tricky island roads. First we head into the small town of Kralendijk to stock up on picnic supplies, and the bird spotting begins. An Orange Troupial perches in a cactus tree on the road out of the resort and in the supermarket car park a Bare-Eyed Pigeon peers down at us from a tree.
Then it is onwards to the Slagbaai National Park in the north of the island. The road snakes along the coast for about half an hour before turning into a single track next to the shore-line. Red triangular road signs, adapted for purpose, warn us of the existence of divers crossing the road – a common hazard here.
We enter the national park and it is soon apparent why all the rental cars are high clearance pick-ups: the roads are rocky and pot-holed and the going is slow. Along the west coast the landscape is harsh. To the left, a cliff rises up, ledged and carved out by the elements, indicating the previous level of the sea. The water is deep blue and whipped up into crashing waves. We stop the truck and a blow-hole forces the spray up high as we walk towards the edge.
Then, a great spot. A Caracara eating a lizard not too far down the road from where we are standing. As I approach with the camera, it flaps up onto the rock face above and regards me with suspicion. It is a young female, large and with light brown plumage.
We continue along the road and veer inland from the coast towards a fresh-water pond. Parking the truck, we walk down a path through a crackling, dry forest. Giant iguanas crawl away in front of us. All around are birds: warblers, flycatchers, bananaquits and doves.
At the water-hole we sit on a fallen tree trunk and wait. We hear a rustling in the dry scrub and see a Caracara stalking down to the well to drink. It is a real Discovery Channel moment as he dips his head, throws it back and then eyes us up through the branches.
On the way back to the truck, I spot a humming bird, emerald and blue, tiny and impossible to photograph. An iridescent gem hovering in the branches overhead.
The road continues round the north of the island. We stop at a beach, descend steps to the wet sand below and don snorkel and masks. In the sea, fish appear immediately – large blue sad faces lazily swimming past
We dry off and drive to the last bay for lunch. It is a fantastic landscape: salt lake, a scree of ochre stone, thousands of cacti and the moody hills of the interior. In the shallows of the lake, flocks of flamingoes stalk and dance a ballet, then launch into the air with a racket of cackling calls.
We have our picnic accompanied by a pair of Mockingbirds staring at our food.
Many photos of flamingoes later, we get back on the road. Exiting the park, we drive through the one-horse (one-donkey) town of Rincan and back down to Kralendijk for a welcome cold beer on the pier outside Karel’s bar.
A day immersed in the natural world that I will always remember.”
And a few other spots during the week: