220,000 acres. That’s the size of the Bahamas National Trust’s Inagua National Park. Like me you’ve probably heard of it, and you’ve probably heard of it in relation to the West Indian Flamingo population (the park is the largest breeding ground in the world for these Flamingos). Other than that I’m guessing that, like me, you knew very little about the park’s history and how significant the park has been to the conservation of the flamingo population. Like me, you probably thought of a lush green landscape with flamingos at every turn or strolling on a white sand beach somewhere. After all, isn’t that how our flamingos are marketed?
During a scouting expedition for a new BNT project that we are working on I hopped on Bahamasair for the surprisingly “quick” journey of just over an hour, joined by noted journalist Erica Wells and 2 of my BNT colleagues – Elijah Sands and True Cox.
Upon arriving at the tiny little out island airport the (almost) best part of the trip began – meeting Henry Nixon and Casper Burrows, park wardens – for essentially the first time. They are pretty infamous in the Bahamas, and to an extent globally, being Nixon family and having flamingo conservation and park “warden-ing” in their bloodline. You need to know something, anything, about Inagua? These are your go-to guys.
The weather was less then perfect but we hopped in the trucks and after a quick Bahamian lunch of cracked conch (insanely tender, finger licking good cracked conch at Cepigal) we hit the road. No weather was holding us back on this trip.
A few minutes drive out of the settlement of Matthew Town where the population of 1,000 lives the paved roads become dirt roads and the expedition and exploration begins.
It’s a 12 mile journey on these man made compacted dirt roads, through Morton Salt’s lakes, ponds and flats, before you hit the borders of the Inagua National Park. As Casper continued to remind me, bird’s have wings. They can be anywhere at any time. Contrary to popular belief the Flamingos are rarely found so easily on the side of the road in the thousands but they can be found feeding, sleeping, lounging in any of ponds, flats, lakes along any of the drives. We were lucky to see some pretty early on in our adventure – thanks to Casper’s mad skills.
The flamingos stay pretty far away, and they are skittish, so a good pair of binoculars or a strong zoom lens would be the most satisfying way of experiencing these encounters. Erica Wells had none of those things and still had the same level of excitement and buzz that we experienced. Never mind that along the way Casper kept us entertained with story after story and with shouts and exclamations whenever he spotted one of the over 100 species of birds that also enjoy the Inagua Park. As I’ve said before, I’m not a birder but I’m learning! I am as excited as the next person when I see an awesome winged creature in flight, or feeding, or sunbathing and overjoyed when my developing interest in bird photography captures some images to be proud of. I’m quickly learning that not all of the little brown birds are the same!
Along with Flamingos we saw many other birds such as “the other pink bird” (Roseate Spoonbill), Reddish Egrets, Burrowing Owls, American Wigeon Ducks, a Bahama Mockingbird, Bahama Parrots and countless others whose names I am still learning.
Over 2 full days of exploration we saw several small flocks of flamingos and over 50 species of birds. We learned the amazing story of the Nixon family and their role in protecting the flamingos and bringing them to a population of over 50,000, and we explored the “Pygmy / Bonsai” forest where an amazing variety of trees and plants grow out instead of up – full grown trees that spread out low to the ground as a result of the strong ocean breezes that rise over the ocean front hills.
Lignum vitae growing close to the ground to stay protected from the harsh ocean winds.
We spotted the Bahamas Parrot (thanks Casper!!) and while I don’t personally partake in or support hunting we did come across some locals who had captured a wild hog (an inherent part of island life) and were preparing to “clean” it over a small brush fire. We explored the Lighthouse, had Bahamian bread, and met locals over beer. All of this under grey, cloudy skies with many downpours. The only thing that Casper didn’t deliver was a wild donkey – but you have to save something for the next trip!
It was amazing, it was beautiful, it was stark and rugged and everything you could want an expedition to be. See for yourself:
Salt mounds in the salt flats.
The island is simple and remote, without all of the luxuries of home, but the trade off is worth the adventure. Whether you are a photographer, or a birder, or simply an adventurer who likes to get off the beaten path, Inagua is an island and a landscape that will pull at your heartstrings and which will bring back amazing memories long after your journey is over. Keep in mind that the landscape changes throughout the seasons and birds have wings – meaning there are no guarantees. Which makes sightings that much more special.
Give us a shout at the Bahamas National Trust and we’d happy to arrange a tour with our expert guides, Henry and Casper, into our park.