West Side National Park Andros…. written by Heather Carey, Communications Manager & Managing Director of the Bahamas National Park Safaris
I am thoroughly enjoying my new role(s) with the BNT and the journey of discovery that allows me to see and experience the amazing parks that fall under the BNT management. Up until taking this position I had always thought I was well informed about most things conservation in the Bahamas. One of the main reasons I joined the BNT family in this newly created role was because in early conversations I learned of all the amazing things they do that I believe so many, like me, are unaware of. I was happy to take on the role of sharing this information with Bahamians and beyond.
During my first month there was the simple discovery of the Leon Levy Nature Reserve in Eleuthera – a space with a beautiful and welcoming entrance that I had driven by many times over the past few years. What missed opportunities! But now, having spent a day exploring and meeting the BNT family that keep the Reserve immaculate and vibrant, I will make sure that each Eleuthera trip includes some time spent here – whether its wandering the boardwalk through mangroves 3 times taller than I am, or sitting in a quiet space watching the turtles and listening to the waterfall.
This past month I was introduced to the wonder that is the West Side National Park. After hearing so much about this 1.4 million acre protected area I was thrilled to have my first introduction be from the front seat of a helicopter (my first ever ride!) thanks to the generosity of the owners of Flamingo Cay, a private cay located within the park since the 1800’s. As a photographer I could not have been more thrilled. I liken the views to flying high over what I would call the Bahamian version of the “tundra” – wild, remote landscape that changed from ponds and creeks dotted with blue holes, to mangroves with random palms and “forest” spaces. To watch the sun come up on one side and the landscape change on the other is an experience difficult to forget. The West Side Park is not the easiest to access – by air your choices are helicopter or seaplane, and by “sea” the journey is considerable from other points in Andros. This is what makes the WSP so amazing, so magical.
After landing and sharing a quick breakfast at Flamingo Cay Lodge with owners Cindy and Charlie Bethel, my colleague David Maillis and I hopped on to a flats boat with Charlie to spend a few hours exploring the waterways that take you around his family Cay. Even with questionable weather the experience was amazing – clean, fresh air; birds suddenly launching themselves up from the mangroves every time we turned a bend; tarpon and bonefish swimming just below the surface and ducks swimming by at a leisurely pace. High on my wish list was a flamingo sighting – I only recently learned that we have West Indian flamingos on islands other than Inagua, here in The Bahamas. Would a flamingo or two be too much to ask for?
After about 20 minutes exploring the creeks David soon spotted a hint of pink, in the distance, further than my eye could see without a zoom lens fixed to it. And then there they were – 5 or 6 flamingos flying towards one of the distant mangrove islands. But just as quickly, the skies opened up above and the rain poured down. In spite of this brief shower there was no way I was leaving, not when I was so close to crossing something off of my bucket list! Ten minutes later, clear skies and a wondrous sight – hundreds of flamingos feeding in the mangroves, just out of our reach. The camera started snapping and the heart was pounding with excitement. Who would have thought that this moment would come so soon? As I snapped away Charlie skilfully guided the boat through the creeks close enough that I could zoom in – barely – yet carefully avoiding any disturbance to these beautiful birds.
We gently puttered around the mangrove islands watching the pink beauties from a distance, with David calling out the names of a slew of other birds as they flew by (he’s a Maillis, what do you expect?!). I was thrilled to learn a new bird (or two) – in particular the Roseate Spoonbill. From a distance and to my slowly failing eyes I had thought another splash of pink was a sign of more flamingos to come but instead there were dozens of these beautiful birds resting, feeding and playing above our heads.
After a casual lunch and more exploration of another expansive area of mangrove creeks we returned to the Lodge for an absolutely scrumptuous dinner. Early-ish to bed, and up the next day for part 2 of the journey – Kamalame Cay and Small Hope Bay Lodge. The West Side National Park of Andros is remote, its magical, its vibrant and healthy. It’s the perfect place for bird lovers and photographers, for fishermen and kayakers. It’s remoteness and conservation is an example of the importance of the work that the Bahamas National Trust does every day of the year. With so many migratory birds relying on The Bahamas as either a stop on their journey south, or as the end of the journey to escape the cold northern weather, we must begin to see ourselves as a part of a whole, not as an isolated nation. We must protect what we can, when we can, and we must all play a part in this.
Cindy (Flamingo Cay) told me of her mornings rising before sunrise and paddling the creeks, watching the inhabitants slowly rise and shake off their wings as the sun throws its magical colours over the landscape. I have crossed one thing off of my bucket list, and replaced it with another. Can’t wait to return to explore more of the magic that is the WSNP.