The feeling was one of calm amongst the chaos. Wild birds caulked as they flew low over our heads, crossing over the canal. We had paddleboarded into a bird sanctuary that had been closed off to the public years ago. Our ‘baquiano’, or boat captain, took us as far as he could into a mangrove island that is so common to the national park we were in. The distinguishing feature of this island are the copious amount of birds. We paddled down a small canal through the mangroves, but the bush is so thick that you feel like you’re on a river flowing through a jungle. And all of a sudden, you are in a beautiful ocean cove.
This is where they come to nest, our baquiano told us. All sorts of delicious food grows on the roots of the mangroves: oysters, crabs, shrimp, starfish and the like. And these also attract bigger fish that we would sporadically see jump out of the water, probably being chased by something bigger. They mate in the mangroves, nest in the mangroves, and feed in the mangroves. This sanctuary is their hope for survival.
Years ago, before this cove was closed off to the public, the baquiano told us they would often find 10 to 20 birds shot dead in the mornings. People would come in their speed boats, after much partying, and hunt these incredible creatures. Inparques, the Venezuelan park authority, closed off the area. You cannot pass through it on anything motorized, but on a paddleboard? On a paddleboard you’re good to go. As long as you’re not on anything motorized, you’re free to visit this place!
As we paddled through the core of the bird sanctuary in ‘Isla de Pájaros’ or Island of Birds, we we caught a glimpse of their lives. The rare Frigatebird caught my eye immediately. They inflate their red throats to show off their masculinity during the mating season. I love how in the aviary realm, the males are the beautiful ones and the females are very plain. I found out that Frigatebirds mate on secluded islands in large colonies, up to 5000 of them. I felt at that moment that I was surrounded by thousands of birds, and I really was. A part of me was nervous that they would attack me in defence of their newly-laid eggs. That was quieted by the complete wonder they inspired.
Many other types of birds abounded. One of them I found particularly beautiful, was the Little Blue Heron. It looked so graceful and delicate. I saw one being bullied by the other birds. He would try to fly away but the others would nib at his ones. The other being seagulls, ospreys, pelicans, neotropics, more herons, chusmitas, helmeted cockaded, red scarlet ibis, and of course, the frigatebird.
It’s amazing what you get to experience on a paddleboard. We had entered a magical place closed off to most of the world and were probably the first paddle boarders to make it inside. Paddle boarding hasn’t taken off yet in this area yet. We were the only ones amongst many vacationers on many more beautiful beaches. They looked at us with amused surprise. We even got to give a few lessons, and we taught them because we love seeing people try it for the first time. It is our passion and way of life.
I always have my GoPro on me with its battery charged and its memory clean. I mounted at the front of my board in anticipation that this paddle would be picture worthy. Next time I go, I will face the camera the other way so that I can share the beauty as I beheld it. For now, I hope you enjoy the pictures and the story of our experience. We hope one day you get to experience it yourselves.