Phirst Photos from Dominica

Click on the photos to see a larger version.


This was the first sunset I saw from the veranda of the main building at Springfield Plantation, where I stayed.


How about this guy? A male Blue-headed Hummingbird, taken in macro mode, from a distance of about sixteen inches. He was pretty calm. He was also mid-preen, but you can tell the underside of the beak is bright red.

Caribbean Reef Squid

This is a cuttlefish, relative of the squid. Bird owners will know them from the little bone in their head which is used to provide a calcium chew for their feathered friends Caribbean Reef Squid. But they’re really beautiful in the water, just swimming along. I’d guess they are 10 inches to a foot long at most.


Here’s a Pan-Tropical Spotted Dolphin jumping in the water on Christmas day. We had no whale sightings, but then again, I didn’t care much because I wasn’t hiking. The previous day, I looked like this:


I spent Christmas Eve sweating and stinking of sulphur. There’s a hell-to-heaven metaphor in there somewhere.

I had earlier worn that shirt for another tough hike, to Middleham falls. Here I am earlyish in the hike, posing in front of a gigantic bromilliad (sp?):


More as I select and make them Web-friendly.

So, Kids, What Have We Learned?

One last entry before I board the bus for the airport. Dominica, it’s been a wild time. There was sorrell rum punch, a fatally-injured boa constrictor, a non-fatal crash, a grueling hike through sulfurous vents, rain, sun, and sunburn. And a fair amount of poker.

We learned, we laughed, we cried–particularly when I got the repair bill for the rental…well, I cried at any rate. I think other people felt very good not to be me.

I got to know some very nice dogs and their Canadians, met a couple of friends I hope I’ll show around DC soon, heard risque stories from a grandmother over the aforementioned poker, and saw more fish than I can remember, let alone identify, along with no whales.

I ate more fish than I’ve eaten outside of Japan, learned the toungue-numbing joy of Karl’s Hot Sauce, saw the Oral Lodgings establishment, which is named for its proprietor, Oral Roberts (not that Oral Roberts) and advertises self-catering rooms. We learned that you must not eat Sukie’s bread by chance, but only by choice. We were admonished not to crush the crabs, and Kubuli, well, the best you can say is that it’s the beer we drink. Sigh.

I saw a rainbow every freakin’ day, and learned to appreciate why tree ferns are the ultimate end point in tree evolution.

Not bad, Dominica. Now get some sleep!

Shit Shit Shit Shit

So, this driving on the left thing isn’t as easy as I thought. I pulled out of a roadside stop to swing around the opposite direction but ended up on the wrong side of the road–and despite the mantra “you’re in the middle, not on the edge” I ended up staying there just long enough to swere and barely avoid a head-on collision with an oncoming car. I did take out the front left end of mine and creased his side entirely, and rendered my Suzuki undriveable.

It could have been so much worse…and it might not have been my fault but been a head-on anyway–lots of people were passing around blind curves earlier in the day. Nobody was hurt in either car. But it puts that guy in a bind for the next bit until he can get his car repaired, and it means I have to go through some more stuff after going to the police and enduring the “investigation” in the sun.

I’ll have some primo sunburn, but that’s the worst thing physically that happened. Obviously, I’m not too happy with myself or the world, and even though I know intellectually that it’s a very understandable and simply an unlucky mistake, I can’t help think that I’d already thought to myself that I’m in the danger zone because I’ve relaxed.

Sigh. Such is life, and nobody’s hurt–that’s what’s important. But I can’t pretend it doesn’t suck.

More Different Christmas

Today started out with a whale and dolphin watching trip that basically became a dolphin and cuttlefish-watching trip, as the whales were spending Christmas further out to sea. The cuttlefish, of which previously I’ve only known from feeding bones to Squeak, are pretty spectacular-looking animals: rainbow colored with brown tentacles.

This afternoon has been devoted to nothing. I’m sitting around the plantation, looking out over the water, a rum punch in my hand, and it’s 78 degrees.

Not bad, not bad at all.

Christmas Eve Ass-Kicking

So I celebrated Christmas Eve by kicking my own ass on a 10 mile hike with 1400 feet of elevation change, but with three or four ascents and descents. I am so frigging tired now, but in order to go whale watching, I’m supposed to be driving people at 7:15 AM.

The hike is pretty amazing, and hopefully I’ll be able to post some good pictures, but it was exhausting. I did better than I had any right to, as I haven’t been hiking as much as usual this year. The boiling lake (yes, we hiked into an active volcano) was rather misty, and the bubbling mud I’d seen before in Lassen in California. But still the views and stark sides were pretty phenomenal…we would change 750 feet of elevation in a few tenths of a mile, and we did it over slippery and sulphury rocks.

I did get a photo of a Mountain Whistler, a pretty and cool-sounding bird that inhabits most of the forests in the mountains (it’s a rufous-throated solitare for those playing the home game). I saw a few others, but mainly I sweated and got mud on me. It was an accomplishment–you’ll understand why better once the photos are posted.

Parrots and Parrotfish

So the Sisserou/Jako expedition was successful, and I managed to be the only one to get a good look at a Sisserou through binoculars–too far for a picture, though I have three specs that were probably Sisserous. I have a bit of a picture of a Jako, but that’s it. I did much better the next day at the botanical gardens, where they have two in cages.

Later in the day, we went to Cabrits national park and, after poking around the ruins where some of Pirates of the Caribbean was filmed, a few of us snorkeled off the point. We saw an incredible variety of stuff within a few feet of shore, including trumpetfish, juvenile parrotfish, bluehead and yellow wrasse, all kinds of urchins, eel, and the yellow-tailed (?) damselfish–just to name less than a tenth.

Today we went to the sulfur springs, which were actually kind of boring unless you’re into acid-loving plants. Then we went to Scott’s Head, where the Atlantic and Caribbean are just a few feet apart, and dove the bay to a similar range of fish–including a sole changing color, giant boxfish, cowfish, and much, much more.

I Have to Get Up at *What* Time?

So, it turns out that driving on the left is not that hard, at least on an island without a ton of traffic (the narrow roads are a challenge).

Hiking up and down ravines for several hours to get to a waterfall–then hiking back trying to beat sunset in order not to kill oneself (on a trip the guide let slip that he’s never come back from without an injury–nice of you to tell us halfway through, guy)–is hard. It left me dead and a little cranky that the guide hadn’t let on how strenuous this was before (he had my parents, one of whom is in his eventies, trying it).

I made it, though, and took a bracing swim in the pool beneath the falls. I heard and saw shapes fluttering of what were later identified as Jako parrots, which are rare–maybe 2000 left on the island, and that’s the only place they exist in the world.

I swore that tomorrow I was going to let the guy show off his plant knowledge without my driving help tomorrow, but dammit if the guy didn’t find the magic words to get me out of bed at 4:30 AM. Sisserou. The other, even rarer parrot and national bird of Dominica.

Curse you, nature guy!

Interesting note–the most complicated driving I’d done was through a crime scene in the otherwise bucolic town of Canefield. There were police with cameras recording the scene and a funeral home pickup truck. No idea what the problem was, but it’s tarnished my image of Dominica as a peacable kingdom.

Hot and Cool

Yesterday saw the younger crowd of us experiment with left-hand driving and visit the capital of Dominica, Rouseau. I got a taste for Sorrell juice, a hybiscus-like flower that produces a red drink (and, later, a less successful rum punch). I’m not a huge cooked-fish eater, but I’ve had it almost every meal so far and have been quite happy. We poked around the botanical garden, though it didn’t have labeled versions of native plants but exotics from distant lands. Nonetheless, I got some good pictures of some tiny lizards (anoles, mostly).

We then drove up to the Fresh Water Lake (yep, that’s the official name), high up in the mountains. The thing is probably 100 feet across at its widest point, but 75 feet deep. It had been in the mid-eighties in Rouseau with quite a lot of sun, but up there it was in the upper sixties with mist, and, eventualy, a pretty good wind-driven downpour–heralded by a wall of mist coming at us at 20 miles per hour.

Today I’ll probably get my first taste behind the wheel. Think left-handed thoughts at me.

Island Blogging

I’m in Dominica, one of the more unspoiled islands in the Caribbean. It’s less white sandy beaches and more mountainous volcanic rainforest. I’ve already seen several birds I’ve never seen before, like the Bananaquit, the Gray Tremblor, the Antillean Crested Hummingbird, and the Lesser Antillean Bullfinch. It’s pretty amazing, and once I get back, I’ll probably have some pictures. If I have time, I’ll blog some more, as I just found out there’s wireless access here and a laptop we can use.

The Drug War Meets Self Defense

Radley Balko of has been working on a paper on no-knock raids, where the police burst into a house without warning to surprise the occupants and, presumably, leave them less able to set up a Waco-style standoff or resist the police. The problem is that frequently it leaves people, even innocent people, thinking there’s a home invasion in progress, not a search warrant being served.

One such case may very well be Cory Maye, a black man on death row, convicted by a majority white jury for killing a police officer during a nighttime raid that may or may not have been in practice, if not in policy, a no-knock raid. Details are still coming out, but I think the balance of the evidence is that Cory Maye was certainly innocent of being a drug dealer and reacted in fear by shooting someone invading the room where his daughter was, not knowing it was a police officer.

At most he should be looking at a reckless endangerment charge, if you question his use of a gun for self defense, instead of hiding and hoping nothing bad would happen. But even if the police announced themselves, it is reasonable to believe that Cory Maye was asleep and didn’t hear the announcement, only the noise. Living in a bad neighborhood, it’s not unreasonable at all to assume that an invasion is likely to be by someone intending harm.

The point is the hysteria around these no-knock raids are creating at least as many dangerous situations as they solve, in addition to hurting more innocent people than other methods. I’m sorry the officer was killed–it’s horrible to happen. But if you’re looking for someone to blame, blame the person responsible for the policy of no-knock raids, not a guy who is scheduled to be executed for trying to defend his daughter and then giving up when, according to police, they re-identified themselves.

Certainly there’s not enough certainty there to add another death to this tragedy, and whether you believe that drugs or handguns should be legal, you can recognize that this case doesn’t deserve the death penalty.