Friday, March 27, 2009

Birds of Aruba

I'm a bird lover, so before leaving for Aruba I looked up what birds I might expect to see while on the island. Our grand total came to 19 species: frigate bird, bananaquit, grassquit, mocking bird, hummingbird, brown pelicans, terns, osprey, kestrel, Aruban parrots or Prikichi, doves, egrets, herons, gulls, ruddy turnstones and oystercatchers. But by far the most surprising and breath-taking sight was the Caracara(Caracara plancus). Also called the Mexican Eagle, it is a large black bird with white markings. It is actually a member of the falcon family. The first one I spotted was perched atop a tall cactus just outside of Arikok. I managed to snap a shot of it just before and after it flew off.

We had at least two more similar sightings in Arikok, but the best encounter happened on the night before we left Aruba. We were driving up to witness the sunset at the California Lighthouse on the westernmost tip of the island. As we passed an area with tall grass, I noticed a large brown bird hopping up and down. My husband was able to slow down enough for me to get these shots of a young Caracara. This bird's plummage was much lighter in color and browner than the adult Caracaras we had spotted in the national park. Perhaps it was trying to kill or flush out prey. A lizard, maybe?

Their size is amazing. With a body length of up to 23 inches and a 4-foot wingspan, the Caracara is an impressive bird. These birds have a thick heavy bill for feeding on carrion, small mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and a host of other foods. Their range extends from the southwestern United States southward to Central and South America. For more information about Caracaras including a recording of their call, check out Cornell Lab of Ornithology at

Thursday, March 26, 2009

More lizards

One of the things my children and I enjoy doing during a trip is recording the fauna we see. Our tally for the Aruba trip: 19 species of birds, 5 reptiles, 4 mammals, 12 sea creatures other than fish, and a grand total of 71 species of fish.

Besides the Aruban whiptails, we saw geckos around the house and plenty of little anoles that the kids enjoyed trying to catch. It took three of us to ambush these two little lizards on a rocky shore.

Green iguanas are also plentiful on the island, but we only caught a brief glimpse of a small one on the side of the road.

Aruba is also home to two endemic snakes: the Cascabel or Aruban rattlesnake and the cateyed snake, known locally as the Santanero. We saw neither of these snakes, but did find something disturbing: boa constrictors in Arikok National Park. Both boas had been killed by cars on the dusty rocky roads. A warning for the squeamish: the next photo is gory.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Move or else...

Check out these two wrestlers. Talk about a headlock! We had just pulled in to a parking space at Baby Beach on Aruba's easternmost tip. My 10-year-old looks out the window and yells, "Lizard fight!" As soon as the engine was off, he and his sister were out of the car and ringside at this territorial showdown. The guy on the left had apparently encroached on the other fellow's property. Retaliation took the form of an actual headlock whereby the male on the right had most of the other lizard's head in his mouth.

These beautiful turquoise blue sparring partners are two Kododo blauw or Aruban Whiptails, the most abundant lizards found on the island. Everywhere we went there were whiptails dashing in and out among the rocks. One bold lizard kept poking around on our beach blanket whenever we went in for a swim. Here's another photo taken near the California Lighthouse on the western part of the island.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Wild Aruba

For the past three years, my family and I have been fortunate enough to escape the frigid cold of Massachusetts and set off for warmer parts during February vacation. It's always a last minute deal with only two major requirements: warm weather and a fairly painless flight (nonstop, if possible). This year's destination: Aruba.

My husband had been singing the praises of Aruba for the past three years. Everyone we knew had something great to say about Aruba. But I'll admit, I was reluctant to take the bait. My images of Aruba were of high rise hotels, wall-to-wall bodies on the beach, and casinos galore. Not exactly the place for two little kids. Oh, and did I mention we don't like to stay at hotels? My son has a tree nut allergy, so renting a home-away-from-home with cooking facilities provides great peace of mind.

But after reading more about the great beaches and interesting terrain of the island (and finding a well-priced direct flight), we were on our way. Luckily, we found a great little place in Malmok right on Boca Catalina beach. Aruba turned out to be amazing.