The loras love our house on Bonaire. They love our house so much that some visitors complain about the morning noise of the birds as they fly around our Santa Barbara neighborhood foraging for food. We, on the other hand, appreciate the morning cacophony of this beloved bird of Bonaire: the Yellow-shouldered Amazon parrot.
In March, we were treated to some truly delightful daily breakfasts on the porch of Villa Salentein as large flocks of the parrots traveled back and forth along the shore to eat the fruits of the betel nut palm. (Here is a picture of a parrot-less fruiting tree, since the birds are shy and fly away long before I get within iPhone range for pictures.)
When we first began visiting Bonaire in 2011 we wanted to experience ALL of Bonaire’s nature. We became a family of divers when our youngest got certified at Buddy Dive at age 10. We toured the National Park at each visit. We drove south and north to see flamingoes and other Bonairean birds and creatures. We hiked, we biked, we dived, we windsurfed, some of us who are suckers for punishment kite surfed.
And, of course, we looked high and low for Bonaire’s native parrot, known as the “lora” by the local Antillean people. The lora lives only on Bonaire and in small pockets of Venezuela; it is considered vulnerable to extinction. For three or four years, we saw exactly 0 parrots, though we regularly saw the small parakeets that are native to the island while we tried to visit places where we thought a sighting of the mysterious lora was possible.
We began to suspect maybe the “lora” was a Bonairean myth. We scheduled a visit to the Echo facility near Rincon to confirm/deny once and for all the existence of said bird. Echo is the organization on Bonaire that has been working for a number of years to count, study and protect the island’s most famous feathered native.
A lovely young woman named Lauren Schmaltz, who had been leading Echo's conservation efforts on the island for a number of years, met us upon our arrival there at 0-dark thirty -- when the birds are allegedly most active -- and toured us around the facility. (We were very happy to see, right off the bat in their newer, more appropriate habitat, the two scarlet macaws that used to greet visitors at Rum Runners.)
We had a great tour of the Echo facility and got to see the plant nursery where Echo’s hardworking staff and volunteers grow the native plants that provide food and shelter for the loras. Then we took a walk around the grounds where many of these plantings are being studied and tended. Then we got to see several parrots in cages that were being rehabilitated.
But there was nary a wild bird to be seen. We gave Lauren the stink eye and left Echo convinced there was really no such parrot on Bonaire. As we turned onto the road that led back toward our house that day, however, there…in a scrubby patch of mesquite…was a group of five to seven of these gorgeous and vocal birds!
As the years have passed since then, we see (and hear: the lora has loud, distinctive vocalizations) the parrot all the time. Even at breakfast at home! This is due to factors both environmental and practical, we know, but the efforts of Echo — to educate people about the island’s favorite feathered friends, create new habitats for them, and ultimately to protect them so that the long-term survival of the species is possible — is what has made seeing a lora when you are on Bonaire more of a reality and less of a myth!
Check out the beautiful Yellow-shouldered Amazon parrot (photo courtesy of Echo):
It’s no secret that the diving along the west coast of Bonaire is what draws many tourists to the island. It is hard to explain to non/novice divers, or those who are more accustomed to diving from boats, the soaring feeling that comes from being able to gather your gear, jump in a truck and walk into the ocean for some of the best, most relaxing diving to be had in the Caribbean.
Here at VS, you can even eliminate the truck by gearing up and descending the sea ladder at the front of the villa to do a dive of the house reef. Whether you fin off toward the left (south) or toward the right (north), you will be treated to the beautiful sights on offer at any Bonairean west coast dive: gorgeous corals, curious French angelfish, stingrays, all manner of parrotfish, turtles large and small, barracuda, eels, eagle rays (These are also regular visitors to the shallows around VS and can be seen often with only a snorkel and a mask!) and many of the other “regulars” of Bonaire’s west coast fringing reef.
For the most fun, however, we recommend a “drift” dive from Oil Slick (from north to south) or Andrea I or II (south to north). You will need to find someone to do the drop off (though we don’t condone this, there is usually a reluctant or non-diver in every crowd) and from either direction one can fin along at a leisurely pace with a regular ol’ tank of air in the fun zone (35-60 feet) and arrive back at Salentein with plenty of air to spare. Both dives take from 45 minutes to an hour.
Here is a family video of a baitball taken in front of the villa at about 30 feet: