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Although Barbuda is only a 20-minute flight north of Antigua, its frigatebird colony in Codrington Lagoon National Park seems a century away. Within the primeval mangrove lagoon, thousands of frigatebirds are courting.

Male frigatebirds on nest
Male frigatebirds on nest
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Competition was intense. There were so many scarlet-throated birds in the mangroves, that they resembled red ornaments on an overly decorated Christmas tree. A male Fregata magnificens was hoping to attract the attention of a white-headed female.

He huffed and he puffed and he blew himself up. Way up. So much so that his pumpkin-sized crimson breast pouch forced back his head and beak. We wondered if he would explode.

A cacophony of males' guttural clicks and females' high-pitched squawks permeated the sultry air. Some of the black-plumed birds launched themselves from the springy branches. They glided over the colony, with ruby pouches dangling from their necks like partially deflated balloons. Others carried beaks full of grass to line their nests.

Man o' war birds

In flight, frigates are truly magnificent, their five-foot wingspans propelling the fork-tailed birds to lofty heights. While they can dive for fish, with pinpoint accuracy, these aerial pirates prefer to ambush other water birds in midair. As the victim drops its catch in panic, the frigate swoops down to retrieve the meal before it hits water. Their plundering habits have gained them the nickname: man-o'-war birds.

"Mating season runs from September to March," said our guide, Gene, a native Barbudan. "In March, the males migrate to Belize, leaving the females to rear the single chicks." The fledglings are covered with fluffy white feathers, all askew — avian renditions of a bad-hair day.

Frigatebirds in mangroves
Frigatebirds in mangroves
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

The frigatebird colony in Codrington Lagoon National Park, northwest Barbuda, is the largest in the western hemisphere. It is accessible only by boat. We approached the rookery silently, to avoid disturbing the birds. Our boatman cut the motor and hopped into the chest-deep water to move us within thirty feet of the birds. Busy with courting, they paid no attention to us.

Pink sand

We traveled across the lagoon to Luis Beach. In 1995, Hurricane Luis literally blew out the vegetation across a swath of land separating the lagoon from the Caribbean Sea.

Pink shells and sand
Pink shells and sand
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Although Hurricane Irma eroded it in 2017, the beach is still a pristine stretch of powdery sand strewn with drifts of tiny pink shells. Their color is so intense that Bermuda's famed pink sand beaches look pallid by comparison.

In both directions, the beach extends for as far as our eyes could see. Ours were the only footsteps in the sand.

Turquoise liquid silk waters lapped the sand with lacy surf, on the Caribbean side. On the lagoon side, the moss-green brine sloshed over beds of swaying grasses that shelter delectable local lobsters.

Grilled lobster

At Uncle Roddy's, one of the island's restaurants, we feasted on the tasty grilled crustaceans. Satiated, we boarded a four-wheel-drive pickup for a tour of the island.

Although Barbuda is two-thirds the size of Antigua, it has a population of only 1,600. Nearly everyone lives in Codrington.

Gene proudly showed us the island's gas station, operated by a smiling proprietor, the post office, the Spring View Hospital, several churches and the schools. Uniform-clad students, walking to classes, waved to us.

We passed a police station where two officers watched the comings and goings from the verandah. There's not a lot for them to do. "The local magistrates only visit Barbuda a couple times a year," said Gene.

Barbuda history

Our vehicle jiggled and jolted over the pot-holed road, until it was forced to a stop by a Barbudan traffic jam: a flock of goats and sheep. Both are descendants of the animals brought here by the Codringtons.

Goats and sheep on road
Goats and sheep on road
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

In 1685, the Codrington family leased Barbuda from King Charles II of England. The lease was renewed several times, at a rate of "one fat sheep a year," until 1860, when the island was annexed to Antigua. Both islands attained full independence from Britain in 1981.

The Codringtons owned sugar plantations on Antigua. They used Barbuda as a stock farm to supply Antigua with venison, boar meat and guinea fowl. History claims that they also used Barbuda as a human stud farm to raise a super race of strong slaves to work in the cane fields. The tallest and strongest slaves were sent here and told to get busy and make babies. Today, most Barbudans would rather forget about this blatant abuse of human rights.

No roads encircle the entire island. We drove south to the 300-year-old Martello Tower. The stone fort once held nine guns to defend the island.

Princess Diana beach

We bumped along the south coast until we reached Coco Point Lodge, a five-star hotel in the "if-you-have-to-ask-the-price-you-can't-afford-it" category. Several guest houses and bed-and-breakfasts offer much more economical accommodations.

Located in front of the once luxurious K Club, which closed in 2004, Princess Diana beach was one of the most beautiful. It was named after the Princess of Wales, who vacationed here with Prince William and Prince Henry when they were young.

Former K Club where Princess Diana stayed
Former K Club where Princess Diana stayed
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Paradise Found resort

Movie star Robert De Niro and James Packer, his Australian billionaire partner, plan to open Paradise Found, a $250 million mega-resort on the 100-hectare K Club site with an additional 120 hectares leased from the government. In addition to 40 luxury cottages with private pools, De Niro wants to build a yacht marina and a new airport in Barbuda.

Although a referendum approved the project, 300 residents objected to the lease of additional land. The court will resolve the legal challenge. In the meantime, De Niro vowed to help rebuild the island and help create a 90% renewable energy program.

Arawak petroglyphs

Most day-visitors sunbathe on the Pink Sand Beach at Palmetto Point, or on Access Beach, near Coco Point. The more adventurous opt for a tour of the caves on the northeast end of the island.

Indian Cave, at Two Foot Bay, boasts petroglyphs created by the earliest inhabitants of Barbuda, the Arawaks. Climbing underground past stalactites and stalagmites, you emerge at an opening 48 feet above sea level for a view of the coastline.

Although Barbuda is quite arid, occasional rains can turn the dirt roads in the northeast into muddy quagmires that are impassable for days. If this happens during your visit, stick to the south coast. The unspoiled pink sand beaches and red-breasted frigatebirds alone justify the trip.


Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority: www.visitantiguabarbuda.com

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