Sunday, November 13, 2011

Spittal Pond

I meant this blog to be about travels outside Bermuda but today Viv and I enjoyed a fabulous walk around one of Bermuda's few nature parks, Spittal Pond, in the company of an extraordinary Bermudian naturalist, David Wingate, and some friends.

I'd not been to Spittal Pond for at least 10 years, maybe more.  It is a small lake (OK pond) with what looks like scrubby surrounds.  That's what a wilderness looks like apparently and which is what Spittal Pond is all about.  David Wingate said he didn't really know how large the park is -- "between 40 and 60 acres, its a bit difficult to estimate" -- but he did know the pond is "about 9 acres" in size.  It doesn't take that long to walk around but if you are in David's presence and keep asking him questions, any questions, you could be there forever.  Being a financial person, I am eternally grateful that there are people like David around for if everyone was like me, well ...

As we are in an inter-glacial period the water levels apparently are high and steadily rising.  100,000 years ago water levels were lower and that meant Bermuda ended without sandy beaches beyond the reef system currently surrounding the island at which point there were cliffs all round and very deep water, this being the Bermuda volcano.  This would have meant the island would have been about 400 square miles in size, plenty of room in fact for everyone to own a piece of the rock.  However with a flurry of risings and fallings of water in between, the most recent being 10,000 or so years ago, the current Bermuda was formed along with the beaches.

Rushing forward about 9,600 years, first a marooned Portuguese sailor defaced Bermuda with the first graffiti and about 50-60 years later Admiral Sir George Somers destroyed a large chunk of reef in the process "discovering" Bermuda for England.  Shortly after, Bermuda was deliberately settled and Royal Navy Cartographer Norwood decided to measure and re-organise the island in sections (the big sections are called "parishes" and the original sub-divisions "tribes").  The tribes were for some reason laid out in a simple north/south pattern completely ignoring the contours and features of the land so Spittal Pond is in 10 lots of land.  Scroll forward to the 1920's when government decided on a nature park, they had to buy these lots from the then current owners.  9 of the 10 were paid between £800 and £1,000 per lot but the 10th was a realtor who fully understood the value of sea front land in a growing Bermuda and held out for a "special" deal.  And so the Spittal Pond nature park came into being.

Just after WWII the endemic Bermuda cedar population was wiped out by insect infestation and naturalists decided on replanting with casuarinas.  Without a serious hurricane for several decades, many of the casuarinas grew to as much as 100 feet tall (particularly around Spittal Pond where the soil is incredibly rich in nutrients) so that when Hurricane Emily and its associated tornadoes came ploughing through the island in September 1987, they were flattened pretty much all over the island.  These days you can actually see the pond from South Shore road when you drive by.

As this was a bird themed walk David frequently broke off his discourse to point out an American cuckoo and then 5 or 6 greves paddling by (both migratory).  However he cautioned that the world currently is in Extinction Phase 5 -- with respect to birds, this is very serious as many species are declining massively in numbers.  David said 30 years ago, the pond would have been covered in migratory birds.  Today we saw no more than a dozen.

It has to be immensely frustrating to be a naturalist.  You operate in an industry (if it can be called that) where few understand why conservation is important and what the cause and effect of even casual actions may be.  Fewer even care.  So you have to be grateful that voices in the wilderness like David Wingate are content to devote their entire lives to something so worthwhile for so apparently little reward.  However David has succeeded wonderfully well in recovering the endemic cahow (a marine bird) from total extinction by the creation of the natural haven on Nonsuch Island.  He says there could be as many as 100 breeding pairs now.

David Wingate and a Bermuda longtail next.  Being low and open, the biggest danger to the longtail are cats, dogs and rats.
However Spittal Pond is alive and well for now and ready to be visited.  If you can have David Wingate with you, so much the better.  You'd better go soon as apparently this is a really exciting transitional period (geologically speaking) with sea levels rising, mangroves moving in and general salination levels off the scale.  You probably have a couple of thousand years before things really change.

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