I was excited about coming to Brazil, because it has one of the largest amounts of bird species reccorded in one country. Round about 1,712 species. So far I’ve seen about 40 of those. No, its not a lot, but I dare you to name 40 different bird names without using the internet or a book :P.
The first bird you see after sighting land, is the Magnificent Frigatebird (Fregata magnificens). They are quite large black birds with white breasts; they have long, forked tails and long, narrow wings which have a small kink in the middle. They ride the thermals that drift out to sea, and sometimes those just inland as well. While on the sea I often saw a black-spiral of them over the water; and here in Rio you see them every now-and-then as a black column drifting past high overhead.
The second and only other bird you see is the Brown Booby (Sula leucogaster). Its back and head is a chocolate brown, but its underparts are snowy white. Its head is streamlined, with a sloping forehead sliding naturally into its long pointed beak. It has yellowish bare skin on its face, it looks like it went for spa treatment, but never took the face mask off. They have always struck me as friendly birds, I feel like they are my friends. I respect the Frigatebirds, but they do not at all seem friendly; they fly high above in a flock, like nobles regarding a group of peasants, their beaks are hooked and they are not againts bullying other seabirds to get a meal. The boobys just feel homey, especially the Brown Booby. It roams about by itself, flying in and out of the curves of the waves; slowly, unhurriedly, drifting along a few meters above the water. When it spots a meal it folds back its wings and dives almost vertically straight into the water; then it pops up again and continues flying as if nothing has happened. Every now and then while we were in the mouth of the bay a booby would fly past. I don’t know if it was the same one or a different one each time. Sophia, however, was convinced it was the same one, “O no, not that bird AGAIN!”. I must say I found her irritation quite funny.
One of the bird species I expected to find plentiful here while moored, were gulls. But I rarely see one. On none of the beaches that I’ve seen or been to yet, have I seen any gulls. I’ve only seen like 5 gulls (I wasn’t able to identify them) in the last two months.
The bay, however is not wanting life. It is extremely dirty, you constantly see bits of plastic and stuff float in it, but there is life here. Fish are constantly jumping out of the water, big fish, little fish. Sometimes they just half-heartedly flop out of the water, but mostly they jump like they are being propelled by a spring. It is not weird anymore to see a fish 20cm or more, randomly jump out of the water without any warning, make an arch through the air about half a meter high, and land back in the water with a ‘plop’. Or sometimes they go ‘splash’.
The sheer quantity of fish here is amazing, (although we really wonder about the quality of the fish). We have even seen a few sea turtles in the bay as they come up to breath. Fishing boats are also quite in evidence, usually most active between dusk and sunrise. We have often had a quite large fishing boat spend the night not far from where we are moored.
Another testimony to how much life there is in this bay is how much stuff grew on the bottom of our small dinghy, Shampoo. (For those of you who don’t know, we have two dinghys, the small beige one is Shampoo, and the big red one is Conditioner). When we first arrived we launched Shampoo to go take a look around. Then after having been here a week we took the bits-and-pieces that is Conditioner to the beach so that we could put her together. After that we only used Conditioner, but kept Shampoo tied up behind Shang Du. After about a month here we decided that it was seriously time to clean the bit of growth that had undoubtedly grown on Shampoo and put her back on Shang Du, We’ve waited too long as it is. So we sort-of booked an afternoon. We had all gone to the club library in the morning to do school or spend some quality time with the internet, and after my dad finished his work he, Marike and I went back the boat to fetch Shampoo.
We got Shampoo ready, climbed in, untied the ropes, set off. While we were put-puttering between the other sailing boats we all sort-of wondered why Shampoo couldn’t go faster. We put it down to “just being used to Conditioner, and so in comparison Shampoo just feels slower”.
At the club is a small concrete area leading into the water where members can launch and take out their one-man sail boats. We got there and somehow managed to pull Shampoo out and tip her over. I can’t remember exactly how we did it, because I was too busy looking at Shampoo’s hull. It was carpeted – with not a millimeter of open space – by a thick forest of thin white tubes with slimy spongy maroon bits on with tiny cracks in between them. Only, the maroon wasn’t sponge. It was masses of these weird, miniscule shirmp/scorpion things, and moved about; you could see them now starting to crawl around looking for water. If you looked hard enough you could see tiiiiiny crabs sitting amongst the tubes and staring coolly back at you. There were even some snails.
We didn’t have a clue what to do. We tried spraying the dinghy with a hoze which is provided to wash the salt off the dinghys that are taken out, but this resulted only in the spongy-weird-shrimp/scorpions crawling around more desperately. We would have been there a long time had not a old sun-weathered Brasilian seen our plight and come to help us. We didn’t understand him and he didn’t understand us, but he got some metal scraper-things and showed us how to use them.
The white pipes were brittle and a chunk of it even came off by itself, but what remained was quite reluctant to part from the new home it had made for itself. The white tubes that had been on the hull piled up into broken shards next to the dinghy, a wave coming every now-and-than to gently take some of it away and break the pieces even smaller. You could see the bits of white lying just inside the water, and every time you had to step in the water, or if a wave came up to you, you could feel the bits swirling around your foot. When I had to step in the water I just tried not to think of all those spongy-weird-shrimp/scorpion things that had undoubtedly been washed in the water too. There were tiny fishes swimming literly at the water’s edge, undoubtedly feasting on what had quite recently lived underneath Shampoo.