Parrot Happy Hour

A Parrot’s Happy Hour

Echo Bonaire is an amazing parrot sanctuary that is working towards conserving the endangered Yellow-shouldered Amazon Parrot.  Through conservation management, research, and restoration of their habitat they hope to increase the population.

This sounded like something I had to see so I organized a girls day out which started with lunch at Between 2 Buns and then a road trip to Echo Bonaire.  Our group consisted of Marilyn (from “Cardera“), Cindy (“Tranquility“), Jane (“Cheetah II”) and I.

Ladies Day Out

Me, Marilyn, Jane, and Cindy

The trip to the sanctuary is 35 minutes from downtown Kralendijk where our boats are located.  Marilyn took us along the beautiful coast line across windy roads and over a few hills.  When we arrived, we were very surprised to find over 20 people waiting to go on the tour.  Matt and I had tried to take the tour the previous week, but a freak wind/rain storm came upon us just as we were heading out. We decided to skip the tour thinking the birds wouldn’t want to be out in that weather either.

Echo Parrot Entrance

Entrance of Echo Parrots and People Sanctuary

Our tour guide, Rose, spoke several languages to her guests and was very knowledgeable, professional, and kind.  She is a student volunteer who lives in the volunteer quarters on the property which are pretty rustic with no running water or electricity.

There are 7500 Yellow-Shouldered Amazon Parrots in the world and about 800-1000 live in Bonaire at any given time.

One of Echo’s primary goals is reforestation which is important to preserving these birds.  The tour started at the nursery where several green houses host native plants and trees that are preferred by the parrots.

Their goal is to plant 2000 native trees across 7 hectares (7.4 acres).  They have established three hectares and have planted over 400 trees.  The hectares are created to keep the donkeys, goats, and pigs out in order to give the native trees a chance to grow.  There are 50 species of trees native to Bonaire and they have been able to replant 45 of them.  Each tree is planted by hand and watered, by hand, once a week during the dry season.

Native trees at parrot sanctuary

Green house at Echo Parrot Sanctuary

Green house at Parrot Sanctuary

Echo Parrot Sanctuary Green House

Volunteers retrieve hurt birds and bring them to Echo where they are kept isolated for a few days for observation.  Once they are eating and healing they are put in the “Release Aviary.” There the birds are observed with other parrots for three days.  The other parrots will “test” the new bird – kind of like a new kid in school.

Parrot release aviary

Release Aviary for parrots

Most parrots come in with a broken wing (at the shoulder) which is very hard to care for and heal.  It can take well over a year for the bird to relearn how to fly again.

In order for a parrot to be released, they must know how to fly and they have to be afraid of people.  They are trying aversion programs to desensitize the parrots to humans.

The tour was a walking tour through a portion of their property, over a small trail covered with prickles and cacti.  But Rose brought us to a beautiful overlook of Lake Grotto which was incredibly beautiful.

Parrot Sanctuary Lake Groto

Lake Groto overlook from the Parrot Sanctuary.

Parrots can live for 30-60 years and are most vocal at sunrise and sunset.  Rose informed us that as the sun is setting the parrots congregate together and ask questions.

What do the parrots talk about:
  • How was your day?
  • Where did you find food?
  • Where are you going tomorrow?

They do the same thing first thing in the morning as the sun is rising.

Parrot Happy Hour

Parrots meeting at happy hour


Parrot didn’t like the small talk

Echo Bonaire is subsidized by Bonaire, the Netherlands, and tourists. They also just started selling their trees to locals to help spread their reforestation efforts.

These two birds were found being smuggled into the country by a tourist at the airport.

parrots being smuggled in to Bonaire

Two birds confiscated at the Bonaire airport.

These two beautiful macaws were donated by a family on the island when the owner passed away.  One was really depressed and picked his feathers out which will never grow back.  But they were both so pretty and friendly.  These macaws can live up to 135 years.

McCaw parrot

McCaws donated by local family

As we were nearing the end of our tour, we came to a small opening surrounded by trees.  The sun was setting and just as Rose said, the parrots started communicating with each other and asking all sorts of questions.  It was so musical.

Lake Groto sunset

Sunset at Lake Groto

Yellow bellied finches

Yellow bellied finches.

Yellow headed amazon

Yellow headed amazon – show off for the humans.



Dive Buoyant

Buoyancy An Art or Skill?

Buoyancy is something you have to constantly practice and perfect while diving.  It is not something you learn once and then move on as there are so many different variables.  The water depth, tank weight, BCD, weights, and your breathing all impact your buoyancy.

Diver buoyancy

Photo Courtesy of Diving Frontiers

Matt has it mastered and can literally site Indian style in the water, gently moving up and down with each breath.  Sign of a skilled and controlled diver and flexible yogi.

My new BCD has helped tremendously.  The original BCD was a unisex BCD which did not fit me correctly.  The torso was too long and it sat below my hips and was overall just too big.  I sold it and bought a female Aqua Lung Pearl which fits much better and gives me far more control.

I am pretty flat (or neutral) while I am diving.  But I do tend to struggle when I want to stay in one place to take a photo, look at a critter, or wait for other divers.

Work needed to be done so I jumped at the chance when Eric on “Ad Astra offered to do buoyancy skills with a few of us.  Eric is a dive instructor and has over a dozen certifications (rescue, first aid, deep, technical, side mount, etc…) and is the perfect person to teach us new techniques.

Me diving.

Me, before I learned my new skills, pretty neutral.

Jane from “Cheetah II,” Daryl and Janet from “Maple” joined me at “Ad Astra’s” mooring where Eric had rigged a little skills course.  He put up a diagonal line creating a space that got smaller as the line met the sea bed on opposite side.

Eric had us practice fin kicks where you leave the tips of your fins on the floor and raise your body up with an inhale and down with an exhale.  After we “mastered” this exercise, he showed us different fin kicks.  Most people do the flutter kick which tends to kick up sand and can disturb the sea life so we were learning alternative kicks that are less disruptive to the animals.

Types of Kicks:
  • Flutter kick
  • Modified Flutter kick
  • Frog Kick
  • Helicopter turn

After displaying our new skills, we used the modified flutter kick to get under the line, then helicopter around and swim back under the line without touching the line or the ground.

Next, we used the same kick to swim barely over the line, then we headed straight down (perpendicular to the ground, head first), then swam under the line belly up (tank closest to the ground).  Of course, I looked at him in disbelief when he demonstrated it and indicated I might not be able to do it, but to my surprise, I killed it!

The next skill I had heard about and swore I would never do – but here I am preparing to do it in front of 5 other people.  You swim slowly, just above the floor (18″), up to a spoon that has been buried in the sand (the top part of the spoon showing).  As you slowly approach the spoon, you gently nudge it with your regulator, then slowly and calmly remove your regulator, grab the spoon with your mouth, look at Eric, and then replace your regulator.  I am not sure what the spoon’s problem was but it kept evading my mouth or jumping out of my mouth- it was comedic for everyone but me. Goin in, miss, goin in again, miss, spoon flops on sand – try the entire move again.  Eventually, I got it, but man it was irritating.

For the last skill we slowly swam up to the mooring, 18″ off the floor, hovered at the mooring for 5 seconds.  We then used our breath to raise up over the mooring then headed upside down, holding for 5 count (basically doing a “U” around the mooring.

Mooring Block

Mooring Block – Not Eric’s, but similar.

When we came up to the surface, we were all surprised to learn that we had been down for 90 minutes!  It was an incredibly educational and useful session that we are all very grateful to have received.  It certainly should be included in the basic Open Water or at least in Advanced training – which it is not.

None the less I feel much more equipped to handle my buoyancy and look forward to putting my new skills to work while diving.

Matt upside down

Matt pretending to be a trunk fish – upside down.

Salt Pier dive

Me at the Salt Pier.


Hiding in Plain Sight: Sunshades

Living on a boat is amazing but we often find ourselves hiding from the sun to escape the heat.  September and October are HOT, when  the wind dies down, humidity is high, and the sun is sizzling.  Sunshades become a necessity.  Where I once used to be a deck-spider, I no longer find the need, desire, patience, or capacity to lay out in the sun.

With that said, it is a bit challenging to be “out of the sun” when you live on a boat (especially a boat without air conditioning).  We tend to hang out in our cock pit which has the best breeze, but it is in the direct sunlight.  We use our sunshades a lot, but the ones that came with the boat are old, dirty, and small.  New sunshades became a priority on our project list.

  • 13 yards of phifortex fabric
  • Webbing (hems, corners, connection points)
  • Bolt rope (to run through the track on the Bimini)
  • Straps, snaps, basting tape, and thread (black and white).
The Project: Sunshades

We both wanted to work on smaller sewing projects before we jumped into this one as it was bound to be complicated – and it was.

The existing sunshades could not be used as a pattern since we wanted more coverage.  We started with the back shade, measured across the bimini, and added 36″.  We wanted the back shade to have 3 panels: main center panel and two smaller panels.  Each side would have a small panel that extended to the helm seats or could be folded over.

Sunshade side panel

New side panel fully extended.

To determine the overall width of the back panel, we sewed in the bolt rope which allowed us to hang the material up.  Measure, repeat, measure, repeat.  We added webbing along all of the hems to provide more structure and strength to the panels.  We also added webbing on the seam where we wanted the side panels to fold over.

Sunshade panel

Sunshade webbing for the side panel fold over.

Adding the straps and connecting points were next so that we could hook the shade to the life line and roll the shade up neatly.


Sunshade connecting points. Check out that neat little box we sewed.


Sunshade clips to secure the shade when it is rolled up.


Sunshade all rolled up

Finally, we added snaps to the side panels (to stay folded when not in use) and to the exterior straps that held the shade to the Bimini poles.

With the back sunshade done, we were able to start on the two side panels.  We pretty much followed the same routine, but tweaked them a bit as they had angles as opposed to straight lines.

Keep in mind that this entire process was completed using a Baby Lock sewing machine which has to be as old as the boat (2001).  I am sure it would have been a LOT easier using a Sailrite sewing machine which is one specifically used for thicker fabrics like canvas.

For the most part, sewing the phifortex was ok.  But when it came to the corners or the straps which had phifortex folded over, bolt rope, and two pieces of webbing it was really challenging to get the little machine up that hill.  We coached her, babied her, petted her, let her rest, cursed, and put her away when she started smoking.  Matt had to tear her apart and put her back together a few times but all in all she did good!

Babylock repair

Sewing machine surgery.


Sunshade completed back panels.


Sunshade side panel – Starboard.


Sunshade Completed Port Panel

This was certainly a good learning experience. It was a joint effort as  it took 4 hands just to get the fabric through – and don’t get me started on reverse!

All in all the Babylock held strong, finished the sunshade project and is resting until we get her out again for the next sewing project.