Tortola’s ‘Bird Sanctuary’ (and its only hostel)

November 21, 2011

Accommodations, Outdoors

immature blue heronA hundred yards or so from Josiah’s Bay Beach, on the East End of Tortola, lies a slightly scruffy, nondescript property worth knowing about.

The Near D Beach Hostel and Bird Sanctuary is a unique place: the only hostel I know of in the Virgin Islands, and a place to observe the myriad bird species that live in and travel through the islands. It’s also a casual café, where Marie Blyden, one-half of the husband-wife duo who run the establishment, serves breakfast on weekend mornings, during the tourist season.

Vernon Blyden is the other half. A Virgin Islander who spent most of his life in New York driving trains for the Transit Authority, Vernon and his wife, Marie, a native New Yorker, came ‘home’ to the BVI about 11 years ago. They got a piece of family land in Josiah’s Bay and put down a modest home for themselves.

It just so happened that the land backed up against the Josiah’s Bay Salt Pond, one of the few remaining salt ponds on Tortola and an important habitat for birds. Over the years, birdwatchers came by to ask the Blydens if they could come through their property to look for birds. “At that point, to us, they were just birds,” Vernon Blyden said. “But over the years we have tried to learn.”

ruddy duckLearn they have. When I visited on a recent afternoon Vernon happily named the birds we could see on the water, and showed me photos of many more which friend Phillip Fenty has taken over the years. Enthusiasm calmly contained in his gentle, rasping voice, Vernon tells me about the Moore hens and sandpipers, rails and quits, ducks, annies, herons, and osprey which have been spotted over the years. Flamingos have been known to come over from Guana Island, and Vernon recalls that twice he has seen fish hawks dive into the pond to feed.

The salt pond is not only a home for birds. Vernon tells me that bass, mullet, shrimp and crabs live in its waters, and while we survey the view I admire a brightly colored dragonfly around the shore.

Vernon and Marie would like to turn their property into something a bit more. They don’t charge admission to come watch the birds (though donations are accepted) and it’s very much a BYOB affair; enthusiasts should travel with their own binoculars and identification book. Vernon speaks of establishing a not-for-profit which would run the ‘sanctuary’ (the area is not actually protected). He wishes the pond were managed so as to ensure it does not go dry and to help protect the plant and animal species that live there.

Night HeronWord of the Blydens’ attempts to turn this corner of Tortola into an eco-tourism attraction have spread. In the last year or so students from one of the local secondary schools, assigned to complete a community service project, came down and helped the Blydens. Other community groups have also lent a hand, and Vernon would like additional assistance. During the recent election campaign I even heard a politician mention the Josiah’s Bay Bird Sanctuary.

I do hope that help is forthcoming, whether from the Tourist Board, the Conservation & Fisheries Department, an NGO, or a combination of these. What the Blydens have is a diamond in the rough, plus the will to see it improved. What they need is technical assistance—advice from wildlife experts about care and management of the resource, and help from persons with experience in eco-tourism who could propose a vision for the attraction itself. I would hope that with work this could be turned into a place where visitors and residents can come to learn about and see the birds that live in the Virgin Islands, and also a place to learn about salt ponds—a fairly unheralded but critically important ecosystem in these islands.

In the meantime, grab your binoculars and bug spray and come on down! Set yourself up at the water’s edge and watch the life of the pond around you: birds flying overhead, gliding on the water’s surface and feeding in the shallows, fish jumping, dragonflies buzzing, and crabs scrambling along the muddy banks.

Josiah's Bay Saltpond

the Josiah

Come on a weekend morning (in season) and combine your birdwatching with a home-made breakfast by Marie, served in the homey, screened in dining room which sits adjacent to the pond.

And if you are completely smitten (or just need an affordable room near the beach) book in at the Near D Beach Hostel, a modest complex of three dormitory-style bedrooms (a fourth is under construction). Vernon says that he and Marie learned about hostels from a friend who explained that many travellers, especially in Europe, enjoy the affordable, no-frills, communal nature of hostelling.

The Blydens’ take on hostelling is not especially spartan. Two of the rooms do share a bath, but all rooms are private and equipped with full-size beds and creature comforts like microwave ovens, small refrigerators, and a small garden outside for sitting. But the rooms are small and the price tag of $70-$90 is remarkably affordable, especially given the fact that lovely Josiah’s Bay Beach is just a few steps away.

The Near D Beach Hostel and Bird Sanctuary is located on Josiah’s Bay Road, about 100 yards before the beach parking lot. For more information visit www.josiahsbaybvi.com or call the Blydens on 284-443-7833. You can also read the BVI Welcome article on the Blydens and their bird sanctuary here.

Many thanks to Phillip Fenty for the use of his photographs for this post. All images were taken at the Josiah’s Bay Bird Sanctuary. To see more of Phillip’s photos, visit: http://www.spiceislephotos.ifp3.com/

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About Susanna

Susanna is a Tennessee native transplanted to the BVI, and the author of Moon Handbooks Virgin Islands.

View all posts by Susanna

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One Comment on “Tortola’s ‘Bird Sanctuary’ (and its only hostel)”

  1. Susanna Says:

    Hello everyone. I just noticed that the Near D Beach website is undergoing maintenance. There are some bird videos though, and hopefully the rest of the info will be back soon.

    Reply

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