Rainforest Revelry: A Wonder-Filled Trek from Springfield to Middleham Falls, Dominica

There's Dominica's Morne Micotrin (Macaque) again!  It welcomes eager hikers to the trailhead of Middleham Falls above Cochrane village.

There’s Dominica’s Morne Micotrin (Macaque) again! It welcomes eager hikers to the trail-head for Middleham Falls above Cochrane village.

With some lingering arthritic-like symptoms  and residual lower energy levels resulting from my bout of  Chikungunya in April 2014, I was unsure about my strength and stamina in terms of a day-long hike in Dominica’s interior. I had done well so far, with walks of up to four hours.  However, there was only one way to find out if I could do more – and  you will have to read on to see how I made out!

Sunday May 3rd, 2015 was a very significant day for me, as it marked the first anniversary of the passing of my dear kitty, Tia-pet into the next life.  Before hiking partner Jenny and I set off from Springfield Plantation to

Plants are flourishing at Tia's grave site at Springfield.  The little kitty is resting in spectacular natural surroundings.

Plants are flourishing at Tia’s grave site at Springfield Plantation. The little kitty is resting in spectacular natural surroundings.

commence our ambitious ‘walk’ to Middleham Falls, we visited Tia’s grave site and laid flowers there.  While I miss him dearly, I can still ‘feel the love’ and I will always be grateful to my friends who have helped me cope with this loss.

The dry, hot season had set in with a vengeance on Dominica.  Everyone was complaining about the oppressive heat.  But what better place to go than into the cool of the rainforest, and that was our primary objective!  We commenced just after 8:30 a.m. and immediately I huffed and puffed as my muscles warmed  to the steep climb up the Cochrane Back Road, the first leg of the journey.  Despite the initial breathlessness on my part, Jenny and I chatted away, and within half an hour, we arrived at the next uphill road that would take us to the trail-head to Middleham Falls. While the sun shone brilliantly overhead, we admired distant views of some of the mountains in Morne Trois Pitons National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). As we trekked along, we  stopped to chat with a couple who were cleaning the yard in front of their beautiful, secluded home.  The gentleman mentioned that hikers did pass by now and then, but I was well aware that most intrepids access the Middleham Falls eco-site from the Laudat side, as it is shorter, although a bit steeper in sections.  I had taken that track a few months earlier, and you can read about that fun-filled foray here.

from high above teh Cochrane Village, the views across the Roseau Valley are spectacular.  I believe this prominent massif is Morne Watt.

From high above the Cochrane Village, the views across the Roseau Valley are spectacular. I believe this prominent massif is Morne Watt in Morne Trois Pitons National Park.

As we climbed higher into the rainforest, we were grateful for the cool breezes and shady trees that lined the overgrown through-way. When we came to a fork in the road, I couldn’t exactly recall which track to take, as it had been ten years since I had ventured this way.  At that moment, a friendly farmer drove by and stopped to answer my query.  Right away, he directed us to the right (hikers, take note), as the concreted lane to the left accesses private property.

Thereafter, our conversation kept us moving along, and after an hour or so of continuous incline, we arrived at a grassy plateau with an abandoned

Morne Micotrin (Macaque) provides a dramatic backdrop to the entrance to the Middleham Falls trail.

Morne Micotrin (Macaque) provides a dramatic backdrop to the trail-head to the Middleham Falls track above Cochrane.

house, and we noticed the end of the road a short distance away. Right before us, was the entrance to the Middleham Falls Trail!

The enchanting entrance to Middleham Falls trail beckons visitors to enter Morne Trois Pitons National Aprk.

The enchanting entrance to Middleham Falls trail above Cochrane village beckons visitors to enter Morne Trois Pitons National Park.

As we entered the dense forest, we were immediately entranced by sweet sounds of revelry emanating from the tree-tops high above us. Finches, thrushes, and particularly Mountain Whistlers (Siffleur Montagne) accompanied us for the

The start of the Middleham Falls trail from the Cochrane side is level and easy to walk on.

The start of the Middleham Falls trail from the Cochrane side is level and easy to walk on.

duration of our day in the ‘woods’.  Although we were a little fatigued from the challenging uphill climb on the back roads in the heat, we instantly felt refreshed under the cover of the canopy. A well-maintained track, with steps made from carapit, a sturdy, slip-proof local wood enabled us to move along very easily.

After a few minutes, we passed by a sign indicating that we were now officially inside the 17,000 acre Morne Trois Pitons National Park boundary.  A  number of steps  later,  we found ourselves beside the renowned ‘Stinking Hole’ (Tou Santi). While we were curious about this sulphurous crevice in the earth, which is home to thousands of bats, the foul-smelling fumes chased us away.  Jenny and I did agree though, that it would be fun to see these

The 'Stinking Hole' filled with thousands of bats during the day, lives up to its name!

The ‘Stinking Hole’ is  filled with thousands of bats and their ‘guano’, and lives up to its name!

Jenny stands at the boundary sign as we entered Morne Trois Pitons National Park en route to Middleham Falls.

Jenny stood at the boundary sign as we entered Morne Trois Pitons National Park en route to Middleham Falls.

nocturnal mammals fly out  en masse at dusk someday.

We continued from there in peaceful reverie as we listened to the cheery revelry of ubiquitous bird-songs above and around us. We forded several streams along the way,  of which the first two were bone dry due to the  lack of rainfall and intense heat. However, the next few did require some strategizing to avoid a slip on a slick rock or a wet boot. I generally let Jenny go first over these mini-challenges; she was more nimble in her agile attempts, however, I carefully (but successfully) picked my way to the other side.

Jenny considers the best approach for crossing slippery rocks in the river.

Jenny considered the best approach for crossing slippery rocks in the river.

Jenny manouevers over slippery rocks in a river bed.

Jenny manoeuvred over slippery rocks in a river bed.

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It is possible to hike right through from Cochrane to Laudat (and vice versa) on the Middleham Falls trail. It also intersects with Segment 4 of the Waitukubuli National Trail.

As we neared the falls, the ravines on either side of the mini-rivers became steeper and more slippery.  Good thing it was the dry season or those areas would have required more effort to reach the top of the opposite bank.  The track also became narrower, a little greasy and uneven where there were above-ground streams and prominent tree  roots.  We had to keep our eyes to the ground so that we did not trip or twist an ankle.  Soon we came to a junction with a sign that indicated our close proximity to the destination.  At that point, we encountered a couple who had hiked from the Laudat side and we all more or less hiked the last several minutes together.

We could hear the roar first and then we caught a glimpse of the tall waterfall through the trees.  But suddenly, we came to a dead end, and realized that we had ‘overshot’ the eco-site.  Jenny scouted around while I explained to French visitors in their language about the situation.  Then my intrepid friend backtracked and we followed her until she found the main path, which we had all overlooked for some reason. (Perhaps a sign would be helpful at that junction).

In the hot sunny weather, this site was beyond beautiful.

In the hot sunny weather, this site was beyond beautiful.

The top of Middleham Falls is about 270' up.  It has less flow in this photo, as it was taken in the dry seaon, that is no or very little rainfall and intense heat.  This is usual during the month of May.

The top of Middleham Falls is about 270′ up. It has less flow in this photo, as it was taken in the dry season, that is, no or very little rainfall and intense heat. This is usual during the month of May in Dominica.

We took a few photos right away as we gawked at this dramatic cascade, which is one of the tallest on the island. (I cannot fit it all into my camera lens!)  Then we plopped down on some large boulders overlooking this lovely scene and its pretty pool below.  While we munched on our snacks, two young ladies came along and asked about swimming under the waterfall.  I enthusiastically encouraged them to go below and try it.  There were now six of us in the area, and I felt it was better to have a few people

Middleham Falls glistened in the dappled sunlight on Sunday May 3, 2015.

Middleham Falls glistened in the dappled sunlight on Sunday May 3, 2015.

A visitor enjoys a refreshing dip in the deep pool at the base of the waterfall.

A visitor enjoyed a refreshing dip in the deep pool at the base of the waterfall.

around when others were in the water. So on that day, Jenny and I became unofficial ‘lifeguards’ . I had indeed jumped in to the refreshing waters many years ago, but did not think my knees could take further challenge on the rocky descent to the pool, as this was my first long trek in two years.

The others truly enjoyed their ‘bath’, and they actually left the site just ahead of Jenny and me.  We had lingered for about 45 minutes, and the refreshing repose (without getting wet) was worth every second! On the return journey, I let Jenny lead, which I felt was good for me, as she helped me to quicken my pace slightly.  We were again enraptured by the music over our heads, and we heard an assortment of tunes from various mountain whistlers along the route.  It also intrigued us to listen to melodious tinkling sounds from unidentified insects.  The rainforest was truly full of music that day and I felt as if I were walking in a heaven on earth.

A pair of insects in this hole within an ancient gommier tree exchanged tuneful phrases (until they noticed that we were listening!)

A pair of insects in this hole within an ancient gommier tree exchanged tuneful phrases (until they noticed that we were listening!)

While we retraced our steps, we also admired the tall trees which shaded us and housed those harmonious creatures:  expansive chatanier, with huge buttresses and  stately gommier, with  aromatic sticky resin made us think that this forest must be very ancient indeed.

While the forest was relatively dry, fungi did still thrive in the dark, cool environment.

While the forest was relatively dry, fungi did still thrive in the dark, cool environment.

While we were looking around at all the beautiful plants in the rainforest, we heard a rustling in the dry leaves.  All of a sudden, a rodent-like agouti scooted across the path just behind us.  I had not seen one in the wild for many years, and it added to my delight with this day.

Many leaves have fallen from the trees in the rainforest, as a natural phenomenon during the dry season.

Many leaves had fallen from the trees in the rainforest, which is a natural phenomenon during the dry season.

As we moved out of the trail and onto the open  back road that would take us ‘down’ to Springfield, we also appreciated lovely wildflowers and the gorgeous views in every direction.

Lovely heliconia flowers contrasted perfectly with the surrounding greens.

Lovely red heliconia flowers contrasted perfectly with the surrounding greens.

Pretty wildflowers provided a pause and cause for admiration.

Pretty wildflowers provided a pause and cause for admiration.

We quickened our steps, so that we could reward ourselves with a cool dip in the Springfield River.

The revitalizing Springfield River was a refreshing reward after a day-long trek to and through the rainforest.

The revitalizing Springfield River was a refreshing reward after a day-long trek to and through the rainforest.

When I looked at my watch once we were back at our base at Springfield, I remarked that we had taken about 6 1/2 hours to thoroughly enjoy a spectacular part of paradise.  As I slipped into the refreshing river, I reveled in the joy of a remarkable journey into  the essence of the Nature Island. And I was also thrilled to have accomplished my

An beautiful May sunset was another reward for a wonderful day on the Nature Island.

A beautiful May sunset  marked the conclusion of wonderful day on the Nature Island.

first day-long trek since having fallen ill just over a year ago.  Time spent in Dominica’s rainforest is definitely a healing tonic for  body, mind and soul.

 

 

 

 

English Immersion on the Nature Island: French Students Learn about Dominica’s Flora and Fauna*

Students Carole (l), Victoria and Marie-Agnes from Ludicademi in Martinique demonstrated tremendous interest and keenly participated in class discussions.

Students Carole (l), Victoria,Marie-Agnes and Charles from Ludicademi in Martinique demonstrated tremendous interest and keenly participated in class discussions.

The Crapaud frog (aka Mountain Chicken) is critically endangered and is endemic to Dominica and Montserrat. Read about its plight and the exceptional efforts to save it here.

The Crapaud frog (aka Mountain Chicken) is critically endangered and is endemic to only Dominica and Montserrat. Read about its plight and the exceptional efforts to save it here.

During a class held at the University of  the West Indies Open Campus in June, the English immersion students from Ludicademi in Martinique grasped the significance of  relevant and meaningful vocabulary  that could be directly applied to plants and animals on the Nature Island. Over the course of three hours, they began to understand  the meaning of biodiversity, the importance of wildlife conservation, as well as how, why  and what endemic, migratory,  endangered and vulnerable species are found here.

By the amount of questions that they posed, it was clear they were tremendously interested in the less common  and threatened species that exist on Dominica. That afternoon,  renowned author and  Forestry and Wildlife Officer Arlington James (retired) would be taking them on an interpretive tour of the Syndicate Forest Nature Trail (located above Dublanc on the west coast, in the foothills of Morne Diablotin). I was assured that they would come away from this day’s topic with a great appreciation for and understanding of Dominica’s flora and fauna.

The Fragile’ Mountain Chicken’ Frog

They were particularly fascinated by the ‘Mountain Chicken’ frog (aka Crapaud), which is critically endangered (almost extinct!) due to a persistent fungal infection. It is a regional endemic, as a very  are few found on Dominica and Montserrat. Those that manage  to survive are being closely monitored by Forestry and Wildlife Division officers, with much appreciated assistance from specialists at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).

Birds, Birds, Birds!

The Imperial or Sisserou Parrot is endangered and is only found on Dominica.  This is a female.  Photo taken by Forestry Officer Stephen Durand.

The Imperial or Sisserou Parrot is endangered and is only found on Dominica. This is a female. Photo taken by Forestry Officer Stephen Durand.

I referred them to the classification system of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) where they would discover the survival status of specific species. They had no idea that Dominica’s two parrots, the Sisserou which is endangered and the Jaco which is vulnerable are only found on Dominica.  That means that they are endemic to this country alone!  However, some of the students wondered if they might have seen Jaco parrots on Martinique.  I could not confirm this, of course.  I do hope that they queried Mr. James.  The Jaco’s numbers are increasing and the distance between Dominica and Martinique is not great, so I wonder if it is possible…I will certainly check with my friend, Forestry Officer/Bird Specialist Bertrand ‘Dr. Birdy’ Jno Baptiste when I next see him!

Certainly, Dominica can be described as a bird enthusiast’s ‘heaven’.  Over 200 species of our feathered friends have been sighted here, although only about 50 are resident year-round (reference:birdlife.org).  Of course, the others are migratory.  The class was intrigued when I showed them a photo of a Blue-Headed Hummingbird, which is only found on Dominica and Martinique.  That means it is a ‘regional

The vibrant colouts of the male Blue-Headed Hummingbird are a sight to see. it is only found on Dominica and Martinique.

The vibrant colours of the male Blue-Headed Hummingbird are a sight to see. it is only found on Dominica and Martinique. Photo Credit: Wikipedia

endemic’!  I was very surprised that no one in the class had ever seen one on our sister island to the south.  I could only hope that they might catch a glimpse of one in the Syndicate area, as I had with ‘Dr. Birdy’.

Snakes and Lizards

Friends took me to see a nest of Boa Constrictors (locally called 'Tet-Chien' in Creole) on Canada day 2012.

Friends took me to see a nest of Boa Constrictors (locally called ‘Tete-Chien’ in Creole) on Canada Day 2012.

I showed the class a number of other photographs of animals on Dominica – at least my favourites!  They were really astonished by the possible length of the endemic species of Boa Constrictor snake – which can reach 10 feet!  I assured them that it was not poisonous, nor were the other three species that are found here.  While the confirmed numbers of this reptile are not exactly known, it is felt by some experts that they might be vulnerable, especially due to habitat loss and hunting.  They do play a vital role in keeping down the rat population.  I am always thrilled to come across one in the forest, which is not that often!

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The endangered Lesser Antillean Iguana (called Leza in Creole) is the largest lizard on Dominica. Recently some other types have colonized here from other countries.

The other reptile that I enjoy watching up close is the Lesser Antillean Iguana.  

Amazingly, the class had seen a bright green juvenile in the Botanical Gardens the previous day but didn’t know what it was!  It is the largest of about nine species that thrive on the Nature Island. Again, it has been suggested that  their numbers are in decline and that they are classified as endangered on the IUCN Red List.  However, on Dominica, these creatures are protected by law, so I hope they fare better here than on other islands.  I have seen them  in various locales along the west coast, including Champagne Beach, Mero Beach and  seaside at Coulibistrie.

This 'stick insect' is endemic to (only found on) Dominica!

This ‘stick insect’ is endemic to (only found on) Dominica!

Whales and Dolphins  and Other Mammals

Of course, I told them a little about the sea creatures as well, including a resident year-round pod of Sperm Whales, and plentiful dolphins.  A number of other types of whales are migratory and pass through Dominica’s waters annually.  Dominica is known as the ‘Whale Watch Capital of the Caribbean’, as the likelihood of spotting some cetaceans  on an excursion is very high.

Then we talked about  a few of the other 16 mammals that exist on Dominica:, including 12 species of bats, the rodent-like agouti, and manicou (opossum).  They are similar to, if not the same varieties on Martinique, according to some of the students.

Sea Turtles

There was a very lively discussion when I showed the class some video clips about the three types of endangered sea turtles that regularly nest on Dominica’s beaches (Leatherback, Hawksbill, and Green).  To see the females come in to  dig a nest and lay many eggs, or to watch hatchlings run into the sea are awesome sights.  As these animals are protected by law on Dominica, some students queried the balance between tradition and conservation.  Historically, turtle meat and eggs have been eaten by some people here.  There was  some concern  in the class about being denied one’s rights to eat a traditional food or to protect an endangered species.  It can be a delicate subject, but I urged the students to consider that if they were plentiful, and if there were no other food sources, I could understand the need to hunt them.  Most definitely, that is not the case these days, and anyone caught interfering with the turtles is arrested.  I also told the group that a number of community associations, especially on the east coast, patrol the beaches at night when the turtles come in.  They also offer turtle  watching tours!

Flora/Plants

There was so much to say about the flora and fauna found on Dominica that I ran out of time.  It was important to point out that the Smithsonian Institute In Washington D.C. has previously described Dominica as “a giant plant laboratory, unchanged for 10,000 years” (Fodor’s Caribbean, 1996).  I made sure to emphasize that there are over 1,000 flowering plants in Dominica, of which 11 species are only found here, and nowhere else!

These red and pink ginger lilies are called exotic plants because they were introduced to Dominica from sources in Malaysia.

These red and pink ginger lilies are called exotic plants because they were originally introduced to Dominica from sources in Malaysia.

These beautiful anthurium lilies belong to the monocotyledons class, of which tere are 186 species on the Nature Island

These beautiful anthurium lilies belong to the class of ‘monocotyledons’, of which there are 186 species on the Nature Island

Two species of heliconia flowers are only found on Dominica.

Two species of heliconia flowers are only found on Dominica.

Prolific Gommier Trees are indigenous to the caribbean region.  There are about 200 forest trees in Dominica.

Prolific Gommier Trees are indigenous to the Caribbean region. There are about 200 types of forest trees in Dominica.

I quickly showed them a few more photos of my favourites and then they were off for their excursion with retired forestry and wildlife expert Mr. Arlington James to learn more in the forest at the Syndicate Eco-site.

This "chicken of the forest' mushroom is edible, although there are other species on Dominica that are poisonous!

This “chicken of the forest’ mushroom is edible, although there are other species on Dominica that are poisonous!

I think they were truly amazed about the extraordinary amount of biodiversity on the tiny lush Nature Island!

* This mini English immersion programme was organized by Tina Alexander, Executive Director of Lifeline Ministries, Dominica.

Reference: Overview of the Flora and Fauna of Dominica [notes] prepared by Stephen Durand For Dominica State College Basic Skills Training Programme, October 2006.