Seasonal Splendor in Bermuda
The lush island offers rare treats for nature-loving travelers
photo: Bermuda Tourism Authority
From a natural history perspective, there’s no place in the world like Bermuda. Perched on a pedestal of volcanic rock pushed up from the earth’s mantle thirty million years ago, the archipelago is bathed by warm Gulf Stream currents, giving it four distinct but mild seasons, including frost-free winters, sun-filled summers freshened by trade winds, and a number of blissful months in between.
“Our location makes us special,” says Kaitlin Noyes, director of education and community engagement with the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences, a century-old nonprofit that operates the world’s longest-running time-series ocean study, which started in 1954 and continues to provide critical climate change data. Bermuda, Noyes explains, is the northernmost point of three different ecosystems—mangroves, seagrass meadows, and coral reefs. “There are all kinds of complexities within those three ecosystems.” The result is an oasis of natural wonder no matter the season, with pink-sand beaches, swaying palms, and breezes perfumed by a blend of ocean salt and fragrant blooms.
On the island, fall is especially lovely as the avian population swells with winter migration. More than three hundred species have been observed on Bermuda; to best spot them, pack your binoculars and head to the sixty-four-acre Spittal Pond Nature Reserve, Bermuda’s largest nature preserve. For the ultimate experience of this leafy sanctuary on Bermuda’s South Shore, book a tour with local naturalist Lynn Thorne. Together you’ll watch for white-eyed vireos flitting amid the palmettos and pittosporums, turnstones skirting the surf, and elegant Bermuda longtails winging overhead. Just watch your step: One of the world’s rarest lizards—the critically endangered endemic Bermuda skink—also lives here.
See the island from a rare vantage point by hiking or biking the eighteen-mile Bermuda Railway Trail, which traces the island’s green spine. Before becoming a national park in 1986, it was home to “Old Rattle and Shake,” a train that traveled between St. George’s Station in the east to Somerset Station in the west. Local guide Tim Rogers will lead you on an unforgettable walk along rocky coastlines, meandering beneath overarching tree limbs and vines. “I love the vista as I approach one of these covered arbors,” Rogers says. “It holds the mystery of a secret world as you descend into the living tunnel.” Look for fossils in the limestone hillsides, and stop for lunch and a refreshing ocean dip at one of the secluded pocket beaches tucked away along the trail.
Fall also ushers in the long-anticipated Bermuda spiny lobster season. For more than three decades, Captain Mike Baxter and sons have taken guests reef fishing for snapper, hogfish, and the delicious clawless crustaceans aboard the Ellen B out of Mangrove Bay. Back onshore, it won’t be hard to find a local chef to prepare the fresh catch to your liking.
Winter brings what most Southerners would consider springlike conditions. Island temperatures hover in the high sixties and “you can get these really gorgeous stretches, when it’s sunny and the ocean visibility is amazing,” Noyes says. Crystal clear waters aren’t the only highlight of winter; the season also brings better waves to local breaks such as Horseshoe Bay and Grape Bay. Though Bermuda isn’t known as a surf destination, Cullen O’Hara, a California surfer and board maker who opened Isolated Surfboards in 2010, hopes to change that, helping islanders and visitors alike enjoy the sustainable water sport.
The cooler months are also a great time to explore the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum & Zoo, located in picturesque Flatts Village. Founded in 1926 and home to one of the world’s oldest aquariums, the BAMZ drives much of Bermuda’s science education, research, and conservation. For a different kind of “indoor” experience, journey underground into Crystal Caves, where a ninety-step descent leads to a subterranean lake and a floating pontoon path. Here, the water is so clear that stalagmites can be seen jutting upward fifty-five feet below the lake’s surface.
photo: Bermuda Tourism Authority
Bermuda truly comes alive in spring. An explosion of blossoms and birdsong takes place on land, but the marquee attraction happens offshore: whale watching. After nearly disappearing by the mid-twentieth century, humpback whales today lead calves by the thousands north past Bermuda in March and April.
Though slightly more subtle than seeing a breaching humpback whale, glimpsing the cahow is another opportunity prized by naturalists the world over. This seabird—so rare that for three hundred years it was considered extinct—nests nowhere else on earth. After the cahow was nearly wiped out by early settlers, Bermuda passed the first conservation laws in the New World in the early 1600s. In 1951, members of a scientific expedition discovered several nesting pairs of cahows on Bermuda’s most remote rocky offshore islands, kicking off a modern-day conservation program that slowly brought the species back from the edge of extinction.
Today, Jeremy Madeiros leads the Cahow Recovery Project, protecting approximately one hundred nesting pairs of cahows. His team is currently working to establish a new colony on Nonsuch Island at the east entrance to Bermuda’s Castle Harbour, and in spring, the Bermuda Zoological Society offers a few lucky guests the chance to journey there themselves.
Bermuda’s unique northerly coral reefs are a great draw in summer months when the ocean is warmest. While Bermuda’s reefs are healthier than those in the Caribbean and Australia since they are more resilient against the ocean warming that bleaches coral reefs there, they still need protection from man-made factors such as boat groundings and coastal development. “If we didn’t have reefs, the island community would really suffer,” says marine biologist Samia Sarkis, founder of the Living Reefs Foundation, which restores damaged reefs by planting the tiny animal polyps that build reefs in coral gardens. Sarkis and her group offer coral garden workshops at the island’s high-end resorts and also lead snorkel and kayak tours of the coral gardens.
A visit to Bermuda promises great wonders of nature, and no matter the time of year, each season holds something extraordinary. This fall, Garden & Gun hosts Eco-Adventure in Bermuda, a three-day celebration of Bermuda’s singular natural history that will include a coral garden workshop; a bike tour of the Railway Trail; and a beekeeping, honey, and high-tea experience. Please join us.
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