May 31st, 2010 by Marc AuMarc

Yesterday we headed out to Pinel Island and I did some E.S.S. in a few locations that I had only recently explored: off the north beach, in the tide pools on that beach, and in the very shallow area off the south beach.

First up was the north beach, where a ring of coral forms a barrier enclosing a calm lagoon. The top of the barrier is quite wide in some places, and the top is mostly dead coral skeletons as it is probably too shallow for new growth. On the inside of the lagoon, we found a group of six reef squid and there were many schools of grunts foraging. On the outside of the barrier reef, I found large mixed schools of blue tang and surgeonfish. There were quite a few nice corals on both sides of the barrier reef.

Next, I did some super Extreme Shallow Snorkeling in a couple of the tide pools on the beach, with a maximum depth of about ten inches. The water was quite warm, and the primary inhabitants were small damselfish. Although there wasn’t much diversity, I always find tide pools charming because they are miniature sea environments, almost like an aquarium, or even a snow globe.

After lunch I headed out to the large shallow area near the south beach on the Atlantic side of the island. Due to strange weather, the prevailing currents were not as strong as usual, so it was easier to navigate. Still, the current-swept soft corals were permanently bent over by the normal current and the elkhorn corals were stunted by the shallowness of the water. I saw a very young moray eel, less than a foot long, and a decorator crab wearing a very elaborate ensemble.

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May 28th, 2010 by Marc AuMarc

Today I headed to Colombier, which is a charming town in a valley surrounded by mountains. I didn’t find either of the alleged hiking trails that begin there, but I did climb a nearby hill and descend on the other side at Loterie Farm. En route, I encountered a variety of insects, many spiders and a swarm of honeybees. The bees were clustered on the branch of a tree, and I’m guessing they had split from an existing hive and had not yet found the ideal spot for a new one.

The trip down the hill was fairly arduous. Although I don’t want to criticize the habitats of which I am a guest, but in some parts of the island there are altogether too many ants. They form colonies in the ground and on tree branches and I found that in some spots my appendages would be covered in ants if I left them in any place for more than a few moments. I also have no love for the thorny vine. On the other hand, I did meet a friendly donkey.

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May 28th, 2010 by Marc AuMarc

Tunicates are curious creatures. Although they look very simple and are often mistaken for sponges (the simplest multicellular animals), they are actually Chordates, sharing many features with vertebrates, except the actual backbone. They may be solitary or colonial and are typically identified by the presence of two holes: incurrent and excurrent siphons, which they can close rapidly. The holes on sponges, by contrast, do not move or close. Below are photos of a variety of tunicates living on the Grand Case pier. I have also seen pelagic (free-swimming) tunicates near Petite Plage.

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May 27th, 2010 by Marc AuMarc

As promised, here are a few photos of the strange beetle I found on Hope Hill yesterday. I think it is a type of weevil based on the long snout and antennae coming out of it. It is, however, quite elongated and quite large for a weevil. Its feet made a very quiet pitter-patter on the paper as it ran around while I was photographing it.

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May 26th, 2010 by Marc AuMarc

It’s been hot here, so I woke up early this morning and was on the road before six. My goal was to explore the smaller peak on the north part of Hope Hill, as there are large rock faces that could contain caves. On my way, I found a Killdeer and its chick in an unfinished building foundation. The adult tried to distract me, but left once I hopped in to take a couple photos of the chick. Nearby, a caterpillar was being attacked by a swarm of ants and a gecko spontaneously dropped its tail, which was twitching on the ground. A good start.

I headed up Hope Hill, trying to avoid being noticed by anyone from the mining operation, just in case I wasn’t allowed up there. Many of the usual suspects were around, like a baby Anolis gingivinus. Near the top, I was attempting to climb up a fifteen-foot cliff face when I noticed a peculiar gecko with very large eyes (even for a gecko) and peculiar skin patterns. It was on a dead tree leaning up against the rock wall, which I was trying to rotate, whilst clinging to the wall, whilst taking photos. The result was substandard, but the attempt was quite inspired.

At the top, I explored the forest for a while, finding a very unusual beetle (which I will photograph and post later) and a group of wasps with long, hanging abdomens and brilliant eyes. I also found some kind of plant that stings quite a lot when you touch it.

Instead of heading back the same way, I decided to go down the other side of the mountain, towards the Atlantic. First, an old dirt road took me to a little gazebo in the woods with a hammock and picnic table. Then I followed a stone wall that eventually met an odd patch of paved road in the middle of nowhere. Beyond that was tall grass and what was probably once a dirt road which eventually took me to an amazing dry gully filled with huge boulders and flanked by steep rock cliffs. Where I entered the gully, there was a brilliantly colored jumping spider that had white pedipalps which it was waving, to attract prey, I would guess.

The gully continued for a considerable length, although eventually I began to hear the sound of cars and people in the distance. Suddenly, I found a beautiful butterfly. It was one of those ones that closely resembles a dead leaf when it is resting, but had orange and blue on the top side of its wings. Not only had I found a new butterfly on the island, but it was a pretty one, too! Unfortunately, after reviewing the species that are found in the area and my own photos from the nearby Butterfly Farm, it seems likely that it’s a foreign species that managed to escape its confinement.

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May 25th, 2010 by Marc AuMarc

A couple days ago, I found two blind snakes in Chris and Sally’s yard. The first was very small, the second was much smaller. I believe they are an African species, Ramphotyphlops braminus, that has accidentally been introduced by man in many tropical areas and has been seen on nearby Anguilla. Common names for this species include the brahminy blind snake and flowerpot blind snake.

Besides its curious appearance, this snake is also apparently the only confirmed parthenogenic snake and there are no males. They also have scales over their rudimentary eyes, so they can only see light and dark, but not much else. Although they look like worms, they move quite quickly and it is very hard to tell the head from the tail. As with many other snakes, they excrete a smelly substance when captured.

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May 24th, 2010 by Marc AuMarc

La Belle Creole was a 25 acre resort built to look like a French fishing village. I believe it was abandoned after Hurricane Luis in 1995, and it is now a very interesting modern ruin. Located on Nettle Bay right beside Pointe du Bluff, the hotel is easily accessible from Le Trou de David. As far as I can tell, all of the rooms are accessible, and many bore the mark of past squatters. The “beautifully landscaped” gardens are now entirely overgrown and give the hotel a very spooky feel.

Here is an aerial view of the hotel during its heyday:

And here are a few shots of it as it is today:

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May 23rd, 2010 by Marc AuMarc

We’d visited Le Trou de David (David’s Hole) before, but after glowing reports from Robin and Aure, we knew we had to snorkel it. Located between Baie Rouge and Pointe du Bluff, it is a large natural hole inside a cliff with a pair of arches leading to the sea.

We entered the water in the shallow and dangerously urchin-rich rocks beside the hole. In the protected waters near the shore, there were thousands of schooling silversides. Swimming inside Le Trou de David is an interesting novelty, but the true treasures are just outside the hole. In addition to the two arches that pass through Le Trou de David, there are submerged and semi-submerged caves in the side of the cliff. There are an abundance of large rock formations extending out from the cliff which are full of canyons and overhangs which hosted schools of blue tang and a small hawksbill turtle.

The reef area is fairly large, wrapping around the cliff to where you can see the beach on Baie Rouge. It extends out at least a few hundred feet in most of the area, where it transitions to a sandy bottom at about 25 feet deep. Although I keep saying it, this may actually be the best snorkeling area on Saint Martin proper. It could also be a lovely dive site. As we returned to shore, I saw a large spotted seahare in only a few inches of water, an excellent end to the exploration.

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May 22nd, 2010 by Marc AuMarc

After getting used to a DSLR, using a point-and-shoot camera can seem like using a toy camera. This is especially true underwater, where it is challenging to get good images with any camera. Still, toys are fun, my little Powershot is much easier to carry around and I’m glad to have it if I do see something unusual. Yesterday, the unusual thing was a chain moray. These eels are supposedly not uncommon in the Eastern Caribbean, but I had never seen one before. He was visibly frustrated by my attention – at least, that’s how I anthropomorphized his facial expressions – and as soon as I stopped watching him he snuck away. I also found some neat crevices in the large boulders to the left of Petite Plage that were home to a school of glassy sweepers.

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May 21st, 2010 by Marc AuMarc

I went on a walk today, and without ever really leaving Grand Case, visited a variety of ecosystems including wetlands, forest and grasslands. My first interesting sighting was an immature green heron, which I had not seen before. I also visited a forested area by the pharmacy where Anolis pogus was very common. I have read that this species prefers higher altitudes, but I’m pretty sure the main difference between them and Anolis gingivinus is that pogus prefers shady areas, while gingivinus prefers sunlight.

Next, I visited an area by the airport pond that was dense with leaf litter and, unfortunately, trash. It also was home to some of the largest ground lizards (Amieva plei) that I’ve seen. I also noticed that the larger individuals seem to develop dark bars in their shoulder area. The ground was also covered in the red hemipterans at varying stages of development, from immature to mating adults.

Finally, I headed out to the fields in La Savane, including a large soccer field that sported some lovely dead trees. There were monarchs and a variety of other butterflies cavorting in the field, and I found some mice under a board. I also found the awesomest no parking sign in the world.

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