July 31st, 2011 by Marc AuMarc

Last week I took a little wander, starting in Grand Case. At the Cemetery pond, I found that there were still some egrets nesting in the mangroves, although fewer than before. From there I took the back road to Friar’s Bay, veering off to poke through the mangroves at Étang Guichard. With the dense undergrowth and muddy ground, the going was a little tough and it was hard to get any good views of the pond. There was a ton of trash, though. Even though St. Martin is full of litter, I’m often surprised at how much garbage accumulates in places that I don’t think people would normally even visit.

Moving on, I stopped to check out the birds at the end of Étang Guichard near the beach where they often congregate. There were a few, but nothing special. Carrying on, I headed across to the main road out of Friar’s Bay. I’d always wondered about the patches of scrubby forest on the east side of that road just a little bit in from the bay, so I popped in for a look. Although they seem impenetrable, there are some little trails criss-crossing through, perhaps made by goats. It’s kind of an interesting spot because it’s a lowland forest on an island where most forests are in the hills, and because the trees are mostly quite small, I would guess it was probably a cleared pasture not too long ago.

Carrying on, I headed up a track going up the hill, roughly towards St. Louis. The hillside was a mix of cow pasture and forest and there were quite a few checkered swallowtails congregating in the shadier parts as it became evening. My plan was to head up until I hit the main road in St. Louis. Of course, these plans don’t always work out. After searching for passage and being blocked by dense scrub or other obstacles, I finally hopped a small stone wall and headed for the road.

Alas, I was not quite free. I was actually in a compound with walls over ten feet high. I decided the most reasonable course of action was to go to the house and ask the owner to let me out, which I did. Generally, this works pretty well. Even if people are mad that you’re in their yard, they still want you to leave. This case was no different. After asking how the heck I got into his yard and noting his surprise that I hadn’t been eaten by his dogs, I was released.

July 31st, 2011 by Marc AuMarc

Victor Schoelcher was a French abolitionist who wrote the decree that abolished slavery in French colonies in 1948. His birthday (July 21st) is celebrated in the French West Indies, including Saint Martin. In Grand Case, the festivities included a sailboat race in Grand Case Bay, bands, dancers and singers in the parking lot near the cultural center and a fireworks display.

Schoelcher also attempted to abolish the death penalty in France and was an expert on the French Caribbean, writing on a variety of subjects.

July 25th, 2011 by Marc AuMarc

I just finished watching the lectures from Principles of Evolution, Ecology and Behavior, taught by Stephen Stearns at Yale. It’s available at Open Yale Courses as well as through iTunes U. The course includes 36 lectures, mostly about 45 minutes long and is an excellent introduction to these topics. It starts at microevolution and genetics, moves on to present macroevolution from several perspectives, leading into ecology and then a few lectures on behavior, including foraging, breeding and altruism.

It seems that many introductory biology courses available online are geared more towards pre-med students, with a focus on biochemistry and disease, while this course really is an overview of life on earth, how it evolved and how it interacts within species, across species and within the physical environment. I downloaded the lower-resolution videos through iTunes, and definitely could not read the slides. This wasn’t a problem, as it would work almost as well as an audio course, and I could still see more or less what was going on in the charts. There is a higher resolution version available at the Yale site, along with transcripts of the lectures and other materials.

July 24th, 2011 by Marc AuMarc

Since returning to St. Martin, I’ve been out twice surveying the beaches at Grandes Cayes and Petites Cayes for sea turtle tracks and nests. We still haven’t seen any at these beaches, but another volunteer did see a hawksbill turtle on a local beach, so our luck may change soon.

I did get a few bird photos, mostly from the area near Eastern Point. This area is popular with the American kestrel, probably because the low vegetation allows it to hover above and see prey easily. Laughing gulls and magnificent frigatebirds are also often there as well, frequenting the nearby shallows and intertidal area. I believe the frigatebird in the photos may be a young male in the process of changing into its adult plumage. The juvenile has a white head and neck, while the adult male is a very dark brown or black.

July 24th, 2011 by Marc AuMarc

There are three ponds in Grand Case, but on most maps they are not given names. However, I was able to find a set of maps that names them. The large pond that surrounds the airport is apparently Salines de l’aéroport. The small pond by the cemetery is, not surprisingly, Étang Cimitière. The third pond is relatively hidden, to the right side of the road when approaching Grand Case from Marigot, and is called Étang de Grand Case.

Étang de Grand Case is actually quite interesting. While it has some mangroves, much of the shoreline is flat and grassy, allowing the pond to expand and contract quite a bit depending on the water level. There are many birds on the pond, including pretty large numbers of coot, white-cheeked pintail and common moorhen. The common iguana is very common in many parts of the shoreline as well. It’s a bit of a hidden treasure that’s easy to get to and well worth visiting.

July 22nd, 2011 by Marc AuMarc

I have a variety of photos from a couple micro-excursions where I didn’t really leave Grand Case. The first bunch are some photos I did to see if a circular polarizer helped reduce flash glare on shiny insects. It doesn’t really, although apparently if you have polarizing film on your flashes and a polarizing filter on the lens, you can markedly reduce glare by doing cross-polarization. Maybe something to try in the future.

I also made a little trip up the hill to the cashew tree (known as a cherry bush in the Caribbean). It wasn’t cashew time, but there were a few interesting things to see anyway. It’s also a great place to get a nice view of Grand Case.

July 22nd, 2011 by Marc AuMarc

If there is one festival that is more unique and captivating than the annual Arrowroot Jollification, it is surely I Love my Ram Day. The 11th annual event was completed on July 10th after being rained out the previous weekend. It is a celebration of animal husbandry on the island, and the competition is broken out by breed – Creole, Nubian and Boer – as well as a special “young generation” category for young goats.

Although goats are certainly damaging to the local environment, this competition highlights how important they are to the local culture, providing a thread linking today’s Saint Martin to the agricultural roots of the island as it was before it developed a large tourism industry. On the one hand, it is nice to see some hillsides that have become significantly reforested over the last fifty years as the interest in livestock has waned, on the other hand, it would definitely be a shame to see that part of the island’s culture disappear entirely.

Anyhow, back to the show. Goats were paraded down the road into Colombier in various states of willingness. They were taken on stage and judged on their size, cleanliness and demeanor. Many points were lost by goats relieving themselves on stage. Goat stew and curry were eaten in large amounts. Everyone who attended the previous week was grateful for the sunshine. Goats won trophies. One goat won a cell phone. A local tradition was celebrated and a great time was had by all.

July 22nd, 2011 by Marc AuMarc

We hadn’t been diving on St. Martin for a while, so when founding team members Zackeau and Dr. Maillot arrived on the island for a visit, we headed out for a couple dives together. The sea was a bit rough, but we were able to make it out to the wreck of the Carib Cargo, a container ship we had not visited for several years.

Recently, the wreck was damaged at least twice, possibly by an anchor or tow-line, and the cabin of the ship was torn off and deposited a good distance away from the wreck. This was really a shame, and seems totally avoidable since the wreck itself was marked by a mooring. As it turned out, though, the wreck was really a secondary attraction because a dolphin spent most of the dive following us around and showing off how much better it was at swimming than we are. With the fisheye lens on my camera, I wasn’t likely to get any good photos of it unless it got really close, so I opted to just enjoy the rare opportunity to watch it.

July 20th, 2011 by Marc AuMarc

After leaving Drake Bay, we gradually made our way back home, first to Sierpe and then to Puerto Jimenez where we rejoined the other team members, did some Extreme Shallow Snorkeling and photographed a few butterflies.

After that, it was back to Pavones for a last night with the team, on to Golfito and overnight in Alajuela before flying back to St. Martin. At our hotel in Alajuela, Orquideas Inn, we opted to explore the on-site gardens where there were quite a few interesting critters including some orchard spiders, heliconid butterflies and some intriguing beetles. Although it was a bit sad, we left Costa Rica with plenty of other adventures left to bring us back.

July 20th, 2011 by Marc AuMarc

We took a day trip by boat to the San Pedrillo Ranger Station, one of four access points to Corcovado Park. It was considerably less difficult than the 8-hour hike each way that our team members were making to access the park. Our guided trip through the jungle featured many monkey sightings, including the large howler monkeys, a great currasow and many other creatures. We also went up to a beautiful waterfall on a small river where we were able to do some Extreme Shallow Snorkeling just a short bit downstream from a crocodile. Near the ranger station we even got a quick glance at a coati.