November 30th, 2011 by Marc AuMarc

Continuing with the next selections from a couple recent walks around Grand Case and its ponds, here we have spiders and everything else.

The spiders alone are pretty fantastic. Near the ponds, the family Tetragnathidae is most visible, and they probably eat a lot of midges and other insects with aquatic larvae. In this family are the orchard spiders of the genus Leucauge and the long-jawed spiders, I think mostly from the genus Tetragnatha. In the Leucauge webs, there are also a number of different spiders from the genus Argyrodes, which are kleptoparasites which live in the webs of larger spiders and steal food from them. It’s possible this is at least a little bit symbiotic, in that they may clean the webs of prey that is too small to be of real interest to the web owner.

A bit away from the edge of the pond, I found another of what I think is Eriophora ravilla, a large, robust orb-weaver that I usually see hiding in the leaves at one corner of its web. This one has a strikingly different color than the last one I saw.

Finally, beneath some cardboard boxes, I found a number of small jumping spiders, a spitting spider and the wolf spider that was previously thought to be endemic to Saint Vincent. In all, more than a dozen species seen in just a few hours around town.

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And of, course, there were lots of other things to see, including insects and lizards.

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November 30th, 2011 by Marc AuMarc

I’ve been out to Salines de l’Aéroport and Étang de Grand Case the last few days, and there are many things to see. In particular, I’ve encountered many birds, even more spiders and a bit of everything else. First, the birds.

The first eight photos are from the canal that leads from Salines de l’Aéroport to Grand Case Bay. This little strip of water has hosted many birds lately, even though it is right beside the road. Common gallinules are nesting there again, even though the last generation of chicks is not yet adult. The snowy egret and green heron have been fishing from the shore, and large groups of carib grackles seem to be eating spiders that were in turn fattened up by midges. In the photo below, I think you can actually see bits of spiderweb on the grackle’s head.

Next door, at Étang de Grand Case, there are loads of ducks, mostly blue teals and white-cheeked pintails. Apparently, there are many words for a group of ducks, including a brace, team or badling. A group of ducks on water may be called a raft or paddling, and in flight they are a flock. Regardless of the name, they tend to congregate in the corner of the pond furthest from human activity, and take flight when approached.

Besides the ducks, there are yellowlegs, American coots with chicks, pied-billed grebes and black-necked stilts, along with assorted egrets, herons and sandpipers. Nearby, there are also muscovy ducks in a pen.

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November 23rd, 2011 by Marc AuMarc

On the top of Mont Fortune, it seemed almost obligatory to take some photos of the view and stitch them into a panorama. I didn’t do a great job, but it does give an idea of the amazing view (click to see a bigger version):

I also did a couple smaller panoramas. Here are the central mountains seen from between Orient Bay and Le Galion:

And Caye Verte:

Of course, the full-size versions are much bigger. If anyone is interested, I used some software called hugin to make the panoramas. It’s free and has lots of options, although I’ve found it a bit finicky so far.



November 22nd, 2011 by Marc AuMarc

This year’s sargassum invasion has raised loads of questions: Why is it happening? When will it end? Will the beaches be clear by the time tourists arrive for the high season? Today I’ve been wondering how it will impact the coastal vegetation.

Even in areas where the sargassum seems greatly reduced compared to earlier in the year, it’s secretly still there. Even some beaches that look mostly sandy right now actually have alternating layers of sand and decomposing sargassum built up over the summer and fall. Until it is totally decomposed and washed out to sea by the action of the waves, it seems possible that these nutrients might make the beaches could be more hospitable to the salt-tolerant plants that already live near the shore.

If sargassum floats in continuously or in more frequent waves, perhaps beach sand would gradually turn into something more like a sandy soil. Coastal grasses, beach morning glory, sea grapes, palms and mangroves might be able to move down the beach. If something along these lines did happen, what kinds of impact would it have?

For now, as you can see below, there are just a few small plants sprouting up amongst the sargassum, and perhaps they would have been able to grow in these spots even on a regular year. Only time will tell.

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November 21st, 2011 by Marc AuMarc

Étang Chevrise, a large pond between Orient Bay and Cul-de-Sac, has been home to dozens of brown pelicans this year. Below are a few photos of the pelicans, as well as a few ducks and black-necked stilts. In addition to the birds pictured below, there were plenty of herons and a huge flock of black-necked stilts there yesterday afternoon. If you get the urge to check out the birds on the pond, the best spots are behind the Cadisco gas station and along the road to Boo Boo Jam.

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November 21st, 2011 by Marc AuMarc

Catching the bus on a Sunday can take a while. Luckily, I was waiting near a small palm tree that was home to at least five different species of spider from at least three different families. That’s quite a bit of spider diversity for one tree, even one with leaves that make great spider homes. In my experience, it’s much more common to find a tree with many spiders from the same species rather than many species on the same tree.

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November 20th, 2011 by Marc AuMarc

Salines de l’Aéroport is a large salt pond that surrounds the small airport at Grand Case. In the olden days, it was used for salt production. Today, it is severely polluted, but its mangrove and wetland areas are still full of birds. I took a rather muddy walk around it and found flocks of black-necked stilts and dowitchers. I also saw a snipe, a beautiful but very well camouflaged bird.

While walking along the fence that encloses the airport, I had an amusing encounter with an iguana. He was on the barren airport side, while I was outside at the edge of the mangroves. Being an iguana, he instinctively sought shelter in the mangroves. This meant his escape from me involved running directly at me and into the fence. Frustration ensued.

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November 19th, 2011 by Marc AuMarc

Sometimes you just get lucky. Today, I had only walked a few hundred meters from my apartment and happened upon a yellow-crowned night heron doing a strange series of postures, which you can see below. The purpose was unclear to me. I saw no potential mate to impress. It was doing a sort of hyperventilation that I’ve seen herons and egrets doing before. If anyone knows what this heron was up to, let me know!

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November 19th, 2011 by Marc AuMarc

Although the hills are full of houses, the shoreline from Dawn Beach to Guana Bay is still rough on the edge, a series of rocky outcrops slowly being carved by crashing waves. I did the walk on Friday with Valérie and Laurent. There were a few tricky spots, but overall it is pretty manageable as long as you are careful. The wildlife highlight was a pair of American oystercatchers that always stayed at least one outcrop ahead of us. We also found St. Martin’s tiniest beach near Guana Bay, mostly covered in whelk shells.

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November 19th, 2011 by Marc AuMarc

On Thursday I walked the trail from Baie de Grandes Cayes to Anse Marcel, which was actually the first time I’ve done the whole trail in a while. I went with a friend from the Dutch side who had never been there before, and it reminded me that walking this area can be something of a revelation to someone who’s never seen it before. It’s really the only place where you can walk for an hour without seeing a single building.

Before we set out on that trail, though, we visited Étang de la Barriére via a vacant lot near the middle school. We saw a few Wilson’s Snipes, and you can see a photo of one here. Based on our sightings, this species is not as rare on the island as previously thought.

Along the trail we saw a rainbow over the surf spot, a well-hidden cricket nymph, and various spiders, and insects. There was also a strange, slimy creature that has me puzzled, possibly the larva of something. If anyone knows, let me know! On our way back we stopped again at Étang de la Barriére to see more birds, including the snipes again.

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