December 29th, 2011 by Marc AuMarc

Recently, while waiting to pick up a rental car, I encountered a number of very interesting creatures along the airport road and at one of the nurseries (the where-you-buy-plants kind) across from Hope Estate. My discoveries also exemplified a few recurring phenomena that I’ve experienced in my search for wildlife on the island.

If you see something once, you start to see it more. This of course, isn’t always true. One could see a rare bird only once. But for other things, once you notice them, you often start finding them all over. In this case, I hadn’t noticed the syrphid (hoverfly) larvae that eat the oleander aphids that are often on the apple of sodom plant. Now, I see them frequently.

Boredom leads to discovery. I’ve found many things while waiting around, often in spots that are the opposite of lush wilderness. This is mostly because the closer you look, the more you see, and sometimes the best way to take the time in one spot is to be stuck there. Otherwise, it’s often too easy to keep moving and miss things. This applies especially to things that are well-camoflauged. Or very small…

If you don’t see anything interesting, look for something smaller. Everyone loves iguanas and pelicans, but the real diversity is amongst critters much smaller. Even if you’re in a spot where you don’t see very many 1cm insects, you can probably find 1mm insects. This actually works on much smaller scales as well, over 1400 species of bacteria have been found just in peoples’ bellybuttons.

Anyhow, here are a variety of critters, including small planthoppers and flies. Be sure to check out the last aphid photo to see a tiny wasp that parasitizes aphids. I didn’t even notice it until I looked at the photos on my computer.

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December 26th, 2011 by Marc AuMarc

If you are on the lookout for new species of animal on St. Martin, Loterie Farm is a pretty good place to go. Nestled on the forested slope of Pic Paradis, it is a gateway to a wide variety of forest-loving creatures that one might never see down at the seaside. As expected, there were a variety of interesting animals to see on my last visit. Various aphids and scale insects were feeding on leaves, crickets were hiding under rocks, and tiny flies of many kinds were catching some sun at the edge of the forest. Some favorites you can see below include a green, gem-like jumping spider and tiny, but intricate lace bug.

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December 19th, 2011 by Marc AuMarc

The St. Louis Ravine runs down from the the north side of Pic Paradis and into Étang Guichard near Friars Bay. I intercepted the ravine in Rambaud, where the slopes are filled with banana trees. Amongst the banana trees I found thousands of moth flies (also known as shower flies, drain flies or filter flies). These small flies have furry bodies, fluffy antennae and hairy wings that give them a moth-like appearance. Although I’ve seen one or two in various places in the past, it was quite amazing to see so many in one spot.

With the recent rain, the bottom of the ravine was a decent-sized stream, not unlike the one that flows through the Colombier area to the sea at Anse des Peres. Upstream, the area is a mix of banana farm and forest, eventually opening out into the pastures that surround much of Étang Guichard. Along the stream, I was able to photograph some water striders, an aquatic insect larva and some flies that were sampling something from the mud. It was actually quite a nice walk, and I guess the next logical step is to head the other direction and explore the ravine further upstream.

Note: the last couple photos of birds were taken at Étang de Grand Case on my way back home.

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December 19th, 2011 by Marc AuMarc

Here are some photos from walks along the St. Martin coastline in Cul-de-Sac, Back Bay and Baie Lucas. The first set takes us from the beach at Baie de Grandes Cayes to the Pinel ferry dock. This walk requires quite a bit of walking in shallow water after you round the corner to Cul-de-Sac. There are plenty of things to see as you pass by coastal scrub areas to mangrove wetlands.

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The walk from Pointe Blanche to the natural swimming pool at Back Bay is primarily grassland that seems to be maintained by goats. Cliffs and other striking rock formations make up most of the coastline including, of course, the natural swimming pool. There were also a few interesting insects, including a bright orange hemipteran that I don’t think I had seen before.

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The last set of photos is takes us from Baie Lucas through Coralita and around Babit Point before returning via the small pond across from Coralita. Sightings included a pair of American oystercatchers, plenty of green iguanas, a gorgeous crab and a gray kingbird that was happy to pose for photos. The walk itself is a great mix between beach and rocky shoreline, and Babit Point is a miracle of somewhat undisturbed coastal scrub in an otherwise developed area.

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December 15th, 2011 by Marc AuMarc

Recently, I’ve been spending a lot of time working on identifying the flies in my photos. It’s a challenging task. Diptera, the insect order that includes flies, gnats, mosquitoes and a few other similar critters, is thought to contain over 200,000 species. I would estimate that St. Martin is home to at least 300 species, and I have photos of close to 100.

Identifying flies is hard for many reasons. Some are very small, many look very similar to each other, and some may be impossible to identify without dissecting them under a microscope. It’s also hard to know, out of hundreds of thousands of species, which ones are even likely to be in St. Martin. And, of course, while you can look up an image of many flies online, there are just as many or more for which there are no photos online.

It’s also very interesting to learn more about different flies, both how to identify them physically as well as by their habits and preferred habitats. I’m also quickly becoming deeply indebted to diptera.info, a terrific site with a very active forum where experts and enthusiasts are very helpful with identifications. It’s a superb site, and I wish there was something like it for every insect order.



December 15th, 2011 by Marc AuMarc

Tintamarre is the largest satellite island of St. Martin, covering a little less than one square mile. It is also known as Flat Island, and has a fascinating history, including a King of Tintamarre and a now-abandoned landing strip that served as home base for the airline Compagnie Aérienne Antillaise. I was lucky enough to get the chance to visit earlier this month and spend a little bit of time on the island.

The island is primarily covered in scrub, with beaches and cliffs at the edges. It’s the best place in St. Martin to see tropicbirds, which nest in the cliffs. It is also home to a different subspecies of ground lizard (Ameiva plei) than St. Martin. While the subspecies analifera is found on mainland St. Martin, the lizards on Tintamarre are the same subspecies found on Anguilla and St. Barths. The differences are subtle, but noticeable.

I think it would be very exciting to do a wildlife survey of Tintamarre to get a better understanding of what animals are there and how they do or don’t differ from those on St. Martin.

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December 8th, 2011 by Marc AuMarc

On a recent walk from Grand Case to Marigot, I spent some time exploring La Batterie, an area between Friar’s Bay and Bienvenue/Pointe Arago. The area is mostly wooded, although the trees are generally small. Unlike many similar lowland areas, the ground cover is fairly sparse, and a maze of cow trails make it quite easy to navigate. One highlight is the stream that runs into the sea at Anse des Peres. Another was the gorgeous cockroach I found living under the bark of a dead tree branch, which was also home to large numbers of terrestrial isopods and a few house geckos.

It’s definitely an area worth exploring, in many ways similar to the hiking/mountain biking area of Bellevue. While attention is often focused on the highland forests, and many lowland areas are an impassable sea of thorny vines, these two lowland areas are well worth a visit.

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December 6th, 2011 by Marc AuMarc

On Sunday, SXM Trails had their annual Anguilla hike, and it was a blast. The day was mostly overcast, so I stuck with shooting insects and other small animals with my macro lens. Highlights included a gorgeous tiger beetle and a bright, metallic-green tortoise beetle that I’ve never seen on St. Martin. I guess it’s time to do a wildlife guide for Anguilla!

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December 3rd, 2011 by Marc AuMarc

It’s been a while since I headed out with a flashlight to see what was crawling around at night, so I headed out for a couple hours to see. There were Anolis gingivinus in various states, from sleeping to hunting and the Clonistria walking sticks that I can now reliably find. Perhaps the most interesting thing was a katydid with a strange, gelatinous mass coming out of its posterior. I’m not sure what was going on with that, perhaps it was injured, since the mass didn’t look anything like katydid eggs to me. A mass of aquatic insect larvae in a tree hollow (the last photo), were both beautiful and somewhat disgusting.

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December 3rd, 2011 by Marc AuMarc

Of all the animals on the island, I probably have the most photos of iguanas and pelicans. I guess they’re both big, easy-to-find and interesting-looking. So, here are a few more iguana photos, including my best attempt so far at getting a good photo of one jumping into a pond.

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