March 2nd, 2012 by Marc AuMarc

A couple weeks ago, I went with St. Martin Trails to clear some of the Crest Trail near Reward on the Dutch side of the island. After a couple hours of clearing trail, I found that the next portion of the Crest Trail was pretty clear so I decided to walk over to Paradis to meet friends at Loterie Farm.

The views were spectacular, and I believe that part of the trail that runs along an old slave wall may actually also be running along the border between the two nations on the island. There was also plenty of wildlife to be seen, including many tree frogs, the beautiful black witch moth and my first sighting of the zestos skipper. On the way down to Loterie Farm, I also passed the remains of the Sucrerie Loterie, sitting in the forest that has grown up around it since the days of colonial agriculture.

March 1st, 2012 by Marc AuMarc

Tucked away between Maho and the Simpson Bay Lagoon is a nice strip of scrub running along Pointe Pirouette. While killing some time between dropping off and picking up friends at the airport, I explored the overgrown dirt tracks that cut through the scrub and found a variety of interesting invertebrates.

The coolest thing I found were some debris-carrying lacewing larvae. These hunters camouflage themselves with various debris, including the exoskeletons of their prey. There were also plenty of stink bugs, katydid nymphs and fuzzy green weevils. Although the area may not be as beautiful or species-rich as some areas of the island, it’s a lovely, and accessible patch of scrub in an otherwise largely-developed area.

February 2nd, 2012 by Marc AuMarc

Located on the slope of Pic Paradis, Loterie Farm is a great place to visit tropical forest on St. Martin. I guess I haven’t really spent enough time there in general, but this is doubly true at night. So, drinks at the Tree Lounge turned into prowling the grounds with a flashlight.

I didn’t have a lot of time, so I mostly saw familiar faces: Anolis pogus getting ready to sleep, a dwarf gecko on the prowl and a few insects and spiders:

I did have some very good luck with frogs, though. Normally I don’t touch or capture the animals I find, but in order to identify two very similar whistling frogs, one needs to look at the underside, which is pretty much impossible to do without holding it. As it turns out, at least one frog I saw was Eleutherodactylus martinicensis, with telltale red on the rear legs. I also discovered that Cuban tree frogs can inflate their body like a balloon when threatened. It’s actually quite amusing, and makes them relatively transparent. This species is a relatively recent invasive that tends to be very successful and disruptive when colonizing new islands.

January 28th, 2012 by Marc AuMarc

I have to admit, even though the island is small, I don’t get to the Dutch side as much as I should. One of the areas that definitely deserves more exploration is Pointe Blanche. I think of Pointe Blanche as the whole southeast corner of the island, which may be overly broad, but it does include some nice, relatively-undeveloped areas.

I know of a few ways to access the area: via the Dutch Hope Estate, via the road heading up from the Vineyard building, and via the road into the industrial area across from the cruise ship dock. The first set of photos here is from a loop up the Vineyard Building road, up the dirt road to the hilltop farm, down a trail to Hope Estate and back along the roadside canal. It was a bit surprising to see so many birds on the roadside canal, because it is so busy, dirty and often there is just a bare minimum of natural vegetation beside it.

The second set of photos here is mostly taken from the dirt road that runs along the ridge between the prison and the communication towers above Philipsburg. The views from the towers are probably amongst the most expansive on the island. Of course, the views also include a few of the less savory scenes, like erosion on the hill below Fort William and the dump on Salt Pond Island.

January 5th, 2012 by Marc AuMarc

Today I’m sharing some photos from a couple walks around Bell Point. The first was with the SXM Trails hiking club a little bit before Christmas. It was an overcast morning, so I headed out with my macro lens to see what was there. All my photos ended up being insects and spiders, but there’s a whole world of wonder to be seen in just those two groups of animals.

If I were the size of an aphid, a syrphid fly larva would be about the most terrifying thing I can imagine, and you can see why in a couple photos below. I also saw two species of fruit flies with intricately patterned wings and a number of true bugs in a variety of colors and shapes.

I was also at Bell Point a couple days ago, mostly along the coastal area. The lack of vegetation on the coast there limits the number of animals one sees, but there were still a few here and there, including a couple spiders living under the deflated remains of a dinghy and some whiteflies that feed on sea grape. In the distance, a tropicbird was circling near Creole Rock, but I stuck with the small stuff, and have an even bigger backlog of things to identify.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.