Posts Tagged 'Virgin Gorda'

St. John Birds II

Last year on Virgin Gorda, the Green-throated Carib was the hummingbird species we saw everyday. The island’s other hummingbird, the Antillean Crested, waited until our last morning to put in an appearance. This year, on St. John, the Antillean was the omnipresent species. GTCs were around, but nowhere in the same abundance. The Crested is tiny, looks black in flight, and, if male, has a diamond-shaped crest that, when the light is right, shines like a jewel.These photos give only a hint of this little bird’s startling beauty. Like most hummingbirds I know, they move very fast and are very hard to photograph with the technology and skill level at hand.Another relatively common species on St. John, as on Virgin Gorda, is the American Kestrel. We seemed to be staying in a pair’s territory. One day I saw the male being chased off by three little black bolts: they were these hummingbirds. Small, but fierce.

Virgin Gorda Tests

This is the test of a sea urchin. (Test, from the Latin testa, meaning shell.) It’s unusual to find one intact. This was amid the rocks at Little Leverick Bay. These are emerald nerites, and they’re just over 1/8” long, but that emerald color does stand out in the sand.
The animal, a snail, is also green.

Virgin Gorda Reptiles

Virgin Gorda’s dry landscape was full of lizards, which was reason for rejoicing. (I haven’t seen so many since I lived north of Naples, Italy, in the early 1970s. I’ve yet to spot one of NYC’s somewhat famous Italian wall lizards, known to live in the Bronx and to be kestrel food.) Most were 3-5 inches long. The small ones jumped like frogs, using their powerful hind legs to shoot themselves several times their body length. The next one was just over an inch, but its tail seems to met some misfortune — perhaps a boy:
A couple of them were just under a foot long:These Spanish bayonets always had some sunning on their leaves: Or tucked away between the leaves: The trail up Virgin Gorda peak was also quite lizardly. There were snakes there as well, most just a slither along the side, hardly visible, but this one lay across the trail as if to block our way:It skedaddled soon enough, though. The blue in the eye is from my camera’s flash.

Virgin Gorda Beachcombing con’t

I was fascinated by the varieties of dead coral found on the beaches.This crab shell was perfectly preserved.In the water of Little Leverick Bay, I picked up a young queen conch, Strombus gigas. This is the animal that supplies conch fritter-makers from the Caribbean to Brooklyn; in some places, it’s over-harvested, and becoming rarer. We saw quite a few on Prickly Pear Island among the turtle grass they favor. This particular snail was alone, but it was quite alive, as it demonstrated when I put it back into the water. The muscle of the “foot” thrust out of the shell to jerk the whole thing several inches further into the waves. And then it did it again, and again. When older, the shell flares out in a great lip. These little ones — this one is about 5″ long — are called “rollers.”

Virgin Gorda Beachcombing

Various intertidal snails were found on old coral, mangrove roots, rocks, coconut shells.

Virgin Gorda Hermits

As we started our hike up to the top of Virgin Gorda Peak, the highest spot on the nine-mile-long island at 1395 feet, I noticed a nice shell on the path. Weird, I thought, considering our distance from the sea. I picked it up to find a hermit grab tightly tucked inside. I assumed it was dead, something another hiker had dropped, so I put it down on the ground as if they might retrace their path and find it, and continued on. It was, as it turned out, the first of many such shells on the mountain we would run into that day. This is Coenobita clypeatus, the Caribbean hermit crab, a common sight on the island and elsewhere in the region. They are also, evidently, legally sold in the pernicious pet trade.
Most of the ones we saw used West Indian Top Snail shells for their home. It was odd seeing these turban-like seashells, which have a nacreous interior, way up the forested hill. These hermit crabs breed in the sea, and find their repossessed homes there and on the beach, but they scuttle all over the island’s dry slopes and are even known to climb trees. They can live for decades, and often hang out around homes. We saw several in the late afternoon around our villa. Scavengers, they cluster in colonies. Writing about a different species of landcrab in Jamaica (but just as pertinent, even if the mountain is smaller), Leigh Fermor describes their journey as a “long anabasis back to the mountain”. Just so. (That would make the pet traders the Persians.)
This is the claw that gives them the nickname “pincher” but I found the spiky ends of the other legs more successful as defensive mechanisms.

All in all, an excellent organism to celebrate the one-year anniversary of this blog (and how apropos the Gould quote).

Virgin Gorda Insects, Spiders

I don’t know the identity of these insects and spiders, but that doesn’t stop me — and I hope, you — from admiring them. If you’re familiar with any of these, let me know.

Look closer: there are two here.

In the corner of a sliding door throughout our stay.

Airborne termite nest, about 4' high.

A mortal enemy.

Virgin Gorda Birds

About to try a curried cashew.

I had the good fortune to spend last week on Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands. I’ve never been anywhere near the Antilles, Greater or Lesser, so I was quite unfamiliar with the flora and fauna. I’ll be posting shots and thoughts over the next week or so detailing explorations and discovers.

In summary, I was quite wowed. Watching the waning moon’s light shimmer over the water as the constant Trade Winds swept back the coconut palms was a magical experience. (Lorca writes Cantaran los techos de palmera). I suddenly got the whole Gauguin thing (even if he was in that other ocean): I didn’t wear socks for a week, drank rum, let my hair go curly, and didn’t want to come back…. Meanwhile, to the birds!

The russet on the nape is breeding plumage.

On our first full day there — my birthday, coincidentally — I saw most of the island’s year-around bird species without trying too hard. I woke up to unfamiliar bird song. These would eventually resolve themselves into Pearly-eyed thrashers and Bananaquits. The Pearly-eyed were bold birds who had obviously met a few tourists in their day: one flew into the kitchen and plunged into the tomatoes and apples and shit here and there. The Bananaquits, more civilized, were richly yellow-breasted. A splash in the water below our villa introduced me to the resident Brown pelicans in Little Leverick Bay. These huge birds coasted by at eye-level, swirled down, and then plunged heedlessly into waters that looked too shallow for the length of their pouched bills.

Jetting by, American kestrels were a daily sight; once a male and female pair nicely perched on a coconut palm for comparing and contrasting. Another regular was the Gray kingbird, whose bill demotes our kingbirds to prince status. Green-throated Caribs, large hummingbirds with delicately curved bills, were here and there dipping into the super-saturated flowers. Overhead near and far, Magnificent frigatebirds, the Man o’ war bird, soared pterodactyl-like: an extraordinary sight I would never tire of. Brown boobies too, were occasionally seen; in Pirate’s Bight at Norman Island several of them were whitening a rock with their guano. An American oystercatcher, Belted kingfisher, and Spotted sandpiper, birds I know from more familiar habitats (they’re Brooklynites, too), were all seen around the little stretch of mangrove on the bay. Both species of dove, Zenaida, which is somewhat similar to our Mourning, and the surprisingly tiny Common ground-dove, also ambled by.

In the National Park that surrounds Virgin Gorda Peak (1395ft), I saw something that I first thought was a Black-faced grassquit, but once I saw several of those two days later, I thought it might be a female Lesser Antillean bullfinch instead — but this one didn’t make it to my life-list because I couldn’t be sure in retrospect. (A distant naked-eye glimpse of a Tropicbird also didn’t make the cut since I couldn’t be sure it was Red-billed. A bin-less glimpse of a Greater Flamingo, on the other hand, on Prickly Pear Island, was unmistakable, although it was too far away to be a satisfying view).

Flocks of Smooth-billed anis, looking like grackles from a distance until that enormous bill came into focus, passed through; one day they flew towards us on the balcony to land in the trees nearby. Their whiny alarm-like calls stick in the mind. On our last morning, I was looking out a bathroom window and saw a male Antillean crested hummingbird working the aloe flowers right outside. The flat iridescent green crest flashed in the morning sun like some flamboyant warrior’s shield.
Can we have a reprise of the Pearly-Eyed Thrasher?


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