Sunday, April 12, 2015

Exploring St. Maarten

A couple of months ago, I was fortunate enough to have a business trip to St. Maarten, a small island in the Caribbean. It was formerly split into two territories, the Dutch side and the French side, but it’s now one nation. However, it still retains some of this division culturally. I so very much wanted Nick to come along so we could enjoy the island together, but we just couldn’t make it work (especially since we have a big trip planned in June). I had told him I would put my “bird blinders” on so that I wouldn’t be tempted to set my eyes upon the cool birds there without him. Nick of course said no way and that I should have fun and take advantage of this great opportunity, which meant enjoying the birds, too. I just wouldn’t count any new birds on my official life list since we don’t count a life bird until we both see it.

St. Maarten airport is known for having a very short runway, and tourists enjoy watching the planes coming in close, as well as feeling the blast from the planes when taking off. 

So with Nick’s “blessing” and my binoculars and camera, I decided that I would try to look at as many birds as I could within the constraints of the trip. Most of my days would be in meetings, but any free time I had early in the morning and in the late afternoon, I would check out the birds around the hotel. I figured that the island being small, there was bound to be plenty of birds everywhere, and I was right! The hotel grounds were full of Bananquits and Carib Grackles (“lifer”). The grackles were EVERYWHERE I went on the island, and constantly singing and trilling all day long. There would be no way that bird blinders would have worked with these guys. And like any grackle, they relished in the scraps that would fall from the tables of the outdoor restaurants at the hotel.

The Bananaquits were also very vocal. These guys are so cute and spunky. We had seen them when we visited Puerto Rico a few years ago, so it was not a new species, but so cool to see them again. I love the pop of bright yellow of their underparts, and I got good looks at their red gapes as they sang. I also stumbled upon a couple of what I surmise were Bananaquit nests woven into some flower bushes around the hotel.

Another bird staple around the hotel were Ruddy Turnstones. These were definitely not new birds for
me, but it was so nice to see them again. Having moved from the east coast to the west coast, we swapped these birds for their darker cousins, Black Turnstones. The Ruddy Turnstones seemed to be residents to the hotel, very comfortable with people being very nearby. This was great for me to allow me to get some really great shots of them.

A nice look at the ruddy feathers starting to come in

The turnstones would often hang out at the rocks on the shore just in front of the hotel. I was happy to see that they were also often accompanied by lovely Sally Lightfoot Crabs (what a fun name!). They had a common purpose in picking off yummy tidbits off of the rocks.

I was totally stoked about seeing Brown Boobies on this trip. The Brown Booby was again not new, but it was a recent addition to our life list. I could not have asked for better views of this amazing bird! The day I came into town was a free day to allow for travel, so the first thing I did after my 15 hour redeye flight was head to the shore, and lo and behold, there was an immature Brown Booby flying within yards of me! I would see one every day of the trip, including a nice adult. I couldn’t believe how close he was swooping by swimmers in the water, gliding just within a few feet of them.

Other familiar faces that popped up on the hotel grounds were Eurasian Collared Doves and Zenaida Doves (another bird we saw in Puerto Rico). Even the EUCDs seemed lovelier on St. Maarten. Maybe it was all the sunshine. They seemed to be embracing the relaxed island life just fine.

Zenaida Dove

Luckily, I wasn’t just confined to the hotel and meeting rooms. On our last full day of the trip, we were treated with a bus tour of the island and then had some free time. One stop was in Marigot, on the French side, and a group of us hiked up to the fort there. I had great views of the island as well as views of a group of some Magnificent Frigatebirds, one of my favorites and most missed birds of our Florida days! I’m glad to know that the island loves them as well – there was a statue with some Mag Frigs by the waterfront. 

I call this my "Les Miserables" photo

The glorious silhouette of a Magnificent Frigatebird looking like a funky spaceship

On this free day, I also had some time to explore some other critters on the island, including the Anguilla Bank Anole (life lizard), Vitellius Skipper (life butterfly), and Cassius Blue. Oh, and I can’t forget the critter that I heard every night but couldn’t see – the sweet little Coqui Antillano frog. They make such a delightful sound at night and could just sing me to sleep.

My absolute most favorite bird and animal of the trip was the Antillean Crested Hummingbird. This is one badass bird, rocking a punk mowhawk. He was such a quick little guy like most hummers, so I never got great shots of him, but I’m just happy I got any photos!

I’m so glad I was able to take this trip and soak in the sun, sand, and all of the beautiful flora and fauna that a Caribbean island offers. I really wished Nick could have been there with me. I guess we’ll just have to go to the Caribbean together another time so we can check off those new island birds I saw.

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