A Curiously Curated Collection Of Croix Critters (And A Beach)

By “curiously curated,” I of course mean that “these are pictures that I’ve managed to take and vaguely resemble the object at which the camera was pointed.”  I’ve got a great camera — the Canon PowerShot SX20IS is nothing to sneeze at — but it does take some getting used to, and I’m no natural with technology, as Unbelievably Useful Husband will attest.

Bananaquit, St. Croix Bananaquit, posing for his official portrait.

I have a passionate relationship with bananaquits. On a trip to Barbados, I had the fortune to visit a place where bananaquits would eat sugar out of your hand (they’re colloquially called “sugarbirds” for just this reason) and fell in love with the colorful, curious, pugnacious little birds. I was delighted to discover that they are St. Croix’s island bird, and that a large group lived in the Ginger Thomas stands that line the hills beneath the house. During our earlier trip this spring, I persuaded mobs of them to visit a bright yellow soapdish I’d filled with Turbinado sugar and placed on the top rail of our deck.  They eventually allowed me to get quite close; my favorite picture from that time is now the centerpiece of the “Contact Me” part of this site.

This time of year, though, things were different.  The Ginger Thomas stands aren’t flowering with the profusion they did in the spring,

Ginger Thomas blossoms — there are only a few now.

and the birdsongs sounded like the bananaquits had moved far down the hill.  My placement of the sugar dish remained sadly unvisited.  So I began from the beginning, placing the dish on the railing of the lower deck, and waited patiently.

It took a few days, but one eventually visited, and then more came.  It was a little different than the spring, though; the birds seemed to be taking turns instead of mobbing the dish.  They were also enormously shy; instead of jumping away a few feet and protesting furiously whenever I appeared on the deck, they’d always eat and bolt for the bush.  It took a week, but I eventually moved the sugar and water dishes back to their usual places on the top rail, and they kept coming back.  They are still shy, though, and I have to try to take pictures at pretty extreme zooms.

I did notice that we had a visitor that I’d never seen before.  He was a dark bird with a very different beak than the bananaquits —

The new guy.

a short, seed-crunching, all-business finchy beak, like the ones I saw on our house finches at home. He was also pretty pushy, able to drive off the bananaquits when he decided it was time for lunch. Curious, I did a little research and found out that he was a St. Lucia Black Finch.

 

Did you hear the kids?

We also discovered that he had a wife.

The Finch Family are regular visitors now to the sugar dish, as is an increasing number of bananaquits.  They aren’t the only avian travelers that pass through, though.  There’s a quite dramatic and impressively large-lunged gray kingbird that’s staked out the power wire above our house as his Preferred Perch.  He’ll occasionally cruise through the Ginger Thomas stands — I believe he’s a bug-eater, watching his spectacular aerodynamic performances.  When he lands he’s hard to miss.

Gray Kingbird Another Blue Yonder resident.

A few others that I haven’t been able to catch yet in pictures are the Anguillan hummingbirds (lovely dark black hummingbirds, the males with an iridescent green crest), a yellow warbler who spent about fifteen minutes closely examining our habits last spring, and what I do believe is a kestrel that has been examining our household as a potential hunting ground.

But the most ubiquitous denizens of the household are, without doubt, the geckos.  They’re also known as “anoles” and they are welcome guests in and around any residence, because they are harmless, shy, and ant and bug eaters par excellence.  Right now appears to be mating season,

Gecko, Anole I’m ready for my closeup, Mr. DeMille.

because some of the bigger ones have been staking out the front porch as prime performance territory.  I don’t know a lot about the St. Croix ground lizard, but I have noticed a few repeating patterns; wherever there’s a smaller, dark brown lizard skittering through the bushes or across the porch, there’s almost always a larger green one in the sort of “desperately casual” pursuit you can see in some urban twentysomething bars.  And once a sort of trembling equilibrium is reached — the little brown one peering from the leaves, the green one posing on a rail — the green one  will Begin to Dance.

Look at the size of this thing!
Gecko, St. Croix ground lizard, anoleYou ain’t seen nothin’ yet, honey.

He’ll inflate and deflate the throat sac, which is a brilliant yellow, while pumping himself up and down on his front legs.  It’s better than “Riverdance” and a hell of a lot less expensive.  After a few minutes of this, everyone will freeze into immobility for a while.  Then the little brown one’s eye will be caught by the other guy carefully posing on the wall, she’ll skitter through the bushes again to take another observation spot, and the whole Dance will begin again.

I realize that this post has been a bit “Animal Planet,” but the creatures here are some of the most delightful features of the island.  However, I realize my responsibility, so here are some shots of St. Croix beaches.  This location is one of the most beautiful on the island.  It’s the beach ringed by the Tamarind Reef Hotel, a resort I would recommend to anyone.  It has a spectacular snorkeling area, unbelievable white sand, delightful, knowledgeable staff, and SEA TURTLES NEST THERE.  The turtles are carefully guarded, so you don’t need to worry, but it’s not uncommon during certain times of the year to see baby turtle tracks heading down the beach to the ocean.

Tamarind Reef Hotel beach

The beach features several jetties where an extraordinary variety of fish have made homes.  We’ve seen everything from giant pufferfish, trumpetfish, mass blue tang clans, and an extraordinary flying gurnard.  (Please look that last one up on the web.)  But, you know, there’s more than just undersea life that makes the place home.  This guy and his cousins live there too:

No one expects the Iguana Inquisition.