Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Puerto Rican Crested Anole

The Puerto Rican crested anole (anolis cristatellus) is found throughout Puerto Rico and has also been introduced to Hispaniola, Dominica and Florida. Their color ranges from brownish/red to dark black or light gray. 
There were lots of crested anoles in the vines next to the parking lot of our hotel in Levittown, Puerto Rico. 

A reddish color stands out on this anole as it catches some direct sun.
Males have a bright yellow/orange dewlap and both males and females have a crest along the tail. They spend most of their time perched on tree trunks. 
I caught this crested anole in El Yunque NF near the Yokahu Lighthouse. 

A good photo of the yellow/orange dewlap.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Yellow-Chinned Anole

The yellow-chinned anole (anolis gundlachi) is one of 14 species of anole that live on the Island of Puerto Rico. It lives on the lower sections of large tree trunks in dense forests in mountainous areas (800 to 3,800 feet). We saw a number of them in El Yunque National Forest, a tropical rain forest on the slopes of the Sierra de Luquillo Mountains, parts of which get more than 200 inches of rain a year. I saw five or six, and each one was standing vertically on the side of a tree trunk, head pointed toward the ground. 
Yellow-chinned anole seen on the trail to La Mina Falls. Note the vegetation on the side of the tree. 
A side-view of the same anole. The profile really sticks out. This is how I learned to spot them - look for that profile sticking out from the tree. 
A closer view reveals a few more details. 
The dorsal side of this anole is dark olive/green to almost black/brown and the belly is white to gray/white. It has dark blue eyes, a black/brown dewlap and a tail with a crest that undulates on the males. They have powerful jaws and will defend their territories. I learned this first hand when I caught one with my hand and had it clamp-down quite hard on my finger. It did not let go until I released it several minutes later.  
This photo was taken after I let it go on a rock. Note the crest along the tail. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

Barracuda - Trunk Bay, St. John

For our recent trip to the Caribbean I got an underwater camera and it has opened a new world to be explored photographically. I had little time to learn about the camera and our snorkel at Trunk Bay on St. John Island, part of Virgin Islands National Park, was my first time to use it. I found that I could not really see through the view finder and I was shooting blind. It was not until I got back to the ship that afternoon and looked through my pictures that I discovered how wide the view I was shooting was and that I was aiming high (many of the fish I was photographing were at the bottom of the picture frame or completely out of it). 
Trunk Bay, St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands
Our cruise ship, the Royal Caribbean Jewel of the Seas, landed in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, one of three islands in the U.S. Virgin Islands. We signed up for a shore excursion over to Trunk Bay, part of Virgin Islands National Park on St. John Island, the second of the three islands. Virgin Islands NP covers 60% of St. John, a gift from Laurance Rockefeller in 1956 to the NPS. 
The star of my first underwater photos was a barracuda. While I was snorkeling a woman waved me over and told me if I looked down I would see a barracuda. Otherwise, I probably would not have seen it, and if I had, probably would not have known what it was. The barracuda was quite unafraid of me as I circled around and even made some poor attempts to swim below the surface and get closer pictures. 
There are 28 species of barracuda and I don't have the time or resources to try and figure out what species this is. But it was a thrill to see it and I hope there may be more fish to photograph in the future. 

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Southern Stingray - Antigua

On the island of Antigua, southeast of St. Kitts, in the Caribbean, there is a place called Stingray City where southern stingrays have been hand fed and become tame enough to be cradled in the arms of humans. 

We cruised in to St. John's, the capital city, and rented a van and drove to Stingray City about 30 to 40 minutes east on the island. In a brief orientation, we learned that the stingray's tail cannot be used as a weapon, it is only a danger if it is stepped on. Therefore, we were cautioned to always approach the stingray from the front and to shuffle our feet when we walked so as to avoid inadvertently stepping on a stingray hidden in the sand on the ocean bottom. 

After our orientation, we got on a large catamaran and motored out about ten minutes to a shallow area in a reef that was roped off. There we removed our shoes and were given a snorkel and mask. As we arrived, we could see the stingrays coasting in, the motor of the boat providing a Pavlovian feeding response.  There are 40 to 50 stingrays that participate in this feeding. 
The shallow sandy areas inside the reef provided an area where we could stand in waist-deep water. 
The southern stingray is found in tropical waters of the western Atlantic from New Jersey to southern Brazil. It is diamond shaped and olive brown to green on the dorsal surface (gray for juveniles) and has a white underbelly. 
This is a stingray we saw two days later in Barbados while we were feeding sea turtles. It illustrates the diamond shape. 
This shows one eye on a stingray (top middle) and a large spiracle (below it to the left). It also shows the olive brown color. 
Another view of an eye and spiracle. 
One more view of eyes and spiracles.
It has a barb on a long tail that is covered in venomous mucous which it uses to defend itself. Its wing-like fins propel it along the ocean bottom. It has eyes on top of its head and nearby openings called spiracles that allow it to take in water and pass it through its gill openings, bypassing the mouth , which is on its underside,when it is laying on the ocean bottom. Females grow to more than twice the size of males. Stingrays flap their fins to disturb the ocean floor and expose hidden prey. 
Here a stingray uses its fins to propel itself between two people. 
I loved watching them. They are like large, under-water bats. 
Two stingrays glide past, their long tails trailing behind them. 
We were instructed how to cradle our arms and warned not to lift-up and push the stingray out of the water or it will have a response similar to humans when their heads are forcibly submerged into water.  We were all given an opportunity to cradle a stingray, some of us several times. I instinctively pushed up and the stingray started flapping its fins to get away. 
Judy cradles a stingray.
I then had a turn. 
I spent quite a bit of time near one of the guides watching her cradle the stingrays. They were amazingly docile around her. 
Underwater shots show how she cradles the stingray.
Cradling a stingray.
Here she cradles a young, gray stingray.
Then we were given an opportunity to feed them. We were given a whole squid, tentacles up, and held in our hand with our thumb tucked down to avoid having it bitten. 
Here I hold a large squid.
The stingray has a very strong sucking ability and it can hurt if your hand makes it inside the mouth. I did about ten feedings and it was very fun to feel that heavy suction on the hand before the squid disappeared into the mouth. 
Here I feed a stingray.
A view of the underwater feeding commotion.
This massive stingray nearly dwarfs the person feeding it here. 
This was another highlight of our trip. Just a few more pictures from this memorable experience.

Stingrays gliding between legs.

Judy (left) floats above a traveling stingray.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Vervet Monkey - Caribbean

Several years ago we encountered vervet monkeys in East Africa. We recently encountered them again in the Caribbean. The monkeys are not indigenous to the Caribbean, but were transported there by slave traders centuries ago and they have found a home on the islands of St. Kitts, Nevis, Barbados, Anguilla and Sint Maarten. 

On St. Kitts, after visiting the Brimstone Hill Fortress, we were going down a road through a forested area and encountered a troop of monkeys walking down the road. They quickly scattered on either side and we spent several minutes watching them. I got a few pictures, none of them great. 
Vervet monkeys near Brimstone Hill Fortress.
This would have been a better picture, but was focused improperly. 
Earlier in the day while visiting Romney Manor and the Wingfield Estate, several men were each carrying baby monkeys in diapers. Judy posed with one for a few pictures. 
Judy holding a vervet monkey.
We also visited Barbados, but limited our activities to the ocean and Bridgetown. However, the cruiseport had monkey murals on the walls and we found water color paintings of them in a local art gallery, all testaments to their popularity, even though authorities view them as an invasive species and are trying to eliminate them. In fact, they eat them in St. Kitts. They call it tree mutton or monkey stew.  
Barbados Cruise Terminal

Friday, March 24, 2017

Green Iguana

Our cruise ship arrived in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands and we had to wait awhile for our planned shore excursion to St. John. We walked around the dock area and I discovered a large iguana basking on a rock near the water.

This photo reveals the immense length of the tail. 
Later, as I walked along the upper edge of the rock pier I discovered multiple iguanas, perhaps 20 total, a veritable iguana park. 

This iguana provided quite a show, bobbing its head up and down and extending its dewlap. 
The green iguana originated in South America and radiated out through Central America and the Caribbean. Many subspecies were originally identified, but they have all been re-identified as regional variations of the same species. The green iguana was native to some Caribbean islands, such as St. Lucia, Grenada, Curacao and St. Vincent, but they were introduced into the U.S. Virgin Islands and it is considered an invasive species there. 

Pink-tinged spines.
They are often found near water and are good swimmers. They propel themselves through water using their powerful tail and allow their limbs to hang limply by their side. Color on the iguana can vary greatly. They can be green, black, blue, lavender and pink. A row of spines along their back and tail protects them from predators. The large dewlap helps them regulate temperature and is also used in territorial and courtship displays. 
The pink face is quite distinctive. 
This one has aqua colored spines.