Greetings from the Golden Rock, where internet is slow but time is running faster than the cows our dog keeps chasing out of the garden! To no avail, unfortunately, so we’re always having to avoid cowpats when entering the yard.
One of the many things that welcomed our three new Dutch volunteers this week! We also had a little brown tarantula come wandering into the house the night they arrived (I got very excited, it’s been the only one I’ve seen!). We’ve also had to give Foxy (our dog) some attention this week, as he didn’t eat for a few days after the last volunteers, Jo and Wendy, left. But I also had to give him a wash to help get all the little critters out of his fur, and he was not happy about it! I had to chase him around for ages before I could get a hold of him, and as soon as he was clean he immediately shook himself off, trotted into the dirtiest part of the garden and began to roll around with the most energy he’s shown for the whole time I’ve been here! When he (finally) stopped, covered in mud, he gave me the dirtiest look. That’s what I get!
The parks manager Hannah came back from New York this week, so I’ve been on a couple of trails with her. The first one was the induction hike for the new volunteers up the Quill, where we saw lots of male anoles locked in aggressive territorial displays. By ‘aggressive’ I mean, they had some pretty intense eye contact for about ten minutes before they began to nod their heads at each other (the hostility was palpable) and then they would puff out their necks and the larger ones would show a little coloured flap of skin folded under their chins (dewlaps). And then, finally, they darted at each other, bounced off each other mid-air, and started the whole process again.
Hannah has also just had a new intern arrive, Joe, who is also living at our house. He has been planning a research project on the behaviour of crested hummingbirds, so yesterday we went out in the northern hills to have a look at the best spots to find them. We found a couple of good hotspots, and next week I’m going out to help with some observations. Interns usually have an ongoing project that volunteers help out with, as well as general research done by STENAPA, such as the surveys on tropicbird nesting sites, spider diversity, monitoring the turtle nests, the abundance of the endemic Statia Morning Glory, and questionnaires about the endangered iguana.
Speaking of iguanas, I saw a huge, bright green one in the garden the other day. It took fright when it saw me and scuttled off at high speed, crashing through the undergrowth all the way down the hill! I also found this beautiful gecko hiding behind a box, and I quickly grabbed my macro lens to focus it on these beautiful eyes of frosted gold.
Although the turtle nesting season hasn’t really started yet, and so there has only been two turtle-less patrols since I’ve been here, the marine park manager Jess gave us a talk about the three turtles that are found here: the leatherback, the green and the hawksbill. She told us a little about their ecology before detailing how their tracks are identified and how nests are found (often with difficulty, if they aren’t seen nesting), and what the marine park rangers and volunteers do once they have found a nest.
Though I haven’t seen any nesting, I have seen several whilst diving and snorkelling around. I also saw a stingray just out of the harbour a couple of days ago, skimming the ocean floor like a flat hoover, with puffs of sand coming out of its head. I dived down to meet him and he seemed perfectly happy to fly along beside me, watching me with curious slitted eyes.
Sarah and I have begun our Advanced course with a Fish Identification dive (which was fun but trying to write down everything you are seeing wastes precious time for watching the fish!), and then yesterday our Wreck Dive turned into a Drift Dive as the current was too strong. I spotted a large nurse shark sleeping under a rock, and when I ascended slightly to smash my buddy’s bubbles I found myself surrounded by big silver horse-eye jacks. And we saw a huge lionfish, which means STENAPA will be visiting it soon to cull them as they are an invasive species that eat all the young fish and damage the ecosystem. None of them go to waste though- lionfish are delicious!
Today we had everyone in a truck out to the Garden for Family Friday to clear the road coming down the side of the Quill (as for the past two weeks when we’ve sat in the back of the truck we’ve been getting smacked in the face by stray acacia branches). The machetes were given Game of Thrones-inspired names like Weedslayer and Treesmasher, and the hacking began with much gusto and aggression, which was returned by the ant colonies that were defending the spiky acacias that had been scratching the passing cars for weeks.
The football fever had gripped Statia for a couple of weeks as Holland stepped its way up to the semi-finals. I was sitting in the fort watching the sunset when they played Costa Rica and won on penalties- and I heard a huge cheering roar rise up from harbour below me and the town behind, followed by lots of screams and tooting horns! I even found myself watching the match with Argentina, with a room full of orange supporters cheering on their team through a very close match. It’s such a shame they didn’t get through, there would have been a great celebration here if Holland managed to win the World Cup!