I'm big!

Before our trip I knew that, with any luck, I'd be able to grab some compelling landscape shots. My hope was to see some of St. John's wildlife (and I was downright obsessive about donkeys and iguanas). I didn't expect any of the critters to be willing photographic subjects, though.


It turned out that we didn't have to look for pelicans!

   

They'll fly right over your head, with a clearance of only about 6 inches.

   

   

This guy's building up speed for a climb. When they gain altitude, they soar slowly, then plummet to the water.

   

Pelicans rarely miss their target, and they're interesting to watch when they settle on the water after a catch. When their head comes up, they nod for a second or two, keeping their bill tucked under. Then they lift it up, and you can see the hapless victim poking around in the pouch. We figure the head tuck is for pressing out seawater, and I don't blame them! The water at St. John seems twice as salty as the ocean at home.

   

A nearby woman overheard our conversation about the pelicans' coloring; she confirmed our guess that those with the white patch and rusty neck are males.


I'll continue with birds, since the Pearly-Eyed Thrashers were the next beasts we encountered. They're about the size of a robin, and they too are unfazed by human presence. On the other hand, they're supremely jealous of each other! They keep up a lively conversation during the day, and there's much territorial posturing. Although their plumage is relatively drab, we love their silly eyes.

       


Steph had told me about bananaquits, tiny yellow
birds who are, apparently, sugar addicts. Put out a bowl of fruit juice, and within seconds you'll have a dozen or two fighting for rim space on the bowl! I went crazy looking for them.

For reasons unknown to us or to the Maho staff, bananaquits seemed to have gone on their own vacation! On our last full day, some of them had returned.

       


   

Chickens aren't usually considered wildlife, but on St. John they're certainly free-range. This family was poultry non grata at JJ's Texas Coast Cafe. They're not aggressive (for those of you who may be afraid of chickens), but like just about all animals on St. John, they couldn't care less about people!

   

   

At Big Maho beach, a band of 4 bold hens approached our towels. Two of the little feathered pirates made a play for some of my Love City Mini Mart booty. Were they after the sunscreen?


Nikon dreams, Instamatic skilz: sometimes all I can grab is an "also-ran" snapshot.

I had to prove that mongooses do live on the island. Really, really shy mongooses. Tree frogs serenaded us every night, but I never expected to see one.

       



For a while we were calling my St. John photographic efforts "the Gecko Chronicles", because I couldn't stop stalking the charming little lizards. While they don't mind human companionship, they're busy - hunting bugs - and they're fast. After they scurry and freeze, they usually do a quick little push-up. It seems to be a posture meant to intimidate.
   

The first one we saw was on a bench at Maho. They're only about 3 or 4 inches long, and their camouflage is effective, but this one was easy to see on the flat surface. Steph moved her finger near his head, and he inflated his throat - it was bright orange! I scolded Steph for scaring him.

   

   

A couple of days later at the same bench, we met and named Brave Gecko. He was the largest one we'd seen, and the most fearless: he crawled up onto my camera bag! I got up slowly and turned to take a shot. Unbelievably, he didn't run away; he even changed poses for another shot.

       

   

   

   


When I sat down carefully next to the bag, he hopped onto my hip. Butt-climbing Brave Gecko!

He didn't move from there until a bug landed about 6 inches away from him, on an upright for the bench rail; then he leaped, with deadly accuracy.


At Jumbie beach, Steph called my attention to a hole in the sand a couple of feet from me. I knew the beaches had sand fleas, and I'd seen some shockingly red (but benign) ants, but this hole was about 2" in diameter! Its owner soon revealed himself.

   

   

   

We sat still, and after a few false starts the sand crab ventured further. I'm sure it's because Steph told him he had lovely eye stalks.

       


Preoccupation will inevitably embarrass me, as it did on Hansen Beach shortly after this picture. Stephanie emerged from the water, exultantly describing the Hawksbill turtle she saw while snorkeling. I countered, "I just saw a parade of donkeys go by, right over there! The first one had horns!"

   

   

   

On your way to Skinny's, be sure to check out the Guy Benjamin School's playing field; there are lots of kids in Coral Bay.


I'd been told that wild donkeys roamed the island, assumed to be descendants of the plantations' beasts of burden. Erin assured me of their plentiful numbers - and their friendliness. Steph said she's even seen them, once or twice, on the beach! I couldn't contain my excitement.

On our second day of donkey-free sightseeing, though, I started doubting my luck. It had to be me; the travel brochures and postcards were full of donkey images, and the National Park Service advises against feeding the moochers.

We picked up the rental Jeep and headed out to Coral Bay. Giggling breathlessly at the ridiculously snaky road, I was watching for 4-wheeled traffic. Surprise!

Be advised: if you're donkey-spotting, get yourself over to the south side of the island - that's where they hang out. Among the delights of an afternoon at Skinny's are these friendly passersby.

       

This little filly was brand new. She even looks like she's still damp from birth!


Halfway through our stay, I got lazy about the sunscreen, and Steph was barely more vigilant than I. By evening, of course, we felt the error of our ways and agreed to veg out in C9 the following day.

We tried to take the loss of beach time philosophically. It was our own damned fault, after all - but island magic came through for us. There was no sun to be had; torrential rain fell, with only brief pauses, all day. We wrote, read and napped.


Taking advan-
tage of one break from the rain, we sat on the deck, entertained by the pearly-eyed thrashers. I heard louder-than-normal rustling in the trees in front of us, so I stared intently (pearly-
eyed thrashers can be noisy when they land and change position).

Suddenly, my eyes sorted out the camouflage.

   

   

   

   


He was eating leaves, moving slowly on impossibly slender branches. Make no mistake, he was a big guy; his body was probably 18 inches long - not counting his tail.

I was thankful not to be directly under him. They'll put up with a bit of our attention, but they're fully capable of aiming their considerable waste products at annoying rubberneckers.

When we stopped for coffee at the Mojo Cafe in Cruz Bay, Steph called my attention to the fence. I did at least a triple-take: the marvelously detailed, perfectly placed iguana sculpture shifted his weight! I just found out that his name is Buddy. What luck - I got shots of a local celebrity.

   


Someone always has to nose in with the last word.


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