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A chronicle of the travels & adventures of Christian Wappl…

Isle of Spice

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30.11.2018 – Port Louis, Grenada

10.12.2018 ­– Tyrell Bay, Carriacou

Grenada is mostly known for being one of the largest producers of nutmeg in the world, which gave it the nickname “Isle of Spice”. It is also home to a rather small but quite diverse set of bird species. The first birds I noticed were magnificent frigatebirds (Fregata magnificens) soaring in the sky. Frigatebirds are kleptoparasites, which means they harass other seabirds to steal their food. More often than not, the food is already in the stomach of the other bird as this happens, and the frigatebirds force it to regurgitate. Strolling through the marina, I added a few small landbirds such as the Lesser Antillean bullfinch (Loxigilla noctis) and the tropical mockingbird (Mimus gilvus) to my not-quite-seriously kept bird list and encountered a familiar friend from Costa Rica: the bananaquit (Coereba flaveola). In the evening, my search for animals drew the attention of a security guard, who told me that arthropods had seriously declined in the last twenty years. Indeed, there was curiously little animal activity at night, except for the characteristic two-note calls of the Lesser Antillean whistling frogs (Eleutherodactylus johnstonei).

The next day, the first trip into the interior of the island led us to the Grand Etang, a crater lake. The lake and many other localities still carry French names from the time when France owned the island, but English has long been the official language. Most Grenadians speak Grenadian Creole English, but will switch to regular English when talking to tourists. The history of French and English occupation has created  some peculiar pronunciations (i.e. French words with English pronunciation), which led to occasional communication problems with locals. We opted for public transport, as rental cars were quite expensive. Public transport on Grenada is limited to small buses, which are emblazoned with names or slogans. Most of these are a testament to the cheerful Caribbean spirit of the island (“Don’t Worry, Be Happy” or “Jah Bless”). Somewhat ominously, our bus was adorned with “Not Guilty” (a few days later, I travelled with a different bus, this one with a “Not Guilty Again” sticker). However, any fear of being left alone with a potentially criminal driver was quickly proven unfounded, as the bus was crammed full to the last seat, and further. Pumping reggaetón music with barely comprehensible lyrics completed the authentic Grenadian experience.

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The driver dropped us off, and after a short walk we arrived at the crater lake. The paths through the forest and around the lake were paved with empty nutmeg shells, which produced a pleasant crunching sound underfoot. A sign informed us that the Grand Etang is stocked with various different fish species, none of which are native due to the lake’s volcanic nature. Some, such as guppies (Poecilia reticulata) and swordtails (Xiphophorus helleri), have comparatively short journeys behind them, while goldfish (Carassius auratus) and Mozambique mouthbreeders (Oreochromis mossambicus) came all the way from Asia and Africa, respectively. My GoPro action cam allowed me a glimpse below the surface, and the lake was absolutely teeming with fish, no doubt due to the combination of excessive feeding by tourists and a fishing ban.

On the way back from the Grand Etang, we stopped at the Annandale waterfall. A beautiful tropical waterfall, it had unfortunately fallen victim to the care of the Grenadian government. While I wasn’t exactly happy to see that a garden of ornamental plants had replaced the surrounding rainforest, this could be considered a matter of taste. The large concrete viewing platform directly beside the waterfall, however, is disgusting by anyone’s standards. Fortunately, Grenada has plenty of waterfalls, and I had the opportunity to visit one that was still surrounded by rainforest a few days later.

Grenada tree anole

Grenada tree anole

As is the case on many islands, the terrestrial vertebrate fauna of Grenada is somewhat depauperate, with around a dozen reptiles and only a handful of terrestrial mammals and amphibians. Anoles (Anolis spp.) were the most commonly seen land vertebrates during my stay: I encountered one of the island’s three species almost everywhere I visited. Different species of anoles are found on practically every island in the region, making them the most typically Caribbean of all land vertebrates.

Although most islands are lacking in terms of terrestrial mammals, one group typically does well on islands, and Grenada is no exception: bats. While researching for the trip, I had come across a blog post by Professor Sharlene Santana about the research on bats she had conducted on Grenada. Upon my request, Sharlene referred me to her local collaborator, Professor Sonia Cheetham Brow from St. George’s University. Sonia kindly took the time to show me some good bat locations scattered around the island. She also had some interesting (and chilling) tales to tell about her research on bat-borne pathogens. Over the course of an afternoon, we visited three of the island’s countless abandoned houses. Most of these were the result of Hurricane Ivan, which had devastated the island in 2004, damaging 90% of homes. The first and most derelict of the three houses had long been stripped of its roof and the forest was advancing into the house. While the building certainly had a remarkable flair, it was too open and not dark enough for bats. The second abandoned property was home to a fierce-looking squatter who carried a large machete. Despite his looks, he was happy to show us the handful of bats hanging in the fundament of “his” house. He disliked the bats for some reason, but through his heavy, slurring accent I could only make out that he thought they were ruining something. We finally hit the jackpot with the third building: this large and rather fancy building had been abandoned for many years, but was largely intact thanks to its robust construction. We did not have to search for long, as there were bats in practically every room. Most of them were small and skittish Miller's long-tongued bats (Glossophaga longirostris) – we had already encountered these at the previous location. Hundreds of fruit seeds littering the floors of the building betrayed the presence of a second, much larger bat species: the Jamaican fruit bat (Artibeus jamaicensis). Despite occurring in much lower numbers than the long-tongued bats, the fruit bats were less fearful due to their size. In the time I spent roaming the house, I also encountered some of its other denizens, including termites, spiders and geckoes.

While the abundance of abandoned houses had allowed bats to proliferate, there were still bats on Grenada that adhered to their traditional, cave-dwelling way of living. One such cave was located at the very edge of the forest, adjacent to a soursop plantation. I ducked into the cave, where the characteristic musty smell of bat droppings greeted me. From above, tree roots had grown through the low-hanging ceiling, which was furrowed by deep cracks. Thick clumps of Jamaican fruit bats hung inside the cracks, chittering angrily as I moved beneath them. Before entering the cave, Sonia had quipped: “Be careful, that’s not rain in there”, and indeed I hadn’t been photographing for long when I felt liquid dripping down my neck. Making a mental note to thoroughly scrub myself and my clothing later, I worked quickly, both for my own sake and for the bats’.

A night-time search for the island’s endemic tree boa (Corallus grenadensis), which yielded multiple individuals of varying sizes, concluded my visit to Grenada. Before moving on to Curaçao’s flamingos and crystal-clear lagoons, we made a short detour to Carriacou, a small island north of Grenada covered by a tangled and thorny dry forest. Compared to Grenada, Carriacou has been somewhat less affected by humans. Green iguanas (Iguana iguana) are very rare on Grenada (I hadn’t seen a single one in the wild), but on Carriacou they still roam freely in the more remote parts of the island. Even the red-footed tortoise (Chelonoidis carbonarius), which is possibly extirpated on Grenada, survives here. I was unable to locate any tortoises, but I did find a couple of worm lizards (Bachia sp.), as well as some hermit crabs and large quantities of millipedes.