Maho Morning Walks

One activity that I absolutely enjoyed was something I only did when I worked and lived at Maho Bay Camp and that was taking early morning walks that ended at Big Maho Bay. When I first arrived at Maho Bay Camp for the last season I was in a tent with an nearly full length screened-in “wall” in the bedroom, so I had much more light coming in than I was used to each morning. I found myself waking up at 5:30 am, yet I can assure you I am not a morning person, and did not have a morning routine for that hour! However what I did have was a beautiful view of Big Maho Bay from my porch. Considering the afternoon sun, heat and humidity was at its worst at that time of year, I took up walking before breakfast.

The part paved, part dirt entry road up to Maho Bay Camp taken in the unrelenting heat of September 2012!
The entry road up to Maho Bay Camp taken in the heat of September 2012!

The scenery at the end of my walk was a strong motivator. Maho Bay in the early morning is possibly at its best! The water is crystal clear and calm, such that I could watch the fish swimming past in the shallows. Someone might be out swimming or walking on the beach but it was often deserted.  Usually the pelicans would gather, fly around in circles and dive in for their breakfast of silversides and whatever other fish they like to eat. And during all of this the sun would be rising in the east, behind the tall coconut palms on the beach and casting their cooling shadows on the water – something you can only see in the early morning hours.

Early morning view of pelicans at Maho Bay beach.
Early morning view of pelicans at Maho Bay beach.
Early morning at Maho Bay beach with the shadows of the palm trees on the sand and water - So Lovely!
Early morning at Maho Bay beach with the shadows of the palm trees on the sand and water – So Lovely!

The beginning of the walk also had a distinctiveness to it, perhaps more than the view of the beach. Usually I would pass someone else coming back from an even earlier run as I started down the drive from Maho Bay Camp. And once the road turned to dirt and gravel it would hit me just how quiet it was. Have you ever heard that sort of quiet that would almost hum? Nothing but the sound of your own blood rushing in your body. I would notice how loud my footsteps sounded, crunching, crunching, crunching on the gravel in the dirt road. Sometimes I would hear a deer take off in the woods. Maybe a stray rooster crowing. And as I rounded the curve in the road I would start to hear the birds. Not a few. I could hear a hundred, maybe more, all chirping their morning wake-up song. Some were close, others ahead or behind or back in the woods. Island bird song in surround sound!

Dirt road heading out of Maho Bay Camp that began my morning walks.
Dirt road heading out of Maho Bay Camp that began my morning walks.

After the rains of passing tropical storms, the island was lush and green and the road to Maho Bay Camp was covered in coral vine in full bloom! When I had time I would take the extra time to walk the road to the Annaberg Sugar Plantation Ruins. The road goes along a mangrove swamp (or through,depending on the amount of rain the island was getting) with the roots growing out if the mangrove trees as high as I am tall, and the leaves creating a canopy over my head. At the end the was a view of the British Virgin Islands and a dependable cooling breeze, which was why the plantation was located there. A windmill on the top of the hill helped crush sugarcane in order to make to molasses, sugar and rum.

Delicate pink coral vine blooming along the dirt road up to Maho Bay Camps.
Delicate pink coral vine blooming along the dirt road up to Maho Bay Camps.
Road heading past the mangrove swamp to Annaberg Sugar Plantation Ruins.
Road heading past the mangrove swamp to Annaberg Sugar Plantation Ruins.

No air conditioners humming, car engines running or whatever generates the background hum that we consider quiet anywhere else. (The water delivery truck was the antithesis of this quiet but thankfully rare when I walked.) The roads around Maho were a fantastic place for this amazing quiet because it was surrounded by the national park. It also had more “flat” land for running, walking or biking than anywhere else, except maybe around Coral Bay. My favorite walking companions were the feral island donkeys. They are the ones who discovered the best way around the island in the first place and seem to walk the roads as if the knowledge of them is in their genes. The seem to know to stay on the side of the road, unlike the deer and chickens who always see a car and decide it is a good time to cross the road. Living here I came to understand the joke about why the chicken crossed the road! The donkeys seem to know to walk along the road but often seem to be found walking on the left side. (We drive on the left side here, with the steering wheel on the left too.) Legend says that driving on the left allowed islanders to stop and and have a friendly chat with those walking, I felt it was because it made it easier to see the edge of the road since we have no shoulder and often no guardrails, but now I am beginning to think it might have been that the donkeys passed each other on the left all those years ago when the only way from Coral Bay to Cruz Bay was on the back of a donkey on a donkey trail!

 

Island donkeys walking along the road at Big Maho Bay while out on one of my morning walks.
Island donkeys walking along the road at Big Maho Bay while out on one of my morning walks.
View of Whistling Cay from Big Maho Bay beach!
View of Whistling Cay from Big Maho Bay beach!

 

St. John’s Hermit Crab Migration

Beautiful red St. John hermit crab climbing up a rock in the beach after the mass migration to the water on August 22, 2013.
Beautiful red St. John hermit crab climbing up a rock in the beach after the mass migration to the water on August 22, 2013.

St. John had another hermit crab migration last Thursday (08/22/13) and I was able to see the very end of it. I arrived at 11:30am to the shore at Nanny Point and had to pick my way along the stone beach in order not to step on any hermit crabs.  St. John resident Pam Gaffin had been keeping an eye on the crabs for over a week as they gathered under the trees along the beach. She said she arrived around 5am and the migration was in full swing, with a pile up of hermit crabs at its deepest that would reach her elbow (if sticking her hand down into the migrating crabs.) Last year she and Steve Simonsen caught the migration on video at its height. You can watch it here.

Hermit crabs collecting along the rocky shore in St. John during their mass migration to the water to release their eggs.  Occasionally the crabs would wrestle and there is some lack of clarity on what is happening - maybe crab sex, although that should have happened earlier for egg release.  This wrestling usually brought other smaller crabs to the event who climbed on top of the two crabs...?
Hermit crabs collecting along the rocky shore in St. John during their mass migration to the water to release their eggs. Occasionally the crabs would wrestle and there is some lack of clarity on what is happening – maybe crab sex, although that should have happened earlier for egg release. This wrestling usually brought other smaller crabs to the event who climbed on top of the two crabs…?

 By the time I arrived it seems the stragglers were making their way back up to the trees, with a few hermit crabs still hoping to get close enough to the shore and incoming waves to release their eggs. Pam pointed out the area where the crabs were the thickest and the rocks were larger.  Here the hermit crabs can secure themselves in cracks and crevices in order not to get washed into the ocean with the incoming waves. Apparently the crabs fill their shells up with water in a motion that looks like they are lifting their shells up and down on their body, and this releases the eggs out in the ocean. The mass migration allows for some protection of the crabs and eggs from predators.

The view under my feet of the rocks and the way the remaining hermit crabs wedged themselves in between the rocks on the beach, hoping for a last big wave to wash over them.
The view under my feet of the rocks and the way the remaining hermit crabs wedged themselves in between the rocks on the beach, hoping for a last big wave to wash over them.
A hermit crab wedged between the rocks on the beach during the St. John hermit crab migration in August 2013.
A hermit crab wedged between the rocks on the beach during the St. John hermit crab migration in August 2013.

Despite not seeing the migration at its height, it was still more than I ever see on the beach or elsewhere at one time. They are rather fascinating to watch and with less of them converging on the beach at once their individual appearance and actions were more fun to watch! Here is a short video of a hiding hermit crab – maybe he understands english?!

My friend Gail also made it out to watch the migration and we chatted as we watched one particular crab make the long trek to the shore. She told me that she used to collect shells and leave them outside here door at her house. After a while she noticed that the nice shells she collected were gone, replaced by some ragged shells instead.  Wondering what was going on, she kept her eye on the shells.  Then one day she discovered that hermit crabs were coming up and exchanging old shells for her nice larger shells and heading back on their merry way!  After that day she made a point of collecting shells and putting them out there for the hermit crabs, a crustacean “Help-Yourself Shelf”!! I can’t tell you how badly I want to do that now! Especially since I saw hermit crabs in some shells that I did not know they live in.   (So please consider leaving any large shells you find on St. John beaches on the beach for a crab to take as his new home. But bring your camera for a good photograph instead!)

Hermit crabs collecting along the rocky shore in St. John during their mass migration to the water to release their eggs.
Hermit crabs collecting along the rocky shore in St. John during their mass migration to the water to release their eggs.
A lone hermit crab, red and purple, hiding from my camera.
A lone hermit crab, red and purple, hiding from my camera.

And St. John resident Rafe Boulon wrote a short and interesting article on hermit crabs for the St. John Historical Society. You can link to the article here.   You can watch some other video I captured:

Island Commute

I had the best commute at Maho Bay Camps! I could jump out of the shower and get dressed and then be to the office in about 3 minutes – assuming I did not stop and talk to anyone along the way. This video gives you an idea of what it was like. It was dry in April and I bypassed the Dining Pavilion, but kind of wish I hadn’t now….

That’s it for info on this post – I’m rushing out to see the Soldier Crab migration at Nanny Point before it ends at 12:00!!