Ginger, the mona monkey, and I.

Upon arriving at Cabier Ocean Lodge on the tropical island of Grenada on Dec. 31, one of the first things I did was take a photo of a little green lizard crawling up the building’s stucco wall. Soon after, I was rummaging through my suitcase for my 400mm camera lens. There were birds outside! Birds I’d never seen before!

lizard2 0116

As it turns out, I had many opportunities to photograph lizards, birds and other animals while on my honeymoon in the Caribbean. But these creatures weren’t always foreign to me. In fact, I came across several birds on Grenada that I’ve photographed during the summer in Maine. On the sandy beach near our hotel, for example, I stalked semipalmated plovers and some type of sandpiper, of which they have many species in Grenada. And always loafing about on the lawns of Cabier Ocean Lodge were doves that looked just like our mourning doves here in Maine.

They weren’t the endangered Grenada dove, however. I made sure of that.

Plover in Grenada.
Plover in Grenada.

I did look for the Grenada dove, which is endemic to the island and listed as critically endangered. While on a kayaking tour, we passed by Mount Hartman, where a sanctuary has been established for the dove. I saw a flutter of a wing here and there in the underbrush, but I can’t say I actually saw this rare bird, which is characterized by its white throat, pale pink face and forehead and dull brown crown and nape. Also, the upper breast is pinkish and fades to white on the belly.

Yellow-crowned night heron
Yellow-crowned night heron

One day I spotted a wooden structure beside the road and, thinking it might be a wildlife observation platform, asked my husband Derek to pull over. I was right. The platform overlooked a small wetland area and included a few educational signs that identified birds and fish commonly found in the tropical bog. It was a jackpot.

Right in front of the platform, wading through the muck, was a yellow-crested night heron — which I’d never seen before. According to Cornell Lab of Ornithology, that particular species of heron will only travel as high as southern Maine during migration, and it doesn’t stay long.

Little blue heron
Little blue heron

Also in the wetland was a great egret, a tall white bird I’ve seen in Maine during the summer, and a lesser yellowlegs, another wading bird I’ve seen in Maine.

But there were also new additions to my birding list in the wetlands. A little blue heron, its silvery blue and purple feathers shining in the sun, was walking about; and I spotted a smaller, rather plump bird called a ruddy turnstone. And then there were odd chicken-like waterbirds called common gallinules, with black bodies, red foreheads and bright yellow and orange legs.

Common gallinule
Common gallinule

Throughout our honeymoon, I asked my husband several times if my mini wildlife photography adventures were bothering him. And he always replied, “no.” He wanted me to enjoy myself. And sometimes, I think he found himself a bit interested in the animals, especially when it came to the more exotic creatures.

Aside from the wetland observation platform, I didn’t go on any outings for the sole purpose of photographing wildlife. I just came across animals wherever we traveled, and often, I had my camera at the ready. For example, we often saw cattle egret lounging with cattle, goats and sheep beside the road. The cattle egret is a tall white bird known for picking insects off livestock. We actually saw one perched on a cow’s back.

Millipede
Millipede

While touring orchards of starfruit, banana, nani and cocoa trees at Belmont Estate, we came across a group of colorful hawkmoth caterpillars and an alarmingly large millipede. Fortunately, we never came across what I think is Grenada’s most terrifying insect — the tarantula.

By the beach, we often spotted sea life, my favorite being the ghostly sand crabs and jumping rock crabs. And when we snorkeled at Grenada’s Underwater Sculpture Park, we saw many different types of tropical fish, including a large stingray and a pufferfish.

We ate local barracuda several times for dinner, but I guess that doesn’t count as a fish sighting.

Fish while snorkeling
Fish while snorkeling
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Grenada is known for being home to a wide range of hummingbirds — and we did see them often, flitting about the flowers in town and in the rainforest. But to photograph these quick, tiny birds was another story. I managed to capture a few images of what I believe is an Antillean crested hummingbird as it perched on a power line, but it certainly wasn’t an award-winning photo. 

Ginger, the mona monkey, and I.
Ginger, the mona monkey, and I.

Grenada is also known as the home of the mona monkey — a rather large, lively and intelligent animal, in my opinion. We didn’t see these monkeys in the wild, though we visited the Grand Etang rainforest, where they are most abundant. However, we talked with a young man who lives in the Grand Etang area, and he told us he sees mona monkeys in the wild every day! Fortunately, our accommodations at Cabier included a small zoo that includes two mona monkeys. We were able to spend some quality time with the younger of the two, a male whose name is Ginger. Because he wasn’t full size (and therefore strong enough to injure us), the manager of the zoo allowed him out of his enclosure to get some exercise while we were there. He especially liked crawling up my long hair and trying to steal my cell phone. I felt very fortunate to be his human jungle gym.

monkey2

Usually seeing wild animals in captivity makes me sad — and that was the case when I first met the monkeys in their enclosures at Cabier. But I felt a bit better about the situation after I talked with the owners and learned that both monkeys had come into their possession as babies after the monkeys’ parents had been killed. The monkey is hunted on the island by locals and is at risk of becoming endangered. Here’s an article about the issue published in 2014 by the Jamaica Observer.

I usually went down to the zoo to see the monkeys each morning while in Grenada. In the morning, they seemed most calm and were often eating a platter of various local fruits cut up by the talented French chef, Bruno, who co-manages Cabier and runs the restaurant. After a few days, when Judy (the larger monkey) saw me, she’d come to the side of the enclosure and lie down to have her back scratched. And on the second to last day of our vacation, she returned the favor by delicately grooming my arm hair. It sounds weird, but it was pretty special.

A tiny frog or toad in Grenada
A tiny frog or toad in Grenada

Every night, we went to sleep serenaded by what sounded like hundreds of frogs. Derek and I went out on several nighttime expeditions to photograph them and found two different types of frogs on the Cabier property — which includes a restaurant and bar, several lawns, a lodge, a separate building for the suites, a pool, a tropical animal zoo, gardens, a sand beach and a donkey ranch.

The frog we most often found at night was small and so light in color it looked nearly translucent. I believe it is some kind of whistling frog. The other was larger, with so much texture to its skin it looked much like the gravel road we found it on. And in the woods one day, I found a bunch of tiny frogs (and by tiny, I mean TINY) with orange spots on their backs hopping about in the cool mud. I couldn’t tell you the species. The problem with trying to identify some of the animals of Grenada is that there aren’t many online sources about some of these animals. (If you know of a good book, let me know!)

mantis

Also while searching for frogs, we came across my first ever praying mantis. When I attempted to photograph the little green insect, it flew and landed on my forehead, then crawled onto the top of my head before flying off into the night.

Each morning, we were sung to by a mockingbird and a small group of little, quick brown birds that I think are southern house wrens. Also from the balcony of our suite we often watched the Grenada flycatcher (which has a distinctive pale yellow

Brown pelican
Brown pelican

stomach) and what I think is an all black subspecies of the bananaquit, a tiny black bird (with a touch of red by its beak) that looks a bit like a hummingbird.

And lastly (I have to end this blog at some point, though I really could go on and on), we spotted several sea birds – large and small – while eating at seaside restaurants and walking along various beaches. Some of my favorites spotted are the brown pelican and the magnificent frigatebird, which soars high in the sky, its forked tail trailing behind.

More photos of critters from Grenada:

Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn Sarnacki is a Maine outdoors writer and the author of three Maine hiking guidebooks including “Family Friendly Hikes in Maine.” Find her on Twitter and Facebook @1minhikegirl. You can also...