Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Countdown to Bird Count

Starting tomorrow evening, we'll be counting turkeys and all the other birds we come across as we kick off the 24 hour Christmas Bird Count period for Gallon Jug/Chan Chich. We'll start out with a night bird count and then count dawn to dusk, the following day, the 31st.

To get an idea from CBCs past, the number of species counted during the 24 hour count period has ranged from 171 to 238. The number of individual birds has ranged from 1,718 to 4,772. These numbers have been somewhat influenced by number of participants (and thus territory covered) as well as weather where, for example, rain has been a factor.

The first table (below, left) provides a summary of the total numbers of species recorded for each year’s Gallon Jug Christmas Bird Count. The second table (below, right) provides a summary of the total number of individual birds recorded for each year’s Gallon Jug Christmas Bird Count.

The image above is one of my favorite Ocellated Turkey photos, taken years ago when we worked in Caracol, in the Maya Mountains. Unfortunately, the turkey has been completely wiped out from Caracol due to hunting. Luckily, they are still numerous here on the Gallon Jug Estate.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Tis the season for CBCs

Tis the Christmas Bird Count season (aka CBC). Some readers may be familiar with National Audubon Society's annual Christmas Bird Count, a "citizen science" initiative that has been ongoing for more than 100 years. Essentially, a group of birders get together and count both individual birds as well as species in a specified count circle during a date range in December/January. That time period has been chosen since migrant species have long since left North America for their wintering grounds ... which means we get to count them, along with our resident birds, here in Belize.

The 19th Gallon Jug Christmas Bird Count is open to local birders as well as guest birders at Chan Chich Lodge. We schedule it for 31 December, adjourning that evening to the Lodge to compare notes and talk birds, birds, birds. Although this is a fun event with some friendly competition, it also contributes to scientific understanding about bird populations (see How CBC Helps Birds). You also can see the Gallon Jug count site information here ... and sign up if you're in the neighborhood! We'd love to have you.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Where are the Jacobins?

This is just one of four hummingbird feeders on our veranda in Gallon Jug. Note how this quart jar is empty. There are days when we can barely keep them all topped up, the feeders are in such demand. Several months out of the year, we are treated to the aerial acrobatics of up to 5 species of hummingbirds. The last few months, we've just had two species, the Green-breasted Mango (Anthracothorax prevostii) and the Rufous-tailed (Amazilia tzacatl).

What's missing is the dominant species, the White-necked Jacobin (Florisuga mellivora, pictured above). This is a really attractive large hummer: the males have a sapphire-colored head, white underparts and emerald-green back and wings. Often we have as many as 11 males defending access to his chosen feeder. It's always entertaining as they swoop, dart and chatter, sometimes driving each other into the windows. Luckily, they always seem to recover. The females visit occasionally too, but the feeders really seem to be male dominated.

The literature doesn't say anything about jacobins being migratory. For years we've observed that they enjoy our feeders well into the summer months, entertaining us daily. At that rate, they are going through more than a quart of nectar a day. Then they suddenly disappear, returning before Christmas. Since we're not sure where they "migrate" to, we're not sure what sort of weather or other obstacles they have to overcome in order to return. Hope to see them any day now.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

May your days be merry and bright ...

With warm wishes from Gallon Jug!
Carolyn, Bruce & Maggie

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A herd of white-lips

I love these guys. Not for their, uh, beauty, but because white-lipped peccaries (Tayassu pecari) are a good indicator species of intact tropical forest. They travel in large herds, sometimes 50 or more animals, and require vast forested areas to survive. Radio-collaring has shown that peccaries are a favorite prey species of the jaguar which follows them. Unfortunately, the fact that they do occur in herds makes them very vulnerable to hunting since they tend to group together instead of flee when threatened. That's a good strategy when fending off a jaguar ... but not so great with a well armed human hunter who could potentially wipe out an entire herd in a few minutes.

This is another of Ben's photos taken near the Lodge in July 09. It's just one of a series from this particular herd who proved to be quite curious about the camera. Their presence is testament to a large, and well protected forest here in Gallon Jug Estate. And that makes me very glad to see them here indeed.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Bare-throated Tiger-Heron

I was talking with a guest at Chan Chich Lodge a few nights ago, who was absolutely ecstatic at having added 4 "life birds" to her list during her stay. She'd been all over the world, so to get new birds for her life list was really noteworthy. Turns out that one of them was the Bare-throated Tiger-Heron (Tigrisoma mexicanum).

I dug this photo out of Ben's files, taken near the River Trail. Yes, it is a Bare-throated Tiger-Heron. What's interesting is how widespread across Gallon Jug Estate they have become. When we first came to Gallon Jug in 1990, I can't recall seeing them. Or at least not often. Eventually they were added to the bird list here, but what's noteworthy is how many habitats on the property they seem to like. You can reliably see one or two around the Gallon Jug Farm near the culverts, along the road edge ditches, and evidently, near Chan Chich's River Trail as this camera trap image shows.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Passing Puma

I had hoped to share some really great photos today, from the camera trap we set up a week ago on the Hillbank Rd. I was all but certain we'd have a puma ... since as we drove up to the site, a big puma was just strolling past the camera!

BUT when I downloaded the photos, there were no wildlife photos ... evidently we'd had the camera trap set too "low" to take into the account the crowned road bed it was aimed at. There were plenty of photos of Bruce and I setting it up however. But no puma photo.

Still, it was a pretty interesting experience. We were able to drive fairly close to the puma, a big adult with a kink on the end of its tail, that was all but unconcerned about us. It did saunter into the bush ... and then ambled out again, about 100' ahead of us.

When it turned to look at us, I did manage to snap the photo above. Not a great photo -- blurred due to motion and low light -- but at least it proves we saw the puma, even if the camera trap couldn't pick it up. Guess we will be making some adjustments and give it another week in that location!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Hot off the press, another tapir

Hot off the press from Ben at Chan Chich ... another male tapir. Two photos of the same individual at 3:50AM, taken 2 seconds apart. Ben says these came from the River Trail, so very likely, this is the same guy from a couple weeks ago also on the River Trail. Hard to say for sure since this pair of photos shows the left profile while the earlier photos showed more of the right profile ... and a whole lot of the backside!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

GJCS Carolers

Here in the tropics we have a grassy hillside instead of a snowy slope. But that doesn't stop us from enjoying Christmas carolers coming door to door to spread some holiday cheer. Here are the Gallon Jug Community School kids, teachers and official mascot "Timber," after they entertained us with several rousing carols this morning. Now that'll put you in the spirit!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Guaranteed Turkey

If you spend any time at all in Gallon Jug or Chan Chich, you'll see an Ocellated Turkey (Meleagris ocellata). More than one. Guaranteed.

I don't normally go out on a limb to "guarantee" an animal sighting of any kind ... except for the turkey. And I'd only guarantee it here, where they are abundant and thriving. These gorgeous turkeys are widely hunted throughout their limited range in the Yucatan, Belize and Guatemala. During our years in Belize, we've seen them completely disappear from locations in Belize's once remote Chiquibul, hunted out. Luckily, strict protection from hunting here in Gallon Jug/Chan Chich has allowed them to thrive ... and they have become so human-habituated that they are visible, even approachable, around the Lodge, around the Gallon Jug farm, at any time of day.

This nice photo from Ben's files, is from the River Trail near the Lodge. Ocellated Turkeys are also known for being curious about the camera traps and are responsible for hundreds of images as they investigate the camera, dust bathe, investigate the camera, preen, investigate the camera, forage, investigate the camera ... you get the picture!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

One two three FOUR raccoons

Interesting how aware animals are of their surroundings and "something new." Look at these guys. Four raccoons in our pond (#4 in the corner by the Reconyx logo) and one bold enough to come right up and check out the camera from only inches away.

Ben loaned us one of his three Reconyx camera traps. This one wasn't working so well but Bruce, who is a genius with things electronic, fiddled with it. Seems to be working just fine now as our test raccoons show. So we took it out to a location on the Hillbank Road this morning. The plan is to let it operate for a week or so. During my 2005 jaguar density study, this particular spot was a busy "intersection" for several jaguars. Fingers crossed that some of them are still around nearly 5 years later.

Friday, December 11, 2009

On the Prowl

I've had such a great time over the last day or so, going through all the camera trap photos Ben has taken around Chan Chich Lodge during the past year. It was like seeing an old friend to recognize "Prowler," a male jaguar that was photographed near Chan Chich Lodge in January. Even though he was only half in the frame, there is no doubt it was him.

Prowler was easily recognizable by the distinctive "3" near his spine, marked with a red arrow. Spotted cats have unique patterns in the same way our fingerprints are unique. If you spend a little more time comparing the spot pattern with the inset photo, you can see we have a match.

The inset photo was taken on 10 May 2005 (8:38AM) during one of my jaguar density studies in the Gallon Jug Estate. Prowler was photographed 23 times during April-May 2005, 10-15 km north of Chan Chich Lodge. He was a big, healthy looking male then, so I would estimate he was at least 2 years old ... making him at least 6 years old now. In the prime of life. Judging from his robust condition in the recent photo, he's been doing very well indeed in Gallon Jug.

You're wondering how he got his name? A family who donated to our conservation project had the honor of naming him.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

GJCS Holiday Musical

As I write, many of you in the USA have been dealing with blizzard conditions. Here in NW Belize, it has been sunny and hot over the past week or so. But that hasn't stopped us from getting into the holiday spirit. Last night the Gallon Jug Community School presented their annual Christmas musical at Chan Chich Lodge, "A Marvelous Magical Sleigh." We always look forward to this event as the kick off for the holiday season here. As former teacher (and current Lodge manager) Ben, said, "This is one of my favorite evenings of the year." The performance was spirited and festive putting us all in the holiday mood. Our thanks to Teacher Jill, all her "helpers," and the talented students that gave us such an enjoyable evening of holiday song and dance.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Great Potoo confirmed for Belize

Birders will be interested to know that the Great Potoo (Nyctibius grandis) has been confirmed for Belize after years and years of speculation and mistaken identity. There's been a lot of confusion with the Northern Potoo (Nyctibius jamaicensis, pictured at left), a smaller bird with an altogether different call. Potoos are nocturnal birds related to nightjars.

Ecologist Jan Meerman over in Belize's Cayo District, was able to confirm a Great Potoo near his house through both a photo size comparison and vocal recordings. The vocal recordings were subsequently verified via specialists connected with the Cornell Laboratory of Sound. Jan's record has been archived at the BERDS site. You can also read the interesting details verifying this record in a .pdf file accessible at the bottom of that page.

The Northern Potoo is frequently seen during Chan Chich's night drives around Gallon Jug's Ring Road. It is readily picked up due to its distinctive red eye-shine and often perches on fence posts. With confirmation of the Great Potoo in Belize, we'll definitely be looking more closely at our Ring Road potoos. Who knows, there might be a Great among them!

Monday, December 7, 2009

It's a boy

Exciting series of photos taken a couple weeks ago: a Baird's tapir! This photo is probably the most "photogenic" of the bunch since his "rear view" dominated, shall we say, the others. Years ago, when we first started research in northwest Belize, tapirs were a frequent sight. They are well protected here in the Gallon Jug Estate, so not quite sure why their numbers seem diminished in recent years. It's great to find him roaming around Chan Chich's River Trail.

Another ocelot

Ok, that first photo wasn't the easiest to make out. Let's try this: a really nice camera trap photo of an ocelot "posing" from early 2009 near the Lodge.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Ocelot or margay?

I thought I’d start off this little blog adventure with a camera trap photo. Although I've conducted camera-trap studies for years in the Gallon Jug Estate, as well as other parts of Belize, at the moment I am (sadly) without camera traps. All is not lost -- Chan Chich Lodge manager, Ben, has 3 camera traps that he has placed at random locations near the Lodge. Here is a recent photo.

There are two small spotted cats in Belize, the ocelot and the margay. This most looks like an ocelot to me, though it is hard to tell from the photo for sure. A couple of reasons:

1) margay tails are long and appear that they could drag the ground, whereas ocelot tails are shorter, about "knee length" -- in this photo, it appears shorter rather than longer

2) margays appear more delicate -- this is a pretty robust cat

3) margays have a more "open" streaked pattern along the neck area, admittedly hard to see in this photo

4) margays tend to occur in a different sort of forest rather than along rivers, in my experience; generally a shorter, scrubbier dry forest

I'm going with "ocelot," but it is difficult to say for sure.