Monday, December 20, 2010

Tis the Season


Tis the season for ... carolers! Here are members of the Casey Family Community School, and their teachers, after a rousing round of Christmas carols on our hill, here in Gallon Jug. We may not have snow, but there is no lack of holiday spirit!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Foggy Morning in Gallon Jug

Photo copyright 2010, Alan Jeal

It's not quite like snow, but we've had some chilly weather here in Gallon Jug. We've had night time temperatures in the mid-50's. While that might not seem too bad, keep in mind, our houses here are not well sealed or insulated. It's that weather system that's kept the US at low temperatures so unseasonably early this year pushing down the cold weather into tropical latitudes. This shot is a typical foggy morning in Gallon Jug, from our neighbor and friend Alan.

Friday, December 10, 2010

What do Toucans and Bats Have in Common?

Our friend and neighbor, Alan, here in Gallon Jug, sent over these great images of a Keel-billed Toucan in flight, and then perching in a "hurricane downed tree" tree. It's fun to see the classic "in flight" image of this bird. While this is a fairly common and readily seen species, it is a bit out of character for this toucan to be in the open farm areas of Gallon Jug Farm. It's mainly a frugivore (fruit eater) so I have to wonder whether it is still a bit disoriented from Hurricane Richard and seeking new food resources. Many trees, while still standing, were stripped of leaves and fruits, thanks to the high winds.

We're seeing something similar with certain bat species. What do toucans and bats have in common? Fruits comprise an important part of the diet of toucans and many bats. We've had two reports of fruit bats flying in daylight including a video of bats swarming around a fruiting tree. Could it be that food resources are so limited that they are risking daytime flight -- and exposure to predators -- in order to find fruit?

On my afternoon walk yesterday, there were two fruit bats in flight before the sun had even set. Since it'll be a while before the trees recover, I hope all the frugivorous species can hang on.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Changes in Latitudes


Not only did we thoroughly enjoy the Turtleman's House, we spent a couple more days in San Pedro town on the southern part of Ambergris Caye. It had been some years since we'd been there, and yes, it has changed. A lot more traffic on the narrow streets, for one thing. But coming from quiet and remote Gallon Jug, we enjoyed the lively change of pace.

Our friends Cindy and Renita, at the B&B, Changes in Latitudes (http://ambergriscaye.com/latitudes/), put us up for a couple nights (note the cute toucan gate handle, above). What a great spot ... a block from the beach and close to town. Convenient to everything. Great breakfasts. We spent an enjoyable morning riding bikes all over San Pedro, from north to south. And then we enjoyed a little pool time at the Belize Yacht Club next door and an evening with friends.

All in all, Ambergris Caye provided a really great "working vacation" for us.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Turtleman's House

I normally post exclusively about Chan Chich Lodge and Gallon Jug Estate ... but I couldn't help myself. We've just returned from Belize's Ambergris Caye where we did a short bat survey and then took a couple days to relax.

The Turtleman's House (above) is named for biologist Greg Smith, "the Turtleman," who has lived on northern Ambergris Caye for well over 20 years. The house over the water, pictured above, is where we stayed. It was like something out of Swiss Family Robinson, put together with driftwood and other found objects. Most would call it "rustic" but we were completely comfortable and extremely well fed thanks to the excellent fresh-caught fish prepared by both Greg and his wife Rosemary.

I'm not a fan of long boat trips to crowded snorkeling spots so the fact that we could wade out from the house over the water and enjoy snorkeling in 5-6 ft. water at our leisure, was a real pleasure. Greg was on hand, along with the 3 knowledgeable Smith children, to answer any marine questions and identify the myriad fish species for us.

The Smiths enjoy having guests, but do keep in mind that you need to be a hearty adventurous sort. Most tourist accommodations are designed to offer an "experience." Turtleman's House and the Smith family are authentic, the real deal. Check them out here: http://turtlemanshouse.com/

And as for us, the trip was a big success combining a little slice of paradise with a short research project.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Black Friday


Not that we have Black Friday here, in the sense that shoppers in the USA know it, but here are two big black vultures, side by side. More specifically, the one on the left is the black vulture (Coragyps atratus), and the red-headed one is a turkey vulture (Cathartes aura). Not unfamiliar to North Americans either since both species are widespread, especially the turkey vulture.

Here in Gallon Jug around the farm, it seems these vultures have been displaced since Hurricane Richard blew through a couple weeks ago. They were easily photographed at nearly eye level since their favorite tall roosting trees are gone.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

White-collared Manakin

This has to be one of the cutest and most colorful of tropical birds: the White-collared Manakin, Manacus candei. Pictured here is a male which our friend Jeff photographed from Chan Chich's dining room veranda while we were having lunch. This little bird is a frugivore and likely enjoying the same Polly Redhead berries as the tanager in the previous post. The male manakins have specially modified wings that make a distinctive snap and pop during the courtship display in an effort to attract females. And yes, females are seen from time to time in the Polly Redhead bush.

Friday, November 19, 2010

A Bird in the Polly Redhead Bush

The Yellow-winged Tanager, Thraupis abbas, is commonly seen near Chan Chich Lodge and on the Gallon Jug Estate. Jeff captured a really nice shot of this bird with a berry from the Hamelia patens shrub. This shrub grows readily in the open and provides a year round source of berries and small red blossoms, a favorite of many species of hummingbirds. Other names for this shrub are firebush and hummingbird bush and my favorite, the Belizean name Polly Redhead.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Slaty-tailed Trogon

Here's another photo from Jeff that I love: a Slaty-tailed Trogon (Trogon massena) lit up by a shaft of sunlight in the tropical forest. It's a male as determined by the green on the back and the orange mandible -- the females are a deep gray. If anything is missing from this photograph, it is a full on view of the brilliant red breast which occurs in both sexes. There are four species of trogons in Belize, of which the Slaty-tailed is the largest. All four can be readily seen at Chan Chich Lodge and Gallon Jug Estate.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Top Notch Chick

Another of Jeff's photos, the Gray-necked Wood-rail (Aramides cajanea) foraging in a forest puddle near Chan Chich Lodge. The Belizean name is one of my favorites: Top Notch Chick. And I haven't a clue as to how it got this name. The Top Notch Chick is a member of the rail family and not nearly so secretive as most rails seem to be. It's readily seen in swampy areas -- and even along roadsides -- throughout Belize.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Chan Chich Aracari

I don't post about birds as often as I'd like. To be honest, with my little pocket camera, it is difficult to get a good shot in order to have something to write about. I'm ok with that right now since I hauled around long lenses, tripods and SLR cameras for a number of years here in Belize. Right now it feels pretty good to have a "take everywhere" camera that fits in my pocket.

That said, I was amazed and envious of the gorgeous bird photos our friend Jeff got a couple days ago at Chan Chich Lodge. This is one of the toucans, a bird that most visitors want to see. Specifically, it is a Collared Aracari (Pteroglossus torquatus), a common resident near the Lodge, eating palm fruits.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Chan Chich Forest Aerial View

Our friend Jeff was here last week, just days after Hurricane Richard hit our area. He had the opportunity to assess the damage to the forest from the air. Surprisingly, while there are some areas of damage (visible on the lower left), it appears mostly limited to the tops of trees broken off. Not complete blow downs. Chan Chich Lodge itself weathered the storm very well -- there were some downed trees near the pool but that was about the extent of it. All in all, we were very lucky.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Hurricane Richard clean up


After getting our driveway cleared enough so that we could take a drive, we set out around Gallon Jug to assess the damages. Clean up is well under way now, as you can see from the photo above of our driveway.

Although we didn't enter the surrounding tropical forest, it really looked as though it had held together fairly well. The dense growth of trees apparently offered enough integrity so that only a few (relatively speaking) were toppled or topped. And it is good to remember that these forests and animals evolved with hurricanes and are thus adapted to such events. Mahogany, as a matter of fact, is considered "hurricane-dependent" since it sprouts in areas opened up after such a storm.

Our house is high on a hill, as high as the top of the forest canopy which is about 400 yards away. This left us in a very exposed position which is why we felt the wind so badly during the storm Sunday night. Some of the other Gallon Jug buildings were hardly impacted.

Although the road to Chan Chich Lodge had a lot of downed trees, the Lodge and cabanas emerged virtually unscathed. Some of the thatch needs replacing on the roofs but that is about it. Nestled in the plaza of a Maya ruin and buffered by the surrounding tropical forest, the Lodge was really well protected and looks virtually untouched.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Morning After

After a violent night of hurricane force winds and lashing rain thanks to Hurricane Richard, Monday morning dawned clear and cool. We climbed over and crawled under the obstacle course of downed trees in our driveway and set out to see whether Gallon Jug was still in one piece. We were greeted by this rainbow that formed a perfect and complete arc across Gallon Jug. Unfortunately, I couldn't photograph the whole arch, but it was beautiful nonetheless.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Hurricane Richard

We survived! The map above shows Gallon Jug in relation to a fast-moving late season hurricane that barreled across Belize (time above is minus 6 hours).

Hurricane Richard's storm force winds hit Gallon Jug about 9PM, escalated and we huddled in the bathroom -- in the center of the house, with no windows. Now I completely understand the term: "howling" wind. The house bucked and rocked, vibrated and trembled badly as the hurricane force winds struck and lasted until after midnight. Wind and water was driven through windows and under doors. It seemed that our wooden house would blow apart, but it held. We felt safe enough to leave the bathroom sometime after 1AM when the winds began to slow.

We got hammered exposed way up there on a hill, but all things considered, we were incredibly lucky. And not really much rain, despite dire predictions. A beautiful morning dawned, complete with a rainbow. Our driveway is totally blocked but we were able to climb over the downed vegetation and take a walk. No loss of life or injuries -- even the horses, cattle, deer and Ocellated Turkeys appear to have survived.

Our hill looks like it had a hair-cut and we lost a lot of trees but it could have been far far worse, we consider ourselves very lucky! We talked to other Gallon Juggernauts and fortunately, everyone is ok. We understand Chan Chich and Sylvester Village are ok too. Now it's clean up time.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Casey Community School

I thought you might enjoy a photo of a class at the Casey Community School, here in Gallon Jug. Bruce and I were asked to give a presentation on how we use data in our work as biologists. The students are studying the use of graphs and data in everyday lives. Here you see the students hard at work taking notes while Bruce explains the slide projected on the wall (no screen!).

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Scarlet Milkweed

Many of you in climates farther north have already witnessed this phenomenon: a milkweed going to seed. Yesterday we came across this beautiful Asclepias curassavica just before a breeze caught the seeds in their tiny parchutes. Like the North American milkweed, the tropical species particularly appeals to Monarch butterflies. It's a common sight in the open areas around the Gallon Jug farm. I understand it is often cultivated for butterfly gardens, and it is easy to see why as it is vivid and attractive.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Army ants!



video
In the event you haven't seen army ants (Genus most likely Eciton) in action, prepare to be amazed! They are quite readily found in the forests around Chan Chich Lodge and Gallon Jug Estate. We came across this massive swarm on the move and completely covering the trail. So much so that we decided to turn back rather than risk painful bites. Army ants don't maintain a permanent nest -- they are constantly on the move and there are more than 200 species of them, throughout both the New and Old World tropics. The swarming behavior is one form of foraging for the small invertebrates that comprise their diet.

I've uploaded this 9-second video twice so you can get an idea of how impressive this massive swarm was. However, I'm having trouble playing it back ... but that could just be me because of our slow connect time. Maybe it's fine?? I'm posting a still photo below, in the event that others have problems with the video as well -- although I must say, the video is a lot more impressive!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A New Meaning to Creepy Crawly

Just below Bruce's little finger is one of the largest wasps to be found: a tarantula hawk (Genus: Pepsis). This is an amazing creature that stings, captures and drags tarantula spiders off to its "lair," aka specially prepared nest.

What happens next, you won't believe. The wasp lays its egg on the spider. The hatched larva feeds on the living spider -- saving the spider's vital organs for last in order to keep it alive longer -- before emerging from the nest as an adult. Tarantulas are not small spiders -- they are about the size of the palm of your hand. Check out the wasp above -- it's fully a couple inches long!

There are many species of tarantula hawk throughout the USA and into South America. We've encountered them frequently in and around Chan Chich Lodge/Gallon Jug Estate. It's only recently that I learned that its sting is rated as one of the most painful of any insect, apparently excruciating.

Not to worry. Fortunately, the tarantula hawk shows little interest in humans and we've never heard of any one being stung by one of these amazing, if somewhat creepy, creatures.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Goodby Ben & Amanda


Sadly, we've recently learned that managers Ben & Amanda, will be leaving Chan Chich Lodge and returning to the USA to pursue other endeavors. They will be missed in our community and by the many guests that have come to know them over the past 4 years. This beautiful Gallon Jug sunset seems an appropriate way to say goodby to dear friends, and we wish them the very best.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Foggy Peccary


So it must have been a rainy and humid day, given the fogginess of this image, taken in July near Chan Chich Lodge. But, I hope you'll make allowances since I'm sharing a new species with you ... a collared peccary(Pecari tajacu) . Belize has 2 peccary species, the other being the "warrie" or white-lipped peccary that I've written about before.

Even though the collared peccary is the more common of the two and quite frequently seen, for some reason, it hasn't been photographed recently. Since it can inhabit all sorts of habitats, that is a little surprising. This species is found in the southwest USA continuing south to Argentina. Its pig-like snout is adapted for rooting around on the ground for roots, tubers and even invertebrates and small vertebrates that make up its diet. Found singly, or in groups of up to 20, this is another important member of the biodiversity near Chan Chich Lodge.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Chan Chich Agouti

Here's a fairly nice photo of an agouti (Dasyprocta punctata), a large and common rodent that I've written about before (see 16 February 2010). In terms of its ecology, the agouti is territorial and terrestrial, although it does like being near water. Chan Chich creek meanders only 100 or so meters from this camera location, so this agouti should feel right at home. Agoutis seem to run on tiptoes and are capable of fairly high jumps straight up when startled.

This is a July photo at Chan Chich Lodge, early in the morning, so the infra-red flash gave us a black-and-white image. There were quite a few images in this series, of which this was clearly the best. I've found that the image quality really goes down during the hot summer months -- when the temperatures and humidity are really high. It'll be interesting to see whether, come January, the image quality improves.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Out of Commission


One of the fun things about the remote cameras is how immediate they are. That is, you check the CF card and "just last week," or even a few hours ago, an animal has been recorded going about its daily, or nightly, business.

Well, I'm sorry to report that the camera I've been using is out of commission. It hadn't been functioning very well over the last couple of months -- shooting through a lot of pictures with "nothing" in them. I think I mentioned that the recent tapir series was just plain lucky -- out of 8000 "nothing" images, fortunately this magnificent animal was in a few of them.

We had some correspondence with the camera company, tried some troubleshooting, and bottom line, we have to send it back for repair. This might be a trivial task if you are based in, say, North America. Here though with the slower postal system (and not to malign anyone, it is a very reliable postal system), and the inevitable customs, duty, and importation bureaucracy, this is going to take some time.

Fortunately, the Chan Chich cameras are still operating, so we'll just concentrate on them in the meantime. And, for your viewing pleasure, above is a female ocelot from July, near Chan Chich Lodge.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Pond Visitor

Here's a surprise: a coatimundi drinking from our pond yesterday! Now understand, our house is about 400 m from the forest. In order to get here, an animal would have to traverse open pasture and roads. Not the best scenario for secretive forest animals.

But then, the coati is not especially secretive nor that dependent on high quality forest. In fact, this species does fairly well in secondary growth and disturbed areas, so perhaps our visitor wasn't all that big a surprise. Related to the raccoon, this is a White-nosed Coati (Nasua narica) also known as "pizote" or "quash."

We've let the hill we live on come back in second growth vegetation and put in a small pond for the birds. Over the years, a lot of other interesting creatures have stopped by, and the coati was somewhat unexpected. Or maybe not. Our small dog had been "telling us" for a week that some new and unusual animal was on our hill. Now I think we finally know what it is.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tiny Toadlet


This might look like an ad for Burt's Bees, but I swear I don't work for them, I really don't. But I did use their lip balm to show scale. When Bruce saw this image, he said: "You better circle the toad because no one will be able to find it!"

Well, I didn't circle it and in the event you haven't found it -- it really blends in well with the caliche road -- the tiny toadlet is in the middle-right of the image, less than an inch below the red cap of the lip balm that I used to show scale. This is a real little fella, less than the size of a pencil eraser.

I think it is more than likely the common Gulf Coast Toad (Incilius valliceps, formerly Bufo valliceps). There were dozens of them, probably hundreds of them, newly emerged from the roadside puddles where they'd been developing tadpoles.Gulf Coast toads are common throughout Gallon Jug Estate, Central America and the southern United States.

Friday, September 17, 2010

More July Jaguars

Apparently, July 2010 was a good month for jaguar activity at Chan Chich Lodge. The above photos are of the same male first on 28 July and then on the 30th of July, photographed at the same location not far from the Lodge. Now ... the question is: is this the same male from 09 July (see 13 September post)? It could well be. Jaguars tend to stay in an area for several days to a week or so before moving on. These images depict the left profile of the jaguar allowing them to be matched to each other, while the 09 July images (previous post) depict the right profile of the jaguar.

In a perfect world, I'd have cameras on either side of the trail so the jaguar photographs both sides of itself at the same time!

Monday, September 13, 2010

We have a match!

You may think that I am reaching ... but I believe we have a database match of jaguar images! The top two black-and-white images are part of a blurry series taken near Chan Chich Lodge on 09 July 2010 just before midnight. The quality is so-so but there are some areas on the animal where the pattern is distinct. So it was without a great deal of hope that I went through the jaguar photo database comparing images to the new photos.

I was stunned to get a match with the color photo above! So how did I do it? In the far left image, the extended right rear leg matches nicely with the color photo, as does the inside left rear leg. In the top right image, both the forelegs match nicely with the forelegs in the color image. In the top images, the body pattern is quite blurred but you can still make out a general spot pattern, which to my eye, looks like a fairly good, though rough, match to the lower photo. It is the distinct leg patterns that made the match possible.

And now for the fun part ... what do we know about this jaguar? Well, it is an adult male, evident by the robust build (in the lower photo, you can just see the scrotum). The color photo was taken during my jaguar density study on 04 April 2005 at 3:49 PM. So this animal is probably more than 5 years old given that it appears to be an adult in the color photo. Even though the top half of the animal was not photographed, the photo has proven its data value since it has allowed a match. The color photo was taken about 12 km east of Chan Chich Lodge, along the southern property boundary by the lower escarpment.

The color photo was the ONLY photo I had of this individual and thanks to the recent images, it is nice to know that this male jaguar is apparently healthy and still roaming the Gallon Jug Estate.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Too many Turkeys ... and a Tapir!

video

It's been a bit of a rocky start getting my one and only camera back up and running near Gallon Jug. I let it go for a week and retrieved the CF card, only to find there were close to 8000 images recorded!! The first 40 or so were Ocellated Turkeys (Meleagris ocellata) promenading back and forth, then a lot, a whole lot, of blank photos.

Then I got lucky. This nice sequence of a tapir (Tapirus bairdii) appeared just a couple nights ago, about 8:30 p.m. Tapirs aren't all that common in Gallon Jug so it was a real delight to see this one. She was near Peterson Creek, east of Gallon Jug community about 10 km. Seeing this animal made going through the 8000 images all worthwhile!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Casey Community School

We're back in Gallon Jug after 2 months in the USA. It was our annual visit "to buy socks and underwear," visit family and friends and attend to medical matters. But it hasn't exactly been a smooth reentry since our computers have made it clear that they don't "like" being shut in a hot and humid room for 8 weeks. This isn't exactly a news flash for us as it is always touch and go whether they'll boot up or not after an absence. The climate simply isn't computer-friendly and aside from leaving them running, or operating the AC for 2 months, we just take our chances. Bruce will eventually get it sorted out (parts are in the mail) but it does mean we're off to a slow start.

So, back in Gallon Jug and ... back to school. Formerly known as the Gallon Jug Community School for the past 20 years, our local school has been renamed the Casey Community School. The new name honors former teachers Mike and Jill Casey who were killed in a plane crash in February, along with their 2 young children, Makayla and Bryce, and Gallon Jug property owner, Sir Barry Bowen.

All are sorely missed here as the new school year begins.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Prowling Puma

Here's a nice sequence of the same puma (Puma concolor) along Gallon Jug Estate's Punta de Cacao road a few weeks ago. While some animals show awareness of the remote camera, this animals doesn't even give it a passing glance. This is a nice healthy puma, appears to be a male and likely one that has been photographed before. But it is just impossible to say for sure since it has no visible distinguishing characteristics to match against previous photos.

Friday, August 20, 2010

A Deer in the Pond

video

The seasonal frog pond, as I've come to call it, just outside of the Gallon Jug Farm, in the forest, has proven to be an attraction for more than just frogs. Here a white-tailed buck is feeding early, very early one morning. This is probably the most interesting of 3 sequences I got of white-tailed deer using the pond.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Tiny Gecko


If you live in the tropics, it's pretty much guaranteed that you have wildlife in your house. I was particularly happy to see this little lizard, not much more than an inch long appear in the kitchen (that's my shoe to the left to give some idea of size). This is not a baby, this is an adult gecko; Sphaerodactylus glaucus, to be precise. Bruce and I call them "house geckos" since they seem to do well around human habitation. They were more numerous around our house before we were taken over by an introduced Asian gecko. The Asian geckos are voracious and I think, besides eating insects, have eaten most of the house geckos -- this is the first one I'd seen in some time.

I don't mind having geckos of any size in the house. They eat the insects that inevitably find their way inside. I like it when the roaches especially, are kept down to a dull roar.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Seasonally Inundated

This is what a seasonally inundated forest in Gallon Jug Estate looks like. Normally there is no standing water here but with the seasonal rains and hard packed clay soils, this depression fills up rapidly and stays for awhile. There is a lot of floating forest detritus ... and you may have noticed that the water looks like dark tea. In a sense, that is exactly what it is as the tannins leach out from the leaf litter staining the water. The red-flowered bromeliad is growing on the side of the tree above the water makes a nice touch of color

Now you know where mosquitoes breed!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Bachelor Party

video
What a great sequence of a bachelor group of Great Curassows (Crax rubra) near the frog pond just a few kilometers from the Gallon Jug Farm. The males are really handsome in black and white. Note there is one "multi-colored" individual that appears to be an immature male to me (rather than a female) just beginning to get his adult plumage.

As I've mentioned before, this species is a favorite with hunters and in many places, it has grown scarce. Thanks to Gallon Jug Estate's good protection, this bird is readily seen on the property and near Chan Chich Lodge. It is a real pleasure to see it in such numbers.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Twice an Ocelot

video

Thanks to Ben at Chan Chich Lodge, we have this nice sequence of a female ocelot. Actually, if you look carefully, you can see that this is actually two sequences about 40 minutes apart on the Bajo Trail. I'm guessing it is the same individual passing back through the same location. As you may have noticed in other images, the scrotum on a male cat is normally easily visible, especially in profile. No such thing here as well as the lighter, sleeker build make this a female.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Chick Flick

After weeks in hiding, the hen Ocellated Turkeys (Meleagris ocellata) are finally bringing their chicks out into the world. These chicks were spotted over the weekend and while the hen was cautious, she did permit a few photographs. In total, I counted a dozen young, which is a pretty good result. Turkeys are among those species that have an abundance of young which are subject to predation from a wide variety of animals. So while the hen may start with 12 chicks, she may only manage to raise one. Still, that is good enough to make this endangered species prolific here on the Gallon Jug Estate. The Ocellated Turkey has become scarce in most of its range due to hunting pressure where it is not protected.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Gibnut by frog pond

video

Turns out the seasonal frog pond where I recorded the amazing chorus (see 5/28/10 post) was a good spot to place a camera. Where there are resources, animals of all kinds are attracted.

In this sequence, the nocturnal paca (Cuniculus paca) passes by, swings back for a closer look at the camera. The paca, known in Belize as the gibnut, is a large member of the rodent family. With its spotted pattern, individuals could likely be distinguished if there were enough images of them for comparison. I've found them to be photographed only sporadically. It may be that the seasonal flooding has driven this one out of the forest and onto the trail.

The paca occurs mainly in tropical forests and feeds primarily on fruits and seeds. It is considered a delicacy and heavily hunted throughout its range. I've never tasted it but I understand it is a rich and delicious meat.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Mango Season


Looks like it will be a bumper crop this year. That's fine with me -- mangos are my favorite tropical fruit. This particular tree on the Gallon Jug Farm is so loaded with fruit that several large branches have snapped. And it's not the only one.

As I mentioned in a previous post, mangos are in the same family as the poisonwood tree: Anacardiaceae. And while they are delicious, they do provoke an allergic reaction in some people. I am among those that can eat and enjoy them, but I can't pick them or cut them up without breaking out in an itchy rash. I don't let that stop me though!

Monday, June 28, 2010

In the USA

Just a note to let you all know that we are currently in the US of A. We normally make an annual visit to buy necessities like socks and underwear. This year we came up early to surprise my dad on Father's Day. We'll be back in Gallon Jug in mid-August and back on schedule then. I do have weekly posts planned in the meantime, so please stay tuned. Happy summer!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Puma by the frog pond


We've had some really hot weather lately here in Gallon Jug Estate. The data on this image shows it is 77 degrees (F) on a full moon night, and this puma is taking advantage of it. He or she is out and about, passing by the seasonal frog pond (see 5/28/2010 post). Not much detail can be seen on this individual, other than it appears sleek and healthy.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Spider Lily


It's finally wet enough that the spider lilies are blooming. This wild lily (Hymenocallis sp.) grows from a bulb and likes wet places. Behind these lilies is a small stream that flows through the Gallon Jug Farm. The lilies have popped up throughout Gallon Jug Farm's inundated pastures and are a beautiful early wet season sight.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Nice Jaguar Sequence

A very nice jaguar sequence from Ben at Chan Chich Lodge just came in. I've cropped the images to enlarge the jaguar for your viewing pleasure. That removed the data which some of you enjoy, so just to let you know, it was taken on 28 May at 06:47 AM on the Bajo Trail intersection.

Beyond that ... what can I tell you? It appears to be a male but not Curious Jorge or Prowler although admittedly it is a bit difficult to make strong comparisons when the animal is in this position. It's also somewhat dimly lit due to the early hour and infra-red use. So for the time being, we'll have to wait for more images to confirm its identity.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Woo hoo! We have a Winner!

Drum roll please ... the moment we've all been waiting for ... the drawing for a free stay at beautiful Chan Chich Lodge! Pictured are Lodge manager Ben and a young volunteer about to the select winning ticket from the drum. The inset photo shows members of the local school's dance troupe displaying the winning ticket.

For more years than I can recall, Chan Chich Lodge has sponsored a raffle to benefit the Gallon Jug Community School high school scholarship fund. As explained on their website: "Each year, in a considerable effort to raise money for the Gallon Jug Community School Scholarship Fund, Chan Chich Lodge raffles a great prize in the name of education: a 4-night double occupancy all-inclusive stay at the Lodge, including room, meals, beverages and daytime activities. If you are interested in purchasing a raffle ticket please email us at info@chanchich.com " See also this link.

This year a record-breaking $7000 was raised to be used toward higher education for deserving Gallon Jug students. Due to the tragic loss of beloved teachers Mike & Jill and their children earlier this year, the school has been renamed the Casey Family Community School. I know Mike & Jill would be delighted that so many students will have a chance to attend high school. Our thanks to all those that bought tickets.

Friday, June 11, 2010

What Gorged Looks Like


In case you are wondering, this is what a gorged boa constrictor snake (Boa constrictor) looks like. That lump is a chicken swallowed whole. Boas are fairly large, heavy bodied snakes that occur through Mexico, Central, and South America and some islands. This snake shows the pattern and coloration typical of Belizean boas. They do well in a variety of habitats which makes them a fairly common snake in forest, farm or village. Boas are non-venomous and as the name implies, kill by constriction, mostly birds and small mammals. They also bear live young.

Apparently this one, in the medium size range at about 4-feet, was caught once before in Sylvester Village after having eaten someone's chicken. It was then released in the bush. According to our friend Alan, a couple of weeks passed and it showed up again, caught in the act. This time the chicken owners brought it to Gallon Jug for release. It will have to travel several miles to return to the scene of the crime in Sylvester Village. This snake is lucky it wasn't killed, either as a two time offender or mistaken for a venomous fer-de-lance as is too often the case. My thanks to Alan for sharing his pictures with us.

Newsflash! Alan reports "... the guys related a tale to me this morning . Apparently they heard some noise from behind the lumber shed and went to see what it was, a large boa had caught a fox and had wrapped around it to squeeze it to death, as they went to see closer, the snake started to swallow the fox head first, they watched how the snake unhinged its jaw and swallowed the fox piece by piece, one of the guys went to his house to get a video camera but by the time he returned the fox was in the snake stomach and the snake was squeezing its way under some lumber to wait out the digestion process..."

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A baby Piam-piam

The other evening, the Brown Jays (Cyanocorax morio) were scolding like mad when I took our little dog for a walk. That's just kind of what jays do, noisy cantankerous birds that they are. Belizeans often call them Piam-piam for the calls they make (check out Brown Jay vocalizations here; if you scroll toward the bottom of the page, you'll find the recording from Rio Bravo Research Area in Belize -- that's just north of us about 30 miles).

Brown Jays are found in open areas, like the Gallon Jug farm and many many other habitats as well. As it turns out, the adult jays made it clear that we were being warned away from this recent Brown Jay fledgling (above). The stumpy tail and yellow eye-ring give it away as a youngster. Although it was on the ground, it wasn't marooned or in any great distress. In fact, it was making short experimental flights and even gaining a little altitude as the adults squawked nearby. I have no doubt they were shouting encouragement as it found its wings.

Friday, June 4, 2010

My what big eyes you have

We've had a lot of rain lately, but then I guess I've mentioned a few times that wet season well and truly is here. That was thanks to Tropical Storm Agatha which only brought us rain and not the damaging winds experienced south of us in Guatemala, Mexico and Honduras. We are back in that time of year when all the storms get named. Now is the time to beg the Maya gods for a benign hurricane season.

We brought in the camera trap we've been using for a drying out period here in the office. Although the cameras are weather-sealed, it is asking a bit much to expect electronics to function well under the current deluges. Luckily, a few images have trickled in from Ben's cameras at Chan Chich Lodge. In a nice patch of sunshine, this white-tail fawn looks a bit surprised, or perhaps it sees something down the trail. Big eyes, big ears.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

On the Fringe

We've had a lot of rain over the past week. Makes me believe wet season is well and truly here. Apparently the frogs and toads agree. They are chorusing like crazy, gathering at the seasonal pools that have accumulated, looking for one thing: love.

It seems that any time in nature when there is an aggregation of animals, there is another species standing by to take advantage of it. That would be the case with the fringe-lipped bats (Trachops cirrhosus; above) whose specialty is frogs. Notice the warty-appearing "papillae" around the mouth and chin? These are not just decoration. No, they have a very specialized purpose. Since frogs don't necessarily want to be eaten, many have evolved distasteful chemicals secreted through the skin. The bat flies by, brushing the frog with just a little "kiss" with the papillae. That tiny taste test tells the bat whether this frog is a prey possibility or better left alone.

The red-eyed tree frog (Agalychnis callidryas) has evolved a neat defense against the fringe-lipped bat. The males chorus in short bursts -- ack! ack! ack! -- and then abruptly fall silent. After all, just one lonely voice calling out ... and the bat can home right in on that one foolish individual. Bon appetit and good by Mr. Big Mouth!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Socially Progressing

When mama Social Flycatcher was absent the nest, I pointed my camera into the opening and got these shots, two days apart. In the top left image, the first chick has hatched, and two days later, the second and third have hatched. Staggered hatching is called "asynchronous." It is thought to benefit the parents by spreading their workload and reducing sibling rivalry since the young are at slightly different stages of development.

Meanwhile, both parents are feeding the chicks and also spending a fair amount of time keeping them warm. These particular Social Flycatchers are not in the least spooked by us moving around on the veranda. I'm sure they are well familiar with us and have long since realized we pose no threat. And who knows, one of them may even have been raised in this same hanging basket location, a favorite with Socials over the past nearly decade.

Postscript: Just before this was to be published, I decided to check the nest as it had seemed suspiciously quiet all day. I peeked in only to find it ... empty. Something happened to the chicks overnight -- I suspect a snake -- although I did check the ground to make sure they hadn't somehow been tipped out. With the nest right outside my window, I can't help but be a little sad, especially for the hardworking parents. Now the question is ... will they re-nest?

Friday, May 28, 2010

A Real Spectacle

video

Here's my first attempt at sharing a short (5 second) video from my Canon pocket camera. This was the scene a couple of days ago on the Punta de Cacao road on the Gallon Jug Estate. The frogs were going CRAZY calling -- it was deafening! We'd had 2.2-inches of rain the previous night -- on top of all the rain of the previous few days -- and they were taking advantage of it. You can see there is water over the road and a seasonal pool at the side of the road. I couldn't get close enough to the skittish frogs in order to get any close up photos this time.

There were several species though, primarily the Mexican tree frog (Smilisca baudinii), Sheep frog (Hypopachus variolosus), and the Red-eyed tree frog (Agalychnis callidryas). With amphibians and their habitats under pressure in so many places in the world, witnessing such a "spectacle of nature" with hundreds (thousands?) of frogs, was really exciting.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Kitty's in the Neighborhood

What can I say, it is always nice to see the jaguar known as Kitty Carlisle. And here she is, moving fairly rapidly, through the Bajo Trail intersection at Chan Chich Lodge. She's made regular appearances near the Lodge with a portfolio dating back to 2004. I keep hoping sometime she'll bring her offspring by the camera (since she's almost certainly had young every other year or so), but it hasn't happened yet.

Female jaguars, as it turns out, are fairly secretive and not photographed as often as males by the camera traps. This is borne out with my own data, and that of colleagues. Still, on occasion, I've met a researcher who has shown me camera trap photos of young jaguars in their study area -- I'm envious! It hasn't happened here yet although there are plenty of eye witness reports (sadly, I am not among those that have seen a jaguar cub). At any rate, clearly the Kitty feels confident in the Chan Chich neighborhood to venture out during all hours.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Mid-May Ocelots

It's been a bit of a dry spell between camera trap photos. The camera I've been using has been in for cleaning and repairs recently (it's been doing things like shooting 1700+ images of "nothing" in 1 hour) but it's now back in service. Luckily Ben came through with this nice pair of mid-May ocelot photos from Chan Chich Lodge, the Bajo Trail.

One was shot on May 13 and the other on May 16. It's not entirely straightforward to compare the two images but from what I can tell by zooming in, this is not the same individual. The ocelot in profile (lower picture) is certainly a familiar-looking male often photographed in this Bajo Trail intersection near the Lodge.

Friday, May 21, 2010

New on the Scene

I admit it, I was a horse crazy kid. So I couldn't resist a photo of this newcomer on the Gallon Jug farm scene. Evidently she was a "surprise," born on 3 May. Just-turned-five year old Liza, who shares the same birthday, named her "Blondie." Love the crescent moon between her eyes.

Eddie, who manages the Gallon Jug cattle and horses, said they began suspecting something when they had to let out the saddle girth a notch or two on the mare. Evidently there are 3 other mares with the same "problem" and evidently, 3 more "surprises" on the way!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Socially Acceptable


This hanging basket on our veranda contains what is left of my sickly vanilla orchid. I've been nurturing it for a couple years in the vain hope it might produce a vanilla bean. Just when I'd decided it was unlovely -- a real basket case if you will -- this Social Flycatcher (Myiozetetes similis) apparently found it very hospitable. In fact, she and her mate built a cozy fluffy nest in it over a matter of days.

Social Flycatchers are common throughout Belize, Mexico, Central and South America. They are beautiful and outgoing, brown, yellow, black and white birds that do well in human-modified landscapes. When I last checked, there was one egg in the nest but I'm betting there are at least 4 by now. It's not the first time the Socials have nested on our veranda ... and I'm glad they found my ailing plant "socially acceptable."

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Gumbo Limbo to the Rescue

So you've accidentally rubbed up against a chechem, aka black poisonwood, tree. Now what? Antihistamines give limited relief, at least in our experience. Well, you can look around for a gumbo limbo (Bursera simaruba) tree. It's easily recognizable by its papery red bark and is nearly always found growing alongside the chechem (an aside: Gumbo limbo is also known as the Tourist Tree -- red and peeling). Nice of Nature to arrange things so conveniently.

That's the case in this photo above, taken on our hill here in Gallon Jug Estate. The gumbo limbo is surrounded by small chechem trees (the light barked trees). So you take your machete -- in Belize you must always have your trusty machete when in the bush -- and skin off a slice of the gumbo limbo bark. In desperate cases, you can apply the woody side of the bark to the chechem rash and get immediate relief. Or you can take it home, chop it up and brew a sort of tea with it to sponge on the chechem rashes. It really works ... and you'll never buy Benedryl again.

At least not for chechem.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Chechem


The chechem trees are fruiting on our hill. I give them a wide berth, a really wide berth. That's because I know from personal experience that chechem, or black poisonwood, really is POISON -- or more accurately, contains a powerful allergen called urushiol. Reason enough to steer clear.

Brushing up against this tree, Metopium brownei, results in contact dermatitis. Like poison ivy, which is in the same family (Anacardiaceae) along with poison oak, poison sumac, mangos and cashews (yes, mangos and cashews!), some people are more sensitive than others.

Bruce is one of those people. He jokes that if he even sees poisonwood, he gets it. We've both had our bouts with it. It turns your skin to leather, itching, red, miserable leather and takes some time to heal. It can go systemic which happened to both of us, in our first years here, before we learned to recognize it. We were down and out for several days, dosing ourselves with antihistamines which seemed to have little to no affect.

That was before we learned of a powerful antidote that was readily available. And better yet, it normally grows near by chechem...

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Ghosts are Out and About


No, this bat is not an albino. More like a ... ghost.

Despite its ghostly appearance, this is an insectivorous bat that is rarely seen or photographed. It occurs in Central America and South America and evidently some of the Caribbean islands, such as Trinidad, where it is known as the "Jumby" bat. A jumby is a demon or spirit of Caribbean folklore. Little, if anything, is known of its natural history. It's Diclidurus albus, the Northern Ghost bat.

Bruce has recorded this species many times throughout the country. It is a fast, high flier that evades harp traps and mist nets. Sometimes we've caught a glimpse of it by shining a spotlight overhead while "capturing" its echolocation calls during acoustic recording surveys. Snow white, it definitely stands out in a dark sky, illuminated by spotlight. But we've never captured one.

In fact, the ghost bat is a species that occasioned an expedition to southern Belize undertaken some years ago. Bruce got recordings but no capture ("Chasing the Ghost Bat," Scientific American, June 1999). More than 10 years later, what a surprise to see this photo taken in Peten, Guatemala, about 65 miles from Gallon Jug Estate, as the Ghost bat flies. My thanks to the Wightman family for sharing their photos with us.