Friday, January 29, 2010

Another Big Cat and Little Ones Too

Jaguars are not the only big cats found in Belize. The puma (Puma concolor) makes its home here too and in fact, has an enormous range stretching from the tip of South America north into Canada. This is the same animal that those of you in North America might know as "cougar," "mountain lion," or "panther." It's a very adaptable cat that does well in many types of habitats, including here, on the Sylvester Village road near Chan Chich. There are many other locations on the property where it has been frequently seen. Pumas seem to be bolder and far less secretive than jaguars; at least that has been our experience in Gallon Jug/Chan Chich. This photo series was taken in May 2009 on Ben's camera trap. Wonder how big those cubs are today?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Without a Quam

Here's yet another very nice photo from Graham Sampson taken during the Gallon Jug Christmas Bird Count a couple of weeks ago. It's a Crested Guan (Penelope purpurascens), a member of the cracid family and known colloquially as "quam." I like this photo since the red dewlap and eyes are so vivid in an otherwise brown bird. This is a big bird, about turkey size, and is most generally found in the canopy, often attracting attention with its heavy wing flapping and noisy calls (listen to a sample at xeno canto here). Like most large birds, the quam is heavily hunted so to find them in good numbers here in Gallon Jug Estate/Chan Chich Lodge is an indication of good conservation in practice.

And, may I add, quams do not make good pets. "Jean Guan" was rehabbed here some years ago ... and took to chasing, pecking and harassing anyone that was not part of his/her immediate human family. A seriously ticked off adult guan is to be avoided and we soon learned to give Jean a wide berth. Jean Guan was relocated to a nice place in the forest where we hope that he/she is living happily ever after.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Flip side?

I think there is a good chance this is the "flip side" of the jaguar from the previous post. Can't say for sure though. This image was taken 35 minutes later on the same date at the same location on the Hillbank road. This cat doesn't appear in my database, so I wasn't able to match left (or right, in the case of the previous post and image) profile patterns to my database cats. We'll just have to see whether it appears in future images. Interestingly, this jaguar has a torn up shoulder.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Pieced together

I'm sure it is apparent that this rather odd image is pieced together with the help of software. The jaguar was photographed walking "into" the frame and then "out" of it two seconds later on 6 January 2010. Ben has been operating two camera traps at Chan Chich and recently loaned me the third. I've moved it between a couple locations on the Hillbank Road, east of Gallon Jug, in places where I'd successfully camera-trapped jaguars some years ago during two jaguar density studies.

This camera trap was placed at Gallon Jug's lower escarpment overlook which in the past, has been a good place for cat photos. I think that's because they prefer using the road rather than clambering over the changing topography there. Not that they couldn't do it -- it's by no means all that challenging. But the road is a low-effort way to get from Point A to Point B.

Of course I consulted my jaguar database. This cat is a stranger. If I had to guess gender (since that isn't immediately apparent), I'd say "female," but it could be a youngish male. Only more photos can say for sure. And, there's other one coming up ...

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Social Toucan

For anyone needing a break from jaguars, here is another gorgeous photo from Graham Sampson. This is one of the smaller toucans, the Collared Aracari (Pteroglossus torquatus) found in Belize. Another of several really nice bird photos Graham got during the recent GJ CBC.

I don't find aracaris as easy to photograph as the Keel-billed Toucan, which tends to "pose" in the open, so I'm pretty impressed with this photo. But aracaris are quite social. So if you see one, there are more than likely others near by perhaps giving you more than one chance at a good photo.

There are actually 3 species of toucans in Belize, and all of them can be found around Chan Chich. If you want to hear the Collared Aracari's calls, check them out at xeno-canto ("Sharing Bird Sounds from Around the World"). Scan down the list, you'll see one from Belize, Rio Bravo Research Area. This would be our neighbors to the north and east of Gallon Jug Estate, the Rio Bravo Conservation Management Area.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

"Kitty Carlisle" in June 09

And finally, here is another look at "Kitty Carlisle" near Norman's Temple in June 09. All of her photos but one, were recorded during daylight hours. Many people ask me whether they should go out to look for jaguars after dark "since they are nocturnal." With the excellent protection from hunting here in Gallon Jug Estate/Chan Chich Lodge, jaguars and other wildlife with nothing to fear, are not forced to be strictly nocturnal here. So by all means, hit the trails during the day!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

And here she is again ...

And here she is again, "Kitty Carlisle" the Jaguar Formerly Known as UF2, at 11:12 on 03 March 2009 at Ben's camera trap set up at Norman's Temple/Bajo Trail (see also previous two posts). These are much clearer photos than the previous infra-red images which were slightly foggy, due, I imagine, to high humidity. Still, a careful side-by-side spot pattern comparison shows that this is the same jaguar. Her first photos date back to 2004, only a couple hundred yards away from where this March series was recorded.

The interesting thing about these images is the bulge toward the back of her belly. A zoomed-in examination suggests that she is a nursing mother. We were hoping she'd confirm such speculation by bringing the kids along for a photo op. We're still waiting ...

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Meet "Kitty Carlisle"

Ben, my partner in crime, or should I say, camera trapping, has come up with a name for UF2. (There she is above, a bit blurred due to motion, but still clearly recognizable, about 3km from the Lodge on 28 May 04). For those of you wondering, UF2 translates to "Unnamed Female 2." I amassed quite a database of jaguar photos several years ago when I was conducting a track study and two jaguar density studies in the Gallon Jug Estate. It is fantastic to recognize some of these same animals still stalking the trails.

While we in science are often chastised for "anthropomorphizing" study animals with names, that never bothered me overmuch. After all, the animal is never going to know and feel insulted or flattered, as the case may be. A name is a nice shorthand method for referring to individuals rather than the ponderous "UF2," which is a sort of name anyway (besides, it always reminded me of unidentified flying objects). Not only that, if naming helps people connect to wildlife and come to care about its conservation, then hey, I'm all for it.

So once I'd gotten more than a couple photos of an individual jaguar -- which implied it was using our area and likely to turn up again -- I invited people who had been helpful to our various conservation projects to Name-the-Cat, as a show of appreciation. Since this isn't a Formal Study we're doing, just sharing and enjoying some of the magnificent wildlife found in the Gallon Jug Estate/Chan Chich Lodge area, I say: let the naming begin.

And, with more photos of UF2 still to be posted, it is clear that she is a regular presence near the Lodge and is thus in need of a better name. Ben suggested it was HIS turn to Name-the-Cat. After some days of thoughtful deliberation, he announced: "I would like to name the jaguar ‘Kitty Carlisle’ or Carlisle for short. It is in memory of the late Uncle Scotty who loved his cats and would be honoured to be named after a jungle pussy cat!"

So there you go. Kitty Carlisle she is.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Home Territory for UF2

Here's a side-by-side comparison of "UF2" from 19 April 2004 with a selection from the recent December 2009 slide series (see previous post). Can you make out the identical pattern? I usually start with a pattern somewhere mid-body that jumps out at me and then look for a match in the comparison picture. The inside left front leg is another place that lends itself to comparison since the stride is similar in this pair of photos.

The April 2004 image was taken at the crossroads of the River Trail and Sylvester Village road very close to Chan Chich creek. I'm not exactly sure where Ben had this camera a couple weeks ago, but it couldn't have been more than a couple hundred yards away. Clearly, the Chan Chich trail system has been part of this female's regular haunts for some years.

Coming up, UF2's photos from earlier in 2009...

Monday, January 11, 2010

Another Jaguar Walks

How lucky can we get? More jaguar footage from Ben! This series appears in black-and-white due to low light levels triggering the infra-red mode. It's a really nice feature as it doesn't eat up batteries anywhere near as rapidly as conventional flash photography does. Since a canopied tropical forest typically has fairly low light, the infra-red mode is frequently necessary, even during daylight hours. I used to spend hundreds of dollars each field season to replace batteries almost weekly due to heavy flash usage in the "old style" camera traps.

Anyway. So here we have another nice sequence of an adult jaguar going about her business on a trail near Chan Chich Lodge. Yes, it is a female ... and it turns out we've already "met" her in 2004 and 2009.

More on this jaguar soon!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Cheers for Chan Chich

News Flash! Chan Chich Lodge was voted WINNER for this year´s Condé Nast Johansens Awards of Excellence, in the category of:

MOST EXCELLENT LODGE For Mexico & Central America

Chan Chich Lodge was also a finalist in the category of "Most Excellent Eco Resort" in all of Central America and Mexico.

ngratulations to the staff and management of Chan Chich Lodge for a job well done ... and making it look easy!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Laughing All the Way

The CBC is still very much on my mind as I begin the process of entering the 19th GJ CBC data at the National Audubon Society's CBC website. So in the meantime, I wanted to share another of Graham Sampson's and the Corozal EAGLEs' photographed birds.

Above is a gorgeous raptor from the Count, the Laughing Falcon (Herpetotheres cachinnans). This is a snake-eating falcon as the species name Herpetotheres implies. On a couple of occasions, we've seen them swoop down on snakes that I hadn't even noticed. That's the legendary vision raptors are known for.

As the common name suggests, the Laughing Falcon has the most amazing vocalizations. They'll be getting cranked up for courtship soon. During the next weeks the pair will begin calling back and forth in ringing duet, starting slowly (Ah ha! AH-ha! Ahhhh-ha!), then building up to a crescendo. Sort of like Ravel's "Bolero" for birds...

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Jungle of the Maya

Thanks Jim, for the mention of Belize Field Notes over on the Celery Farm nature blog. Any Celery Farm readers, welcome. We got to know Jim (and eventually Patty) Wright while he researched and wrote a fantastic book "Jungle of the Maya" while based, for the most part, at Chan Chich Lodge. Jim's text is packed with information and vivid descriptions ranging from the ancient Maya to natural history ending with a discussion of the conservation issues in La Selva Maya (The Maya Forest). Here in Gallon Jug, I like to say that we are at the "heart of La Selva Maya."

"Jungle of the Maya" is beautifully photographed by Douglas Goodell and Jerry Barrack. We used to marvel daily at the spectacular photographs they downloaded every evening in Chan Chich's "Looter's Trench:" a Purple-crowned Fairy bathing, a Rufous-necked Jacamar snapping up an insect mid-flight, a tayra in a tree, to mention just a few highlights. If you are planning a visit, this book would be a great introduction to a fabulous locale and make a terrific remembrance of your time in the jungle of the Maya.

Jim Wright has written several nature books including "Hawk Mountain: The World's First Raptor Sanctuary" released in September 2009.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Curious "Jorge" on the Bajo Trail

We saw Ben, Chan Chich Lodge manager, Sunday night. He passed on these very exciting jaguar photos from one of the camera traps not far from the Lodge. I couldn't wait to share them! First though, I compared the spot pattern of this animal with those of male jaguars I had in my database from my previous jaguar projects in Gallon Jug Estate (yes, it's a male -- if you look carefully, on one of the frames you will notice the ... "details").

There were no matches in the database which wasn't actually too surprising. While this photo shows a healthy animal -- a couple ticks on his face notwithstanding -- he is by no means as heavy bodied as fully mature adult male jaguars. See the photos of Prowler -- who is massive -- for comparison ("On the Prowl," 11 Dec. 09). So I would conclude this is a fairly young animal.

Here then, is a slide show of a gorgeous young male jaguar, Curious "Jorge," examining the Bajo Trail sign and showing all the curiosity cats are famous for!

Monday, January 4, 2010

A Lovely Bird

While I've been going on about the new snake Bruce and I came across, the Corozal birding team recorded several very nice birds on their route during the 19th annual Gallon Jug Christmas Bird Count. Not "just" recorded, but in some cases, also photographed. The Corozal EAGLEs is a student environmental group led by retired Corozal Community College teacher, Graham Sampson. For at least the past decade, he has brought students from Corozal Town to the GJ CBC, after they've driven hours on bad roads and camped in nearby Sylvester Village in order to take part in the Count. We appreciate their contributions!

Particularly, in this case, a very lovely Lovely Cotinga (Cotinga amabilis). Who could not appreciate the vivid iridescent blue and purple colors of this male? ( The female is far less flashy being a sort of nondescript beigy-gray). Despite the gorgeous colors, the cotinga often goes undetected. It is most often found at canopy level while foraging for fruit and can be hard to see. Lovely Cotingas are highly sought after by birders and seen a few times a year in fruiting trees near Chan Chich Lodge. We're glad that Graham and company were able to record this one for the CBC.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

My favorite bird was a snake

Besides counting CBC birds on the 31st, we also encountered two brocket deer (Mazama americana) and a gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus). As always, we enjoyed all the birds we counted, the residents and North American migrants alike.

But my "favorite bird of the day" was actually a snake! We were standing there in the road, binoculars in hand, happened to look down and there it was: a pink snake about 12" long. I've always liked snakes and other "herps." So I have devoted a good amount of time over the years photographing them with some of the photos ending up in various regional field guides.

As I stooped to examine this pretty snake, it was immediately evident it was something I'd never seen before. Luckily it was docile enough to permit 10 photographs before slipping into the grass. Later, at home with Jonathan Campbell's "Amphibians and Reptiles of Northern Guatemala, the Yucatan and Belize" in hand, Figure 116 and accompanying text led to a identification of the Four-lined Middle American Earth Snake, Adelphicos quadrivigatus. What clinched it was Campbell's comments that he'd most frequently seen them after a hard rain had flooded them out of their abode. Exactly the conditions we'd so recently been "enjoying!"

Saturday, January 2, 2010

CBC Results

In honor of the Christmas Bird Count, I suppose it is appropriate that the first images coming off the camera trap I set more than a week ago are Ocellated Turkeys. This is just one of 33 turkey photos in the series. One thing about the turkeys, as I've mentioned before, once they get in front of the camera, they tend to stay there. And am I glad to see them -- I was beginning to think I'd really lost my touch choosing camera location and set-up.

And .... drum roll please... the 19th Gallon Jug Christmas Bird Count results are in. All told, we counted 202 species, up one species from last year, and 2161 individuals, down from last year. For those that might be wondering, since turkeys are on topic, they totaled 111.

All in all, not bad. Not bad at all considering the deluge of rain we've had over the past several days and nights leaving us in downright swampy conditions.

Friday, January 1, 2010

A Rainy CBC

Six intrepid teams from Chan Chich Lodge, Gallon Jug, Belize City and Corozal battled showery weather for the 19th Gallon Jug Christmas Bird Count. Of course, this is way better than snow, like many CBC-ers experience in North America. While we don't have all the count results as yet, it seems likely the intermittent hard showers depressed bird activity overall. Bruce and I enjoyed our day tallying 69 species, which was on the low end. Above, Bruce, in a rare moment sunshine, at the Punta de Cacao Maya ruins near Gallon Jug.

Stay tuned for further results!