Saturday, February 27, 2010

Tragedy

Sir Barry Bowen, owner of Chan Chich Lodge and Gallon Jug Estate, was killed in a plane crash last night, along with 4 beloved members of our community, GJ Community School teachers Mike & Jill Casey and their two young children. Channel 5 news report here.

We are in mourning.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Hillbank Rail History



Recently, we scouted a new location for my camera trap since the Hillbank Road is being re-opened. We were following an overgrown track, formerly a railroad line used to haul mahogany to the Hillbank logging camp headquarters during the old days. It had been probably 10 years or more since we'd been that far east on the property. Amazing to imagine the rail road line here, an area that is now back to bush.

For Belize history buffs, the Belize Archives in Belmopan is well worth a visit. We found several reprints from the Gliksten Journal, a publication of the logging company that formerly owned the Gallon Jug property and the adjacent Rio Bravo Conservation Management Area. One article quotes former logging manager Austin Felix ( b. 1886, d. 1975) as follows:

"The next milestone in the history of the logging was in 1922, when the Company bought some steel ... lengths of railway line ... We built our railroad first of all from Hillbank to the west, then north ... This was 16 miles from Hillbank. There were 200 men working on the railroad all the time, and although the country seems flat in this region, it was by no means flat enough to put a railroad through without a lot of cutting out of hills and filling in of swamps. It was all done by hand. .. The logging still went on while the steel was being laid..." And, he notes, the steel was salvaged from the Stann Creek railroad.

The cuts and swamps were certainly apparent to us as we walked and we marveled at the hand labor that went into cutting through the limestone banks. Then "...in 1929," Austin Felix continues, "it was decided to log in another direction entirely and all the railroad steel was taken up and re-laid due west of Hillbank..." Imagine the hard labor in tropical heat!

Besides being a pleasant walk on a nice day, it was fascinating to look for signs from "the old days" and imagine life in the chicle and logging camps. We saw tapir tracks, deer tracks and jaguar tracks which bodes well for the camera trap. Below is a map dating back to 1965 highlighting the railroad line between Gallon Jug and Hillbank before it was ultimately pulled up. All that is left are a few landmarks, like the bridge (above), and a couple steam engines that have been reclaimed by the bush.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Prowler is back

Just in from Ben, another jaguar photo! Those of you that have been following this blog for awhile now, probably can immediately recognize that this is not the jaguar known as Kitty Carlisle! For one thing, it is massive, a much heavier build than Kitty. This stocky body is typical of adult male jaguars, and yes, if you look carefully, you can see the "details."

So we have a male jaguar on the move near Kitty's hangout. A comparison with my database photos shows that it is "Prowler," who has appeared 22 January 2009 (see earlier post). That's almost a year ago to the day (see date/time stamp top left corner of the photo above).

The Prowler's photo file dates back to March 2005, a few kilometers northeast of Chan Chich Lodge. It seems more than likely Chan Chich figures in his regular territorial "patrols." He'll make his presence known to Kitty and any other jaguars in the area through scent marking and spraying.

Note the confidence shown by appearing mid-day near the Lodge. Clearly, the Prowler knows he has nothing to fear striding along a main trail close to the Lodge without cover of night or vegetation.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Foraging Flock

video

One of the great things about the camera traps is the "slice of life" they show. Just life as the animals are living it at that moment in time. For those of us interested in animals and behavior, that is plenty interesting even it if is not always dramatic. This is a mid-sized Ocellated Turkey (Meleagris ocellata) flock foraging through an area by Chan Chich's Bajo Trail.

Bruce reminded me of a friend, who upon seeing the turkeys for the first time, thought they were peacocks. Yes, they really are that gorgeous and these days seldom seen outside of this protected corner of the country. To listen to the distinctive vocalization of the turkey, go to xeno-canto here. You'll note there is a recording from Chan Chich Lodge.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Kitty in black-and-white

video

The jaguar "Kitty Carlisle" was active around Chan Chich Lodge last month. And how do I know this is the Kitty? It's really pretty easy now that she's so "familiar" from her growing photo portfolio. Her unique coat patterns have become very recognizable after so many comparisons with previous photos of her.

This is a nice sequence from one of Ben's camera traps, that appears in black-and-white due to low light levels and infra-red use. One of the neat things here is seeing her ears flick and the subtle movements as her body tenses and relaxes as she regards the camera on the River Trail before moving on.

She's gotten to be quite the star at Chan Chich, showing up in several photos over the last years. On Friday, several guests had a nice look at a jaguar on the River Trail in late afternoon. Interesting to speculate that it might have been Kitty since it is only a couple hundred meters from where this image series was taken. After all these years based around the Lodge, she certainly is human-habituated and is probably pretty unflappable. It's been our experience in Gallon Jug Estate and Chan Chich Lodge that jaguars here, unused to persecution, are generally confident but cautious when confronted with humans.

Be sure to check out other posts for more info about her.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A long-legged ... agouti



A long-legged guinea pig? Close ... same family. It's an agouti, Dasyprocta punctata. "Agouti" actually refers to the hair color being banded or bicolored. Here is a really nice photo from Ben on Chan Chich's River Trail of this rather shy large rodent. They're fairly common in the forests around Chan Chich and have gotten somewhat accustomed to people. They are diurnal creatures (that is, active during the day time) so you have a good chance of seeing one while walking the Lodge's extensive trail system. When alarmed, the fur on their backside stands up and they flee. Interestingly, unlike most rodents, they are monogamous, mate for life, bearing their young in times of plentiful fruit, their main food resource. Not only that, agoutis are very long-lived, about 13 years or so.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Tamandua anteater

While I'm waiting for more photos to come off Ben's camera traps by the Lodge or mine, I revisited his files from 2009. I was intrigued to find this tamandua, or anteater (Tamandua mexicana). This is a really neat animal, buff and black, with a thin sticky tongue that is more than a foot long used to eat small insects. It has a prehensile tail, handy for the life in the treetops. I wouldn't consider tamanduas rare, but neither are they seen all that often on the ground. This one was photo-captured along the Sylvester Village Road, near Chan Chich Lodge.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Mark of the ocelot

video

Really, a great thing about these camera traps, is the "rapidfire" ability which captures some behavior. This is an ocelot, a mid-sized spotted cat, that is actually fairly common throughout much of Belize. They are almost always photographed at night -- and this sequence is from Chan Chich just a couple of weeks ago -- which means the infrared is used.

While the infra-red is terrific in many ways, unfortunately the ocelot's beautiful golden/buffy coat pattern appears in black-and-white. Still in this sequence, the male ocelot is going about his evening business including spraying. Spraying urine is an important marking mechanism that cats use to communicate and mark territory. Kind of fun to see this guy going about his normal behaviors for us.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Foxy Fox

While it might seem that way, we're not just all about big cats -- though we've definitely had a run on them lately! Here's a great photo from Ben of a common small mammal: the gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus).

This animal is probably the most frequently seen mammal in the country, at least along roadsides when you are driving. It thrives almost anywhere, including what would be marginal habitats for many other species. That probably explains why it hasn't been photographed too frequently around Chan Chich Lodge, surrounded as it is, by good quality tropical forest. Still, here it is on the road, a really lovely, elegant-looking small predator.

Friday, February 5, 2010

By a Whisker

Mid-January 2010 -- this puma is clearly aware of the camera. It'd be great to be able to tell individual pumas apart, but it is tough without the spotted coat pattern of the jaguar, ocelot, or margay. The notches in the ears and the slight bump in the tail might be defining characteristics ... if the animal is positioned in such a way that they are actually visible in the photo.

Recently I was talking with someone at Chan Chich Lodge who travels between Central America and Africa frequently. She reminded me that for lions in Africa, researchers are photographing their faces and then matching individuals based on the unique whisker pattern on the muzzle. Very ingenious. The great thing about lions is that they are pretty cooperative when they are lolling around in the open savanna. With a long lens and some patience, they can be pretty easily photographed.

You don't come upon a lolling puma too often. And they are much more solitary and secretive. In this photo, you can see the whiskers ... but not a definitive pattern.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Kitty Carlisle walks again


Here's a new jaguar photo from Ben, just in. Yes, a quick look at the spot pattern and it is clear that it is Kitty Carlisle again. She's in her "usual spot" on Chan Chich's Bajo Trail, 06 January 2010 in early afternoon. Just about like clockwork. The Kitty's looking especially good in this photo, sleek and well muscled. She'd be, at a minimum, about 8 years old. Her first photos were taken in 2004 very close to this same location just a couple hundred yards from Chan Chich Lodge. She appeared to be a full adult then, let's say at least 2 years old. Great to see that she has made her 2010 trail debut!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Tay-rrific!

If you want to see predators, get a little dog. Seriously. Preferably a small white fluffy dog. Then take her into the jungle. Yesterday, Bruce and I, with our little dog, went to the Hillbank road to check the camera trap. We replaced the CF card and then took a walk. The dog loves this.

There was a suspicious rustling overhead and the dog went into high alert. Ah, monkeys we said, peering into the treetops. A guan? Nope -- couldn't see either one. Shrugged and moved on. Something lean and dark dashed across the path and up a tree. Now the dog is really excited.

A tayra! No, two tayras! Wait, there are THREE tayras! We are totally amazed -- they are dashing up and down the tree trunks and branches, chattering in a noisy bird-like way and focused on the dog. I immediately pick up the dog -- I am no fan of dog-wildlife interactions. One of the two always comes out the loser.

The tayras, large members of the weasel family, are very agitated. They are bold, dashing up and down tree trunks and branches, craning their long necks to get a look at us, or more accurately, the dog. I wonder whether they will approach us, something I am not eager to encourage.

Known as "bushdog" in Belize, the tayra (Eira barbara) is classified as an omnivore. However, it is a competent predator reputed to hunt deer from the treetops. I viewed that claim dubiously until an entire busload of Chan Chich guests witnessed a dramatic encounter between a small deer and a tayra in the middle of the road. Some years later, I got camera trap photos of a tayra eating a brocket deer (Mazama americana) it had just killed. I have nothing but respect for this very efficient hunter.

At 11 pounds with a roughly 2-foot long body, the tayra weighs as much as the dog and were they curious! All three of them, craning their necks, bobbing their light colored heads and chattering incessantly. Clearly the dog's novel white coat is something they have not come across before. They are VERY interested. After a few minutes they have seen enough and disappear into the jungle.

Only then did I put our small dog down on the path.