Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Provision Tree


Now that we are well into dry season (sort of like "spring" Belize-style), many plants are starting to blossom and the one pictured above is a favorite. The provision tree blossoms are spectacular, larger than your hand and very showy. The provision tree is most often found along waterways, swamps and wetlands. This particular tree was about 20' in height although provision trees can attain a maximum height of 60' or so. A large nut is produced that is evidently edible though we've never tried it. The nut is water dispersed and floats to a new location where it germinates. Many plants in Belize are considered to have medicinal value. In the case of the provision tree, it is thought that making a tea from its bark helps to build the blood.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The End of the Line

To the north and east of the Gallon Jug Estate lies the Rio Bravo Conservation Management Area (RBCMA), operated by the Programme for Belize (PfB). At 260,000 acres, it is roughly twice the size of the Gallon Jug Estate and encompasses a multitude of habitats. Over the years we've frequently partnered with PfB on conservation aims of mutual concern.

There are two field stations in RBCMA and recently we had the pleasure of staying at the Hillbank Field Station, only about 25 miles as the toucan flies from our house in Gallon Jug. Of course, as is so often the case in Belize, you "can't get there from here," so we headed north, then east, then south to reach it which took about 2 hours. If "Hillbank" sounds familiar from previous posts, it is because Hillbank was the "end of the line" for the logging railroad that began in Gallon Jug back in the day.

I've posted about the Hillbank road and our recent explorations over the past weeks of dry season (see post for 25 Feb. 2010). Beginning in the 1920's, the logs, mostly mahogany, went by narrow gauge rail from Gallon Jug to Hillbank. From Hillbank, situated on the New River Lagoon, they were floated to the coast and then to Belize City.

Besides launching a bat acoustic survey pilot project, it was of great interest to revisit this old logging center, now a field station, operated by PfB. Other than a comfortable new dorm, most of the original wood buildings from the logging days are still in use. We were surprised and pleased to meet an old friend, Gustavo, from our Caracol field work days in the late '80's, early '90's. An accomplished bushman who has lived and worked in many bush situations, Gustavo delighted in sharing with us some of the old logging equipment scattered around in the forest (pictured above), remnants of the old logging days.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Hillbank Road Result: a Jaguar

When we set up the camera trap on the Hillbank road by the old rail bridge a couple of weeks ago (see 25 February post), I mentioned we'd seen jaguar tracks. Maybe they belonged to this animal who was photo-captured in a series of 3 photos on 22 February 2010 at 1:11 in the morning.

This sort of head on, or three-quarter view, type of photo can be very difficult to match with database photos. A full-on side shot is much better to try and make a definitive match. The distance from the camera and infra-red are not ideal here either. Still, if we get more photos of this animal in the future, there will be more we can learn about it. By the stocky build, I would guess it is a male. No telling though without more photos.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Female Great Curassow

We had a look at a couple of male curassows earlier, now here is the female. The Great Curassow (Crax rubra) is approximately turkey-sized. Unlike turkeys, however, the curassow is monogamous and has 2 chicks that both parents care for. The Ocellated Turkey often hatches a dozen or so chicks, not all of which survive, that the hen cares for solely.

The female Great Curassow is quite different from the male (see earlier post) being rufous, white and black with barring. There are two other color morphs, depending on location, in which the female has more black or rufous coloring respectively. Curassows are often seen along roadsides in the Gallon Jug Estate including Chan Chich Lodge. Again, this is a testament to the well enforced no-hunting practices on the property.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Another Great Bird

The Great Curassow (Crax rubra) is another heavily hunted species. It is found throughout Central and South America and is ranked "Near Threatened" (with recommendations to uplist to "Vulnerable") by IUCN, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, based in Switzerland. Being that this curassow is approximately turkey-sized and is often found on the ground, it evidently makes a good hunting target. The males (above) are handsomely marked in black, with white underparts. They have a low frequency booming call as well as a growling call which can be heard here.

The Great Curassow is frequently seen along roadsides in the Gallon Jug Estate. Depending on the time of year, it can be found in pairs and at other times, in rather large flocks. Sometimes it mingles with the Ocellated Turkeys. Its abundance on this property is a good testament to Gallon Jug Estate's protected status.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Puma on the prowl

This is a robust looking male puma (Puma concolor) on the Hillbank road where I've been running a camera trap near the lower escarpment. The location is about 5 km east of Gallon Jug farm and another approximately 10 km from Chan Chich Lodge. As I've mentioned before, it is difficult to tell individual pumas apart since their coat patterns aren't uniquely marked. Sometimes you can tell from scars or the amount of black on the tail tip. It is certainly possible, even likely, that this is the same male that was photo-captured at the Horse Trail intersection which is close to Gallon Jug Farm. Given that big cats, especially males, have big territories, it is entirely possible he visits Chan Chich Lodge from time to time.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Pumas or jaguars?

So do we have more pumas or jaguars here at Gallon Jug/Chan Chich? This is a question I've been asking myself recently. Pumas seem to be the most frequently photographed cat now, even more so than ocelots. And they seem to be photographed more frequently in low light situations that trigger the infra-red mode.

It would be easier to make a statement about puma numbers if individuals could be distinguished with any confidence, the way spotted cats can. My gut feeling is that the puma population has exploded, along with the white-tailed deer population in Gallon Jug near the farm.

White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) thrive in the edge areas, between the farm and the forest. Pumas specialize in hunting deer while jaguars are more specialized for peccary. White-tailed deer are visible any time of day or night in Gallon Jug and often along the road edges at Chan Chich. And as many readers can attest, they've become pests in many places in north America, with no pumas or other predators to reduce their numbers.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Road Crossing

A herd of white-lipped peccaries (Tayassu pecari) dashes across the trail near Chan Chich. I'm more accustomed to them hanging out in front of the camera for awhile (see earlier post on white-lips), checking things out. The caution shown here makes me wonder if they are concerned about a predator in the area. Possibly a jaguar, known to follow peccary herds?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Puma with botfly?

Finally, an image from MY camera, or at least the one Ben has loaned me. This is one (of three) images of a male puma, exiting the Horse Trail (so called because it is a popular riding route) near Gallon Jug farm. In the subsequent images, the puma takes a hard left and evidently continues on the Hillbank road.

When I get a new image, I scan it carefully to see what can be learned about the animal. In this case we have an adult male who looks, overall, to be in good condition. By zooming in, I can see that his left ear has a sore spot with some hair worn away -- I'm guessing it is likely a a botfly larva (Dermatobia hominis, aka "beefworm" in Belize). Pumas seem more prone to botfly infestation than jaguars. On the other hand, a botfly bump is probably more visible on the plain coat of the puma than a spotted cat.

Now you are wondering about botflies. If you have a strong stomach, check out details of its life history -- and extraction -- in this video.

Prepare to be grossed out!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Rainforest Song

Finally, before we go back to animals and camera traps, I want to share a song teachers Mike and Jill wrote for the Gallon Jug school kids. It is to be sung to the tune of "I've Been Working on the Railroad." The kids sang it at the memorial service last week. It is appropriate for Sir Barry too, who loved the rainforests of Gallon Jug Estate and Chan Chich Lodge.

Rainforest Song

I've been walking in the rainforest
All among the trees

I've been walking in the rainforest
Where I saw the bats and bees

Parrots, butterflies and toucans
Monkeys and hummingbirds galore

Frogs and snakes and spotted jaguars
On the rainforest floor!

I've been walking in the rainforest
All among the green

I've been walking in the rainforest
Where the plant life must be seen

Ferns and mosses and lianas
Orchids and honeysuckle too

Oh how special is the rainforest
A magic place come true!

(pictures added 2 April 2010)

Friday, March 5, 2010

A Tribute to GJCS Teachers Mike & Jill Casey

Gallon Jug Community School: Belize flag & US flag at half staff

When Michael Casey & Jillian Schuessler came to Gallon Jug in 2001, we never imagined they would stay for 9 years. That was about 15 years into our own sojourn in Belize. Belize is a paradise for the right sort of person. And some people just can't stick it out. Mike & Jill sort of happened into Belize, stumbled into it about the same way we did, never imagining they would build a life here as is the case for so many of us that end up staying long after that first trial year.

To be honest, we'd seen many people come and go. We watched as Mike & Jill jumped in with both feet at the Gallon Jug Community School, embracing the life, the community and the kids. They got graduate degrees, married, started a family, and changed lives, including ours. They brought a new energy and aim toward excellence with them. Jill & Mike had a gift of involving everyone in every corner of our little community. The school evolved and was soon transformed. It became clear that learning and education and community were passions for them and they weren't going to leave any time soon.

Unfortunately, as it turns out, they left us far too soon. A departure that leaves a tremendous hole in our little community. We will miss their commitment and dedication to learning, their place in our community, Mike's humor and warmth and Jill's steady good nature and kindness. And, their two young children, Makayla and Bryce, that we barely got to know. All killed in the 26 February plane crash that also took the life of the pilot, Sir Barry Bowen.

They are profoundly missed.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Sir Barry Bowen, a Personal Tribute

Lady (Dixie) Bowen & Sir Barry Bowen on "expedition" in Gallon Jug

Sir Barry invited Bruce and I to move to Gallon Jug from our tiny run down, rented house in Cayo in 1990. It seemed like an offer too good to be true for a pair of idealistic and poverty-stricken conservation biologists. We deliberated for awhile until circumstances beyond our control forced us to accept. Yes it's true -- we weren't too sure a move to Gallon Jug would be good for us.

It turned out to be a major turning point in our lives and careers. Anything we may have accomplished in Belize we owe entirely to Sir Barry and the secure home base he provided in Gallon Jug. He built a house for us in 1993 where we have lived ever since. This home and office was freely given ... and he never would accept even a Belize shilling from us in exchange.

Sir Barry shared with us a true commitment to conservation in Belize and a deep love for the Gallon Jug Estate. He loved birds and wildlife. That is not to imply we agreed all the time or even part of the time -- in fact we had many "spirited" discussions on the subject. We will miss those discussions and his excitement at sharing every new bird he'd seen with us. Sir Barry made all things possible for us and so many others. We miss him deeply.