Friday, April 30, 2010

In the Pink

With great pleasure, I would like to present a new jaguar! This individual -- whom I believe to be female -- was recorded on the Gallon Jug Estate's Peterson Creek road on April 7 at 9:33 AM. This animal does not match any previously photo-captured in the database. There were just these two frames, and very nice frames they were.

Actually, they would have been awesome, had the normal color appeared. I had to doctor the images to remove a disconcerting pink cast. Evidently the infra-red did not switch over to the regular day time color. I have several pink turkeys recorded as well. We've emailed the camera company to see what they recommend to correct this. Nothing like being forced to view the world through rose-colored glasses ... !

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Birth of a Bat

In the course of field work last week, we had a most strange and wondrous experience. We'd gone south, to Belize's Mountain Pine Ridge, doing a bat survey which involved using harp traps as well as acoustic recording. As the name implies, the harp trap has "strings" suspended on a frame, and depending on placement, the bat flies into the strings and tumbles gently into a canvas holding bag. Bruce retrieves the bat, records the pertinent data and releases it, unharmed.

On this day, a nectar feeding bat, Hylonycteris underwoodi, gave birth in his hand! No sooner had he pulled her from the soft cotton holding bag, just like that, her baby popped out. It was total surprise to all of us. You can see it in the photo above, a wet little package that the mother is holding with her feet.

Given the unexpected birth, we wondered whether to put the pair in a warm, dark place to "bond" or what exactly was the best post natal care to offer. As it turned out, the mother bat knew just what to do and wasted no time going about it. She hiked the baby up to her breast with a foot and launched, disappearing into the forest, heading for home.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Deer from Hell

My little dog and I set out for our evening walk and came across this pair, probably the same twins from my previous post. I'm sure mama deer wasn't far and they craned their necks at us as we passed by, not even bothering to go into the bush. My little dog seems always to attract the interest of other animals. For her part, she doesn't like deer and makes very sure that I am between them and her.

That would be because she remembers being attacked by just such a mama deer, with twins, in the very same location some years ago. There we were, minding our own business, walking down the hill as we do every evening. I'd seen the newborn twins ahead --- aww, so cute!-- and given them a minute or so to disappear into the bush before proceeding. The dog appeared to not even notice them. I'd thought the coast was clear.

To our utter amazement, mama deer came barreling out of the bush, bleating furiously. She straddled my small dog and began stomping her feet in an angry tattoo, evidently trying to crush my horrified pup. Shock and awe doesn't even begin to describe my reaction. Hey, we were totally minding our own business!

I rushed to the rescue, somehow snatching the dog from the hooves of doom. Mama deer did not give up. She continued to rush at us, still bleating -- I'd had no idea deer could make sounds like that -- with slobbery foam flying off her muzzle. She'd literally worked herself into a lather. We beat a retreat back up the hill to the safety of the house. She'd back into the bush momentarily, only to come flying out at us wild-eyed with renewed fury. She was the Deer from Hell.

Luckily we were physically unscathed, but emotionally? To this day, our small dog gives deer of any size, a very wide berth.

Friday, April 23, 2010

A Belizean "Bobcat"

In all my years of camera trapping, I have never seen anything like this: a Belizean "bobcat!" Of course we don't really have bobcats in Belize, but you can hardly blame me for doing a double take when I examined these photos. The image above is actually (a crop of) one of three frames taken of a male puma (Puma concolor) missing the majority of his tail. What happened to the poor guy???

We'll never know, but I imagine he is somewhat handicapped. Pumas are swift runners that chase down their prey -- the long tail acts as a sort of rudder to balance them on tight turns. That said, this fellow looks as though he is in pretty good shape and actually appears to have a full belly.

This image was taken on the 7 April about 3PM on the Punta de Cacao Road, about 10 km from the Gallon Jug Farm. Recalling earlier comments about it being hard to distinguish pumas from one another, this fellow certainly stands alone!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Nosy Bat Indeed

In my last post, I explained how the long-nosed bats are found along waterways. That is certainly the case ... and you must be wondering what they are doing in the photo above. Yes, a harem of long-nosed bats has chosen the inside of the umbrella on the floating deck at Laguna Seca as their roost site! You can see them here, roosting in their characteristic head down position, their wings at a 45-degree angle.

You can also see their little noses angled up, the source of their scientific name, Rhychonycteris naso, a combination of the Greek words "rhynchos" and "nykteris" meaning "nose" or "snout" and "bat." The species name, "nasus," also refers to the nose, clearly a defining characteristic of these little creatures.

While these long-nosed bats are hardly cryptic (that is, blending in) with their surroundings, you've got to admit, they've chosen a well protected spot to roost!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A "Day Time" Bat

While most people tend to think of bats as being strictly nocturnal -- and they would be right -- there is a chance to see a very cute little bat during the daylight hours. You'd have to be strolling along a quiet river or slow-moving creek -- Chan Chich Creek is perfect -- and watch for what appears to be a group of moths taking wing ahead of you, fluttering along the water course.

That would be a family group of long-nosed bats (Rhynchonycteris naso; pictured above). They prefer roosting on the undersides of an overhanging branch or rock formations lining river banks. These family groups are in reality harems with one male and several females that can number up to 11 individuals. This is another tiny bat, weighing about the same as a US 5-cent coin. Given its size, it is understandable that its food preferences are likewise minuscule and include midges, mosquitoes, caddis flies, and tiny beetles.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Oh my Deer

White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) aren't anything new to many readers, especially where they've reached nearly plague proportions in some parts of the American suburbs. We've seen them become very common here in Gallon Jug, near the farm and in the pastures. In my backyard too, where these photos were taken. It seems to me that we've had similar population growth of pumas that prey on them near the farm as well.

The twins poked their noses out at me with curiosity while mama deer stalked back and forth in front of them. Perhaps she was waiting to see what I would do or maybe encouraging them to stay hidden or trying to block them from my view. We have a small pond in our yard where she likes to drink. They are regular visitors now that it is so dry.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A Bit About Bats

Cute and Fuzzy: Myotis elegans bat

Why study bats? It's a question my husband Bruce addresses from time to time since bats are his specialty. And let's be honest, there's a big yuck factor for many people regarding bats. But bats are actually cute and fuzzy.


Ok, some of them are a bit bizarre-looking. But you must admit the little myotis (above) is a pretty appealing little animal. And "little" it is, at less than 4 grams in weight. That's less than a single US 5-cent coin.

Since bats are nocturnal, they can be hard to study. But they are still important. Bats provide valuable "ecosystem services" such as:
  • critical pollinators of many tropical plants
  • seed dispersers that recolonize cleared areas
  • insect population control
Bats are also indicators of habitat quality and habitat stability due to long life spans. Not only that, they comprise more than 50% of terrestrial mammal species in the New World tropics. Reason enough to give them their due.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Tiny Parachute

As I've mentioned it is now officially dry season (aka "spring") in Belize. Other than a few short, isolated showers, our weather has turned hot and sunny. In a normal year, it'll stay like that until June. That means many plants and trees are fruiting or flowering. This delicate wind dispersed seed ended up perched upside down on a rock. The feathery "pappus" functions like a tiny parachute, with luck carrying the seed to a fertile destination.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Lots of Ocelots

From a photographic perspective, it's a shame ocelots (Leopardus pardalis) are so nocturnal. Since they are active at night, it means the remote camera kicks over to infra-red so they appear in black-and-white. That doesn't do justice to its lovely buffy-golden color. In the hundreds of ocelot images taken over many years of camera trapping, I think I have had "day time" ocelots only on three occasions.

The images above were taken over two nights in March on the far Punta de Cacao road, about 15 km east of the farm on the Gallon Jug Estate property. It is a densely forested area seldom visited by people, only because it is not accessible most times of the year due to muddy conditions or treefall.

Besides a spotted pattern, ocelots also feature distinctive striping on the shoulders. In this sequence one individual is fairly distinctive due to the stripe on its left side. Watch the sequence carefully for the frame of two ocelots together.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

A Troop of Spiders

Ok ok, I'm aware there are better monkey pictures out there -- a LOT better. But bear with me since this was such a great opportunity to get any sort of photograph at all. Usually monkeys are high in the treetops and often shaded by vegetation. This tends to make them dark blobs in photos unless you have an excellent flash or zoom or other feature that I clearly don't have on my tiny pocket camera.

So we were walking on the far Punta de Cacao road on the Gallon Jug Estate after checking the remote camera, as a matter of fact. Gorgeous sunny morning and these monkeys got all excited when we passed by. Or more accurately, I think it was when our small white dog (previously of interest to tayras, see 2 February 2010 post) trotted by. Said small dog is generally blase with wildlife which she mostly takes in stride. That said, monkeys get her all excited. From her vast height of 13" she gazes into the treetops 60-80' overhead and woofs at them.

The monkeys normally respond by shaking branches, jumping up and down and throwing things. Sometimes they urinate or defecate with uncanny accuracy. Our cue to keep moving.

The photo above features part of a fairly large troop of spider monkeys (Ateles geoffroyi), about 8 individuals with at least 3 mamas with clinging babies. They gave us quite a show up away up there in the treetops with their entertaining antics, a photo op I couldn't resist.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

What Did She See?

Another nice jaguar sequence from Ben at Chan Chich, not far from the Lodge! It's an early morning sequence, 4:22 on 4 March 2010. This female jaguar regards the camera -- she's clearly aware of it -- then sees or hears something that causes her leave. Interesting. Makes you wonder what exactly it was. At that hour, unlikely a human. Another jaguar?

A comparison with my jaguar database photos reveals no matches. This is definitely not "Kitty Carlisle" who was appearing in Ben's cameras regularly a month or so ago. Often female jaguars that have overlapping territories are related, perhaps mother-daughter. But unless we had some way to collect hair or scat for genotyping, that is something we'll never know about these two!

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Orchid Tree

What a gorgeous tree this was! We found it near the Hillbank Field Station. It has intense color, large showy blossoms and a lovely fragrance. The flowers were well overhead so this photo was the best I could manage lacking a ladder. A friend in Corozal tells me it appears to be an orchid tree and she's been trying, without success, to get seeds to start one. Based on this clue to the common name, it appears to be a Bauhinia species, in the Fabacea family, tropical in distribution. Conceivably this could be an Asian ornamental that found its way to Belize, possibly B. blakeana or B. purpurea. I wish it would find its way to our backyard!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

One Resource, Two Birds

While at Hillbank Field Station, of course we explored the trails. The Aguada Trail begins near the main field station complex. "Aguada" is basically a water collection reservoir built by the ancient Maya. Sure enough, this small aguada was still doing its part to provide a small water resource during the dry season. Clearly it is shrinking though and will probably disappear in another month, awaiting the rains of June to refill it. In the meantime, two bird species are hunting and foraging in this image: the Green Heron (Butorides virescens) a small mostly solitary heron of Central and North America, and the Gray-necked Wood-Rail (Aramides cajanea), a subtropical species.