Friday, May 28, 2010

A Real Spectacle

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


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.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A New Bird for Me

After nearly 24 years in Belize, we can boast that we've seen a majority of the birds listed for the country. Still, there are the persistent few that are shy, rare, evasive or accidental that have so far eluded us. The Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus) is just such a bird. It appears on the Belize country list as "transient," meaning it doesn't over-winter here, just passes through. I've leafed through the field guides, wondering what combination of luck and skill is needed to encounter this species. So when it dropped in at our driveway a couple days ago, imagine our surprise.

These photos were taken after removing a screen from the bedroom window and aiming my little pocket camera in the general proximity of the cuckoo. At max digital zoom, the resulting photos are admittedly soft. Still, the field marks are apparent: the trademark yellow bill, the long graduated cuckoo tail with black and white underside pattern, and the rufous on the wing.

Bound for its breeding grounds in North America, this bird is evidently enjoying a little R&R as we've seen it over 4 days now. Other northward bound migrant species that we saw on a daily basis are: Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris), Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus), Orchard Oriole (Icterus spurius), and an assortment of warblers. A weather front has pushed them onward and they are gone until next autumn.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Another Male Jaguar

Here's a new sequence of 5 images from Ben's very prolific Bajo Trail camera near Chan Chich Lodge. The first 3 are within seconds of each other beginning at 11:03PM on the 14th of April. The last two frames are somewhat later, at 11:19PM. It's likely this is the same individual, a male, who laid down for a moment, got up and then came back past the camera.

Night time shots like these are tough to match with my database jaguars. I can say for sure that it is definitely not Prowler, who visited this camera a couple months ago (see posts for 12/11/09 and 2/23/10). And it is not Curious Jorge who gave us the nice sequence checking out the camera "up close and personal" (see post for 01/05/10). There are a couple of other similarly blurred night time photos of jaguars from this area, but until we get a clear shot, it will be impossible to make a match.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Bats, Caves and Politics

I've mentioned before that my husband Bruce studies bats and that we were recently in the Mountain Pine Ridge in southern Belize for field work. The great thing about this area is the numerous caves that are home to many species of bats. Up in the Gallon Jug area, there is little karst topography and thus little in the way of caves.

The photo above gives a fair idea of a bat cave in southern Belize, showing the bats exiting at dusk. Some caves of course, have far bigger openings making them more accessible to "cave tourism," a type of rapidly growing adventure tourism in Belize. They also may have interesting formations, chambers and Maya artifacts, making them of particular interest to cavers or adventure tourists.

This isn't so great for bats. Many cannot tolerate the disturbance (imagine headlights, flashlights etc.) or changes to the delicate balance of the cave's humidity that a group of humans bring. To say nothing of an appalling first hand story we had from a friend. He entered a cave with a small tour group ... and the guide promptly set off firecrackers to make the bats fly!

Luckily, to survey bats, we don't need to enter the caves. Technology to the rescue. Bruce has pioneered the use of acoustic recording to survey the bats as they enter or exit the cave. All that's needed is a special recording unit and microphone strategically placed outside the cave to "capture" their echolocation calls.

While we appreciate that caving tourism is popular and an important form of revenue for many tourist lodges in Belize and elsewhere, we'd like to see a cave policy where caves critical to bat colonies are left undisturbed. With so many private sector interests, as well as government ministries involved, unfortunately for the bats, that won't happen any time soon.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Another New Jaguar

As if one new jaguar wasn't enough, much earlier that same morning, the morning of April 7, this jaguar passed by. And that very afternoon, the stub-tailed puma. Same camera, same location, the Peterson Creek intersection on the Gallon Jug Estate. Interesting that the 3 big cats were using this same spot separated only by hours.

While it is always great to photo-capture a jaguar, unfortunately the image here is not a "flat profile." That makes it a bit more difficult, if not impossible, to say whether this animal has been previously recorded in the database. The image above is the clearest of the lot -- the others are quite blurred -- and is one of 6 taken. The heavy stocky build makes me believe it is likely a male and from what I can tell, more than likely a new addition to the database.