Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Morning After

After a violent night of hurricane force winds and lashing rain thanks to Hurricane Richard, Monday morning dawned clear and cool. We climbed over and crawled under the obstacle course of downed trees in our driveway and set out to see whether Gallon Jug was still in one piece. We were greeted by this rainbow that formed a perfect and complete arc across Gallon Jug. Unfortunately, I couldn't photograph the whole arch, but it was beautiful nonetheless.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Hurricane Richard

We survived! The map above shows Gallon Jug in relation to a fast-moving late season hurricane that barreled across Belize (time above is minus 6 hours).

Hurricane Richard's storm force winds hit Gallon Jug about 9PM, escalated and we huddled in the bathroom -- in the center of the house, with no windows. Now I completely understand the term: "howling" wind. The house bucked and rocked, vibrated and trembled badly as the hurricane force winds struck and lasted until after midnight. Wind and water was driven through windows and under doors. It seemed that our wooden house would blow apart, but it held. We felt safe enough to leave the bathroom sometime after 1AM when the winds began to slow.

We got hammered exposed way up there on a hill, but all things considered, we were incredibly lucky. And not really much rain, despite dire predictions. A beautiful morning dawned, complete with a rainbow. Our driveway is totally blocked but we were able to climb over the downed vegetation and take a walk. No loss of life or injuries -- even the horses, cattle, deer and Ocellated Turkeys appear to have survived.

Our hill looks like it had a hair-cut and we lost a lot of trees but it could have been far far worse, we consider ourselves very lucky! We talked to other Gallon Juggernauts and fortunately, everyone is ok. We understand Chan Chich and Sylvester Village are ok too. Now it's clean up time.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Casey Community School

I thought you might enjoy a photo of a class at the Casey Community School, here in Gallon Jug. Bruce and I were asked to give a presentation on how we use data in our work as biologists. The students are studying the use of graphs and data in everyday lives. Here you see the students hard at work taking notes while Bruce explains the slide projected on the wall (no screen!).

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Scarlet Milkweed

Many of you in climates farther north have already witnessed this phenomenon: a milkweed going to seed. Yesterday we came across this beautiful Asclepias curassavica just before a breeze caught the seeds in their tiny parchutes. Like the North American milkweed, the tropical species particularly appeals to Monarch butterflies. It's a common sight in the open areas around the Gallon Jug farm. I understand it is often cultivated for butterfly gardens, and it is easy to see why as it is vivid and attractive.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Army ants!

In the event you haven't seen army ants (Genus most likely Eciton) in action, prepare to be amazed! They are quite readily found in the forests around Chan Chich Lodge and Gallon Jug Estate. We came across this massive swarm on the move and completely covering the trail. So much so that we decided to turn back rather than risk painful bites. Army ants don't maintain a permanent nest -- they are constantly on the move and there are more than 200 species of them, throughout both the New and Old World tropics. The swarming behavior is one form of foraging for the small invertebrates that comprise their diet.

I've uploaded this 9-second video twice so you can get an idea of how impressive this massive swarm was. However, I'm having trouble playing it back ... but that could just be me because of our slow connect time. Maybe it's fine?? I'm posting a still photo below, in the event that others have problems with the video as well -- although I must say, the video is a lot more impressive!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A New Meaning to Creepy Crawly

Just below Bruce's little finger is one of the largest wasps to be found: a tarantula hawk (Genus: Pepsis). This is an amazing creature that stings, captures and drags tarantula spiders off to its "lair," aka specially prepared nest.

What happens next, you won't believe. The wasp lays its egg on the spider. The hatched larva feeds on the living spider -- saving the spider's vital organs for last in order to keep it alive longer -- before emerging from the nest as an adult. Tarantulas are not small spiders -- they are about the size of the palm of your hand. Check out the wasp above -- it's fully a couple inches long!

There are many species of tarantula hawk throughout the USA and into South America. We've encountered them frequently in and around Chan Chich Lodge/Gallon Jug Estate. It's only recently that I learned that its sting is rated as one of the most painful of any insect, apparently excruciating.

Not to worry. Fortunately, the tarantula hawk shows little interest in humans and we've never heard of any one being stung by one of these amazing, if somewhat creepy, creatures.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Goodby Ben & Amanda

Sadly, we've recently learned that managers Ben & Amanda, will be leaving Chan Chich Lodge and returning to the USA to pursue other endeavors. They will be missed in our community and by the many guests that have come to know them over the past 4 years. This beautiful Gallon Jug sunset seems an appropriate way to say goodby to dear friends, and we wish them the very best.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Foggy Peccary

So it must have been a rainy and humid day, given the fogginess of this image, taken in July near Chan Chich Lodge. But, I hope you'll make allowances since I'm sharing a new species with you ... a collared peccary(Pecari tajacu) . Belize has 2 peccary species, the other being the "warrie" or white-lipped peccary that I've written about before.

Even though the collared peccary is the more common of the two and quite frequently seen, for some reason, it hasn't been photographed recently. Since it can inhabit all sorts of habitats, that is a little surprising. This species is found in the southwest USA continuing south to Argentina. Its pig-like snout is adapted for rooting around on the ground for roots, tubers and even invertebrates and small vertebrates that make up its diet. Found singly, or in groups of up to 20, this is another important member of the biodiversity near Chan Chich Lodge.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Chan Chich Agouti

Here's a fairly nice photo of an agouti (Dasyprocta punctata), a large and common rodent that I've written about before (see 16 February 2010). In terms of its ecology, the agouti is territorial and terrestrial, although it does like being near water. Chan Chich creek meanders only 100 or so meters from this camera location, so this agouti should feel right at home. Agoutis seem to run on tiptoes and are capable of fairly high jumps straight up when startled.

This is a July photo at Chan Chich Lodge, early in the morning, so the infra-red flash gave us a black-and-white image. There were quite a few images in this series, of which this was clearly the best. I've found that the image quality really goes down during the hot summer months -- when the temperatures and humidity are really high. It'll be interesting to see whether, come January, the image quality improves.