Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Night Heron and The Green Iguana: A Dock-u-Drama

The images aren't the greatest, but the series is highly entertaining. Click here for musical accompaniment.

A juvenile night heron flew from the dock to the beach to check out a green iguana in the surf.
 The heron was startled when the iguana started walking.
 It flew over the iguana and
 onto the dock
where it would be safe as it watched the iguana.
 The iguana came closer and closer,
 finally disappearing under the dock.
 Unbeknownst to the heron, the iguana emerged on the other side of the dock
and just kept going.
The heron still searches, knowing the iguana is out there somewhere.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Up On The Roof

June has been a busy month for us.  Too bad our internet connection has been painfully slooooowwww or I would have blogged about what's been happening sooner.  It's still slow, but I can't wait any longer.  For now, I will go fix breakfast while these images are uploading.

One hour and ten minutes later ...

The first week of June brought us the first of the newly hatched iguanas from the nests on our property.  Not sure how many hatchings there were, but we saw at least 10 different individuals on our veranda.
Baby female (left) and male (right) iguanas cling to the screen on our veranda.  We are thrilled that the breeding was successful.
We also commenced on the second phase of the solar power installation.  Queue up the appropriate music by clicking here.  We have 13 (12 and a spare) big batteries for the battery bank.  Each battery weighs 315 lbs!
The crew slipped 3-piece bundles of threaded rod under the handles so they could carry the batteries up the stairs.
These stairs are 4 ft wide to make it easier to get cumbersome items up.
We had intentionally not installed the rails on these stairs so they could bring the batteries up unimpeded. 
At the top of the stairs we had a heavy duty dolly for the battery so we could roll it to the box.
Getting ready to place the first battery in the box.  
The box is specially designed by Dennis so that it is a Faraday Cage to protect the batteries from lightning strikes and lined on the bottom with an acid resistant fabric to soak up battery acid should there be a spill.  Several other safety features are incorporated, too.  He'll share the details in an upcoming blog.
Checking to make sure the batteries are in the right orientation.
Bring 3 batteries up, one at a time, take a break, repeat ...
Only two more to go.
The ProSolar crew cabled up the batteries and tied them in to the charge controllers.  Then our crew put the front on the battery bank box.  The lids come next.
 Meanwhile, up on the roof, the ProSolar crew mounts the 15 solar panels.
The panels are linked into five sets of three panels.
The output from the panels then goes to two charge controllers to charge up the battery bank (via the battery chargers in the inverter units).  DC output from the battery bank goes back to the inverters and then finally to the breaker box in the form of AC electricity.  All this (except the batteries themselves) takes place in the inverter room, which Dennis also designed with lots of safety features.
The inverter room with the charge controllers (smaller black units in the center) and the 2 inverters (the big units on the right).  The grey units (to the left) with blue lights are disconnect switches and surge protectors.
The solar panels are all on the south-facing roof of the new addition.  The pitch of the roof is such that the panels are angled directly toward the sun during the winter months.  This will help compensate for the shorter day length in winter. The angle of the sunlight is not optimal for summer, but the longer day length will offset that.  At least that is how we planned it, time will tell if it actually works out that way.  Theory vs actual.
And here are the 15 panels.  Note the lightning rods along the ridgeline and at the lower eave.  Cables are in the white flexible conduits leading to the inverter room below.
Can't you just feel those photons being absorbed by the solar panels in the image below?  And a good feeling it is, too.
View from the front.
And I will leave you now with a view from the Sunset Balcony.  Goodnight photons.  See you tomorrow.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Sticky Ball Update - New Approach(es)

Today's post is from Dennis - the much anticipated Sticky Ball Update!

At the end of roughly 1 month we had collected approximately 16,000 biting flies (yellow flies aka Doctor flies; black flies; and horse flies).  At the end of roughly 2 months, we had collected an additional 11,800 flies for a cumulative total of over 26,600 flies.  You read that correctly - twenty-six thousand six hundred!  At the end of 3 months, I quit counting.  Counting flies and renewing the glue was becoming a full-time occupation; I gave up research when I retired.  The science behind these traps has already been performed and the traps validated, and the studies replicated.  I was not generating new concepts and data by counting flies.  Tallying the captured flies was not hypothesis-driven.  (OK – science bit over – continue reading.)  My real goal was to renew the balls quickly and to try to minimize the biting fly populations by capturing additional flies.  
That's a whole lotta flies!  Time to refresh the sticky ball.
 So I have taken to using a 2 ½ inch wide putty knife and scraping the old less sticky glue off the balls with the attached flies, then reapplying a coat of Tacky Trap, re-inflating the balls if needed, and getting them back up quickly.  
Mostly Doctor Flies, but also some small, annoying flies.  They come right off with the putty knife.
I have had some balls capture over 1500 flies in a month period, and this takes about 2 hours per ball to remove and tally the flies, then re-glue and remount the balls outside.  When you have about 30 glue balls set out, it takes a lot of time to do this! When I scrape the balls, it takes maybe 15 minutes or so per ball, and I can have coffee in between balls if I wish.  I can get the balls back into action quickly, although I will run through Tacky-Trap more quickly.  Quote from Wilma "A sticky ball not hanging outside is a sticky ball not doing its job!"
Half-cleaned ball.  Note the color coordination.  ;-)
I did get some useful information from the tallying activity however.  I have identified 3 geographic “hot-spots” where we collect approximately 3 times as many flies than the average ball.  This finding is going to be used for a different collection approach that hopefully will be less time-consuming.  I re-contacted Dr. James Cilek, who did a great deal of the pioneering work in this area, and said I might try a different type of trap.  There are various types of fly traps you can search for online: Horse Pal; Nzi; Epps; French Box Trap). He provided copies of papers in which a two tier box-trap had been used successfully (for example see J. E. Cilek and M. A. Olson 2008. Effects of Carbon Dioxide, an Octenol/Phenol Mixture, and Their Combination on Tabanidae (Diptera) Collections from French 2-Tier Box Traps.  Journal of Medical Entomology Vol. 45  Issue 4: pages 638-642).  The trap involves a black ball hanging from a plywood box in which the biting flies are attracted to the black ball, travel upwards in the box and are collected ultimately in a two-liter soda bottle at the top.  No glue involved.  So I will be setting these up in the “hotspots” shortly.  We will still be keeping the glue balls, however, to deplete the population locally as much as we can.  Stay tuned for a report later in the season with results from the non-sticky traps.

But for now you may want to watch this Bette Midler performance on Youtube with the DeLago Family Trademark of "Balls" coming in at 3'40", although the whole thing is simple wonderful.  :-)

Friday, May 22, 2015

Sunset Balcony

A quick construction update here.  The screening for the veranda has been completed.  It joins up with the screened in portion of the old veranda and wraps around to the northeast corner of the addition.  Most of the north side of the covered veranda will remain without screen.  We like having a mixture of screened in and open areas.  What we call the "sunset balcony" on the upper level of the west side has been completed, too.  I am in happy anticipation of evening cocktails while sitting on the balcony and watching the sun set over the jungle. Salut!
The north side of addition.  The sea is on the left (to the east).  This shot was taken while they were putting up the rail on the sunset balcony. 
The sunset balcony has great views over the swamp around Black Creek and the adjacent jungle.  Before we venture up the stairs to the next images, queue up the appropriate music from the movie Vertigo by clicking here.

Stairs from the back veranda up to the balcony.
The footprint of the balcony is a roughly 10ft square with a tapered end off the north side of the square.
Looking toward the tapered end from the top of the stairs.
Looking toward the top of the stairs from the tapered end.
 The views are grand.
Looking south from the top of the stairs, you can see the older cabana with the shade cloth-covered pergola.  That 10-yr-old roof doesn't look too bad! 
View to the southwest across the swamp and Black Creek.
Those taller trees along the left horizon are the dense jungle through which the Monkey River runs.  The jungle is home to troops of Howler Monkeys that give Monkey River its name.  We can hear the monkeys howl during the still, pre-dawn hours.  It is a sound unlike any other.
The sunset balcony is 22 feet above the ground.  
15 steep steps from the balcony to the veranda and then another 16 not-as-steep steps from the veranda to the ground.
Do you think we need stair rails?

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Eggcellent Gulf Fritillary Butterfly

It's been windy and that makes it tough for butterflies - not to mention tough for butterfly photographers.  But the butterflies were out and so was I.  With Heart's "Dog and Butterfly" was playing in my head (click here to listen with me), I did my best to photograph this Gulf Fritillary butterfly as it flew and fluttered in the windblown vegetation.
The lovely Agraulis vanillae - Gulf Fritillary butterfly with its distinctive silver-spotted abdomen and orange wings with silver spots and black markings.
Very photogenic, so I obliged.
This may very well be the adult butterfly from the caterpillar that I showed a photo of a couple of weeks ago here.  In fact that rock below (really it's a piece of concrete from an old piling) is the same one pictured earlier.
It was fluttering around in a very suspicious manner.
Its flutterings made me think that it was in egg-laying mode, so I took more photos hoping for an action shot.
Not still for long, I got a blurry view of the underside as it hovered briefly before changing direction.
Off again to investigate some nearby plants.
She found something promising...
Getting ready.
and possibly deposited an egg.
Is that an egg? or an illusion?
Still on the chase, I followed her as she dropped onto a low plant.  Click on the photos for the big show.
I snapped away as she lingered on the leaf.
And there!  The abdomen makes contact with the leaf.
She remains in place a few seconds longer.
She moves back and it looks like there is a single yellow dot on the leaf.  Is it an egg?
Congratulations - you have an egg.
A single yellow egg in the middle of the leaf.  And just take a look at the leaf below the egg-bearing leaf. Sure looks caterpillar-eaten to me!  Someone was here earlier.
No dog, but an eggcellent butterfly.  I see a walk in my future to check on caterpillars ... 

Friday, May 8, 2015

Orchids and Ants - It's the time of the season to feel the love

It's that time again - the end of the dry season that has so many plants and birds around here focusing on procreation.  Is this the season the Zombies had in mind when they recorded "The Time Of The Season"?  Click here to listen while you read about these ant-loving Cow Horn Orchids.

(A little aside - our friend and former neighbor at SteppingStones, Chris Harris, went to school at St. Albans with members of the Zombies.  He knew Zombies before they were cool!)

For weeks I have been watching as the slender green inflorescent spikes on the orchids get longer and longer, almost like watching asparagus grow.  Nothing happens for ages and then suddenly, boom like that, there they are.
Impressive, no?  You might even say hard to miss.  But you would be surprised.
Most of these orchids, which are epiphytes, are way up high in the tree canopy and the clusters of blossoms can get lost in sheer mass of vegetation.
High overhead, the flowers are easy to pass under without noticing.  The flowers on the right are on a long stalk coming out of the dense green plant on the left.
You have to actually look for them at the right time of the season, then you wonder how you could have possibly overlooked them before.
I was using my zoom lens and also cropped the photo to get this image of the flower that was way over my head.  Look at the curlicue petals.  According to various references I consulted, the curly petals are what gives it the common name of cow horn. No, I don't see it either.  
I know of some plants that are closer to the ground and are amenable to ladder-less photography.  The flower stalks are overrun with ants!
Ants are on all the flowers; the dried ones, the fresh ones, the buds.  They get nectar from the green patches on the flowers.  
Myrmecophila, the genus of the orchid, means "ant lover" (myrmex is Greek for ant and phila is Greek for love).  Easy to see that the ants might love the orchid, after all they get sweet nectar from it.  But what do the orchids love about the ants?
The big(ger) picture - This is a small portion of a huge mass of orchids behind our generator shed.  The flower stalks are so long that they are out of the frame.  What I want you to see are the cylindrical pseudobulbs from which the leaves emerge.  They are the key to the ant/orchid relationship.
The ants live in the hollow pseudobulbs.  They pack the pseudobulbs with all kinds of stuff - dead ants and other insects, dirt and sand, plant debris and seeds.  I bet there is ant poo in there, too.  In other words, they provide and deliver a sort of soil to the orchids up high in the tree branches.  They deserve their love.

Whose your daddy?

You can read more about Cow Horn Orchids and see a few photos of other orchids here and here.