Sunday, November 9, 2014

Paradise Indeed

Since getting that giant mess that washed ashore cleaned up, we have had some lovely weather showcasing the natural beauty of Englishtown, Belize.  The photos that follow were all taken in the last 3 days as we strolled along the beach and around our property.
Hermit Crab posing nicely for me.
In fact it was so still thought it might be dead!  But it skittered off a few minutes later.  These guys can move fast!
 We have a fair number of hermit crabs around here and a paucity of shells for them.  I have seen quite a few using small bottles, bottle caps, and even the cap to a marking pen as homes.  I recently found an article describing hermit crab behavior under conditions of shell paucity upon the sudden availability of a new empty shell that was larger than most of the crabs could use.  The crabs queued up in order of size, and once a large crab arrived that could use the new shell, the others would then all advance one shell size.  That was actually here in Belize and the article is here.  Very interesting - you should check it out and be sure watch the video!

A male hooded warbler has been keeping us entertained.  It hangs out around the cabana near the hibiscus shrubs and also in the space just under the cabana near where the water vats are located.  I have seen it perched on the handle of a wheelbarrow and on a flower pot.  Great fun to watch.
Tweety Bird pose.
Watching me watching him.
 The mountains of Honduras to our southeast were unusually visible yesterday.  Usually it is too hazy to see them, but the air was quite clear. 
Mountains of Honduras visible behind Little Monkey Cay.  If you look closely, you can see birds flying in to roost at Little Monkey Cay.  The cay is host to pelicans, magnificent frigate birds, great egrets, white ibises, and other birds.  This is the view from our dock.
 The nearly full moon was a glorious orange color as it rose last night.
It had just cleared the water at the horizon when I took this shot.
 I had been reading about the "staircase to the moon" that Broome, Australia is famous for and decided to see if I could get a staircase here.  I think this almost as good as what the Broome Visitor Centre shows on their website.  Take a look. 
Belize Stairway to the Moon.
 The sea stayed flat all night long and we awoke this morning to a mirror sea surface.
Look at the reflection of the sun peeking under the dock.  I love days that start like this.
I noticed the Tiger Heron out on the dock soon after I took the dawn photos.
All hunkered down.
As I got closer to it, it straightened up and then flew down the beach.  It has wandered up and down the beach several times today and we can hear it even now.
"Don't get too close, now!"
 I noticed its footprints in the sand and saw that something had left a little present for us.
More crap on the beach - literally!
And as I turned to walk back to the cabana, there was the moon again, beginning to set just over the new addition.

A great start to another day in paradise.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Relentless

It started during the early morning hours of October 7th, although I was not awake to see the beginning.   
Rafts of Sargassum drifting in to shore.
More Sargassum seaweed (see my previous post, here) washing up.  But this time it was different - it was full of trash. 
It doesn't look like it amounts to much, except that it just keeps coming.
Hour after hour it accumulated on the shore in overwhelming amounts.
The view of our dock from the veranda.
 It just kept coming ...
The view of the south beach from the dock.
And the north beach.
I could hardly bear to take these photos, but I felt like I should document what was happening.
Floating plastic crap mixed in with Sargassum.
 It was physically gut-wrenching to me to see this.
So much crap.
Sticks and logs were mixed in with the Sargassum and the trash.
The accumulation was several feet deep, 10 or more feet wide and extended as far as the eye could see.
 I learned later that similar amounts were washing up in Punta Gorda, 30 miles to our south, and along the entire Placencia peninsula, 15 miles to our north.  It may have been along the entire coastline of Belize.
These large logs probably washed out of Honduran and Guatemalan Rivers with the floods of the rainy season.  That is probably where the trash came from as well.
An amazing number of logs (called "sticks" locally) washed up just to our north. 
One place in particular seemed to collect plastic.  This looks like a landfill.  
It is almost impossible for me to comprehend the magnitude of this mess.
 It is no exaggeration to say that the accumulation is several feet deep.

And still floating in the water is more Sargassum with small bits of styrofoam and other plastic.
 New accumulations more or less stopped by Oct. 10th, when the next photos below were taken.
The first Sargassum to wash up has dried out and turned dark brown.
We have had 3 people working 6 hours a day to get the mess moved off the beach.
Allen, Matthew, and Lloydie worked steadily using wheelbarrows, pitchforks, and rakes to clear the beach.  
 For almost 2 weeks, the 3 guys worked 6 hours, 6 days a week.  They were able to cut back a little and get back to construction for a few hours a day after that. 
Some of the Sargassum and trash washed back out to sea.
Only to be washed back ashore.
Gradually, they made headway against the overwhelming mass and we could begin to a beach again.
By October 11, the sheer bulk had been dramatically reduced.
 Uncountable wheelbarrow loads were massed in shallow pile on our south lot.
We kept the pile shallow so that the Sargassum could dry out.  The center of the pile had originally been about 3 feet deep and is only a foot or so deep now that the Sargassum has dried.
We will rake through and pull out the largest plastic things like shoes and bottles to bag up and take to the landfill.  But the remainder of little bits of plastic and styrofoam mixed in with Sargassum we will burn on site and then take the resulting plastic slag to the landfill.

Meanwhile, the beach just north of us is still covered with trash. 
This is a spot north of our property where more plastic accumulated than Sargassum.
Lots of little tiny crocs for toddlers in the mix.
To our south, we see little styrofoam bits washing back out into the water from their temporary stranding among mangrove roots.  This, of course, then accumulates on our beach.
 Eventually we will extend our cleanup efforts to the beach to our north.
Our beach, at the left edge of the photo, is pretty clean now, but the north is still trash-covered.
Some of the larger items that will get taken to the landfill.
 It is now to the point where we can walk north on the beach at low tide.  At high tide we have to pick our way through the trash.
Still not pretty.
 One neat thing that washed up is pumice.
Pumice is a volcanic rock that is so filled with minute air-bubbles that it floats.  We think this washes out from the Guatemalan Rivers and originated, perhaps centuries ago, from volcanoes in Guatemala.
Lots of pumice washed up ranging in size from these small pieces (some no larger than cough drop) to football-sized chunks.
The last shots show how our place looks now, 4 weeks after the influx.  We still have trash washing up, but it is manageable.  I can look out at the beach and feel happy rather than sick to my stomach, due almost entirely to the efforts of Allen, Matthew, and Lloydie.
Only 1 errant bottle in sight! 
Once again, the sand calls to us to walk barefoot along the beach.
This is how we like it.
There is still lots of work to do - sorting through the big pile and getting it burned.  Hauling the plastic and slag to the landfill (first by boat to get to our car and then to the landfill), cleaning up to the north and south of our property and staying on top of what washes in from farther away. But it seems feasible and the overwhelming despair is gone.  I've even been swimming again.  Paradise regained.




Thursday, October 30, 2014

Two Birds - Large and Small , Slow and Fast

Last evening, we saw a tiger heron on our south lot.  There was not enough light left for photos, but I spent a long time watching it hunt for crabs in the deepening dusk.  What a bird!  It moved in slow motion as it eased up on its prey, first shifting its weight to its front foot, then slowly lifting the back foot, bringing it forward, and setting it down ever so gently.  Then it lowers its head forward with its neck extended.  Still not moving its feet again, it retracted its head a bit and then slowly wagged its now prominent chest from side to side - almost like a horizontal metronome before resuming its slow forward progress.  I saw it go through this stalking series several times, but before it caught dinner, I had to retreat back into the cabana as the evening mosquitoes feasted on me for their dinner .  :-(.

This morning, though, we did see it catch a shore crab and knock it senseless before swallowing it.  And, although the morning was quite cloudy, I did get some shots.  The following are all cropped pretty heavily (because I don't have a long lens yet!), but not too bad given the circumstances.
A juvenile Bare-throated Tiger Heron, Tigrisoma mexicanum.
Bare-throated tiger herons are year round residents of Belize.  They tend to stay pretty local without any seasonal changes in territory.  Their species range is coastal along the Pacific Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean Sea over most of Mexico, all of Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and El Salvador, and most of Panama. Tiger herons tend to be solitary; I know we have only ever seen one at a time.
"Anybody home?"
"You in there?"
Not finding any crabs in their holes, it wandered under a Noni tree toward the back of the property where the Mangrove swamp is.
Tiger herons will perch in trees - I have seen them in the Noni trees before.
On its way to the mangrove swamp, where Tiger Herons love to hang out and nest, it had a little fluff up, as seen in the series below.
The striking black and gold stripes are much more pronounced on juveniles like this one.  Adults have a more finely streaked back and wings that are a duller brown color and they have a black cap.  This is one case where the juveniles are more colorful than the adults.
After watching the tiger heron, I went to check on the American redstart that hangs out in the small orange tree.  To my surprise, in addition to the redstart, there was another warbler that I did not recognize.  It took no notice of me as I snapped away at it; it was focused on catching its breakfast while I was attempting to focus on it.  It moved around very quickly, in stark contrast to the slow-motion tiger heron.  As it foraged on the insects in the sparse grass, it hopped closer and closer to me.  A very pretty little bird that Dennis identified as a female Magnolia Warbler.
Female Magnolia Warbler.
 She hopped around, very actively feeding on little insects.
White spot on tail, streaked yellow breast, white eye ring, grey head, white wing bars on dark wings, olive upper back.
And don't forget the white underwing pits and yellow rump!
 She pranced and danced and fluttered around, showing off her good side - and they are all good sides!
Lovely little bird that spends its winters here in Belize as well as a large part of Central America in general.
A fun morning of bird watching with the continued sounds of construction in the background.