Sunday, October 16, 2016

Dawn Rainbows

I know, I know -you're thinking "Not more rainbow and sunrise photos!"  But I think these are really special.  I glimpsed this most magnificent rainbow through the bathroom window while groggily brushing my teeth.  Grabbed the camera and ran up to the sunset balcony to try to get some shots. Then turned around and saw the sun newly risen above the sea and peeking through the rain clouds. The show was over in less than 3 minutes.
Never seen pink rain falling from a rainbow before.
Golden sunrise.
These shots are not enhanced - just cropped a little and darkened a bit to compensate for over-exposure.  I was still half-asleep and didn't even have my glasses on yet; yea for autofocus!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Groove Me, Ani

It's all groovy here in Englishtown, and some days are groovier than others, such as when the Groove-Billed Ani pays us a visit and stays for a photoshoot.  (Listen to the groove of Etta James by clicking here.)  The Groove-billed Ani is an easily overlooked medium sized black bird.  It is surprisingly snazzy when you catch it in good light.
Groove-Billed Ani - Crotophaga sulcirpstris.  The short fluffy feathers on its head are rather mane-like.  Take a look at the iridescent gold-green edges of the feathers on its shoulders.  
It was making some rather sweet sounds, which is what caught my attention at first, because it sounded different from the Great-Tailed Grackles with whom it was keeping company.  The grackles are very vocal, verging on raucous.
Great-Tailed Grackle - Quiscalus mexicanus.  This female emerged from inside the canopy of the tamarind long enough for me to get some good shots.  Their eyes are a startling yellow. 
Other excitement, at least for Barnie, was Joy cleaning fish out on the dock.  Barnie was beside herself, just waiting for fish guts and trimmings.  I am amazed that she didn't jump up on the dock, but she managed to behave.
Waiting for an escapee.
The dawns continue to be beautiful.  The sun rises so quickly, I have to be on the ball to catch these images.  No time for do-overs!  Until tomorrow, that is.
White ibises (Eudocimus albus), flying north from their roost on Little Monkey Cay.  5:58am.
A lone Great Egret (Ardea alba), also heading north from Little Monkey Cay. 6:01am.
Homo sapiens, heading south. 6:05am.
We have a little construction project going on.  I call it the upside-down roof.  We are putting a roof under the decking of the sunset balcony.  Too much rainwater was winding on the ground under the cabana, and that is space that we use for an outdoor workshop and storage area.  Our hope is that this will keep the rain out of the area.  The new roof will have gutters, so we can direct the water into collection vats.  I will post more as it progresses, but here is a shot of today's work.

The underside of the sunset balcony. The balcony tapers at the north end.  The crew have put up some of the boards that the roofing metal (aka "zinc") will be screwed into from the the underside.
The light colored horizontal piece is a metal flashing that is secured behind the ledger board of the balcony.  We have one small section remaining to install.  It has to have a hole cut out of it for the whitePVC vent pipe on the right to go through.  The rafter and some lapboard equivalents are already screwed into place on the tapered section. It will be literally (in the true sense of the word) groovy when finished!

Friday, September 30, 2016

Falling On My Head Like A New Emotion

We could see it coming ...
6:30am - here comes the rain again.
6:54am - falling on my head like a memory.
7:00am - falling on my head like a new emotion.
7:00am - Rain over Black Creek to our west.
Blue-grey tanager getting wet in the tamarind tree.
7:06 - sun shining down on the eastern horizon.
7:27am - rainbow beyond Black Creek.
7:28am - A flock of white ibises flies across the rainbow.
Tamarind flowers in the rain.
Young pods mixed in with the flowers.
The flowers are orchid-like in appearance, but they are legumes related to peas and beans - as you might guess based on the seedpods.
The series of photos above was taken in the space of an hour during which a quarter of an inch of rain fell.  The day is now bright, sunny, and fresh with a light breeze.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

September Stormy Nights Bring Calm, Glorious Days

Averaging more than 20 inches of rainfall, September is consistently one of the wettest months here in southern Belize, and this September is no exception.  Sounds miserable, doesn't it?  But it's not.  In fact it is fabulous - just look at this dramatic dawn sky.
We woke to this after a night of thunderstorms.
The nights are rainy, even stormy, and the days are calm and mostly sunny. The thunderstorms have been very intense and exciting during the night as we lie in bed surrounded by 8 (curtainless) windows and 2 glass doors of our cabana suite.  I am so glad we designed the cabana with 10 foot-deep covered veranda on all sides, or we would never get any sleep!

The view from front balcony is very moody and changes with the weather.  I have another post planned showing colors of the sea and sky.  The image below was taken at noon the same day as the dawn above.
The flat sea calls to me.  I just have to go wade or swim or kayak when it is like this.
The flat sea calls to Barnie, too.  Who is Barnie, you ask?  Barnie is our new dog.  I suggested the name "Bonnie" for her and in local style that has become "Barnie".  Barnie, she is.
Barnie - a rescue dog from the village.  At 9 months, she is still just a puppy!
Barnie expressed an interest in kayaking with me, so we are in the midst of doggie kayak camp.  On day 1, she managed to get on the kayak, with assistance from our neighbor Craig, and stayed on for about 2 minutes before she got spooked and jumped off.

Day 2, she got on by herself, but couldn't stop biting at the paddle.  She lasted about 5 minutes before, in exasperation, I made her get off so I could head out by myself.  She ran out to the end of the dock as I paddled out to the deep and let loose a heartrending howl before she flung herself into the water to swim after me.  I turned around to the shallow so she could get back on and we managed to paddle for another 5 or so minutes before I called it quits in frustration.  Then I got her back on the kayak and walked the kayak through the water while I kept one hand on her to keep her steady.  She liked that.

Day 3, a breakthrough day!  She hopped onto the back of the kayak with no prompting as I was pushing off and settled right down.  We paddled about 1/2 mile, all within 30 feet of shore.  Later that day, I measured her for a CFD (canine flotation device), which I ordered on Amazon.  It will be here in about a month.  Until she is wearing her CFD, we will stay in the shallows near the shore.  I can't pull her up out of deep water back onto the kayak and she is so dense (in a physical sense) that it is hard for her to swim any great distance.

Today was Day 4 and Dennis took some photos of us heading out and coming back.  Barnie is making great progress.
Get in the back, Barnie!
 She hopped up like she knew what she was doing.
Now sit, Barnie.
She did sit, and we were off for a fine 15 minute paddle.  She sat most of the time, but got antsy after about 10 minutes.  I will make some alterations in one of the seat cushions to give her little more stability and comfort in the back.  More comfort for me, too, if it means she will stop breathing her hot doggie breath on my neck!
She is looking down at the submerged breakwater just beneath the kayak.
 Closing with a sunset shot.
A promise for an exciting night, whether we want it or not!

Friday, September 16, 2016

Of Storms and Zinc and Fallen Trees, of Toilets New and Rigs

Hard to believe that it has been six weeks since our hurricane dress rehearsal.  For us, Hurricane Earl was a non-event; not much difference between the "before" and "after" images below.  We hardly lost even a leaf from the trees.
The day before Earl.  The days leading up to a hurricane are generally incredibly calm and fine.  There is hardly a ripple on the sea.  The water is so clear that the submerged breakwater is quite visible running under the dock and parallel to the shore.
Six weeks after Earl.  For about a week after Earl, the sea was a little rough.  Since then we have had several series of 5 or 6 calm days then 3 or 4 rough and windy days, a pattern that is typical for this time of year.  
I went a little crazy taking photos before Earl thinking that everything could be blown or washed away.  I wanted to at least have photos to remember it by.
The new cabana as viewed from the old.  This was before Earl.  It looks jus the same now.  :-)
The old cabana as viewed from the new.  Also before Earl, and it looks just the same now.
Overall, we were pleased with how our hurricane preparations went, but we did find a some areas in which to be better prepared.  Along the entire covered veranda we put up hurricane shutters made from roofing metal, locally referred to as "zinc".  It took about 1 and a half days to get all the zinc screwed in place.
This what the zinc shutters look like from the outside.  
We had done a dry fitting of all the zinc sheets earlier in the year and spray painted numbers on each sheet for their location.  That worked really well.  What we hadn't done in the dry fit was to have all the wood pieces for the end wall shown in the above photo, so we scrambled a bit to get those pieces cut to size.  We also put zinc up on all the exposed windows and doors.  The zinc performed as expected in keeping the wind from driving the rain into the cabana.

Oddly, it was the day after Earl came through that we lost a big fig tree.

Just behind the generator shed, you can see the roots sticking up at the left side of the photo and the bulk of the canopy in the right half of the photo.  A little damage to the roof and to a lime tree; nothing major.
The water table is so high and the roots don't grow very deep.  It is actually hard to understand how the tree was upright to begin with!
 We will miss the shade from this tree.  I got seeds for an African Tulip tree that I want to get started to replace this tree.  I will plant at least 2 of those seedlings a little farther back and to each side of the shed.  They are well adapted to grow on swampy land and have big buttress roots to keep them upright.  Plus they have amazing flowers.
All of this greenery growing around the trunk of the fig is a cowhorn orchid, Cyrtopdium punctatum. We cut out that big section of the trunk and a smaller orchid-covered branch to try to save the orchids.  We put the trunk and branch in the shade of the cashew tree, but the orchids are looking rather sad.  Still, they might pull through.
This is what the flowers of this orchid look like.  I took this shot (and the next flower shots) the same day as the shot above.
These orchids have super long, 5 or more feet long, flower stalks.  Ants love the flowers and will defend them vigorously!
A closer view of a single flower.
 This particular plant is growing on a buttonwood tree about 40 feet from the fig tree.  We also have a lovely Brassavola orchid that grows here.
Brassavola nodosa, called Lady of the Night.
Not an orchid, but just as lovely, Crinum asiaticum lily flowers.  This lily, native to Asia (duh!) has naturalized in warm regions worldwide.
Getting back to Earl.  We had not yet moved into the new cabana when we heard Earl was headed toward Belize.  We moved in 2 days ahead of Earl for a couple of reason.  One reason was safety - the new cabana is built to much higher standards than the original cabana.  The other reason was emotional - if we were to lose it all because of a hurricane, I at least wanted to have slept there one night!  So Earl served to get us in gear.

We also set up the new composting toilet before Earl got here.  I feel a bit like John Gray of Going Gently, writing of toilets on the blog, but this Nature's Head Toilet is quite the thing.
Our new bathroom.
The toilet has a container (we call it the "pee jug") for collecting urine separate from the solids and that really keeps odors down.  There is also an exhaust fan (the tubing on the left vents the fan to outside).  So far, we like the toilet very much.  The solids get emptied every 2 weeks and the pee jug gets emptied every 2-3 days.  With our high water table, this makes so much more sense than a septic tank.

Other things of note include the return of an exploratory oil drillship.  It was anchored just outside the Port Honduras Marine Reserve that extends from just in front of us to the south near Punta Gorda, Belize.  I took a few photos of it with my wholly inadequate zoom lens.
It was heading south when I took this photo.
A rather pretty sight all lit up at dawn.  I sure hope they don't find oil, though.
I do hope this is the last we see of it.  The Meso-American Barrier Reef, the second largest barrier reef in the world, is only a few miles away.

On a brighter note, we have a better internet connection, at least for now.  Feels good to be blogging again.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Safe and Sound in Englishtown, Belize

We are safe and sound here in Englishtown, Belize.  Not sure yet how the rest of the country fared.  The last radar image we saw last night showed all Belize covered by Earl except for a tiny little triangle that happened to include us.  We had a little rain, maybe an inch or 2 so far - it's still falling, and lots of wind from the northwest.  A tiny bit of rain blew in the back door.   We hardly even heard the wind, but the rain on the tin roof makes for a noisy night!  Right now the sea is within normal for waves and tide height and the beach is intact.  Some branches down.  I am off now to take care of the neighbors' dogs.  It is still raining, but not too hard.  Details and photos later.  Things are good.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Updated 3 Aug 7:30 am - My Name is Earl

and I am a Tropical Storm hurricane-to-be with wind speeds approaching 60 sustained wind speed of 70 mph.

Looks like the center of Earl is still going to make landfall north of us on Wednesday night.  Chances are good that Earl will be a hurricane by then.  The best thing about Earl being north of us is that due to the counterclockwise rotation of the storm, the winds will be coming at us from the northwest, which is over land.  That means we shouldn't have a huge storm surge and that the wind speeds will be dampened a bit as the winds pass over land.

We decided to put up the hurricane shutters on all the upper level doors and windows and along the north sides of the verandas and part of the west side.  We got all that done today and are very pleased with the results.  Tomorrow morning we will put up the shutters on the exposed west side.  Depending on storm forecasts and projections, we may put all of the shutters up.  Hurricane shutters are up along the north, west, and south sides of the cabana.  We will probably put u the east-side shutters late this afternoon.  The latest map is at the bottom of this page.

Here is what Earl looks like at around 6:00pm, our time.

The little green dot is where we are.
We feel good about our preparations and need to see what tomorrow brings.  We will have to decide by 10:00 am if we want to evacuate.  Right now, evacuation is unlikely to be necessary, but things could change quickly.  I will try to post an update in the morning; it all depends on if we have internet signal.

Wednesday Morning Projection - We are located approximately where the lower edge of the white cone intersects the red hurricane warning line on the coast of Belize.

Will try to make a new post later in the day.

A Worrisome Disturbance

We are keeping a close eye on a "Tropical Wave" that as of this morning is tracking just south of Jamaica and is headed our way at ~20mph.  Here is a screen shot from the US National Hurricane Center as of Tuesday 2 August.

The center of that red X would be directly over our place if it tracks due west.  Fortunately, for us anyway, the models all project it tracking on a curve to the northwest toward the top of Belize.  Even then, the bottom edge of the storm will pass over us.   And of course, the models could be inaccurate at this point.

The "Tropical Wave" has an 80% chance of becoming a tropical cyclone.  It will likely continue to strengthen and chances are good that it will become a tropical depression or even a hurricane before it makes landfall.  At this point, the least we are expecting is sustained winds of 45mph and heavy rain for about a day starting late Wednesday or early Thursday. It could develop into something more serious, so we are watching the forecasts very closely.

We are in Phase 1 of Hurricane Preparedness which means we are clearing everything off our verandas and removing things like fallen coconuts away from the building.  As the storm gets closer, we will seal our water vats.  If the storm develops in strength, we will enter Phase 2 and put hurricane shutters up all along the perimeter of screened in verandas and over all the windows and doors of our cabana and the caretaker's cabana.  We had a dry run for this a month ago, so we know that we have everything at hand.

I will try to post more as things develop; right now I better get busy locking things down.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Well, hello there!  Long time no see.  Yes, I am still alive and well, even though I can't say the same for our internet connection, which is sickly at best.  I am going to try to get 1 photo in this post, but even just 1 may be asking too much.

We have been busy here in South Englishtown.  Just finishing up a few odds and ends on our new addition before we start using it.  Things like the ceiling fan, handles on the cupboards and drawers, overhead lights.  Just details, really.

The long awaited rainy season has started.  So far in June we have had almost 10 inches and could use another 5 or 6 to get back on track.  The good news is that our vats are full and all the plants are thriving.  Today was supposed to be mostly sunny and dry, so we scheduled some repair work on the caretaker's cabana.  We need to replace the old siding, which has some termite damage and rot, with new pressure-treated siding.  And since it was supposed to be sunny, I wanted to bake some bread using our new(ish) small electric oven.

I love this new oven.  It can broil, toast, roast, bake, keep warm, and slow cook.  It can get up to 500F, which is great for pizza and some bread.  It has 2 drawbacks:  1) fancy electronics that are sensitive to even minor power fluctuations and 2) it uses a lot of electricity.  So I tend to bake bread, roast veggies, or cook casseroles on sunny days.  Not yet, but someday soon, the oven will have its very own circuit.  For now, it is on a shared circuit which can cause some issues when the water pump or one of the 2 fridges comes on.  Standard procedure for the time being is to turn off the 2 fridges and refrain from using water while the oven is in use.

Our supposed sunny day turned cloudy and stormy for a couple of hours.  Work on the siding proceeded anyway.  But the arrival of the clouds meant that the power tools had to plug into our solar power rather than the smaller solar power of the caretaker cabana.  We have plenty of power with our wonderful battery bank and south facing solar panels, so we were good to go.  The crew was able to get all the siding replaced on the east side except for the 2 pieces just under the eaves.  They can do that right away tomorrow.  What I hadn't fully appreciated, though, was that the power tools were running off the same circuit that the oven was on.  Below is the saga of bread baking in Belize presented in 10 Easy Steps.  Spoiler Alert - it does have a happy ending.

One and 1/3 loaves.  The missing portion disappeared in no time.  It would have been crustier if I could have kept the oven going.

How to Bake Bread in Belize – the special  "Fume and Curse" Belize Steps are in italics.

1.    Proof the yeast – essential in Belize
2.    Whisk the eggs
·      Crack three eggs into a small bowl
·      Fume and curse because egg #2 is dicey and contaminated egg #1.
·      Wash the bowl out and start over with modified process
·      Crack one egg into a measuring cup.  If it looks good, transfer it to the little mixing bowl.  Repeat 2 more times and whisk.
3.    Measure out the flour in a dry mixing bowl
·      Fume and curse because there are weevils in the flour
·      Sieve the flour to get the weevils out
·      Sieve again to get ALL the weevils out
·      Find the new bag of flour because you need 4 more cups
·      Fume and curse because the new bag of flour is masa not wheat flour
·      Retrieve the little bit of pastry flour from the back of the fridge and find the shaker of flour so that you have enough wheat flour to proceed.
4.    Mix the ingredients
·      Fume and curse because the yeast, with its 2-inch high head of foam, might have over-proofed while you were dealing with unanticipated complications (see above).  Use it anyway.
·      Knead the wet dough, adding in more flour until it reaches the desired stiffness and elasticity.
5.    Clean up
·      Fume and curse as you wash up the mess of the dicey eggs, weevil bodies, and gummy flour from the sink.
6.    Form the risen dough into longish free-form loaves.  Set aside to rise again.
7.    Preheat the oven
·      Fume and curse because you must unplug the little fridge and turn off the big fridge so you can turn on the little oven without overloading the circuit before you set the oven to 400F and start the preheat
8.    Bake the loaves
·      Put the pan on the lower shelf when the oven reaches 400F
·      Fume and curse when the oven alarm starts at 10 minutes into the baking.  The power tools have created a surge in the circuit!
·      Fume and curse as you restart the oven after unplugging it and counting to 10.  Three times.
·      Fume and curse as you let the bread finish baking in the residual heat of the oven because you are sick of restarting the oven.
9.     Slice and taste test
·      Hold your breath as you slice into the still-warm loaf.  Yes; it is done!  Slather on some butter and give it try.  Success; it is pretty damn tasty! 
10.  Fume and curse as you realize that you will never be able to repeat this exact recipe.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Waiting For The Sun

We met our new neighbor a couple of days ago - a magnificently massive boa constrictor.  No idea how long it has been hanging around, but it is certainly well-fed, judging by its size.  It has been waiting for the sun (click here for oddly appropriate music) each day this week to show itself in its brush-pile lodging at the edge of our property.

This morning's sunrise promised us a hot day.
Ten minutes before sunrise.  The air still has the night's coolness - if you call 70F cool.
When the sun rises up through the morning haze like this, the day is guaranteed to be a hot one.
Eighteen minutes after sunrise.  We start work early here to avoid the heat.  Tiger is off-loading our plumbing supplies.  Already 75F when I took this shot.
The weather forecast predicts a high of 98F(36C) today (it is 95F at noon as I write this).
You can almost see the heat at 8:00AM.
By 9:00, the boa's wait is over.  I took these photos today and day before yesterday.  It is so huge that I still haven't seen the whole thing all at once.
Not all the way in the sun yet.  Its head is double-backed to the left of center.
Standing next to it and comparing it to my thigh, I estimate that it is about 18-20 inches in circumference at the widest part I could see.
Here you can see its head resting on its body.
 Although I would love to see its full length, we didn't want to disturb it.
Beautiful markings.
It must have shed recently because it was so shiny and fresh looking.
Look at the gorgeous iridescence of its scales.
 Waiting for the sun.
Its head is larger than my fist.
 Waiting for you . . to come along.
Sparkling eye.
An impressive animal.