Wednesday, August 16, 2017

More Than Just Orchids

I think these hibiscus flowers rival the orchids of my previous posts for beauty.

These hibiscus are all growing at our neighbors' place, the currently out-of-operation SteppingStones Resort.

They have lush landscaping there and have generously given us permission to take cuttings.
We got some white hibiscus started, but could always use more.
We don't have any of this incredible apricot and ruby flowering hibiscus, though.
I think I will remedy that lack this week.  Now that the dry season is over, all I need to do is take some cuttings and stick them in the ground.  It doesn;t get easier than that.
Now, where are my little secateurs?

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Just a Baby

Yesterday, I noticed that the Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds were going a little crazier than usual in the tamarind tree.  Now, they are always pretty crazy; zooming around and chattering in rage as they chase each other off favorite perches and away from the feeders we have nearby, but this activity was particularly focused on a single branch of the tamarind and not at each other.  What was going on?

This was going on:
A baby boa constrictor curled up on on a branch.
The Rufous-tails were harassing the boa just like songbirds harass raptors and snakes.  The boa just hunkered down and endured the onslaught.

Curled up into a tight knot to present a smaller target.
Later, it moved a little higher into the tree and stretched out on a slender branch at just the right height for me to photograph it from the sunset balcony; much easier than the first photos I took from the veranda with the camera stretched overhead while I balanced on a step stool.
Its head is no bigger than the end of my thumb and the full length is probably 20-24 inches.
It stayed in that location for the remainder of the day, catching the sun, and was still there when we went to bed last night.

This morning dawned cool and rainy with far distant thunder rumbling like the stomach of a hungry god.  Low clouds and waves of torrential rain isolate us from the madness of the world; I revel in days like this.  But what about that little boa?  Did it find shelter?  I fully expected it to have made its way onto the sunset balcony and perhaps from there into our loft.  But no, it was right where it had been the night before, still on the same small branch.
On the same branch, only a little wet.
Look how the markings continue through its eye with the bottom half darker that the top half.

It stuck its tongue out at me, as snakes do, but seemed content to remain stretched out on the branch.
A closer look at the eye markings.
The hummingbirds, to their possible future undoing, are ignoring the boa today.  Staying still and aligned with the branch may be the boa's strategy for catching an unwary meal.  After all, hummingbirds are just the right size for a baby boa's breakfast.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

A Walk Through The Jungle Part 3

Traces of Iris (2001) Remain

It is appropriate that thoughts of hurricanes past are in my mind at the moment since it was this time last year that we experienced Hurricane Earl.  Fortunately for us here in Englishtown, Earl barely glanced us as it tracked to our north.  That was not the case for Hurricane Iris in 2001.  Category 4 Iris made landfall right here in Monkey River Village and Englishtown.  Iris was second only to Hurricane Hattie (1961) as the most destructive hurricane to hit Belize in recorded hurricane history.
Tracking map of Hurricane Iris, 2001.  The left-most orange dot is right over Monkey River Village and Englishtown (from Wikipedia).
Hurricane Iris had a change of course and strengthened unexpectedly, resulting in only a 23 hr advance warning for Belize.  According to Wikipedia "On reaching the western Caribbean Sea, Iris rapidly intensified into a Category 4 on the Saffir–Simpson scale. A small hurricane with an eye of only 7 mi (11 km) in diameter, Iris reached peak winds of 145 mph (230 km/h) before making landfall in southern Belize near Monkey River Town on October 9."  Hurricane Iris generated a 15 foot storm surge and had wind speeds of 145mph when it made landfall.  It took the lives of 24 people in Belize, 20 of whom were onboard a scuba diving boat docked at Big Creek, 12 miles north of Monkey River.   Most of the houses in Monkey River Village were completely destroyed and all suffered damage.  Amazingly there was no loss of life in the village.  We had visited Monkey River Village and the area for the first time in 1999 and we bought our property in 2004, after Hurricane Iris.  The Village had been largely rebuilt by then, but the property we bought was still a mess of tangled downed trees and smaller plants growing in thick profusion.

As Nolbert, Barnie, and I walked along the coast, signs of Iris are still evident, 16 years later, in the form of old trees surviving after being toppled over.
Strangler fig, still growing and flourishing 16 years after Iris.
This strangler fig must have been a grand old thing when Iris uprooted it.  But it, like many tropical species, is a survivor that adapts to drastic changes in circumstances.  This tree is probably 30 or 40 feet tall now, with many minor trunks that had been side branches pre-Iris.  You can see in places where it has dropped  adventitious roots that wrap around the old trunk and continue down into the soil.  It is hard to be accurate, but it appears that the diameter of the original tree at what had been the soil line was at least 5 feet.
Nolbert and Barnie in front of the strangler fig for scale.  Look at that happy dog.
This sea grape growing nearby looks superficially similar to the strangler fig. But it doesn't have the strangling growth habit of the fig.  Again, the pre-Iris side branches became minor trunks after the tree fell over.  Where the old trunk touches the ground, it has developed new roots.
Nolbert and Barnie in front of a toppled sea grape tree.
The storm surge from Iris pushed sea water over the land; only plants that are tolerant of salt water inundation survived.  But the jungle renews itself quickly. Tropical plants recover quickly and new plants grow in any opening.

One of the very common new plants is this sea hibiscus (or close relative).   It is not so much a tree as it a large shrub.  It can grow with the waves lapping its feet and is often mixed in the mangroves.
Sea hibiscus flower.
 Its quite attractive flowers, like other hibiscus flowers, last only a day, getting darker as the day progresses.
Insect in hibiscus flower.
Not sure what this insect is.  I actually had to lift the camera over my head to get the shot, so I didn't get a good look at it.

Tamarindo-Tamarind-Tambran Small mystery solved - they are cousins!  Mitchell at "Mitchell is Moving" blog had posted a couple of times about a tree called tamarindo planted as an urban ornamental tree in his town in Spain.  He described them as having pompom-type flowers.  But that is nothing like the tamarindo trees I am familiar with here in the Caribbean, which greatly confused me (but then I can be easily confused).  However I recently learned of another tree around here called tamarindo that does have pompom type flowers, the Cojoba rufescens tree.  I had been calling it the "hair scrunchy tree" (your will see why in one of the following photos).  It has a cousin, Cojoba aroborea, also called tamarindo, that is used for furniture.  If that is not confusing enough, it is also called "Barba de Jolote".  More detail in Wikipedia.  Although the flowers of hair scrunchy tree (Cojoba) and the tamarind tree we grow for its sweet/tart fleshy pods don't look anything alike, the leaves do.  And they are in the same taxonomic family that Mimosa trees are in.  Compare the next 2 photos to see the resemblance.
Cojoba rufescens tree with its pompom flowers.
Tamarind tree (see Wikipedia entry here).
Hair scrunchy!  And pompom flowers of the Cojoba rufescens tree.
Orchid-like flowers of the Tamarind tree.
We planted the Tamarind tree, but the Cojoba grows wild.  Another tree growing up in the Iris-devastated area is Gumbo Limbo, AKA tourist tree due to peeling red skin.  Gumbo limbo trees can grow to quite a large size and we have 3 of various sizes that survived Iris on our property.  I love these gumbo limbo trees; their fruit attract lots of birds and they have a high open canopy atop large gracefully curving trunks.
Young gumbo limbo tree with shedding red skin.
 Our neighbors had several Coral Trees that survived Hurricane Iris.  We intend to plant several during this rainy season.  Coral trees (Erythrina) are a great choice for hurricane prone areas; they have buttress roots that help keep them upright in high winds and they can tolerate salt water inundation.  Another plus for us is that they actually thrive in low swampy areas like we have.  They have the most incredible complex blossoms that attract many birds.  Apparently, all we have to do get them started is to stick a young branch in the ground!  How easy is that?
Characteristic spiny trunk of a a young coral tree.  As the trunk expands, the spines fall off.
And that brings us back to hurricane season.  This time last year we had held our breath as the wrath of Earl passed to our north.  We lost a big fig tree a day after Earl as the the shallow roots pulled out of the saturated ground.  It will be replaced with a Coral bean (Erythrina sp).  We were able to salvage the orchids growing in the fig, and they are blooming beautifully as I write this post.

We moved our bedroom into the new addition of our cabana as Earl was approaching last August, and so have been here a year now.  During that year, we took the opportunity to redo the original bathroom and kitchen in the old cabana.  That project was completed a couple of weeks ago.  Interestingly, the wood for the cabinets is wild trambran, AKA "Barba de Jolote", which we now know is related to the tamarind tree we grow for the pods, the "hair scrunchy" tree that grows wild here, and the tamarindo tree used in urban plantings in Spain that Mitchell wrote about.


Friday, July 21, 2017

A Walk Through The Jungle Part 2

It's All About The Orchids

They were amazing and intricate and full of ants.  Here you go:

Pink lip with white ruffled edge
Palest of pale yellow lip with no ruffled edge.

Brighter yellow tongue.

Dark fuchsia with white edges.  Young seed pod with remains of dried flower on the end.

Reaching for the sun.  These are epiphytic orchids, but this one got so heavy it broke the tree branch it was growing on and it rests, branch and all, on the ground.  Makes it easy take photos.

A closer look at the flowers from the same plant. Pale pink lips with a white edge on these flowers.

Dark fuchsia covers the entire lip - no white edge.

Same flower from the side.  Perhaps the loveliest of all.
Next time we will complete the walk with a look at some trees.  It was way too much for a single post.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

A Walk Through The Jungle With Nolbert And Barnie

My young friend, Nolbert, is visiting his step grandfather's friend (and also my friend) Craig, just up the beach from us.  You may remember Nolbert from a post I wrote last year - "The First Adventure of Green Shanks and Yellow Legs" describing a little sea trip Nolbert and I made in our green and yellow kayaks.  We had the kayaks out again Friday morning and then in the afternoon we went for walk through jungle.  Nolbert kindly had Barnie on a leash so I could be free to take photos without Barnie's "help".  Below are a few of the photos from the first part of our walk.

First up is a very delicate orchid Brassavola nodosa, known as Dama de Noche.  I only was able to take 2 quick photos because ants had gotten into my socks and demanded immediate attention.  Some moderate cursing may have been involved.  Good thing Nolbert had Barnie out of earshot!  Back to the Lady of the Night.  Although she is delicate and ephemeral in appearance, the flowers stay beautiful for about 3 weeks.  They seem to glow in the dimness of the mangrove swamp.
Brassavola nodosa, AKA as Dama de Noche
Once the ants were dispatched, I continued on, catching up with Nolbert and Barnie.  This part of the path is on a man-made raised walk that goes westward toward Black Creek.  On either side of the raised path is mangrove swamp that is home to lots of wildlife.
Nolbert leading Barnie down the path to Black Creek.
See those roots growing across the path above?  They are a real tripping hazard when running in the damn dim dawn light.  My shoulder still aches from that spill.  A little farther along is a vanilla orchid that I first spotted 3 years ago.  Back in March, I was showing it to a friend visiting from the US and we saw a vanilla bean pod on the vine!  I have been keeping an eye on the pod and will harvest it soon.  Another, more robust, vine is about 20 feet away.  I am keeping an eye on that one in hopes to spot it in bloom and and see more beans in the wild.  I'll need to see it in flower before I can determine which species it is.
Protruding vanilla bean in all its rude glory. 
The most dramatic orchid we see around here in Englishtown is Myrmecophila tibinicus.  This orchid hosts ant colonies in its pseudobulbs and the ants swarm all over the flowers, as you can see in the image below.  There is some variation in the color of the bottom lip of the flowers.  This particular stalk has lips of the palest pink.  Others, which I will show in future posts, are fuchsia, pale yellow, or white.
Myrmecophila tibinicus, with its attendant ants.
Nolbert, Barnie, and I backtracked to return to the coastal path that goes from our place in South Englishtown, through Central Englishtown, and finally ends in North Englishtown at Craig's place; a whopping 0.6mi as the pelican flies.
The sea is just to our right on the coastal path.
Spider lilies love growing near the sea; you often find them just above the high tide line.
Spider lilies.
They have the most amazing smell - very lily-like, but not as cloying and oppressive as many other lilies.

 Each flower last only a day, but the flowers on a given cluster open over the span of about a week.
More from our walk in the next post.

Apologies to my readers for my long absence.  I was completely devastated by Trump's election.  Enough said about that.  But I want to offer a thank you to my friends and blog readers who have encouraged me to write again - I appreciate it very much.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Dawn in Three Parts

I was just reading Midmarsh John's latest post Friday morning with his photo of a gorgeous dawn sky holding a crescent moon and I realized that some 7 or so hours after he had taken his picture, I had taken some of the same crescent moon at dawn over here on the other side of the Atlantic.  The sky in John's photo has flaming orange clouds with a slim crescent above.  Be sure to check it out.  The image below is more sedate with rosy fingers reaching for the moon over a dove grey sea and clouds. The rays that converge on the sun like this are called "crepuscular rays".
Part 1.  Slim crescent moon chased high into the sky by the rising sun.
Ten minutes later, the sun was high enough to illuminate the grey clouds.
Part 2.  Coral lining in grey clouds.
I turned to the west and saw that dawn had reached across the heavens with sunrays converging at the spot opposite the sun.  Rays like this are called "anticrepuscular rays".  Here is nice website that talks about sunrays and how to see them best.
Part 3.  Dawn sunrays in the western sky.
I took the last 2 photos above from the sunset balcony, yes the very balcony that has been the site of the 2 most recent projects.  The photo below shows the sunset balcony with the upsidedown roof underneath it and the sunshade above it.
Come on up!
 I am really pleased with how the sunshade turned out.
Sunshade extending from under the eaves out to the rail of the balcony.
Just look at all that nice shade.
Twenty-eight minutes past high noon.  The shade is quite pleasant.
The hot-glue gun worked like a charm to hem the edges of the shade cloth.
I wrapped the cloth under the frame on the south (here) and north ends, and secured it to the frame using eyehooks and carabiners.  The hardware is stainless steel to minimize corrosion in the salt air.
I like how the shade cloth lets some light through, so that it doesn't make the inside of the cabana too dark.
View to the west.
Below is a detail showing the hemmed end with the butterfly clip, carabiner and the eyehook screw.
The carabiners will make it easy to take the cloth down if a storm comes up.  I can reach all 11 carabiners without a stool or ladder.  I really don't want to be standing on a ladder with the wind whipping around!
It took us not quite 3 days from start to finish for the sunshade project.  Amazing how quickly it can go when you have the materials at hand.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Gimme Shelter

Shelter - We seek shelter from the sun, from the rain, from the wind, from the cold, and from all the ills of the world.  (Cue music here.)  I mentioned a couple of posts back that our latest project was to install an upside-down roof under the sunset balcony to shelter us from the rain blowing in from the west.  It is now complete except for a little caulking to be done where the metal meets the support posts.
Under the Upside-Down Roof.  The screws go up through the zinc into lapboards on the upper side.  It works really well!  A bit of standard roof is seen at the far end for comparison, with the rafter and the lapboards on the underside.
When one project ends, there is always the next.  Next is building the frame for the shade cloth over the sunset balcony to give us shelter from the afternoon sun.  This is directly above the upside-down roof, and is the same odd shape.
Tiger and Pascal measuring for the supports to hold the frame.
This took them only 4 or 5 hours to build.
The Coolaroo shade cloth will go over the top of the frame and will be secured with carabiners and eye hooks so it can be easily taken down in preparation for hurricanes.
Even though this is pressure treated wood, we still use a penetrating oil on it that provides UV protection and helps keep it from drying out too much.  In the photo below, you can see how the frame tucks up just under the eaves.  The center ridge doesn't go all the way to top of the gable.  Instead it is just beneath the vent fan, which is currently covered by a piece of zinc until hurricane season is over at the end of November.
Tiger beginning to apply the Flood brand penetrating oil finish. 
We draped the bolt of Coolaroo shade cloth up over the frame so I could get a good measurement for the length and do a rough cut in place.  The bolt of shade cloth is 12 feet wide and the balcony is only 10 feet wide, so the cloth is plenty big.  I brought the rough cut piece down to the veranda to square it up using a square (as you do), a long level as a straight edge, and a sharpie to mark the line.  The standard sewing aids here in Englishtown.
Squaring the ends.  The 12 ft wide fabric is folded in half to make it more manageable.
The final piece is just over 16 ft long.  I will use a hot-glue gun to hem the ends.  Sort of a soft carpentry or a sturdy sewing project.  The Coolaroo fabric is made from recycled polypropylene (think soda bottles) and is perfect for the harsh conditions on the balcony.  I brought the bolt of Coolaroo down to Belize 4 years ago in a BIG duffle-bag.  The bolt was a cylinder 4 ft long and about 15 inches in diameter.  We have used it for other projects, too, but there is still about a third left.  I'll post photos of the shady balcony once it is complete.

Turns out that we are providing shelter for unwanted visitors - ANTS!  We have a huge invasion in the new cabana.  We put out some poison bait (Combat brand) that we hope they are taking back to their nest.  They lap this stuff up!
Just a hundred or so of the THOUSANDS OF ANTS that are marching across the countertop!  We put the bait in small plastic lid and also soak the paper towel with it too.
Fortunately the ants don't bite and they are just little things.  I think the wet weather has driven them inside.  But too bad, they need to find other shelter.