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.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Snake OnThe Beach

While we admit to being focused on our construction project, there are times when tropical Belize gets our attention.  Such was the case about 3 weeks ago when we looked out from the veranda (where we spend most of our waking hours) and spotted an unusual long green thing on the beach amongst the drying Sargassum seaweed.  Now, we often see a green iguana making its way up and down the beach, but this was much longer than the iguana.  As you undoubtedly surmised from the title of this post, we had a snake on the beach!
A green vine snake (Oxybelis fulgidus) close to the water's edge.
 These snakes are native to Central and the northern part of South America.
They can reach up to 2 meters (6.5 ft) in length; I reckon this one was around 1.5 meters (5 ft) long.
Its slow, sinuous glides moved it remarkably quickly across the sand and various sticks and logs.  
It would stop periodically and raise its head up off the ground. 
Flicking its green tongue to taste the air for me as I stalked it with my camera.
It has a long pointy head.
That pointy head houses its rear fangs.  It preys upon small rodents and lizards. From above, it bites them on their heads and lifts them into the air until the quick-acting venom works before swallowing them.  

Even thought they are venomous, green vine snakes are not dangerous to humans, unless you happen to be a particularly stupid human and stick your finger down its throat.   Even then the bite normally causes at most a little numbness.  Of course if you are particularly stupid and also terribly unlucky, then you could have an allergic reaction that might be more serious.  Not being stupid, I kept my fingers on my camera.  ;-)
Still trying to check me out.
I back off from it a little bit and it decides to continue on its way toward a Noni tree.
Still testing the air now and again.  Look at that beautiful pale yellow strip down it side.
You can really see how slender it is in this shot.
 I circled around from the other side for another angle.
A lovely ribbon of green.
Snazzy dark green line through its eye and there is that forked green tongue!
 It made a break for the Noni trunk and was up the tree in a flash.
Seeming to climb straight up the tree trunk.
 This is a very agile snake.
I took photos as quickly as I could, but the snake was quite at home in the tree and too soon was up in the leaves.  My last view of this beauty was this:
A well-camouflaged snake.
We have seen this snake before and I hope will see it again.  They spend most of their time in trees and after eating they retire to a tree top for little rest.  I like to imagine that this one is frequently looking down on us from the tropical almond tree in front of our cabana.

References:  Wikipedia and Venomous Snakes and Their Mimics of Panama and Costa Rica (Ray and Knight).

Saturday, October 18, 2014

A Roof to Keep Us Dry

I seem to have succumbed to Island Time with regard to my blogging frequency.  Not that we are on an island, but you couldn't tell it from our view.
The increasing frequency of rain squalls are a sure sign that the rainy season is gearing up.  Our goal was to have our addition dried in before the rainy season, but we didn't quite make it.  The top photo below was taken Sept 25th. No roof, no windows, and 4.3 inches of rain in our rain gauge in the previous week.  It seems the rainy season was not aware of our timeline.  The bottom photo was taken today, 23 days and 20 inches of rain later than the top photo.  Now only 1 more door and 1 more window to install and then we will be totally dried in. Yea!  
Another view of the sea. 
 Here is what happened in those 23 days:
The wooden straps that support the sheet metal roof were put in place along with the boards needed to make the eaves.  Those dark things in the sky are dragonflies.  Tens of thousands of them migrated through the day I took this photo.  It was amazing to see them.
 From the inside you can see the roofing trusses and upper level walls. 
The large Santa Maria wood roofing trusses are bolted together with iron plates.  These babies ain't goin' nowhere.
From below you can see the 2x4 wood straps to which the sheet metal (called "zinc" here) will be screwed.
We love these blue sky days.
Another view from below showing the crew securing the last 2 sheets of "zinc" on the north side of the roof.   
Given the irregular shape of the roof, we actually had to start the courses of 10x4ft zinc sheets at the top of the ridge line and work down instead of starting at the bottom and working up.  The next course had to be slipped under the first course.
We used mostly 10x4ft sheets of zinc along with some 8x4 sheets for the corners.  Oddly, the undersides were different colors.  Luckily, that won't show from the inside once we are finished.  However, it isn't uncommon around here for the zinc to be exposed, i.e., for the roof to be the ceiling.  We will be installing rigid insulation against the 2x4 straps and then some sort of finish over the insulation.  Not sure what yet, maybe tongue and groove mahogany paneling.  Suggestions are welcomed! 
Another view of the roof from below.
This is with all the roof, including the ridge cap, up and most of the doors and windows.
 Before and after shots of the north side are below.
Before the zinc and windows.  You can see how the gable end eaves extend out. 
After the zinc, windows, and 3 of 4 doors.
 We had the windows and doors custom made in Spanish Lookout by Peters Glass Shop; we highly recommend them.  I am so happy with how they turned out.  We will be putting up the exterior trim around them next week.
The crew working on the south facing roof.  This is the side on which the solar panels will be mounted.

The sheets of metal roofing are all installed.  Next, we will come back and finish off the gable ends with sheet metal covers and then install the soffit.  That will keep it weather tight.
The collage below shows the southwest corner and the south facing roof during the construction.  Either 18 or 20 solar panels will be mounted on the roof.  A small shed room will be added to the windowless wall to house the inverter and the batteries will run under the windows along the wall on the right.  The space the batteries will be in is on a breezeway that will be covered by a shed roof that links the old cabana with the new addition.  The breezeway will be screened in.
 Once the roof was up, we took the tarps off the Santa Maria wooden beam.  You can see the beam and some of the posts in the collage below.  I had thought that putting the roof on would make the space seem smaller, but it doesn't.  The space is nice and open with plenty of light coming in through the windows.  I'm sure that will change a bit when we put the loft in, but with 10 foot ceilings under the loft, it should still feel open and airy.  
There is still an amazing and daunting amount of work yet to be done.  Getting the solar panels, inverter, and batteries up and running is our priority now.  The panels are being shipped, the batteries and inverter have been sourced and will be ordered next month.  Things are happening!
Looking more like a house every day.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

August is almost gone

Here it is, already August 28th!  Where does the time go?  We finally have some relief from the weeks of windy weather that blew the sargassum seaweed ashore, although piles of sargassum linger.
Lovely, calm sea in the view looking north from our dock.
The calm weather was helpful for getting the next batch of lumber boated over.  As usual, Dennis and I are consumed by the construction process.
And our cabana as viewed from the dock.  The siding is up on the 2 gable ends of the addition.
We are making slow, but tangible, progress.
A closer view with the scaffolding moved to the inside to start on the interior roofing trusses.
A view of the north side of the addition.
Getting the first of the 5 interior roofing trusses up was a big milestone.
The first of the interior trusses is now complete.  It was a challenge to install because the west gable-end truss is not parallel to the remaining trusses.  Tricky measurements were needed.  The next ones should be easier ...
You can just make out the nylon lines that were strung to keep everything lined up right.
And here is the view from the back showing the west wall with the back door and windows.  The windowless wall is where the electrical inverter will be housed.
Like Dennis and me, Max takes a keen interest in the construction.  Every evening she makes her inspection of the day's progress.
Max on the job.
 It is tough and tiring work.
Exhausted by her efforts, Max takes a little break, still keeping one eye open.  Sort of.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Sargassum Invasion

Near the horizon, an olive green mass more than a mile long floats, drifting languidly from north to south.  A moment later the languidness is put to lie as the south tip of the mass makes landfall on our beach.  The Sargassum has arrived.  This happens periodically every year, but this particular Sargassum landfall is part of an impressive invasion that has the entire coast of Belize mainland and cayes covered with the brown alga.  
The Sargassum is closing in.  All day long a seemingly endless line of Sargassum floated in. 
Some has washed up and much more is headed in.
 The next day there were mounds of it on the beach and floating next to the shore.
Sargassum floating next to the shore.
A thick blanket has mounded up, especially to the south of our dock where it is a couple of feet deep on shore. 
Not quite as much to the north of the dock.
This Sargassum is from the Sargasso Sea in the Atlantic Ocean.  The Sargasso Sea is a very cool thing/place - it is where baby sea turtles spend their growing up years as do European and American eels.  Every now and then the ocean currents change up a little bit and push some of the Sargassum to the south where it is picked up in other currents and pushed through the Anegada, Mona, and Windward Passages of the Caribbean Islands into the Caribbean Sea.  Once in the Caribbean, some of it gets taken up to the Gulf of Mexico and gets deposited on beaches in Mexico, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida, while some it heads to Belize and Honduras.  Texas A&M University has an informative website devoted to tracking Sargassum drifts.  I found of lot of this information there in addition to the Wikipedia links below.
Most of the Sargassum that has washed up on our beach seems to be S. fluitans, but there may be some S. natans mixed in with it.
There are several species of Sargassum and the 2 of them from the Sargasso Sea are holopelagic, meaning that they float on ocean waters for their entire life cycle.  Other species of Sargassum that grow attached to rocks and corals are not normally found in the Sargasso Sea.
Besides the olive green-colored Sargassum, there are also greener wide blades of turtle grass (Thalassia testudinum) and some narrower blades of another sea grass in the mix that washed up.  The darker reddish brown stuff is Sargassum that has dried out.  There are also some other seaweeds in there that I haven't identified yet - like the clumps of roundish leaves about halfway down the right side of the photo.
Sea grasses, as opposed to the algal seaweeds, are vascular plants.  There are 3 recorded seagrasses in Belize namely, turtle grass (Thalassia testudinum) manatee seagrass (Syringodium filiforme), duckweed (Halodule spp.).  We have large beds of turtle grass along the very shallow water just off our beach.  And we often see manatees grazing the beds of seagrasses about 100 feet off shore in water that is about 10-15 ft deep.  Almost every day dead seagrass blades wash up on the sand.  We normally get that raked up and composted.  This big invasion of Sargassum will take us longer to deal with, but we are gradually getting it raked up.  Beats shoveling snow!