Tuesday, January 31, 2012

More Views From a Kayak

A flock of Great Egrets overhead is always a good start to a day.
This flock was heading south toward Little Monkey Cay as I was getting ready to kayak north into the marshes.
The only other abundant large white egret in this region of the world is the Snowy Egret. 

The Snowy Egrets have "golden slippers" (i.e., yellow feet), so because these birds don't have golden slippers and they do have black legs and feet, they are Great Egrets.  An uncommon (in this area, anyway) large white egret is the "Great White Heron" which is the white morph of the Great Blue Heron.  They have yellow legs and feet.  
In a nutshell there are 3 large white egrets/herons in Belize.  They can be identified on the basis of leg and foot color.  Great White Herons have yellow legs and yellow feet, just like their blue morphs do.  Snowy Egrets have black legs with golden slippers and Great Egrets have black legs and black feet.  There are other, smaller, white egrets around like Cattle Egrets and juvenile Little Blue Herons, but the size difference helps discriminates between them.

This day, I kayaked by myself into the marshes and explored a shrimp farm drainage canal.
For most if its length, the  canal was fairly wide with steep sides.  

In places it became narrow with overhanging vegetation.  I'll show some ferns and other plants in another post.  I paddled all the way to a small dam at the end of the canal before I turned around and came back.
Back in the marsh, I found my old friend the Yellow-Crowned Night Heron.
It kept its eyes on me as I glided past.
I got very close to it.
I wanted to get as close as I could with out making it fly off.  I think since I was by myself and hadn't been making much noise that it was not as uneasy as it was the other day when we had 2 kayaks and some quiet conversation going on.
While in the marsh and the canal, I did not hear a single human-made sound other than what I was making.  It was so serene and almost other-worldly; one could forget the existence of civilization (almost - except where did that high-tech camera, cell phone, and even plastic kayak come from? hmmm?).  As I got back to the open sea, I began to hear the occasional boat motor and I prepared to re-enter what we call the real world.  But I think the real world was what I left behind in the marsh ...

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Kayaking with Dennis

Dawn came with a silky stillness in the primordial air.  

Gentle undulations rock the sea like a faint heartbeat, punctuated by the silent passage of egrets skimming the surface.
To the north, the sky clears as dawn breaks free of the low clouds and day begins in earnest.  
A day made for kayaking, slipping soundlessly along the water's surface, at one with the natural world.  Dennis and I head toward the sunlight in the north, easing in and out of passages amongst the mangroves.
We glide up to herons, like this yellow-crowned night heron.
Alert to our prescence, this yellow-crowned night heron is not unduly agitated.
OK, you are getting into my personal space here.
A little too close for comfort; I am out of here...
Way back in the marsh we saw a flash of peacock blues and greens.  What on earth?  It flew into the heavy mangrove tangle and walked from root to root, always keeping on the far side of vegetation, giving us only glimpses of a bird with a heron-like neck and bill but with a bulky, turkey-like, body.  It cautiously peeked out at us, seemingly as curious about us as we were about it. I got a couple of shots in hopes of being able to key it out later.  I succeeded in capturing the world's worst photos of the world's most beautiful bird - the Agami Heron.  Click here for the world's best photos of this fabulous bird.
I marked the tip of its beak with a purple arrow and its eye with a vertical arrow. Doesn't seem possible, does it?  But you can see it again in the next shot.
And again vertical arrow marks the eye and the horizontal one marks the tip of the beak.  The unusually long beak is one of the Agami's identifying characteristics.
Better luck in photographing a juvenile green heron.
The gloom of the tangled vegetation can't hide this lovely bird, but doesn't do much for the photo.  :-(
It very nicely cooperated and turned its streaked breast toward the camera.
We'll be back for more of that Agami heron and perhaps to see the green heron mature.
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Thursday, January 19, 2012

The day dawned with a pink and grey softness.  

Allen is just visible in his canoe as a little speck to the left of mangrove trees on the right of the photo.  He paddles over from Monkey River Village at day break to work at our place with landscaping and handy man projects.
In the few minutes it took Allen to arrive, the day has brightened a bit.  You can see Allen beaching his canoe at the south end of our lot. 

Our cabana looks serene and sleepy in early morning light.

It is almost too beautiful to leave, even for a day trip. But there is an auction calling us, so off we go with Sue and Chris on an adventure in Mennonite country near the inland village of Armenia.  Sue had seen ads for an estate auction; everything, including livestock, household goods, and farm implements were on the block.  How could we resist?  
The estate being auctioned is at the end of this road.  You can see some vehicles already parked there.  Look at that fabulous tree in the mid-ground!  In the grey, drizzly day it glows as if it is afire.
Close to a hundred folks showed up for the auction, and with the exception of 4 (you know who those 4 are), all were Mennonites.  The Mennonites were very welcoming to us and explained the auction process.  This particular event was to sell off all the worldly goods of a recently deceased elderly couple whose decendents had their own households.  The auction was to turn the assets into cash which could then be easily split between the decendents.  Dennis and I had quick look around and then left Sue and Chris at the auction while we went to the town of Belmopan, which is actually the capitol of Belize, to pay our land taxes, an adventure in itself.  When we returned to pick up Sue and Chris, they had not bought anything, but enjoyed watching the bidding.  Apparently the woman of the house was well-known for her canning abilities; her canned vegetables and fruit (even canned pineapple!) were all sold at high prices.  
This fine fellow was roped to a fence post to graze along the road near the auction.  Look at those horns!
The mountainous countryside is beautiful with pastoral scenes check-by-jowl with wild jungle.  All in all, it was a fine day in spite of the drizzly greyness. 
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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Kayaking in Englishtown, Toledo, Belize

The weather was so incredibly wonderful when we were in Belize back in October.  The seas were mirror flat almost all day long every day we were there; perfect for kayaking.  I spent at least 30 hours kayaking, most of it by myself, although Sue and I had a nice morning out one day.  We set out from Chris and Sue's place in central Englishtown, since they had the kayaks.  We had started to head north along the coast, but soon decided to head east over to Great Monkey Cay (pronounced "key").  I took my snorkel gear and was able to get in a little snorkeling while Sue relaxed in the sunshine and recaptured my kayak when it drifted off.  ;-)   The water was flat enough to take a route to the outside of Great Monkey Cay and loop around to the south to visit Little Monkey Cay.  Little Monkey Cay is a rookery for assorted egrets, pelicans, and frigate birds that settle down there every evening.  Throughout the day you can find bird activity there.  Little Monkey Cay was almost demolished by Hurricane Iris in 2001.  It has slowly been coming back, although it is still nowhere close to its former glory.
Sue and I heading off to the north.
The sea was flat enough that I felt comfortable taking my cameras with me in the little "sit upon" kayak.
The map below shows the routes of the trips that I took.  The three thumbtacks mark the three households in Englishtown with full-time residents.  Note that the map is oriented with north to the right so that I could get more coastline in the image.  Great Monkey Cay is at the bottom in the center and Little Monkey Cay it to the left.  The route that Sue and I took is in red.  Right above little Monkey Cay is the entrance to Black Creek which runs behind our place marked with the leftmost thumbtack.  That kayak route (yellow) is a good one when the open sea is too rough for a  little kayak.  
Monkey River Village (labeled "town" in Google Earth, but at only 250 or so inhabitants is barely a village) is at the mouth of the meandering Monkey River at the left of the image.  Howler monkeys give the river its name.  You can see the Monkey River Road leading inland.  This dirt road is frequently impassable during the rainy season.
Two other kayak routes I took followed little creeks or dredged canals back into the marshes.  I spent hours nosing along in these little creeks.  Incredible birds, wonderful plants; never saw another person - my idea of heaven.

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Monday, January 9, 2012

Belize from Above

We flew into the international airport in Belize City and from there caught a little puddle-jumper prop plane to head south to our place.  With the exception of the last few shots, all were taken out the window of the little plane.  Most of the time the plane is flying at an altitude shared with vultures and frigate birds.
This is the Belize River flanked by thick jungle .


  Toward the middle of the photo you can see a little homestead at a sharp bend in the river.


The water at the bottom of the photo is Caribbean Ocean.  Inland are Quashi Lagoon and the large Southern Lagoon.  Behind the Southern Lagoon are the Peccary foothills and then the Maya Mountains.


The coastal village we are approaching is Dangriga.  You can see the Maya Mountains in the background.


Notice the reflection of the pilot in the window.  That straight tan line perpendicular to the coast is the airstrip we are banking to land on as one of 2 stops along our way.


Back in the air after Dangriga, we can see the Sittee River with citrus groves and banana plantations on either side. 


Now we are on the ground, well, actually on the water in our boat.  to our right is the airstrip.  If you look really, really carefully, you will see a little speck in the air.


The speck is bigger...


bigger ...


and about to touchdown on the airstrip.


This is the same size plane we flew in on, although it ours Maya Island Air.
Stay tuned for more.