28 September, 2009


Because this is my 50th post, I want to make it a little extra-special. What to do??? Perhaps highlights of our recent trip to Belize? No, I want to make that last for a number of posts parceled out so I can make it through the upcoming winter. Something about our cats? Oh heck no, too boring for everyone except me (I can hear you thanking me for nixing that idea). Photos and ruminations on the change of seasons? Too depressing to even contemplate. So I took a wander through my photo collection for inspiration and found --- TADPOLES TO FROGS. I hope you enjoy reading and looking as much as I enjoyed writing it and taking the photos.

It is the old chicken or egg conundrum; start with the adult frog or the baby tadpole? Well, since I choose to start this series in early summer, we will begin with an adult frog that inhabited our little garden pond. I believe this a Northern Leopard frog. There must be at least one other of the opposite sex around, although I saw only one at a time. This species reaches sexual maturity in 2 to 4 years, so these have been around for a few years at least. They seem to like the abundant mass of filamentous algae that is in our little pond.

The second picture is the last time I saw this little frog. I am suspicious that it was eaten by raccoons that raid the pond almost nightly.

This next adult is either Cope's Gray Treefrog or the Gray Treefrog (the Gray has twice the number of chromosomes as the Cope's). You may recognize this one from the post I made earlier (http://southenglishtown.blogspot.com/2009/08/how-much-is-that-froggie-in-window.html).

So, we have two kinds of frogs around. Will we see tadpoles of both in the pond? Below are photos of the tadpoles in chronological order. The little tadpoles seem to graze on the algae or critters in the algae. Perhaps that is why the adults like the algae so much.

A month or so later, these little guys and girls have gotten bigger. They really like to graze on the submerged rock ledge, probably so they can soak up the sun's warmth while eating. It just doesn't get better than that!

Pretty soon, they start to develop rear legs.

And now you can see that there are 2 kinds of tadpoles in the pond. See the little green at the bottom right? That one is going to be a Northern Leopard Frog. And I believe that others will be Gray Treefrogs.

After the rear legs start developing, the front legs show up and the tail starts to get pretty darn skinny.
Just look at that sweet little froggie face.

At some point the Gray Treefrogs leave the pond environs. I found some young frogs in surprising places. Here is one on a wild raspberry bramble. That out of focus white thing in the second image is my thumb (for size comparison) - that is a wee little froggie.

I had never thought to look for frogs on flowers. This one looks quite happy on the Black-eyed Susan on a damp day.
You can see the markings that are prominent along the sides of some of the Gray Treefrogs.

JD helped me look for frogs, or so he said. I think he was really looking for birds! ;-) You didn't really think I go for this long without a cat picture, did you? I have not found any of the newly transformed Northern Leopard Frog out of the pond. My reference says that it overwinters in the water, so they may just stay put. The Gray Treefrogs hibernate during winter and can withstand freezing. That will come in handy here!

24 September, 2009

back in Minnesota

We got back to Minnesota yesterday after spending 2 weeks in Belize. When we left for Belize on Sept. 7th, it was still summer. Here is what we came back to:

a patio and lawn dusted with the first fallen leaves of autumn. We knew it had to happen sooner or later. Sigh ...

But there are still some flowers and visitors to the flowers in the garden, like this amazing painted lady butterfly on purple liatris (blazing star)

After I get a little more settled and back into the routine of going to work (!), I'll post more about our Belize trip. Plus I have lots of blog reading to catch up on; it seems the writers of the blogs I follow are very prolific with posts far too good to skip. :-)

21 September, 2009

Visit to the Mennonite Nursery

Saturday, September 12, 2009
After we left the Belize Zoo Education Center, we drove to Belmopan to buy some supplies from Prossers’ (fertilizer), Builders Hardware (mildewcide) and ate lunch at the open-air market (chicken empanadas, yum). From there we drove down the Hummingbird Highway to the village of Armenia. We turned off the highway onto a dirt road and followed the signs to “Fruit and Nut Nursery” which took us up into the hills a bit through some Mayan milpas farms and finally into a Mennonite settlement. Sue and Chris had been there before and immediately recognized the shade house along the road and the nursery. We stopped the truck and got out. Very soon a Mennonite woman and her very young daughter came to greet us and show us the nursery. Martha was her name and she was very familiar with all the plants in her husband’s shade house. She had a book with photos of the plants and descriptions of how to grow them. She personally told us which fruits she had used for pies, jams, or just eating straight off the trees. It was a very small operation, but had an amazing number of different plants. We bought some that we though would stand a chance of growing in our low country, beach environment if we coddle them enough; Mulberry, black raspberry, Cambodiana Mango, Mangosteen, Guava, Breadfruit.

Inside the shade house, there were quite a few butterflies. I will have to key them out when I get back home to a better internet connection and to my reference books. Thanks to Andrew at Quicksilvercountry blog for ID'ing both butterflies. Both are peacocks -the first is a white peacock (Anartia jatrophe) and the second is a banded peacock (Anartia fatima).
The nursery is really up in the high hills; the countryside is beautiful and the air is much cooler than in the valleys and low country. There are cows grazing on the hillsides, and several Mennonite horse-drawn cart and buggies pass up and down the road.

After covering our purchases to protect them from the wind, we turned around and went back down to the Hummingbird Highway toward Dangriga, where we got on the Western highway and continued to Monkey River Road turn off. The Monkey River Road is our last stretch before home. It is a dirt road that goes through some orange and grapefruit orchards, but the closer to the river you get, the more jungle there is. During the wet season ( which we are in now), the road is often impassable due to high water; but it was OK with just a few big puddles this time. Below is a photo of Monkey River Village as seen from the dock on the north side of the Monkey River. The next photo is of the mouth of the Monky River emptying into the Caribbean.

At the end of the Monkey River Road, we unloaded the truck, Sue returned the truck to Martha and Sam’s place for safekeeping, and then we loaded all our purchases onto Lloydies’ boat and he brought us back to South Englishtown. During the next few days, we got the plants settled, and even planted most of the seeds we had brought down with us; things like different colors of Frangipani, cardoon, capers, Calabasas, and guanabana. We also planted avocado, mango, and pitiyaya (dragon fruit) seeds from fruit we had eaten.

We also have the fruit trees that we had planted in earlier years. Some of them are doing well and others are suffering in the salt wind and nutrient-poor sandy soil. The breadfruit, seen below with Joy, is one of the trees that is doing very well.

18 September, 2009

The Belize Zoo by Night

Friday, September 12, 2009
After dinner cooked by the Education Center staff, Jilario took us on a guided tour of the Belize Zoo (www.belizezoo.org/). Ordinarily, I am not a fan of zoos; I prefer that animal stay in the wild. But the Belize Zoo was started by Sharon Matola for two purposes: 1) to be a place where injured wild animals or wild animals otherwise unfit for living free could be cared for and 2) to be a place where Belizeans and visitors to Belize could learn about the wildlife native to Belize. All the animals in the zoo are species that are native to Belize, although they may have been obtained in nearby Guatemala, Honduras, or Mexico. The Zoo is supported entirely by donations, so they are small and are not able to afford programs to reintroduce animals to the wild.

The tour of the zoo by night was fantastic. There where on the 4 of us (Sue, Chris, Dennis, and I) and Jilario, our guide. Jilario was wonderful and his passion for his work shines through the whole tour. First up were the snakes, with the yellow-jawed Tommy Goff (aka “Fer de Lance”) leading off. The Tommy Goffs are quite poisonous and a bite from a Tommy Goff may be lethal. You can imagine that it is important to know what they look like and where they are found! We each (except Chris) had a turn at holding the boa constrictor. It was a lovely snake and seemed to enjoy being held.

Next we saw the gibnuts (aka “The Royal Rat”). They are attractively spotted, largish rodents that get to about 20 pounds. When Queen Elizabeth visited Belize before it became independent, she was served gibnut at a banquet, hence its nickname. From firsthand experience, I can tell you that it is delicious; if you can imagine the veal equivalent of a piglet you will have a pretty good idea of how tender and non-gamey it is. Gibnut are a delicacy in Belize (jaguars love them, too) and fortunately they are abundant in the wild.

Belize is home to several wild cats, all of which we got to see and feed at the zoo. The animals know that they will get a treat if they come up during a tour, and so we got to feed a puma, an ocelot, several margays, and a jaguar. They were all gorgeous, impressive animals and, like all the animals there, each had its own story of how it came to be at the zoo.

Although we caught only glimpses, the howler monkeys were impossible to miss due to their indescribable howling. These monkeys aren’t true zoo inhabitants, in that they can come and go as they please. This troop just happens to live on zoo property. The property is kept very natural with special water sources added for the gibnuts, etc.

Perhaps the cutest animals were the kinkajous. They are similar to possums and raccoons. They love to hang upside down and use the tips of their tails and their hands and feet grab hold of supports. I say “hands” because their front feet are very primate-like with thumbs and fingers. Check out the photos of them hanging on the wire fence when we visited their enclosure.

Only a few species of birds are kept at the zoo – spectacled owls, harpy eagles, and curassows. The owls and eagles were happy to show their faces to us, but the curassows only mooned us (see photos)! The harpy eagle is majestic and very beautiful; the photos really don’t do justice to the birds.
Near the end of the tour we also saw 2 big American crocodiles. Belize has 2 native crocs, the American and the Morelet’s. The Americans tend to be larger than the Morelet’s. Both are largely fish eaters, although they may take the small mammals, including dogs. The American crocs at the zoo are very acclimated to the tours since it brings them their evening treat of chicken feet, so we were able to get excellent photos. Check out the photo of a lovely moth that stayed at the side of one of the crocs (see photos). I love the juxtaposition of the defenseless moth mere inches away from the powerfully fearsome hind claws of the croc.

I’ll close this entry with how we ended our tour and perhaps what were the most bizarre animals, the tapirs (aka “Mountain Cows”). They have long prehensile noses, similar to an anteater, and are cow-sized when mature. We felt very special to be the very first tour to hand feed the newest tapir, “Indy”, a bottle (see photos). That was a very fun experience and the entire tour was incredible. A note of caution however -- tapirs express their urine to the rear, and so you need to be mindful of their position relative to you. (Dennis added this last sentence).

The Belize Zoo may be small, but it has a big impact. In addition to the nighttime and day tours, they hold courses, and have two other activities in which you can participate. You can be a “zookeeper for the day” and you can also get to get up close and personal with the young jaguar named Junior Buddy. They have built a small enclosure within the main jaguar enclosure that permits up to 4 individuals enter and be inches away from the 2 year old jaguar. This sounds very cool and you can read a blog at Moonracer Farms with another account of a zoo visit that includes a visit with Junior Buddy (http://moonracerfarmbelize.blogspot.com/2009/05/margaret.html).

11 September, 2009

Belizin' It

Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Dennis and I flew into the Phillip Goldson International Airport just outside Belize City and made it through Immigration and Customs as usual. We lost one of the 10 bags along the way, but it will be shipped to the Placencia Airport in a day or so. From there, we flew on a 12 seater to Placencia with a stop at Dangriga. I took the next 3 photos with my cell phone from the airplane. This first one was taken as we approached the Dangriga Airstrip.

This one is the approach to the Placencia Airstrip. As you can see, the Placnecia Pennisula is quite narrow.

In this shot, we are turning around at the end of the runway, and yes, that is the shadow of the wing on the road (on paved in the last month or so) that the truck is driving on.

We went by boat on the 45 mn trip down to our place in South Englishtown, population doubled by our arrival.

Friday, September 11, 2009
Yesterday, Sue, Chris, Dennis and I got Richard (our caretaker) to take us by boat on the 10 min trip to the dock on the north bank of the Monkey River. Chris and Sue leave their truck with our friends Martha and Sam, who live almost at the end of the road near the dock. While Sue went to get the truck, we unloaded our overnight bags to start our trip to Belmopan (the capital) and Belize City (the former capital, and only actual city in the entire country of less than 300,000 people). Our plan was to stay for 2 nights at the Education Center that is associated with the Belize Zoo while we took care of business in the city and did some shopping in the village of Spanish Lookout and Belmopan. We did our shopping at Spanish Lookout before we got to the zoo. As we drove into the Education Center, we were met by John, the zoo manager, who told us where our cabanas were. We had pondside cabanas with lovely verandas. In the pond were fish, turtles, and crocodiles and some lovely plants. Those photos will come tomorrow.

in belize

It is 8:40 am EST, Tuesday September 8th. Dennis and I are sitting in the E concourse of the Miami International Airport waiting for our flight to Belize. The past 2 weeks have been totally hectic for me, with 2 major grant proposal deadlines today. On the flight from Chicago to Miami, I was still writing on one proposal, continued to do so last night at the hotel until midnight, and then got up at 4:30 am to finish my section so I could email it to my colleagues who will combine with their parts and submit it to NIH. Now I am ready for vacation.

Dennis outdid himself with packing this time. We checked 6 bags with an average weight of 60 lbs. Plus we each have 2 carryons that are packed to capacity. Included in the checked bags is an inverter to replace the inverter at our cabana. The inverter converts the direct current (DC) from the bank of car batteries that are charged by a diesel generator to alternating current (AC) that is the standard for house current. Dennis found the perfect bag to pack it in; the bag is a big round thing that looks like a bass drum would fit in it, mostly because a big bass drum would fit in because that is what it is designed to carry. The inverter weighs 62 lbs. Dennis used bed pillows to cushion the inverter. He also packed 2 drills, 3 circular saws (Belize is tough on these power tools), and I don’t know what else. I’m still pretty brain-dead.

Our mission this trip is to construct and install a solar water heater for our cabana. Dennis found a design that uses a highly reflective foil similar to a very heavy mylar with an adhesive backing. You use this to line the concave surface of 8 inch PVC pipe that has been cut lengthwise. Essentially you wind up with 2 troughs aligned to maximize solar gain. Water is circulated through the troughs and into an insulated water tank to store the heated water. Part of the installation involves making the support structure for troughs and situating it either on the roof or on a platform attached high on the south side of the cabana.

Dennis just got an email from Chris inviting us to join him and Sue for dinner at Central Englishtown this evening. Sue is a great cook; I hope I can stay awake long enough to appreciate the fine dinner and the fine company. I can hardly wait …

Friday, September 11

Computer baterry is almost dead. Will post an update later. Having a terrific time.