31 March, 2015

Hummingbirds of South Englishtown, Toledo, Belize

Since we put up our first hummingbird feeder in September of 2013 (read about it here), we have witnessed a remarkable insurgence of hummingbirds all around our property.  We started with just one feeder off the front veranda after we had seen a female ruby throated hummer visit the hibiscus in front of the cabana.  We knew it must have recently arrived from North America and that it would winter around here or perhaps fly even farther south.  It didn't take long at all for the little female to start feeding on the sugar-water nectar we provided.  We eventually saw juvenile male ruby throats that year (check it out here) and adult males the following year.
Ruby-throated hummingbirds - they started it all here in Englishtown.
The resident cinnamon hummingbirds didn't know what to make of the hummingbird feeders, but kept a close eye on the ruby throats.  The cinnamons made attempts to feed, but it took them a while to figure out how to get the nectar.  But once they learned, there was no going back. Soon they even learned how to sit on the perches while feeding.

We soon added more feeders off the back veranda (see it here).  The new feeders were positioned much better for photography and I was able to get decent shots of cinnamon hummers (here), rufous-tailed hummers (here), and green-breasted mango hummers (here).  So the migrant ruby-throats, that are so used to feeders in the US, taught the resident cinnamons to use the feeders and soon the resident rufous-tails and green-breasted mangos also learned.  They are smart little birds!

I don't know about you, but I can never have too many hummingbirds, so here are some newer photos.
Female green-breasted mango hummingbird.  She has a white-tipped tail and white underparts with a distinctive irregular  teal-green stripe down the midline.  Can't mistake her for anyone else!
Females and males have black, decurved bills. 
Just look at that teal-green stripe!  It just looks dark, almost black, when it is not reflecting light.  It is a challenge to capture this coloration; I was quite happy to get this shot!
You can just make out some of the bronze-colored tail feathers here.  But look at how dull and black looking the mid-line stripe is from this angle.  You would never suspect how gorgeous it can be.
The male green-breasted mango hummingbirds are a little more skittish than the females, so I had to stay a little farther away and really crop the photos.
You can see how the color changes from head to tail, getting a little more golden toward the tail.  And you can just see the edge of the coppery tail feathers.
Just look at that color on the breast!  Such a magnificent teal next to emerald green.
The tail feathers are dark copper with transmitted light.
Look at the magenta iridescence of the tail when the sun shines on it!
I still have some work to do for better photos; gives me something to strive for.  :-)  I am going to rig up a little blind/hide close to the feeders at the right orientation to the sun and spend some time just waiting to get the right shots.

I also am playing with flash to try to get the iridescence.  Here is a flash photo of a rufous-tailed hummer.
Rufous-tailed hummingbird.  I think this is either a female or a juvenile.  The sexes are very similar in this species, although the adult males tend to be a bit more intensely colored.
I like how it turned out, except for the feeder being in the way.  But I think I am onto something. 

29 March, 2015

Let There Be Light!

I haven’t posted a new blog entry for ages – December 2014, in fact.  There has been quite a bit to blog about, but I am guilty of becoming bored by my own blog.  How did that happen?  I have still been reading other peoples blogs and they don’t bore me (well, not all of them do!). 

After pondering this for weeks, I realize that I have lost my blogging inspiration.  My original target audience for this blog was my Mother, with other family and friends as a bonus.  Dennis and I bought our bit of sea front jungle in Belize in 2004 with the intent to eventually move here.  At that time, it was difficult to stay in touch with my Mother during our bi-annual 2-week trips here; the telephone service was terrible - even worse than my Mother’s hearing!  So phone calls just didn’t work.  And she worried about us being so far away.  No matter that we would be only a little farther from her home in Georgia than we already were living in Rochester, MN or that we would be closer to her than my middle sister who lives in California.  “You’ll be in another country” she said.  She had a point, of sorts.  In an effort to keep her from feeling left behind and to make Belize less foreign to her, I started this blog in 2009.  She easily could follow our preparations as we geared up to move to Belize, and perhaps catch some of our excitement as we made progress.
Christmas Canoe Race at Lake Russell State Park in Georgia.  Mother was always up for adventure!
Well, the blog worked.  She loved reading it and seeing the photos of our trips and also our life in Rochester.  She could look at it any time on her computer, even during the middle of sleepless nights that plagued her later years.  You can read a little more about my incredible Mother here.  Sadly, she died in 2012 at the noteworthy age of 92.  Please read about her life here.  She would have been 95 on March 18th.  I miss her still.  The hole she left is as large as it ever was, but perhaps not as deep.  Or maybe the memories of her buoy me, keeping me afloat in the space of her absence.

As I was thinking about her on her recent birthday, I realized that not having her inspiring requests, ok – her impatient queries “when are you going to write another blog?!” - to spur me along had resulted in a sad reduction of blogging frequency on my part, not to mention a sad increase in blogging drudgery.  So I aim to set that right with more frequent and less boring posts!

What’s this about LIGHT in the title?  We got phase 1 of our solar power installed earlier this month, that’s what!  This is an amazing change to our daily lives.  Until now, our electricity has been supplied by a diesel generator that charges a battery bank.  We run (ran, now.  Past tense is a wonderful thing.) the generator 8 or 9 hours a day, from 6:30 am ‘til 11:00 am and again from 5:30 pm ‘til 8:30 pm.  Even longer when power tools are used for construction.  That uses a lot of diesel fuel, which we have to haul here by boat from Independence, 45 minutes away.  It is also incredibly noisy.  We have enjoyed the quiet evenings so much.  The mornings are still noisy due to the construction.  And since the existing battery bank is not sufficient to supply the power tools, we still have to use a smaller gas generator for them.  L  Hence Phase 2 to come with more panels and another battery bank.

We had a crew from ProSolar in Belmopan, the capitol of Belize, come down for the installation. Here are some photos of the installation.
Kyle and Winston from ProSolar getting the cottage roof ready.  This is the original caretaker cottage that we built so someone would always live on site even before we moved down.
The west side of the cottage where the solar panels will go.  Our new addition to our vacation cabana is in the background. Phase 2 solar panels will go on its roof.
Manuel, Winston, and Kyle have 6 panels up and 3 to go.
This is from an email I sent to my sibs on March 17th describing what it entailed to get them here:

“… major advances today!  Phase 1 of our solar system has been installed; we are pumping photons!  We have 9 panels on Richard and Joy's cabana that are charging up the battery bank that we had been using the generator to charge for the past few years.  These batteries are absorbed gel batteries and seem to be pretty good, better than the lead acid batteries that we had before.  We will still need to run the generator several times a week until we get Phase 2 completed, which we hope to do by the end of May.  

We have a crew of 3 guys from ProSolar, a Belmopan-based outfit that we like, doing the installation.  To get them here, we had to arrange transportation from the end of the road in Monkey River Village, accommodation here in Englishtown, and meals.  It is a major endeavor to get all this coordinated.  They arrived late yesterday afternoon.  We arranged for them to park their truck at our friends Chery and Nevan's place.  Chery and Nevan also have a little restaurant, so they did dinner last night and tonight.  Lloydie did the boat transportation to Englishtown.  They stayed at one of the SteppingStones cabanas and we had Lloydie's partner Diana, do the cleaning there since SteppingStones is no longer operating as a resort.  I stocked the bathroom with towels, soap, and toilet paper.  I did breakfast (scrambled eggs, ham, refried beans, flour tortillas, watermelon, papaya, OJ, coffee) for them this morning at 7:30, after they had already worked for an hour, and a snack (pineapple, papaya, Scottish shortbread) this afternoon.  Our friend Elna, who does lunches for her husband's tour business, did lunch (rice and beans, stewed chicken) for us.  I will do breakfast for them tomorrow (a creation that Dennis often makes that we call a quesorito - refried black beans, deli turkey, cheese, sautéed onions and sweet pepper in a flour tortilla).  And then I will cross my fingers that they are gone by noon because I am out of food and out of friends who cook!  We love being remote, but the half-day trip to get groceries requires advance planning.  They seem happy with accommodations and food, so I am happy too.  We want to make sure they are willing to come back for Phase 2!

Also - the veranda roof is complete.  Amazingly, it looks even better than I had hoped; it really pulls together the 2 separate buildings in a complementary way, almost as if we planned it to look like this.  Ha! Tomorrow they will start putting the decking and rails on the little balcony at the front.  Later this week they will start putting the flooring on the veranda.

Now if we can just get the septic issue resolved ...

Raising a cup to St. Paddy today and to Mother tomorrow!”

Below is a photo of the new addition that we are building onto the vacation cabana that we built in 2006-7.  The cabana has not quite 650 sq feet of interior space which will be more than doubled with the addition.
The addition (on the right) to our 2006 vacation cabana.  A work in progress ...

The View that makes it worth it.
View from the vacation cabana veranda in 2008.
There is light!  The one in the fridge is my favorite.  ;-)