25 May, 2015

Sticky Ball Update - New Approach(es)

Today's post is from Dennis - the much anticipated Sticky Ball Update!

At the end of roughly 1 month we had collected approximately 16,000 biting flies (yellow flies aka Doctor flies; black flies; and horse flies).  At the end of roughly 2 months, we had collected an additional 11,800 flies for a cumulative total of over 26,600 flies.  You read that correctly - twenty-six thousand six hundred!  At the end of 3 months, I quit counting.  Counting flies and renewing the glue was becoming a full-time occupation; I gave up research when I retired.  The science behind these traps has already been performed and the traps validated, and the studies replicated.  I was not generating new concepts and data by counting flies.  Tallying the captured flies was not hypothesis-driven.  (OK – science bit over – continue reading.)  My real goal was to renew the balls quickly and to try to minimize the biting fly populations by capturing additional flies.  
That's a whole lotta flies!  Time to refresh the sticky ball.
 So I have taken to using a 2 ½ inch wide putty knife and scraping the old less sticky glue off the balls with the attached flies, then reapplying a coat of Tacky Trap, re-inflating the balls if needed, and getting them back up quickly.  
Mostly Doctor Flies, but also some small, annoying flies.  They come right off with the putty knife.
I have had some balls capture over 1500 flies in a month period, and this takes about 2 hours per ball to remove and tally the flies, then re-glue and remount the balls outside.  When you have about 30 glue balls set out, it takes a lot of time to do this! When I scrape the balls, it takes maybe 15 minutes or so per ball, and I can have coffee in between balls if I wish.  I can get the balls back into action quickly, although I will run through Tacky-Trap more quickly.  Quote from Wilma "A sticky ball not hanging outside is a sticky ball not doing its job!"
Half-cleaned ball.  Note the color coordination.  ;-)
I did get some useful information from the tallying activity however.  I have identified 3 geographic “hot-spots” where we collect approximately 3 times as many flies than the average ball.  This finding is going to be used for a different collection approach that hopefully will be less time-consuming.  I re-contacted Dr. James Cilek, who did a great deal of the pioneering work in this area, and said I might try a different type of trap.  There are various types of fly traps you can search for online: Horse Pal; Nzi; Epps; French Box Trap). He provided copies of papers in which a two tier box-trap had been used successfully (for example see J. E. Cilek and M. A. Olson 2008. Effects of Carbon Dioxide, an Octenol/Phenol Mixture, and Their Combination on Tabanidae (Diptera) Collections from French 2-Tier Box Traps.  Journal of Medical Entomology Vol. 45  Issue 4: pages 638-642).  The trap involves a black ball hanging from a plywood box in which the biting flies are attracted to the black ball, travel upwards in the box and are collected ultimately in a two-liter soda bottle at the top.  No glue involved.  So I will be setting these up in the “hotspots” shortly.  We will still be keeping the glue balls, however, to deplete the population locally as much as we can.  Stay tuned for a report later in the season with results from the non-sticky traps.

But for now you may want to watch this Bette Midler performance on Youtube with the DeLago Family Trademark of "Balls" coming in at 3'40", although the whole thing is simple wonderful.  :-)

22 May, 2015

Sunset Balcony

A quick construction update here.  The screening for the veranda has been completed.  It joins up with the screened in portion of the old veranda and wraps around to the northeast corner of the addition.  Most of the north side of the covered veranda will remain without screen.  We like having a mixture of screened in and open areas.  What we call the "sunset balcony" on the upper level of the west side has been completed, too.  I am in happy anticipation of evening cocktails while sitting on the balcony and watching the sun set over the jungle. Salut!
The north side of addition.  The sea is on the left (to the east).  This shot was taken while they were putting up the rail on the sunset balcony. 
The sunset balcony has great views over the swamp around Black Creek and the adjacent jungle.  Before we venture up the stairs to the next images, queue up the appropriate music from the movie Vertigo by clicking here.

Stairs from the back veranda up to the balcony.
The footprint of the balcony is a roughly 10ft square with a tapered end off the north side of the square.
Looking toward the tapered end from the top of the stairs.
Looking toward the top of the stairs from the tapered end.
 The views are grand.
Looking south from the top of the stairs, you can see the older cabana with the shade cloth-covered pergola.  That 10-yr-old roof doesn't look too bad! 
View to the southwest across the swamp and Black Creek.
Those taller trees along the left horizon are the dense jungle through which the Monkey River runs.  The jungle is home to troops of Howler Monkeys that give Monkey River its name.  We can hear the monkeys howl during the still, pre-dawn hours.  It is a sound unlike any other.
The sunset balcony is 22 feet above the ground.  
15 steep steps from the balcony to the veranda and then another 16 not-as-steep steps from the veranda to the ground.
Do you think we need stair rails?

13 May, 2015

Eggcellent Gulf Fritillary Butterfly

It's been windy and that makes it tough for butterflies - not to mention tough for butterfly photographers.  But the butterflies were out and so was I.  With Heart's "Dog and Butterfly" was playing in my head (click here to listen with me), I did my best to photograph this Gulf Fritillary butterfly as it flew and fluttered in the windblown vegetation.
The lovely Agraulis vanillae - Gulf Fritillary butterfly with its distinctive silver-spotted abdomen and orange wings with silver spots and black markings.
Very photogenic, so I obliged.
This may very well be the adult butterfly from the caterpillar that I showed a photo of a couple of weeks ago here.  In fact that rock below (really it's a piece of concrete from an old piling) is the same one pictured earlier.
It was fluttering around in a very suspicious manner.
Its flutterings made me think that it was in egg-laying mode, so I took more photos hoping for an action shot.
Not still for long, I got a blurry view of the underside as it hovered briefly before changing direction.
Off again to investigate some nearby plants.
She found something promising...
Getting ready.
and possibly deposited an egg.
Is that an egg? or an illusion?
Still on the chase, I followed her as she dropped onto a low plant.  Click on the photos for the big show.
I snapped away as she lingered on the leaf.
And there!  The abdomen makes contact with the leaf.
She remains in place a few seconds longer.
She moves back and it looks like there is a single yellow dot on the leaf.  Is it an egg?
Congratulations - you have an egg.
A single yellow egg in the middle of the leaf.  And just take a look at the leaf below the egg-bearing leaf. Sure looks caterpillar-eaten to me!  Someone was here earlier.
No dog, but an eggcellent butterfly.  I see a walk in my future to check on caterpillars ... 

08 May, 2015

Orchids and Ants - It's the time of the season to feel the love

It's that time again - the end of the dry season that has so many plants and birds around here focusing on procreation.  Is this the season the Zombies had in mind when they recorded "The Time Of The Season"?  Click here to listen while you read about these ant-loving Cow Horn Orchids.

(A little aside - our friend and former neighbor at SteppingStones, Chris Harris, went to school at St. Albans with members of the Zombies.  He knew Zombies before they were cool!)

For weeks I have been watching as the slender green inflorescent spikes on the orchids get longer and longer, almost like watching asparagus grow.  Nothing happens for ages and then suddenly, boom like that, there they are.
Impressive, no?  You might even say hard to miss.  But you would be surprised.
Most of these orchids, which are epiphytes, are way up high in the tree canopy and the clusters of blossoms can get lost in sheer mass of vegetation.
High overhead, the flowers are easy to pass under without noticing.  The flowers on the right are on a long stalk coming out of the dense green plant on the left.
You have to actually look for them at the right time of the season, then you wonder how you could have possibly overlooked them before.
I was using my zoom lens and also cropped the photo to get this image of the flower that was way over my head.  Look at the curlicue petals.  According to various references I consulted, the curly petals are what gives it the common name of cow horn. No, I don't see it either.  
I know of some plants that are closer to the ground and are amenable to ladder-less photography.  The flower stalks are overrun with ants!
Ants are on all the flowers; the dried ones, the fresh ones, the buds.  They get nectar from the green patches on the flowers.  
Myrmecophila, the genus of the orchid, means "ant lover" (myrmex is Greek for ant and phila is Greek for love).  Easy to see that the ants might love the orchid, after all they get sweet nectar from it.  But what do the orchids love about the ants?
The big(ger) picture - This is a small portion of a huge mass of orchids behind our generator shed.  The flower stalks are so long that they are out of the frame.  What I want you to see are the cylindrical pseudobulbs from which the leaves emerge.  They are the key to the ant/orchid relationship.
The ants live in the hollow pseudobulbs.  They pack the pseudobulbs with all kinds of stuff - dead ants and other insects, dirt and sand, plant debris and seeds.  I bet there is ant poo in there, too.  In other words, they provide and deliver a sort of soil to the orchids up high in the tree branches.  They deserve their love.

Whose your daddy?

You can read more about Cow Horn Orchids and see a few photos of other orchids here and here.

03 May, 2015

A Real Hot Day Trip

Life is moving along slowly here in South Englishtown.  On Tuesday, Dennis and I made a trip to Belmopan, the capitol of Belize.  We had unknowingly picked what was to be a day of record setting heat across all of Belize, indeed across the entire Yucatan Peninsula, for our excursion.  It was Real Hot in the Shade; click here to chill out to the music of Third World Reggae - one of my favorite reggae bands - as you read the rest of this post.

We needed to arrange for phase 2 of the solar power installation in May or June and to pick up some hardware supplies and food items that we can't find more locally.  The trip takes about 3 hours each way, so we made an early start in order to get back home before dark.  
We drove along the Monkey River Road (red) to the Southern Highway (yellow) to the Hummingbird Highway (purple) to get to Belmopan, about 100 miles there and another 100 back. Plus what ever driving around for the errands.  The thin grey lines are the boundaries between the 6 districts in Belize.  We live in the Toledo District and Belmopan is in the Cayo District.
We were on the Monkey River Road (dirt road through jungle and orange orchard) by 7:30.  Although the road was quite dusty, it was in very good shape - it only took about 30 minutes to travel the 12 miles to the Southern Highway. The Southern Highway takes you through the low coastal flats of orange groves, banana farms, and other agricultural endeavors surrounded by jungle and open savannah.  We made our usual stop at the Shell Service Station at the beginning of the Hummingbird Highway to buy a chicken and bean johnnycake (for me) and chicken torta and coffee (for Dennis).  

The Hummingbird Highway is breathtakingly beautiful.  It passes through the jungle-covered Maya Mountains which rise up steeply from the coastal flats; the scenery and vistas are stunning.  Equally breathtaking, in a very scary way, are the 7 just barely single-lane bridges that cross over creeks and rivers cascading down the mountains.  In theory, you take turns with oncoming traffic to cross over the bridges.  In theory.  Click here to see what happens when somebody isn't paying attention.  It is not as grizzly a scene as it could have been.  Of course the big tanker trucks carrying crude oil from the oil fields in the town of Spanish Lookout get the first turn every time.  The tanks clear the bridge rails by mere inches on either side. Major chunks of concrete have been knocked off the guard rails where drivers have mis-judged the clearance.  We don't drive this road after dark.  I'm sure you can understand.

We did our business with ProSolar to get on their installation schedule, did some window shopping for a new gas generator in the event ours needs to be replaced, took a quick look at Hummingbird Furniture (nice, but too expensive for what you get), and got all our shopping done at Builders' Hardware all before lunch.  For lunch we split a warm brown rice salad and fajitas del mar at Blue Moon restaurant; both were excellent.  I had a tamarind juice to drink, which was quite refreshing.  The day had gotten hotter and hotter; it was up to 104F (40C) by the time we had finished lunch.

With the AC blasting, we drove to our next stops - a new-for-us hardware store called Gallardos, a Chinese grocery store, Brodie's Supermarket (it actually is a supermarket, although on the small side by US standards), and a produce stand. We were back on the road by 2:00 and back to Monkey River by 5:00.  Elan picked us up at the river's edge in his brother's boat and helped us get our various purchases over to our seaside dock at Englishtown.  Fortunately, it doesn't get as hot here on the coast as it does in the interior of the country - the high was only(!) around 96F, but it was still real hot in the shade and it stayed real hot well after sunset.  Lucky for us, it did cool down some during the night and while the next day was hot, it was not real hot.  

I will close with a handful of photos that I took  when it wasn't too hot to take a slow stroll around.

Crinum lilies with a visiting bee of some sort.
Moon flower.  They are open at night for one night only; I caught this one early in the morning before it closed.
Orange flowers on an unidentified tree.  The color is so intense that the camera can't quite cope with it.
Weed with yellow flowers.
Small butterfly, not phased by the heat.
Orange spiny caterpillar.  I believe this will be a Gulf Fritillary butterfly,  Agraulis vanillae.
The heat has broken several days ago.  Didn't even need to use a fan last night.