31 August, 2017

Dawn and a Fat Boa

We had a very much appreciated night of rainfall last night that cooled things off, relatively speaking.  As I was getting for my morning run (technically morning "jog"), I saw this wonderful color developing as the sun rose over the sea.

Despite the bright beginning of the day, clouds soon set in, which kept the temperature reasonable in the morning.  By midday, the sun was back in full force.  This afternoon, our batteries are charged and water vats are full.

The little boa constrictor continues to hang out in the tamarind tree outside our back door.  I don't see it every day, but I am pretty sure that this tree is its home, for the time being at least.  A few days ago I noticed that it had a suspicious bulge.  A hummingbird-sized bulge.
Boa with a bulge.
Happy snake.  Sad bird.  Well, I suppose the bird isn't sad any longer.

27 August, 2017

Chaya and Cicadas in the Heat

Boy, is it hot!  The local produce suffers in the heat; the heat makes the water spinach and lots of other greens very bitter.  One plant we are turning to more and more is Chaya, also called spinach tree.
We were given a hand full of cuttings several years ago that were the start of this big clump of Chaya.
We put the handful of chaya cuttings that we got from a friend down into a bucket of water for a couple months and basically forgot about them.  When I finally remembered to check on them, they had developed a nice root system, so we  planted them behind our back veranda.  For 2 years now we have been harvesting chaya leaves.  I started routinely harvesting them about once a week several months ago when all the greens we bought at the market were quite bitter from the heat.  All except the chaya, which thrives in the heat and has no bitterness at all.  I'm actually rather puzzled about how to describe the taste of chaya.  It is mild, but has an almost meaty hint to it that spinach and other greens I am familiar with lack.  Maybe this is because it has higher protein content than spinach does.  Anyway, the taste is pleasant and mild, almost bland.
Freshly harvested chaya leaves ready for de-stemming and chopping.
I harvest only the newest, still-glossy leaves since the older leaves can be quite tough - even after boiling for 15 minutes!  Chaya is incredibly nutritious, packing in a lot more nutrients than traditional spinach.  One draw-back is that when raw it contains a cyanide generating compound, which fortunately is destroyed by boiling for 12-15 minutes.
Boiling the chaya.
I usually boil up a couple of cups of chopped leaves, which yields about 3/4cup of cooked chaya.  The leaves are sturdy enough that they stay intact through the boiling.  After boiling, draining, and cooling the chaya, I usually put in a baggie and store it frozen until I am ready to cook with it.  You can use it the same way you would for spinach - in soups, enchiladas, scrambled eggs, spaghetti sauce, or added to casseroles.
Chaya in creamy cheese sauce.
A couple of nights ago, I added chaya to a creamy cheese sauce that I made to put over baked potatoes.  I also put in a couple of red jalapeño peppers to give the sauce a little extra kick.
Chaya cheese sauce over pan-seared turkey sausage bits atop baked potatoes - a meal in bowl.
The sauce was very tasty.  In retrospect, I could have added more chaya.  Next time.

Besides bitterness to greens, the hot weather also brings out the cicadas.  I had been noticing empty cicada exuviae still clutching knee-level vegetation when out on my morning runs.  I got a photo of one, only to realize when processing it that the nascent adult had not yet emerged.
Last larval stage of a cicada.  I think the nascent adult is still inside.
The hotter the weather, the louder the adult cicadas sing - at least that is I learned growing up in Georgia.
Adult cicada.
I saw this cicada on the outside of the veranda screen and it stayed still long enough for me to get my camera and immortalize it.  They are sure loud these days.

25 August, 2017

Canna Lilies

Canna lilies are native to Belize and Central America.  Wild ones grow along the wet sides of the Monkey River Road as it cuts through the lowland jungle.  The wild ones are quite tall and have gorgeous ruby-red flowers that are somewhat smaller than the cultivated varieties.  (I think I know of some that need rescuing.)  In the meantime, we have a beautiful cultivar growing here.
Orange and yellow canna lily.
We have this planted all along the 100 ft. long path to the back landing on Black Creek.  Since canna lilies like wet feet, this path that goes through the swamp is a great location for them.
Nice and fresh after a pre-dawn shower.
 We also have some growing beside the caretaker's cabana.
Raindrops on lilies.
Canna lilies are easy to propagate by dividing the rootstock much like irises, so we will be able to divide these and spread them around.  I want to mix the wild ones in amongst them and perhaps get some other colors, too.

23 August, 2017

Iguanas and Mirages

Each year in early March, we start to see nesting activity of female green iguanas.  They dig large holes in the sand and come back to them every day for weeks as they dig and explore and test out various locations.  We have seen as many as 7 females at a time working on nests on our south lot.  Sand flying in all directions! Last year, I noticed that many of the nests got trampled by our workers as they wheelbarrowed sea grass from the shore.  Not mention the bad dog who dug up nests, with help from raccoons.  We saw only 4 hatchlings last year as a result.  Of course there probably (I hope!) were more that we missed seeing.  This year, we decided to try to protect the nests.  We got what is locally known as hog wire fencing which we stapled to palmetto posts to make enclosures around 3 areas in which the iguanas were digging.  Since iguanas come back day after day, we left an 8 inch gap along the bottom to give the iguanas clearance.  That worked really well, with the iguanas totally ignoring the presence of the hog wire and proceeding with their digging activities.  Now, nothing is going to keep a determined raccoon away from delicious iguana eggs, but I think putting a small barrier in their way minimized the "crimes of opportunity" since we noticed only one incident of raccoon predation this year, unlike the almost nightly forays of years past.  The fences also kept Barnie out, but we did have to keep her tied up for about a month while the females were active.  Don't worry - I took her for walks every day, more than an hour every morning and then for about 45 minutes in the late afternoon.  Once the female iguanas stopped nesting activity, Barnie was free most of the day and all night.  The only nest she bothered was one that was not inside the enclosures.

Late one afternoon as Barnie and I returned from a walk, some movement caught my eye.  I saw 4 baby iguanas running toward the jungle!  I called to Dennis and got my camera (which had only returned from repair 2 weeks earlier) and was able to get a few shots in the fading light.
Little iguanas, reaching the light of day.  You can see the gap along the bottom of the hog wire.
Aren't they the cutest?  You can also see the collapsed nests from which the hatchlings emerged.

We watched for close to an hour as iguanas emerged and then ran off in groups of 3 or 4 toward the jungle to our west.  I estimated that 40 to 50 hatchlings emerged that evening.  Over the next 3 weeks, other nests hatched and we had the occasional hatchling show up on our veranda to hang out before disappearing into the wild.  We are very pleased with the success of iguana nesting this year.  We will keep the enclosures in place and put more sand inside them.  Since iguanas can't resist nice piles of sand in which to dig, there is an excellent chance they will return to the same spots next year.

For something completely different - this morning we had the perfect atmospheric conditions to see the mountains of Honduras.  It really takes a particular kind of mirage to see them distinctly here - a superior mirage. As explained at this website, this is what happens:  "The superior mirage occurs under reverse atmospheric conditions from the inferior mirage. For it to be seen, the air close to the surface must be much colder than the air above it. This condition is common over snow, ice and cold water surfaces. When very cold air lies below warm air, light rays are bent downward toward the surface, thus tricking our eyes into thinking an object is located higher or is taller in appearance than it actually is."

So here are mirage photos of the "tall" mountains across the bay in Honduras.  We normally can't see these on clear days.
Heavy clouds overhead trapping the cold air below. You can see the mountains behind Little Monkey Caye.
A slightly better view from out on our dock.
Clouds on the water with mountains behind.

Another magical dawn.

16 August, 2017

More Than Just Orchids

I think these hibiscus flowers rival the orchids of my previous posts for beauty.

These hibiscus are all growing at our neighbors' place, the currently out-of-operation SteppingStones Resort.

They have lush landscaping there and have generously given us permission to take cuttings.
We got some white hibiscus started, but could always use more.
We don't have any of this incredible apricot and ruby flowering hibiscus, though.
I think I will remedy that lack this week.  Now that the dry season is over, all I need to do is take some cuttings and stick them in the ground.  It doesn;t get easier than that.
Now, where are my little secateurs?

12 August, 2017

Just a Baby

Yesterday, I noticed that the Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds were going a little crazier than usual in the tamarind tree.  Now, they are always pretty crazy; zooming around and chattering in rage as they chase each other off favorite perches and away from the feeders we have nearby, but this activity was particularly focused on a single branch of the tamarind and not at each other.  What was going on?

This was going on:
A baby boa constrictor curled up on on a branch.
The Rufous-tails were harassing the boa just like songbirds harass raptors and snakes.  The boa just hunkered down and endured the onslaught.

Curled up into a tight knot to present a smaller target.
Later, it moved a little higher into the tree and stretched out on a slender branch at just the right height for me to photograph it from the sunset balcony; much easier than the first photos I took from the veranda with the camera stretched overhead while I balanced on a step stool.
Its head is no bigger than the end of my thumb and the full length is probably 20-24 inches.
It stayed in that location for the remainder of the day, catching the sun, and was still there when we went to bed last night.

This morning dawned cool and rainy with far distant thunder rumbling like the stomach of a hungry god.  Low clouds and waves of torrential rain isolate us from the madness of the world; I revel in days like this.  But what about that little boa?  Did it find shelter?  I fully expected it to have made its way onto the sunset balcony and perhaps from there into our loft.  But no, it was right where it had been the night before, still on the same small branch.
On the same branch, only a little wet.
Look how the markings continue through its eye with the bottom half darker that the top half.

It stuck its tongue out at me, as snakes do, but seemed content to remain stretched out on the branch.
A closer look at the eye markings.
The hummingbirds, to their possible future undoing, are ignoring the boa today.  Staying still and aligned with the branch may be the boa's strategy for catching an unwary meal.  After all, hummingbirds are just the right size for a baby boa's breakfast.

06 August, 2017

A Walk Through The Jungle Part 3

Traces of Iris (2001) Remain

It is appropriate that thoughts of hurricanes past are in my mind at the moment since it was this time last year that we experienced Hurricane Earl.  Fortunately for us here in Englishtown, Earl barely glanced us as it tracked to our north.  That was not the case for Hurricane Iris in 2001.  Category 4 Iris made landfall right here in Monkey River Village and Englishtown.  Iris was second only to Hurricane Hattie (1961) as the most destructive hurricane to hit Belize in recorded hurricane history.
Tracking map of Hurricane Iris, 2001.  The left-most orange dot is right over Monkey River Village and Englishtown (from Wikipedia).
Hurricane Iris had a change of course and strengthened unexpectedly, resulting in only a 23 hr advance warning for Belize.  According to Wikipedia "On reaching the western Caribbean Sea, Iris rapidly intensified into a Category 4 on the Saffir–Simpson scale. A small hurricane with an eye of only 7 mi (11 km) in diameter, Iris reached peak winds of 145 mph (230 km/h) before making landfall in southern Belize near Monkey River Town on October 9."  Hurricane Iris generated a 15 foot storm surge and had wind speeds of 145mph when it made landfall.  It took the lives of 24 people in Belize, 20 of whom were onboard a scuba diving boat docked at Big Creek, 12 miles north of Monkey River.   Most of the houses in Monkey River Village were completely destroyed and all suffered damage.  Amazingly there was no loss of life in the village.  We had visited Monkey River Village and the area for the first time in 1999 and we bought our property in 2004, after Hurricane Iris.  The Village had been largely rebuilt by then, but the property we bought was still a mess of tangled downed trees and smaller plants growing in thick profusion.

As Nolbert, Barnie, and I walked along the coast, signs of Iris are still evident, 16 years later, in the form of old trees surviving after being toppled over.
Strangler fig, still growing and flourishing 16 years after Iris.
This strangler fig must have been a grand old thing when Iris uprooted it.  But it, like many tropical species, is a survivor that adapts to drastic changes in circumstances.  This tree is probably 30 or 40 feet tall now, with many minor trunks that had been side branches pre-Iris.  You can see in places where it has dropped  adventitious roots that wrap around the old trunk and continue down into the soil.  It is hard to be accurate, but it appears that the diameter of the original tree at what had been the soil line was at least 5 feet.
Nolbert and Barnie in front of the strangler fig for scale.  Look at that happy dog.
This sea grape growing nearby looks superficially similar to the strangler fig. But it doesn't have the strangling growth habit of the fig.  Again, the pre-Iris side branches became minor trunks after the tree fell over.  Where the old trunk touches the ground, it has developed new roots.
Nolbert and Barnie in front of a toppled sea grape tree.
The storm surge from Iris pushed sea water over the land; only plants that are tolerant of salt water inundation survived.  But the jungle renews itself quickly. Tropical plants recover quickly and new plants grow in any opening.

One of the very common new plants is this sea hibiscus (or close relative).   It is not so much a tree as it a large shrub.  It can grow with the waves lapping its feet and is often mixed in the mangroves.
Sea hibiscus flower.
 Its quite attractive flowers, like other hibiscus flowers, last only a day, getting darker as the day progresses.
Insect in hibiscus flower.
Not sure what this insect is.  I actually had to lift the camera over my head to get the shot, so I didn't get a good look at it.

Tamarindo-Tamarind-Tambran Small mystery solved - they are cousins!  Mitchell at "Mitchell is Moving" blog had posted a couple of times about a tree called tamarindo planted as an urban ornamental tree in his town in Spain.  He described them as having pompom-type flowers.  But that is nothing like the tamarindo trees I am familiar with here in the Caribbean, which greatly confused me (but then I can be easily confused).  However I recently learned of another tree around here called tamarindo that does have pompom type flowers, the Cojoba rufescens tree.  I had been calling it the "hair scrunchy tree" (your will see why in one of the following photos).  It has a cousin, Cojoba aroborea, also called tamarindo, that is used for furniture.  If that is not confusing enough, it is also called "Barba de Jolote".  More detail in Wikipedia.  Although the flowers of hair scrunchy tree (Cojoba) and the tamarind tree we grow for its sweet/tart fleshy pods don't look anything alike, the leaves do.  And they are in the same taxonomic family that Mimosa trees are in.  Compare the next 2 photos to see the resemblance.
Cojoba rufescens tree with its pompom flowers.
Tamarind tree (see Wikipedia entry here).
Hair scrunchy!  And pompom flowers of the Cojoba rufescens tree.
Orchid-like flowers of the Tamarind tree.
We planted the Tamarind tree, but the Cojoba grows wild.  Another tree growing up in the Iris-devastated area is Gumbo Limbo, AKA tourist tree due to peeling red skin.  Gumbo limbo trees can grow to quite a large size and we have 3 of various sizes that survived Iris on our property.  I love these gumbo limbo trees; their fruit attract lots of birds and they have a high open canopy atop large gracefully curving trunks.
Young gumbo limbo tree with shedding red skin.
 Our neighbors had several Coral Trees that survived Hurricane Iris.  We intend to plant several during this rainy season.  Coral trees (Erythrina) are a great choice for hurricane prone areas; they have buttress roots that help keep them upright in high winds and they can tolerate salt water inundation.  Another plus for us is that they actually thrive in low swampy areas like we have.  They have the most incredible complex blossoms that attract many birds.  Apparently, all we have to do get them started is to stick a young branch in the ground!  How easy is that?
Characteristic spiny trunk of a a young coral tree.  As the trunk expands, the spines fall off.
And that brings us back to hurricane season.  This time last year we had held our breath as the wrath of Earl passed to our north.  We lost a big fig tree a day after Earl as the the shallow roots pulled out of the saturated ground.  It will be replaced with a Coral bean (Erythrina sp).  We were able to salvage the orchids growing in the fig, and they are blooming beautifully as I write this post.

We moved our bedroom into the new addition of our cabana as Earl was approaching last August, and so have been here a year now.  During that year, we took the opportunity to redo the original bathroom and kitchen in the old cabana.  That project was completed a couple of weeks ago.  Interestingly, the wood for the cabinets is wild trambran, AKA "Barba de Jolote", which we now know is related to the tamarind tree we grow for the pods, the "hair scrunchy" tree that grows wild here, and the tamarindo tree used in urban plantings in Spain that Mitchell wrote about.