A Quiet Bird-filled Lagoon

Jabiru

Jabiru

Right in the center of Belize in the northern third of the country is a wonderful wildlife sanctuary with numerous lagoons and waterways loaded with birds.  A land-locked preserve, Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary is popular to birds for the shallow water, especially during the dry season.

 

With over 16,000 acres of wetlands, there are numerous species of birds and vast expanses of wetlands.  For several thousand years this was a Mayan community.  More recently, in the 1970s, it became popular to sports hunters for its jaguars and skies filled with waterfowl.  The villagers of the area then wisely made the leap to preserve this beautiful area for the wildlife.  We enjoyed several boat rides on the quiet lagoon, as well as walks through the cashew orchards and pine forests near the village.

 

Our guide grew up here, and as he motored the boat through the lagoon we passed by two of his cousins in small boats who were also wildlife guides.  We met his brother in a boat who was marking shallow spots with palm fronds.  Down the dirt road in the village, we stopped at the house of his friend who was outside cleaning fish.  The cat got the fish innards, and we got a lesson on the local fish.

 

I absolutely love getting that insider look at someone else’s world, in this case, the local residents of Crooked Tree Lagoon, and their peaceful preserve.

 

Agami Heron

Agami Heron

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

 

 

Crooked Tree Lodge on the Lagoon

Crooked Tree Lodge on the Lagoon

Crooked Tree Sanctuary Lagoon

Crooked Tree Sanctuary Lagoon

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Wildflowers of the Rainforest

Bromeliads, Costa Rica Rainforest

Bromeliads, Costa Rica Rainforest

When you first walk the moldy-leaf paths of a rainforest, it is a chaotic wonder of tall trees, thick vines, dense growth, wet air, and a tempest of frenzied creature sounds.  Trying to find flowers in this is not easy.  But once you become accustomed to it, your senses relax.

 

One of the most versatile flowers on this planet, bromeliads are the natural jewels of the rainforest. In a family of over 3,100 species, this flower includes the pineapple, spanish moss, and the more typical flowering plants shown here.

 

Athena photographing the bromeliads

Athena photographing the bromeliads

This species of bromeliad is an epiphyte, meaning it attaches its roots to another tree rather than into the earth.  They catch rain and nourishment within a whorl of their leaves, where other organisms like tree frogs also flourish.  Bromeliaceae are primarily found in the rainforests of Central and South America.  They commonly develop one flower that emerges on a stalk and lives for several months.

 

Outside the rainforest bromeliads can easily be found, oddly enough, in large grocery stores.  These are grown in greenhouses and hybridized a hundred different ways, and sold to customers as a maintenance-free flowering plant.  When I walk by the floral department with my shopping cart in front of me, I give a wink to them and smile at this big beautiful world.

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander, Jet Eliot

 

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Yellow-headed Caracara

Yellow-headed Caracara, Costa Rica

Yellow-headed Caracara, Costa Rica

A very impressive bird of prey in the falcon family, the Yellow-headed Caracara can be found in South and Central America.  We saw this beauty while visiting Costa Rica.

 

Unlike most falcons, Milvago chimachimas do not hunt in the air but prefer to scavenge.   They eat amphibians and reptiles, as well as carrion and some invertebrates.  Sometimes called “tickbirds,” they have been known to eat ticks off of cattle.

 

Refreshingly, this bird is not being crowded off the earth by humans.  Commonly seen in Latin American cities, it has adjusted to urban territories and even hunts off rooftops.  The variable diet is a key to survival too.  Measuring about 17 inches in length, we have a good chance of enjoying this adaptable warrior for generations to come.

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

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Australian Sugar Glider

Sugar Glider, Queensland, Austral.

Sugar Glider, Queensland, Austral.

I had the pleasure of meeting this flying marsupial while lodging in the rainforests of Queensland, Australia.  As an arboreal, nocturnal creature, they are not easy to spot.

 

Sugar gliders average about 7 inches long and have an additional 7 inches of tail.  They are called gliders because they glide through the air, usually from tree to tree.  With a membrane of loose skin (called the patagium) on each side that extends from the fifth finger to the first toe, the glider launches off a tree and glides to the next tree.  It has the effect of flying, very much like a flying squirrel.  Their flight distance covered is between 14 and 24 yards (50-90 meters).

 

Sugar Gliders

Sugar Gliders

Petaurus breviceps  are marsupial, the female has a pouch in which she nourishes and carries her joeys (babies).  They sleep in tree nests during the day, and hunt for insects and small vertebrates at night, also eating the sweet sap of the eucalyptus, gum, and acacia leaves.  Primarily found in the forests of northern and eastern Australia, they also live in nearby islands including Papua New Guinea and parts of Indonesia.

 

The only way we ever found these delightful mammals was by visiting a pair of trees in which the lodge owner applied a syrupy solution, and provided lights on a timer.  We hiked through the jungle at night to these two trees and waited; sometimes they came, sometimes they didn’t.

 

Striped Possum

Striped Possum

Striped possums also visited those trees.  It was all very fun and exciting to watch and photograph…until the timer turned the lights off.  Then they were all flying around our heads in the pitch black dark.  Multiple cicadas, each one slightly smaller than a credit card, thwacked right into us.  And that’s how I knew it was finally time to end the day and head back to the room.

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

Cicada

Cicada

Striped Possum

Striped Possum

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Columbus Day

Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary, Belize

Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary, Belize

Celebrating the explorer in all of us.

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

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Fishing with Hippos

Zambia, Africa

Luangwa Valley; Zambia, Africa

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

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African Skimmer

African Skimmer, Botswana

African Skimmer, Botswana

I always feel lucky when I spot a skimmer.  Whatever else is happening on the beach, I stop what I’m doing and watch the skimmers.  You will always seem them around water, for their main prey are fish.  Often cavorting in mixed flocks with gulls and terns, they are easily recognized for their color pattern and size (bigger than gulls, about 15″ long).

 

The fun part is watching them feed.  They are called Skimmers for their ability to skim the water in search of prey.  As you can see from this photo, the lower jaw, or mandible, is much longer than the upper.  Flying close to the water’s surface, they open their lower mandible and skim the water, snapping up fish.  A gregarious species, they congregate in flocks, so you can often see at least one skillfully catching a fish.

 

There are several species in the world. In the U.S. we have the Black Skimmer, and it can be found on the east and Gulf coasts, and parts of the California coast.  They are fairly abundant in their range.  The African Skimmer, found in sub-Saharan Africa, unfortunately has a dwindling population.

 

We spotted this African skimmer in a flock on the Okavanga Delta in Botswana.  That particular day they were vocal (“kip kip”), colorful, and successful.  Add to that a refreshing breeze, and I interpreted it as happy-to-be-alive.

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander

 

 

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