Lovable Lizards

Land Iguana, Isabela Isl., Galapagos

There are over 6,000 species of lizards on our planet, residing on all continents except Antarctica.  Here are some basic facts and photos of a few of my favorites.

 

One thing I love about lizards is their adaptability. Depending on the severity of danger, they can sacrifice their tail and grow a new one, change colors, and vanish in an instant.

Green Iguana, Costa Rica

Another thing I love is their solar power. Lizards are ectotherms, they require heat sources outside their body to function. Also known as cold-blooded (not technically accurate), lizards regulate their body temperature according to the sun.

 

Once in awhile I will find a lizard when the sun has been absent, like at dawn on a foggy day, and they are frozen in place. Immobile. I like this about lizards, too — their vulnerability. Of course, that’s not their favorite thing.

 

There are many remarkable features about lizards, read more here:

Lizard Wikipedia

 

Green Anole, Texas

 

Basilisk Lizard, Belize, Central America

With six thousand lizard species, there are thousands of variations. I have watched lizards run across water, eat algae under water, flare out their neck to twice its size, and hang upside down for days.

 

Some lizards change colors to attract mates, some change colors to escape detection (camouflage), and others are bright their whole life.

 

Hawaiian Gecko

 

Spiny-tailed Iguana pair, Belize

I live in a hot, dry climate in California. In the spring and summer we have three regular lizard species, each is a home-time favorite and much revered.

Western Fence Lizard, California

The western fence lizard is the most prevalent, we see them every day from May through October. The male does push-ups and displays a brilliant blue belly during breeding season.

Western Fence Lizard, California, gorging on nuptial ants

 

Plus, this lizard has an astonishing feature. They have a protein in their blood that kills the bacterium in the tick that causes Lyme’s Disease.

 

Ticks often feed on lizards’ blood, including the deer tick that carries Lyme’s Disease. When the deer tick feeds on the western fence lizard, the bacterium is killed. My chances of getting Lyme’s Disease are considerably less because of this  lizard.

 

We also have the alligator lizard, named for their resemblance to alligators. They are skittish and infrequent, but when they appear, it is a highlight of the day.

Northern Alligator Lizard, California

Our third reptile is the western skink. They are almost always hidden, their predator list is long. I’ve learned to recognize their sound when they rustle beneath leaves; so if I wait nearby, I sometimes see them.

 

Western skink, Calif.

 

Some lizards, like the skink, move like a snake. They have short legs and wiggle and slither. But most lizards are quadrupedal and move with an alternating gait. Another thing I love about lizards…watching them walk or run, a kind of reptilian sashay that says “attitude” to me.

Nile Monitor, Botswana

 

The marine iguana, the only underwater lizard in the world, lives on the Galapagos Islands. I’ve been snorkeling when they entered the water–that’s a strange thing, to be snorkeling with a large lizard. A true thrill. They sneeze out the sea salt when they return to land.

Marine Iguana, Galapagos

Lizards bask in the sun, leap through the air, let go of their tail if it’s in the jaws of a predator, and effortlessly change colors. I wouldn’t mind having all of these features, but since I cannot, I’m happy to watch…maybe I’ll learn something.

Written by Jet Eliot
Photos by Athena Alexander

 


Frill-necked lizard, Australia

 

Golden Tegu Lizard, Trinidad

 

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Birds of Belize

Agami Heron in Mangrove Roots

Mealy Parrot

Belize is a small Central American country with mountains, jungles, 450 cays and islands, and the Caribbean reef. This variety of geographical features creates numerous natural habitats, making it a bonanza for birders. See topography map at the end.

 

Located on the Mesoamerican biological corridor, the land bridge between South and North America, Belize boasts 600 bird species. To lend perspective: Belize is roughly the size of Wales or New Jersey, and has nearly as many bird species as all of Canada.

Boat-billed Heron, Belize

More about Belize. 

Aerial view of Belizean coast

At this time of year, many North American travelers head south to escape the winter temperatures. All of the photos here are from February a few years ago. Let’s start on the coast and travel inland.

 

The Caribbean coast on the eastern side offers white sand beaches and turquoise waters. It is the second-longest reef in the world. Here you can enjoy birds, beaches, boat rides, snorkeling, or diving, and let the sun melt your bones. There are shorebirds, ducks, seabirds, waders, and more.

Frigatebirds and Brown Pelicans, Ambergris Caye

 

Almost half of Belize is comprised of protected land and marine areas. Traveling westward, we encountered many wild preserves and especially enjoyed Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary. 

 

Jabiru

Roseate Spoonbill, Belize

Snail Kite, Belize

We came upon the national bird, the Keel-billed Toucan, and hundreds of species of songbirds and other woodland and jungle birds.

 

Keel-billed Toucan, Belize’s national bird

Black-headed Trogon, Belize

Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Belize

Olive-throated Parakeet

 

Advancing into the mountains we found many raptor species, using the ridge thermals.

White Hawk, Belize

Laughing Falcon, Belize

 

The orange-breasted falcon, below, is listed as “near-threatened” on the conservation status list. We spent many hours waiting on Mountain Pine Ridge, hoping to see this rare bird..and were rewarded. Read the post here. 

Orange-breasted Falcon, Belize

And no matter what part of this lush country you visit, there are always hummingbirds quietly tapping into the tropical flora.

Long-billed Hermit

Azure-crowned Hummingbird, adult in the back feeding nestling

Scaly-breasted Hummingbird

 

Add in the terrestrial iguanas, lizards, monkeys and other land mammals; and the reef teeming with sea life, and you have found yourself in paradise.

 

Photo credit: Athena Alexander–all photos taken in the wild in Belize.

Belize Topography. Courtesy Wikipedia.

 

A New Year of Peace

Ulysses Butterfly, Australia

On this holiday, one that is shared across the globe, here are a few of earth’s wild and worldly inhabitants to remind us how to find peace.

 

Enjoy the gifts of food

Purple Finch, California, USA

and water, and help those who do not have it.

Zebra, Zambia, Africa

 

Take in the glories of nature wherever it appears.

Strawberry Poison Dart Frog, Costa Rica, Central America

 

Practice courage and perseverance,

Lioness and African Buffalo, Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania, Africa

and navigate the dark.

Northern Potoo, Mexico

 

Paddle through adversity.

Domestic cattle, Belize, Central America

 

Take time to relax.

Basilisk Lizard, Belize, Central America

 

Find whimsy

Hippopotamus, Okavango Delta, Botswana, Africa

and be flexible.

Spectacled Flying Fox Bat, Australia

 

May each day begin with song

Common Yellowthroat, Horicon Marsh, Wisconsin, USA

and dance,

Blue-footed Boobies, Galapagos Isl., South America

with times when you shine

Galapagos Sea Lion, Galapagos Isl., South America

and sparkle.

Violet-crowned Woodnymph, Costa Rica, Central America

 

Take comfort in your community

Parrolets, Mexico

yet reach out beyond it.

White Rhinos, Kenya, Africa

 

Demonstrate patience and compassion to the young

Thornicroft giraffe mother with baby, Zambia, Africa

and old.

Giant Tortoise, Galapagos Isl., South America

 

Embrace these basic elements of life,

and you will have peace and love

every day of the year.

Lambs, California, USA

Thank you, my friends, for another great year of sharing.

Written by Jet Eliot

Photo credit: Athena Alexander

 

The Basilisk Lizard

Basilisk Lizard, Costa Rica

Gliding on a pontoon boat down the Tarcoles River in Costa Rica, we were literally focusing on birds when a unique lizard completely surprised us. I had never seen this phenomenon before, and I have never seen it since.

 

The lizard, the common basilisk, lives in the rainforests of Central and South America near rivers and streams.

Tarcoles River, cattle egret

Earlier, we had been hiking and birding the jungle of Carara National Park. The heat was extreme, humidity was high, and the mosquitoes were thick.

 

By late afternoon the earth had cooled down, wildlife were out, and we were quietly and slowly cruising through the mangrove swamp. The slight breeze produced by the boat was heavenly.

Boat-billed Heron

We came across nesting boat-billed herons, and a bountiful array of birds including macaws eating almonds and toucans hidden in the branches.

Crocodile

Birds and crocodiles continued with their endeavors as we peacefully floated by.

 

Suddenly there was a splashing commotion and in a flash this lizard skittered across the surface of the water.

 

How does a lizard run on top of water?

 

I had previously seen this trick of the “Jesus Lizard” on nature programs. They stand upright in the water on their two hind legs, and streak across the water’s surface.

 

A  small reptile with numerous predators, they turn on their racing legs when threatened. It wasn’t a busy river and our pontoon boat had scared him.

Basilisk lizard, Tarcoles River

Basiliscus basiliscus have wide-webbed feet with scaly fringes that expand when they hit the surface of the water. While the front legs remain upright and motionless, the back legs hit the water, creating a pocket of underwater air that supports the lightweight reptile. Simultaneously, their feet are essentially water-pedaling, pushing outward in a way that  balances the lizard.

 

The one we saw was about 12″ long (30 cm) with an additional 8″ (20 cm) of tail. That’s him in the first photo. Doesn’t look like he can fly across water, does he?

 

How far can they run on top of the water?

 

We were in a shallow river with natural sand bars, logs, and downed trees; he ran a distance of about 15 feet (4.5 m).

Basilisk Lizard in Belize

But they can go further. Wikipedia says the smaller basilisk lizards can run atop the water’s surface for about 32-64 feet (10-20m). It also says they can run up to 7 mph (11 km/h). Wikipedia info.

 

Short science video of running basilisk.

 

I love all lizards, but the basilisk is right there in my top five.

 

All photos:  Athena Alexander

Osprey with fish, Tarcoles River

 

Chestnut-mandibled Toucan, Tarcoles River

Basalisk lizard in Belize

Location of Costa Rica

Costa Rica. Courtesy Wikipedia

 

Ambergris Caye, Belize

Spiny-tailed Iguana, Ambergris Caye, Belize

A small island in the Caribbean Sea, Ambergris Caye is only 25 miles long (40 km) and one mile wide (1.6 km). The island is ringed with white sand beaches–endless vistas of resplendent blue-green water cover the second largest reef in the world.

 

Ambergris Caye, Belize

Upon arrival, our hotel guide loaded us into a golf cart, and we sped off down a cobblestone road. The narrow alleys were swarming with golf carts, the main mode of transportation.

 

Ambergris Caye, aerial view

The only town is San Pedro, it has a population of 16,500 and caters to tourists.  Most natives speak both Spanish and English fluently, as well as a creole mix. Clad in cotton and flip-flops, locals were friendly and relaxed.

 

Located on the Belize Barrier Reef, Ambergris Caye is among a series of coral reefs along coastal Belize spanning 190 miles (300 km) long. It is part of the 560-mile-long (900 km) Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, starting in the Yucatan (Mexico) and ending in Honduras.

 

Ambergris Caye pier

Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the reef is a prime source of industry and tourism to Belize. Wikipedia Belize information here.

 

Southern Stingray

One day we snorkeled at the two most popular sites: Shark Ray Alley and Hol Chan Marine Reserve. We saw rays, turtles, and many fish on the white sandy sea-floor.

 

Snorkeling with Rays, Belize Barrier Reef

Another day we rented a golf cart and explored the island. Free to gallivant wherever we wanted, we had a picnic and spent the day birding in the mangroves.

 

Ambergris Caye street scene

At first we were in that golf cart jerking down the street, making happy fools of ourselves — but eventually we figured out the cart; found many avian waders and sea birds, iguanas, and mangroves.

 

Each night we walked down the sandy beach to a new restaurant; there were colorful tropical drinks, festive Caribbean music, and most restaurants were open-air, with sea water lapping only a few feet away.

 

San Pedro village square

 

Two wonderful posts by fellow-blogger and friend Indah Susanti on Ambergris Caye:

Restaurants and Shark-Diving

 

It was an entertaining land and sea adventure, always with a refreshing sea breeze…melted our winter bones.

 

Spiny-tailed Iguana

 

Frigate birds, Pelicans and Gulls

All photos by Athena Alexander

 

Sea Turtle

 

Ambergris Caye Snorkeling Map

Courtesy tropicalsnorkeling.com

 

Belize’s Blue Hole Nat’l. Park

belize-blue-hole-close-upThe park is named after a sapphire pool in a jungle opening. It is a 500-acre park off Hummingbird Highway, near Belize’s capital of Belmopan; has trails above and below ground.

 

Courtesy Wikipedia.

The Blue Hole is a sinkhole that was formed by the collapse of an underground cave, and filled in by an underground river.

 

Belize, Blue Hole Nat'l. Park

Belize, Blue Hole Nat’l. Park

 

When we initially began the trail down we could not see the water. Each descending step got cooler and quieter, and we were surrounded by seeping walls of rock covered with thick and verdant growth.

 

Then soon the blue water at the base of the trail appeared.

 

Belize, Blue Hole Nat'l. Park

Belize, Blue Hole Nat’l. Park

There was a small standing area for viewing the pool, and for those who climbed onto the rocks there was a sandy area for entering the water.

 

We watched little kids boisterously climb out of the water, hunched and shivering from the icy dip.

 

Summer tanager, Blue Hole Nat'l Park, Belize

Summer tanager, Blue Hole Nat’l Park, Belize

We had been birding in the jungle, and having great luck. But it was hot and humid, and the mosquitoes were especially brutal. So a cold dip looked enticing.

 

But there were birds to see! We had already been thrilled with various hummingbirds, ant birds, and tanagers.

 

Rufous-tailed jacamar, Belize

Rufous-tailed jacamar, Belize

As we stood in this surreal sight serenaded by trickling water, gazing at the blue water and the millions of ferns, our reverie was soon interrupted by a new bird, a jacamar.

 

Energetically flitting among the vines and wild orchids, a rufous-tailed jacamar captured our full attention–we watched, marveled, photographed this new lifer.  A colorful and zippy tropical bird, they only occur in the New World.

 

More jacamar info here.

 

As we were hiking back out, I turned around to get one last look.

 

Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Belize

Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Belize

A clear blue pool nestled below earth’s surface–it was a fairy place. It felt like Peter Pan would be coming along any minute.

 

Or maybe that jacamar was Peter Pan?

 

Photo credit: Athena Alexander

WordPress blogger Myriam’s drawing of the jacamar.

New release and a fun mystery, makes a great gift.

Golden Gate GraveyardPurchase here.

 

 

Manic Manakins

Manacus candei -La Selva Biological Station, Costa Rica -male-8.jpg

White-collared Manakin. Photo Jose Calvo. Courtesy Wikipedia.

One of the craziest birds I have ever watched, the manakin is found in tropical forests.  There are 60 different species, all found only in Central and South America.

 

Small birds, ranging in size from 3-6 inches (7-15 cm), they have short tails and an overall stubby appearance.  Being tropical, the male species are often very brightly-colored.

 

The remarkable features of the manakins are their sound and movement when the male is courting.  Many manakin species engage in lekking.  This is a male courtship behavior when males display and compete for the female.  More about lekking here.

 

Juvenile White-collared Manakin. Photo by Rachel C. Taylor. Courtesy Wikipedia.

I have seen several manakin species but the one I have seen most is the white-collared, so I will share this bird with you here.  Their conservation status is rated “of least concern.”

 

More info here.

 

The white, yellow, and black male has modified wing feathers to make a snapping and buzzing sound.  When we are hiking through a rainforest where it is dark and dank, there are often hundreds of wild whoops and monkey howls and unknown sounds.  But when I hear that snap, I am immediately at attention.  It is unmistakable.

 

Click here for the white-collared manakin’s snapping sound, recorded in the Costa Rican forest where I heard it.

 

And that isn’t all.  There’s more.  The bird shoots around like a ping pong ball.  It is astonishing to witness.

 

Manacus candei use a patch of forest floor (the lek) to pop around while they are snapping their wings.  If you keep watching it long enough, you see there is a pattern to their dance.

 

Click here for Matt Gasner’s You Tube video of the white-collared manakin’s courtship display.  I have never linked to a You Tube video before, but this bird dance is that remarkable.

 

A bird that darts faster than your eye can follow, claps, snaps, and buzzes — an utter and complete joy.