Sunday, May 22, 2011

My Side of the Mountain

I can hear the Nuttals' woodpecker drumming on the top of the dead oak out back.  He has been pretty consistent out there since the weather warmed up.  I can only see him from one tiny spot on the property, which is outside, down a bunch of steps, around a corner, at just the right head tilt through the Bay leaves.  I'm determined to show him to my 3 year old, but he's never awake when it is consistent - and I don't think hauling him out of bed into the morning chill for this will quite endear him to nature the way I envision.  He inevitably hears him at some point during breakfast though, and asks "Is that a woodpecker"?  That works!

We live in a section of predominately California bay laurel woodland, which is interspersed with Oaks (mostly coast live, some black, and one spindly valley) and Madrone.  We are near the upper part of a gully in the hills, with a seasonal stream that flows only for a few days after rain on one side.    The oaks primarily grown on the south facing slope of the gully, and the Madrones grow mostly on the north facing slope.  Right up the middle is mostly the bay trees, with some redwoods further down the hill.

We are right on the urban/wildland interface.  This property is a little speck, but it adjoins extensive wildlands of Marin County Open Space and Marin Municipal Water District.  We have a select group of wildlife neighbors who consider this their land, and we can count on their visits regularly, daily or seasonally.  We've watched young just born and exploring, and then return as parents, and then the cycle repeats.  Aside from the more visible species, such as the locally ubiquitous deer and chickadee's, I have a IR camera up the hill to let me see a snippet of the lives of the more elusive visitors, such as bobcat and gray fox.

This "My Side of the Mountain" series will just be updates on the local flora and fauna, with photos when available.

There are a flock of crows that roost at the nearby horse pasture.  There have been no ravens until just this year, when a pair took up residence on the south ridge.  I saw one of them recently carrying nesting material from the horse pasture, chased by some vocally opposing crows.  A family of red-shouldered hawks cruises over the valley, calling much of the day - I can hear one of them now.   Occasionally we see them cruising by low, then into the forest canopy.There is also a bold Steller's jay who stands on our front porch roof and mimics the hawks, although we usually just have scrub jay's that clear out the bird feeders. A regular flocks of chickadee's, junco, and oak titmouse frequent the area, and become much more prevalent if we put out a feeder.  Sometimes diminutive bushtit's will join in as well.  We get visited by hummingbirds, primarily Anna's.  During the spring, we always have some lesser goldfinch.  I know there are raccoons, because we have garbage cans...and they leave their tiny hand shaped footprints all over the cars if something inside smells enticing.  I've heard a handsome pileated woodpecker calling just up the hill for years, and I've seen him on our oak a small handful of times.

We are just starting to put up nest boxes, and hopefully will have some nest cams in the next couple of years.  We were planning to encourage some screech owls, bats, and with the inspiration of the Camera Trap Codger, the oak titmice, to nest in them.

I'll share photos in posts about the individual critters as they come up.  Thanks for joining me in the journey!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Costa Rica/Nicaragua Species List

Species List

Species Observed During Costa Rica/Nicaragua Trip
Common (or local) Name
At Wilson botanical garden, with 2 babies
American Crocodile
Corcavado, Rio Corcabachi. Drive to Bahia Drake
Rio Corcabachi
Barn owl
Black crowned night heron

Black headed trogon
Black vulture
Blue-gray tanager
Wilson botanical garden
Boat-billed heron
Rio Corcabachi, Corcavado
Brown booby
Brown vine snake
Rio Corcabachi
Collared aracari
Compadres bird (Bucco macrorynchos)
Coral snake (or mimic)
Near playa grande
Crested caracara
Ctenosaur (maybe)
Glass frog
Possibly, maybe rough variety?
Glass wing butterfly
Las Tablas
Golden hooded tanager
Wilson botanical garden
Golfito Dulce Dart Frog
Gray fox
In captivity, Las Pumas rescue center
Great blue heron
Rio Corcabachi
Great kiscidee (spelling?)

Green backed heron
Rio Corcabachi
Green iguana
Groove billed ani
Hermit crabs
Hoffman's woodpecker
Howler monkey
In captivity, Las Pumas rescue center
Jesus lizard
Domitila, Rio Corcabachi
Laughing falcon
Domitila. Heard only
Leatherback sea turtle
Playa Grande, Laying eggs
Lineated woodpecker

Litter frog
Little blue heron
Rio Corcabachi
Long nosed bat
Rio corcabachi, Corcavado
Long-nose bat
Corcavado, Rio Corcabachi
Long-wing butterfly
Magnificent frigate
Malachite butterfly
Mangrove swallow
Rio Corcabachi
In captivity, Las Pumas rescue center
Masked titira
Wilson botanical garden
Mexican porcupine
Mica snake
Las Tablas (~4 feet long, black, eats venomous snakes)
Monkey ladder vine
Morpho blue butterfly
Las Tablas
Nicaraguan grackel
Night jars
Nightjar like (larger)
Northern raccoon
Monteverde, Playa Grande
Orange kneed tarantula
Rio Corcabachi
Domitila (large, brown, full spectacles in white)
In captivity, Las Pumas rescue center
Parrot (green)
Playa Grande
Pygmy squirrel
Red-headed woodpecker
Wilson botanical garden
Red-tailed squirrel
Wilson botanical garden
Resplendent quetzal
Mirador de quetzal
Ringed king fisher
Rio Corcabachi
River otter
Rio Corcabachi
Roadside hawk
Wilson botanical garden
Roseatte spoonbill
Rio Corcabachi
Rough winged swallow
Rio Corcabachi
Scaly chested hummingbird
Wilson botanical garden
Scarlet rumped tanager
Wilson botanical garden
Smokey Jungle Frog
Spider monkey
Spiked palm

Spotted sandpiper
Rio Corcabachi
Squirrel cuckoo bird
Strangler fig
Swallow tailed kite


Tiger heron
Rio Corcabachi
Trogon (red chest)
Tropical gnat catcher
In captivity, Las Pumas rescue center
Variegated squirrel
Rio Corcabachi, Domitila
Violaceous trogon
Wilson botanical garden
Walking palm

White faced capuchin
Wilson botanical garden, Las Tablas
White hawk
Wood stork
Rio Corcabachi
Yellow headed caracara
Wilson botanical garden
Yellow knapped parrot
Domitila (endangered)

Friday, May 6, 2011

Nicaragua - Day 6/7 - Masaya and the last night in Granada

The next day, I headed to see Masaya national park. It is within an ancient volcanic crater, that contains numerous smaller, still active, craters. You can walk right up to the edge of the crater and peer in. I found my way to the bus terminal, which was a dirt lot with buses going through with a guy hanging out the back yelling the name of the buses destination. So I got on one yelling "MASAYAMASAYAMASAYA". I took it along the Interamericana to the town of Masaya bus depot.

On the bus drive out to Masaya, I got to see lots of families transporting drinking water along the interamerica - in blue 50 gallon barrels, in handcarts, horse carts, or ox-carts. It must take an enormous amount of time just to get drinking water for the family. Also, a common form of two person transportation is on a bicycle. One person pedals while the other sits side saddle on the front bar. This isn't just kids, even the case for older couples. There is nothing like seeing a skinny little old man, pedaling away with a plump older woman balancing delicately on the front bar in business clothes (like a skirt, pumps, and blouse).

When the bus got to the bus depot, I couldn't figure out if it went past the national park (I later realized that I needed to be asking for "the volcano" not "Masaya Park" - Masaya Park is the city as far as locals are concerned, but everyone knows where the volcano is). I went and got a taxi after awhile, for 12 USD$ I got a taxi to take me the 20 km or so out there, all the way to the top of the volcano, wait for a few hours while I hiked around, then give me a ride back. He was more than happy to do so, so I think that was a lot of money for what it was - but at that point it was more than worth it to me. His name was Joseph, he was from Masaya, and he had four daughters - the eldest was 9, he was 31, and was divorced. That was about all I could understand over a couple hours of conversation heavily reliant on a two way translation handbook.

The Masaya Volcano was an impressive site.  I've visited a few volcano's before in California and Washington, and they all sort of looked like inverted mountaintops, with vegetation growing along a bowl that made up the top.  Or in Hawaii, where there was massive black flows of recent lava covering a sloping landscape, and distant steam where recent flows hit the ocean.  The Masaya Vocano was different.    You drive right up to a massive steam pit, and look into the abyss.

 There were hiking trails to the ridges surrounding the pit, with views across the surrounding valleys, including other volcano's and lakes.  

I got back to the bus depot and got to wait on the bus and watch the activities of the market for awhile. The Masaya bus depot was adjacent to a lively market.

There was a layer of garbage everywhere.

Vendors would walk from the front of the bus, shouting out their goods, and exit the back of the bus. They were selling everything from something that looked like tacos, to sweets, to soda and water in plastic bags. The buses all play music, and the music was blaring. The sounds of the market permeated the bus. Even as the bus was pulling out of the depot, vendors would jump in the moving front door, and go through and hop out the back of the bus.
Note the sodas and other drinks in plastic bags for sale.

Note the "change apron", most of the vendors used these
Here is a sound clip from the bus.

On the walk back from the bus to the hostel, I noticed that this one church at the end of a narrow road seemed to be crammed full of stalls, and many locals were streaming to and from it. So I walked down - and the minute you go through the entrance you enter a huge covered market that extends for blocks in all directions. It has everything from manufactured clothing, to butchers, to bulk grains. The area was alive with bartering, and dogs were sleeping happily in the loud walkways. Anything you could possibly need was sold there.

 Rooster on a leash

That night I met a young American woman who was in Granada to study Spanish. She had just come down from spending 3 months in Mexico. The woman had had her passport stolen earlier that day, then made a hard choice to follow someone who told her he knew who had it. She ended up far out of town by herself with this man, and the man unsuccessfully tried to take advantage of her to get her passport back. She was lucky that nothing worse than what happened happened, but she was shaken. We talked philosophy with a few other people, all resting in the hammocks and chairs around the courtyard, until late that night. I fell asleep in the hammock I was in during the talks, and stayed there until I had to get up at 4:30 the next morning to catch a bus back to San Jose. I got eaten alive by mosquitoes that night, a week later I was still itching from it! I caught the bus back to San Jose in Costa Rica the next day, and flew home the following morning.

The text in the past few posts is ultimately is such a brief summary of the experience of a small part of Nicaragua.  There are so many other details of places, people, and culture that I can't even begin to get it down on e-paper - you will have to go yourself for the rest of it.

Nicaragua - Day 5 - Granada

The next morning, Maria brought Fabio the spider monkey over to say hello. He is very wary of new people, given his early abuses - but this will be good for his re-introduction to the wild. He clung to Maria and chattered worriedly as she got close to me, but he remained calm unless I talked. At the sound of an unfamiliar voice he would become very agitated and started making squeaking sounds.
Maria drove me to Granada, she had errands to run there- and this would allow me to run to a bank to be able to pay her in cordovas (given my earlier exchange issues with bent bills). By this time, I was already thoroughly taken by the cause for her preserve. We'd spent hours the night before talking about ideas for research and marketing. I could talk about that for another 3 pages. She accompanied me to an internet café, when she checked her email - there was a message from a study abroad program based out of San Francisco, who wanted to establish a life sciences program in Nicaragua - potentially using her facilities. I hope it worked out.


Granada is a famous colonial city. The colorful, tile roofed buildings make quite an impression. There are many grand old churches. Including one that is in such disrepair, there are trees growing out of the roof (not through the roof, but actually on top of it).

On many of the buildings, some of the original adobe has fallen off - exposing the building materials of mud mixed with straw, on a support of woven sticks.
After I took this photo, an old woman shoed me off, because she only wanted people to take photos of the beautiful parts of Granada. Although this was beautiful in it's own way, that didn't translate, so this is the only photo I took of that.

Some of the sidewalks are still the original adobe bricks laid out along the roadside.
My hostel was near central park, and I walked down the to the shore of Lake Nicaragua (Granada is on the northern side of the lake). This was the first time since we'd arrived in Central America that I was hassled by vendors selling souvenirs. This was the first time that I'd felt unsafe, and had people be unfriendly. There were swarms of tourists, most of them young Europeans or from other Central American countries, who come to Granada to party.

The horse drawn taxi's were lined up on the streets. The poor horses were starved to the point of seeing the entirety of all of their ribs, and their hips stuck up through the skin clinging to them. Yet they had huge bows tied on their heads to attract tourists to the carts, so that they could haul them around town at a fast trot or a canter under the constant whip of the drivers, regardless of the open sores that developed from the cart equipment rubbing their skin onto their protruding bones. I walked. The water of the lake in that area is green, and really didn't look all that appealing - but there were many beautiful buildings and churches.

The central park sold lots of handmade pottery, for about 2-3 US dollars for original quality pieces (although I had my doubts about getting it home in a backpack in one piece, it all survived). The area also had a reptile/amphibian skin processing plant (although it has long since closed down), and you could purchase odd amphibian products, like baby alligator plate holders, or toad purses - or any other variety of really disgusting looking (to me) products.

I really didn't feel safe, so I headed in to the hostel relatively early. I met up with an older Canadian couple and went to dinner with them. As soon as the darkness set in, the streets came to life. There were two buses blaring music, all painted with tropical scenes, with no roofs, that were driving around packed with young people. One bus catered to older teenagers and young 20's, the other was designed more like a train and was for children. Then a marching band went by. From what I could tell, there wasn't a special event - this is just want Friday nights were like. I was in the common area of the hostel when people started drifting in, they were all telling the story of a tourist woman who a bunch of local men tried to abduct that night, and she had to fight them off with a broken bottle. I'm glad I stayed in…
Nature Blog Network