Crocodiles, Tortoises and Piggies, oh my!

Kerry with a giant tortoises, more below

He was saying, “I’m not going to talk to you unless you have baby carrots”.  This is a reserve close to Alvin, Texas called Crocodile Encounter.  It was literally in the middle of nowhere on a rough road that had just been repaved.  Even so, there was no room in the car park for me.  It was as hot as hell – 109 head index with humidity through the roof.  The shot below gives you a little feel of the conditions.

It wasn’t raining – this is the humidity on my camera.  I truly love alligators and crocodiles; primeval animals.  To be honest, I don’t know which ones were alligators or crocodiles because the heat had fried my brain.  I prefer reserves to zoos for all the obvious reasons and this sign describes why I liked it.

There are so many predators in the wilds of Texas that small crocodiles could be eaten.  It looked like crocodile heaven and even hog heaven.  I wanted to jump into the pool with the little piggy.

I loved that you could get really close to the animals.  We live alongside alligators all the time in south east Texas and these ones are really well fed.  In Louisiana we saw kittens playing close to an alligator who was basking in the sun.  Plenty of catfish to feed everyone.

This is such a beautiful crocodile, perfectly designed for living in the swamp.

Can you see me?

I love carrots!

On a slightly tangential note, I had a friend in Egypt who kept rescued tortoises, most of whom were endangered.  When they have sex, they moan and groan like they are starring in a porn movie.  It was the most hilarious noise I had ever heard; although the tortoises took love-making very seriously.  I suppose you would, if you were endangered.

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Fuzzy Pterodactyl

baby green heron, Texas

When I looked in this nest in Alvin, Texas, I wasn’t quite sure what I was looking at.  It was in a crocodile nature park, so I asked the guide who told me that it is a baby green heron.  The mother nests there every year so she must feel comfortable around crocodiles and alligators.

They are migratory and curiously I shot this adult green heron, below, in Merida, Mexico about 18 months ago.  This was also in a nature reserve and there were rare crocodillo living there too.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it was the same family?

The male and female build the nest and they are one of the few tool using bird species.  Smarter than the average heron and smaller too.  I think there were 3 or 4 little nestlings.  They are nocturnal and clever little predators that can hover for short periods above prey.  It is not always the same Papa as they are seasonally monogamous.  That sounds like a fabulous idea!  Who will be my autumnal husband??

adult green heron, Mexico

Brunch

I was so fed up with sushi…

…that I thought I would wander into Kerry’s street and check out the lizards.  Found this delicious entree in the neighbors’ yard.

It put up a good fight.  I am 4 foot tall so it was a generous brunch.

Almost down the gullet…

Utterly delicious!

Don’t we all need a change in our brunch venue from time to time?  Especially when wearing our bright white feathers and a burnt orange beak.  I had just come back from grocery shopping when I spotted this great egret in the cul-de-sac.  Ran in to get my camera and voila!

Hope you are all enjoyed brunch on this beautiful sunny day in the sub tropics.  The egret normally lives at the containment pond at the end of our street.

Perfect peace on the site of a battleground

Following on from my last post of Blakeley, Alabama, the site was serenely quiet and tranquil.  In 1865 the Civil War battle of Blakeley commenced.  Ultimately 261 people died, hundreds were injured and over 3000 Confederate soldiers were captured by the Union.  You can tour the battlefield, seeing the Confederate fortifications and other details.  Prior to this sadness, Blakely had been occupied by the Apalachee who had fled their home in Florida after a British led Creek battle.  Then it was chartered as the town of Blakeley by an early settler, Josiah Blakeley in 1814.

In the early days it was a thriving community but as I previously mentioned yellow fever and malaria killed so many people that the place was abandoned, to all intents and purposes.  No one really knew what the cause of the illness was and it was referred to as “Bad Air”.  Anyone who lives in the tropical south knows how oppressive a hot humid day can be but by comparison to Houston, the air seemed as fresh as a daisy.

Calahaba Lily

There is a Calahaba Lily River Association – it is an aquatic plant found only in the south-east.

Wild or Louisiana Iris

The state symbol of Louisiana is the fleur-de-lis based on the real Iris above.

The residents seem peaceful these days…

Lady Blue Dasher with black lace wings

Mr Lizard

Battlegrounds often have a pervasive feeling of gloom but the wildlife has taken over most of the area leaving a sense of ‘life goes on’.

Blakeley, Alabama

The lumberjack fairy

This is a lumberjack fairy in a fantastic tree root of a live oak in Blakeley, Alabama.  Perhaps this fairy retreat provoked my recent addiction to fairy stories?  Blakeley is located to the east of Mobile, Alabama and back in the day it had the best deep water access for the many ships coming to Alabama.  It is now a historic state park and a ghost town.  Both Mobile and Blakeley are in swampy delta areas – five rivers connect at the estuary.  Yellow Fever was common in this area in the 1800s and when it first decimated the population at Blakeley, the remaining residents decided to move to Mobile or other areas.  Unfortunately, there was yellow fever there too and there is a very sad cemetery in Mobile with tiny little graves.  The survivors made it through and we have eradicated yellow fever in America although it is common in other tropical areas.  It is a virus spread by mosquitoes.  Next time you worry about a snake or a cougar, just think how many deaths the mosquito is responsible for.

No fairies but now you know a full grown lumberjack fairy can fit inside it

Where there is death there is life

Elder live oak

What a magnificent old gentleman, his branches graying with Spanish Moss.  Live Oaks live for hundreds of years which worries me because we have one in our front garden that has grown from a 3 ft sapling to 50 ft in 14 years.  Despite that, I love her and stroke her bark when I pass her.  It gives me such pleasure to see the acorns in the leaf litter feeding all the critters.  Click here for a fascinating story about her – One Sleep until Halloween

A snuggle of Fruit Bats

How many cute wee faces can you see?

I always loved the names for groups of animals but the real name for a group of bats is a cauldron of bats. That is just superstitious nonsense – look at those cute little furry faces!   I think there is at least three of them – a mama and two babies, perhaps.  On my very first internship at Chester Zoo in England, I helped edit the zoo magazine which pictured a Dominican Republic fruit bat which the zoo had saved from the edge of extinction. Fruit bats are terribly important to our ecosystem. Their guano or poop fertilizes both the soil and the fruit trees. What would we do without our guavas or bananas or fruit bats?

Just as I was leaving Jaltun Parque near Celestún in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, my guide, Senor Ortega, pointed out the fruit bats nestled in the palm tree. I tried so hard to get a great photograph but this was the best I could process.  When we lived in Cairo, we were woken up by a strange thumping in the back garden.  All we could see in the dark were fallen guavas but then we made out the faint outline of fruit bats knocking the guavas out of the tree and picking them off the ground.  When we lived in our first bought house on an estuary in North Wales, my mum’s cat Tibby came to visit and was terrified by the strange ‘birds’ that flew right at her with their radar.  We have bats in our back yard but go to bed too early to see them…sleepy Teddy and Bunny.

The park also had some orchids

Red Orchid

White Orchid with purple center

The spiny tailed iguana pictured in the last blog lives in hollowed out logs.

Can you see his little face?

Green heron

This is a slightly better shot of my pensive heron with the terracotta water below.  Celestún is an isthmus and just before you reach the beach area you cross over the first body of water.  It looked so tranquil.

What was he fishing for and with what?

 

A real glimpse of the Yucatan jungle

Pensive Green Heron.  I think this is my favorite ever shot

Angel, my driver in Merida, was intuitive about what I was enjoying.  I got very animated about nature ‘naturalis’ and he suggested that we go to Celestun the day after visiting Mayapan and Dzibiltchaltun archeological sites.  Celestun is famous for its large flocks of pink flamingos that live on what is now a nature reserve.  It is a small beach town situated on an isthmus in the Gulf of Mexico, right around the corner from the Caribbean.  The night before I excitedly googled the area and was concerned about the small boats that take you out to see the flamingos (fear of water in small boats).  Additionally, some of the articles mentioned that the influx of tourists was affecting where the flamingos nested.  They keep moving further away from humans.  I knew the beach would be magnificent but noted that there was a small Nature Park, Jaltun Parque Recreativo, just before the town.

This was a common black hawk. Common for the Yucutan… There was a nest close by.

Angel looked at me quizzically, as he had never gone there before, but followed his GPS and we arrived at a scrubby bit of jungle.  I looked at it uncertainly not knowing that this was going to be the cherry on the cake in Mexico.  No one spoke English but the gentleman who guided me had his wildlife book in both Spanish and English.  We excitedly chatted and I discovered that he was an Ortega – my cousin!  It takes me a while to get my eye in, when hunting for critters, but my guide was an expert.  He could identify every bird song, every tree and all the critters. It’s amazing how you don’t really need a common language when you are in tune with nature.  I perfectly understood that he was telling me about the wonders of nature – one tree, very close to another, was very toxic but the other provided the antidote.  Most of the animals were in the jungle but there were a few in small caged areas.

This is an African tree, planted by birds!

One of them was the Yucatan spiny tailed iguana.  I asked Senor Ortega if I could hold it and he explained,with concern, that they were very fast and I would have to hold it firmly behind the neck.  As an expert lizard catcher, I eagerly held out my hands.  It was a chilly winter morning in Celestun and the poor wee thing was cold.  I snuggled it into my sweater for warmth, delighting in the opportunity to be up close to an indigenous critter.

Carpenter Woodpecker Stop tapping so I can get a decent shot!!!

My guide was delighted at my derring-do and we walked into the jungle where he heard a carpenter woodpecker.  We tracked it down and he was more excited than me!  I knew my camera wasn’t up to a good shot because the woodpecker wouldn’t stop tapping but patiently waited for my guide to get just the right shot!  He was terribly impressed by my ability to track quietly and see birds.  Ah, that native DNA comes in handy at times…

Morelet’s Crocadillo

This is a shot of a Morelet Crocadillo  just gently basking in the stream.  I have seen many alligators and crocodiles but that might have been my only opportunity to see this particular crocodile that is found only in Central America.  Just call me Crocodile Kerry…

A special treat was to pop my head inside the boa’s enclosure and take a shot while they were both hissing at me.  When I got back to the car, tired and happy, Angel looked horrified at my shots of serpientes and shuddered!  Off we drove, along the road into Celestun.  It struck me afterwards that I had been cuddling all sorts of critters and it didn’t even cross my mind to wash my hands.  This might be why I got a parasite in Egypt.

More shots to follow of the Yucatan jungle