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’.

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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

Teddy is not a skunk whisperer…

Nine banded Armadillo

There were so many lovely comments about my last post, The Owl and the Pussycat… that I hunted on Youtube for videos of skunk sounds.  Then I was perplexed – it didn’t sound like our noisy night visitors.  Did our skunks speak in Spanish or had we developed a special language?  Eventually I started researching all the other critters that live with us.  Possums can hiss but don’t say very much.  Skunks in the wild rarely talk at all.  Raccoons have a very distinctive chatter – most of it is swear words.  One of my neighbors is scared of raccoons, they are pretty feisty.  I came to the rescue and chased the raccoon up a tree where he sat swearing at me (I think Puta was in there…)

What on earth was it?  Light bulb moment!  It is our little armed ones – Armadillos!  What a wonderful surprise.  Here is a link to a short video of their distinctive chirrup.

Can you imagine that little noise, all night long, from our extended Latin American immigrants?  They wake up about 7 pm and start chirruping, ‘Bee Bee?”  Teddy responds, “Beeee Beep?” and on it goes.  Then I started reading about them.  They like to dig burrows and they are all still under the deck including a new one.  Curiously, they are happy to share their tunnels with skunks, possums and whoever else is there.  Happy hippy commune, man!  They aren’t predated by the Great Horned Owl but presumably they were all cuddled under the deck with skunks.  Maybe their chirping was meant to be reassuring?  They have very few predators and can live from 9 to 23 years.  That probably means that we have lived with the same extended family for the last 13 years.  Mami, Papi, Abuelita, Mijos – no wonder they talk with us.  We are THEIR people; not the other way around!

Even better, they are insectivores and LOVE fire ants.  Now I love my little armed ones with a passion…  For some reason fire ants love to bite me.  You are innocently gardening when one and then one hundred fire ants run up your leg, biting as they go.  Your only recourse is to run to the outside faucet and rinse them all off.  Then you get some lidocaine because it bloody hurts!  Armadillos are funny looking little creatures but harmless unless you eat them undercooked (yes, people are hungry in Central America).  Then you can contract leprosy from them – how weird is that?  We would start naming them but Teddy counted about 50 one night, all communicating with each other.   Imagine a busy barrio in Mexico.

Some years ago, Teddy got this wonderful little video of some baby armadillos snuffling about in the undergrowth looking for insects.  They were silent and when I have seen them in our garden they went straight under the deck – they didn’t seem scared though and now I know why.  It was their female person.

The Owl and The Pussycat…

Well, it’s not really a pussycat but Pepe Le Pew  thought that he was a black and white cat.  So the correct title of this post is The Owl and the Skunks.  I don’t know how many of you have been lucky enough to see a Great Horned Owl but they are massive.  They stand as tall as a toddler and have a wingspan of up to 5 feet.

For months we have been hearing a very distinctive ‘Whoo Whoo’ and I was so excited when I realized it was a Great Horned Owl.  The sound is very deep and you can tell that the creature has large lungs.  I started researching this wonderful bird and discovered that one of his favorite snacks is SKUNKS!!!  He has really large eyes and ears but very little sense of smell.  I adore my little skunks that live in the reserve and play under my deck, so I was sad to find out that they had a predator that was immune to their scent.  Then I thought about baby Great Horned Owls – I guess it’s just the circle of life…sobbing.

On the plus side we have a brand new deck for skunks, armadillos, possums, raccoons, wood rats, snakes and feral cats to hide under.  One night Teddy and I went to bed, really early as always, only to sleep fitfully through a night of deafening WHOO WHOO!  Mr. Horned Eagle was sitting on our fence or the trees in the reserve which is just a few feet from the bedroom.  Underneath that noise was the frantic sound of little skunks chattering nervously underneath the deck.

Aren’t they adorable little twins??

It reminded me of the Pixar short movie about the toys, Tin Toy, that were all hiding under the bed, terrified of the giant baby.  If I hadn’t been so sleepy I would have gone out to tell him to keep the bloody noise down.  Well… this is a happy ever after story.   The skunks survived and the Great Horned Owl has decided to move on to a deck free habitat.  Teddy snapped a shot of one in Florida and couldn’t believe how big it was as it flew over him.  This is a link to the Great Horned Owl Wikipedia page.  One description of its call is “You still up, me too”.  This article noted that some people regarded it as solemn and terrifying.  Really?  It’s just a giant owl!

On a final note, only stupid people have skunks as pets, with their scent organ removed (the only exception would be a rescue).  Skunks belong in the wild where they are the gardener’s friend.  They busily till the soil while eating bugs and larvae.

 

Riverside Walk

Groovy Servicios

One of the best aspects of the Hacienda Escondida, where I stayed in at Puerto Vallarta, was that it was a short distance from the river leading down to the beach.  My zodiac sign is Cancer and despite my fear of deep water/small boats, I just need to be around water.  Ponds, rivers, lakes or the sea – they all make me happy.  The first morning, I got up early and wandered up to the bridge crossing the river.  It was too early for tourists so I met many of the local people coming from the hillside down into the town to open shops and start work.  On the first trip, I felt there was a distance between the locals and tourists but perhaps it was all in my panic stricken head.  I greeted everyone I met with Buenos Dias and received such smiles and responses.  In Texas I live in a town that attracts tourists and sometimes we get irritated with their presence but they bring in tax dollars…

Puerto Vallarta is flooded with natural beauty and it seems to encourage marvelous creativity.  The outhouses above were located on the river bank.  I liked this Maya/Aztec mural on a riverside building?

Maya Mural and dog

It was blissfully quiet early in the morning and enjoyed having most of the river to myself, with a few friends.

Egret on rock, heron in water

I guess they were lucky that the cat was looking for smaller prey.

Fishing cat

Eventually I reached another road bridge where I admired this lovely cafe which was serving breakfast.

River cafe

I finally reached a culvert at the end of the river and there was a mermaid!