Roseate Spoonbill birds flying overhead, lakes near Canal de Chiquimulilla
Posted June 26, 2018
Bird feathers were used by the Aztec, Maya, Teotihuacanos, Mixtecs, Zapotecs, etc. to decorate staffs, poles, palace rooms, and of course feather headdresses. Also feathers are decorative designs on Late Classic Maya plates, bowls, and vases (especially the “Dress Shirt” design on 9th century ceramic plates that I discovered when I was 19 years old as a student intern on the Tikal project in the rain forests of Guatemala). My Harvard undergraduate thesis shows these designs, subsequently identified by scholars as tail feathers of the ocellated turkey.
So we are interested in finding and photographing every bird of Mesoamerica which was used in pre-Columbian Mayan temples, palaces, and also by the people in their villages (to decorate their hair and necklaces).
Although the Roseate Spoonbill can be found in the Yucatan peninsula, such as Rio Lagartos, it is a challenge to find this bird in Guatemala. Yes it is in lists of waterbirds, but when you get to that lake or river you learn they are very rarely visible. So it is impressive that Erick Flores was able to find two of them flying over our boat. We have been doing research on flora and fauna of the lakes and swamps west of the Canal de Chiquilumilla, near Monterrico, for over 10 years. We coordinate this with CECON park rangers.
What is that white foam from insects on the plant stem?
Posted June 22, 2018
About a week ago I noticed a white foam encasing several stems on a plant in our FLAAR Mayan Ethnobotanical Research Garden. If you were a normal gardener you would freak out and call every pesticide company in the Yellow Pages.
But we are eco-friendly, and do not allow pesticides or insecticide in the garden. We welcome bee nests, wasp nests and colonies of whatever kind of local insect makes a home in our garden.
Although this foam is seen from time to time, this was the first time I really studied it, because it was about 10 inches outside the door! I estimated it was exuded from a growing phase of the insect and created to protect themselves.
Turns out these are spittlebugs. To learn more simply Google spittlebug, or what is the white foamy stuff on my plants.
No need to freak out, or be grossed out. This is part of nature. Our Guatemalan genus may be Aeneolamia species or a relative, Prosapia species (CATIE web site) or other comparable insects (there are a lot out there).
Mosquito? Or Mosquito fly? Pollinating jaboncillo in FLAAR garden, Guatemala
Posted May 21, 2018
Male mosquitos are often hard at work pollinating (while their girlfriends are working hard to get blood to help raise their next generation). Snag is that there are many flies that mimic mosquitos (and scores of insects that mimic the colors of bees).
Here in the Mayan Ethnobotanical Research Garden of FLAAR, in Guatemala City, today the mosquito or mosquito-like flies have been busy all weekend and today (Monday) I was able to get a photo of these fast-moving characters. Actually female mosquitos are also after nectar when they don’t have to think about a fresh brood of baby buggies. There are two plants in Guatemala with the common name of jaboncillo; this is Phytolacca icosandra.
Nikon D5 camera, hand held (since the flowers are blowing in the wind and I have to move quickly from flower to flower), ISO 2000, speed 1/500th of a second (because there is no realistic way to focus on the mosquitos when they are in flight, so faster speed is not that much help). F/9 to get depth of field. Lens: AF-S Micro NIKKOR 60mm f/2.8G ED. Would be better next time to use 100mm because if you get too close with the 60mm you scare away the pollinator. So the lack of 1:1 of the 100mm is not that much a disadvantage.
We are at work preparing a bibliography on mosquito pollinators and “mosquito fly” pollinators. Here is one web page I enjoyed reading today: www.thoughtco.com/insects-mistaken-for-mosquitoes-1968308
Two bee species hard at work Seeking nectar from jaboncillo in FLAAR garden, Guatemala
Posted May 20, 2018
Pollinators are important for all people around the world. So we at FLAAR (USA) and FLAAR Mesoamerica (Guatemala) are developing projects to assist local people to understand how many creatures are pollinators (much more than just bees).
That said, bees are still the most common and most noticed. So although lots of beetles, flies, butterflies, moths, bats and arboreal mammals such as mico leon (Potos flavus) are also pollinators, it is most realistic to start the message of Save the Bees, Butterflies and Bats.
Here are snapshots of a jaboncillo flower stack with two different bees or bee-like insects. As you will see with the next post, mosquitos (or mosquito-like flies) also visit the same flowers.
We noticed this several months ago on other flowers: many species of bees plus the mosquito-like insects were all happily seeking nectar on the same flowers at the same time of day. The plant’s botanical name is Phytolacca icosandra.
Since the flowers are blowing in the wind it’s tough to focus before the pollinator flies away, but here are the snapshots we were able to get. Nikon D5 camera, AF-S Micro NIKKOR 60mm f/2.8G ED lens. Photo by Nicholas Hellmuth, FLAAR.
Lots of birds to see and photograph at Yaxha
Posted May 8, 2018
Bird are waiting for you at the Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo. I can remember seeing the ant birds enjoying their feast of insects trying to flee the invading army ants (the ant birds can hear the noise of thousands of insects hopping, jumping, flying to try to escape the massive army of ants). The ant birds simply have the bugs jump-into-their-mouths.
This experience with ant birds comes from having lived at Yaxha for five annual seasons (1970-1974) while preserving the eco-system by working to create a national park here. FLAAR also worked together with archaeologist Miguel Orrego to map the entire site of Yaxha (and update the Harvard map of Nakum).
In mid-April 2018 I returned to Yaxha to visit with the park administration team, to donate printed material for their museum and for schools and to discuss how FLAAR could help the park’s program to raise awareness about protecting the fragile eco-systems of the seasonal Neotropical seasonal rain forests of this part of Mesoamerica.
Bright colored birds were hopping from branch to branch in the trees over the hotel Ecolodge El Sombrero, adjacent to the entrance to the park. Inside the park there were reports of the King Vulture, a gorgeous bird that is almost never visible elsewhere. The very knowledgeable park ranger (Teco) knew all the birds and precisely where to find them and what hour of the day.
If you sign up for a boat trip, then you can see and photograph all the waterbirds. So there is a lot to see at Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo in addition to the Mayan temple pyramids, palaces, ballcourts, and causeways.
Wasps that make honey?
Posted March 1, 2018
Last year I was surprised to learn that there is a wasp which makes honey, the “Mexican Honey Wasp.” Since this wasp is also present in Guatemala, we began looking for it.
Last week, while in a school in the remote mountains parallel to the Rio Cahabon, Guatemala (donating educational material to the teachers to utilize for the primary school Q’eqchi’ Mayan children), one of the teachers said that the wasps I was photographing were actually honey producers.
This is the second time this year that local people have said there were more than one kind of honey wasp. Snag is that other than the well known Mexican honey wasp there is not much on the Internet to allow us to easily identify the other species.
We are studying pollinators of the plants of Mesoamerica: bees, wasps, beetles, flies, and mammals. We have now photographed male mosquitos several times on the same flowers as bees and wasps in our FLAAR Mayan Ethnobotanical Research Garden around our office.
We look forward to contributing to knowledge of honey wasps that are native to Guatemala.
HOWLER Monkeys everywhere
Posted Feb. 15, 2018
Considering how much of the Bocas del Polochic and Rio Polochic have been destroyed by runoff from strip mining, sugar cane plantations, and African palm tree plantations, it is notable that in the few areas which people have not yet destroyed, there are lots of howler monkeys, probably Alouatta pigra. This is the Guatemalan black howler monkey species.
We saw and heard lots of these photogenic howling monkeys in two locations on the west side of the Rio Polochic, February 11th, 2018.
When you are in a boat rocking from side to side because of the wind-created waves, and when the monkeys are either not in full view (covered by branches) or not with the sun illuminating them, the photos are not outstanding. But at least we got some snapshots.
Howler monkeys are mentioned in the Popol Vuh mythical stories but are rarely pictured in Classic Mayan art. 95% or more of the monkeys in Classic Lowland Mayan ceramic bowls, vases, and plates are the cute spider monkeys.