Friday, January 17, 2014

A Day with the Fauna and Flora

This morning was rainy and cool so we went East to the Mastic Trail.  Josh likes goals so he had written a list which included our hopes for the day.  This is the result:

  1. Hike Mastic Trail
  2. See Cayman Parrot
  3. Visit Botanical Park
  4. See Blue Iguanas
  5. Visit East End
In addition, we saw:
  1. Blue throated anole
  2. Hickatee (freshwater turtles)
  3. Wood slave (Jamaican gecko)
  4. Racer, Black snake
  5. A rat
  6. Agouti
  7. A manchineel tree
Mastic Trail
The Mastic Trail is cut into the inland forest - a mixed zone of mangroves, royal palm, acacia-like scrub and taller tropical trees.  We went to the trail the day after a torrential downpour so we were only able to make it about a quarter of the way before finding the trail flooded with about 8 inches of water.  We would have needed galoshes.

While on the trail we saw 1 Rat.  I think it was an invasive Norwegian Rat of the ratus type we are trying to kill at home.

While walking the trail I recorded the song of a persistent bananaquit on my iPhone.  I played it back and managed to summon some bananaquits.  Their calls attracted a northern flicker, a cuban bullfinch, a honeyeater and various small warblers.  I was overwhelmed by my trick.  Here is the call:

The Manchineel Tree
Also on the trail we saw warnings about toxic plants: the manchineel tree, the maiden plum and the lady hair being chief among them.  Standing in a leafy forest with kids, the questions of identification can seem overwhelming so Josh just told the kids "don't touch ANY plants".  This is hard when hiking past muddy trenches and caused Wren a lot of anxiety.  He kept saying "oh, I touched that plant, will I be alright?"
"Have I touched a plant?
How long will it take to know?"
The one I was interested to see is the manchineel tree - one of the most toxic trees on earth.  It secretes some kind of sap which is caustic to skin and causes blisters.  We found one in the botanic park but I only noticed because of the big red sign.

We did identify many maiden hair on the Mastic Trail.  This plant's green leaves cause black blisters, welts and rashes that last up to two weeks!

Maiden PLUM not Lady Hair...  (need to update the picture caption)
Cayman Parrots
We stopped to investigate a loud bird and chanced upon a pair of 'good bird' Cayman Parrots in a jacaranda tree by the road.  The say and looked back at us until we tired of them and drove off.  We all managed to see them through binoculars.  I saw another at the Botanical Park and heard many calling and flying past.

The agouti is a large rodent from Central America which was established by early settlers for meat.  Arden Bodden told us the story of the first agouti.  A settler brought them in to breed and had them in a cage.  One escaped as he was coming to feed them and he tried to catch it,  but could not.  Realizing he couldn't breed them with only one he just let the other one go too.  Now they are called Cayman 'rabbit' and hunted for meat.  They are shy but not uncommon.  We saw one at a distance and the kids crept up and saw it again.  They loved the agouti.

Can you see the shy agouti?  It looked like a blend between a
duiker and a dassie to me. It is just to the left of the path in the middle distance.
A Blue Iguana and a Blue Anole
We are talking about getting a lizard as a pet.  Everyone is enjoying the lizards and geckos and iguana all about us.  If I were to 'discover' Grand Cayman today I would not call it los Tortugas (as Columbus is reputed to have done due to the abundance of turtles) but Los Iguanos.

Today, Josh spotted a blue anole.  He was a splendidly bright blue and was kind enough to perform by inflating his neck pouch for us.  You can't quite see that in the picture, but you can get the idea.  Also, see how his color is similar to the leaves.  Apparently they can change color a bit like a chameleon to blend in.
Blue anole at the bird sanctuary
Of course, the stars of the show were the indigenous blue iguana which are being bred and released in the Botanical Park program. We saw three in the gardens.  They are quite a big deal around here and you can see that this tourist was eager to get a good shot.

A blue iguana on the color-garden loop

A tourist getting a close up while Wren kneels in an odd way.
I love this picture.  Its very funny.

We saw no sign of aggression except from the iguana who was waiting by
the picnic tables.  When Wren sat at the table he rushed up as if to get food.

I told them to get back but they crept up on the iguana.  They are
generally lazy things wanting only to lie undisturbed in the sun.

This one was a bit insistent.  He was lying on the hot bricks but grew excited
a bit later.  You can see how big he is in this picture.
Black Snake
We also saw three racer snakes (Black Snakes).  They are harmless and like to lie on the path.  We passed an Australian woman who was quite scared of them but when I stamped this one cleared off the path in a hurry.

It is now quite late and I realize this has been a survey of animals rather than hugely informative.  Still, it was a day full of animals and the kids loved the Botanical Gardens, fighting with fallen palm fronds they found on the path.  Both were impressed by the signs about the risk of falling coconuts - Frost says it is a well-known fact that more people are killed by coconuts than by sharks.  He adds that it is also well known that more people are killed by bovine herd animals than sharks and coconuts combined.  I checked the cow claim and it seems that on average 1 human being is killed each year by a shark in the US while 22 people die from coconut strikes (about 150 annually worldwide).  In an average year about 20 people in the US die from deliberate cow attacks.

Be afraid, people.  Be very afraid of cows and coconuts.
"Don't do it Frost!  There are coconuts!!!"  yelled Wren.

The kids asked me to photograph this warning.

1 comment:

nautilus said...

the iguanas are amazing! i wonder if their saliva is poisonous like those lizards of Komodo (dragons). what do they eat?