Mariato Birthday Party 2014

Mariato district was founded on June 25, 2001. This is a short slideshow of Mariato’s birthday party June, 2014

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Victor & Victoria

Victor is a black vulture and so is Victoria. Here is a photo of this pretty pair:

Victor-Victoria

Victor’s parents lived on our land and raided our composting area on a regular basis. Everyday we throw out our organic waste near the banana trees. Whatever was considered edible, and that is just about everything except the coffee grounds, was eaten by Victor´s parents. Although they did appreciate chicken bones and fish heads much more than overripe pineapple. Victor’s parents decided that the easiest way to ensure Victor a good future, was to nest close to the cornucopia that is our compost heap.

We found out fairly quickly where the nest was located – a hole in the ground somewhere behind and below our upper water tank. Victor as a baby was a cute thing – all fluffy white with a black bill. So when we had some especially delicious leftovers, like a fish head or tail, we brought them all the way up and fed them to little Victor. Victor learned quickly that we were a source of food rather than a source of danger. He may be on the ugly side, but he is definitely not bird-brained.

And he has not forgotten either. As an adult vulture, he started to visits the compost heap every day to check it out for edible titbits. He quickly learned that those edible titbits were brought there by us in a blue bucket. Then he learned that making an appearance in front of one of us usually resulted in the appearance of the blue bucket. Next he found out that the blue bucket is normally located in our kitchen.

After a few visits to the kitchen by Victor, we learned that we had to close the kitchen door when no-one was inside. Then Victor found out that the kitchen could also be reached via the front door. We have been busy to train him (or he us?) that he will get his food, if he just waits patiently at the back door. This appears to work.

Since a month or two, Victor has been bringing a friend, Victoria, to share in the bounty of our compost heap. After feeding, they used to rest on the support structure we made for the new veranda. But, as the work on the veranda progressed, there was less and less support structure and they started sitting on the wooden veranda floor. This was not to our liking. Mostly because Victor and Victoria were not exactly house-trained, but also because black vultures have the unsavoury habit of sh*tting on their feet to cool down. And that results in white splotches and/or white foot prints on our new veranda.

We have managed to learn them not to sit on the veranda (at least not in our presence), but house-training them is proving to be very difficult. Perhaps they are bird-brained after all? Whatever the case, we assume that they are a happy couple because we have seen them trying for a Victor(ia) Junior. As soon as we know the result, we will let you know.

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Animals in our reforested garden

Eric & Erica

When you live in Panama and have a garden of about 8 hectares (20 acres) there are a number of animals you could keep. But we opted to not “keep” any, no cattle, no dog, no cat… However, animals are starting to surround us, or seeing us as their caretakers. We are going to introduce them to you.

Eric and Erica are “our” squirrels. They are of the variegated squirrel species, and have a blond belly and black back. Only certain times of the year when they take up certain positions can we tell who is Eric and who might be Erica.

In 2007 when we saw the first squirrel of their kind on the edge of our reforested garden we were very happy. It was after all a pastureland that we bought and we were turning back into a forest.

By now, there are enough high trees, bushes and palms that Eric and Erica can do a circle around Heliconia Bed and Breakfast. They do so daily. There are areas such as our driveway where the coconut palms do not touch the cecropia tree on one side. But if you climb high enough on the leaves and jump your best, you just make it to the other side. A similar problem exists between the mango tree and the beach almond (btw – we are not on the beach, it is just a common tree name). Sometimes a jump goes wrong. But they never lay still, the ground is very dangerous, so no matter how you fell or how you feel, as soon as possible, you get back in the nearest tree.erica

Erica is very fanatic about regularly eating a coconut. She likes them green, and the best of these are between the cecropia and the beach almond… It takes a beginning squirrel on average 2 days (not fully employed) to make the hole. And then drink as soon as possible and scrape that delicious young coconut out of the hole. Sometimes you she needs to make the whole bigger, or her head does not fit in. By now, Erica is very experienced and she can make the hole in one morning.

Erica does not like competition in the same tree. So if Eric is also coming around, she goes after him or he after her. It is a bit like in the Ice Age film – sharing a (coco)nut with a squirrel of the other sex may be tempting but in the end keeping it to yourself is better!

So nearly every morning we listen to her gnawing for several hours…

Once in a while, if we want to barter fish for fresh coconuts, we take of a whole bunch out of the various coconut palms. When Eric(a) then arrives at the palm, you can see her wondering… who was here? They were such good nuts? The right size and all…

Sometimes (s)he leaves the coconut after drinking and goes about other squirrel business. That is a wrong move because other animals in our garden take advantage. Like a small woodpecker, or a blue and gray tanager, or one of our other “pets”, Victor the Vulture.

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Just back from Coiba

…and very happy!!!

Our two night three day visit to Coiba was wonderful (yet again!). Everytime I get there, I realise again why UNESCO has designated this a world natural heritage site. The place is just wonderful. We spent moust of our time snorkelling on granito de oro and near Playa blanca.

Giving our masks a rest at Granito de Oro

The islet was deserted, by humans that is, there was plenty of wildlife in the surrounding waters. Since pictures tell a lot more than words, I will keep it short.

We saw turtles

A turtle at a coral reef near Coiba

an octopus

One rather upset Octopus

Trevally (kingfish)

Kingfish hunting at the reef

And even a small whitetipped reefshark. Luckily, these sharks are not dangerous, they hunt at night for fish. During daytime, they may come to check you out but they also think that discretion is the better part of valour.

White-tipped reefshark

The next planned trip isin a few days(6-8 January) and if you would like to go to, contact us at www.hotelheliconiapanama.com.

 

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Checking Dendrobates frogs for chytridiomycosis in the Western Azuero

The green and black poison-dart frog Dendrobates auratus

You may have heard that many amphibians are threatened by a fungal disease. The fungus Batrachochitrium dendrobatis is linked to dramatic declines in populations of amphibians. It appears that the fungus has been around for a long time, but only started to threaten amphibians in the last 15 years. No one knows why. Some speculate that the fungus has mutated into a more virulent one, while others think that climate changes favours the fungus. But it is certain that many populations of amphibians have declined and some species are now extinct.
The western side of the Azuero peninsula is home to a few dozen species of amphibians. The most common and obvious ones are the Cane toad, (Bufo marinus), the Tungara frog (Physalaemus pustulopsus)) and the milk frog (Phrynohyas venulosa). But there are also a few populations of the Green-and-black Poison dart frog (Dendrobates auratus). The poison-dart frog occurs mostly in the Cerro hoya National Park, but there are remnant populations in other areas. Apparently the poison-dart frogs are most sensitive to the fungal disease, while other species hardly suffer (well, I have to admit that it is difficult to imagine the Cane Toad being sensitive to anything at all, except maybe a sledge hammer).

Last week we had two Dutch guests, Alex and Patrick, who are very keen on frogs, especially poison-dart frogs, which also suffer most from the fungal disease. Alex and Patrick brought some test kits to check whether the fungus is also present on the western Azuero peninsula, especially in the poison-dart frogs. We first went to the Cerro Hoya but found no poison-dart frogs there. They do spread out during the rainy season, but we were (are) slightly worried that we did not find a single poison dart frog. The next day we went to another place, near Quebro. Here we did find the frogs and Alex and Patrick took samples from six frogs.

Alex and Patrick sampling and photographing Dendrobates auratus

Taking a sample means that they take a swab from the skin of the frog with a small ball of cotton. The frog is not hurt in any way and is released immediately after the sample has been taken. The swab is sent to the University of London for analysis. We hope to get results in about two months time

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Turtle laying Season in the Western Azuero

The turtle season is in full swing. Almost every day, turtles arrive at the beach of Malena to lay eggs and almost every day there are turtle hatchlings to be released. Five species of turtles lay their eggs at Malena beach: Olive Ridley, Green, Loggerhead, Hawksbill and leatherbacks. The Olive Ridley is the most common turtle on Malena beach.

Olive Ridley laying eggs

The Malena community has set up an association to protect the turtles that breed on their beach. Every day, or rather, every night and early morning, volunteers patrol the beach to check for turtle nests. The nests they find are dug out and the eggs are reburied in a turtle hatchery, where dogs, cats and poachers can not get at them. In this way, the people of Malena prevent virtually all egg mortality and generally some 90% of the eggs hatch.

Digging up recently laid turtle eggs
… And reburying them in the hatchery

When the small turtles hatch, they are released on the beach and accompanied until the water edge, preventing mortality from cats, dogs, ghost crabs and raccoons. But when they enter the water, the turtles are on their own.

Together with some guests we went on a very early patrol with the Malena communioty turtle patrol and were lucky enough to see a female Olive Ridley turtle come on the beach to lay eggs. On another day, we went to help release the turtle hatchlings, also in the early morning. This takes less luck, since the laying date of each nest is noted and we know that it takes 48-50 days for the eggs to hatch.

Last year the Malena turtle protection association released nearly 20,000 young turtles and it looks like they will release a similar number this year.

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Fish or Watch Whales off Azuero West Coast

The Pacific Coast of Panama offers some great fishing, especially at the southern edge of the Azuero peninsula and in the remote Darien. At both places, the continental shelf is narrow and nutrient-rich water from the deep mixes with the warm surface water, providing food for Tuna, Marlin, Dorado, Wahoo and many other species of game fish.

January to April are the best months for fishing. Yellowfin Tuna are the main attraction for fishermen. They arrive in the area around January, first mostly the smaller ones (20-30 kg), but as the season progresses, more and more large individuals, some weighing more than 100 kg, are present. Wahoo, Dorado and Sailfish are also common during this period. Closer in shore, you can catch Amber Jack, Sierra and numerous other fish.

However, I am more of a nature lover and bird watcher than a fisherman and on both occasions I was caught in a variation of the old fishermans dilemma. Not so much: fish or cut bait, but rather: fish or watch whales or watch birds or try to photograph dolphins… I tried to do it all, which probably explains why I only caught a nice Amber Jack and some Sierras.

But if you are serious about it, fishing here is great and I can recommend Jerry Higdon, our local captain and fishing guide.

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Mariato birthday party, western Azuero, Veraguas

Mariato is a very young district, on 25 June 2011 we celebrated the 10th anniversary of the district. This celebration was a typical Panamanian event with a parade through the district capital:

The mayor of Mariato leads the Parade

 Many people were dressed in the traditional Panamanian rural festive dresses and all communities elected a princess to represent them at the festivities:

One of the princesses

  After the parade, the princesses performed a tradicional dance with their ‘caballeros’:

Traditional Dance

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