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Seasquirt

The adventures of Fe & Chris

Archive for Birds

The Land of the Long White Cloud

We’re in New Zealand! The nice Quarantine people at the airport did indeed clean our boots for us! Over the last few days we’ve been enjoying the fine hospitality provided by Justin and Nicola, friends from the Polar Star.

We have seen the sights of Christchurch - in places like a clone of Oxford and Cambridge (you can even go punting). We have been welcomed by the numerous species of European birds which were introduced by the early settlers to make us feel at home. This has been a successful enterprise, we do indeed feel at home, but now I have a hankering for something of a more native persuasion.

I found a lovely model of the MS Explorer in the Antarctic department of the Christchurch museum. It was labelled “A Historic Tourist Ship” - the label now needs a little updating with its recent demise, but is largely correct.

Yesterday we had a lovely drive on the Banks Peninsula and enjoyed several tiny Hector’s Dolphins, some wonderful scenery and some very nice food (there’s even a cheese shop!).

We’re off to collect our new campervan home in a few minutes. Must fly…

For my birthday…

Thank you all for your birthday greetings. I particularly like Mike’s poem, but I do not infact scoop up my poo, just bury it with a natty orange plastic trowel.

Now, to business. For my birthday I received a Shy Albatross, some male Australian Fur Seals, thousands of muttonbirds, an Echidna, a Superb Fairy Wren, a nice walk to Cape Hauy and a Devonshire Tea.

Little Blue Penguins

We’re in Tasmania, in the small town of Bicheno. We just stopped for a Rivita and jam when the fancy took us for a stroll. We bumped into five beautiful Little Blue Penguins hiding under rocks. There are several places you can pay to see them around here, but I believe birds should be free, so am very happy now.

We stayed a couple of nights with Polar Star Megan in Kingston, and had breakfast with Opwall Karen.

Taz rocks.

Monkeys tried to poo on us

We are currently back in Guatemala for a flying visit. Today we visited some more Mayan ruins (we seem to be doing this every other day at the moment) called Tikal. These ruins are set within a huge area of jungle and have some of the tallest structures of the Mayan world. The temples tower out of the trees and make an amazing sight once you have climbed up them to see the view - we have done a lot of climbing today - one set of steps were so steep it was practically a ladder - I tried my best not to be too scared!

Along with the amazing ruins, we also added a lot of animals to our tick list - we are being so lucky I know! As we arrived in the park we were greeted by some oscillated turkeys which are very colourful and pretty compared to the turkeys people eat at Christmas. A group of Coatis were also hanging around near the entrance and seemed fairly unperturbed by our presence. We also heard the sound of Howler monkeys for the first part of the monring (we arrived at 6.30am, urgh!). As we approached the tallest temple which we thought we should start with we got our best views of wild keel-billed (Guinness) toucans yet - they look so odd in flight!

As we were wondering through the jungle in search of some more ruins we came across both Howler and Spider monkeys, both of which seemed to enjoying trying to poo on our heads!! We managed to avoid the unpleasant bombs (although there may have been some wee at one point) and got some great views as they swung through the trees - some with babies attached - so cute. As we continued round the site we saw another couple of troops of spider monkeys - they´re so graceful and quiet compared to the noisy, and slightly clumsy howlers.

Having climbed our last (and scariest!) temple we headed back towards the exit and saw a Trogon (sp unknown as yet) and then a guide pointed us in the direction of a “muy grande aves”, thinking it was just the turkeys again we were a bit blase, but thought we should show some interest - the guide got frustrated with our inability to find the turkeys and pointed up at a tree where a Harpy eagle was cocking its head at us - this bird was indeed very big, and a bit scary looking, especially its huge talons. A local boy went past and obviously taunted the bird because as he walked across the road, the bird flew down and straight at the boy - needless to say he fell to the floor and then ran for cover - I don´t think these birds are to be messed with!

After such a long and exciting day, we have now headed back to our current place of stay, Flores, to investigate how to get across the Mexican border - sounds like it should be an interesting experience, so we shall keep you posted!

A surprising find

We stopped for a couple of nights at a very agreeable establishment called Trekstop which is close to the town of San Jose Succotz, next to the border with Guatemala. Our accomodation was a bit like a large garden shed in a forest, but with a composting toilet ensuite and a butterfly house in the garden.

There were plenty birdies about the site so I happiliy wandered down a track - at the end I looked behind me and was suprised by a huge Mayan construction dominating the skyline. Now, we knew it was nearby, but our guidebook had not alluded to the fact that it was so impressive.

To get to Xunantunich we crossed a river on a rickity, old, hand-cranked ferry (a truck wheel is an integral part of the mechanism). The ferry would take  one small car at a time, but nothing bigger for fear of the cables snapping as the river was in spate.

The ruins were great - small enough to get round in a relaxing hour or two, and impressive enough to amaze us. From the top of the temple on the skyline we could see for miles eastward though Belize and miles westwards into Guatemala.

On the way home we enjoyed a bunch of Collared Aracari´s - a type of toucan - eating fruit in a tree.

We lunched at the Xunantunich Inn and Fiona would like to commend them for their first-class veggie burritos and keeping us dry whilst it rained.

Crooked Tree, Crooked Tree

Fiona with her long and strongly felt love of the cashew nut was desperate to get to the location of the famous Cashew Fest in the village of Crooked Tree.  As it happens, Crooked Tree is in the middle of an internationally important area for birds so I was happy to go there too.

We spent a couple of nights in this sleepy little village wandering the trails and admiring the birds and cashew trees. I particularly liked a tiny bit of marsh that had Wood Storks, Roseate Spoonbill, White Ibis’, Great White Egret, Snowy Egret, Green-backed Heron, Bare-faced Tiger-Heron and Northern Jacana all feeding together.

Fiona liked the spoonbill because it was pink.

We also saw the Prothonatory Warbler, notable simply because of its ridiculous name. Marvelous. I don’t even know what prothonatory means can anyone enlighten me?

We searched the shops for Cashews but too no avail (actually, we searched for the shops too - they were camouflaged as houses - this is a local village for local people). Cashew season is May apparently. Only when we were disembarking the bus in Belize City did Fiona spy what she was looking for. She accosted an poor man who was off to market and just happened to have a large bag of cashews. Purchase made, Fiona was happy.

The biggest fish in the sea…

Today was one of the most exciting days of my life.

Having been told by our instructor yesterday that ¨you´ll be very lucky to see a whale shark this time of year¨ we were very excited to come across one this morning on the way to our first ever open water dive (that makes us not only very lucky but possibly one in a million by the way!!).

The skipper was very adept at getting us in the right place to get off the boat and snorkel with this amazing animal - we saw three individuals in total - the biggest being seven metres - huge!

We managed to get in with it six times (although I missed one whilst throwing up, oops!). A couple of times we were wondering where it had got to, until we looked directly below us, and there it was - amazing!

They are quite slow moving and very pretty -  with spots all over their backs. We´re hoping to obtain pics from someone who was lucky enough to have housing for their camera (Keir you couldn´t post yours out to me could you? Hrmph, you swine!).

Chris would like to add two points - whale sharks are planktivores and therefore do not eat people. Number two, the feeding sharks attracted huge numbers of black terns, sooty terns, least terns and the occasional noddy.

None of this would have happened if it weren´t for Hurricane Felix causing upwelling and also ridding the island of tourists which meant we got on a resort boat we wouldn´t usually have been allowed on, so thanks to Felix and our bravery at staying on the island!

By the way,we also had fun on our two open water dives - saw a yellow stingray, some parrotfish and a trumpet fish. Oh and we just passed our written exam (I got 100% of course, hehe!).

Diving, exploring and relaxing in Utila

Before all the Hurricane Felix commotion we had embarked on diving instruction to gain our PADI Open Water certification. We’d spent two days learning and practising in shallow water, when we were ready to jump into the deep water the dive shop had to be shut up and packed away so we have had a couple of days to explore the island and relax (and eat the the food we’d bought to weather out the storm).

This morning we tried to walk to a bay on the north of this island, yet failed - we ended up in a mosquito ridden mangrove swamp and were forced to retreat. We are starting to learn that Utila is not an island for walking.

This afternoon we read our dive books and watched hummingbirds from the veranda - a rather beautiful species called a Green-breasted Mango frequents the feeder outside our room.

We start diving again tomorrow morning. We are in a class of two - just Fe and I - which is great. Our instructor is a terribly nice chap called Dick. You don’t meet many people called Dick these days.

Kayaking

We have been out kayaking a couple of times recently and yesterday we went on a tour to Punta Izopo - a nature reserve to the east of Tela. This was our first time on a double kayak, but I think we managed reasonably well - Chris was at the rear and took charge of steering, which he did impressively well - we didn´t bump into the mangroves at all! We were also one of the fastest (not that I´m competitive at all!). On our tour we saw lots of blue crabs desperately clinging to the mangrove roots - they don´t seem to like the water too much. Apparently it is crab season and the locals can be seen collecting them along the roadsides to make soup from them, or sell them 5 for 100 Lempiras. They´re quite funky looking - will try and get a pic up soon….

We also saw a tiny baby crocodile - cute, and a couple of new herons - a boat billed and some other, the name I forget!

Belizean bletherings

We went to Punta Gorda, the southernmost ´town´in Belize to spend our requisite three days renewing our visas. On arrival we were slightly put out to find most of the town´s accomodation had been taken over by a group which turned out to be a meeting of all the village leaders from the whole country (”And there´s a lot of villages” as I was told by the the fifth hotel we tried!). This meeting even made the national radio news, as did the results of Punta Gorda´s beauty Pageant which also went on over the weekend we were there - it´s a happening place it would seem, except on a Sunday, when we had to risk eating lunch at a street vendor due to a distinct lack of choice. It turned out to be very nice food, and no d&v resulted, phew! ANyway, we finally found some very nice accomodation, complete with hot water (which came out of the cold tap and turned out to be surplus to requirements as it was so hot outside!)

On our first morning we decided to get up super early (5am) and go kayaking up a nearby river. Unfortunately our early start was slightly curtailed by a lack of keys to get to the kayaks, but a man soon turned up to sort us out and then we were on our way, paddling slowly up river (in only a vaguely straight line). Some of the course got very narrow as we were obstructed by fallen logs and some rocks, but it was all good fun. We saw lots of crabs scuttling up mangrove roots, four different types of heron, and the highlight - a couple of otters - one of which kept sticking its head out of the water and ´shouting´at us - it then went to get its bigger buddy and they both ran along the bank alongside me - I was actually slightly perturbed in case they came and started eating my kayak, unlikely I know, but it was a bit creepy in those parts! We also saw an iguana-like lizard which was very cool too!

After such an active morning we were relaxing on our balcony for the afternoon when we spotted a couple of our OpWall pals - Julie and Bex - who were also doing the visa run. We spent the next day with them and visited some Mayan ruins (one of only two main sites in Belize). It was a much quieter place than our previous experience of Copan - in fact we were the only people there. Oh and I´d like to mention Julie as the one person who seems to take delight in my accent, and, I quote “wants to speak like me”! She is Swiss, so not sure if that explains it at all?!

After an afternoon swim in the dubious sea (there was lots of floating scum), and a pleasant evening introducing Julie and Bex to the local weirdo (there seems to be one in every town recently - this one made a loud yell every 5 minutes and danced as cars went past), we said our sad goodbyes to them and set off for the ferry the next morning.

Oh, and I forgot to mention that we had a nice break from struggling with our rubbish Spanish as thankfully the Belizean national language is English, lovely!

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