Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Birds, Bees and Honey

Tufted Titmouse and Junco January 11, 2011

Snow has covered the ground for the past three weeks. But we have been lucky that the severe storms have missed us, going east, south and west. I guess that makes up for the past winter when our area was targeted with heavy snows.

The birds have flocked to the feeders so we have already bought 100 lbs. of black oil sunflower seeds this month. But, the sight of hundreds of birds at the feeders makes it worth it.

Bee Hive January 14, 2011
(yes it's sloping, I keep propping it up until spring when I can try to reset the concrete blocks)

So far so good with my bees this year. On Dec. 31, we had a warm 50 degree day. I noticed hundreds of bees swarming around the hive at 1:00. At first, I thought other bees were robbing the hive since I thought I saw bees kill other bees. Later, I went outside and only a few bees were outside. I noticed that each one was dealing with a dead bee. I watched one push a dead bee to the edge of the bottom board, then fly a little ways and drop to the ground with it. The bee then returned to the hive. There was a big pile of dead bees right where the bee dropped that dead one. The bees were cleaning out the hive of dead bees! The next morning, I noticed all the dead bees were gone, probably a yummy treat for the birds. That might have been the first warm day since the bees went into their winter cluster.

I also noticed a few bees out when the temperature reached 40 degrees yesterday. They didn't go far and appeared to be eating the melting snow. I hope they made their way back to the hive in the chilly weather.

Costa Rican Honey

I bought some honey at a roadside fruit stand while we were in Costa Rica. It was a good thing it had bees on the label because the vendors could not speak English and my Spanish is poor. By the time we got back to the hotel, the bottle was leaking. So, I bought packing tape and sealed the bottle cap up good and put it in several ziplock bags. I hoped that the TSA wouldn't find it because it looked very suspicious (and I read an article once about a man getting detained for trying to bring back jars of honey on a plane flight).

The bottle made it back in my checked luggage . I was delighted that the honey was quite good. It reminded me a little of orange blossom honey but a little richer with tropical flavors. I am becoming knowledgeable of the different flavors of honey. Right now, I have several varieties of honey on my shelf--locust (my very own), sourwood (from my mentor), orange blossom (from the farmer's market), and now my Costa Rican honey.

I put my bottle of honey next to my little bonzai. It reminded me that last summer, the bees would sit under the bonzai, sipping the water from the damp soil. I know I took a photo but lost it when my desktop computer crashed last year.

I am already thinking about spring!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Tweeters Needed!

I'm writing a short script about use of Twitter for nature discovery, interaction with other birders, etc. Right now, I'm writing a story based on true events---actual tweets. But, I needed some input from fellow tweeters. What are your thoughts about Twitter?

Do you find Twitter helps you learn more about nature ?

Have you ever had the feeling that Twitter keeps you away from nature?

Do you have specific instances of how Twitter affected you nature-wise?

Any other thoughts?

I have been on Twitter for over a year on a very erratic basis. When I get on there, I follow a lot of links, end up spending a lot of time, and not sure what I have learned. Has anyone else has that experience. Please comment below or through my email:

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Costa Rica Trip: Beach and Volcano

We spent Christmas week in Costa Rica. We had made a similar trip in 1994, renting a 4WD and driving from the capital, San Jose, to the beach and then to Arenal Volcano. I was struck by how much has changed since then. On the plus side, the roads were much better with a toll highway to the beach that cut the driving time by at least an hour. On the negative side, the population of Costa Rica has doubled since 1994 and with it, more crowding and crime has ensued. Nevertheless, we enjoyed the week away from the cold weather in Virginia.

Montery del Mar at Esterillos Este Beach

I booked an oceanfront view bungalow at the Montery del Mar boutique hotel pictured here behind the palm trees.

The beach is delightfully devoid of people.

The first night was a Saturday so there were many San Jose families such as this mother and father and two children along the beach . . .

. . . or a couple on a romantic horseback ride along the beach at sunset.

Caraca National Park

From the hotel, it was a 30 minute drive to Caraca National Park where we saw and heard two pairs of Scarlet Macaws as we hiked the short trails. Costa Rica has a successful captive breeding and release project which have increased their numbers.

We saw this iguana near the ranger station there.

Arenal Volcano

Arenal Observatory Lodge was our next destination where we could see the volcano from our room. The last 9 kilometers of the drive is still on a pot-holed dirt road but we did not have to forge two creeks this time because sturdy bridges were built over the creeks.

Arenal Volcano has not erupted since last spring. That's a big contrast from 1994 when it would erupt every 90 minutes. There were major eruptions in 1998, 2000, and 2008 so it's not unthinkable that the volcano could become active again.

This view from one of the observatories toward the dining room and Arenal Lake to the west reminded me that the lodge has changed a great deal since our stay in 1994. At that time, it was still used by the Smithsonian where they had set up a seismograph and computer in the dining room. It was great to watch the needle spike when there was an eruption. Now, the computer and seismograph are in the museum on the resort property. And, instead of a nice room with a volcano view, we slept in bunk beds back in 1994 where the roar of the eruptions woke us up at night.

Back in 1994, I would go to the dining room and get tea and toast (which was the free breakfast back then) and go out to the deck to listen to the howler monkeys in the rainforest. No one else was there. Today, the lodge features a delicious, elaborate breakfast buffet with loads of people so I didn't hear any howlers in the morning. But, the monkeys are still there, a little further from the landscaped grounds of the hotel.

The staff put out fruit at feeders which attracted many birds including the large Montezuma Orpendola . . .

. , . and the tanagers (Scarlet-Rumped or Passerine on left) with the Great Kiskadee (large yellow breasted bird) on the right.

Some of the fruit would fall to the ground where this long-nosed coatimundi would grab it. A close relative of the raccoon, this coatimundi had become a resident of the resort, sometimes sitting up and begging. Cute but we were warned not to get too close because he might bite if he doesn't get what he wants.

Shortly after breakfast, the staff used gasoline-powered weedeaters and leaf blowers. This noise would go on for hours. Back in 1994, a few men would use machetes to cut the grass and weeds. I think they could go back to using machetes if they cut down on the amount of grass around the buildings and using landscape fabric and mulch to keep down the weeds. This would be in keeping with the lodge's efforts to be eco-friendly. I do applaud their efforts to recycle and protect the rainforests close to the volcano but the hotel guests might be just as happy with less landscaping and more wild rain forests as they had back 1994.

Several ceramics depicting the surrounding wildlife adorned the building exteriors. I loved the detail on this one. This is a big improvement over 1994 where I remember a shelf right outside the dining room with jars of snakes in formaldehyde, letting you know that there were plenty of poisonous snakes about.

We did not see any snakes on our hikes around the 800-acre property which has functioned as a dairy and cattle ranch and pine/Eucalyptus tree plantation since the 1950s.

We did see these toucans on the hike . .

. . . and this waterfall where I posed for a photo. Due to the recent heavy rains, the waterfall was bigger than in 1994 when we did see a snake on this trail. I remembered to look before I grabbed a tree limb in case the deadly eyelash viper was lurking there.

Arenal Volcano National Park

We hiked in a drizzling rain in Arenal Volcano National Park where this huge buttressed tree was the high point. I joked that the only reason why I photograph my husband is to use him for scale in a photo!

Butterfly Conservatory

Close to Arenal Lake is the Butterfly Conservatory where you can see great butterflies and other reptiles in greenhouses.

I loved these transparent butterflies--no butterflies like this in Virginia.

This large frog was somewhat camouflaged against the leaf.

Poas Lodge and Volcano

We looked forward to seeing Poas Volcano, close to San Jose, on our last days of our trip because it is still active. But again, we could not see anything in the rain, only smell the suphuric fumes from some of the mudpots and eruptions from the craters.

We did get a good view of the central highlands west of San Jose from Poas Lodge where we stayed. This quaint bed and breakfast was a good deal with reasonably-priced rooms and food.

We flew back on Christmas night and drove back from Charlotte, North Carolina in a snow and ice storm to get back to southwest Virginia. It's great to get back home but I already miss the warm weather of Costa Rica.