Friday, February 20, 2009

Bella is Five!

Well, as you can guess, Bella Grace turned five years old on Tuesday, the 17th, here in the land of Feliz Cumpleanos. She had a fiesta with cake and ice cream at school, where this photo was taken, and a birthday dinner with our friends the Hauns and the Lynch's who arrived just in time from the depths of RI winter to join us! She got a Puff the Magic Dragon book and CD and we are all singing about the land called Haunalee, which is not, coincidentally, where the Hauns are from! I don't know what Peter, Paul, and Mary had in mind when they originally wrote the song, I think it had something to do with Hanalei Bay in Hawaii and maybe they were high, Little Jackie paper rumor and all, but it has become a timeless classic, melancholy ending and all. So our little gift from God who weighed only 5 pounds at birth is now 5! We enjoy her sunny smile every day and are so thankful she is here with us! Amen!

So, what is new on the beach... Well, Monday was a school holiday here thanks to our dead Presidents. Christiana, Micah, and I took an afternoon walk on the beach where the tide was receding, leaving an indigo blue line all along the white, sandy high tide mark like someone had walked the beach dragging a thin blue marker! Closer inspection revealed an amazing collection of tiny blue jellyfish! I looked them up and determined they were blue buttons, with some variations. Google them and see for yourself. They are actually polyps, not jellyfish, similar to the famed Portuguese man of war. A polyp is a colony of organisms living symbiotically. Some of these were perfect little round blue buttons, like the internet shows, but others were like tiny air-filled clear balloons with one long thread-like blue tentacle trailing that was up to 2 feet long. As we walked along our attention wavered and if we accidentally stepped on one they popped! There were also one-inch long indigo blue creatures with feathery appendages that looked like dragons, speaking of Puff! They all seemed to have come apart from each other, these three distinct critters, as they were all the same amazing blue color, wiggling around the tide line and in the tide pools. Micah and I dipped into the water for a minute and one touched his leg. He said it stung just a tiny bit. So, that was pretty amazing. And the next day they were gone!

Yesterday we took our Bugs and Slugs class to the Monkey Park, an animal rehab facility nearby. We saw lots of cool critters, including toucans, parrots, scarlet macaws, an amazing spectacled owl, and three of the four CR monkeys. It is always sad to see a caged animal, especially the birds and the monkeys (monos, in Spanish), which were our subject of study for this week. Most of these creatures started as a bad idea for a pet and ended up at the park when their short sighted "owners" realized wild animals do not make good pets. Can you imagine thinking that trapping a coyote in your garage for a free watchdog is a good idea? Keeping our cousins, the primates, is greater folly.

The white faced capuchins, so-named for their resemblance to a group of monks, are highly intelligent and keeping them confined makes them crazy, literally. The two we saw yesterday are only 3 or 4 years old and are irreversibly psychotic. They could live another 40 years and have to be move into seclusion as having people around makes them nuts. They start biting and digging at themselves, self-mutilating behavior reminiscent of the cutting some teenage girls might do. A sad fate for a monkey who would live communally in groups of up to 30 in the wild and are known to use leaves and insects medicinally as well as tools. They have been seen clubbing the deadly poisonous fer de lance snake to death in the wild as well as beating boas to get them to release their death grips on kin!

The spider monkeys were busy with their puzzle feeders which force them to use their evolved brains to get their food, kind of like a primate Brain Quest. They are so agile with their extra long limbs, thus their name, and are the only monkeys here that can brachiate, or swing from limb to limb. They have the strongest tail of any mammal in the world and lost their thumbs as they evolved into long-fingered swingers!

The three tiny baby howler monkeys we observed silently from a one-way mirror were found clinging to their dead mothers, orphaned by power lines, which is sadly not uncommon here. The electric company strings monkey bridges periodically across the roads but monkeys do not always follow the same paths and are killed by cars when crossing the road or electrocuted by the lines which sometimes blow their hands off. Not pleasant, I know. There were no tiny spider monkeys, thankfully, at the park. All four species are endangered here; all primarily due to loss of habitat and a growing population of homo sapiens.

Well that concludes your polyp and primate lesson for the day! One of the reasons we moved here was so the kids could experience some of the amazing wildlife here around us before it is all doomed to history books and animal parks. I sincerely hope they can bring their own children here some day to see these amazing creatures in the wild, but I am afraid they will not have that option. I pray that I am wrong.

PS Well, I am guessing you can figure out which one is a photo of Bella and which one is the monkey? The photo of the monkey is one of the loco capuchins. I need a blogging lesson to figure out how to put the photo where I want it in my blog. Help if you can! In the meantime, bear with me. I am sure you can puzzle it out, your own little Brain Quest for the day!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Friday the 13th of February

Happy Valentines Day!

Or, if you prefer, en Espanol: Día de tarjetas del día de San Valentín feliz!

Okay, so maybe I won't be publishing more than monthly? We have had company. My parents were here for 2 weeks and my aunts for a week and we had a great time with them all! It is birthday month for my Mom, who turned 74 here, Christiana who just turned 17 (!) and Bella will be 5 on Tuesday! Fiesta!
Above is a photo of Christiana on the left and her friend Sydney at her birthday dinner at Mama's Deli, a great little Italian restaurant in Tamarindo. Mama is the mama of Bella's first boyfriend, Geronimo, her little Italian lover, but that is another story entirely.
Just when I thought I might be missing Winter with all that lovely snow and ice skating on the pond everyone keeps writing to us from RI about, we took my parents on a trip to Monteverde in the mountains. It was SO COLD! We wanted a fireplace in our room at the Trapp Family Lodge, purportedly of the Sound of Music family ilk, but had to settle for 4 comforters. It was raining and we had a nice walk in the cloud forest to a waterfall. Saw none of the creatures Andy and I had seen there in 1987, which included the elusive quetzals way up neck-achingly high in the canopy and we even found a group of the now extinct Golden Toad, a fluourescent orange little frog that lived only in that cloud forest and was last seen there the year after we tromped through the bush to find it. So the wildlife was a bit absent last week but the papagayo winds were howling at hurricane strength and only the most stalwart creatures could have come out to play without being blown to the beach. The road up was so precarious with steep drop offs and we did think we might get blown off that several times. Above is a photo of the beautiful emerald toucanet we enjoyed seeing at a bird feeder from a breakfast cafe. Also saw a bright orange baltimore oriole and a blue-gray tanager while warming ourselves over coffee. I am concerned that the wildlife of Costa Rica is becoming less wild and more bird feeder-ish.

I am teaching a bugs and slugs after school class once a week with the art teacher. It's a combo art/nature ed. We did ants, hormigas, the first week and anteaters, oso hormigueros, yesterday. Did you know the giant anteater can be 7 feet long including its bushy tail and its tongue extends 2 feet?! Unfortunately they are thought to be extinct in Costa Rica. I have seen one of the smaller, collared anteaters crossing the road one turtle-watching night. They stand firm when attacked, slashing out with their front claws; the Bribri Indians place their claws in the homes of pregnant women so their baby will be strong and resilient. There is one other kind of anteater in Costa Rica and that is the silky anteater, an adorable little golden creature with velvety fur. They look more like sloths, which they are related to. They are called serafin, or angel of the forest, as the indians believe they guide newly departed souls to heaven.

I have been back to walking the beach this week where there are many sea snakes washed up dead at the tide line. I don't know why. They are venomous, like 10 times that of cobras, but nobody ever gets bit as they are not aggressive and their mouths are small so they could only bite your ear lobes or finger webbing and the fangs are in the back of their mouths. They are pretty cool to look at with black on top, yellow on bottom, and yellow and black spotting on their paddle shaped tails. This is clearly a decoy as the tail looks much more interesting to bite from above or below. What eats them I do not know. On my Tuesday walk I just missed a hatching out of baby turtles, darn it!

I love my hour morning beach walk. Andy drops me off in Brasilito and I walk along that flat, brown sand beach then cross over a little path and onto Playa Conchal which is a beautiful white sand beach. The first half of the beach is tough to walk as it is all soft, shelly sand. Then it gets firmer and is easier going. At the end of the beach the dirt road turns up and I walk along a shaded dirt road to our gate and up the hill to our house where a jump in the pool is refreshing and necessary! It is like Fall in New England here now as the trees are all dropping their leaves. They are also blooming and there are pink, yellow, and white flowers everywhere! Unlike the temperate forest, they are preparing themselves for the heat that is coming. It is very dry and windy now and there have been several wildfires burning. The water is several shades of tropical blue and a bit cool now due to the upwelling the winds create. When it is cold in Florida the cool air is pushed South and through the gap of Lake Nicaragua and comes howling over us, the Papagayo winds. They can be hurricane strength, but of course nobody measures them, and it did lift up the edge of our roof last week on several nights, leaving a line of dirt and bugs on the floor below. These winds are important as they drive the upwelling which provides an abundance of food for the Pacific game fish, like the sailfish and marlin and tuna, as well as all the other critters here in the sea.

We were at the beach on Sunday when a feeding frenzy of amberjacks drove a school of little silvery fish, maybe sardines, right up and onto the beach! The whole beach erupted into a flurry of nets and hand-held fishing lines cast into the boiling water and the blue-green fish were thrown up onto the dry sand one after another! Andy and Isaiah were fishing so cast out into it, the only ones who had a gringo fishing pole, and caught one large amberjack they gave away. It is always nice to live in a place where the local people enjoy and use their environment so thoroughly and Costa Ricans do love the playa and to fish. Everyone scooped up the little fish too, stuffing them in bags and in their pockets. Andy impressed Bella by eating one of them raw!
Well, go and kiss your loved ones! And enjoy the day of Love!