Fertiliser Fundamentals and More!

Matt, Matt who? Matt Charrette is back!

A few posts ago I gave you all a sneak peak at our adventurous T.R.E.E.S owner and director who has been away for a few months. Now is the time you get to know the truth!!

Matt has been travelling and experiencing the world, networking for T.R.E.E.S and enjoying life as everyone should be doing.

He is currently gaining new bird banding skills at the Long Point Bird Observatory in Ontario. Banding birds and watching out for rare vagrants during migration monitoring at the tip of Long Point in Lake Erie. It’s only been a few days but he’s very excited about all the new techniques he’s learning and having his first experience banding a yellow-billed cuckoo in Ontario!

We are still hoping fingers crossed to go through with our animal study internships in October, including continuing our resident and migratory bird banding on T.R.E.E.S property so all the good knowledge learned by Matt now will be transferred to us when we reunite next month.
So while we’ve been away from T.R.E.E.S it is still full of busy bee workers, with a team of local and international helpers who stayed behind to keep things running smoothly.

So what’s going on at T.R.E.E.S??

We are still working on expanding our organic farming and have begun growing beans and legumes as well as increasing our crop of leafy greens such as Bok choy and spinach, but also cassava and sweet potatoes. Putting new compost and fertiliser practises into action we’ve been combining dried palm fronds with chicken manure from our lovely ladies and natural fungi.

As borders remain closed in Belize and Covid 19 infection cases which were once very low, have now started to rise, people in Belize are still struggling to find ways of income and livelihood to feed and care for their families. Over the last few months we have been working on a solution and are now starting to put our plan into action but we need your help!

In our community and in widespread areas of Belize slash and burn agriculture which involves destroying and burning of huge ancient land areas is the primary method of farming used by subsistence farmers resulting in habitat being lost from agricultural expansion.

Over the years we have invited farmers to our center to partake in various workshops on sustainable agriculture and we have found them to be very receptive and interested in new techniques. However, due to limited funding and personnel we are limited in how many workshops can be offered and what tools can be provided to local farmers.

Due to the effects of Covid 19 pandemic this method of farming has readily increased as the country has remained on lock down, restricting travel and tourism, which was the country’s main revenue and source of employment for its residents.

Our new plan aims to support and teach these families alternative ways of income and farming through more sustainable and environmentally friendly methods, expanding on previous work done with these communities in the past.

Money raised will go towards:

·         Belize Farming Co-operative, organisation facilitated by T.R.E.E.S and partnered with village leaders and commercial farmers to educate and support them in sustainable farming practices.

·         A Community Backyard Gardens Initiative teaching families how to grow and maintain gardens for their own personal use

·         Farm to Table Production Scheme inviting people through workshops to experiment and learn food processing techniques and recipes as a source of income.

·         T.R.E.E.S Permaculture and Agroforestry Plan to work with the Belize Forestry Department to monitor and increase protection of land areas

·       Community Food Donation Scheme, we have successfully provided food donations to 22 families in 2 villages. We hope to continue these donations to families through increasing our own onsite organic farming, providing employment for locals through working on our site and increasing cultivation for donations

We are asking our loyal student visitors, researchers and guests who have loved and enjoyed their stay with us over the many years, please help us to continue in our good work. Help us put this plan into action as fast as possible for the people and wildlife in Belize.

Click here to read more about our aims and help make a difference.

As always my fellow Eco-warriors,

Stay Safe, Stay Healthy and Stay Tuned!

Keep Calm and Stay British

Officially I’ve been in the U.K for 6 weeks now and boy am I ready to get back, don’t get me wrong England’s great but its just not Belize.

After spending my requested 14 days in quarantine, I have been spending the last month catching up with family and friends as it’s been a long old 18 months since I’ve seen them all!
As well as the picnics and days out enjoying the British summer sun, I’ve also had my hands full visiting my old boss for a week at ‘The Grove’. A multipurpose yard run by Barrett Watson (private collector, parrot breeder and show jumping teacher) and Tim Davies (experienced show jumper) in Bury St Edmunds, Sulfolk where they teach and train professionals in horse show jumping as well as catering and competing with their own horses. And as if he doesn’t already have his hands full with horse life, a love of parrots spanning over 40 years has lead Barrett to keeping a flock of a brilliant species variety, numbering over 120 birds!

It was great being back and helping out in my old role as parrot keeper and horse groom as well as seeing all the friendly faces of the ‘extended family’ I’ve known and loved since I first started working for them 6 years ago.

While there I helped lend a hand to one of the new projects, constructing a new outdoor flight aviary to train some of the younger birds.
Still an on going project, it’s getting there slowly and will be lovely and greatly appreciated by all the birds including my favorite Yellow once it’s built.

While there I also lent a hand in my old horse grooming position (though I can’t say I’m any better with horses now as I was back then!).

Due to the Covid 19 pandemic as it was with most events, all the larger horse jumping shows for the remainder of the year have been cancelled but smaller shows are just starting to open up and needless to say ‘The Horse of the Year Show’ prodigy that is Lionel Van De Markieslanden (Yh I know it’s a mouth full so just plain old Lionel to us) was very excited to be back doing what he does best!

Can you tell how excited he is from all that bucking? click here to read the article of Tim’s 2019 win at Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) on Lionel.
Tim had four horses entered in the show in two separate classes and not surprising (due to his skill and that of the horses) came 1st, 2nd and 4th in the 1.10 m and 1st in the 1.30 m with the only horse ridden being Lionel – the others weren’t quite ready for the big leagues like Ly.

This year has also been very productive on the bird breeding scene with many beautiful babies born, including this little one which hatched while I was there.

Two of the amazing parrot species that Barrett cares for are actually natives to Belize and for those of you who don’t know it’s working with these species in Barrett’s collection that spurred my Belizian worldwide travelling spirit.

The Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao) is a beautiful bird, well known by people for its dramatic red coloration and a popular bird in the pet industry. Its a species that needs little explanation and probably is the exact image people conjure when presented with the word parrot.

The Scarlet macaw is one of many birds in the psittacine order suffering from decreases in population due to human activity. The illegal trade in poaching is persistent across its range in Central America and numbers have decreased rapidly in the last 50 years as the pet trade for parrots has boomed. For this reason it is import that captive breeding programs take a strong hold in an attempt to reduce wild nest poaching. Unfortunately the demand for pet parrots is stronger than ever and as we can start to convey the understanding and intelligence of these beautiful creatures to the public, as well as there self-destructive habits in captivity it stands to say that it is important to provide people with a safe, sustainable way of owning their pet without dramatically effecting there wild populations.

In Belize the Scarlet macaw is described as ‘endangered’, with fewer than 250 individuals. In 2010, Britt et al. conducted a nest survival analysis of breeding Scarlet Macaws in Belize and Guatemala. Their nest survival estimate suggested that overall reproductive success was too low to sustain a viable population in Belize. The major threat to the survival of A. macao cyanoptera (Northern scarlet macaw subspecies) was determined to be poaching by Guatemalans in the Sibun forest Reserve area of Belize.

Another incredibly popular pet parrot species is the Double Yellow-headed Amazon (Amazona oratrix) known for its talented talking abilities, it is also endangered in Belize, perhaps more so than the scarlet macaw as populations across Mexico and Guatemala are severely in decline. Poaching for the international pet trade as well as habitat destruction has driven the species to near-extinction in the wild; around half of all wild-caught birds are thought to die in the process, and recent conservation action is what has prevented there species going extinct.

There are some dedicated conservation biologists in Belize working hard to preserve this species before its too late, such as Belize Bird Conservancy who we as T.R.E.E.S work with and support.

It’s truly the spread of knowledge and education that is the step forward to bringing these species back from the brink in Belize.

I hope I have provided some powerful parrot talk as food for thought, keep reading to see what we get up to next!

Stay Safe, Stay Healthy, Stay Tuned!

-T.R.E.E.S Survival Team

Oh Canada, Oh Canada!

It’s been several weeks since my last post and with the restrictions starting to come to an end and the world slowly attempting to go back to normal some of us here at T.R.E.E.S decided to make the leap from Belize back to our retrospective homes for few months.
I have flown back to sunny old England- which is actually sunny for once and am currently melting in a heatwave of highs of 38 °C! Wow I know- who knew the land of grey drizzle and fish n’chips could get so hot!
Vanessa has flown to Canada and is a busy bee working on a turtle tracking project and spending time with family. With Belize borders still closed but planning to open soon we took the journey back together through Mexico before parting ways, and guess who felt like travelling with us??

Is that a sassafras!?

Oh yea it is! Little Sassy made the journey with us to Mexico where she boarded (as hand luggage- I know! how dare they call her hand luggage) bound for Canada with Vanessa.

She has been a willing helper while away and is clearly loving the Canadian boat life, though I’m told she still barks at the turtles confused as to why they’re supersized, not like the small compact white lipped mud turtles she’s used to seeing in Belize. But she’s been sensible enough not to take on a any beavers.

Now being a girl from the refined city of London, I’ve not had the pleasure of seeing a beaver in the wild (or ever really!- I think I saw one in a zoo once but shh! that doesn’t count). And I was super jealous that Sassy saw beavers before me!

But its not just all about cute Sassy- who are we kidding? yes it is.

The project Vanessa has been working on aims at protecting one of the most endangered species of turtle found in Canada. There are 3 species of painted turtles found in Southern Canada, with the one found on the pacific coast of British Colombia, the Western Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta bellii) being endangered due to human encroachment of its wetland land areas for urban development. Activities such as water pollution, erosion, fragmentation and infilling mean female painted turtles lack adequate nesting sites. As if they don’t have enough to deal with from us, natural nest predation by raccoons, skunks and coyotes has taken a land-slide increase in the last 20 years as populations are artificially inflated by access to easy human food sources like garbage and crops.

This amazing little species is struggling to make a come back but with conservation efforts improving as more people become aware of the desperation to make a change populations are slowly rising, though they’re far from being out of the danger zone yet.

And lastly I feel like its only justified to end this post with another picture of Sassafras, but does anyone recognize that handsome devil in the forefront?!

It’s Matt! Oh you can bet our little puppy was happy to see him, Mathieu Charette, the founder and director of this organisation that is T.R.E.E.S. He’s been away for a while but its great to have his face make an appearance on the blog and you can expect to be seeing more of him soon with his arrival back to Belize this fall for our bird banding sessions.

We are hoping to run a small mammal and bat mist netting workshop along with our twice-annual bird banding workshop in October 2020. If your interested in Bats or Birds visit our main website and send us an email.

And that’s all for ‘Oh Canada’ but keep an eye out for my next post ‘Keep Calm and Stay British’ which will be coming soon, telling you about my adventures on the European island.

Stay Safe, Stay Healthy and Stay Tuned!

– T.R.E.E.S Survival Team

Journey To The Hidden Waterfall

Some of you who have had the fortune to come to T.R.E.E.S during the rainy season, where downpour lasts for days and the idea of being cornered in the jungle by a jaguar is preferable to the slow irritating demise of being eaten alive by mosquitoes , than you will have seen the mysterious hidden waterfall.
It’s a waterfall that’s there almost throughout the year smack in the middle of the Arthur’s seat, the beautiful mountain ridge perfectly depicted infront of the possum pad (yoga platform).
However it’s only for a few days during heavy rain that the waterfall becomes so over flowed it can actually be seen from that distance, if you didn’t know it was there you would never know to look but during the rainy season that sight of a gushing waterfall appearing to flow down the Center of that breathtaking landscape just makes you wanna climb it. So we did!

A group of 9 of us from the T.R.E.E.S clan made the journey with our trusty guide Wilberto Santos (Will) whose been with us since the the beginning 8 years ago- check out Wills wood chuck skills! The journey itself wasn’t too treacherous a steep climb but a relatively short journey of 4 hours to get there and back if leaving from the the Mot Mot trail on T.R.E.E.S property.

On the way back Will had a quick surprise, ahead of us on the trail he was right in front of me when he jumped back so unexpectedly we almost crashed, he kept looking at the floor but as much as I looked with him I couldn’t find a thing. Until very carefully he used the tip of his machete to lift a leaf and there nestled into underneath looking ever so harmless was the smallest young snake.
We all jumped back!

This little guy is known as the Fer-de- Lance or ‘tommy goff’ as most people know (Bothrops asper) and it’s one of the most dangerous out of the 62 species of snake found in Belize.

They live 15-21 years and can grow as big as 1.8 meters! I myself am only 5.7 meters long but still that’s relatively small for a snake so why the intimidation?

These masters of camouflage are pit vipers that possess strong heomtoxic venom and are known for there edgy disposition, infact this potent snake on averages injects around 105 mg of venom per bite with the record of 310 mg milked in one sitting in captivity.
The fatal dose for a human is 50 mg which means this little fella can essentially kill 6 humans with one bite!
And you wondered why we jumped!

Good news is despite those facts your not completely doomed if you get bitten, most Fer-de- Lances won’t inject all there venom if provoked. Making venom as strong as this is a hefty task and it takes 8 days to replenish the stock in there glands once used. They can control how much venom is injected at a time and therefore not waste any unnecessarily. There is actually only death in 9% of the cases, but it can cause severe gangrene, resulting in amputations.

This little one was pretty relaxed but I still kept a wide berth of him though, like in humans, the young snakes are still learning and have yet to get the experience in the world of the different dangers including how to control that potent venom. In the end after we all got a good look and some nice pictures he didn’t even budge when we laid him back down -a little off the path this time.

Thanks for checking in and keep reading to see what other amazing creatures were coming across this rainy season.

Stay Safe, Stay healthy and Stay Tuned!

T.R.E.E.S Survival Team

Who Let The Frogs Out?!

Orchard Under Siege

Welcome back, so the last few days have been a world wind of trial and error experiments, mistakes and some enlightening discoveries.

First let’s discuss our hard backed scaly creature who shuffles noisily in the orchards undergrowth digging up poor unsuspecting sweet potatoes. Yep! it’s our armadillo vigilante I’m talking about.

Unfortunately our mastermind is just too cleaver to be caught on camera and turns out he likes a bit of spice in his life since our cayenne pepper trick was a dud so instead I give to you a picture of one taken awhile ago on previous camera trap footage.

The Armadillo name is actually one derived from Spanish meaning “little armored one”. They are a New World Family with their closest relatives being Sloths and Anteaters, Only found in the Americas, Armadillos first appeared in South America before moving up and dispersing where today they can be found as far up as some places in the United States. Here in Central America we only have two species, the Nine Banded Armadillo (image above) and the much rarer and smaller Snake Tailed Armadillo (Cabassous centralis). They spend there days mostly sleeping in burrows and occasionally foraging but when night falls all the fun happens. Unusually active and sometimes quick for such a bulky mammal, these guys spend their nights nosily scurrying though leaf litter, digging up soil with their sensitive snout and long claws looking for tasty worms, beetles, grubs, ants and even termites. Mainly insectivores but opportunistic to eating amphibians, small reptiles and bird eggs too. It’s main predators include wolves, wild cats such as Jaguar and Puma and birds of prey like the Harpy Eagle, when in danger it runs with surprising speed for such little stout legs and on the off chance it doesn’t escape a predator quickly digs a shallow hole around itself leaving just it’s hard plated carapace exposed to attack. Contrary to belief they don’t roll up into a ball like hedgehog’s or Pangolin’s (Manidae) but in fact there are only two species of Armadillo capable of that act, the Southern Three-Banded (Tolypeutes matacus) and the Brazillian Three- Banded Armadillo (Tolypeutes tricinctus) the genus they belong to Tolypeutinae, also includes the Giant Armadillo which as its name suggests is the largest of the Armadillo species and can reach a length of 100 cm and weigh a whopping 33 Kg but is sadly listed as Appendix 1 on CITIES (Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna) meaning it is vulnerable to extinction.

So, basically I think we need to rethink our strategy for stopping this particular worm munching machine.

On other news our aubergines are under attack now as well, we just can’t seem to catch a break! but this time not by a mammalian friend but by Stink Bugs, these guys came is swift Like Nazis decimating our poor Aubergine beds.

Interesting enough is that before this type showed up we had green stink bugs (Chinavia hilaris) and turquoise and orange ones (Edessa rufomarginata), all true bugs from the Genus Halyomorpha feed in similar ways, using a proboscis as its mouth parts that is pierced into the plant or fruit, a small bit of its saliva is injected as it feeds. The saliva is toxic to the cells of the plant and so slowly kills it as it feeds. The interesting part is that although we had the Chinavia and Edessa feeding on our plants they were much more resilient to the attack then Sagotylus confluenso (above image), but I wonder why that is, could it be the enzymes in Sagotylus saliva is just much stronger or could they be extracting a different substance from the plant, and why is it that only in the last week Sagotylus has shown up. Is it due to breeding season? but where have our Edessa and Chinavia gone? when is there breeding and why can’t they seem to compete with Sagotylus? So many questions! So little answers, We need to commence a Stink Bug investigation. You’ll just have to stay tuned to fine out.

Pablo showing the probiscus of Sagotylus

T.R.E.E.S Delivery To Your Door

We’ve also made a head start in setting up our product line to provide to the community and have decided on a selection of greens for our baskets as well as vegetables on rotation to availability, dried coconut, fresh desiccated coconut, dried turmeric and ginger, homemade hot pepper and dried hibiscus for teas and juices. Because we love our community and the people in it and want to support the small businesses surrounding us that are also suffering in these times we’ve decided to include products made by other local businesses in our delivery at no extra charge- how noble of us! With an online catalog sent out each week to anyone whose interested, showing what we have available. The link will be available for everyone to see once it’s up and running! Even if your not in Belize, take a look, it might give you ideas ???? on ways you can become more self sustainable at home.

Our first delivery was a slightly special one, delivered to our lovely neighbor Christine down the road who runs a herbal medicine and soap business called Body Belize Apothecary – https://www.bodybelize.com/

She needed the usual greens and some malanga but we also included a collection of medicinal plants for use in her immune booster products.

It’s was actually very exciting harvesting the necessary leaves for her and discovering the health properties of plants right in our back yard!

Jackass Bitters (Neurolaena lobata)

Jackass Bitters is a well-respected plant that has been used widely in traditional Central American medicine. It gets it’s name from the bitter-tasting leaves which contain a potent anti-parasitic agent (sesquiterpene dialdehyde) that is active against amoebas, candida, giardia and intestinal parasites. Traditionally, the herb is taken as a tea or a wine or used topically to bath wounds and infections, or even to wash your hair to get rid of lice.

Polly Red Head (Hamelia)

This plant has many names, one of them is a special Maya name after the Goddess of the Forest and Healer , Ix-canan probably due to it’s anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties, it can be used to treat everything from sores, ulcers, fungus, rashes, burns, insect bites and bee stings. It is prepared by boiling a double handful of leaves, stems and flowers in 2 gallons of water for 10 minutes. After it cools, it’s applied liberally to the affected area. It can also be drunk as a tea to relieve stomach pain, you can even use its stems to make iodine! versatility should really be its name.

Trumpet Tree (Cecropia)

The leaves of the trumpet tree are used to treat calluses, skin warts, and reduce inflammation when applied as a poultice. In addition, the leaves are used to treat respiratory infections when boiled in a tea. . . not gonna lie if I was you I’d be checking my backyard for this leafy green stuff, can’t do any harm to have this bad boy in your arsenal with a respiratory virus floating about. It’s also used for high blood pressure, dropsy, and diabetes.

Frogtastic Habitat

Some of you may know that we’re a little bit frog crazy here, especially Vanessa who did a lot of her studies based on amphibian breeding. In fact we love them so much we built a wetland just for them and to support breeding habitats, but the last few weeks we noticed the Mexican Blue Spotted Tree Frogs (Smilisca cyanosticta) were breading in the duck pond! Not very smart of them really, the poor tadpoles are becoming duck food. So in an attempt to encourage them to keep breeding but in a safer environment we made a new frog breeding location out of good old buckets! Cheap and easy, we did this by digging holes in ground to hold the buckets solid, we then filled them with the nutrient rich pond water and put floats and debris inside to make it easier for the adults to get in and out.

The mexician Blue Spotted Tree frogs, not to be confused with Asia’s Blue Spotted Poison Dart frogs are a widespread species in the family Hylidae. They are mostly found on the Atlantic slopes of southeastern Mexico but also in Belize and Guatemala. Its natural habitats are humid mid-altitude established forests, and it can also occur in secondary forest. Breeding takes place in temporary pools and streams and in depressions in logs that fill up with water as they prefer still water to moving. Although listed as Near threatened just below Least Concern, on IUCN, It is threatened by habitat loss and potentially chyridiomycosis.

Hopefully these silly critters will get the memo that there’s much nicer and safer tadpole nurseries only a few feet away and start to use our frogtastic habitat instead.

Thanks for reading and check out next weeks post where we’ll be demonstrating how to make coconut milk from scratch!

Stay Safe, Stay Healthy and Stay Tuned!

Trees Survival Team