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

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

Latest News!

Killer Cake!

Sorry, it’s been a while, I hope you all don’t think T.R.E.E.S forgot you!
We’ve been busy bees around this place, a lot of changes the last week it’s been a mind whirl!
First let me show you the finished porch project- we even had a porch party to celebrate its finish. Isn’t it Beautiful?! I even baked a cake- it was suppose to be red velvet but I couldn’t quite get the red coloring using natural foods, we were out of beetroot so boiled hibiscus flowers had to do.

Hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa) als known as sorrel or Roselle is thought to originate from west Africa but is globally wide spread today. In places like USA and Europe its petals are used as a primary source for food coloring while the leaves which have a bitter spicy taste are used in commercial fish sauces and other sauces as it enhances flavor. Here in Belize and across much of the Caribbean and Central and South America it’s primary use is the petals are boiled and used to make tea or juice and syrups. Its also known for its medical properties although this has not been widely exploited or studied in historic and folk medicine many people use it for its diuretic and choleretic effects, decreasing the viscosity of the blood, reducing blood pressure and stimulating intestinal peristalsis. The ripe calyces are diuretic and antiscorbutic and are used in the treatment of debility. The bitter root is aperitif and tonic. The plant is also reported to be antiseptic and aphrodisiac and some people even claim it can be used in the treatment of abscesses, cancer, cough, debility, fever, heart ailments and hypertension. So many uses! One report even said ingesting the plant extract has been shown to decrease the rate of absorption of alcohol though the study was done in chickens. Don’t ask me what these people were doing getting poor chickens drunk!

Anyway now is not the season for hibiscus so I was making due with a dried selection left over from earlier in the year, this dried stuff is still good for making tea and juices but the red coloring it gives isn’t nearly as bright as when it’s fresh. I therefore got the idea to use another plant Alpina purpurata for extra red color. . . Don’t ask me why -maybe it was Pablo’s statement that the plant was related to Ginger- I assumed it was safe to eat. ????‍♀️
However after consumption of the cake I casually mentioned what I used and pablo spat out the cake he was chewing!! Literally over our nice porch balcony!
Turns out he had no idea if purpurata was safe for consumption. Oops ????, turns put Purpurata is known for its medicinal properties in healing wounds buts it’s unknown about it’s effects of consumption.

Maybe not my wisest move to use an unknown plant from the jungle but it’s been a week now and nobody’s died so that’s a good sign, and needless to say there was a lot of uneaten left overs from my killer cake.

Farm Antics and Crazy Cool Critters!

Nursery is finally complete, the guys did a good job though it’s been decided it will only be a temporary structure and we’ll be looking at making an even better looking nursery when the fall comes.
Things on the farm are continuing to progress with our expansion, and we’ve been cutting out new areas to make new beds though the going was slow with just a few of us here to work.

There’s also be a lot of awesome insect spotted in the orchard though and even around the house! check out the selection of cool critter!

This scary looking creature is actually very harmless and its a type of aquatic invertebrate. In Larvae stage where they look like centipedes with crazy tenticals-something out of Alien- they are found along the rocky bottom of streams preying on mayflies, stone flies and even small fish and tadpoles. There are even instances when during food shortages cannibalism has been observed with larger larvae preying on the smaller. As adults they have wings like this little beauty in the picture above, with the males having much larger pincers than the females. The adults like most aquatic invertebrates don’t eat and instead spend the remainder of there lives- which only spans a few days- flying above the open stream or near water searching for a mate. Interestingly the adults are attracted to natural gas and light, it was very odd to find this little girl in the living room, I’m hoping it was the attraction to light that drew her in.

Another critter attracted to the light was this little click bug, called so by the clicking sound it uses as a defense mechanism to scare of predators after its classic click sound it uses a body part located on the underside of the beetle to contract propelling it up in the air in a jumping motion. It also has cool glowing eyes not used for defense but actually to attract a mate. What appears to be eyes is actually bio-luminescent organs positioned at the back of the head.

Both males and females have these and its thought that the luminescent glow gives of different wave lengths (that may be intentionally controlled by the bug- but nothing has been proven) but these subtle changes that cannot be picked up by us with our poor sensitivity to UV light is picked up by other click bugs passing information to them about each others sexual reproductive state. This little guy or girl had clearly thought he found the perfect match. I didn’t have the heart to tell him, but he certainly looked like a bug ready to rave when the lights went out.

What a Wonderful Donation!

Belize as a country is coping as best as it can with this unsuspected crisis but the government have unfortunately has been unprepared to deal with the effects of the Covid 19 virus. Our officials are working hard to process everything needed to help the people of its country but the process has understandably a little but slow especially with handing out government assistance packages to help the families that have been unemployed during this time. We heard about this problem and set out to help our staff that we had to unfortunately temporary let go due to the crisis, but what started out as help to a few people quickly snowballed as we realized how many families in our area needed help. A few phone calls and a few days later we managed to set up a little donation scheme to the families that we could.

We managed a donation to 28 families in two villages, thanks to all our wonderful doners we managed to supply 28 families with basics like flour,rice, beans, corn, oil, sugar, toilet paper and fresh fruit, vegetables and more. It’s was a busy few days while we set about dividing everything equally and delivering to homes but it was worth it.
It was amazing to know with just a few phone calls everyone was so kind and willing to give everything they could.
So thank you to Angela our veg lady and her husband who supplies us on a regular biases for her large donation of fresh food, rice, beans and fish. Thank you to country barn for your donation of milk and cheese, thanks to Emerita for your 200 loafs of bread, and thank you too everyone else in our community who have their private farms and we’re willing to donate what they could. And probably the biggest thank you goes to donators from abroad- especially Alex- whose donations allowed trees to match most of the quantities donated to be able to supply more equally to each family.
Sometimes the little things are what makes a big difference and just knowing everyone has the caring heart to pull together in this crisis brought tears to our eyes.

Thanks for reading and it wont be so long to wait for the next post!

Stay Safe, Stay Healthy and Stay Tuned!

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

Farm to Table – Oh It’s So Irrigating!

Today’s been an exhausting one, but we’ve got a lot done!
We’ve been a very productive equipo de sobrevivencia (Survival team) and have organised a schedule for basic maintenance, new expansions and constructions and individual projects like my harp trap that’s still in construction – but almost ready, only 5 more strings to attach!

I have also neglected to inform you about our newest temporary team member who’s also the woman behind the camera, Agnes. She was a volunteer with us for a few weeks nearly 5 months ago before leaving to travel Guatemala and Mexico. She recently settled in Belize City, working as a Volunteer Speech Therapist at “The Inspiration Center”, a project that offers low cost therapy to families with children with disabilities, something that is sorely lacking in Central American countries. The Inspiration Center helps diagnose and treat people from different communities around the country, doing active travel to get to harder to reach villages and also help remote communities. As The Inspiration Center Is dependent on volunteers and international students, the organisation has unfortunately closed due to travel restrictions and the danger of exposing the virus to unaffected areas and vulnerable populations. So instead we have graciously received her into our resilient T. R.E.E.S team.

Most of you know here at T.R.E.E.S we have our own organic farm that we use to supplement our produce when we have groups and visitors. We try as much as possible to source from our farm and since we have the time are giving it abit of extra TLC. We are planning to plant more in hope as the month progresses we can set up a community food delivery service- kind of how companies like ‘Farm Fresh To You’ or ‘Sun Basket Work’, delivering fresh organic vegetables to your door. We want to help our community as much as possible during this crisis and are lucky enough to have facilities to do so. At the moment we are able to provide fresh greens such as Bok Choi, lettuce, various types of Spinach, Kale, Arugula, and Cállalo and hopefully soon vegetables such as a Sweet Potatoes, Malanga, Aubergine, Cucumber, Cassava and Tomatoes (yes I know, tomatoes are technically a fruit but still it will remain in our vegetable basket!). We will also be giving out eggs, since we have a never ending supply from these pretty ladies.

But first we need to plant! To get ready for the new selection in our beds we have finally decided to put in an irrigation system. I know finally right- how we have managed so long without one its amazing but today the pipes went in.
The type of system we are using is a drip irrigation system which is a type of micro- irrigation that involves long tubes placed within the bed of plants. It’s a system used mostly in places like Israel and India but actually originated in ancient China were techniques were being practised (albite in a very primitive way) since the first century BCE. It works by allowing water to slowly drip through small holes in the tube placed near the roots of the plants essentially minimizing water use, wastage and evaporation. The water flow is controlled by a valve attached to the main water pipe.

As you can see at times it was an irrigating and frustrating event.
Agnes and Pablo trying to untangle the tubing.

While we were down there setting up the system, we decided to harvest our already growing crop. For plants like Bok Choi and lettuce we do this by clipping the lower older leaves at the base of the plant leaving the new leaves to grow and make more. Look how much we got!

Bananas taken off the tree to ripen.
Aubergine almost ready for the dinner plate

As I sat clipping the leaves for our harvest and pruning the old dying leaves I couldn’t help but notice how much life there is in our garden. We know our garden has many beetles and bugs. But very little research has been done in the tropics to show the interactions of different insect species on organic agriculture. Would be a very interesting study to see what insects are most harmful or helpful in the growing of biodiverse systems like ours.. . . Do you think you could be that person?
The system of growing we use is organic, sustainable and a mixture of different permaculture practices and the opposite of mono-culture – which is what most large agriculture systems use, growing only one species of plant in an area. We grow different species of plants in the same bed, working out how different plants use different levels of nutrients from the soil creating a balance so the soil stays healthy and can replenish easier after use.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is WhatsApp-Image-2020-04-01-at-08.33.43-768x1024.jpeg
Agnes Harvesting Lechuga (Lettuce)

Farm visitors

Check out some of the inhabitants of the orchard we saw while gardening.

Stink Bug (Nezara)
Eight Spotted Flea Beetle (Omophoita cyanipennis)

There are many species in the stink bug family with wide variations in color. So pretty, but they get their name from the pungent odor they emit as a defense mechanism.

Central American Gulf Coast Toad (Incilius valliceps)
Lynx spider (araneomorph) on a Bok Choi leaf

Lynx spiders (above right), unlike most spiders, don’t really use webs though they still have ability to form them, they instead spend most of their time hunting on plant leaves. A real help at battling the constant attack of leave eating insects this little guy is a natural pesticide. The Central American Gulf Coast Toad (above left) is native to Mexico and Central America as far down as Costa Rica.

Unexpected Guests

Also a night visitor that’s been making its presence know is a greedy 9 banded armadillo (we think!). Whose been digging up all the tasty worms from our beds and in the process man-handling our baby sweet potatoes! ???? Vanessa has very cunningly devised a beware armadillo cayenne pepper spray- NOT TO BE SPRAYED ON THE ARMADILLO! But around the area of its digging in hope it deters him. But we need to figure out what we’re dealing with here, this afternoon Pablo has set his camera trap hopefully in the perfect positioning to catch our mysterious vigilante. Keep posted for the pics and updates on our little hot pepper experiment.

T.R.E.E.S is the place to be. . . and not just in the orchard but we also happened to have some night time in house guests! Quite a productive evening we had, but as we all said goodnight and settled down to get ready for bed, we found we all had a little visitor in our rooms! (Or the pantry as one guest was)

Peanut headed moth chilling on Vanessa’s pillow!

Peanut headed bug or moths (Fulgora laternaria), as they’re commonly called is actually not a moth, but a plant hopper belonging to the order Hemiptera – true bugs. This little guy with his strange protruding peanut shaped head is actually not so little, they tend to be between 80-90 mm in length. The weird peanut head is actually a false head and hollow inside, the actual function of this is not yet properly understood, but it is believed the head is supposed to imitate that of a lizard. In combination with raising its wings – which have red and black spotting under-wing that resemble eyes – scare its predators away (I really don’t see the lizard thing but it looks pretty weird). It has a folded proboscis as its mouth parts and feeds off the sap of tree species like Hymenaea courbaril, which is a common species in the Carribean and Central and South American countries. Its also believed that it uses that ginormous head as a mating display drumming against the bark to attract a mate, laying its eggs between cracks in the bark and coating it for protection in the sticky sap.

When you just weren’t born with the right equipment to open jars- Praying Mantis (Stagmomantinae)
Scorpion (Centruroides gracilis) on the wall above Agnes’s bed!

At the end of a busy but fruitful day, we reaped the rewards of all our hard work and sat down to feast!

Pablo proudly displaying the bread I made!
Carving a chicken humanely killed on our farm

Feel free to leave comments and questions as always, take care until next time, lovely followers!

As always, stay safe, stay healthy and stay tuned!

T.R.E.E.S Survival Team