Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Leatherback Turtles by Rosie

These pictures are from Rosie. She visited the Grande Riviere area of North Trinidad and took these photos a few months ago. Every year from March to September, we are fortunate enough to witness the miracle of the Leatherback Turtle nesting on the beaches of our north coast. The Leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) is the largest reptile in the world and is larger than other sea turtles. Leatherbacks can regularly weigh in at up to 1000 pounds. Ifound this link on BBC- it's worth visiting -http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediaselector/check/player/nol/newsid_6920000/newsid_6924400?redirect=6924404.stm&news=1&bbram=1&nbram=1&nbwm=1&bbwm=1&asb=1
They are the only sea turtles without a hard shell or scales. Instead the "shell" is a semi-flexible carapace ( upper shell). Each turtle has a distinctive, unique pink spot on the top of its head that is as distinct as a fingerprint. It is thought that this spot may help sense light or direction but this has not been proven. I think that it may be an identifying feature and I love the thought that each little hatchling is unique with its own little pink spot.

Females nest approximately six times every two to three years and are almost always tropical. Major nesting beaches are in Suriname, French Guiana, Trinidad, Tobago, Costa Rica, and Gabon.

The season lasts from March to July but hatchlings can sometimes be seen as late as September. Remarkably, females will return to lay on the same beach on which they were hatched. The whole process takes about two hours and she will lay up to 80 eggs at a time after digging a deep hole called an egg chamber with her rear flippers.

The beautiful sight of these prehistoric creatures pulling themselves out of the sea to give birth on a strip of sand identified only by a dim memory is one of the true miracles of life.

Once she has completed her mission, she will attempt to disguise the area by erasing her tracks with her front flippers. After the nest has been concealed, she will return to the sea and leave the nest without returning. She has done her part.
Thank you Rosie.

Friday, 27 July 2007

Beautiful Trinidad by Rosie

These are more of my friend Rosie's pictures. I love everything about this shot. The bands of rain coming out of the cloud, the light on the sand and the silhouette of the walking child. Really lovely.
This is the bamboo cathedral in Chaguaramas. It is so beautiful it really is almost holy. If you are very lucky, you may catch sight of a red howler monkey or a caiman (small alligator) in the surrounding forest. This is up on the northern tip of the island and part of an old US army base from World War 11. I learnt at Asa Wright the bamboo is the fastest growing grass in the world and can grow up to 2-3 inches per day. It blooms only once every 100 years after which it dies. I have never seen a bamboo flower so I will have to investigate to see if this is only true for a particular type of bamboo. If this is true for all; I have a new quest. To see the bamboo flower.

These two little ones are just shooting the breeze. I would love to hear the conversation.

Coconut has become synonomous with the tropics. There are few global symbols that conjure such an instant association with the word "holiday". The waving coconut tree can say it all with one frond. Coconut water is very nutritious and is an excellent rehydrant for a very ill person. The water is not to be confused with coconut milk. The water comes from the green nut. The head is lopped off and the water poured out and consumed immediately. It will not last unrefrigerated.When the green nut is cut in half, the jelly is soft and sweet. The ones in this picture may be slightly past their prime for water and jelly.
Most people who live outside of the tropics will only know the dried coconut which is brown and hairy. It is usually not safe to consume the liquid in the nut at this stage. When the nut is cracked open at this stage, the flesh will have solidified and is quite oily and, well, nutlike. Discard the liquid in the nut. To make coconut milk (that you cook with), the firm flesh is cut into pieces and it is put in the blender with a small amount of water. Pulse until pureed and then strain through a fine strainer or a piece of muslin. The end result is coconut milk which is VERY rich. It is usually used in desserts, curries and our national spinach (or dasheen bush) soup. It is also about a million calories per mouthful. If you were stuck on a deserted island, you could live on green and dry coconuts for quite some time and stay healthy.

Thursday, 26 July 2007

Rosie's Photos

This is the white bearded manakin. This is one of the males. We were very entertained by them as they do an elaborate dance for the female early in the morning and then spend the rest of the day practicing their swoops and calls. They dislocate their shoulders with a sharp, popping and clicking noise which is part of the show. Each male has a small space on the forest floor which is his "courtyard" and it is his job to keep it clean and tidy. The best dancer/serenader with the tidiest "court" wins the female. When we saw them on the forest floor at about 2.30pm they were hard at work practicing. The next time that I am lining up in the bank or stuck in traffic, I am going to remember the hard working white bearded manakin. We all have our missions in life. Not so?

Palm Tanagers having a dip.
Coming in for a late lunch.
These photos are taken by my friend Rosie. She has only recently come to live in Trinidad and is embracing it with both arms. Interested in everything and everyone, I find this comes through in all of her shots. There is a delicacy to her angles that is beautiful.

Asa Wright Nature Centre

Once you begin to climb the winding road that leads out of the Arima Valley and up into the Northern Range, it becomes obvious that this is virgin rainforest. Miles and miles of untouched forest lie on the horizon. It is, quite simply, a bird watcher's paradise. 2007 is the 40th anniversary of Asa Wright Nature Centre and there is an interesting display that gives a good overview of the history. The original house was built in 1906 and was run as a privately owned cocoa and coffee estate. With the crash of cocoa prices in the 1920's the estate was put up for sale and was purchased by an American engineer, Joseph Holmes. In 1946 it changed hands again and became the property of Dr Newcome Wright and his wife Asa.
A neighbouring estate, Simla, was purchased by Dr William Beebe, the first curator of birds at the Bronx Zoo. Beebe donated the property to the New York Zoological Society and the Tropical Research Station of the New York Zoological Society was established here. The relationship between the two estates was excellent. Asa took over the reins of the estate after the death of her husband and welcomed nature lovers and researching naturalists. In 1967, it was established as the Asa Wright Nature Centre and was officially opened as such on 5th November 1967. Asa continued to live in her home until her death in 1971. In 1974, the 265 acre Simla was gifted to the AWNC and continued to function as it does up to today as a Tropical Research Centre. Today the Centre is managed by a Board of Directors and is the recipient of several international awards. In 1973 the National Audubon Society's conference on the Conservation Needs and Opportunities in Tropical America was held at Asa Wright and the centre has been instrumental in several landmark publications. The first publication was the highly regarded and indispensable "A Guide to the Birds of Trinidad and Tobago" by Richard ffrench. This text is still the definitive guide and is sitting next to me right now as I type this!
The house is virtually unchanged. Guests are invited out onto the large verandah to view the birds who come to the feeders. On an average morning, it is possible to see as many as 25 species of birds.Barry our very knowledgeable guide.
The lovely waterfall on the estate.
A Baby Mappepire. Yes, he is deadly. He belongs to the pit viper family and they are quite common in our forests. They are hatching at this time of year and it is best to be wary. Notice howwell camouflaged he is in the leaves.

Asa Wright

I'm very happy to be back on-line. Had a DSL glitch that is hopefully resolved. I went to Asa Wright yesterday which is a lovely eco-resort in the Northern Range.
Below is the flower of the Calliandra or Powder Puff. When translated the word Calliandra means "beautiful stamens". When the tree is in full flower, the effect is quite magical with the little tufts of pink decorating the branches like ornaments.

A beautiful variety of ixora with a perfectly formed head. This seems to be the year of the ixora. Every one that I have seen has outdone itself this year. To be honest, we have become accustomed to them because they are so much a part of the landscape. But this year, something in the weather has been perfect. Who knows what subterranean signal goes out to each member of the family, instructing them all that it is a good year to bloom with passion.

The hummingbirds love this plant. I don't know what it is called but it grows wild in the underbrush of the forest.
A palm tanager stops by for a snack.
Tree ferns are very difficult to grow out of the mountains. They become petulant and lose their gloss. But up in the Northern Range, they are sleek and smooth.

Sunday, 22 July 2007

Holiday Fare

The beauty of plantain is that it sweetens with cooking . If you are not familiar with plantain and inadvertently mistake it for banana, it can be a very unpleasant experience. Some people never venture there again! Which is a real shame because it is one of the most delicious and versatile of our vegetable/fruit (which one is it, I wonder?).These dishes are served for lunch at Rawllins Plantation in St Kitts. The above plantain dish is served in an attractive wooden dish which shows up the colours beautifully. If you start with firm plantain and bake them, a magical transformation of caramelisation takes place. I have even done it in the toaster oven at around 400F and it doesn't take long for the sugar deep in the plantain to pop to the surface and add its own glaze. They are also perfect on the BBQ. Literally cut in half and place on hot grill in their skins. They are ready when the ends begin to puff.
Another West Indian favorite is "CookUp Rice". It is truly ubiquitous throughout the region and especially in Trinidad where our pelau is a serious contender for national dish. The above rice was also served at Rawlins Plantation in St Kitts. The technique is usually quite simple. Boil the rice. In another pan, add aprox. one tablespoon of oil and saute diced (all) onions, green onions, seasoning peppers, corn, carrots, pumpkin and even bacon. Turn the rice into this pan and mix together. This is my recipe which looks quite similar to the above one. Unfortunately I do not have the exact recipe from Rawlins Plantation.
When I go on holiday, this is the type of bed I imagine. Even down to the mosquito netting around the post. As children we slept with nets and it was lovely. You could hear the rain at night and if you were lucky enough to wake up during the night, at certain times of the year, you could catch the fireflies signaling each other across the room with little pulsing lights.

The pleasure of an open door on a sunny afternoon. Leaving doors open allows the breeze to come right through bringing with it all the sounds and smells of the garden. The casuarinas in the background were swaying and singing in the breeze.

Saturday, 21 July 2007

The Beauty of Little Things

This flower will soon turn into a bright red, juicy tomato. Isn't that amazing? When I was taking this picture yesterday, I didn't even know that I knew what a tomato flower smelled like. But I did. It's a sharp, green smell that we probably all know but are not even aware of it.
This is a Costus or spiral ginger. They come from the Botanical family Costaceae. Many costus grow wild but there are several varieties that are commonly used in landscaping. One of the most popular is the C.Speciosus "Variegatus" which has variegated leaves and is very useful in creating the layers needed to make an interesting bed. I don't know the name of this one so if anyone out there can help identify, please do. :) The bracts from which the flowers emerge are cone shaped and not unlike the shampoo gingers. I got a piece from Peter and Chancy Moll last year of one called "French Kiss" which had a lovely red and yellow flower. It has done well and I am hoping that it will bloom this year.

Cordylines deserve a book all of their own. In fact, if you were up to it and put some thought into the design, you could probably landscape a whole bed with nothing but cordylines and still manage to create the height, texture and colour for a really superb show. I always thought that they were indigenous to our region but apparently they originated in Asia. Extensive cross breeding has resulted in a truly amazing vairiety of leaf shapes and colours. They all grow on cane-like stems and can be pruned to keep short or left to grow tall. Depending on the amount of sun they receive , the leaf colours can differ dramatically on the same plant. They catch very easily from piece and are useful in flower arranging because of the malleable leaves.I think that this is a Maranta from the botanical family Marantaceae but it may also be Calathea?I got a piece from my neighbour and have used it all over my garden. It does well in shady, moist soil and is useful to provide light in dark corners. It does have a tendency to take over and once a year, I have to ruthlessly pull out the older ones and let the younger plants come in.

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

The Grand Dames of the Tropics

Let us never forget the age old staples of the Caribbean garden. Yes, they are a bit cliched but really is there anything more tropical than the hibiscus or the ixora? Did you pull out the petals to get to the nectar in the star shaped petals when you were young? Every Caribbean child of a certain era did. Of course, that was before everyone began spraying with gramoxone! I'm so glad to see the resurgence of the hibiscus. We nearly lost all of ours in the island to mealy bug. The Ministry of Agriculture very cleverly used a defense tactic of releasing ladybugs which feed on the mealybug. This has helped the situation considerably but we still find pockets every now and then. The Samaan trees were also significantly affected and we lost not a few of these magnificent beauties.
Once again, I'm appealing to anyone who knows the names of these ladies, can you post them for me? I would love to know their stage names.

Monday, 16 July 2007

All the Tropical finery

Red Ginger should be a staple in every Caribbean garden. Its bright red bracts actually conceal the tiny white, "real" flower. Ginger also come in pink and white forms and there are several hybrid varities on the market. If you squeeze the flowers gently, they actually do give off a "gingery" smell. Lovely.
The King of Flower and the Queen of Flower trees, who is who? In a gender assumption reversal, the larger tree is listed in most tropical garden books as the Queen of Flower and the smaller, shrubbish crepe (or crape) myrtle is known locally as the King of Flowers. Both belong to the Lythraceae family, sometimes known as "Pride of India" The flowers are actually not very similar apart from colour and certainly the smaller crapemyrtle is much, much smaller than its larger sibling which can reach heights of 60 feet under ideal conditions.
Now while I say this, many people throughout the islands refer to the larger tree as the King and the smaller as the Queen. The Crapemyrtle seldom gets larger that 8-10 feet and is quite manageable in the garden. If anyone can shed some more light on the geneology of these two royals, please put your two cents in.

Here is a new iris. I already have the blue, which is large, blowsy and scented; the yellow which is VERY prolific and looks like a ground orchid and now, the salmon, which is more delicate than the yellow but not as over the top as the blue. If anyone can identify the name of this iris, please help. Thanks :) Edited: Nicole says that she thinks it's a Leopard Lily (Belamcanda chinensis) . Sounds authentic to me. Thanks Nicole.

I'm using my St Kitts photos again. It's not often that we see such a splendid display of Bismarckia nobilis or Bismark Palm. They grow quite slowly and show off their large fan-like bluey-silvery leaves. Leaf colours can vary with the most sought after being a beautiful blue-grey. It does best in full sun and I saw many of them in St Kitts. They tend to be not as common here in Trinidad, I suspect because we have far less bright sunshine.This naturally occurring lily pond popped up on Nevis much to my surprise. We had rounded a corner on the coast road and there it was in a river that fed out to the beach. When I investigated, the terrain was so similar to Mayaro with the same marshy ground under the coconut trees. I'm not sure if it is an ecosystem that develops around the coconut trees or vice versa but it was so like our river and swampland in Manzanilla and Mayaro. There were even loads of crab holes to ensure a running of the crabs at full moon. Even more remarkably, there were very attractive ducks that flew away when we arrived. So much diversity on such a tiny piece of island.
If you're like me, you never tire of the flamboyant or poinciana with its umbrella like shape. Its generous knobbly branches will sometimes reach to the ground waving their delicate feathery leaves. Before flowering, flamboyant will shed almost all leaves and take on quite a despondent appearance before bursting into bloom.

Sunday, 15 July 2007

Down the Islands

We spent the day down the islands today with our neighbours Nicky and Brucie. We are so lucky that we have these little islands off the North coast that have beach homes. This is just one of them (and, no, this is not where I was!)

t is a real reminder that we were part of the South American mainland as these little islands dot their way towards Venezeula. Gasparee island is the largest and has impressive caves that have become a great tourist attraction. We have a boat and go down quite often to the family's house but in rainy season, we are sometimes no match for the sandflies.
The last mountain ridge in the background is Venezuela. Very close. Isn't it beautiful?

This is Hayley and I coming home in the boat. We soaked in the sea for ages with all the children and just enjoyed cooling off. Our water is not the blue of the rest of the Caribbean as the Orinocco river feeds into our waters and the tannin from the leaves turns the water browny-greeny. The plus is that our water is so rich with nutrients that the fishing is very good, the negative is, of course, that we don't have the postcard image water that is meant to be the Caribbean sea. The marinas are all full of yachts at the moment because many sailors come South to wait out the hurricane season and a healthy service industry has developed around this phenomenon. The marine workmanship is respected throughout the region and many come to have their boats refitted during the season.

Saturday, 14 July 2007

Colours of the Caribbean

I stopped by the side of the road on Friday to take these shots because I think our roadside fruit merchandising is unique to Trinidad. All fruit vendors take pride in displaying their wares.
Okay I must interrupt this blog because it's now 9.34pm on Sunday night and we've just had a pretty strong earthquake. I suppose we'll hear what strength it was tomorrow. It was quite impressive and it reminds me always that here in the Caribbean we live on fault lines and Trinidad was once part of South America (Venezeula is just 7 miles away). Unlike hurricanes, these give no warning. A distant rumbling and the ground begins to shake.
So then, back to the fruit, excitement over! The chennette or guineppe (spelling?) is in the foreground. These little fruit have a sweet, jelly like pulp that clings tenaciously to the round, hard seed in the centre. The fruit is delicious but takes some work to get off the seed. You split the skin with your teeth, pop the seed into your mouth and roll around until you've got it all. The problem with chennette is that it's a favourite of school children and it is the easiest thing to choke on. The hard seed is the perfect size to slip down the back of the throat and lodge in the airway. It was actually banned on the paediatric ward in the hospitals here as parents used to bring to the bedridden children as a treat and this was the last thing that the poor overworked doctors and nurses needed. So no more chennette. Surprisingly, it stains quite badly. I love it and eat lots of it because as we say in Trinidad, it's very more-ish!
Once again I'm mixing up my posts, these shots are from St Kitts. I think windows and doors are some of the most interesting architectural details of Caribbean buildings. There are the ubiquitous demerara (will have to check that spelling!) windows, the recessed windows of the cut stone Georgian houses, shuttered windows and the louvred doors that are found throughout the area. Some of the most beautiful buildings that I have seen were in Guyana. Wear and tear and the fact that many of the structures built in the 1800s were wooden meant that many have been lost to fire and weather. Luckily in many of the smaller islands, the Georgian style stone houses have been well preserved and give an excellent idea of the architecture of the era.
Just another lovely product of the soil. This is the calabaza or West Indian pumpkin. It forms the basis of most of our soups. And it's usually one of the first thing that we feed to our babies once they start taking solid food. It's so versatile that it can fit into almost every meal. I grew lots of it last year on an empty plot of land behind my house and we had quite a bumper crop. But I want to try something new this year, I just haven't decided what yet. Maybe peas? Or sorrel for Christmas?