Views of Nature Photography

                                                                                                       Noni

Noni (Morinda citrifolia) is a tropical fruit that has been used in traditional medicines in Asia and the South Pacific for centuries. We had some lively discussions with different people in Belize about the health benefits and risks of consuming Noni or Noni juice.The opinions ranged from "It's a miracle cure for many ailments including cancer," to "Avoid it at all costs as it will ruin your kidneys." It is very high in potassium and has unconfirmed reports of causing liver problems.


Our travels during February of 2016 took us to Belize on a "surf and turf" expedition. The surf part comprised three days on the small island of South Water Caye where we were able to finally work on underwater images, something new to us. The turf part included four days at Lamanai Outpost Lodge, twenty miles as the crow flies up the New River in the Orange Walk District of northern Belize. Both locations gave us opportunities for bird and scenic images but Lamanai also provided opportunities to photograph Mayan ruins, Mennonite communities and the local Mestizo culture.

We flew into Belize City from Houston and then took a small aircraft to Dangriga (about  a 15-minute flight south of Belize City), which was our jumping off point for the Cayes. We were able to spend the better part of a day in Dangriga. In this town of just over 12,000 people we had a short introduction to the Caribbean culture and history of British Honduras which later became an independent Belize.

Our preferred method of travel is to independently explore our destinations but we sometimes find a guided tour too good to pass up. This trip was one of those occasions. We traveled with long time friend Bill Turner, who runs Nature Down Under Tours, and a group of about a dozen folks. Bill did a great job setting up accommodations, meals, local travel and wonderful guides. See our links page for information on Bill's business.

The Coast and Cayes

The east coast of Belize is home to the second largest barrier reef in the world, largest in the northern hemisphere. The reef system we visited is in the South Water Caye Belize Barrier Reef System, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The sandy islands (cayes) have great beaches and underwater reefs, ideal for snorkeling in the near 80 degree water. The reef acts as a barrier to ocean swells (hence the name) so swimming and snorkeling in the calm water is near effortless.

Neotropic cormorant                                                                  Brown pelican

            Green heron

Dolls made by a local artist                                               A drum in the "manufacturing" process

Scissor tailed flycatcher

Tamarind

On the boat ride back to Dangriga from South Water Caye we visited an uninhabited (by humans) small island named Man O' War Caye. This island has been designated a bird sanctuary and the mangrove trees provide ideal nesting habitat for Brown Boobies, Magnificent Frigatebirds and Brown Pelicans as well as Neotropic Cormorants.

Well cared for animals

 Social flycatcher                                                                                    Ruddy turnstone

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Rufous tailed hummingbird at the Lamanai Lodge                                Little blue heron hunting in a rain-forest pond

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Magnificent frigatebirds and Brown boobies

The local church with hitching posts       

Juvenile Magnificent frigatebird 

Osprey

Ceremonial Ball Court            

Boys and girls attend the same schools.
                 (but don't mingle)                                                                                                      

Details of a mask face

          Mask Temple
                                                                                                              

Common blackhawk in Dangriga

Sugar cane is a major crop

The Mayan History

The Mayans occupied what is now central Belize since around 1500 BCE. The Lamanai site has only been partially excavated (starting in the mid 1970's) but archaeologists estimate that at its peak it was a city that was home to nearly 60,000 people. Compare that to the current population of the entire country of Belize, around 350,000. The climate in this area provides good rainfall and the soil is fertile. This meant that the Mayans living here did not suffer from the drought and environmental impacts that caused so many of their other settlements to be abandoned as early as the tenth century CE. This city was flourishing when the Spaniards arrived in the 17th century, a span of over 3000 years. The structures that have been exposed are spectacular and include several elaborate temples.


The Jaguar Temple as viewed from the forest                                                    The High Temple - 33 meters tall          
 


Belize

Garifuna Dance Group

 The Jaguar Temple with an insert showing the detail of one of the jaguar faces
 These faces are located at the left and right side of the temple base.
 Imagine incense burning and smoke emanating from the openings.

  Mangoes                                                                                  Citrus fruit - Rangpur Lime

Papayas


                                                           Agouti in the rain forest near the Lamanai Lodge

Agoutis are members of the order rodentia (rodents). They are fruit and seed eating forest animals. They have been classified as diurnal but can be nocturnal if under severe pressure. The ones we saw in the early morning were tolerant to a point, so we kept our distance and took advantage of our long focal length lens.

Birds - Along the coast we photographed numerous varieties of shore and seabirds while in the interior we found large numbers of resident and migratory species.

The views at sunset

The drum makers use a mix of old and new technology to produce their drums


                                                                            Fish and coral on the reef

The Mainland of Belize

The mainland of Belize consists of a low-lying eastern coastal plain along the Caribbean with tropical pine savanna and hardwood forest inland. In the south are low mountains rising to a little over 3400 feet. The main population centers are along the east coast with Belize City being the international gateway for air and sea. 

While in the town of Dangriga we were able to experience some of the Garifuna (gar RIF oo na) Culture. The Garifuna people are descended from a mix of African and Caribbean inhabitants and have developed some unique art. Our favorites were the dolls, drums and dance!

Okra                                                                                                Coconuts

Modern and traditional transportation    

The Flora

Belizean flora includes a variety of palm trees, exotic fruit trees, and other typical rain-forest vegetation.

Mennonite Community

There are a number of Mennonite Communities in Belize. They migrated from Russia and Germany by way of Canada and Mexico. They are established farmers and as a whole provide nearly 75% of the agricultural products to the Belizean economy. They maintain their own lifestyle, schools and churches but do mix with the rest of the people to varying degrees. There are different levels of engagement with technology as well. Some communities are very open to modern conveniences while others are much more traditional and avoid nearly all.

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The Fauna

Although greatly outnumbered by bird species, there are many terrestrial animals including five species of felines (Jaguar, Ocelot, Jaguarundi, Margay and Puma). They are difficult to see unless you are very lucky. Small mammals and reptiles are there and a bit easier to find. We found it easier to photograph the birds but did get opportunities with some terrestrial critters.

Vermilion flycatcher                                                                         Ringed kingfisher on his night perch

                                                               Green iguana just outside our room in Dangriga

Green iguanas are currently protected in Belize. Previously they were extensively hunted for meat and the population was reduced to an alarmingly low number. Several captive breeding and conservation programs have helped to re-establish a decent population, but they remain protected. These iguanas are one of the largest lizards in the world, with adult males reaching seven feet in length.  Most of that length is tail.  Young iguanas forage the forest floor for snails, worms and grubs. Adults prefer a diet of leaves, berries and fruit.

Plantains                                                                                      Cohune Palm nuts