Monday, December 31, 2007

In memoriam, animal friends

I used this image some months ago to show what happens when a dog messes with a porky pine. The quills say it all! Animal vs. animal is one thing. Animal facing man is another situation altogether. I always say that the smartest animals in the forest, or elsewhere, don't have a chance against the dumbest of men with guns in their hands. My little friend took a liking to me and the Bosque, even though she belonged to my closest neighbor. She wasn't much more than a rack of bones after she gave birth to a litter of puppies and I always brought left-over food and rations from home to help her along. I had gotten used to her being around the reception center, so I noticed her absence one day. A large flock of black vultures feeding on a dead animal on the side of the road was the tipoff. I asked Cleuson if he knew anything. Indeed he did. I still don't know the details, but the dog had eaten 10 duck eggs, which warranted her execution. I would imagine that it was the owner of the farm who gave the orders, but I don't know for sure. So it goes in the jungle!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Embarking on new adventures in life

A beautiful wedding reception on a Tapajós River beach called for a walk downriver to catch the last few minutes of sunlight before the party got underway. These traditional fishing boats filled with rainwater caught my eye right off the bat. What could be more symbolic of new adventures in life than beached canoes awaiting departures for unknown destinations upstream, downstream, or even across the turbulent waters of a river some 20 kilometers wide? One thing, for sure, my friends Daniel Weiss and Geli Oliveira won't be alone in their travels throughout life. Families and friends will see to that. Count on us!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

White-tailed trogan

My favorite bird at Bosque Santa Lúcia is the white-tailed trogan (also spelled trogon), a relatively large bird compared to the many flycatchers we see. The local people call the bird "azulão", which means "big blue". Over the years, I've observed that the trogans like to nest in termite nests around the reception center. In the attached image you can see one of these termite nests. The trogan comes and goes from its nest via the larger hole in the middle of the structure. I placed drinking water at the top and we've observed that the mother birds takes her bath there too. I should say "took" her bath there because she and her youngster took off a few days ago. The bathtub is still being used, but by other birds. I've tried taking pictures of the trogans but my camera doesn't have features for that type of thing. The next best thing is to show someone else's picture. A search on the Net will yield many, but have a look at this one.

Lights for none, continued

As reported yesterday, a wind storm blew over a tree onto the Celpa power line creating a "falling dominoes" effect on seven reinforced concrete poles. The very last one to fall was right on the edge of the Bosque Santa Lucia property. This happened at 11:00 in the morning. By late afternoon, the power company had delivered new poles and two maintenance crews were working to restore energy.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Lights for none

The name of this post, "lights for none" is a takeoff on the motto of "lights for all", which I've talked about quite often over the last few months. It's a rural electrification program that has brought lights to the forgotten rural populations of Brazil. Our Bosque Santa Lucia was fortunate enough to become a recipient of electricity via this project about three months ago. I moaned and groaned about the many trees I lost because of the 15 meter swath required for the construction of the line, but I have to admit that electricity has made life a lot easier, starting with water that is pumped from our well. Water for plants and trees ... and water for flushing toilettes. I'm reminded of yesterday, when a large number of cruise ship passengers visited the Bosque. They had traveled an hour by bus to get to the Bosque and they needed to use a toilette in the worse way. When the German speaking guide pointed his finger to the bathroom, the rush was on. Not to belabor the issue, electricity and water are now essential components of the infrastructure. Today we were without electricity! At exactly 11:00 in the morning, a very strong wind blew a tree onto the line and like falling dominoes, seven of the large concrete posts fell to the ground. The one in the attached image was in Sr.Melo's front yard, a neighbor to the north. He was watching television at the time. Luckily he didn't have a heart attack. A new pole awaits the arrival of the Celpa maintenance team.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Night jar updated

I was a bit concerned for the well being of the night jar chick because during heavy rains, there are areas on the flat concrete roof that get flooded. After scaling the heavy wooden staircase, I peeked over the retainer wall to see that the mother bird had moved to the other side of the roof, where the drainage is much better. When she saw me, she flew off to the side, landed momentarily, bounced up in the air twice and then flew off to a nearby tree. And there was our baby chick, growing stronger by the day. As I moved in to get a closeup, she surprised me by making a couple of short jumps and then she quickly found refuge in a drainage hole separating the wall with the outer edge of the roof. Notice the developing quills, not seen before. What used to be an amorphous patch of fur is now taking on the features of a bird.

Signs of winter

Rain fell during the night and continued to drizzle until mid-morning. I left for Bosque Santa Lucia early in the morning to prepare for a group of visitors from a ship anchored in Alter do Chao, that same one that got in too late for tours last week. Although it wasn't raining hard, the sky was dark and the temperature cool. Quite a change from the norm of hot weather and clear skies. It was also nice to see trees and plants without the complete coating of dust. After getting chores done, I went to the roof of the reception center to see how the baby night jar had faired with the rains. I inadvertently took this picture of some dried up leaves caught against the retainer wall of the roof. Although comparisons cannot be construed, the combination of dark skies, cool weather and leaves reminded me of fall in the United States. I guess Christmas day was a good time to have these memories brought back.

Sunday, December 23, 2007


I thought this stack of lichens on a stem-seized trunk of a young tree were quite beautiful. Makes me wonder what chemistry and physics went into their making. Something very complicated, I'm sure. They remind me of a stack of green pancakes.


I can't remember how I came by the name of this plant, maybe it was from Alice Stein, an avid photographer from Buffalo, New York. She made several trips to the Amazon over the years and put together a fabulous collection of images, mostly from Bosque Santa Lucia and the Santarem region. Not being satisfied with mere images, she would research the subject matter at universities and research institutes in the United States until she came up with the proper names. In the case of sida, it's a plant found from northern Brazil to Argentina, but really proliferates in the tropical savanna soils of this region. I haven't found documentation to prove it, but I think there is one species of sida that carries the name of Santarem because it was found in such abundance here. The plant in the attached image is at Bosque Santa Lucia, which isn't tropical savanna. I transferred a few plants there about three years ago. They didn't do well at all and I eventually forgot about them. I was amazed to find this small plant and beautiful flower at the Bosque this week. I assume it must have developed from a seed of the of the original plants.

New flowers at Bosque

Professora Inez gave me this flowering plant, but she didn't have a name for it. That's nothing unusual, she has a big yard of flowers and plants, most without names. It's quite common here that people don't know names of trees and plants, unless it's something very useful in their life. In this case, I guess it's the beauty of the plant and flowers that counts, not the name. When I started this blog a year ago, I wouldn't include anything that didn't have at least a common name. Preferably it had to have both a common name and scientific name. Although I still have a big stock of flora in this category, I came to accept the fact that I would never find time to research all unknown details, including names. I also take the attitude that someone out there knows the name of anything I could possibly post on the internet. It's a question of time before someone comes forth with the names.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Reception Center, new porch

The roof of the new porch at the Bosque Santa Lucia reception center is up and we're currently preparing the ground for a cement floor. There is quite a bit of leveling off to be done before that can happen. The new addition will make for additional space for visitors to get out of the sun and rain, as well as a place to exhibit woods.


Comment from reader Ana:

As a native Brazilian living in the US, it is a pleasure to see the picture of your jabuticaba tree. It was always one of my favorite fruits and I haven't had a taste of one in years. It sure brings back memories. I know that jabuticaba likes the company of other jabuticaba trees. It helps with cross pollination. You will yield a lot more fruit if you add a couple more trees nearby.

Good luck and thank you for sharing it.

Ana, thanks for the comment. I took this picture a few days ago. The jabuticaba tree continues to grow and it's producing fruit now. I'm sure it would be producing much more, if we had more rain. It's seldom that I get a chance to taste the fruit because of the birds, especially the tanagers. They get served first. I do have another tree to provide that company you suggest, but it's still in a vase. I'll get it into the ground as soon as we get rain.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Night jar, birth on the roof

Last Thursday, Cleuson called me to see something on the roof of the reception center. A "bacurau", he told me. I climbed the wooden staircase to have a look, but I didn't see anything that looked like a bird. After some guiding from Cleuson, I saw a single night jar chick that was so small and undefined, I'm sure I could have stepped on it without knowing it was there. The tipoff was the broken egg that couldn't have been much larger than a marble. The only reference points are the leaves, which I assure you are small ones. What a place to lay an egg and hatch it! The flat roof the Bosque reception center is nothing more than a big slab of concrete without any protection from the elements. As Cleuson said, "I wonder how the chick and mother bird survive this heat?" Night jars are famous for their ad hoc nesting locations. Any old place seems to serve their needs, including roads. No nesting material at all! I can imagine that the loss of eggs to predators must be very high in this situation.

Rubber, a latex world

South American Indians have been using rubber for thousands of years and one of the neat inventions was that of the rubber ball. The one in the attached image was probably made by applying latex to a rubber balloon. I bought the finished product in Alter do Chao, on the Tapajos River, but it came from the Arapiuns River area. In times past, Indians made balls by using animal bladders instead of balloons.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Rubber, the tapper's knife

You can tell by the dirt under my nails that I ain't a doctor. You can also see that this rubber tapper's knife has been around for a long time. It belongs to Sr. Raimundo Teixeira, who used to be my neighbor across the road from Bosque Santa Lucia. His son, Cleuson, works for me now and I saw him with the old tool yesterday as he left to meet a group of Germans coming from a ship that had stopped at Alter do Chao. Unfortunately, the tour was canceled because the ship arrived much to late to begin any tours. Cleuson and I waited most of the afternoon without knowing that the tour wasn't going to happen. I took advantage of the downtime to get some pictures of knife. Notice that the metal at the end of the blade has been doubled back to make for a "u" shaped cut on the rubber tree. This regulates the depth of the cut, therefore not damaging the tree. That picture I showed on the previous post was done with the whack of my machete, which isn't recommended.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Rubber, the latex

No blood in this tree, only pure white latex. This is the finest natural rubber in the world; and it's from the Hevea brasiliensis tree, the same one selected by Henry Ford for his plantations at Fordlandia and Belterra. It was also the one picked by Sir Henry Wickham for his exploitation of seeds, those 70,000 taken to Kew Gardens in 1876.

Rubber, collection container

A historical artifact from the Ford rubber tree plantation in Belterra. It's one of the containers used to collect latex from the rubber trees. The cup is covered with dirt because I found it half buried in the ground. As you can see, the quantity of latex to be collected from one tapping, isn't all that great. A lot of trees needed to be tapped to produce enough rubber to make one tire for Ford Motor Company's plant back in Michigan.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Rubber tree seeds, Belterra

This is another young rubber tree, also associated with Henry Ford, alias Ford Motor Company. I picked up this seed in Belterra, which is close to Santarem and Bosque Santa Lucia. The site is where Ford moved to in 1933, after he discovered that Fordlandia wasn't the ideal site for a rubber tree plantation. It's interesting that this seedling was planted about the same time as the one from Fordlandia, but it didn't take on the mortuary look.

Rubber tree seeds, Fordlandia

Just for you historian buffs, this young rubber tree germinated from a seed I brought back from Fordlandia. I don't remember the year but I do remember that I was traveling with Cristovam Sena, technical consultant for an English film crew doing a documentary for The History Channel. The documentary, which features Henry Ford in the Amazon, continues to be aired on The History Channel on regular basis. I'm sure most of my readers have seen it more than once. My role was simply that of providing logistical support for the team, as well as some translation services. I brought back a handful of seeds from Fordlandia thinking that a rubber tree from Fordlandia would be great show and tell at Bosque Santa Lucia. All the seeds germinated and I eventually got one of the seedlings into the ground. It got off to a rough start with the long droughts we've experienced over the last few years. As a matter of fact, I thought it had died. There was not one leaf on the tree until I started giving it water from our new drilled well. The leaves are now coming out and it'll continue to grow. It'll be testimony to a lot of interesting history.

Rubber tree seeds

I'm only speculating that Pau Brasil ( Caesalpinia echinata) is the most famous tree in Brazil, given that the country gets its name from the same. I also speculate that the rubber tree is the most famous tree in the Amazon. There are different species, but Hevea brasiliensis is the one that the famous English botanist, Richard Spruce, proclaimed as producing the best quality rubber. It's probably no coincidence that his cohort, Henry Wickham, smuggled 70,000 Hevea brasiliensis seeds to Kew Gardens in 1876, an act that eventually led to the demise of the rubber boom in Brazil. As a side note, I discovered these seeds in an old peanut butter jar at the Bosque today. I was surprised how well they were preserved. I don't remember when I put them in the jar, but it must have been at least two years ago. I guess I won't brag too much about that after seeing the 1876 seeds on display at Kew Gardens.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Don't mess with that jack fruit

When I took this picture, I wasn't out to get shots of jack fruit. I was looking at what's above the fruit, those inverted cones, which are tachi ant nests. There's also a bell wasp nest up on the next limb. It's not uncommon to encounter kids from the city climbing up into the jack fruit trees to get the fruit. I'm willing to bet that they won't mess with these! Click on the image for more details.

Kiskadee nests

The lesser kiskadees sure like the Pau Brasil tree next to the Bosque reception center. There are now three nests in the tree and a very active family of kiskadees. When other birds approach the tree, they all take after the intruders like a squadron of jet fighters. One day last week I heard some commotion taking place outside to discover that there were two toucans in a mumbaca palm tree just a few meters away from Pau Brasil. Toucans are famous for gobbling up eggs and chicks of others and the kiskadees know that fact very well. Despite the enormous difference in seize, the kiskadees held own. Every time the toucans moved around in the palm tree, the kiskadees screamed and made flights in their direction. The big billed birds finally gave up and flew away.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Thrushes continue beaking windows

In an earlier post I described how this pair of thrushes are deceived into thinking that they are looking at other birds when they come to the windows of the Bosque reception center. The end result is that they beak the windows with such force, they often bleed from the encounter.

They also leave their feces on the wall of the building, making for a mess. Note the color of the droppings.

These droppings were found on top of the table, which is next to one of the windows. I'm assuming that they were left by the birds, given the same blue color of some unknown fruit. I would also conclude that the seeds are from the same berries and they may make it easier to discover the source.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Wasps, a roof over their heads

Man learned thousands of years ago here in the Amazon that palm thatching protects them against the hot sun and the downpours of rain.

Wasps learned that same thing millions of years ago! So it's no surprise when I find wasp nests under palm leaves, as was the case of this one in the attached image. I assure you that they are well protected by this huge carnauba (Copernicia prunifera) palm leaf. The danger for us is that most of the time the nests are well hidden and it's easy to get too close to dwellers.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Pau Brasil, Goeldi Museum

I was surprised to find this Pau Brasil (Brazil Wood) tree planted on the Museu Goeldi property, right downtown Belem, a city of nearly two million people. I was even more surprised to see that it had been planted by Getulio Vargas, President of the Republic of Brazil in 1940. That seems like a long time ago, but for a tree, no way. Nevertheless, I would have expected the tree to be larger given its age. Pau Brasil is probably the most famous tree in this country. Why? Refer to earlier posts on the subject.

Pau Brasil flowers

Here's a better view of some Pau Brasil flowers on the tree show in the previous post. I'm hoping that I might eventually see some seeds from this show, but previous blooming periods haven't produced anything. I'm sure they get pollinated because swarms of bees and other insects visit the tree during these occasions .

Miracle of water

I suppose that everyone has the right to brag from time to time and I can't think of anything more deserving than the subject of our new source of water, a well. In just a few days of watering plants and some special trees around the Bosque Santa Lucia reception center, everything is coming back to life. Take for example the Pau Brasil tree (Caesalspina echinata) in the background. It was on the verge of losing all its foliage because of the long hot dry season. Look at it now! It's even blooming. And look at the alamanda vine (Allamanda cathartica) in the foreground. It didn't have one flower prior to giving it a good drink of water every day.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Fiddle heads up and running

Above: the rhizome in the beginning stages of frond development.

Below: It's amazing what grows out of a rhizome. The very long stems with the fiddle heads (future fronds) are already making an appearance over the old log on which the rhizome is located.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Wasps on vanilla plant, continued

Here's a better view of the wasps avoiding a perfectly beautiful vanilla flower. As you can see, their interest is concentrated on the buds and stems. I bet they are making off with some easy tissue material to built their nests. I never see more than two wasps at a time on the plant, but they are there most of the day.

Wasps on vanilla plant

Paper wasps seem to have found something important on the newly forming buds of this vanilla plant (an orchid). They certainly aren't interested in the flower, which is too bad, because vanilla flowers seldom ever get pollinated anywhere in the world. I could be wrong, but I suspect that the wasps are removing some of the soft tissue material of the buds, which in turn is used to build their nests. The individual in flight is returning to work after dive bombing me for getting too close.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Plumber's solution

After finishing up the well and water tower at Bosque Santa Lucia, the next priority was that of connecting water pipes to the reception center bathrooms. There were some minor adjustments to make in the plumbing but as of yesterday, water at last. Sweet music it was to hear the flush boxes (I hope I'm using the right words for the plastic containers used to flush the toilettes) filling up with water for the first time. Per a previous post, I mentioned a particular problem in aligning the water box with the toilette bowl in the back bathroom. My right hand man, Cleuson, figured that one out real fast. A curved pipe (seen in the attached image) solved the problem and avoided resetting the bowl. After testing the quality of the flush, I removed that sign on the water box, which stated that we didn't have running running water. It was also a real pleasure to remove all those plastic water bottles from the bathrooms. They'll become future vases for plants. One more victory!

Friday, December 07, 2007

Thrushes beak windows

To look at the title of this post, you may think that I misspelled "break", as in break the windows. No, I meant to say "beak", as written. Cleuson had told me yesterday morning that a pair of thrushes were getting excited seeing themselves in the glass windows of the back bathroom and that they were hitting the glass panes with such force that they were leaving specks of blood on them. Indeed, I saw the blood. This morning I was determined to get some pictures of this wildness. When I arrived, the birds were already perched on a wooden plank under the outside staircase next to the windows, but they were very leery of my presence inside. Not once did I see them beak their images in the glass mirror, but there's no doubt that they did when I wasn't around. What's even more interesting than the mirror syndrome is the fact that the thrushes were present at the Bosque. I attribute this to the fact that I placed several water containers around the reception center, specifically for birds. The lesser kiskadees have been around for years, but now I'm seeing some other birds, like thrushes, palm tanagers, blue and gray tanagers. silver-beaked tanagers and some other species. The miracle of water!

Ants on new leaves

There must be something very nutritious and delicious on newly forming leaves because they have a way of attracting ants. The ants shown in the attached image are on the newly forming shoots of a young tree but I see them also on newly forming fronds of palms.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Tree snails

Some snails enjoy the socialite life up in apartment buildings in the big cities; other prefer the simple life of living on tree trunks and leaves in the Amazon, as the one shown in the attached image. I have yet to figure out how this snail came to find a home on the leaf of a timbó plant, which is highly poisonous. Maybe it was just checking things out because when I returned to the scene today, it wasn't there.

Cicada, the molted shell

And here is the molted shell of a cicada that flew off in a new set of clothes. The live cicada and this shell were found only meters away from one another. I don't think they were one and the same.

Live cicada

We hear cicadas a lot at Bosque Santa Lucia, but it's not always that we see them. Yesterday morning I had the pleasure of see both a live one ... and the remains of a cicada that had molted, i.e, one that had left its skin behind. This one is obviously the live one.

Going batty

As I watered plants yesterday morning I notice some dark blotches on the side of a tree. I suspected they were bats and they were just that. Three of them, as a matter of fact. As I walked towards the tree, one flew off immediately. The second one did the same just as I was about to get my first picture. The third one, attached image, decided to hang around for some picture taking for some unknown reason. I thought maybe he had something wrong with one of its wings, given it was extended. Not wanting to lose the opportunity to get pictures, I made a slow approach towards the tree, shooting pictures at every stop. When I got really close, the subject decided to was time to move on. It flew off without any indication that there was some physical problem with its wing.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

New spider in town

As I was getting ready to close the doors and windows of the reception center at the Bosque this afternoon, I spotted this neat spider on the floor of the back porch. Really something quite different in the world of spiders. After posing for pictures, it moved inside of the reception center, where I left it.

Another wasp nest

I found this wasp nest on the ground this morning. The branch supporting the nest must have broken off, maybe because some monkey was trying to get to it. I don't know. Just speculating. I forgot to include some reference point for seize. Compared to the bell wasp I showed a few days ago, it's quite small. It may be 5-6 inches in length. Somebody asked if those black spots were painted on by some touring artist. No, they were created by the wasps for whatever reason. It could be a variation in building material.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Visiting moth continued

What impressed me most about my new friend were its eyes. They are enormous! I tried to get a picture of them but my compact digital camera wasn't made for such closeup work. Nevertheless, you can get an idea from the attached image. Unlike butterflies, moths are nocturnal, so they need those big eyes! The better to see you, my dear!

A moth asks for a ride

As I was driving by Praça São Pedro yesterday afternoon, this large beautiful moth flew into my car and landed on my shirt. I was going to Santarém Tur, only two blocks away, so I decided to wait until getting there to give it a chance to fly off. No way, the moth had found a friend - and me too. I made several stops in town over the next hour and the moth accompanied me, moving only when the seatbelt was making life unbearable. Getting back home, it was picture taking time. I put the moth on the white curtain next to my desk for better contrast. After some posing, it was time to get back to the life of a moth. I released it from the window and it flew off to my neighbor's water box a few meters away.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Ready the fields for soybeans

The walk into Bosque Santa Lucia yesterday morning gave me the opportunity to have a better look at the neighboring fields being prepared for the planting of soybeans and rice. The land in the attached image belongs to Lira Maia, who must have figured out that rains were on their way because he had already disked his land to which he applied a few tons of lime. As I walked by his fence, I could see and hear his yellow tractor in the far background. I suspect that the operator was planting seeds. Most years, Maia plants soybeans, but on occasion it's rice. One side of the Bosque Santa Lucia forest can be seen in the horizon. The large tree branches next to the fence are young Brazil nut trees, which he planted along all the side roads on his property.

Blood and guts

As I walked into the Bosque yesterday morning, I noticed a number of squashed frogs on the road. Obviously they were killed by truck traffic that managed to get through the mud. The ex-frog in the attached image is difficult to see because the "blood and guts" are being consumed by a swarm of bees. Even more interesting than the frog and bees is the condition of the ground where the tires have compacted this part of the road. In just a few hours the mud is already cracking from the heat of the sun. Off to the side of the tire tracks, there is still plenty of the wet sticky stuff. Move off this compact lane, your are guaranteed to get stuck.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Dust to mud

I was up early this morning to take a bus to Cipoal, from where I walked into Bosque Santa Lucia, 3 kilometers away. Per my previous post, I had left my car there the day before because the road was impassable. Rain turned the dust into several inches of clayey mud and the tour bus ahead of me had molded it into deep slippery ruts, which my small compact car couldn't manage. Some truck traffic must have gotten through eventually because the road was compacted down this morning, as you can see in the attached image. The center of the road was still quite high in places and I did some scrapping of I don't know what under the car in order to get through. As more traffic passes over the road, it'll return to two lanes. In the meanwhile, I'm in trouble if I meet another vehicle. Part of the show!