Category Archives: Video

Lunchtime Dancing Sevillana Style

Got invited to Ismael’s birthday lunch at the farm. Great food – vegetable stew, asparagus and eggs – cooked over the open fire, marinated meat cooked over flames outside, great wine, great company, and great people.

(Two of the guests were economists. They worked at the University of Seville investigating public spending but lost their jobs when the financial crisis deepened, which, as they say, was ironic. )

Rare Sighting

I was standing in a river bothering leafcutter ants when I heard the distant slash of a machete.  I waited quietly, and eventually was rewarded with a glimpse of the lesser spotted Fitz, making his way upstream.  Although this is his natural habitat, sightings of this lone male in the wild are rare nowadays.

Monkey Jumps

I’ve seen monkeys work up the courage to jump, change their minds, jump and miss, but I’d never seen a monkey bridge, so I’ve included it – please excuse the quality.

I thought about posting this under the title ‘Neck Exercises’. For the first month or so, it was a case of ratcheting my head backwards over a series of notches until my chin was pointed to the sky and I was ready for monkey action, but eventually my neck got longer and more flexible, ending up like one of those cheap desk lamps. There are three of Costa Rica’s four monkey species in abundance here: howlers, capuchins and spider monkeys.  Capuchins are deemed to be the most intelligent, however spider monkeys are the most riveting; fluid movers who appear to have a lot of fun.

I thought a lot about Jane Goodall, the British primatologist, as I waited under trees getting bitten.  Jane Goodall has a long, bendy neck. Goodall winged her way into studying chimpanzees in Gombe Stream National Park, Tanzania without experience or qualifications (which, with the support of Louis Leakey, she swiftly accumulated), and it was her intuitive, fresh  observations that revolutionised our thinking about primates and our uncomfortably close evolutionary connections with them.  Her findings were shocking and amazing: evidence of toolmaking, the extent of group collaboration, cannibalism, but her anthromorphic approach, the way she named the individuals she followed – David Greybeard, Fifi and Flo, and Mike, and attributed, as critics would say, personalities, was controversial. Is still.

That was in the 60s. Suggesting – or rather, pointing out, that primates have fun, is still not a fashionable scientific concept, but I defy anyone to spend time watching  spider monkeys in the wild and identify what we regard as human emotions and motivations in their behaviour, from affection, fear, and joy to cheekiness, sneakiness, plotting and cooperation.

 

Incidentally Jane Goodall circa 1960-1969 (minus the time studying for a PhD at Cambridge) is someone I very much wanted to be, as I grew up devouring old, damp National Geographics and books like Innocent Killers and Grub: the Bush Baby (okay, that’s confusing because I also wanted to be Grub – why did we have to live in a house? why couldn’t we live in a makeshift river camp?). Satisfying observations, a life in the wild, contributions to conservation; flip flops, shorts and Landrovers, and married to the rakish Baron Hugo van Lawick – it all looked great.

 

 

I refer you to Being Jane Goodall in an old copy of National Geographic. And Innocent Killers is still a great read.

 

 

 

 

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Praying Mantis Washing Head

I’d never before seen a praying mantis cleaning his face like a cat. This one – disguised as a leaf with extended throrax and shield (and rescued from behind the shutters) is clearly preparing for close-ups.

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Hummingbird in a Cone

First thing in the morning as I stand yawning in the doorway of the house in the woods, a hummingbird comes buzzing over and hovers urgently, vertical like a seahorse, a short distance from the end of my nose. After six seconds, she fixes me with a stare, turns and whirs off into the forest. Initially I considered whether she might be saying ‘Come quickly! All the big birds are attacking us little birds, and we need your help’, but when I spotted her nest, I realised she was saying ‘You’ve seen nothing. Tell no-one, and keep away or you’ll get a jab where it hurts. Right?’

She is a long-billed hermit hummingbird, and she’s been building a conical nest suspended from a low palm frond a few feet from my door. She puts about four hours in a day, disappearing into the forest and returning a couple of minutes later with stuff trailing from her beak, leaf matter and straw-fine twigs, soft petals, and strands from spiders’ webs. She uses the strong strands to bind the nest to the leaf, flying in a tight spiral to wind each one around the nest and leaf bundle, and pressing them into place with her chest. Then she attends to the interior, sitting in it like a scoop in a cone and shuffling about to tamp down the surfaces. She has the afternoons off.

I once found an egg-cup style hummingbird’s nest lined with a finely-woven layer of gold. I’d cut George’s hair in the garden, and the bird had gathered it. It was  the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. This conical nest isn’t pretty, but it’s an ingenious design in a top location. Palm fronds are tough, corrugated and end in a point, and the harder it rains, the more they bow down to the ground, giving a steeper surface for the rain to run off. The hummingbird’s nest, tucked underneath in the arch of the leaf, always well-protected – and hidden, is almost completely enclosed in a deluge.

I saw her in the forest a couple of days ago, but generally now she is in the nest with only a white-tipped tail visible. She has probably laid a couple of eggs which should hatch in two or three weeks. It was a real privilege watching her build the nest, but now, in order to minimise the risk of her abandoning them, I’m going to stay well away.

 

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Coatimundi Day

This Coatimundi – pizote – spent a month watching me from behind a frond on the forest edge before coming to investigate. He now passes daily on his way to the palm nuts or carambola trees.  Males are solitary and territorial; there’s competition for this patch, and he’s the underdog.

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