Sunday, August 17, 2008

Annual Anniversary Ride to Sapodilla Falls

Yesterday Tom and I decided to take an all day ride to Sapodilla Falls. We haven’t done that in a while, and we have a new GPS we wanted to play with, so we packed a lunch, tacked up the horses and hit the trail. Monday is our wedding anniversary, and we realized on the way there that we also rode to Sapodilla Falls for our anniversary last year, so it seems to be becoming a tradition.

Every time we go to Sapodilla Falls, we see something we haven’t seen before, and yesterday we hit the jackpot. On the way there, we saw a whole litter of baby coatis playing in some trees, racing up and down the trunks and out onto the branches, chirping at each other the whole time. We did the usual and ate our lunch, took a swim, and then headed back up the trail, but the adventure was just beginning. A group called Trek Force brings students into Belize and they do service projects in some of the more remote locations. This summer, they put in a new outhouse near the horse parking area and a little changing room down by the Falls. We decided to follow the path and check out the new outhouse, when we heard grunting. It sounded like an animal rather than a bird, so we were scanning the hillside to see if we could see any movement. Tom suddenly spotted the grunter up in a tree – it was a pretty big spider monkey, and he was watching us. We watched for a few minutes, but when we stopped moving he lost interest and headed back into the bush in the tops of the trees. We could hear at least a couple of more grunting monkeys in the trees, but couldn’t see any more. We’d left the camera near the horses so of course we missed the photo opportunity, but we were both pretty excited since that’s the first monkey we’ve actually seen in the wild here although we frequently hear the howlers.

Tom found the camera in time to get me and Recona looking for the monkeys, but no monkeys in sight.

As we were riding out on a path through the broadleaf forest, we heard the slow whumping of wings and a large shadow went overhead. We looked in a tree right off the trail, and a very large black and white raptor was perched in a tree looking at us. It had a barred tail, a white body and head, black wings, black eyes that looked like a mask, and a black crest on its head. This time we did have the camera, although the battery died (why do we even bother???) and we didn’t get any great pictures. We did, however, get enough to help us identify it when we got home, plus we had quite a while to watch it as it moved short distances twice and landed still within good range for observation, so we got to see it both perched and in flight. It’s a Black and White Hawk-Eagle, and is considered VU (Very Uncommon) in the Birds of Belize book. It’s not even listed in Les Beletsky Traveller’s Guide to Belize book because tourists and casual jungle visitors aren’t likely to spot one – so we felt very pleased that a VU bird not only let us see it, but also gave us the opportunity to get a really good look.

Then, further towards home, I happened to look down on one of the trails just in time to see a fairly large snake – maybe 1.5 inches in diameter – disappearing into the bushes on the side of the trail. So, on top of pulling out the bird and mammal books, I pulled out the snake books, where the snake I saw is identified as Red Banded Snake, Oxyrhopus Petola. I couldn’t find any un-copyrighted pictures, but this website has a good one: Red Banded Snake. Apparently this species comes in a few varieties of colors and patterns, but this was the closest to what I saw, although what I saw almost exactly matched the picture in the Belize Zoo’s snake book.

Tom and I figure Recona set it up for us to see all the different wildlife. She’s been going riding with me pretty regularly, and we were discussing whether we should stop letting her go when Selwyn takes guests out on the trail for fear she’d scare away the wildlife. Since we had more different, uncommon, and interesting sightings on this ride than we’ve had on any other, we figure we can keep letting Recona go along on the rides.

And as far as the GPS goes, we were moderately successful, although when we start using it to create maps, we’ll probably redo the ride and reset the waypoints. We also have to do a little research, because according to the GPS the round trip to Sapodilla Falls is eleven miles. However, there are many places where we don’t get the necessary satellite readings to mark the trail, and we suspect that we may have lost a little distance if the GPS extrapolates a straight line when it can’t get a reading. It also does something funky with altitude since there were points on the ride where Tom was watching it and it had us rising five to ten feet per second and we were climbing neither that far nor that fast. But, it’s still interesting to see it mark the trails so we can now see which way we’re heading on various sections of trail on the ride since we totally lose our sense of direction in many spots due to all the winding around the terrain and vegetation.

Tom is ready to hit the trail and head home, armed with the new GPS and with his faithful canine companion Recona getting a last rest.

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