Summer 2010

Cozumel, Mexico is a United Nations named Island of Peace.

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It was a very busy summer for me. I spent a month in East Aurora, NY with my sisters and during that time, my island friend, Juen Hutchinson,came to visit. So, here is a little of the highlights of her trip. First we went to the Springville Auction. It is located about 45 miles south of Buffalo, NY. There are acres of tables where people are selling almost anything you can imagine -- everything from hocky sticks to designer knock off purses. There is an auction, but not the usual kind, rather a movable feast. The auctioneer moves from table to table and auctions what is displayed. But for the most part it is like being in a gigantic garage sale.

The auction attracts people from long distances and there are often many Amish attending the sale. It is held every Wednesday year round. Below are a few photos from the day. Row 1, close up of glass bowl, count all the belt, tools and gas pump. Row 2, lovely glass, even Amish women like Hostess Cupcakes, Juen and Rita.

                         

                            

The same day we went to Lilydale, NY. Some of you may have seen the HBO special "Nobody Dies in Lilydale". Lilydale is a spiritualist community that was established in 1879. It is quite a fascinating village. Every day they have what is called a "message service" from the "stump". I have attended a few of these and found the information to sometimes be surprising and confusing and other times right on.

To the right is a baby junco that was born on my cousins', Mini and John, front porch. They are members of the sparrow family and live year round in East Aurora, NY. The parent birds mate for life. The female incubates the eggs for 12 to 13 days and the young leave the nest about 9 to 13 days after hatching. It was amazing watching these little guys become nearly full grown at an unbelievable rate of development. It means the parents are working really really hard to bring enough food to the fast growing babies.

Juen was working on her "bucket list" and had never seen Niagara Falls, so that was the next day's trip. Having been raised in Western New York, I had visited the falls many times. But I had never done the caves behind the falls nor the Maid of the Mist boat ride. So it was new to me also. Niagara is always awesome and very powerful to experience. Below left to right. The American Falls, The Maid of the Mist close to the American Falls, The Maid of the Mist approaching the Canadian (horseshoe) side. Juen right next to the cataract just before going into the cave behind the falls. There was so much mist in the air that I had to put plastic over my camera to keep it dry, makes for fuzzy photos.

         

Below are a few more photos of the falls. From left to right: behind the falls, and a cormorant flying in the mist. There were many of them diving into the rapids below the falls and above for fish.

    

There are many books of fiction and nonfiction written about the falls. Some of the fiction is pretty good, but the nonfiction is sometimes nearly unbelievable. A true story and one that haunts me is the story of the barge (sand scow) that went adrift in the rapids above the falls and was carried down river until it was within sight of the brink of the falls. There were two men on the fully loaded barge when the line to the tug boat that was pulling it snapped and the barge was swept toward the falls. The men were certain they were headed for their death. But at the last minute the barge got hung up on some rocks. Rescuers spent the afternoon and night trying to bring the men to safety. Everyone felt that the barge could break loose at any moment. Many attempts were made and many failed before they were finally successful at 10 am the next morning. Well, 90 years later, it is still there. It is gradually deteriorating and most people predict it won't see the 100th anniversary of that terrifying August day in 1918.

Summer in Cozumel is hot, humid, uncrowded and magical 

Last year I witnessed my first turtle release on the east side of the island. This summer I saw it again. It is hard to discribe the feeling it gives me, wonder, joy, hope and much more that I can't explain. The mostly man-made environmental pressures that face each of these baby turtles gives them precious little chance to grow up to come back and lay eggs as they have for 1000s of years. On the mainland and down the coast of the Caribbean, people still take the eggs for food. I imagine that they have no idea how fragile is the existance is of all these marine mammals or they would not do it. But here in Cozumel, at least, they are given a fighting chance to hatch and survive to return and nest.

Volunteers play a vital role in the turtle project. First they clean the beaches in May to prepare for the returning turtles. Then they patrol the east side of the island every night during turtle season (mid-May to Mid-October). They observe the mothers laying eggs and mark the nest. They keep track so they know when the nests will hatch out. If the nest is not high enough from the high tide mark, they will move it but otherwise they don't interfere.

Even though the beaches have been cleaned, more plastic hazards wash ashore all the time. There is so much plastic floating around in the Caribbean that the beaches can't stay clean very long. To the left a baby makes its way round debris of plastic.

The east side of the island is restricted at night during turtle season. During this time the crabs also go to the sea to lay eggs, but they will even cross the road in the daytime, so a lot of caution is needed to keep from smashing them. People can contact the Cozumel Museum for information on how to volunteer and what is involved. You can reach them by phone at 987-872-1434 or visit the web site: http//www.cozumelparks.org.mx

During the time that the eggs are developing snugly below the sand a lot can be going on above. The year we had two hurricanes in the same season, Emily and Wilma, I am told that the nests were devastated. Even in a year when there are no major storms, the sands on the east side of the island shift and blow and often the eggs end up being a lot deeper than when they were originaly laid. Here a woman visiting the island from South Africa digs deep to release the newly hatched babies. It was hard work and the last of the babies were surprisingly deep. The remains of the eggs are set aside and counted. The babies in the deepest part of the nest get kind of squished and their shells look deformed when they first come out. But we are assured that they return to normal in a short time and it doesn't hinder them. Those deepest in the nest probably would not make it to the surface on their own, so these volunteers are providing a life saving service.

The nests are totally cleaned up after the release and any debris taken away so as not to attract animals such as racoons and dogs. Normally, the releases are in the early evening at dusk. This is the safest for the babies to avoid predators. But this afternoon we released them earlier and they had to contend with frigate birds attempting to eat them when they surfaced for air. I didn't see any birds actually catch one while we watched.

Below are a few babies on their way to a very challenging life.

                    

Speaking of Frigate birds, they are quite common around the island and they are quite an interesting bird. They are found over tropical  oceans and float on the updrafts. Weather fronts give them a great free ride and so they can be a signal of coming change in the weather. I find them to be a graceful bit of eye candy and love to see them soar over the downtown. Their wingspread can be 6 feet across.

Their beauty is rather deceiving as they engage in kleptoparasitism. That is, they make a living by stealing other bird's food. So if a sea bird grabs a fish while they are in the neighborhood, they will steal it from them --the lazy louts!

Frigates cannot take off from the ocean surface, so if they land in the ocean, or trip up and get in, they can't get out again. They cannot take off from a flat surface and can't walk well either. But once in the air, they are beautiful to see. They feed by swooping down low and grabbing fish that are near the surface; it is pretty dramatic to see. They also will go after baby sea turtles and the eggs and babies of nesting birds.

The females have white under their necks and chest. The males are black until breeding season when they have a bright red pouch under their neck which expands to look like a big red balloon. They lay one or two eggs and mom and dad both work at raising the kids for the first 3 months. But after that, mom is on her own and has to feed the babies until they are almost a year old. Meanwhile dad goes off making babies with another female frigate. So, they don't produce a lot off offspring but then they don't have many natural enemies.

I took a LOT of photos in the north of flowers. It seemed that when I was there in late June and July everythingwas blooming and it was spectacular. I think I may be putting up a separate web page of just flowers. We have had  a great year in Cozumel for blooming things. There has been just enough rain to keep everything healthy. I believe it has rained most often at nights leaving the days sunny and beautiful. A rare bloom this year for the first time was one of my aloe plants (on right). I loved the subtle colors and the sense that the flowers were glowing. Also, every year a lily-type plant blooms in my yard. This is one I bought from a street vendor outside the San Francisco market on 30th and calle 2. He said he had a variety of colors, but I got white. I have now seen this plant going wild all over the island, so it isn't that special. In fact, I think they are always white. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I love having this in my yard. It started out as a single bloom, but now has many blooms. They only last about a day, but still a very special event for me.

It seems that this summer I have been noticing the color of the coral and I believe it is especially beautiful now. It may be that it is still coming back from the hurricanes 5 years ago and just reaching a new point in the recovery. but I have been seeing the colors as more vivid than ever. Some of the most beautiful "worms" in the world grow in the coral here in the warm Caribbean waters. We have many "Christmas tree worms" that grow abundantly here. There are also the more spectacular tube worms pictured below. There is a red one on the left side of the photo and a green one in the center of the photo. There is also what looks like a saddle blennie in the middle of the photo.

More examples. The photo on the left shows the worms out. Once again a saddle blennie is right by the worms. The photo on the right shows what they look like when they pull back into their coral home. Pretty dull then.

 

 

An interesting relationship exists between Cymothoid isopods and their hosts. Here in the Cozumel waters we often see grunts with these creatures attached to the  sides of their "faces". This is an example of commensalism. These isopods attach to the skin of the host fish with seven pairs of hooklike legs and they benignly scavenge specks of floating foods. The long term association they have with the host fish causes it very little problem, if any. Rarely anything more than minor skin discoloration. Once these isopods become associated with the fish host, they can no longer swim and they are "partners" for life.

Like many sea creatures they can change their sexual orientation from male to female depending on circumstances and necessity. To the left a grunt without an isopod and to the right a grunt with its lifetime passenger. To breed, another isopod will attach to the host and they will raise the young there until the young are old enough to look for their own host. But if something happens to the host fish, the young are instantly expelled to find another host. During this time they are very vulnerable and subject to predation. If the female isopod dies, the male will then change to a female and hope a young male will come by and they can "hook up" and raise a family. It seems to me that changing sexual orientation is pretty natural in nature and maybe all this fear and loathing of those that do this as humans should be tolerated. We really do not know all the reasons for the differences in human sexuality. Maybe this is just a natural occurance even for humans. So lighten up on these folks that don't fit the heterosexual norms.

To the left is a yellow tail damsel fish in the juvenile phase. It is very hard for me to resist trying to photograph them but rarely get the shot in focus or of the whole fish. They flit in and out of holes in the coral so fast. The glowing turquoise dots makes this little fish so pretty to see. The tail on this fish is turning yellow indicating it is getting older and closer to the adult phase colors. The photo to the right is and adult damsel in its breeding colors. As adults males either establish a territory, or become wanders. They need a territory to attract a mate. The process of finding a mate is rather elaborate but often ends with them just herding the female into their territory kinda caveman style. After the female lays the eggs the male then becomes very aggressive and chases off any fish that would pose a danger to the eggs. He chases fish off with grunts and nips. They are very brave and myself and some of my friends have all been nipped by some of these super dads by ladders that are close to their nests. Males can guard as many as 5 clutches of eggs at a time. They continually fan, mouth and pick at the eggs to remove anything that doesn't belong and eggs that don't develop.

Glassy sweepers are found in the Cozumel waters. This photo was taken the only time I have saw them. They are night foragers and hide during the day. The eat zooplanktin and stay in schools.

 

The orange fish to the right is a long fin damselfish -- at least I think that is what it is. It isn't the typical color, but the markings are right. The females of this species tend to mate with the same male during their lifetime. The males exhibit similar behavior to their cousins, the yellowtail damsel mentioned above.

The photo to the right is an old coral head near Corona Beach is covered with what looks like golden shag carpeting. I am really not sure what this is but it is pretty to look at. And it waves with the actions of the waves like hair in the wind. If anyone knows what this is, let me know and I will try to find out more about it.

UPDATE: I have been told this is coral feeding. Anyone with more details, I would love a little help here.





 

 

 

I think this is a typical scene when doing summer snorkeling. Calm clear waters, no crowds and an abundance of fish.

A smooth trunkfish swims over some elkhorn coral which is new growth on some dead coral.

 

 

 








 

It is necessary to give up my kitten, Magoo. Sadly, I must leave the island and return to living in the states. I am not leaving due to any unhappiness with Cozumel. Please don't think it is because I feel it is unsafe in Cozumel. I am going to relocate to the Ft. Myers, FL area. So far, I have not been able to find a place that will let me bring 4 pets. The 2 cats I came to Cozumel with and my dog Freckles have been with me the longest and I have been able to find places that will let me bring the 3 of them. But Magoo is just one too many. So, I am looking for a home for this loving kitten. He was rescued off the streets when he was separated from his mother way too young. He was feral and wouldn't let me touch him. So, I trapped him and tamed him. He has had all his shots, been neutered and can live as an indoor-outdoor cat, or totally indoors as he is litter trained. He is pretty fearless and still a bit of the wild kitty. He has dispatched two rats in the yard that were nearly as big as he is. No gecko is safe with Magoo around. Once he knows you, he snuggles in your arms and will purr thunderously. A Magoo story. When he discovered a largeish spider in the shower, he was getting too close and suddenly the spider stung him on the mouth. He jumped away and ran a few feet. Then he pawed at his mouth, but not for long. He got this look in his eye and went back and ATE THE SPIDER. Take that. If you think you would be able to provide him with a furrever home to this character, even if you live in the states, we can arrange for him to go to you.

A number of people from the US have commented that I am moving because of the violence in Mexico. There is no violence in Cozumel. Last night I was walking Freckles at 10:30 pm for almost an hour. I felt no fear because there is nothing to fear here. In the six years I have lived here I have never been anywhere on the island, at any time when I had reason to be afraid, except during Hurricane Wilma.

I plan to return to Cozumel often and also plan to continue my blog. I have a ton of photos of interesting people and places on the island still. There are also some really interesting places near where I am moving and I will be adding places like Sanibel and Captiva Islands, Pine Island and the like to the blog.

We had a day of really spectacular skies here when a tropical storm was forming between here and Cuba. Below is an example. We have "dodged the bullet" a few times this season. The closest was Hurricane Paula which had Cozumel dead on, but veered off to Cuba at the last minute. We have been having strong north winds for over a month now and I personally believe that has kept the storms away. It has also meant it was too rough for me to snorkel. But I am not complaining.

 

Once again, thank you Juen for editing and for your storehouse of island trivia. Also thanks to Carlos Vega for information on island history.


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