29 August 2013

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It’s dry season and the grass is being burnt off the hills.   This has been going on for several weeks now – but it’s slow.   Here are 2 photos –  one of a hill with one ridge burned a few days ago,  and one today showing 3 ridges blackened.  Oddly today, there has been a cloud shadowing the hill all morning long.  Sunlight comes and goes, but the cloud has not moved.  I’m stumped as to why that is.  Akka’s theory is that the half-dead plants are praying for rain.

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Austin told one naive Kiwi lass that the smoke was our volcano erupting, and that the burned mark was lava flow.  This was around sunset.   She bought it.  If you ever come to visit – don’t believe Austin.  We have no volcanoes on this island.

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Feast your eyes upon our talapia pond.   The fish are now lining up to enter the trap and become cat food.   What else do you do when your healthy environment is evaporating as you speak? 
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About 6 months ago we had over 30 large ducks in the pond area.   The grass was lush, there were few predators, they could mate in the pond – it was their Eden. Then one female died and then another.   Finally almost all the females died  (the last 3 survivors and the few males were brought up to the main pen.)   We concluded it was a toxic algae in the pond – females ate more because their metabolisms were higher, and hence they were susceptible.   When the rains come and the pond fills with new water, we are hoping for a do-over.   
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I don’t have photos for this, but I’ve been noticing ants a lot this week. I always “decant” the sugar bags into old peanut butter jars to keep insects out.  One of my jars had little sugar ants in it.   I put it out in the sun, expecting the ants to run away – and the sugar ants did – but some big black ants started to move in!
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A sweet young guest – one of the “boat people” who visited us for one night – noticed a big ant in the sugar that I’d failed to shoo away.   So I shared some wisdom once given voice by a Peace Corps Volunteer from Chuuk ….  “Ants float.”
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This brought up a conversation with his mom about a very strange phenomenon I’ve noticed:  ants are unaffected by microwave.  Seriously.  Why is it that after being zapped for 2 minutes, they just walk away?
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A neighbor has a bumper crop of tomatoes, and Austin bought a crate.  I dealt with half doing the blanching, skinning thing – what a lot of work!   The other half I’ve just frozen in their skins.   I don’t know why I thought this was interesting enough to take a photo of.
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OK, here is a photo I’ve had for awhile.  I don’t get this tree.  People have them for ornamentals everywhere in Fiji.  This one is in our yard near the clothesline.   I’ve never seen another tree this shape, and I cannot figure out WHY a tree would grow like this.  (Even Austin has nothing to say about it.)   If you know anything about it, tell me.   Meanwhile, I just look at it and think about my favorite Addams family character.
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22 August 2013

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Alert guest said “you didn’t write about the poison peanut last week.”  She’s right.  I forgot.  So, to make up for that lapse, here are some photos (above) and here is the story.   We have two fence post trees, a vaivai species called bainicagi (wind fence) which makes the sweet flowers I photographed a couple of weeks ago and totally different tree called bainidakai (gun fence – it reminded someone of a rack of standing rifles) which is now fruiting. Son Akka saw the covered seed of the bainidakai and tried one … and it tasted good.  Junia tells me he was skeptical about that seed because he had never seen any animal eating them.  Junia and Austin each ate one (Austin’s comment: “tastes really good – like a peanut!”) – and Akka ate about 6 and had sucked on the seed coverings.   Junia and Austin were fine after their little experiment.  Akka wasn’t.  He has a different theory for why it is named “GUN” fence – he says it’s because it “shoots things out both ends.”

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I took 2 house guests for a trip to Kula Eco Park – and forgot to take a camera along. I held a crested iguana, a banded iguana (stock photo above), a snake with a bad tail – only my second or third time to touch a snake, it is getting a little easier.  We saw kula birds, lorakeets, barn owls, peacocks and pea hens. We saw some big turtles in a seawater tank.  In the small marine building there was signage naming and describing every coral but not a single reference to any of the fish – very funny to me.   And lo and behold, there were ducks and ducklings down by their creek just like the duckies back home.
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There were double-doored rooms where the birds could fly freely;  inside there were more lorakeets, and some huge pigeons.  We were hunting for a golden dove that a sign said was there and couldn’t see any.  My friend thought to look for the source of the barking sound.  There it was — the golden dove (another stock photo – above), really camouflaged in a tree whose leaves had yellow spots.   She was quite tickled, “I never knew a bird to bark before!”
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This was my first trip to Kula Eco-Park – and I give it a thumbs up.
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Mongoose kill count is now 19. Austin took some out of the freezer and cooked them up, but the dogs won’t eat them.  Memo to anyone who eats mongoose:  something’s gotta be pretty bad if a DOG won’t touch it.
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We were really happy to get a visit this week from an old friend from Micronesia. He has lived in more different Micronesian islands than anybody alive probably and we were together on Pohnpei for several years.  Anyway, “what does this have to do with flora and fauna?” you may ask.  Well, I’ll tell you: he is an amateur juggler/magician and he told me of a trick of his that I had to see, and had to share with you.   Below is a video of Brother Dave JUGGLING TOADS.
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(Dangnabbit !!   The video won’t upload – but here is a still.)   
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I promise that all 3 toads were released unharmed back where Dave found them…. I cannot promise that Austin won’t do them in someday soon.

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15 August 2013

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I am sure that some day I will sing all the praises of the coconut tree, but this week I just want to say a little about  a mostly overlooked piece of the tree – the cloth.  The coconut cloth is a mystery to me – why this palm tree needs the hairy stuff between its leaves and other palms don’t.  I never saw the coconut cloth being used by anybody – but Yokoi, Guam’s famous Japanese straggler for 28 years, made shoes out of them.  I saw those in the Guam museum when I lived there.   Yokoi let himself get captured a few years before we moved there, and he was still a popular news item.  To me, the most interesting thing is that Mrs. Yokoi was still waiting for him – after 28 years.  That’s dedication!  http://www.jeffspiratescove.com/yokoi.htm
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The hibiscus hedge is finally growing back after having been trimmed with the chainsaw about 4 months ago.   There are a lot of holes in the leaves from some insect damage.  The curling leaf disease looks like it is starting up again.  And inside some of the leaves I can see the white plaque of scale insects.   “Why are you going to write about THAT?” Austin asked me.   I’m writing about it because it is something that I SEE. It worries me. I really like the hibiscus and hate to see it languishing from one pestilence after another.
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 That wild pig that our neighbors saw in the cassava on our distant property last month – well, they got him or one of his relatives.  Story is that they caught him with a snare for his foot on his usual path.  All I saw of him was a small bowl of cooked meat.  It was not “hot” (picante) – but was spicier than any dish I’ve ever eaten – like taking a spoon of masala (dry spice powder) with a little meat texture rubbed in. Junia (new household member) said he could taste some gaminess underneath the spice, but I couldn’t.
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A pair of pictures of our peanuts.  Austin got all enthusiastic about them and wanted me to take a photo.  They don’t look like that much to me – about twice as many as he planted, and many of them didn’t sprout – but so what?
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This is verbena (sorry I’m not much of a photographer).  It’s a sweet purple flower that lives half way up a shoot from the plant.  It’s been on every Pacific island we’ve lived on.  A botanist on Kauai said Hawaiian women used verbena for menstrual cramps and for migraines.  Just to let you know.
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And here is an edible weed – moca  (pronounce “mo-tha”), or amaranth. It is yummy, tastes like good spinach.  People around here don’t cultivate it because it grows wild.   I can recognize this because of the flower (just a green flower – you know it by the shape) – without the flower, I get the leaves confused with similar ones that are not edible.
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I thought this one was a wild basil because of its flower – and the leaves looked the right shape.   So I crushed a leaf and sniffed it.  Not basil. Too bad.    Wrong again.
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So I can end on a note of success – here is chicken plucking.  Six roosters got the axe because there were too many roosters for the number of hens; they were making the hens miserable and also getting ready to fight each other.  These are an egg laying breed, and that’s why the guys are scrawny.   The cockerels (baby males) were GIVEN to Austin by the feed company, because they knew he’d buy many bags of feed to feed them.  Neighbors weren’t interested in buying them this time round, so into our bellies and freezer they go.
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GUESSING TIME:  :  What part of the chicken is hardest to pluck?   A – wing,  B – neck, C- tail,  D- leg.
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(To leave your guess or another comment you go to the top and there is a bubble beside the blog entry title – sorry for the bother.  I’ll fix it as soon as I figure out how.)
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8 August 2013

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The leaf-dropping vaivai trees went straight to flower.  Surprise!
A previous guest asked “How can you say there are no snakes in the water?  [in the 18 July post],  I snorkled over a snake during my first trip to Fiji.” 
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Answer:   I said there were no BROWN sea snakes.  The snake she snorkeled over was a black and white banded krait.   And here is a stock photo of a krait.
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Mutation of the week –  We got the weirdest egg from our chickens yet, a huge egg with a seam down the middle.  It was a siamese-twin egg – and when we candled it, we could see it had two separate yolks.  We planned to save it and try to get it hatched, but someone started cooking in the middle of the night and it ended up as part of some coconut macaroons.
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Around the yard – I can’t believe the jackfruit tree is putting out fruit this year.  In last December’s cyclone over 3/4 of the tree was knocked over and or torn off. You can see there are a bunch of fruits together and nearly touching the ground – not the usual arrangement.    I thought the tree would rest for at least a year, but the urge to reproduce is just way too strong.
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As for poultry – Austin recently bought 4 chicks, each a different local species, trying to get more diversity into his flock. The naked-necked one (named Buzzy) is by far the smartest.  He-she-it has escaped the pen two times.  The other three can’t figure out how to eat when Buzzy isn’t around (dumb clucks!), and then they get all enthusiastic about their food when Buzzy comes back and hits the feed bowl.
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You can see Buzzy’s naked neck in the photo.   This breed of local chicken is heat adapted and fares much better in our summertime than other chickens.  The adults are SO ugly, but their necks are so easy to pluck.  It is always a trade-off.
Further afield – This week, hubby and I got overnight trip to a resort in the Mamanucas!  Yay!    A morning stroll along the shore  the next morning yielded a sad surprise – no hermit crabs!   When I was here in 2009 with daughter and grandson, we found enough hermit crabs to play with them and have some races.   No hermit crabs and no unbroken shells for them to take residence in.    No lizards either, just a few ants here and there, and a few crab holes for larger crabs.
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Image       The shallow water did hold one particular old friend: a sponge we used to use in Chuuk for cleaning the black off our cooking pots.  The camera failed – so here is a stock photo of something like it. 
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CORRECTION to last week’s post:  The birds in the chirping trees were mynas after all – just a different breed.  (Who decides when a bird is the same species?  Good grief! They aren’t flirting or even hanging out together….)
Image   Finally, my favorite flowering friend.  
The ultimate items in the following list will be the answer to last week’s question.  Thunbergia alata, Black-eyed Susan, and  culo de poeta (“poet’s butt”). 
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