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Archive for the ‘Nature Notes’ Category

A NEW TREE FOR THE CAYMAN ISLANDS HAS BEEN FOUND ON CAYMAN BRAC

Jamaica Cherry

A tree apparently unknown in this country has been found on Cayman Brac. Muntingia calabura (Jamaica Cherry) was found by Brac hikers who could not identify it. Proper identification was made in April, 2015 by F.J. Burton, author of Wild Trees of the Cayman Islands. A specimen has been submitted to the National Herbarium.

The tree is not a cherry and most Jamaicans are not familiar with it. No birds were seen eating the fruit this year but birds may find it later.


LOCATION

There is an empty sub-division in a section of Stake Bay Bluff Forest. The site is called Dolphin Estates although it is an inland site. Paved streets make it a lovely area to walk, run, ride a bicycle or push a carriage. Coordinates for the first tree (a second has been found) are
N 19 Deg . 41’ 51.7”
W 79 Deg. 50’ 36.7”

HOW DID IT GET HERE?

Cayman Brac is the closest of our three islands to Cuba so seed transport by bird from that location is possible. The ready soil of newly made roads is another factor. The roads were first cleared from the forest, and then built up with crushed rock from the Brac quarry operation. Both specimens found so far are roadside specimens.
It is possible the seeds may have landed in the quarry itself, then been trucked to the site with the road fill. But if so the tree should also be found on Grand Cayman since huge amounts of Brac quarry rock are shipped there

Another theory is that work permit holders could have brought the seeds on their boots from their home countries– Jamaica, Honduras or even the Philippines, where the tree was introduced in the early 20th Century. But again, more trees would then be on Grand Cayman. Therefore the bird theory (e.g. White-crowned pigeon) is plausible.

The berries will never prove popular, being somewhat musky and overly sweet.

Jwp May 2015

KNOWN BUT NOT SHOWN:

These Wild Plants are on Cayman Brac too!

Tephrosia cenerea
Tephrosia cenerea (exists in at least 3 marsh locations on Cayman Brac)

Botanists have catalogued most of the wild plants in this country. The definitive works are Dr. George Proctor’s Flora of the Cayman Islands, second edition, and F.J. Burton’s Threatened Plants of the Cayman Islands: The Red List. For the complete citation of both books you may check the “field guides” section of this present nature blog, www.naturenotes19n79w.ky

But a book is no sooner published than it is out of date. It’s not a complaint, it’s a “thank you” because the books make it easier for amateur and professional plant sleuths to develop their knowledge. In the process they may find gaps or errors.

One such gap is the listings for Cayman Brac. Many plants that live here in the wild are credited in the references for Grand Cayman, Little Cayman or both but not for Cayman Brac. These plants have been here all along but have been missed. And no wonder — this island has few resident scientists, is difficult for scientists to get to and expensive for them to stay.

The present article is an attempt to catalogue these “missings”. Several have already been reported, collected for the National Herbarium, and noted for future editions. But all the ones we know will be published here and now. More will be found as we explore.

We have omitted some decorative plants that may have been brought by people, unless they have become completely naturalized.

Herewith, the incomplete list of plants that are “Known But Not Shown” – native plants that are known to exist in the wild on Cayman Brac, are credited to other Cayman Islands in the reference books but are not credited to Cayman Brac in the Flora of the Cayman Islands, Second Edition, Kew, Kew Publishing, 2012. We call the list “Known But Not Shown”.

Please read acknowledgements at the end of the table, enjoy the photographs and take a few steps into our dry, limestone forest, locally called “the bush”. It is delightful.

Below is the list of plants confirmed to exist in the wild on Cayman Brac, but not attributed to the Brac in the standard reference: Flora of the Cayman Islands, by G.R. Proctor, Kew Gardens, Kew, UK, 2012 even though credited to one or both of the other islands.

A separate column shows the status in the second standard refence, namely the table of native plants appended to Threatened Plants of the Cayman Islands, Kew Publishing, Kew 2008, by Frederick J. Burton.

Download complete plant table (with location on Cayman Brac) in pdf format

Listed on Cayman Brac in publications (Proctor; also Burton)?

Scientific name Common name Family Proctor Burton Local Photo?
Acrostichum aureum Polypodiaceae No Yes Yes
Bromelia pinguin Pingwing Bromeliaceae No No Yes
Buxus bahamensis Boxwood Buxaceae No No Yes
Caesalpina wrightiana Yellow nicker Leguminosae No No Yes
Caesalpina intermedia Yellow nicker (caesalpinioideae) No No Yes
Canavalia nitida Horse bean Leguminosae No No N/A
Ceiba pentranda Kapok, Silk cotton tree Malvaceae No Not listed Yes
Celtis trinervia Bastard fustic Ulmaceae No No Yes
Chamaecrista lineat Storm weed Leguminosae No No Yes
Comocladia dentata Maiden plum Anacardiaceae No Yes N/A
Cucumus anguria Wild cucumber Cucurbitaceae No Not listed Yes
Dalbergia ecastaphyllum Coin seed Leguminosae No No Yes
Dodonaea viscosa Varnish leaf Sapindaceae No No Yes
Duranta erecta Forget-me not (Jam.) Verbenaceae No No Yes
Elaeodendron xylocarpum Wild calabash Celastraceae No No Yes
Encyclii kingsii Orchidaceae No No N/A
Evolvulus convolvuloides Convolvulaceae No No Yes
Exostema carbiaeum Bastard ironwood Rubiaceae No Yes N/A
Ipomoea hederifolia Convolvulacaea No Not listed Yes
Jacquinia keyensis Wash-wood Theophrastaceae No yes Yes
Metopium toxiferum Poison tree Anacardiaceae No No Yes
Morinda royoc Yellow root Rubiaceae No No Yes
Oeceoclades maculata Oeceoclades maculata No No Yes
Ocimum micranthum Duppy basil (pimento basil) Labiatae No No N/A
Phyllanthus nutans, nutans Euphorbiaceae No Yes Yes
Polygala propinqua Polygalaceae No Yes N/A
Sapindus saponaria Soap-berry, Black Nicker Sapindaceae No Not listed N/A
Securinega acidoton Green ebony Euphorbiaceae No No N/A
Sideroxylon foetidissimum Mastic Sapotaceae No Yes N/A
Smilax havanensis Wire wiss Smilacaceae No No N/A
Tabernaemontana laurifolia Wild jasmine Apocynaceae No No N/A
Tephrosia cinerea Faboideae No No Yes
Tillandsia paucifolia Bromeliaceae No Yes Yes (i.d. provided by F.J. Burton)
Tillandsia setacea Bromeliaceae No No Yes (from print photo sent to F.J. Burton)
Tillandsia recurvata Bromeliaceae No Yes Yes (but camera lost in the bush and could not be found)
Typha domingensis Cat-tail, rush Typhaceae No No N/A
Vanilla claviculata Vanilla orchid Orchidaceae No No Yes
Zanthoxylum flavum Yellow sanders, Satinwood Rutaceae No Yes Yes
Zephryanthes citrina Yellow crocus Amaryllidaceae No Not listed Yes
Zephyranthes tubispatha Amaryllidaceae No Not listed Yes

Total: 39 species

This list will never be complete. Others native plants not in the book will be identified on Cayman Brac. Also, please note that some decorative plants (Star-of-Bethlehem for example) listed in Dr. Proctor’s Flora have not been included here. (He lists it for Grand Cayman but not for the Brac where planting has made it common.)

Field work has progressed as a team, but often in twos or threes: Doug Ross, Doris Black, Edna Platts, Lynn Ferguson-Sage, Kathleen Bodden-Harris, Patti Sowell and others have contributed, and especially Isabelle Brown

Assistance in plant identification has come from the above plus Stuart Mailer, Fred Burton, Ann Stafford, Paul Watler, Lois Blumenthal, and the great Dr. Proctor in the early days.

Fewer than half these plants have been lodged with the National Herbarium, so an error factor may exist. The author has tried to keep it to zero; he will lead any interested party to the sites.

GPS readings have not been published for the sake of plant security. Ripping plants from the bush has been a problem.

All photos have been taken on Cayman Brac by the author. Both the blog and the article are the property of the author. Written permission is required for significant extracts.

Please note: From boyhood, every bird book or other reference had adjured me to take steps to preserve the natural world of which we are one part. You and I have not done enough.

We are losing it — over-populating and overrunning the natural world shown in these photos. Can we work together to do more ? It’s fun — our dry, limestone forest is astounding.

The author is grateful for the fine assistance rendered in producing and maintaining this blogsite since its inception, and for its benign corporate sponsorship.

J. Wallace Platts
Oct. 5, ’14

Upgraded airstrip? Or downgraded island?

(Part 2 (October 2013) of an open letter to residents of Little Cayman)

They’re at it again. They want a LITTLE upgrade: 1) abandon a perfectly good airstrip, which seems to bring more tourists and more tourist spending to Little Cayman than Cayman Brac manages to draw with its BIG airstrip; 2) move it to a new site for the odd reason that the existing site doesn’t belong to the government. A little upgrade is like being a little pregnant.

Let’s examine the assumptions. That’s the place to start. If the assumptions are wrong, everything that’s built on them is wrong. FOR INSTANCE:

Instance: “The current airfield is on privately owned land and concerns have been raised over encroaching development and the fact that a road passes through it.” (Caymanian Compass, October 15, 2013)
Response #1: Why not buy it if you insist on owning it? Won’t they sell? It has been THE AIRSTRIP for a very long time. Is there no expropriation law here?
Response #2: You don’t need to buy it, just regulate it. I’m sure you do already, since I don’t see any gardening on the strip. In several countries with top-notch air safety reputations, governments have sold their airports to private capital. Governments CAN ensure the highest standards, even if they don’t own the land and facilities. That’s how it’s done here with sale of alcohol, regulation of the airwaves and telecommunications, even, one assumes, regulation of the equipment carried in boats. The mother country is even selling the post office, but will continue to regulate it.

Tens of thousands of airports around the world are private. You can govern without owning. In the country illustrated in the accompanying photo, pilots themselves inspect the 350 airstrips. If they don’t like them they don’t land. They simply shut them down. The people repair them very quickly! Perhaps we should be proud of our small, private but well regulated air service on LC.

airstrip

The airstrip at Sim, PNG. It is basically a notch in the mountainside

Instance: “The first phase is to have it surveyed and cleared.”
Response: You cleared it a few years ago.
Instance: A new strip would allow the operator “to use more cost-effective turbo-prop aircraft …”.
Response: Would you like to use a slightly bigger aircraft? I’m quite sure a DASH-8 would land on “Little” tomorrow if you asked, and so would several other STOL aircraft, ideally suited to small strips, even dirt strips. (The LC strip was more romantic when it was a dirt strip, but that’s simply a cost question – use the surface that costs least in the long run.)
Instance: “… said that it was not ideal to have cars driving across the runway to access private lots.”
Response #1: Cars do not drive across the LC runway. They drive parallel to it, but are halted to let the craft pull into the terminal. Moving the terminal and the fire station to the infield would obviate this need. The fire trucks wouldn’t have to cross the public road to reach the scene of an accident should one occur. The public would reach the terminal from the area of the existing large storage building.
Response #2: In Gibraltar, a much larger island, the main connector road is closed for each takeoff and landing. In Singapore Chiangi (5000 take offs and landings a week) the main vehicular road can be commandeered by the air force to deploy its fighters in case of war. The double use is occasioned because the city-state is located on a small island.
Instance: The safety margin“…. is getting small as the immediate area develops.”
Response: Then don’t let it develop. See above. You can regulate, even when you don’t own. Sounds as if this airstrip may not have been regularized. What have successive governments been doing, these many years? Better get on it.

Priorities: Without telling the government what to do, it would seem that the airport that needs upgrading is called Owen Roberts. It was pretty sad to see travelers in the departure lounge being escorted by security to temporary outdoor toilets for many days. Fixing Owen Roberts benefits all of us. It is an urgent, overdue, top national need.

EIA: At the very least, if some powers-that-be insist on a new strip for LC (there may be reasons not yet revealed to us) let’s insist on an environmental impact assessment beforehand. It can be performed without recourse to bulldozers and fires, and without permanent damage to delicate natural systems, and at modest cost even with a broad mandate.

Bottom Line: Do not destroy more forest on Little Cayman! Our country has only one tiny, perfect island. It is attractive to the connoisseur traveler, who is very well catered for indeed. It is not suitable for mass tourism.

SMALL ISLAND, BIG AIRPORT?

(AN OPEN LETTER TO ALL RESIDENTS OF LITTLE CAYMAN)

Please remain resolute against proposals to “upgrade” your air services. “Airport upgrade” can translate as “island downgrade”. Beware of spurious arguments – the present strip is private (so?) – the present strip is somehow illegal (really?) – you need jet service (why?).

On Cayman Brac, three “advances” have combined to bring us an ongoing litany of environmental damage. They are our longer runway, Boeing 737 jet service and international status. It’s going to get worse, but our sacrifices are bad enough already. Consider these:

1. “HAIRCUT” to the Westerly Ponds: The ponds have been shaved. Ducks like cover, but airports don’t like ducks. So on the runway side the pond vegetation has been completely stripped. Mangroves, Plopnut trees, Buttonwood trees, even Cattail, — all uprooted by heavy machinery.

2. “HAIRCUT” to our previously beautiful West End Community Park:
Take a walk around our “treed” park. The exercise course has pitiful tree cover now, and the newly dedicated Tree Identification Project is a mockery of its former self. Beautiful species have been trimmed to shoulder height, following the prescription for a low profile of trees and buildings beside an “international” runway.

Here’s what it looks like:

Haircut at Westerly Ponds-Cayman Brac

“Haircut” to the mangroves and related cover beside the Westerly Ponds

Haircut at Community Park-Cayman Brac

"Haircut" to the trees in our previously beautiful West End Community Park. So ugly!

LIGHT POLLUTION : There are further problems associated with bigger airports. Don’t bother to look for stars if you’re near the airport. Airport rules result in a spoiled sky for star-watchers all night long, even when zero flights are scheduled. And if you live where many of us Brac residents live, don’t bother to look for stars in the west because they’ll be blotted out by airport light pollution.

CONCLUSION : A number of Brac residents love our 737 air service. (I prefer the short takeoff and landing aircraft myself. I’d rather land at 60 mph than double that speed.) But be careful what you wish for. It’s too late for us on the Brac . We sacrificed a lot, and we’re about to sacrifice more. The airport’s environmental boot mark is huge, like that of the rock quarry and the dump.

Too late for the Brac but I’m writing this for the benefit of Little Cayman. Don’t let promoters force mass tourism onto your island. Most LC residents and businesses are against jet service, a new airstrip and against mass tourism. Little Cayman, of the three Cayman Islands, is truly different. It is the quiet one. It is renowned for its Ramsar site and its outstanding preservation of natural values. It is an eco- tourism success story.

Little Cayman is the Cinderella of the Cayman Islands. Don’t turn it into an ugly sister.

A YEAR OF FIRSTS

So many life firsts in so few months!

It is not our first year living here, it is our twentieth. Yet we continue to find new things – and on an island only 14 square miles in area.

First-time view of a parrot entering her nest! The male stands on the branch deep in the trackless forest, with its tough terrain of pitchfork-pointed limestone. A pretty safe locale, dear Amazona leucocephala hesterna, nothing but a crazy human would find you here, not even a Norway rat. Sinkholes, ancient wash-outs, collapsed streams and rivers, a tangle of trees, vines, cacti and bushes including “Parrot Bill” (Pisonia aculeata) and “Balsam” (Clusia regia and C. alba).

parrot-smal-copy

the parrot near its nest


Thank you to my friend P. for this life “first”. We spent 11 hours in the steamy forest this day. If my camera lens was a little weak, so was I.

Next, it’s on to my first Peperomia plant. It took 20 years and was not for lack of trying. Everywhere I trekked in the forest I looked for a ground cover of succulent, tear-shaped leaves that would mark a member of this group. But it’s thanks to friend “I”, here it is, the handsome Peperomia psuedopereskiifolia.

We are trying to protect enough forest that it may thrive forever, serving its role in the scheme of things and secondarily, bringing delight to any human that may love the actual jungle.

peperomia

peperomia

On to the next quarry, turtle eggs in the nest: Have you ever seen that? Great thanks to friends B and G for the phone call that allowed us to help them confirm it was a real and not a false nest dug into the sandy beach. (We were checking another beach a mile away when the call came.)

turtle nest

turtle eggs in the nest

The next phone or text will herald the emergence of the hatchlings. They will scramble out of the nest and down to the sea – yet another first for us! What an island, full of wonder!

Almost every outing a “first” happens to one of us. A couple of days ago a friend (T) experienced two first-time phenomena within two minutes. And this brings me to a point. ALL OF THESE BLESSINGS CAME TO US BECAUSE WE WERE OUTDOORS, DOING VOLUNTEER WORK for our nature group. This was her first Portuguese Man-o’-War (pictured) but the other ephemeral scene has no photo to mark it – a Southern Stingray jumping completely out of the water! She only saw it because she was standing facing the lagoon while I photographed the inflated sac of the dangerous jellyfish… and all while we were checking for new turtle nests.

dangerous jellyfish

dangerous jellyfish

May I turn now to “Phasmida”? It is the family of Stick Insects and I did not know we had any. Here again we must credit friend “I” who found a roadkill; as well as P who found one on his pant leg as he rested in the deep bush. He shot a mini-movie but I’ll not try to put it here, even though the handsome creature moved in the “wind” as P tried to blow it away.

phasmida

phasmida

Stick insect

The Black-throated Green Warbler is my most recent “Life Bird”. I have no photo but if you could see the one in my mind you’d be amazed. Such a show as he put on, as if realizing how much delight we took from the view! There were four of us, all with binoculars, all returning from a foray into the bush. Our trip was “over” until we met this rarity, feeding in a Red Birch tree at the turn in the road by the lumberyard. Warbler, we will try to keep our land ready to provide for your needs.

Luckily I DO have a photo of Phyllanthus caymanensis, a species of plant I had pondered before but only now came to know. Credit goes to two friends, F who is our most learned citizen, and P with whom I saw the plant in the deep forest. This low shrub, a bejeweled beauty, is endemic to the Cayman Islands. It is rated as vulnerable with as few as 1000 specimens remaining (and that means in the world of course). Forest protection is the only way to protect it and that’s why we were picking our way through the steamy bush that day. We will “stake a claim” figuratively speaking for land to be acquired and set aside for nature for all time.

Phyllanthus caymanensis

Phyllanthus caymanensis

Finally, I want to record the Transit of Venus. I didn’t get a photo, nor will I attach ones kindly sent to me.

The Transit of Venus. It was a thing of stunning beauty as well as rarity, and I saw it from our own shore. As it dropped towards the horizon the sun became softened and yellowed by a low mist of clouds, until it looked no brighter than the moon. Unable to capture its image through my lens (directed onto a sheet of stiff, white paper) I did a quick sweep of the round body with my binoculars. BINGO!

Let me interrupt my narrative. What is specially “Cayman Brac” about this sighting? It is purely a matter of planetary alignment, right? Not so, it must be aligned with the planet the viewer lives on! I had merely to walk the thousand feet to our own ironshore or rocky beach, our little edge of the Caribbean Sea. We’ve done this walk almost daily, often twice a day, for a total of thousands of times.

As this particular sunset dropped lower, the great ball dimmed further to allow another binocular sweep, more lingering now, but urgent because the bottom of the sun was entering a cloud bank like a billowy skirt of modesty. There it was, so clear — The Spot, bigger than I had expected. It appeared as a beauty spot, a pretty mole in the very feminine shoulder of our own sun goddess.

Airport Birding Chart

Click here if you want to download this file. BIRD SPECIES observed during twice-weekly airport bird patrols Nov 2010 to Nov 2011 Gerrard Smith Int’l Airport Cayman Brac. SAMPLE ONLY: Showing 1 ONLY out of 8 approx patrols per month (Approx 30 minute patrols) ALL SPECIES 2010 2011 NOV DEC JAN FEB MAR APR MAY[...]

Read the rest of Airport Birding Chart »

The Dream

My Dream

My Dream


This land could AGAIN be a paradise, for its native plants and animals but also for its people. There is one small “knowledge industry” company based on Cayman Brac and it could grow and lead to the further development of this industry. Cayman Brac could become a contributor instead of a drag on the country’s economy as it is today, draining millions from the central government’s coffers.

Which of the three islands could ATTRACT FOREIGN INVESTMENT in hi-tech companies, and attract the demanding people who work for such companies, and their families? Little Cayman has too few people and should indeed be kept that way as an occasional, wild and rare place to visit, relatively untouched by large-scale development. Grand Cayman has lost much of its lovely wilderness except for wetlands and underwater attractions. It has a rough-and-ready city and has become just another Caribbean island with a worrying rate of burglary and violent crime. Divided highways have become speedways. There is too much drunkenness. But Grand Cayman boasts fairly good shopping, a few costly artificial attractions and its still-lovely diving beauty. Cayman Brac could be the only island WHERE MOST RESIDENTS COULD WALK OR RIDE A BIKE TO WORK IN PEACE, or to seashore, library, grocery, church, picnic site, pond or nature path. Each of these could be accessed without having to drive a car! If only we had a few dedicated paths for cycling and walking. (We don’t even have sidewalks.)

If the observations in the full report Land Acquisition for Environmental Protection were pursued; if the Brac got rid of some unsightly scenes; if its education system could be upgraded; if the island became better regulated and governed in many ways (handling of waste is only one) … then this could be the island of pleasant outdoor activities, fresh breezes and the beauty of nature … a safer place to raise children, un-gated yet safe communities, and the place where peaceful, studious, happy people would love to live and work.

Knowledge industry people can work from anywhere. Cayman Brac could become the location of choice. Thoughtful people, here and abroad, value the natural surroundings that our pioneers enjoyed, only a couple of generations ago.

This remains a dream, but it is possible. Do the people really want it?

jwp
20110406

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