This post was originally written as an email on April 6, 2012. (Once again I apologize in advance for not having pictures to show of everything mentioned. Now that Mary and I are official bloggers, we are getting better about carrying our camera.)
Hello all! The other day I was down on my hands and knees in our garden plot area turning over some ground along the concrete wall preparatory to planting some hot pepper plants when I was surprised to see a large green and brown frog flop out of the overturned dirt. He just sat there with his eyes shut and made no attempt to move away. I watched him for a few minutes and realized that he was barely breathing and was probably in the state of deep sleep that frogs go into during the dry season while they await the rains.
I left him there and went about my work. When I returned to the area he was gone, but it got me to thinking about all of the animals we see here in unusual places.
Probably the oddest is the fish that tuned up in our pool one afternoon, so I will save that for last.
Mary and I were looking around the grounds here for plants that we could transplant to our area when Mary moved a pot in one of the planters. A crab about two and a half inches in diameter scurried away like crickets or sow bugs do back home. It surprised us, but only a bit, as we regularly see crabs in the bushes and plants here four or five hundred yards inland from the ocean. The thing about these crabs is that they come in all colors and sizes.
We have seen green, red, brown, yellow, orange, black and white crabs scurrying around with their curious side step action.
Today, down at our friend’s home by the beach we saw a crab that was translucent white in its whole body and claws with a round black spot on his back and the most curious little pug dog type face. When I spotted him and called Mary and our friend (also named Mary) over to look at him, he squared off in the manner common to cornered crabs, hunkered down on his hind legs and raised his little claws. I got down and looked into his face, but I had to tell him that he really was not too threatening looking with his pudgy dog face and near albino looking shell. I told him not to worry as I was not going to hurt him and moved on.
Three or four mornings ago, the caretaker who tends our area and cleans the pool, Giovanni, motioned to me and pointed to a large fruit bat clinging to the side of the pool trying to climb up. At night we often see little brown bats flying about catching insects. There is an old wooden house down by Wayne and Jan’s house where hundreds of bats sleep during the day. At dusk we have watched the bats emerge from the small cracks and take flight. They come out in twos and threes for twenty or thirty minutes and take off for a night of feasting on bugs.
We actually like seeing these brown bats (as long as they are not coming out of our house) as they eat hundreds of bugs each night. This fruit bat was something else altogether! There is something creepy about seeing a bat the size of a guinea pig with a twelve inch wingspan (all sizes are estimates subject to possible exaggeration) crawling around on the ground! Giovanni carefully picked the bat up with a long pool pole and lifted him over the wall, but it was clear the bat was old and was probably dying. He just chose a bad place to land for his final resting place.
One afternoon we looked out on the back patio and saw an owl sitting on the tiles! It was a small owl only about seven or eight inches tall, but appeared to be an adult. He saw us looking at him and just turned his head around backwards, but did not fly off. I thought it might have a mouse or something in its talon and that is why it did not fly away, but after a bit, he just turned and flew away.
We have many birds that are often quite tame on the patio area. We have seen small yellow finches, large black birds that come to clean up bugs, mocking birds, swallows and others of assorted sizes and colors. Today a dove, which might have been injured, was on the patio for some time. When I went to pick it up he ran over to some bushes. Mary brought some water and food out to him and he ate from the proffered food for a while. When Mary went back out to check on him, he had recovered enough to fly away.
Now for the fish story! I came back from a bicycle ride one afternoon and passed by the pool. I was pretty surprised to see a fish about five or six inches long swimming in the water. I grew up in Long Island, New York and even I know you cannot stock a chlorinated pool with fish and it seemed a bit unlikely that the fish had wiggled its way two or three blocks up from the ocean to our pool. No one else was around except for Mary and a friend who was visiting, so I asked Mary if she had put the fish in the pool. She had not and went out with me to see the fish.
Upon closer examination it was clear that the fish was not swimming, but was moving about with the currents and wind and flopped over occasionally to its side. I got the basket usually reserved for skimming bugs from the surface and fished the little guy out. The question remains – how did he get here?
The primary sea bird here in San Clemente is the frigate.
Frigates are about twice the size of the average sea gull and we have hundreds of them soaring around the beach and catching air currents to soar high into the sky. Frigates cannot land on the water or on flat land as they cannot take off unless they are on a cliff or high pole. I am told they can stay aloft for weeks even sleeping as they drift along on air currents. When they see a fish near the surface of the water, they swoop in and snag it with their curved beaks and eat it as they fly away.
Frigates have a few problems when they pick up a fish a bit too large to gulp down in one bite. The primary problem is that they cannot land readily and pick away at the fish like a hawk nor can they store it in oversized bills like pelicans. A lone frigate will soar upward with a larger fish and chop it in two, eat one half and then dive to catch the other half to finish his meal. It is fascinating to watch the skill exhibited by these large birds catching fish in mid-air!
The biggest problem that frigates have with larger fish comes from other frigates. Just like the sea gulls in the movie “Finding Nemo” when the other frigates see a frigate with a fish they all start saying, “Mine, mine, mine!” and swoop over diving at the first frigate trying to get him or her to drop the fish. The lucky fisherman frigate has to frantically fly about trying to avoid the other frigates all the while trying to rearrange the fish for swallowing or biting in half. If the first frigate has to drop the fish another frigate deftly swoops in to grab it and then the chase is on after the new fish carrier! I have seen the same fish pass from one frigate to another four or five times before one finally gets the fish in position to gulp down.
My best guess is that a hungry frigate scooped up our little fish (large if you compare it to a frigate’s beak) and discovered that he or she could not swallow it quickly and the chase was on. Our pool fish died either from being crushed in the beak of who knows how many frigates, the sheer terror at being partly swallowed – dropped and re-caught, the fall to our pool, the chlorinated water, or a combination of all of these traumatic events. Still, it made for an interesting chapter in our growing book of animals out of place!
Life is good in Ecuador!