Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Blue-headed Parrot

There are 22 species of parrots (psittacidea) in Panama. The Blue-headed is small with a high pitched voice. Cindy and I finally enjoyed excellent views of a couple the other day during a morning walk. Fortunately, the two flew overhead, then landed in a tall tree next to the road. We got extended looks at these birds with their blue heads. These stills are from a video shot through binoculars.

Sunday, April 25, 2010


Driving in Panama takes some getting used to. I must be getting it because Cindy called me a Panamanian driver the other day. What? Pulling out in front of oncoming traffic against a red light and sitting in the middle of the intersection so I can get a jump on it when the light turns green makes me Panamanian? I'm just going with the flow. The tempo is a bit different, that's all. You have to know when to go fast and when to slow down.

One time to slow down is after a fender-bender. When an accident occurs the general rule is ‘don’t move your vehicle’. The reason for this is that Panama is a fault country – that is, someone must be declared responsible for the accident. Therefore, until the Transito police arrive, the vehicles involved in the accident must remain in their final positions. If you move your vehicle prior to the Transito’s arrival, you will be deemed responsible for the accident regardless of the facts. It may take several hours for the Transito to arrive on the scene.

Meanwhile, drivers will do any at all to get around an obstruction, including driving on the shoulder. The shoulder is actually a pretty popular lane during commute hours or any other time. Drivers will use it when there is no traffic jam, for a variety of reasons, even if all they think is that you are driving too slowly for them. Others get into the left (fast) lane on the freeway and stay there.

Use of the horn is obligatory. A short toot, is "Hi, how are you?" Several long beeps can show irritation. A long blast is an expletive. Some of the Diablo Rojos have special truck and emergency sirens to help them get through tough spots.

Another usual sight is the "sea of yellow". All taxis must now be painted yellow. There are times during rush hour when it seems that 90% of the cars you see are yellow. It is surprising how many different shades of yellow there are, but even more surprising is the number of chartreuse, green, mustard and other colors of paint are used on the taxis.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


We have nine hummingbird feeders in our yard here in Los Altos de Cerro Azul. One Rufous-tailed Hummingbird thinks he owns all of them. If we keep adding more feeders perhaps there will eventually be so many he can't guard them all.

For the past week or so a Long-billed Starthroat has been making very fast sallies through the yard, occasionally getting enough time to take a drink. We saw one in the yard well over a month ago and a few times since, but the visits were very irregular and our looks at it were never long enough. Two days ago I noticed one of the birds (we think there may be two!) visit at 1 pm; yesterday one came at 1:03 pm. Today I set up the Flip HD camera and let it roll. After about 15 minutes I saw a fast object fly in and the Rufous-tailed chase it off. My hopes were high as I fast-forwarded through the footage. Sure enough; a Long-billed Starthroat had come in to take a drink, but got chased off. The video shows the action at normal speed and then slowed down.

Our birding pals up here, Bill and Claudia Ahrens, added Long-billed Starthroat to their yard list just yesterday.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Finished Ceiling

It finally happened - the crew installed the last two fans, cleaned a few grimy fingerprints off the ceiling, and finished the project on Wednesday morning. What was predicted to take "a week or two" ended up taking 34 days from beginning to end not counting the first three days when the project did not even get off the ground due to "the first day of school." That's not an accurate count of actual work days, since it includes Sundays, Good Friday, a delay of about a week when we could not find enough molding for the ceiling corners, several days when nobody showed up at all, a couple days when they had "car trouble" and were either late or did not show up, a few days when the contractor (upon whom the crew often depended for a ride to our place) was ill or had someone else pulling harder at him than we did.

But now it's done and we've put behind us all the delays and frustrations during the process. We really like the finished ceiling - it follows the roof line, so we still have very high vaulted ceilings, the feeling of openness, it's brighter now due to the new white paint, and the fans are a nice addition.

We probably will not often need the fans for cooling, but maybe they will help disperse the humidity during the wet season.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Insects, Arachnids and Other Critters

While tending to the yard, I have noticed some very large insects. Usually it's a surprise to discover them - they don't fly in or crawl up to where I am working. They were there all along, and I finally realize that they are not a twig or leaf that I was trying to pick up or brush aside, that type of thing. One that Les got video of was a huge and beautiful grasshopper. It appeared in the front garden after some work on the awning.

The insect in the photo with the bananas appeared to be a weevil. It had the typical weevil snout. We called it a Banana Weevil, although it does not look like any of the photos I could find on the web.

Another impressive creature was this Walking Stick. I was pulling pine needles and twigs from a flower bed, and when I tugged at a thick twig, it resisted. I shouted for Les to come out and bring the camera. When I tried to dress up the shot a little by placing the beast on something bright green, his strong grip on the bark prevented me from doing so. Maybe I could have pulled him off the tree, but I was afraid of leaving one or more of his legs behind.

And then there are the furry little things - they look like tiny dust mops, in either reddish brown or gray. The fur appears to be quite long. We guess they are a type of caterpillar, but we don't know. If anybody out there does, fill us in, please! We saw these furry things only one day, when there were several around, and we have seen none since.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

More Than a Gardener

Arturo, the gardener I wrote so glowingly about, abandoned us for a few weeks last month. It turns out that he has been working 6 days per week on Casa Piedra, the rock/stone house. Casa Piedra is one that we looked at before settling on Casita Naranja. Somebody bought Casa Piedra and has poured mucho buckos into it - they practically gutted the interior and have refinished it with beautiful hardwood, extended the terraces and the kitchen, built a guest house, put on a new roof, added a new driveway and covered carport, shored up the balcony, built a new fence, and will soon landscape the double lot. Arturo has helped the new owners with the fence, cement work, roof, and I don't know what all else.

Les was driving by one day and spotted Arturo in the yard of Casa Piedra. Arturo said he would stop by on Sunday of that week, his only day off. He did come by, explained about the phones not working up there and how he didn't have much time for anything else, but he did some gardening for us later that week, and then offered to fix the sagging awning over one of our front windows. (You might have noticed it if you have seen photos or video of our house - it even had a flower growing out of it.) It has been falling off since before we first saw the casita, and Les had braced it up with a tree trunk and a board so it wouldn't crash to the ground.

So last week, Les picked up Arturo, his son Alexis, and another helper named Tonio at 3 PM from Casa Piedra. They set to work ripping off the old awning, and then Tonio welded together some beams and they built a frame. The next day they put a roof on the awning and painted it. Looks pretty good!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Ceiling Unfinished

It is still not done! Nearly a month since they started it, we are still waiting. We expected it to drag on a while, but not this long.

Fortunately, the worst of the dusty, noisy, filthy steps are completed. The daily sweeping up and wiping up of huge amounts of cement dust and grit was a trial, and it's good to be past at least that part of the process.

We had to wait quite a long time for the contractor to find enough of the trim strips (they cover the seams where the cement boards meet each other and the walls) for the whole ceiling. But finally, on the Saturday before Easter, he found the quantity required.

Now they will be glued in place. It will undoubtedly be another mess to deal with, but at least the glue does not fly through the air and into every nook and cranny and land on every surface including the walls and even drift in through the louvers in the closet doors.

The great news is that the geckos are having serious difficulty making a living in here. That makes me happy! I still hear them chuckling at night, but now I chuckle back instead of cursing aloud at them, since the sounds are not coming from within the house. For a week or two I could still see a couple on the kitchen ceiling, and hear one in the bathroom. I swear they were looking rather skinny during their last days indoors, but now even those individuals are sealed out. I haven't had to clean up after them for quite a few days.

Footage of the video Les shot shows the cement board in place on the living room ceiling, but with no trim strips yet. Bonus views of a Rufous-tailed Hummingbird are also included. It eventually made its way out the open window to the left. It took a while for it to find the window, which takes up almost half the wall, but the hummers always want to stay high when they come in.

Now if we could just get our life back, without workers underfoot every day creating new disruptions and messes for us to clean up.

To be continued . . . . .