Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Natural history calendar: January 2008

Apologies for being so delinquent in my posting. I have been so busy with work and have been off island for a few weeks, so I suppose we’ll just have to do a bit of catching up together. Let’s talk stories, ok?

The title for today’s post reflects on my desire to be able to post on seasons and trends in nature that occur in the Mariana Islands. I hope that maybe after a few years, we will be able to map out a pretty accurate calendar of seasons that occur and affect our natural surroundings which go mostly unnoticed because of our current disconnect with nature. To name a few events that I would like to be able to map on a calendar are 1. certain blooming and fruiting seasons for our plants, 2. the months when certain fishes run and are caught, 3. when shore birds and marine mammals visit our seas when it gets too cold up north. I am sure that there are many more things to note when we seriously get connected with Mother Nature.

Gulos turns the forest pink
Gulos (Cynometra ramiflora) according to the Trees and Shrubs of the Mariana islands (Raulerson & Rinehart, 1991) and Common Flora and Fauna of the Mariana Islands (Vogt & Williams, 2004), “blooms” by putting forth their new pink leaves. The new leaves first come out colored white, then turn into pink, and then finally mature to green. I was a bit delayed in noticing the change in the forest canopy, since the two reference books said that they are sometime numerous enough to make the forest look pink. I finally got out on January 16th and saw some Gulos that were really flamboyant in their display. Check out the following pictures I took at the Niko Hotel Botanical Garden, Marpi, Saipan. I also wanted to see if the forest canopy was really pink from a distance. I was able to hike down Forbidden Island, Kagman, Saipan on January 19th and sure enough, you could still see signs of Gulos dotting the cliffs here and there.

First, the new leaves come out white to pale green.

Then they turn pink!

It is important to note that the cliff lines like the ones in Kagman, Saipan are still mostly composed of native and indigenous plants, so it is a good place to study them on Saipan. Gulos is a small to medium indigenous tree whose beauty and ecologic importance is mostly overlooked by arborists on the island who prefer planting showy and more commonly known introduced ornamentals. It’s really too bad that most people overlook this beautiful native that our birds and fruit bats prefer to nest in and eat of.

Oschal flowers and Nonak fruits
Two native trees of the Hernandiaceae family had notable seasons in the beginning of the month. The Oschal (Hernandia labyrinthica) and Nonak (H. Sonora) similarly form black fruits that are encapsulated by a thin fleshy light green to flesh colored bracts (specialized leaves) that make them look like lanterns.

I noticed that the Oschal were in full bloom in LauLau Bay, Kagman in on January 20th putting forth their large white inflorescence. It was exciting for me to notice but most people I bet did not take note since they were of an inconspicuous color. I wonder how long they will take to fruit since the fruits would be more noticeable. Native birds like the endangeed Rota Bridled White-eye forages and nests in the Oschal.

The Nonak looks much like the Oschal, but its fruits are first white and then turn bright pink. I was at the Costco parking lot when I noticed the Oschal full of fruits. Gorgeous! There is another easy to spot Nonak in the parking lot of the Community Church in Susupe, Saipan.

I keep asking myself why people don’t plant more of these attractive native trees. They are reputedly easy to grow. I heard from traditional canoe builders that the Hernandias are good for building canoe parts especially the bow for the outrigger since they sometimes grown at a curve. The leaves are said to be used as a painless hair remover.

Mangoes bloom and Iba fruits
Last year we had a good mango season. I can’t wait for the fruits to ripen since most trees on Saipan are in full bloom now since I snapped this picture on January 27th.

Also the Iba (Phyllanthus acidus) had fruits. I love these sour fruits that are originally from South America. Iba is also the Tagalog name, and the locals here like to pickle them. They are also known as the gooseberry tree or Tahitian gooseberry. The fruits have a crisp juicy sour pulp that makes my mouth salivate as I think and write about it. Be careful biting into one though since the single seed is as hard as a pebble.

Dulili visits Saipan
The shorebirds that we call Dulili (Pluvalis fulva) were taking in the sun at a field next to the Costco, San Jose. They supposedly arrive on Saipan in August and stay during the winter months. Then they depart in March to go as far as Russia or Alaska. The young are said to stay here all year long because they are not ready to breed yet. They are also called the Pacific Golden Plover.

Here are some pictures of the man-made wetland and bird watching tower at Costco. Although the tower is always locked, I have seen many different birds at this site just looking through the fence. Take a look outside and you may see a moorhen, an egret, or even a reed warbler.

Gaogao blooms
Finally, one of my favorite native trees started blooming slowly but surely. The Gaogao (Erythrina variegata), also known as the Coral Tree or Tiger’s Claw will soon have its turn in bloom. More pictures and stories on this later!
Don't worry, but they will look better than what I've got posted here. It's just the begining of the season! Seeing the red flowers at the end of those twigs is a good sign.

Thanks for letting me share!

The Beachcomber


Mai said...

So fascinating! I enjoyed reading it - I love this island, it's such an amazing place, with so many cool things! Thanks for sharing!

The Beachcomber said...

Mai is one of the reasons that make this island amazing. Glad you like my stories.

Tamara said...

What a great idea!