Wildlife photographer Luke Massey and I, Katie Stacey, have been the managing couple here at Rancho Chilamate for nearly a month and a half now – and boy how the time has flown! We came from three years of telling wildlife and conservation stories around the globe, but when we saw the opportunity to settle for a while, learn Spanish and ride horses in Nicaragua we couldn’t help ourselves – we just had to apply! And now here we are, well and truly settled and ready to welcome all guests passing through this unique corner of the world.
However, it wasn’t just the horses and Spanish that cemented our decision to come here – in fact it was the incredible wildlife the area has to offer. During the day the wildlife around the ranch is abundant – on our first venture out of Chilamate on foot we saw howler monkeys, orange fronted parakeets, montezuma oropendulas and a mangrove cuckoo. Each horse back excursion since has uncovered a plethora of life in this stunning corner of Nicaragua that Luke and I for now call home. And it’s not just the daylight hours that have life on show – when the sun goes down and the horses have been put to bed, a changing of the guard takes place and a whole new world awakens. In our second week one of our local team, Franklin, took Luke and I, and our predecessors Anne and Marc, on an adventure to see what we could find.
The moon was low but full and bright and it guided us into the riverbed that we ride so often, now transformed below the twinkling stars and flashes of fireflies. The sound of the night had a tangible quality to it – you could actually feel the reverberations of the tree frogs and cane toads calling. After a smouldering hot day the night had cooled off significantly and a beautiful breeze danced through the riverbed. Eye shine caught the torches searching beam and our first mammal took shape on a branch above our head’s, it’s shaggy unkempt fur and long rat like nose unmistakable – it was a common opossum (known locally as soro pelon), and there was at least one baby squirming away in the mother’s pouch. Did you know that newborn opossums are so tiny that they are actually referred to as larvae? The mother will give birth to as many as 20 larvae! But she also has on average only nine functional nipples so for that reason and others, females will tend to end up with an average of about 6 pouch young.
Picking our way through the mud, and winding our way around bushes and trees we came across a low hanging vine with three of the white-throated magpie jays (uraca) roosting. Under the torchlight their white breasts were even more pronounced, their distinctive crest however was flattened down in sleep. We tried to get a bit closer but they startled and flew up a little higher, and further from any ground lurking dangers.
Across the river eye shine caught the torch once more, but quickly disappeared and so we stood silently scanning the lit up bank for another glance. After about five minutes Luke found those give-away eyes once more in the fork of a tree – it was a brown four-eyed opossum (known locally as sorro quatro). This creature is much rarer than the common gray four-eyed possum (known locally as coma greja) and a lot shyer. It lives arboreally, amongst the trees, often near streams and it forages at night for its diet of fruit, snails, eggs, small invertebrates and insects. It sat very still watching us watch it, and we left it no doubt thinking that it hadn’t been spotted by these strange light wielding creatures.
In the shallow waters, freshwater shrimp (camarones) scuttled across the sandy bottom and tadpoles wriggled about in their thousands, whilst bats swooped in and fed on the insects that had been attracted to our lights. And if the riverbed was where the mammals and amphibians hung out then the road was the serpents and scorpions domain.
Our first slithery encounter was with a small cat eyed snake (leptodeira annulata their Latin name) as he skirted across the road in front of us. Our second, a freshly hatched lyra snake (trimorphodon quadruplex their Latin name), his skin still glistening, as he played dead in the middle of the road, and finally a tiny (but nevertheless fearsome-looking) scorpion hiding beside a rock. As we made our way home from Franklin’s, we came across two hooded skunks – one on the road and one just as we pulled into Rancho Chilamate. Their Latin name mephitis macroura translates as ‘noxious odor large tail’ and they certainly fit that description! You can smell these guys pungent odor when none are in sight – and with their large tails raised we sensibly kept our distance.
If you are interested in joining us for a nature walk (day or night) then please enquire when you are booking. You never know what you might see – our subsequent forays into the darkness have revealed kinkajou, Mexican porcupine and all sorts of weird and wonderful creatures! We dream of having an encounter like Blue, who one evening stumbled across a giant anteater (oso hormiga gigante) down at the riverbed. I don’t know who was more startled by the meeting, Blue or the anteater judging by its reaction – ask her about it when you visit!
Night walks with Luke are $15 per person (maximum 8 people) for a two hour exploration of our local patch – we supply torches and rubber boots. And if you aren’t staying at the ranch why not make a night of it and join us for our family style ranch dinner for $25 a head, which includes a table full of food and drinks to get your energy up beforehand! (A return taxi from San Juan comes in at $30).