News from Belize — Batting, Birding, and more

On the evening of the 3rd night we went batting. Using the same mist netting as the birds, just higher up, we got to see some of the most misunderstood animals up close and personal. There are 83 species of bats in Belize, and they are notoriously difficult to id. We eventually narrowed the species possibilities down as far as possible; we caught 2 tent-making bats and 1 long-tongued bat. All of these are leaf-nosed bats, which means they have a little extra bit on the tip of their noses that looks exactly like a leaf when you look at it straight on.

The next morning we got up to look at birds on the tower. Unfortunately we didn’t see what we were hoping to: the keel-billed toucan and toucanet. Red-lored parrots flew over, filling the air with a cacophony of squawks. In the trees closest to us, Manakins clicked their wings, letting us know where they were but never stepping out from behind the leaves to show themselves. Frustrating for the birder, for sure. A Yellow- Olive Flycatcher stayed in sight for a long time, allowing for a good view and a positive id. A White- Bellied Emerald flew onto one of the thinner branches in the top of one of the surrounding trees, adding to the bird list of the hummingbirds we got to see. Although we didn’t see the number or species of birds that we were hoping to see, there is certainly something wonderful about listening to the forest wake up in the morning, the birds filling the morning with a variety of sounds. A breeze consistently rolled through the tree tops, keeping both the bugs and the sweat at bay.

After breakfast we went further into the Bladen Nature Reserve to experience some of the Mayan Mountain Rainforest. If we listened to the forest closely, we could hear the Great Currasow off in the forest, sounding akin to being a block away from a car with the bass turned up. Spider monkeys followed us, swinging through the trees using their hands and their tails. We hiked 2 and a half hours in, crossing the Bladen twice, until we reached a popular swimming spot called Holey Rock. It had a beautiful limestone overhang, with vines cascading down the front. We swam through the water looking at the fish a good ways below us with swallows swooping over our heads. We had lunch on a giant piece of limestone, one that continued down into the water, creating a massive drop-off that was probably around 12 feet deep. Caves lined the river bank, were the limestone has deteriorated. Fish swam in and out but we were all too nervous to try it.

That night we worked on our projects; Dr. Evans grades us on this section of the course by requiring research projects, one at the end of the Rainforest and one at the end of the Coral Reef. We broke up into the groups we had been discussing project ideas with and came up with a plan to test our hypotheses. After dinner we sat down and presented our ideas to Dr. Evans, who tore them apart in the effort to make them better science. By the end of the night we had 4 groups studying Blue- Eyed Cichlids, Leaf Cutter Ants, the Janzen- Connell Effect on Cohune Palms, and the effect of the cacao plantation on the species and abundance of birds found.

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