This morning I went bird watching again. We saw a lot of the same birds we’ve been seeing all week: Montezuma oropendolas, a plumbeous kite, scarlet macaws, a ton of turkey vultures, and a few social flycatchers.
After bird watching, we found out that Adrienne was leaving for medical reasons. I’m super glad she’s going to get checked out by a doctor and being safe, but I’m also sad she won’t be with us at the reef.
We collected our urine samples in the morning and then started sorting all the bugs we found into morphospecies (sorting them into ones that look like the same species without actually identifying the species). We found way more species on the forest floor than in the canopy and way more species in the nitrogen (urine) than in the water, which wasn’t surprising but it was still really cool to see the science come out the way we expected. We also came across this really cool hemipteran that looked sorta like a hammerhead. It has big black spots on its back that look like fake eyes, but its eyes are really much smaller near its antennae.
During the afternoon it absolutely poured. I ran out into the rain and got completely soaked because, as I’ve said every time it’s rained a little so far, “you gotta get rained on in the rainforest.” I proceeded to get completely soaked. Sammi and I did pose like Titanic. However, contrary to our faces, it was super cool.
Afterward, termites were everywhere because the first big rain is commonly used as a signal for nuptial flights for termites and ants.
This evening I was watching this bird that has a nest inside the satellite dish base. It’s a slaty ant-wren, really small and plain brown. It comes to the nest with food pretty regularly and its babies stick their heads out to grab food. But there’s also this other bird that comes and hangs out around the nest and it’s SO CONFUSING. I can’t figure out what it’s doing, I did figure out that it’s a sulfur-breasted flycatcher though.
(I apparently don’t take pictures of birds. -This is Claire in retrospect trying to post now that we actually have internet.) Here’s a picture of what the slaty antwren and the sulfur-breasted flycatcher looked like from the internet.
This morning at bird watching we saw a lot of the same birds we’ve been seeing all week. We also finally saw a keel-billed which was beautiful. We saw one chachalaca and heard three in total. They kept calling loudly over and over again and we could hear them all across the Las Cuevas clearing. I also finally got a great picture of one of the scarlet macaws.
We designed an experiment to look into the effects of hurricane-caused tree falls on the diversity of plants in the understory. When we went out to the tree fall gap though, we found that the gap was too thick to do our original plan. We wound up testing the richness (number of species) of the undergrowth near the trail in the gap and in the normal forest. We didn’t find any difference between the richness of the two areas which was surprising because of the clearly observable difference in density of the plants in the two areas. Along the path, we did come across a really cool crowned iguana just chilling on a tree.
We went on a night hike last night. We didn’t go very far, but we saw lots of cool stuff. There were some turtles in a pond, tons of cool spiders and katydids and crickets. We also found a gecko and an anole which were both pretty cool. I kept looking in the trees to maybe see some mammals or birds but there were none. It seems that the only time to see my taxon is in the morning.
(These are the pictures I took on the night hike.)
This morning I got up early to bird again and saw a lot of similar birds to the day before. The scarlet macaws are still gorgeous and the Montezuma oropendola call is still really cool. We heard a few toucans but couldn’t see them.
This morning we had to pee into falcon tubes for an experiment. The first time I overfilled it, but then I poured too much out which was pretty tragic. I had to chug a liter and a half of water so that I could fill up the rest of the tube (chug team practice actually comes in handy?!). We placed the tubes along some of the trails along with water tubes to compare how many bugs we catch in a nitrogen-rich environment in the canopy and on the forest floor. Along the way, we saw a coral snake which was really cool and thankfully just slithered away from all of us.
This afternoon we went into the Las Cuevas cave. On the way in we saw a bunch of cave swallows. In the cave, we saw a few different bats and lots of tiny arthropods around the cave. A lot of the arthropods were white as you’d expect in a cave with no light. There were also a few smashed pots and other Mayan artifacts. The mix of biology and archaeology and geology found in these caves is really cool.
After caving, I sat and watched the birds. We saw a big king vulture as well as a bunch of turkey vultures. The social flycatchers were sitting on a rope and flying out to catch bugs and then returning to the branch which is a really cool behavior I read about before coming. Apparently, I didn’t care to actually take a picture of them though.
Veronica, Ceyda, and I walked back to where we found the colorful bugs to return them this evening. The bugs I work with are host specific, so it doesn’t seem impossible that these ones could be too. Sadly I can’t keep them in a jar forever and I definitely can’t take them out of Belize, so instead, we took them home. We did see an amazing sunset which was, as usual here, surprisingly early (6:30).
We started the day early with birding and we saw so many birds. There were plumbeous kites, social flycatchers, Montezuma oropendolas, melodious blackbirds, and Red-lored parrots. This is a picture of the tree most of the birds chill in, or at least the one closest to the station.
We went out hiking before and after lunch to set up camera traps. We put half of them on trails and half of them off trail which was difficult, but also pretty fun. I spent a lot of the hike whistling at the birds. I had a great time imitating the calls often rather poorly and hearing them seem to whistle back even though they were just repeating their call regardless of me. It was amazing to see how quickly the forest became super difficult to get through. Along the way, we saw a bunch of these small red bugs that looked like the bugs I work with in my lab red-shouldered soapberry bugs). They were very small and bright red, but we had no clue what they were because we don’t have any books or someone in charge of knowing stuff about true bugs (Hemipterans – an order of insects).
At one of the camera traps, we saw this huge leaf cutter ant colony. It was maybe 20 feet long. We were busy gawking at it when all of the sudden we realized there was a giant boa constrictor behind us. We stood watching it for a while, it was definitely very uncomfortable.
At the last camera trap before lunch, we found these two big bugs on a leaf. They seem to be true bugs (like what I study in my lab at school) but they were way bigger than any bug I’d seen and super brightly colored. I asked everyone who works here if they knew what it was and they all said no which makes me very excited about how rare they are. Sadly the only insect book we have doesn’t even include the order these bugs are in and without internet, I have no way of finding out more about them. For the time being, I’ll just have to settle for measurements and pictures with Sam’s really nice camera. (I have been unofficially anointed as the Hemipteran taxon expert.)
Tonight we had a lecture from Raphael Montenaro, the head of FCD, the NGO that runs Las Cuevas. He talked to us a bunch about how they protect and monitor the forest. It was crazy how much work his group was doing that normally would be expected of the government. I also gave my lecture on tropical soils tonight which I felt better about than expected.
We got up around 5 this morning to get headed towards Las Cuevas. I was reminded at breakfast that fryjacks (a sort of fried dough thing) are a-mazing. We left Crystal Paradise Ecolodge soon after breakfast to head to Rio-On Pool and then Caracal.
The Rio-On Pools are a series of small pools connected by small waterfalls and rapids. They were beautiful. We easily spent an hour swimming around in the various pools and slipping down the rocks with the water like a slide. It was gorgeous and picturesque and reminded me of that one episode about the chakras from Avatar the Last Airbender.
From there, we headed to Caracal to see some Mayan ruins. We walked through the rainforest to find ourselves in front of the tallest building in Belize, an old Mayan temple. Climbing up the steps was difficult, they were sooo tall! Coming down was a bit scary, but the view was unbelievable. We could see layers of rolling hills and mountains, far more exciting than the endless flatness back home.
Surrounded by the gorgeous Mayan ruins we saw a ton of birds. There was an entire tree full of Montezuma oropendola nests. Their call was so cool, like a mix of musical scales and water falling onto metal. Their nests were also super cool. They weave their nests out of various fibers and wind up with this mesh sack that hangs from the tree they live in
A ton will nest in the same tree so it’s almost decorated like a Christmas tree with these brown woven nest-bags. There was also a swallowtail kite circling above us, it was especially apparent because of its scissor-shaped tail.
When we got to the research station, we saw so many more birds. There were social flycatchers, black vultures, and turkey vultures flying around. We also saw a few scarlet macaws. We went on a hike when we got here and could hear a ton of birds, but couldn’t see them through all the trees.
We found out that we wouldn’t have any internet while here, so as you may have noticed, these blogs aren’t going up on time. But family and friends (mom) I promise you I’m doing just fine.
My dad and I left Dallas this morning, landed in Houston to meet up with the rest of the class, and then we flew to Belize. Well, I suppose only my dad really flew to Belize, the rest of us just sat in the back of the plane. (Having an airline pilot dad is cool.)
When we landed in Belize it was already pretty hot and humid. As we drove out here to Crystal Paradise Ecolodge, we saw lots of mostly savannah and grasslands. The coolest part was definitely the wildfires. It’s the end of the dry season here in Belize and natural forest fires are common. Some of the plants were obviously blackened and there were giant streaks of reddish-black smoke in the sky.
As far as animals go we saw lots of dogs and horses on the drive. We also saw some cats, sheep, and goats. I saw a few chickens and some cattle egrets and lots of small black birds flying through the sky. The cattle egrets were chilling around some cattle waiting for them to disturb some bugs. As far as the blackbirds go, it turns out that riding in a van with heavily tinted windows looking up at birds against a bright sky is not the best way to identify them. I think they were probably melodious blackbirds, but they also could have been grackles.
We’re not expecting to have wifi regularly for the next few days. I’ll be writing blog posts, but whether they go up is another matter entirely.
It’s almost time to leave for Belize and I’m so excited! I actually went to Belize with my family last summer. We stayed at a resort in the rainforest and had lots of cool experiences. I’m still really excited about this trip though. I can’t wait to do research and actually see the reef.
The prospect of doing research is probably what I’m most excited about for this trip. I definitely plan to major in ecology and evolutionary biology, but this class seems like a really great way to get some actual field research experience. I’ve been to the side of a few highways looking for bugs which is technically field research, but I don’t think will be anything like this trip. I think this experience could really help me figure out what I want to do in EBIO and in grad school in the future.
To prepare I’ve been reading my Belize book and researching for my taxon and topic lectures. I’m a little bit nervous that I’ve researched the wrong thing, perhaps I included a bunch of animals we won’t see or completely missed some species we’ll see everywhere, but I suppose it will just be a chance to learn more about the native fauna.