Well, we made it! We’re officially in Belize! Today was mostly traveling, but we made it to the Ecolodge where we’ll spend the night. We’ve only been here for a couple of hours, yet we have already spotted some interesting species. These include the agouti, the leafcutter ant, and (drum roll please) a blue-crowned motmot! Scott pointed out the motmot to me soon after we arrived at the Ecolodge.
In addition to the motmot, we also spotted numerous vultures hanging out by a local prison while on our drive and I saw some kind of hawk soon after we departed from the airport. We also spotted two tinamous while we were cooling off in a river near the ecolodge (P.S. they’re not chickens). Also, it seems that Dr. Shore is an expert in all things water seeing as she schooled all of us when it came to using the rope swing next to the river.
Tomorrow we leave for Las Cuevas, the research station where we will spend the majority of our time in the jungle. I’m excited to finally visit the Chiquibul Forest, the place we’ve been hearing and learning so much about. Hopefully, we’ll all get to see some pretty interesting species (maybe even a Scarlet Macaw… or a Jaguar).
Tonight is the last night we’ll get to enjoy anything reminiscent of civilization for quite some time. This time tomorrow we will be deep within the rainforest, and I can’t wait. We have an early morning and a long day, but i’m sure we’ll see and learn a lot.
We arrived in Belize today by a direct flight from Houston to Belize City. It was an early morning to get to the airport in time for our flight, so I had a tiring and exciting day. Travel days are always weird because I start at home in a familiar place and hours later I am in a completely new environment. I have already seen many different plants and animals while eating lunch, riding in the van, and spending the evening at the Crystal Paradise Ecolodge.
I did not see any Orthoptera today because most of the day was spent traveling and settling into the ecolodge. I did hear chirping and long trilling sounds in the evening which I think were crickets. Crickets and katydids can be heard at night, but I wasn’t able to identify a katydid call.
I saw an ant outside my room that Brendan is currently trying to identify.
There is a trail from the ecolodge to a river where I saw Leafcutter ants carrying purple flowers, and an Agouti, a large rodent. I might have been able to find some Orthoptera if I spent more time looking on the trail, but I was walking quickly to get to the river.
This morning, the entirety of EBIO 319 boarded a plane and headed to Belize City, and luckily TSA did not take away a single one of the 6 animal trapping cameras I had in my carry on. Once we we had all passed through customs, complete with a vague recollection of where we were going to the customs officer who made the mistake of asking where exactly Las Cuevas Research Station was “in the jungle,” we all boarded a 15 passenger van and headed down the road to our first destination: lunch. As we drove, the smoke from several wildfires lighting up the grassland clouded the sky. May is towards the end of the dry season, so wildfires are a common occurrence during this time, however unlike in the US there were no firefighters trying to put out the flames.
Though haggard from our 5:30am wake-ups, a delicious meal complete with a variety of fresh fruit juices woke us up, plus the venue- a roadside open-patio style restaurant was adorable. While we were there, Scott pointed out a huge termite nest in a nearby tree and the tunnel the termites built down to the ground to protect themselves from the elements. After lunch, we rode about an hour to a roadside grocery store where we picked up some last minute snacks and the elusive cold drink. As we drove through Belize, it was interesting to see the flat savanna land turn into scrubland, and finally into more densely forested areas. Also, I kept seeing these super beautiful orange flowering trees along the side of the road, which turned out to be acacias (tree ID cred to our resident tree expert Amy).
When we finally made it to our destination for the night- an eco lodge part of the way to Las Cuevas, we were all very glad to be out of the van and to check into our rooms. After we saw another group at the lodge head down the hill, we decided to follow them in search of the promised river. It was an idyllic tropical river, though the people on the rope swim killed the nature vibe for me. While the others hiked back up the hill to get their swim suits and join the other group, I elected to chill out in the hammock outside and listen to all the birds as the sun set. Because of all the time we spent traveling today, I didn’t have much time to look for my assigned taxon (amphibians), however one girl in the group found a toad that based on her size description sounds like it was a gulf coast toad. Hopefully tomorrow will be a better day for amphibian hunting…
Today we flew to Belize! I slept through my alarm and barely woke up in enough time to avoid being left behind. After a rocky start and a delayed flight (we still waited over an hour at the airport, and more after boarding the plane, we finally arrived.
On landing, after dealing with bags and logistics, I immediately started to try identifying trees… and immediately realized that I was in over my head in terms of identifying them from a distance. I focused mostly on leaf shape, bark texture, and other details when I was researching them, but did not take note of the overall appearance of the tree (beyond size).
I did notice what I thought might be Quamwood trees as we came in. Quamwood (Schizolobium parahyba) trees bloom yellow and can stand a bit above or even with the canopy, so they stick out like sore thumbs when in bloom. Scott pointed out a trumpet tree (Cecropia obtusifolia) at a restaurant called Cheers, which we stopped at on the way to the Crystal Paradise Ecolodge, where we are staying just for tonight. There are many here as well (I will attach a picture here as soon as I upload it).
I think I also noticed an Acacia species, based in part on similarity to Texas species, but there are multiple of these in Belize and I did not know the specific species. It was blooming red.
We can also see a Horse’s Balls tree (Stemmadenia donnell-smithii) right out the upstairs window of our shared cabin. It is easily identified by the shape of the seed.
After today, we will have one ethernet cable and be limited to any devices that can connect to it (and that is only available when the generator is on), so this might be my last post for a while.
T minus 12 hours until I’m on a plane to Belize! Will this trip be the academic experience of a lifetime? Will this trip re-define my perspective of the world? Will my poor sight hinder my ability to distinguish between a snake and a branch leading to a rather tragic and short-lived trip for me? All this remains to be answered in the upcoming weeks.
It’s May 13th. My stuff: packed. My assignments: turned in. I am: excited. Now that I’ve established myself as ‘that one kid who feels an obligation to title ever blog post with a horrible pun’, I have to say: I am beyond excited to meet everybody, bond, learn, and experience the wonders of Belize. I hope to come away with valuable field work experience and skills that I can bring back with me to Vanderbilt labs (plus 10 new friends)!
While the obvious anxieties for a newbie to the tropics arise (heat, diarrhea, getting lost), it is my habit as an overachiever to worry more about my grades. Fingers crossed, the readings will sufficiently prepare me for conducting quality research. As an off-campus class member, I know that my preparation process has been slightly different from the rest of the class body. Communication has been a source of annoyance, but those woes are soon to be gone once I am integrated into the class. I packed my gear and living supplies into two bags and flew down from the 901 to Houston yesterday, where I have been crashing on my cousin’s couch and eagerly awaiting Belize (picture of me experiencing Houston attached below). Here’s to an awesome experience! See y’all soon!
It feels like yesterday that I was sitting in on the information session covering what prospective students could expect from EBIO 319. I remember thinking, “This seems like a really interesting class, but there is no way I am going to end up going” – little did I know. We leave for Belize early tomorrow morning and it doesn’t feel real!
The reality of the trip will likely set in when we all arrive at Valhalla and set off to the airport. At that point, there will be no going back, which is slightly unnerving but incredibly exciting. I have never been to Belize, or anywhere in Central America in fact, except for a brief stop in Mexico, so I am excited to get to travel somewhere new while at the same time learning and experiencing all that I can. I hope to learn as much as I can about what conducting field research is all about as well the fauna of Belize.
I can’t wait to discover all that both Las Cuevas and Glover’s Reef have to offer, and I can’t wait to get to point out species from my chosen taxon! What I am most uneasy about is the fact that I’ve never lived in research stations for two weeks in a foreign country; however, I feel that through our readings and by gaining a deeper understanding of Belize, both about its history and its fauna, everything will turn out great.
I think that I am most excited for the Reef aspect of our trip, as ocean life is something I am particularly interested in and I have always loved the ocean. I can’t wait to get into the water! Overall, I am incredibly excited about our trip and all the adventures that lie ahead. In less than 24 hours I’ll be in Belize and I can’t believe it!
These pre-departure blogs will probably all look pretty similar. I think they will diversify once we arrive in Belize, because our days will be packed and different experiences will stand out to each of us. I can’t wait to start identifying the trees of the rainforest at Las Cuevas Research Station and the hard and soft corals of the waters of Glover’s Reef. There are overwhelming numbers of each, and each taxon is a fundamental component of its respective ecosystem.
I can’t believe we are already leaving tomorrow. Preparing for the trip, I keep thinking of one thing after another that I might want to bring– I hope I haven’t left anything out! I have never snorkeled before, aside from our class practice in the Rec center pool (and an encore with Dr. Shore to try a second pair of fins that fit better).
I think one of the largest differences for me identifying species in Belize (relative to Texas) will be the lack of internet resources in the field. I’ve become spoiled identifying plants and birds around here by their calls and visuals with aid from my smartphone and I’m quite practiced at identification, but it will be different when not able to rely on those internet resources. I’m prepared to identify several species of each (trees and coral), but am sure there will be many that I will not recognize from my studies.
This will be my first trip outside of the U.S. (if you don’t count Canada), much less to such a complex natural world as the rainforest or coral reef ecosystems, so I’m super excited to see and learn about the plants and animals and how they interact.
Tomorrow morning I leave for Belize, where I will spend a week at Las Cuevas Research Station to explore the tropical rainforest and a week at Glover’s Reef Research Station to explore the coral reef. Even though I started getting everything I need around a month ago I still had to run to the store for the last item today. Now I finally feel like everything is reading to go for my time in Belize.
I have spent many hours researching different aspects of Belize to prepare for my trip including Orthoptera, Zoanthids, Corallimorphs, Anemones, and the geological and biogeographic history. I will hopefully be able to share this knowledge with others and use it as a base to learn more while I am there. It would be extremely exciting to have learned about something sitting at my desk at Rice and then be able to see it in real life. I am worried that I have missed some important Orthoptera species during my research and will not be able to identify the common species that I find in Belize, but even identifying one species will be exciting.
My previous experiences in the tropics were family vacations to Panama and Costa Rica. These trips were not dedicated to researching and learning about my surroundings like I expect this trip will be. I am particularly excited and nervous for the week at Glover’s Reef Research Station. I am excited because it will be a completely new experience. I have snorkeled when I was younger, but never paid close attention to what I was seeing. I am nervous because I have never snorkeled much below the surface and sometimes have trouble equalizing the pressure in my ears. I am sure I will have plenty of practice throughout the week, so hopefully I’ll feel comfortable by the end.
Super excited for Belize, which will be in less than 24 hours!! I am expecting to meet new people, ready to learn more about the diversity of the rainforest, and to experience firsthand fieldwork. I am ready for this humidity to hit me since I am from Memphis, TN, and Memphis weather is crazy. It is very unpredictable but never really humid. So you can say I have prepared by drinking LOTS of water. Overall, I hope to gain an insight on what the fieldwork life is like and to see if it is something I would be interested in continuing forward.
Not having been to Belize makes this more exciting, and as I am packing right now, all I can think of is whether or not I have everything. I just finished my shopping today and let’s just say it was a journey. Oh and I promise I did not push this aside. I am excited to see hundreds of species of life, and experience something that I have yet to do. The readings did provide LOTS of descriptions, but I am ready to firsthand see these beautiful species. More of a visual learner I would say.
In preparation for this course, I have learned about identification of species from looking at images from multiple sources, and I can say that there are thousands of species and variations among both epiphytic plants and segmented worms. I looked at many pictures of epiphytes and annelids and let’s just say that both are extremely diverse, extreme as in like the phylogenetic trees are just crazy!
On a final note, I hope my blogs will become more interesting, but for now, time to meet up with the gang and head to Belize. Hope to see you for day 1!