Today we were able to complete an entire research project in the span of a morning. We were trying to see whether plant diversity was higher in disturbed or undisturbed areas of the forest, and this, in turn, helped us to understand how hurricanes can potentially lead to diversity changes. After lunch, we began work on another project but we haven’t quite finished yet.
While we were out in the jungle, we were able to see four Scarlet Macaws perched on the same tree! They were close enough to where we could see their brightly colored feathers. Also, Kaela and Cassia told me that they saw a bird (probably a kite by their description) fly over the canopy holding a rodent almost as large as the bird itself. I really wish I would’ve been able to see that because it sounds pretty wild.
In the late afternoon, we hiked an increasingly steep trail up to a place called the Bird Tower. It’s a tower on a large hill which overlooks the jungle and although it does the views we saw from the top were absolutely incredible. There were no signs of civilization and the forest seemed to go on forever. I could’ve sat up there all day. Unfortunately, all things come to an end and we had to walk back to the station, but on our way, we saw a jumping pit viper, one of the venomous snakes in the region!
Tomorrow our main goal is to retrieve all of the camera traps we placed during our first full day at Las Cuevas. Hopefully, we were able to get pictures of some cool animals! We aren’t really supposed to get our hopes up too high, but I for one hope to see a Jaguar! It’s crazy to think that we only have one more full day at Las Cuevas, but I’m looking forward to heading to Glover’s Reef!
This morning I woke up again for birding and we saw some familiar birds such as parrots and another Plumbeous Kite. I can now recognize the parrots’ calls which is fun. After breakfast and as we were about to head out into the jungle, two Scarlet Macaws flew near the research station! They landed in a tree close by and we were able to get some really good photos of them. They seemed to be playing at certain points and they even landed on the research station. We see them basically every day now which is crazy.
Today was all about our research project. We spent the morning out in the jungle retrieving the pitfall traps we placed yesterday and then we spent the afternoon quantifying and classifying our data. We caught a ton of ants, so Brendan (the ant expert) spent a long time sorting them. We found that our data supported our hypotheses- that the canopy was both more nitrogen limited and less species diverse. We compiled our data onto a poster and presented it for Amanda and Scott. It was a great experience!
While we were out in the jungle, we saw a bunch of really cool animal species. Soon after we set out, we spotted a Keel-Billed Toucan ridiculously close to us. We stopped and watched it for a while. Later, we even saw a MORELET’S TREE FROG!! They are a critically endangered species of treefrog and we spotted it on a Fishtail Palm while we could hear Scarlet Macaws in the background. It was overall an incredible moment. Kaela was really excited about it because she’s all about amphibians.
We haven’t been told what we’re doing tomorrow but I’m sure it’ll be interesting. Also, we only have two more days at Las Cuevas so we’re going to have to make the most of them!
This morning I woke up early enough to go bird watching, and it was definitely worth it. It was really peaceful and a great way to start the day. We saw a couple interesting species such as a Plumbeous Kite, and multiple parrots (which both act and sound like they are in a constant state of panic); however, the most fascinating bird we saw by far was the keel-billed toucan. It has a characteristically long beak and is fantastically colored. We spotted it eating some kind of fruit from a tree on the edge of the clearing.
During breakfast, we were surprised with an interesting request- to fill two 50mL conical tubes with 25mL of urine each. We thought we were being messed with at first but we soon realized it was for real. The tubes were used for the research project we set up today. We are trying to determine whether the canopy or forest floor has a greater abundance and richness of arthropods as well as which level is more nitrogen limited (our urine acts as a nitrogen source). Again, I was surprised by our lack of bird sightings within the jungle, although we could hear their calls.
After we finished setting up our project and ate lunch, we got to explore the cave near the research station. The whole experience was surreal. The cave was massive and if it wasn’t for our headlamps it would’ve been completely dark. There were a lot of really cool rock formations and the cave was at one time a Mayan pilgrimage site (also the cave was covered in bat guano but no biggie). Liz, Anna, and Pierce even gave their presentations in the cave!
We ended the day with a night hike. It was nice because it wasn’t as hot and we were also able to see a lot of species which are most active at night. We didn’t see any birds, but we saw a lot of spiders, a scorpion, a snake, and a ton of other interesting organisms. Outside of collecting the tubes that we set up earlier, I have no idea what we’ll be doing tomorrow, but that’s why it’s exciting.
Today I was able to catch up on some much-needed sleep, but we still woke up relatively early. Our day was centered around setting up camera traps in order for us to attain data which will later help us with our research question. We set them up along two paths which branch out from the research station and we set up seven cameras in total. Our first hike was difficult, but it was nice knowing that we won’t have to make it again for quite some time.
While in the jungle, I was surprised by the fact that we saw virtually no birds. This may partly be due to my looking at the ground for the majority of the hike in order to ensure I wouldn’t face plant. I definitely heard calls, but I was unable to spot the birds making them.
Soon after we got back to the station, guess what we saw… If you said THREE SCARLET MACAWS then you’d be right. We initially saw two of them perched on a tree on the edge of the clearing surrounding the research station. They were rubbing against each other at first, but they soon began to engage in what appeared to be fighting. The two flew off and were joined by a third. The trio continuously circled the station and it felt like they were showing off for us. The whole display was amazing and I can’t believe that we were lucky enough to see it. We also saw a Montezuma Oropendola soon after and I heard their distinctive call a couple times today.
We’re not 100% sure what we’ll be up to tomorrow, but we will definitely start another research project. We also might get to venture into a cave close to the research station, so hopefully, that works out. I’m planning on waking up for birding early tomorrow morning and I’m hoping to see a lot of interesting species. Wish me luck!
We had a very long day today, and we were able to see and do some pretty incredible things. We started out by going to Rio on the Pools where we cooled off for a while, and then we headed to Caracol, an abandoned Mayan ruin which once held a prominent position in Mayan society. There we climbed Mayan ruins and learned a lot about Mayan history and culture. After Caracol, we headed to Las Cuevas and we’re now in the Chiquibul Forest!
We saw some incredibly interesting birds today such as the Montezuma Oropendola and even a Scarlet Macaw!! (Except I didn’t actually see the Scarlet Macaw as I may have been trying to take a nap so now I know that sleep is for the weak) We spotted the Montezuma Oropendola at Caracol. The Oropendola create woven nests which hang from the branches of trees like pendulums, hence the name. They also have an especially unique call which I won’t soon forget. The Oropendolas seemed to be trying to ward off blackbirds which were getting too close to their nests, and our guide Leo told us that the blackbirds will eat the Oropendolas’ eggs.
While at Caracol we also spotted a few Howler Monkeys, which was incredibly cool. Our guide Leo told us not to get too close or they would “bless” us and luckily no one did.
Once we arrived at Las Cuevas and after we were settled in, we began to discuss what our first research question/project would be. We decided that we would explore how species diversity and richness changes as the distance from the field station increases, and our hypothesis is that as distance increases, diversity and richness should increase as well. Tomorrow we are going to put up camera traps in numerous places to facilitate our project. Hopefully, everything goes well!
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.
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!