Today was another travelling day. We left Glover’s in the morning to head back to the mainland. We did one last snorkel on the way back through the mangroves at Twin Caye. There, we saw a manatee, a yellow seahorse, a magnificent feather duster worm, and a lot of upside down jellyfish. I also saw some Caulerpa algae, and many of the algae species I’d seen around the patch reefs.
The other place we stopped on the way back was Carrie Bow Caye, the Smithsonian Research Center. It was cool to meet the volunteer station manager, Clive, and hear about the research going on there.
Once we got back to the mainland, we went back to the Tropical Education Center where we are staying again tonight. We spent the evening at the Belize Zoo and got an amazing tour. We saw five big cats, including a jaguar that did somersaults for us. We also fed a tapir and two crocodiles.
The last thing we did tonight was talk with Lucrecia, who is in Belize to do cat research and took EBIO 319 last year. It was good to see her because we ran cross country together in the fall but she spent the spring semester in Tanzania, and it sounds like she has been doing some really cool stuff.
Tomorrow we are going to a cave. I’m sure it is going to be awesome, but I’m still a little sad that we aren’t at the reef anymore.
Today is the last activity day at Las Cuevas Research Station. We finally retrieved the camera traps we set on the first day. I was not expecting much because I have heard how cautious wildlife are especially near human presence. But what are the odds, the cameras caught a curassow, a tapir, an ocelot, and a weasel looking animal that was hard to identify. The last camera trap was a blast with a big cat species we all hoped to see. The ocelot’s beautiful pattern was indeed mesmerizing.
The past several days at the LCRS I must say was extraordinary. The morning choir of the distant and closely birds, nocturne of the night insects, occasional cries of the howler monkeys, bustling processions of Leaf-cutter and army ants’ parade, and shimmer of the neighboring planet beside the tropical moon. Having the first-hand experience of the field biology on the crisp bed of fallen tree litters, rejoicing with the unexpected encounter with amazing species, I have never been so one with the nature before.
I still am not sure what my passion in the ecological field will be in detail. But I learned in LCRS that studying to approach ecological conservation of this biodiversity haven in the light of social, political, cultural, and economic perspective that I aspire to take could be a valid path, even one that could be healthy for me. I do not regret my decision to spend my time here.
We finished out the last day with another 13 mile hike to pick up all our camera traps. It took us about half the time it did on Thursday and I wasn’t nearly as tired. It’s amazing what your body can adjust to after just a few days. Even though I’m running on less sleep I feel great because of all the exercise and activity.
Checking the photos from camera traps was more exciting than you could possibly imagine. Most of it was nothing but when something popped up on screen we were elated. One of our cameras got a picture of a Tapir (!!!!) and another of an Ocelot (!!!!). Even though we only had a little taste of it I think I am starting to understand how difficult field work can be, but also how rewarding. I will miss the rainforest and all of its colors and scents and noises.
Even though we didn’t see many amphibians out here I didn’t feel too disappointed or bored because it meant I got to bounce around and look at everyone else’s taxonomic groups. The end of the dry season can be tough for herpetology but getting to watch birds, ants, mammals (I saw an agouti this morning), reptiles, and insects made up for it. Not to mention the plants! The diversity was incredible and I saw many more organisms than I was expecting.
Happy birthday Mom! You too Elena, sorry I missed them.
Today we collected our camera traps, which gave us a chance to do the hike from the first day all over again. 13 miles is still a long way to hike in rainboots, long pants, and long sleeve shirts while the sun is hot and the air is muggy as heck. It was definitely easier than the first day though.
On the hike I learned some important things, like the power of duct tape and the necessity of tiny electrolyte packets you can put in your water. My feet are definitely hot and swollen today, but my blisters are not nearly as bad thanks to duct tape.
I saw one cool spider on the hike as well as a bunch of others scurrying underfoot. The cool spider I saw was sitting with its two back legs splayed and its front legs held together so they looked like one. It was sitting on the underside of a leaf with its red body and black and white legs standing out against the green background.
We analyzed the camera traps at night and saw a tapir in a mud wallow, a great currasow on a road, and an ocelot and an agouti in a leaf cutter ant nest clearing off the trail. Younger Clare would have flipped at seeing a camera trap she helped set up capture an ocelot. Honestly though, present-day Clare probably flipped more. I jumped up and down and squeaked for the tapir and the ocelot.
Our final day at Las Cuevas began bright and early as always; we were out the door for our morning hike by 8am. We retraced our steps over 13 miles to collect our camera traps in record time, much more mentally prepared for the trail this time around. Though our picture count was low, we remained optimistic that our cameras had caught some animals (besides us). We also managed to spot what was most likely a Middle American ameiva (Ameiva festiva). I had never come across this lizard species before but was able to identify it using a field guide by its coloration. The lizard was about 12 cm long (which made it too long for an anole) and was a dark brown with white lines on its side broken into spots.
We had to wait until nightfall for the day’s real excitement: our camera trap analysis. The prospects seemed poor as we sifted through endless photos of ourselves or even of leaves flapping in the wind. But our first big find was a giant curassow, casually strolling past our camera in the middle of the road. Soon after, we discovered a picture of a Baird’s tapir, and the group cheered ecstatically at our first mammal sighting. Suspense rose as we tested the final camera; our expectations were low since it was placed in the center of a giant leaf-cutter ant nest. But to our surprise, the very last camera first held a photo of an indistinct rodent, which we guessed was an agouti. As we flipped through the final photos, the characteristic markings of a jungle cat suddenly appeared on the screen. Our final sighting was of an ocelot, one of the elusive large cat species of the Chiquibul.
Though our findings may have been few and far between, just the fact that we were able to capture such diverse species in four short days is incredible. And with that, a week in the Belizean rainforest is already done. Next stop: Glover’s Reef.