From our President: Birding Pleasures and Treasures of Belize and Guatemala

Travel for birding is a great way to learn about the global interdependence of our ecosystems. Central America hosts some of our Neotropical migratory birds during the winter months. After the previous year’s breeding season, the birds fly south for the winter and recover their strength by eating insects in the tropical jungle’s abundance of living things. Warm temperatures, water, and a wide variety of foods are available to the birds. The northern hemisphere is inhospitable to insectivorous birds during this time, but closer to the equator they can eat and prepare for their northern migration in the spring.

When we visited Belize in late February, we saw many warbler species (out of breeding plumage) foraging throughout the jungle around us. About 25 percent of the 191 bird species we saw were migratory to the northern hemisphere. The protection of the tropical rainforest jungle habitat directly affects “our” birds as well as the rich diversity of the many plants, mammals, reptiles, and insects that live in this special area. Although a trip to Belize burns fuel and broadens our eco-footprint, we also add much needed money to the small communities catering to the eco-tourist and birding traveler. We met with and shared our love of nature with guides and residents who value the beauty and diversity of their local jungle and way of life. Making a connection and supporting the work of the Belizean lodges and guides reinforces the commitment to protect these habitats. Belizeans are proud of their forests and national parks, for good reason!

During our time at three lodges (Lamanai Outpost, Chan Chich, and Chaa Creek) we were fed from local gardens and food producers. We were hosted by local village workers in the lodges and met several guides who chose their occupation out of love for their homes near the jungle forests. Families had lived for generations in this area and truly cared about the protections and income the lodges provide. The bird guides we worked with were young, enthusiastic, and excellent birders. They are well trained in Mayan archeology and medicinal plants from their native culture backgrounds. They had worked hard to achieve their positions and were personable representatives of their country. The Lamanai Lodge bird guides had won awards for the most bird species on their Christmas Bird Count efforts. This is no surprise, since the Lodge boasts a bird list of almost 400 species!

Marco, our bird and archeology guide for a day trip to Tikal in Guatemala, said, “Any day I can see a Roseate Spoonbill is a good day for me. They are so beautiful and only pass through during their migration.” Marco is a member of a birding group in Guatemala called Peten Birders Club. They monitor birds several times a year and post them to eBird. They also do citizen science, educational outreach, and birding camps to encourage protecting habitats for the birds living in their corner of Guatemala. The intact rainforest preserves that cover portions of Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and the other Central American countries is the largest rainforest outside the Amazon jungles.

Seeing these areas and soaking in the history, culture, and magnificent jungle ecosystem was a wonderful experience. The down side was heat, high humidity, and insect bites! We stayed clear of other hazards and had a great trip. Hearing Golden-mantled Howler monkeys on a daily basis keeps you awake and aware of the wild jungle world outside the cabin door!

FMI on the Neotropical migration of birds: tinyurl.com/ycll4cyg