Life List Birding

Jabiru Stork by Richard Kostocke - La Paz Group

Jabiru stork taking flight from the Blue Creek rice fields, Orange Walk District, Belize

The name “Jabiru” is derived from the Tupi–Guarani family of languages from South America and means “swollen neck”; an apt description. This is the tallest flying bird in South and Central America and is second in wingspan (excluding pelagic flyers like albatross) only to the Andean Condor.  This denizen of wetland habitats is a voracious, opportunistic forager on a wide variety of animal matter, living or dead.  Needless to say, an impressive bird and I was ecstatic to see it!

It was past the mid-point of our Belize vacation, and as good and enjoyable as the birding had been, life birds (new species that I had never seen before) were fewer and farther between than I had anticipated/hoped.  I guess that was to be expected given that I have visited the Neotropics several times previously.  I had already seen many of the common, easy, widespread species (e.g., many if not most of the hummingbirds, parrots, motmots, etc.) that make birders new to the Neotropics giddy.  After talking to the local guides, apparently most of my desired life birds were the tough ones (hard to find, rare, skulky, etc.).  As I went through my list of target birds, they just kind of smiled and shook their heads. Continue reading

Preparing For August 21

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Solar eclipse of November 13, 2012 as seen from Australia. Photo © Romeo Durscher on NASA Goddard Space Flight Center / Flickr through a Creative Commons license

Thanks to Cool Green Science for this set of instructions for North American viewing of the sun’s near-disappearance:

Where will you be on August 21, 2017 when the solar eclipse passes through North America?

Here’s a guide to viewing opportunities, including Nature Conservancy preserves where you can catch the spectacle in beautiful surroundings.

Solar eclipses can be viewed from the earth’s surface about two to four times a year, but they aren’t viewable from all parts of the earth’s surface and the path of totality (the places on Earth from which viewers can see the total eclipse) is only about 50 miles wide. Eclipse 2017 stands out because the path of totality cuts a wide swath through the United States and all of North America will have views of a partial eclipse.

NASA_map_508.jpg Continue reading

Third Wave Coffee In Central America

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San Francisco? Soho? Try Guatemala City, inside El Injerto, a coffee shop. Guatemala is home to an expanding coffee scene. Credit Daniele Volpe for The New York Times

Thanks to Elisabeth Malkin for her visit to Guatemala on behalf of the coffee lovers who read the New York Times:

The Hot New Thing in Guatemala, Land of Coffee? It’s Coffee

GUATEMALA CITY — In the narrative spun around specialty coffee, there are two kinds of places: those where people cultivate the beans and those where people consume the end result. Continue reading

California Leading On Climate

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Dairy cows in Fresno County, Calif. Some of the reductions in a state proposal to reduce emissions would come from curbing emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from manure piles at dairy farms. Credit Scott Smith/Associated Press

We appreciate California’s heroic measures to take responsibility and show leadership where it can on climate change:

Over the past decade, California has passed a sweeping set of climate laws to test a contentious theory: that it’s possible to cut greenhouse gas emissions far beyond what any other state has done and still enjoy robust economic growth.

Now that theory faces its biggest test yet. Last August, the State Legislature set a goal of slashing emissions more than 40 percent below today’s levels by 2030, a far deeper cut than President Barack Obama proposed for the entire United States and deeper than most other countries have contemplated.

So how will California pull this off? Continue reading

The Craft Speaks

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His craft is based in the notion that things of quality are meant to be fixed, even repeatedly, rather than discarded and replaced. Photograph by Martin Parr / Magnum

Thanks to the New Yorker and especially Anna Altman for this little picture:

There were the hiking boots I’ve had since high school, so battered that one Sunday, near the Delaware Water Gap, the rubber sole started to crumble off in chunks. There were the short brown riding boots, perforated like brogues, that remained beloved even with a gash worn through the leather at the heel. There were the teal-blue pumps with a decorative buckle on the toe, made by an upscale French designer and borrowed, without total permission, from a friend’s sister, for a twenty-first birthday party. Those came home flecked with my roommate’s vomit, a peel of leather dangling from the toe. Continue reading

That Thing About Uber

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For what it is worth, a confession. I deleted this app with the intent to never use it again, and then I switched to this one. That felt good. Then last week I was up in the mountains of Escazu, in Costa Rica, and I had to change my mind. At 3:30 a.m. a local taxi driver who was supposed to pick me up to take me to the airport did not show up. After a few minutes I finally relented and downloaded the app I had deleted. And something unexpected, something very good happened. Continue reading

Some Climate Solutions Are Simple

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A male chimpanzee hooting in the wild forests of western Uganda. Deforestation in the country is occurring at some of the fastest rates on Earth, shrinking the habitat of this endangered species. Credit Suzi Eszterhas/Minden Pictures

Thanks to the New York Times for this refresher on the basics of climate change and what is needed that we can most easily do to counter its effects:

A Cheap Fix for Climate Change? Pay People Not to Chop Down Trees

By Brad Plumer

The tropical forests in western Uganda, home to a dwindling population of endangered chimpanzees, are disappearing at some of the fastest rates on Earth as local people chop down trees for charcoal and to clear space for subsistence farming.

Now, a team of researchers has shown that there is a surprisingly cheap and easy way to slow the pace of deforestation in Uganda: Just pay landowners small sums not to cut down their trees. Their study, published in the journal Science on Thursday, demonstrated this by conducting something all too rare in environmental policy — a controlled experiment. Continue reading

Laying Eyes on the Ocellated Turkey

Ocellated Turkey Details Photo Credits: TL: Leander Khil, TR: Seth Inman, BL & BR: Richard Kostecke

When we first met recent guest (and now contributor) Richard Kostecke at Chan Chich Lodge he shared that the Ocellated Turkey was a life list bird for him. Like many birders we’ve met here, he was thrilled by the fact that this near-threatened species is so prevalent around the lodge and throughout our 30,000 acres.

This is especially true during the past several months, when we see the parades of chicks running behind the attendant adults throughout the property.

As a parting gift Richard had sent us a link about the species from Cool Green Science, a site we frequent ourselves.

Found only on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, Guatemala and Belize, the ocellated turkey (Meleagris ocellata) certainly bears a resemblance to the American wild turkey.

But it’s a different species. It is smaller and lacks the “beard” typical of the more familiar wild turkey. Its mating call is higher pitched than the usual “gobble.” The most striking difference, though, is the color.

The vibrant, almost unreal color: iridescent feathers, large spots on the tail, a bright red ring around the eye and a blue head covered with red and yellow nodules (nodules that swell and become brighter in males during the breeding season).

It’s a turkey as conceived by Dr. Seuss. Or perhaps Alexis Rockman. Continue reading

Conservation Via Valuation

When we consider that cat sightings play an important role in why our guests come to Chan Chich Lodge, this type of valuation is something we can get behind whole heartedly. Thanks again to the Anthropocene for this interesting piece of daily science. And thanks again to Panthera.org for their role in the research.

The lesson of the $300,000 bobcat

What is a bobcat worth? There’s a few ways of thinking about that question. One answer, of course, is that a bobcat’s value is intrinsic, their lives not something to signify with a price tag. Fair enough. But for the sake of discussion, and because there’s already a market for their hides, let’s run the math: in the state of Wyoming, a bobcat is worth roughly $300 dead and up to $308,000 alive. And in that vast difference is a tension — some would call it a flaw — in the way these marvelous cats, and many other species too, are presently managed in North America.

The calculations come from a study recently published in the journal Biodiversity and Conservation. Led by Mark Elbroch, a biologist with Panthera, the wild cat conservation organization, and also featuring researchers from wildlife advocacy group Wyoming Untrapped, the researchers totaled the revenues generated in 2015-2016 from selling trapping licenses in that state — $152,000 — and divided them by 1,160 bobcats killed, then added the average sale value of pelts. The final per-bobcat value came to $315.17.

Then Elbroch’s team turned to the example of a bobcat living along the Madison River in Yellowstone National Park, where his predilection for hunting waterfowl made him popular among wildlife lovers. They surveyed 46 photographers who traveled to Wyoming in winter 2015-2016 and the outfitters who guided them. Between outfitters’ fees, money spent on food, lodging and travel, and revenues from selling pictures, the bobcat generated $308,105, or a thousand-fold increase from his worth as a source of fur alone.

The researchers don’t argue that every living bobcat in Wyoming is worth more than $300,000.

Continue reading

Elephants, Orangutans, Rhinos & Tigers–What Are They Worth To Us?

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Deforestation in the Leuser ecosystem, one of the last homes to Sumatran elephants, orangutans, rhinos and tigers. Photograph: Sutanta Aditya/Barcroft Images

Thanks to the Guardian:

Pepsico, Unilever and Nestlé accused of complicity in illegal rainforest destruction

Palm oil plantations on illegally deforested land in Sumatra – home to elephants, orangutans and tigers – have allegedly been used to supply scores of household brands, says new report Continue reading

Early Classic Period Puzzles

Early Classic Period Polychrome Vessels

Almost from its inception there have been archaeological studies of the Maya sites at Chan Chich by nature of the lodge’s stated purpose to protect the area from further lootering. Professor Thomas Guderjan lead some of the early field seasons (1988 and 1990) studying the Maya Settlements in Northern Belize. At that time, the two Dos-Arroyos Polychrome Vessels illustrated above were some of the only artifacts found on site, but the subsequent seasons, spanning close to 20 years at this point, have yielded extensive data and additional artifacts.

These two vessels remain on display in the restaurant area at Chan Chich Lodge. Although both had been repaired by Guderjan’s team, the one on the left had broken over the years. Just before this season’s team fully dispersed, I took the opportunity to request some puzzle practice.  Continue reading