Team Sapsucker, Looking Forward To Global Big Day In The Yucatan Peninsula

We are looking forward to Andy’s arrival in Belize, with his team mates from the Lab and others from Belize. When I say “we” I am referring to the entire staff and community at Chan Chich Lodge.

As Global Big Day draws closer, it is time to introduce Andrew Farnsworth, Captain of Team Belize. We love the idea of the healthy competition among the 3 teams that will spend their Big Day birding the Yucatán –  and the Chan Chich guiding team especially looks forward to assisting the Lab team. Continue reading

Global Big Day, Coming Soon At Chan Chich Lodge

We have already extended the invitation, but we will continue reminding you just as the Lab keeps reminding us:

On May 13, 2017, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s birding Dream Team, the Sapsuckers, will reach for an audacious goal: finding 300 bird species in just 24 hours – and raising $475,000. Can they do it?! Continue reading

Keeping Those Scarlet Macaws Out Of Harm’s Way

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Two Scarlet Macaws chicks sit in their nest in the cavity of a quamwood tree in Belize’s Chiquibul Forest. Photo: Camilla Cerea/Audubon

Thanks to the neighbors of Chan Chich for bringing to my attention this article by Martha Harbison in the current issue of Audubon Magazine, which touches on the topic I referenced back here, not far from Chan Chich Lodge as the bird flies (so to speak):

…To keep macaw chicks safe, a team of rangers spends night and day watching over the birds’ nests and homes.

The Scarlet Macaw’s last, best defense against wildlife poachers doesn’t look like much: just a ramshackle collection of tarps, makeshift tables, plastic five-gallon buckets, jungle hammocks, and a cook fire, hidden in the dense understory of a tropical hardwood forest near the fraught and uncomfortably porous border between Belize and Guatemala. Continue reading

To Bait Or Not To Bait, A Debate

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A great gray looks up after plunging into the snow, while hunting north of Two Harbors, Minn. The great gray is one of the world’s largest species of owl. Derek Montgomery for MPR News

We have never had, nor can I picture us having this debate at Chan Chich Lodge or any other wildlife setting we are responsible for managing; nonetheless, since we all live in glass houses of one sort or another, it is worth a moment to read this and ponder (thanks to Dan Kraker and Minnesota Public Radio, USA):

Earlier this winter, photographer Michael Furtman was driving along the North Shore of Lake Superior in search of great gray owls. Several of the giant, elusive birds had flown down from Canada looking for food.

He pulled off on a dirt road where he had seen an owl the night before. One was there, perched in a spruce tree, but so was a pair of videographers filming them.

“I backed off, I was going to just let them have their time with the bird,” Furtman says. “And then I saw them run out and put a mouse on the snow.” Continue reading

Birdwatching 101, Mid-May, Chan Chich Lodge

SibleyYou probably cannot do much better, if you are just getting interested in birdwatching, than to have a primer like this one. The author, in the pantheon of ornithology according to the birdwatchers I know, spends half an hour sharing some of the basics in this podcast:

This week’s Please Explain is all about birdwatching. We chat with ornithologist David Allen Sibley, a leading expert in the field. Sibley is the author of The Sibley Guide to Birds, a reference work and field guide for the birds found in the North American region. He offers details and illustrations of 810 species of birds, with information about identification, life history, vocalizations, and geographic distribution. According to the Audubon Society, “There are 47 million birdwatchers. But there is only one David Sibley.”

In the final minutes Mr. Sibley answers a question that has been of interest to the staff of Chan Chich Lodge in recent months. Do bird feeders have any adverse effect on the birds they attract? In short, no. So today we returned the hummingbird feeders to their longstanding perches on the dining room deck. Birds, staff, and guests are all happy with this decision.

This podcast serves as a good reminder of an opportunity we are inviting birdwatchers of all skill levels to join us for. We have already posted about it here, and earlier here as well. Come join the fun!

A Decade Since The Last Flight Of The Scarlet Macaw

The+Last+Flight+of+the+Scarlet+Macaw.jpgWhen a book like this comes recommended, book reviews from a decade earlier are as fresh and relevant as ever:

…When McPhee wrote “Encounters With the Archdruid,” the American conservation movement was a religious and mystical force. It may still be so today, but the movement now employs nearly as many big-city lawyers and consultants as any corporation hoping to develop a mine, oil field or… dam. They’re out in force in Bruce Barcott’s new book, “The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw: One Woman’s Fight to Save the World’s Most Beautiful Bird,” the story of a bitter fight against a dam in western Belize. No, it doesn’t sound thrilling (which is doubtless why the publisher kept the word “dam” out of the title), but Barcott, a contributing editor at Outside magazine and the author of “The Measure of a Mountain: Beauty and Terror on Mount Rainier,” makes it so, mashing up adventure travel, biography and nature writing in a steamy climate of corruption and intrigue…

It is not the first time this book has been recommended to me, but yesterday a fellow hotelier in Belize mentioned it when describing his getting to know someone central to the book’s story, and this  reminded me that I still had not touched the book. It is, I am told, a must read.  Bruce Barcott provided an excerpt of his book back when it first came out, so I have just started.

Bird, Data, Love

We love this amazing poster from Pop Chart Lab as much as the link to find it.  The site’s zoom function gets you closer to the fantastic detail.

Take a look!

Perhaps our most ambitious taxonomical undertaking yet, this is your field guide to the birds of North America! The product of over 400 hours of intricate illustration work by our talented team of artists, this unabridged aviary features over 740 fair-feathered friends drawn to scale and sorted by species, covering the continent’s avifauna (both native and introduced, as designated by the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology) from common sparrows, jays, and owls to rarer birds such as the Greater Sage-Grouse, the California Condor, and the Whooping Crane. An ornithological opus like no other, this classificatory treasure is perfect for amateur and eagle-eyed birdwatchers alike. Continue reading

Why We Use eBird, A How-To Primer Explaining Our Motivations

Chan-Chich-Lodge-logoThis article published by Audubon (click their banner below to go there) continues to provide fresh illumination on the basics of eBird; also on why we have made eBird central to our birding activities for guests in recent years, and why Chan Chich Lodge is collaborating with the Lab of Ornithology this Global Big Day event .

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Since its launch in 2002, eBird has revolutionized the way birders worldwide report and share their observations. A joint project by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Audubon, eBird is a free online program that allows birders to track their sightings, while other birders watch and search in real-time. Articles have been written about eBird with mind-bending titles like, “eBird Changed My Life” and “The Agony and Ecstasy of Surrendering to eBird.” In a front-page science headline in 2013, The New York Times called it “Crowdsourcing, for the Birds,” and concluded that eBird is “a revelation for scientists” and gives birders “a new sense of purpose.” Continue reading

Global Big Day 2017, Belize

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You have plenty of options of where to spend the day, but we are hoping to share the entire week leading up to May 13 with lots of old friends of Chan Chich Lodge–not only dedicated birders, but especially them. And not only old friends–we welcome the opportunity to introduce new folks to birding. So think about joining us that week in particular.

In our work around the world in recent years we have tried to support the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s mission, focused through ebird in this worthy call to action, in as many ways as possible. If you do not know about the Lab, start with what they say about themselves and if it strikes you as relevant click on the banner above to make a pledge on one key initiative:

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a world leader in the study, appreciation, and conservation of birds. Our hallmarks are scientific excellence and technological innovation to advance the understanding of nature and to engage people of all ages in learning about birds and protecting the planet. Continue reading

Come See, Enjoy, & Count With Us!

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We had the good fortune some weeks ago to host one of Europe’s finest birder-guide-photographers at Chan Chich Lodge. His bird photos are wow quality (see below for an example) but my favorite of all his photos is the one above of an ocelot. We are gearing up for Global Big Day at Chan Chich Lodge. Our primary goal is simple. Follow the leader, and lead by example. Our secondary goal is kind of competitive, related to the program’s own details:

Details

For the past two years, the second Saturday in May has been the biggest day of the year for birds: Global Big Day. More than 6,000 species of bird. Tens of thousands of people. 153 countries. Immeasurable fun. Continue reading

Global Big Day 2017, Neotropical Focus

Neotropical BirdingNeotropical Birding’s magazine feature on Global Big Day 2017, which we are looking forward to at Chan Chich Lodge, provides a good primer on the what, how and why of this event; we hope to convince you on the where:

Walking the thin line between madness and brilliance, ‘big days’ (also known as ‘bird races’) are the essence of birding’s competitive spirit distilled into 24 intense, frantic and thrilling hours. Months of planning, poring over spreadsheets and pen-marked maps; days spent scouting out the perfect stops, driving practice routes while ingesting egregious amounts of caffeine; and years of birding experience used to find  the right habitat for each target species, the game is to see or hear as many bird species as possible in a single, incredibly efficient, BIG day.

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Why do this? Why care? These friendly competitions are an incredibly powerful way to engage people around the world, both within the birding community and beyond. Across fields of study and walks of life, there is always an innate human interest in setting records or being a part of something that has never happened before. In addition to the inherent fun, record-setting events provide an outlet to talk to non-birders about conservation issues, ecological concerns, and all the things that make birds so interesting. Continue reading

Preparing For Global Big Day On May 13, 2017

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Global Big Day map painted by Luke Seitz, a Bartels Science Illustration intern and member of the Redheads student birding team.

We have about two months to prepare, and this third year of Global Big Day could be epic. When we started participating in this annual event in 2015 our work still mostly focused on the Western Ghats region of southwest India, but we were migrating back to the Mesoamerica region so our attention has been shifting. Now we are all in at Chan Chich Lodge and we want to help ensure that this year Belize is as strong a contributor as possible to the goals of this program:

In our ongoing effort to push the boundaries of a Big Day, we’re inviting everybody around the world to join together and participate in our Global Big Day to support global conservation.

How to Participate

Submit Your Data to eBird on May 13

It’s that simple. If you submit your birds to eBird they count. Learn how to take part. Don’t worry — you don’t need to be a bird expert, or to go out all day long. Even a half hour checklist from your backyard will help. Of course, you are welcome to spend the entire day in the field, but know that it is not required! Please enter your data as soon as you can, preferably by Tuesday, May 16. Continue reading

Merlin Flying Further Afield

We’ve written about this amazing APP on our pages before, and it’s exciting to watch it’s evolution and expansion of both technology and territory.

Our work has yet to expand to Mexico, but birds don’t acknowledge national borders, so the majority of the species in the Yucatan  can be found in all 3 countries that make up the peninsula – Belize, Guatemala and of course, Mexico.

We look forward to having our marvelous guides try it out just for fun!

 Merlin Expands to Mexico

We’ve spent the last few months working to expand coverage of Merlin, and we’ve just released a new bird pack for the Yucatan Peninsula. Research at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology repeatedly points to the Yucatan Peninsula as a vital wintering ground for many of our favorite breeding birds in the United States. It’s also home to many dazzling birds unique to the Neotropics. Continue reading

A Novelist, Birding, Wades In Murky Territory

FranzenWNYC.jpgIn 2012 we started a string of posts featuring him, but have not linked to a Franzen-related birding story in a while. Best in epic category was likely here. Last time might have been here. If you appreciate his passion for birds, you should take a few minutes and listen to this, featuring him during an outing near his home:

Before achieving success as a novelist, Jonathan Franzen couldn’t imagine doing something just for fun.  But now, he’ll spend an entire afternoon dodging puddles of manure for the pleasure of looking at birds, “these very visible, very beautiful, very intelligent bipeds who are a lot like us.” Through the “portal” of birds, Franzen says, we can get to know the natural world.  He took our producer Rhiannon Corby along on a trip to MoonGlow Dairy, near on Monterey Bay, where the birds are as plentiful as the cow pies. Watch your step!

Galapagos, Bird Behavior & More Great Science Writing

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A booby doing its mating dance. Credit Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket, via Getty Images

We had missed one of our favorite science writers for a while and we are so happy she is back! In her latest outing, covering ground we thought was already familiar, we get some new clues to the meaning of their coloration and rituals:

On Galápagos, Revealing theBlue-Footed Booby’s True Colors

With no real predators, the birds live proud, public lives. That accessibility has proved a bonanza for scientists, casting light on their mating habits and even why the shade of their feet matters.

By Natalie AngierContinue reading

Great Backyard Bird Count at Villa del Faro

a male Xantus' Hummingbird, endemic to Baja California Sur

a male Xantus’ Hummingbird, endemic to Baja California Sur, photographed during the GBBC

For last year’s GBBC, I was working in Costa Rica, in the Central Valley. This time around, I was on the job in Baja California Sur, Mexico, at Villa del Faro. Over the course of the four days that comprise the Great Backyard Bird Count, I was able to go out three mornings and one afternoon in search for birds.

By the last day, I had seen most of the usual suspects, although I was unable to spot a Pyrrhuloxia, one of my favorite species here in Baja, which is quite shy. In total, however, I saw 38 species around Villa del Faro, which has a hotspot with 76 species, so I saw exactly half the birds recorded here so far (and two of them were only just reported for the first time yesterday).  Continue reading

Recommended By Guests At Chan Chich Lodge

bird-tales-kitWhen guests of Chan Chich Lodge told me last evening about their local Audubon Center in Connecticut (USA), my first thought was a memory of the Audubon Center in my hometown, also in Connecticut, and how essential it was to the decisions I made to do what I do today.

Then they mentioned Bird Tales, and I had never heard of anything like this before, but it made so much sense to me I thought I should excerpt the description here and point it out to the many bird-centric visitors to our platform here (click the image to the left to go to the website of the Center that created the program):

…Initially working with four facilities operated by Transcon Corporation, our Audubon Center Bent of the River Education Program Manager, Ken Elkins, incorporated Audubon at Home environmental principles into the goals of these facilities to improve the quality of life for their residents. Continue reading

Jane Alexander, Come Back To Belize

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Jane Alexander describes, about half way through the conversation above, being in Belize with Alan Rabinowitz several decades ago for birdwatching, and how it changed her life. 41imiogqjal-_sx336_bo1204203200_She has been a committed conservationist ever since, as she also describes in this 2012 interview in Audubon Magazine. Anyone who uses an extra 15 minutes of fame – – after a lifetime endowed with plenty of it, well earned for her professional accomplishments — for this purpose is a class act in our book. She has a book that looks worthy of her, according to the publisher’s description:

A moving, inspiring, personal look at the vastly changing world of wildlife on planet earth as a result of human incursion, and the crucial work of animal and bird preservation across the globe being done by scientists, field biologists, zoologists, environmentalists, and conservationists. From a longtime, much-admired activist, impassioned wildlife proponent and conservationist, former chairperson of the National Endowment for the Arts, four time Academy Award nominee, and Tony Award and two-time Emmy Award-winning actress. Continue reading

Coffee, Birds & How They Matter

Sun-grown coffee (left) is a monoculture of coffee bushes. Shade-grown coffee (right) offers more habitat for forest species. Photos: Chris Foito/Cornell Lab Multimedia; Guillermo Santos).

Sun-grown coffee (left) is a monoculture of coffee bushes. Shade-grown coffee (right) offers more habitat for forest species. Photos: Chris Foito/Cornell Lab Multimedia; Guillermo Santos).

Our lives in the New World Tropics has allowed a frequent convergence between birds and coffee, even in the most simple terms of enjoying birdsong in our garden over the first morning cup. That very garden of our home in Costa Rica sits in what was historically cafetal (a coffee finca), with large trees shading the coffee that still grows along the little stream that runs along the property line. Blue-crowned motmots (the Central American cousin to the Andean Motmot mentioned below, have been frequent residents.

The coffee plantings at our home are insignificant compared to the 100+ acres of Gallon Jug Estate shade-grown coffee at Chan Chich. Of the nearly 350 bird species recorded in the Chan Chich Reserve’s 30,000 acres, a large percentage are migratory, making their home in the coffee as well as the healthy forest habitats that make up the reserve.

Sustainable agriculture is rarely a “get rich quick scheme”, but taken within the context of the “seventh generation stewardship”, the benefits will continue to outweigh the costs.

In Colombia, Shade-Grown Coffee Sustains Songbirds and People Alike

By Gustave Axelson

Early one morning last January, I drank Colombian coffee the Colombian way—tinto, or straight dark.

I sipped my tinto while sitting on a Spanish colonial veranda at Finca Los Arrayanes, a fourth-generation coffee farm and hotel deep in northwestern Colombia’s Antioquia region. The sun had not yet risen above the high ridges of the northern Andes. In the ambient gray predawn light, the whirring nocturnal forest insects were just beginning to quiet down.

My senses of taste and smell were consumed by the coffee, which was strong and bold in a pure way, the flavor flowing directly from the beans, not a burnt layer of roast. But my eyes were trained on a small wooden platform that held a couple of banana halves. The first bird to visit was an Andean Motmot, one of Colombia’s many Alice in Wonderland–type fantastical birds. It sported a green-and-turquoise coat and black eye mask, and it was huge—longer than my forearm, with a long tail with two circles at the end that swung rhythmically from side to side like the pendulum of a clock.

The motmot flew away and I took another sip of coffee to be sure I didn’t dream it. Another bird soon landed on the platform to pick at the bananas. This one was yellow, though Colombians call it tangara roja, because males of this species are completely red. In its breeding range, birders from the Carolinas to Texas know it as the Summer Tanager.

For more than 5 million years, a rainbow of Neotropical migrant birds (tanagers, warblers, and orioles) has been embarking on epic annual migrations from breeding grounds in North America to the New World tropics. In Colombia, these wintering areas are a lot different now than they were just 50 years ago. From the 1970s to the 1990s, more than 60 percent of Colombian coffee lands were cleared of forest as new varieties of sun-grown coffee were planted. During that same period, populations for many Neotropical migrant species plummeted—a drop many scientists say is related to deforestation of the birds’ wintering areas across Central and South America.

And yet, coffee doesn’t require deforestation. Continue reading