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


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

Birding By Season

Violet-crowned, blue-throated and magnificent hummingbirds, along with a dozen other bird species, have been recorded at the the Conservancy’s 380-acre Ramsey Canyon Preserve. © Teagan White

Violet-crowned, blue-throated and magnificent hummingbirds, along with a dozen other bird species, have been recorded at the the Conservancy’s 380-acre Ramsey Canyon Preserve. © Teagan White

Thanks once again to the Nature Conservancy’s Cool Green Science blog for simultaneously highlighting conservation history as well as inspiration to spend time outdoors. We stand with the TNC and all organizations in support of the legendary legislation that illustrates the core principles of wildlife and land stewardship.

The Audubon Society states it simply, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act protects birds from depredatory human activities. And the more we involve ourselves in birding activities, the more appreciation and awareness we have for the fragility of our ecosystems and the biodiversity they sustain.

 A Birding List for the New Year

In 2016, birders celebrated the centennial of the signing of the United States’ Migratory Bird Treaty. In 1918, the resulting legislation became one of the country’s first major pieces of environmental law. Today birders reap the benefits of the act, which barred, among other things, the hunting of migratory birds during nesting and mating seasons.

Continue reading

2016 Christmas Bird Count at Chan Chich

Cinnamon Hummingbird (Amazilia rutila) Sierra El Tuito, Jalisco, Mexico 21/01/2008 © Glen Tepke

The Chan Chich team was recently host to Christmas Bird Count participants from the Belize Audubon Society. Assisted by the Chan Chich guides, the team of ten birders tallied a total of 185 species over a 2-day period.  Among the most notable species, was the addition of the Cinnamon Hummingbird, which is the furthest inland record in the country.  This tiny coastal hummingbird has been steadily expanding its range inland, but this time it reached Laguna Verde, the natural, spring-fed lake within the Chan Chich conservation area. Continue reading

For the Birds: a Message to North American Policymakers


The State of North America’s Birds 2016

The State of North America’s Birds 2016

We continue to laud the importance of eBird on this site, gaining special importance as it becomes more and more clear that wildlife doesn’t acknowledge political borders. The data gleaned from tens of thousands of Canadian, Mexican and U.S. citizen scientists who contribute to eBird indicate that more than 350 species in North America migrate up and down Canada, the U.S.A, and Mexico over the course of a calendar year.

And according to the recently released State of North America’s Birds 2016 report, those three countries—their governments, and their societies—need to step up and do more to preserve our continent’s spectacular and shared natural heritage of birdlife. This report is the first-ever scientific conservation assessment of all 1,154 bird species in North America, and it was only possible because of the tremendous scale and big-data capabilities of citizen-science….

Among the many takeaways from eBird maps and models includes one of relevance to our property, Chan Chich Lodge, located on 30,000 acres of Belizean forest in the Yucatan peninsula.

The Yucatan Peninsula is one of North America’s most vital bird habitat regions

The Yucatan Peninsula is one of North America’s most vital bird habitat regions

Not only is the Yucatan rich with endemic birdlife, it’s a critical wintering area for more than 120 birds species that migrate from Canada and the U.S.A. In winter, the entire population of Magnolia Warblers relies on an area of tropical forest in Mexico only 1/10 the size of its boreal forest breeding range, with the Yucatan as the bull’s-eye of their wintering range.

Continue reading

Albatross, Age & Egg — Keeping The Species Going


Wisdom tends to her egg. Laysan albatrosses spend the vast majority of their lives in the air. Photograph: US Fish and Wildlife Service/AP

Thanks to the Guardian’s Environment section (and Reuters) for this news:

World’s oldest-known seabird lays an egg at age of 66 in Pacific refuge

Wisdom, a Laysan albatross, is also world’s oldest-known breeding bird in the wild and has had a few dozen chicks Continue reading

Sound-Recognition Software Advances


The researchers’ neural network was fed video from 26 terabytes of video data downloaded from the photo-sharing site Flickr. Researchers found the network can interpret natural sounds in terms of image categories. For instance, the network might determine that the sound of birdsong tends to be associated with forest scenes and pictures of trees, birds, birdhouses, and bird feeders. Image: Jose-Luis Olivares/MIT

From Larry Hardesty at the news office of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology an interesting article on machine-learning, which we thought was going to be about a new app for birders but it is a much broader finding:

Computer learns to recognize sounds by watching video

Machine-learning system doesn’t require costly hand-annotated data.

Watch Video

In recent years, computers have gotten remarkably good at recognizing speech and images: Think of the dictation software on most cellphones, or the algorithms that automatically identify people in photos posted to Facebook. Continue reading

Birdsong, Beauty & Beholder


Getty Images

Thanks as always to Barbara King, who we link to from time to time on topics of simple, natural beauty:

What Do Birds Hear When They Sing Beautiful Songs?

Birdsong is music to human ears.

It has inspired famous composers. For the rest of us, it may uplift the spirit and improve attention or simply be a source of delight, fun and learning.

But have you ever wondered what birds themselves hear when they sing? Continue reading

Finding A Mate In The Camargue

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Flamingos strutting their stuff at a park in the Camargue region of southern France. Credit Jean E. Roche/Minden Pictures

Thanks to Tuesday’s Science section in the New York Times:

Flamingo Mating Rules: 1. Learn the Funky Chicken


Flamingos are very good dancers. They twist and preen, they scratch their heads, they march in unison. They poke a wing in one direction and a leg in another. Continue reading

Golden Eagle Population On The Mend

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There are now more than 500 breeding pairs of golden eagles in the UK, all in Scotland. Photograph: Peter Cairns/RSPB

Scotland, a hospitable environment for one of the majestic birds, deserves credit for this comeback:

UK golden eagle population soars to new heights

Numbers pass the level deemed viable for the raptor’s long-term survival but it remains missing from a third of its traditional territories

Britain’s golden eagle population has soared to new heights, according to a new survey released on Wednesday.

There are now more than 500 breeding pairs in the UK, up 15% and passing the threshold at which bird’s long-term future is thought viable. Continue reading

Birding from VdF: Todos Santos

Oasis Playa Las Palmas de San Pedro, near Todos Santos

Oasis Playa Las Palmas de San Pedro, near Todos Santos

Check out my last post for an introduction to this series and to read about the Sierra de la Laguna.

At three hours away from Villa del Faro, the town of Todos Santos is a bit of a stretch for a day trip, but could be accomplished by a determined driver or could be an addition to a stay here on the East Cape. Todos Santos is a very pleasant town on the Pacific coast of the southern Baja Peninsula, and two spots in particular are relatively well-visited by birders in the region: a little wetland area right by the beach at the southern edge of town called La Poza de Todos Santos (poza meaning “pool” or “puddle”) and a hotel associated with the spot called Hotel Posada la Poza (posada meaning “inn” or “lodge”).

Continue reading

Adorable, Luminous, and Rare

The rare patch of black feathers is evidence that the bird is leucistic, not albino. Photo: Brad R. Lewis

Hummingbirds are frequent visitors to this site, including the Anna’s hummingbird. All hummingbirds are known as tiny winged gems flitting from flower to flower or feeder to feeder, so the individual pictured above is especially startling. The term “leucistic” is new to us, and we thank for bringing this to our attention.

Rare White Hummingbird Steals the Spotlight at California Garden

In the Australian Gardens at the University of California, Santa Cruz Arboretum, a dozen Anna’s Hummingbirds dart between golden banksia flowers and various pink and white blooming shrubs. Their feathers are bright, iridescent shades of emerald, pink and gray. The grove is awash with color.

Except for one strange bird that’s sitting in a cypress tree, watching the flurry of feeding and fluttering. It’s an Anna’s Hummingbird—and it’s almost entirely white. Continue reading

Amboli’s Abundant Birdlife

We wouldn’t be true to one of our core interests if we didn’t take birding into account while doing our reconnaissance of the natural and cultural activities surrounding Aarvli.

Crist’s trip to the Amboli Reserve earlier in the week was one such visit. A quick search of eBird hotspots turned up Amboli Village (with a count of 116 species) and  Amboli Forest (with a count of 65 species). The map above gives a brief sense of the multiple look out points that could prove to be excellent birding opportunities.  Continue reading

Birding from VdF: San José Estuary

Since last week, I’ve been based back at Villa del Faro in Baja California Sur, Mexico, where I’ll be co-managing the property with Jocelyn for a good while. In addition to having the opportunity to see what kind of birds show up here in their winter migration, I’m also hoping to have time to check out the surrounding region for other birding hotspots. I’ll do this not only for my own interest, but also because we may get guests here in the future who are bird-watchers.  I’d like to be able to recommend areas based on my own experience, so they don’t have to rely solely on eBird, which helps find certain spots but can’t give you any directions that Google Maps doesn’t have.

Nevertheless, eBird is one of the best ways to quickly figure out what locations within a region are popular for birding, whether because they have lots of species or because lots of birders pass through there (or both). Continue reading

Ornitographies – Making Visible the Invisible

Great cormorants, Ibars Swamp, Catalonia (Courtesy of Xavi Bou)

Great cormorants, Ibars Swamp, Catalonia (Courtesy of Xavi Bou)

Birds are photogenic in their own right, but this creative capture of their flight by artist Xavi Bou is both innovative and etherial. A geologist and photographer by training, Xavi’s love of birds goes back to childhood.

Xavi Bou focuses on birds, his great passion, in order to capture in a single time frame, the shapes they generate when flying, making visible the invisible.

Unlike other motion analysis which preceded it, Ornitographies moves away from the scientific approach of chronophotography used by photographers like Eadweard Muybridge and Etienne-Jules Marey. Continue reading

Kiwis Were Diversified by Glaciers in NZ

Tasman Lake, which is fed by melt water from the retreating Tasman Glacier. Photo by Trevor Chinn

The kiwis referred to here are cute, small, fluffy, brown birds, not to be confused with small fuzzy brown fruit nor with the people who live in New Zealand. These flightless and nocturnal birds used to be divided in three to five species, but new DNA evidence from extensive blood sampling conducted over the last couple decades in their island home is indicating that there is in fact much more genetic diversity – which is often separated geographically – than previously thought, perhaps even enough to declare new species, or at the very least certainly new subspecies. And this might affect conservation strategies for these birds, which are all either endangered or vulnerable to endangerment. Ed Yong reports:

Several million years ago, a small bird flew to New Zealand. Arriving there, it found few threats and plenty of opportunities. In the absence of mammals, its descendants gradually lost the ability to fly, as island birds are wont to do. They also evolved to fill those niches that mammals typically occupy, rootling around the leaf litter in search of worms and grubs. They transformed into that icon of New Zealand—the adorable, bumbling kiwi.

Or rather, they transformed into the kiwis.

Continue reading