Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Mosquitoes, Horse flies, and Lionfish OH MY!

And thus our adventures in Belize have ended. We are blogging from the Atlanta Airport and miss sunny and sandy Calabash Caye already. Spending three days on a Caribbean island was the perfect end to our Belizean adventure. At the Calabash Caye Field Station we performed three Rapid Ecological Assessments (REAs), snorkeled, played volleyball, SCUBA dove, ate more wonderfully delicious food, and had a ridiculous bonfire.
The three REAs we performed were for the mangrove swamp, coral reef, and mangrove lagoon channel environments. First, we analyzed the mangrove forest for the number of crab holes and the number of trees and their sizes. We found the expected distribution of different mangrove species, as well as LOTS of mosquitoes. Next, we examined a patch reef around Little Calabash for invertebrate and coral numbers. Finally, we swam through the mangrove lagoon channel to assess the environment’s health through sponge diversity and richness. This different area was really cool to look at, compared to snorkeling on the reef.
We played volleyball against the nearby Coast Guard station officers and were easily destroyed. But, when we mixed the teams (CG and students on both teams) we had fairly matched teams and a great time.
Through sun burns, mosquito bites, and a little bit of dehydration (the most dangerous thing in the rainforest, and apparently the islands) we found lots of fish, echinoderms, corals, sponges, and new friends. Although we are sad to leave… Nope, there is no although. We are sad to leave, but we’re glad to have a few of amenities of modern life (flush toilets and effective showers).
We hope you enjoyed keeping up with our adventures! Hopefully you can have your own!
-Tuucha’ RAJE
Raza Ahmad, Julie Frank, Emily Sillcox, and Andy VanDeusen

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Being free at BFREE!

We left Hillbank at dawn. We loaded into a very small bus and took a two hour van ride to the Belize Zoo. The zoo is home to a variety of animals that have been injured, kept as pets, or rehabilitated in some way, and are not releasable into the wild. Some of the animals included the Harpy Eagle (who was a small boy), the five cats of Belize (jaguar, ocelot, margay, jaguarondi, and puma/cougar), and the tapir, the national mammal of Belize.
Some of us petted the ocelot, and others went into a cage with Junior the jaguar. Unfortunately, he was not feeling very friendly that morning and he ate the following students: Emily, Raza, Anneka, Colleen, and Julie. The college will send its condolences…..JUST KIDDING! But seriously, he did not want to cooperate so they did not get to pet him.
We then took a four hour drive to BFREE, the Belize Foundation for Research and Environmental Education (which is located on the edge of the Bladen Nature Reserve). On the way, we were lucky enough to stop at a local market in the capital of Belize, aka Belmopan. Dr. Tanner treated the class to some delicious fresh produce. We got a whole bag of ugly yet delicious oranges for only $1!
On the way, we passed many small villages with brightly colored houses. Hot pink never looked so good! When we finally arrived at the entry of BFREE, we were greeted with a 6.5mile hike through a pine savanna into the jungle. On the way we saw many Yellow Headed Parrots, and even spotted a tropical rattlesnake. The whole venture only took us 2 hours! When we finally reached the edge of BFREE, we had to cross a river….in the dark!
After a delicious meal, we all passed out. We awoke at 6am the next day to go on a bird watch. We spotted a number of warblers and even a Keel-billed Toucan (the national bird of Belize). Down by the lagoon, we saw a bunch of grumpy old men gossiping by the water. By grumpy old men we mean Boat-billed herons (they sound just like a bunch of grumpy old men moping away). We have seen about a hundred species of birds since we arrived in Belize (no exaggeration – we’re actually keeping track!). After breakfast we went on a two and a half hour tour of the area. We learned all about the different trees and animals; we tried all kinds of fruits on the path. For lunch, we had a delicious local recipe of cohune palm hearts with spices.
We were then given free time until dinner. Some students chose to go swimming in the Bladen river, nap (or just relax), or sight see. Some students even worked on homework (can you Belize it?!). After dinner William and Gato (his nickname) gave us a presentation on the Harpy Eagles and the environmental education components at BFREE. Then we went on a night walk where we saw a number of insects, an opossum, a kinkajou, click beetles (it glows!), and a Morlet’s crocodile swimming in the lagoon where we saw the Boat-billed herons earlier. We then went to bed at 9pm!
We got up super early today to go mist netting for song birds, however we got rained out. We also learned why we should always check our shoes in the morning before putting them on…one of the students (Raza) found a scorpion in his shoe! Instead of mist netting, we got to watch a BBC movie about the majestic Harpy Eagle. Then Dan (who jokingly refers to himself as “the bum biologist at BFREE”) gave us a presentation about gastropods (that means snails) and snakes. Several students held the tropical rat snake and a black indigo snake (don’t worry parents, these are both nonvenomous). Then some students went bat tracking, but they did not find any bats. However, they did encounter a beautiful Blue Crowned Mot Mot. After that, we walked along the riverbank to Oropendula nests. There were so many Oropendolas! Some students stayed behind and swam in the river.
Now we’re packing up to go to Calabash Caye out on one of the islands. Thankfully, we will be driving instead of walking the 6.5 miles back to our bus tomorrow morning.

- B’alam Witz Way (Brooke, Gabby, Anneka, and Robbie)

Pictures to come soon!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Ants and trees excite us!

Dear family and friends,

Greetings from Belize!  We arrived safely and have spent the last three days at Hill Bank field station, located in the Orange Walk district of Belize.  Hill Bank is awesome!  It is almost completely powered by solar energy, utilizes composting toilets, and our accomodations are excellent.  In our short time, we have already seen about 70 species of birds, a wide variety of plants, and animals such as howler monkeys and coati's.

Here is a brief overview of what we have done so far:

Each morning we have woken up early and started our day off with a bird walk.   We began and finished our research projects on  Acacia ants and trees.  Many of us have learned that Acacia ants hurt when they bite!  We also went on a medicinal plant walk where we learned how many tropical plants can be used to treat problems such as arthrithus, colds, and even snake bites.  We have learned a lot!

While we have been busy learning, we have also had a lot of fun.  Today, we went to the town of Lamanai, where we got to see several ancient Mayan ruins.  We climbed up one of the pyramids (33 meters high) and celebrated by dancing once we reached the top. That's right, we danced.

 We also had an opportunity to try out our snorkel gear by snorkeling down a fresh water mangrove creek.  Tomorrow morning we will pack up our gear and head to our next destination: BFREE.  This blog will be updated by one of the other groups in about three days and you can hear about our further adventures.  Stay tuned.

-Team Tunkuruchu
Jon, Will, Erika, and Colleen

ps Dad the undershirts are insanely comfortable

Love William

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Welcome to Tropical Biology!

Hello everyone,
This blog will serve as a way for us to share information both with each other and the outside world. It will enable us to post updates for our friends and family throughout the trip. It will allow future students to preview the class and trip and finally, it will provide a resource for anyone interested in tropical biology.