Day 9- Back in time

I sacrificed the sightings of toucans in order to get some rest in preparation for our first day and I am now happy that I did. The seven-hour hiking episode was quite a journey in which I became increasingly awake from the steep climbs and getting used to some blisters.

Our objective today was to set up various camera traps (AKA motion sensitive cameras tied to trees) around the Chiquibul in order to explore a purposed question. We specifically wanted to catch images of mammals as actual sightings of this taxonomic group are usually rare. Now…deciding what this question was and agreeing on methods was far from easy, so we had a bit of a late start.

I was on the trail committee and with my team, decided to set up two cameras on the Monkey Tail Trial. One was on an outwardly curving tree trunk that was in a great position for catching movement and the other was when two paths merged, which we hope will funnel mammals into an area where they will activate the camera.

The first trail we went on was a lot longer than the trail yesterday and had a wider and cleared path. I assume this is why I mostly saw saplings along the path and less diversity of tree species. Once we strayed from the path, I did notice that more developed trees were farther in. I was lucky enough to see a Bullhorn Acacia tree and we cut the thorn open, but were not greeted by any ant symbiodinium. However, a few hours later I happened upon Cockspur Acacia, which was populated by ant defenders. Another radiant encounter was when I found a Nargusta tree with buttress roots that were almost twice my height!

The Sycropia plant is the story behind the title of this blog. There I was, admiring trees whose identities are now second nature and BOOM! We are blasted backwards into the Jurassic period with these fern-like plants that were the height of a house! I secretly hoped a dinosaur would appear…

I also must mention the superstar of our hike- the Marlet’s tree frog. It was almost the most adorable little creature I have ever seen. I only wish I could upload a photo of its giant, innocuous eyes and its perch atop my safari hat. This frog was extremely mellow, falling asleep on the palms of our hands and even shoulders. Its second eyelid membrane would slowly appear and it would tuck its beautifully bright orange feet underneath his smooth body. I never expected an amphibian would steal my heart.

Our second half of the hike was not as strenuous, but we were granted a preliminary exploration of a couple of caves. Needless to say, they were massive and I cannot wait to return.

As a crazy cat lady, my dream remains that I will see (let’s be real- cuddle with) one, even if it is only a photograph.

Day 8- Got the bug

Leaving the ocean tricked my body into thinking it was over and time to rest, but I definitely got the fuel I needed with our morning visit to Rio On with the conifers, the most stunning water, and the massive rock formations. It was the backdrop of every daydream I have ever had, and was only a peak into what was to come.

Arriving here at the rainforest and seeing our log cabins and seeing that every door was made from a different tree species made me feel right at home. The meal we were greeted with only escalated my version of the “Mangroves Euphoria”.

We wasted no time and started a short hike during which I saw about every species of tree on my taxonomic ID card. As there are one hundred plus species, I will not bore you with my tree obsession. I will simply highlight to the most glorious sightings of the day. The Alpha and Omega of today was definitely the Ceiba pentandra that was a mountainous 45 meters tall. It had terminal secondary branches with a lush, dark green canopy.

Of course, I could not miss the infamous Give and Take Palm, but was luckily not stuck by any of the spines (though that would have earned me a Tropical Field Biologist badge). I also cut open a Horse’s Balls fruit, which had a woody exterior, avocado-like rim, orange guava-like interior and a sticky discharge like Elmer’s Glue. Needless to say, I went around showing anyone who cared in the slightest.

I guess I will give some love to other taxonomic groups as well… On my spectacular trees, there were some pinkish aerial epiphytes, which were pleasing to the eye. I also let a stick bug ride with my for a while, which was quite a workout considering he never stopped walking.

The generator hours will take some getting used to and now my schedule is getting a bit off, but it’s only the first day here.

Lastly, I cannot begin to express how awoken and inspired I was by Borris’ presentation. This is what I mean by “got the bug”- if not for the Chiquibul specifically, for rainforest conservation generally. It was so well-rounded and passionate. I think it will enhance my rainforest experience from this point forward.

If I was not so spent from excitement and physical exertion, this blog would have been thousands of words- wise move profs.

Alex: Day 9

May 27, 2015: Day 9

What a day. It started at 5:30 am, with bird watching on the Las Cuevas porch, just outside our rooms. We saw a flock of black vultures, as well as two toucans – possibly the same species as the Belize national bird! They were dark with brightly colored beaks, sitting high in a tree just outside the station clearing. A few small green parrots with red beaks also passed over.

We spent most of the day (about 7 hours total) trekking through the Chiquibul to place motion-sensing camera traps. Hopefully by the end of the week, we’ll have pictures of some spotted cats!

While setting up the cameras, we saw many animals including skinks (RIP), blue morpho butterflies, and lizards. Significantly, for me though, we also saw frogs! The first one we found was a very rare – critically endangered – Morelet’s treefog. It was sitting on the top of a palm leaf. It was paler in color on top than I expected, so I didn’t recognize it at first, but its bright orange underside gave it away! The second frog was a yellow treefrog, found beside a stream. It was more tan than yellow, but still very cute.

At the end of the day, we hiked to the bird viewing tower and a cave nearby which is being excavated because it is an ancient Mayan site. Apparently, we’ll get to explore the cave more on a different day. That should be fun!

– Alex

Spiders Galore and More

Today we hiked around the Chiquibul for seven hours. Granted we took a break for lunch, but for the most part we walked from one set of trails to the next and even on some that were barely trails at all. Dr. Solomon had to break out his machete to clear the way. We did all this in order to set up camera traps at 12 different locations around various parts of the forest to monitor the more illusive and nocturnal species that might pass by.
Maybe because our aim was to reach a variety of different micro-habitats, I saw a variety of different arachnids. It began with a jumping spider on the wall to our classroom here at the station. Shortly followed by some Gulf Coast Ticks, Ablyomma maculatum, which everyone soon became familiar with finding, removing and killing. Also of note was a tiny white and green lynx spider Kate caught to show me. Perched in the still waters of a local stream I found a fishing spider with a 2 inch legspan and under a log on our way to a pond I came across a black Centruroides gracilis mother with a litter of baby scorpions on her back. It was pretty disgusting but also kind of cool.
The highlight of the day was definitely coming across a Morelet’s Tree Frog, one of the most rare and endangered types of frogs in the Chiquibul. Elaine spotted it and at first we all thought it was an ugly lumpy looking thing. But as it woke up and stretched out, it showed a bright orange belly, orange feet, and the biggest most adorable black eyes I’ve ever seen.
So my feet are certainly sore but on the whole I’d say our first full day in the rainforest was definitely a success. Hopefully the next few days will be as well.

Day 8 (A bit late)

Early this morning, we left our hotel wearing bathing suits as instructed, but not entirely sure why we needed them. After driving for a while we passed over some mountain streams on rickety bridges and began to get an idea. High up on the Mountain Pine Ridge we stopped at a sign labeled Rio On Pools and hiked our way down to a beautiful waterfall oasis. We splashed around and cooled off before piling back in the car and continuing on into the wilderness.
The next stop we made was not scheduled. Along the road to Las Cuevas there was a single tree with over forty Scarlet Macaws in it! That’s likely a third of the current Belizean population! It was a remarkable sight and a perfect welcome to the rainforest.
As soon as we arrived at the Research Station and got settled we went for a hike to get our bearings. I noticed a bunch of funnel webs along the path but no spiders at first, and I can’t say I was disappointed. At some point, though, Dr. Correa turned over a log to uncover a 4cm arachnid with crazy long front legs and giant pedipalps. It was an amblypygid! A tailless whip scorpion that I immediately recognized from my research as being completely harmless! We all took a look and I even held it. That definitely gave me more confidence for studying other arachnids this week. I think now I might not even freak out when I see my first tarantula.
Key words: “might not”

Hokamp Day 8 – Indiana Jones and the Fauna of Chiquibul

I love the rainforest. I knew I would, but I love it even more than I was expecting. The other thing I love is waterfalls.

I started out the day by waking up late due to the classic alarm blunder of confusing am and pm. Luckily it didn’t slow me down too much, and we managed to leave the hotel in San Ignacio without any more problems. We had been told that we would need to wear swim suits and bring a change of clothes for the ride, and I honestly didn’t know what to expect, but we ended up stopping at the Rio On, a river and series of small falls on the Mountain Pine Ridge. The river ran through granite, and the area we stopped was spectacular. We swam in the rive and explored under the falls for about an hour, but I could have stayed forever. After we got out and changed clothed, Scott and Adrienne helped to redo my hand splint. The hand had pretty green bruises all over, making me look a bit like I was about to transform into the Hulk. It’s all wrapped up now, but we met a pediatrician at the Station that used to work at Texas Children’s, and she’s going to take a look at it tomorrow, which is convenient.

It was about two more hours to the Las Cuevas Station, but we had one more stop before our rival. Right after we crossed to Macaw River and saw a massive vegetation shift to a much more jungle-y style, we spotted a giant group of Scarlet Macaws in a group of trees, and we all got out to look. The beautiful birds were hanging out in a flock, and I think the final count was forty-six. That is a significant portion of the Scarlet Macaws in Belize, which only number a couple hundred due to poaching activity for the pet trade.

The drive from the macaws was short, and we arrived at the Las Cuevas Research Station hungry and excited. Mayan ruins are everywhere around the station. Pretty much every sudden hill is an unexcavated ruin, which is pretty amazing. The Chiquibul is crazy because the population density was much higher thousands of years ago than it currently is, and the evidence of Mayan architecture is everywhere, though now consumed by jungle. We could hardly move a foot in the forest without finding something awesome to look at, starting with leaf cutter ants and progressing through Strangler Figs (Ficus involuerata) suffocating trees, crazy arachnids like the amblpygid hanging out on logs, a female brown anole (Norops sagrei), a magnificent emergent Ceiba Tree surveying the canopy from above, and an aromatic All Spice Tree (Pimenta dioica). I haven’t seen any snakes or turtles yet, but I’m still hopeful, and what I have seen in only a few hours outside is pretty impressive. Even walking back to my cabin after lectures I spotted an average of three or four spiders per square foot, including a tarantula. And those were only the ones I spotted with my headlamp.

If I ever doubted wanting to be a conservation biologist, just one day in the Chiquibul has convinced me that I’m on the right track. You’d better Belize it.

-Kathryn Hokamp

Day Eight(cient ruins)

From the city of San Ignacio we moved into the tropical forest and towards Las Cuevas Research Station. As we traveled deeper into the rain-forest I was slowly transitioning from my coral reef taxonomic group (brown algae) to my rain-forest group (birds). Along the way we stopped at the Rio on. The Rio on is a series a river system full of rapids. In the pools many tadpole were seen swimming in the shallows. The freshwater was a pleasant change from the typical saltwater environment I was use to.

Eventually, at around midday, we reached the Chiquibul rainforest. After travelling on the rugged unpaved path the driver stopped at a seemingly random point in the road. Following the drivers finger I saw a tree full of Scarlet Macaw. The Scarlet Macaw is your generic parrot with bright plumage and zygodactyl claws (2 toes facing forward, 2 toes facing backwards). Prior to this event I was under the impression that the entire individual population of scarlet macaws was around 100. One can imagine my surprise when I counted 46 Scarlet Macaws split between two trees. The Scarlet Macaw travels together in pairs, and this was clearly seen with pairs of them flying to and fro. Looking through the binoculars and bird scope I was able to clearly observe the festive colors that make this bird such an iconic creature.

After that brief hiatus we were back on the road to Las Cuevas. The best way to describe this research station is like an island in the middle of a sea of forest. All around the research station are un-excavated Mayan ruins. Inside, the research station is home to tarantulas, ticks, and science. We situated ourselves , dawned our field biology armor (rubber boots, pants, socks, etc.) and proceeded into the woods. Before even reaching the forest we stopped multiple times to observe: snake skin, a golden-crowned warbler flying overhead, and leaf cutter ants. Leaf cutter ants create highways leading from their ant pile. This is so they can transport leaves and other fauna more efficiently. These leaves are then cultivated in their fungal gardens. Much was observed during my first experience in the jungle, so I will try to keep this brief. I saw a strangler tree that grows around other trees for support, gumbo limbo tree which has a distinct red bark used to help with rashes. I was able to hold a walking stick bug and climb various Mayan ruins. I was able to get a positive identification on the kissing bug, visit an old Mayan stadium, feel the unforgiving spikes of the give and take palm, learn about the low threshold of stinging bees contain, and saw a scorpion (the same one which was in Harry Potter when Mad Eye Moody was teaching them about the unforgivable spells). During my time I collected two feathers, one was from the Ochre-belled flycatcher, and the other was from the Plain Xenops. The last bird I was able to id was the Oropendula. This bird’s call is very long and hollow. The bird has a bright yellow tail and an orange beak. However, the most unique characteristic about this bird is its nesting habits. The bird weaves a nest that dangles from branches and swings… like a pendulum.

To end the day we were given a presentation by Boris about the state of the Chiquibul and how the rain-forest is fairing with illegal floral harvesting, logging, etc. All in all the rain-forest is a vastly different place than the coral reef in terms of look and feel, but when you dig a little deeper you will notice the beauty is there all the same.

-Evan Shegog

Alex: Day 8

May 26, 2015: Day 8

We started off today leaving from the Midas hotel and driving about an hour to Rio On. There, we swam in some amazing freshwater springs! It was so refreshing after the salty water of the past week. Then, we continued on to Las Cuevas. When we arrived, we found that the dusty road had infiltrated the trailer – our bags got covered in a layer of orange dust which (mostly) came off.

We then had our first foray into the Chiquibul forest. We walked for over two hours, examining anything which caught our eyes. The trees are tall but not monstrously so. Also, because it is the end of the dry season, I think everything was less green and/or wet than we expected. There is an amazing diversity of life in the forest. No amphibians yet, but it seemed that every leaf had something living on it! Whatever the plan is for tomorrow, I’m sure that we will never be able to discover everything in the Chiquibul!

– Alex

Day 7 – Red algae/Beetles

 

May 25, 2015

 

We left Glover’s Atoll and finished up the coral reef section of our trip. Our final meal at the Glover’s dining room area was bitter sweet as we said our good byes to the wonderful chefs. We packed up and boated away!

 

Our first stop was actually at the mangroves for one last snorkel session. By now, we were snorkel champions and knew the drill by heart. We put on our wetsuits, fins, and booties – and jumped off the boat into the cool water. The water was shallow though and we stirred up quite a bit of sediment. At one point, I couldn’t even see my hands in front of my face because of how cloudy my vision was. Maybe this factor contributed to the fact that I didn’t spot any red algae in this ecosystem. I did, however, spot many other fun, exciting organisms. On a side note, maybe it is time for me to switch gears and start keeping an eye out for beetles, my second taxon group.

 

I saw a Cushion Star for the first time. The scientific name is Culcita novaeguineae. Their brilliant orange red color threw me off at first because it made them look fake. These sea stars seemed cute and cuddly from afar but they were actually firm and hard to the touch.

 

I also saw a Magnificent Feather Duster Worm. They are also called Sabellastarte magnifica. When I waved my hands around them they shrunk back into their holes like the Christmas Tree Worms I talked about in an earlier blog. They were a beautiful dual shade of red and white. This trip has taught me that worms and annelids can be striking in aesthetics – who knew?

 

When we reached the Midas Hotel, it was as if we stepped into an alternate reality. The quaint and colorful cabanas welcomed us with hospitality. I liked that the hotel is bright green and has multiple animal decorations spread out everywhere on the walls. The place is festive and very much part of civilization. I was a little taken aback when I saw so many other people around. It will be interesting to see what life is like in the middle of the rainforest away from the town. Let’s bring it!

 

-Lindsy Pang

Day Sevan

5/26/15

Today I was in grief. It was because we left the reef. Capitan Reagan picked us up on the boat the Manta Ray. It felt like we were in the boat all day. Eventually we reached the Twin Cayes, the island was full of mangroves which went up to our knees. As we explored the mangroves we saw some tiny terminates. A tasty snack coupled with salty leaves containing electrolytes. We then began to snorkel and observed sponges of many color and shape. I even saw a one inch barracuda with the smallest gape. As we explored on, jellyfish were spotted upside down. After the mangroves, we boarded the boat and headed to town. En route large Sargassum patches were floating.  All the while the passenger’s bladders were bloating. We ate at the Calypso restaurant in Belize City. Our driver, Alberto, arrived in a van, and not his regular school bus which was a pity. The drive from Belize City to San Ignacio was long, hot with no room to spare. And the coastal regions faded into a tropical forest with muggy air. Crossing a river, and climbing the mountains we reached the Midas hotel. The cabanas we stayed at were luxurious and suited me well. Free time was then dangled in front of us and we bite at the leash. As we walked towards the grocery store, with a dog by our side, I found myself laughing at the way Scott said feash (fish in creole). In the store I purchased American comfort food. The dog that walked us there had left us…how rude. Dinner was had at Hodie’s restaurant, and while eating we saw an Amish group. They were staring at our own motely troop. The chicken quesadillas I had hit the spot, and while I atet I watched how the Rockets fought. It was getting late now and we decided to explore San Ignacio. We met a Rastafari who put on a drumming show. He promised me that next time we met he would have made a hat for me. A promise I’m sure I’ll surely see. All in all a day of travel and fun in Belize. There is a reason this word looks like feliz. This concludes my rhyming blog. P.S. When we got back to that hotel my friend was waiting for us…the dog.

-A very tired Evan Shegog