Tracking the Weather at BFREE

For the past couple of days, BFREE Board Member, Rob Klinger has been working hard to ensure that the weather station onsite is functioning and continues to collect valuable data. Weather and climate are among the most vital data a field station such as BFREE can collect and make available to its users. In 2005, the Norcross Wildlife Foundation provided funding for our present station. Prior to that we had been collecting basic temperature and precipitation data by hand with a high-low thermometer and plastic rain gauge. But increasing needs of researchers, conservation planning, and education groups created the necessity to expand the data we were collecting. Moreover, there were no personnel dedicated to collecting the data, which had the potential to introduce observer variability and gaps in the data. Finally, there was no systematic management of the records or a computer dedicated to be available for researchers and education groups to access the data on-site. The weather station virtually eliminated these problems and, to the best of our knowledge, has enabled us to collect the longest time series of climatic conditions in southern Belize.

WeatherHawk Weather Station

WeatherHawk Weather Station

BFREE recently applied to the Norcross Wildlife Foundation again to replace the original weather station – and are thrilled that they awarded us the funds to do an upgrade! Immediate benefits will include continuity in a systematic process for collecting, managing, and accessing short-term weather and long-term climate data. Data on seven weather variables are collected hourly and stored in a logger, then downloaded weekly to a personal computer. Our science staff and groups from several colleges have managed and summarized the annual data as an ongoing, long-term project on climate patterns in the region. Over the last eight years the weather and climate data has been integrated with many ecological research, inventory and monitoring programs. At present, the weather station remains the only permanent one in the southern Maya mountains of Belize, making this the only data on climate patterns in this ecologically significant region.

Thanks to Norcross, Rob Klinger, Steven Brewer and Jamie Rotenberg for their work on the grant and in keeping the station going!

Chocolate Bar

BFREE would like to announce the creation of our first chocolate bar. We have harvested our cacao beans and fermented and dried them before, but this week marks the first attempt to make these beans into chocolate.

We roasted the beans, causing the kitchen to smell delicious, and then spent an hour taking the shells off the warm beans. Maya taught us how to winnow the beans to get rid of extra shells.

Although we did not have a matate and mano, the proper tools to crush the beans, we experimented with a Cuisinart and a blender and mashing the beans by hand to try to release the oils in the bean. We put the resulting mixture in the freezer and the next day, ate the first pieces of BFREE chocolate.

Marlyn Cruz (Front) and Jacob Marlin (back) taking the shell off of roasted cacao beans.

Marlyn Cruz (Front) and Jacob Marlin (back) shucking roasted cacao beans.

Maya winnowing the roasted and cleaned beans.

Maya winnowing the roasted and cleaned beans.

Cacao beans ready to be made into chocolate.

Cacao beans ready to be made into chocolate.

The final product, BFREE's very own chocolate.

The final product, BFREE’s very own chocolate.

Northern Migration

As the seasonal birds migrate from BFREE back to the north, so do our researchers. Emily McKinnon and Kevin Frasier, who use geolocators to track wood thrush migration, have travelled back to Canada and Laura Duval and Chance Hines are finishing off their own wood thrush research. Since January, these researchers have been tagging and trapping wood thrush in two locations near BFREE property. At the beginning of their time here, Laura and Chance spent their time using recorded wood thrush songs to attract the birds and then catch them in mist nets. They then collected data, such as feathers and blood samples to determine food sources and isotope levels. After tagging the birds with radio transmitters, Laura and Chance then used receivers to find and track the birds through the jungle. Nearing the end of the season, this telemetry was used to determine the dates the wood thrush left to migrate North. The wood thrush have now left with enough fat stores to make the long trip back north and Laura and Chance leave to follow them to Indiana in hopes of finding BFREE wood thrush there. We wish them the best of luck!

New Composting Toilets

composting toilets

BFREE’s new composting toilets will aid in conservation efforts and are going to be installed throughout the BFREE property.

Over the past few months, we have engineered and installed three composting toilets: one near the kitchen, one near the bunkhouse and one near the three new cabanas. This cool system separates the urine from the feces, allowing feces to dry and decompose, ultimately becoming fertilizer. Jacob Marlin and Dan Dourson collaborated to make the design and they are very excited that the project is nearing completion.

The state of the art design will allow BFREE to be more eco-friendly and sustainable. River rocks were collected with the help of Keene High School to use as building materials for the walls. Eventually, these bathroom facilities will have associated educational materials highlighting the conservation design and the importance of saving fresh water.

composting toilets side

We are always looking for new ways to improve our buildings and hope to use this design throughout the BFREE property. As Jacob says, “give a shit for conservation!”

2013-04-10 composting toilets 32013-04-15 composting toilet 3

New Cabanas

Mick Baisley and kai Reed finish the concrete for one of the new cabanas at BFREE.

Kai Reed and Mick Baisley finish the cement for one of the new cabanas at BFREE.

Recently BFREE has started a new projects: building three cabanas for researchers and visitors. There will be two 14 x 14 buildings and one 12 x 14 building. Everything will be handmade by Marcelino with help from Miguel, Mick, Elmer, Kai, Wilder and Rebecca. Currently they are busy mixing and pouring cement for the base and bending and cutting rebar for support. Marcelino hopes to be finished with the project by June.

Wood Thrush Research Using Geolocators

A Woodthrush with a new geolocator.

A wood thrush with a new geolocator.

This year at BFREE we have two researching groups that are here to study a bird called the wood thrush. This bird is a declining threatened species that lives in the US and Canada, but during the winter months, it migrates down to Belize and other Central American countries for warmer weather. Emily McKinnon and Kevin Fraser are the members of one such research group. Emily is completing her final year of banding birds here. For the past 3 years, she has come to BFREE and has been putting geolocators onto the birds. These devices use light sensors and a calendar to determine the latitude and longitude of the bird. Described as little bird backpack, the device is almost invisible underneath the birds plumage. After getting a geolocator, the wood thrush are then released and they complete their migration back North with their backpacks recording their migration pattern from and back to BFREE. When the birds arrive back at BFREE, so do Kevin and Emily. They come back and catch the birds once more, trying to recollect the locators and the information stored on them. Some years the return rate has been very low and they only get one or two out of the forty locators they put out the previous year, but other years, like this one, they get back over 10 locators along with some from previous years with multiple migrations worth of information on them. Emily’s research will be using data from the geolocators to discuss the migratory patterns of these birds and their likelihood of returning to the same breeding ground year after year. Some birds captured multiple years after the geolocators were place on them have data showing the bird returning to the exact same place in North America. Even at BFREE, some of the birds are caught in the same net they were caught in previously. Through Emily and Kevin’s research, we are learning about patterns in bird that have never been explored in depth before.

Congratulations Gato!

Gato with a recently banded bird at BFREE.

Gato with a recently banded bird at BFREE.

Liberato Pop, known as Gato, has been accepted to a Banding Internship for 6 months in Oregon. He is going with the Klamath Bird Observatory and will be getting his bird banding certification and hopes to also receive certification to train others in banding. Gato heard about this internship through William Garcia, another BFREE birder who did the same internship a few years ago. William has taught Gato much about banding and training already and this program will be the final step for Gato to get his certification. After the training is over Gato will return to BFREE and teach others about banding and become involved in the birding community. He hopes to continue to do more work with birds throughout the Americas. The process for applying for this internship is very rigorous and Gato is privileged to have gotten this opportunity. He thanks everyone who assisted him and gave him recommendations and gives a special thanks to Judy, Jake, Jamie, and William.

Gato, we wish you the best of luck and hope you have a great time!