Restore Our Earth — Happy Earth Day!

The Bladen River at BFREE. Photo by Head Ranger, Sipriano Canti

Today marks what is now the most widely observed secular holiday across the globe, Earth Day! Celebrated April 22nd annually, organizations and individuals come together to demonstrate support for environmental protection. This year’s earthday.org theme is “Restore Our Earth.” The theme rejects the notion that mitigation or adaptation are the only ways to address climate change but that it is up to every one of us to Restore Our Earth. 

“Restore” is not a new theme for us at BFREE; in fact, it is a significant theme to all that we do. 

Restoring tropical rainforest. Our cacao-based agroforestry program was created as a strategy to conserve and restore tropical rainforests in Belize. 

Restoring watersheds. BFREE has partnered with the Monkey River Watershed Association working to conserve and restore the integrity of the entire Monkey River Watershed. 

Restoring habitats. Through extensive management and protection of the BFREE reserve, our rangers are restoring habitats to ensure BFREE remains a hotspot for biodiversity. 

Restoring wildlife. Our Hicatee Conservation and Research Center is restoring local populations through captive-breeding and release programs. 

Our success in restoring wildlife and wildlands is because of our relentless stewardship, innovative strategies, and your support. As we celebrate our 25th Earth Day at BFREE this year, we know that there is still plenty of work to be done – but together, we can Restore Our Earth. 

Happy Earth Day! 

BFREE’s Bounty of Birds

For the past three years, BFREE has had Harpy eagle visitors in late February. So that means we are spending a lot of time looking up! Scouring the tops of trees like Ceiba and Prickly Yellow where we’ve seen them previously perched in hopes that 2021 will be good to us. We’ve recorded 20 separate observations within the BFREE reserve since the first one in September 2016. The most recent was by Sipriano Canti last November.

To us, it is spectacular to witness this enormous and awe-inspiring raptor. We are reminded that having Harpies around means that BFREE and the Maya Mountains remain healthy and intact enough to support this top predator.

And the Harpy isn’t the only bird indicator that the BFREE reserve is an oasis for wildlife. Our Ranger team has diligently recorded Scarlet Macaw sightings on an almost daily basis since August 3, 2020.

We don’t want the rangers to have all of the fun though! So some of the staff have started to document birds using both ebird.org and printed observation sheets. As a 2021 challenge, Nelly Cadle and I began recording a list every day. Doing this helps us to become better birders while also documenting which birds inhabit BFREE. We often ask Tom Pop for help with IDs because he is excellent at identifying birds by song and calls. Lenardo Ash has also become interested in birding and has started recording sightings with us. Finally, we can always count on Sipriano Canti to snap pics and record bird observations around BFREE because he and his ranger team are constantly on the move and have the greatest opportunity to spot amazing birds and other wildlife.

Being at BFREE nurtures our love for this country’s incredible wildlife and inspires us to continue our role as stewards of this rare and spectacular place.

Below are photos BFREE staff took of birds at BFREE in 2020 and 2021.

Land Snails of Belize Book Receives Five-Star Reviews!

In 2019, we shared that 17 new land snails were discovered in Belize by husband and wife team, Dan and Judy Dourson, and their colleague, Dr. Ron Caldwell.

Before the team’s research began in 2006, only 24 species of land snails were reported from Belize. Over the next decade, a total of 158 native land snails with 17 species new to science were documented. The Dourson’s spent seven of those years living at BFREE, and the BFREE Field Station became home-base for the snail research team for over a decade.

The long-term research resulted in the development of the first field guide for the region, Land Snails of Belize, A Chronicle of Diversity and Function, and the first comprehensive publication since the early 1900s for Central America. The book is presented as a reference to both the biologist and citizen scientist alike and includes a brief history of research in the region, status of current research, how to collect land snails, shell morphology, anatomy and terminology, and species accounts. The book contains more than 750 color images and diagnostic features highlighted for each of the 158 species.

Five-star reviews for the book, Land Snails of Belize:

Since the release of their book, we have heard from many just how useful this resource has been. But don’t just take our word for it, read some of the reviews below! And be sure to pick up your own copy here: Purchase Land Snails of Belize on Amazon

“I just received my copy of this book and I write to commend you. I am not a malacologist so I can not speak to the technical taxonomic aspects of the work. However, I have written a few natural history books and collected many hundreds more. Based on this, I think that you have produced a masterpiece of natural history- a work that will inspire me and many others to learn about and work on this fascinating group. Thank you. I look forward to seeing some of your other books on this topic.”

– Adrian Forsyth, author of, Tropical Nature: Life and Death in the Rain Forests of Central and South America

“There are many photo guide books for marine shells (and mammals, birds, reptiles, and so on) in Central America, but none for land snails. These guide books are useful for biologists and those of related professions to keep track of all the taxa and to teach students or explain or show something to someone who is not an invertebrate expert. And they are wonderful for nature lovers who want to identify something in their backyard. Land snails in the tropics have an amazing amount of diversity, and we’re just starting to understand their different niches, behaviors, and relationships.

This book is up-to-date with most of the (albeit limited) studies on land snails in Belize. The scientific names are correct (at least for now), the organization of the book is very clear to follow, the descriptions are useful, the photos are fantastic, and the maps with known localities are incredibly useful. This is a valuable book for invertebrate enthusiasts in the tropics. The background at the beginning regarding snail behavior (as well as throughout the book, where relevant), along with associated pictures (wolfsnails attacking prey, various animals interacting with snails like the snake on the cover) are very useful, making this more than just a book on identifications and bringing these snails to life. It also has beautiful drawings and close-up photos of shell patterns and ridging for identification, including different colormorphs of the same species.

In addition to land snails in Belize, there are some useful sections regarding freshwater invertebrates (also, alas, understudied in this region of the world) and slugs. For invertebrate enthusiasts, this is a great guide with beautiful photos and some funny sketches. For anyone who works with these critters in and around Belize, it’s an absolutely excellent resource.”

– Anzu

“If you are interested in the snail of this region you must get this. It’s also well done, informative in general ways, and the ways of snails. A great work, and necessary if you’re a snailologist. (FYI that’s not really a word).”

– B. J. Stephen

Land Snail Citizen Science in Belize:

If you are in Belize, visit our blog, Un-Belizeable Land Snail Activity to learn how you can participate in citizen science. Submit your snail findings by email to contact@bfreebz.org. Download Land Snail Diversity of Belize card here.

Renovations to the BFREE Bunkhouse are Underway

BFREE Bunkhouse under renovation on June 11, 2020

The Bunkhouse has served as the main dormitory for guests visiting BFREE since its completion in 1998 when it began as a 40’x12’ two-room structure. In 2008, it was expanded to double the original size and consequently doubled occupancy sleeping up to 24 people. Located just over 200m from the river and situated under the hulking shade of a massive 140-ft Ceiba tree, the bunkhouse is the first stop for most visitors as they arrive at BFREE.

Bunkhouse renovations have been scheduled since last year and were made possible by a generous donor who specifically designated funds for infrastructure improvements. While we have had to reassess many priorities this year due to COVID-19 with its sudden and extreme impact on our field season, we are grateful to be able to move forward with the much-needed improvements to this essential structure. It is important to us that we are ready for our guests as soon as they can return and that includes comfortable accommodations!

The new layout will create six private rooms, each sleeping up to six guests, and will include a 10’x32′ observation deck facing the Ceiba tree which will serve as a great spot to view wildlife like Harpy eagles.  The bunkhouse is being designed to accommodate visitors of all kinds, not just student groups, and to create additional common space for guests to relax together. The staff has thus far completed the first step of the renovation which was to pour the concrete footers. They are now in phase two, dismantling everything from the floor up while also constructing the frame for the expansion.

One of the most exciting aspects of the renovation is that this building is almost completely “zero waste.” The bunkhouse is being dismantled board by board and each piece of material is being evaluated to be reused; including boards, nails, and the roofing. If the material is not reused on the bunkhouse it will be repurposed for other projects throughout the property. With the exception of the new roofing and tongue and groove flooring, which were purchased, the other material is coming straight from the BFREE property. We salvaged three dead trees from the property and all have been milled into lumber by chainsaw.

We are so incredibly excited about the improved accommodations and we look forward to seeing the place full of guests again!

Introducing Jonathan Dubon, BFREE Science & Education Fellow

Jonathan Dubon, BFREE Science & Education Fellow

BFREE is pleased to introduce our newest Science & Education Fellow, Jonathan Dubon. Jonathan grew up in Independence Village about 20 miles east of BFREE and has known from an early age that he wanted a career that would include his passions for field experience and outdoor adventures. This passion grows from visiting his Grandma’s farm near Punta Gorda as a child where he has many fond memories of exploring her land and being exposed to nature. Because of this childhood experience and influence from his brother who is also involved in conservation, Jonathan went on to study Natural Resource Management at Independence Junior College. He graduated with his Associate’s Degree in June 2019 and with the highest honors in his department.

Jonathan’s first visit to BFREE was on a school field trip with Independence Junior College in February 2019. Jonathan says, “I fell in love with the place and it’s environment – at that very moment I knew I wanted to come back. I like everything about being at BFREE including the friendly staff, the environment, everything is just very welcoming. This is exactly where I imagine my dream job.” He returned one year later as a volunteer in the Spring 2020 Hicatee Health Assessments where he assisted in the 5-day health check.

Jonathan, second from the left, back row, along with fellow classmates from IJC on a field course at BFREE in February 2019.

Now, in the second week of his fellowship, Jonathan shares, “It’s so exciting to be here at BFREE right now. I only know a little bit about the biology of Hicatee Turtles and I am overly excited that every day I now get to learn something new about them. It is thrilling to work with the hatchlings; I am also eager to learn about all the other animals found here at BFREE such as birds, snakes, and mammals. I also really enjoy hearing the birds singing early in the morning while working by the pond. “

Jonathan says, “my message to all Belizeans is that the Hicatee are especially important to our ecosystem, and it is critical that we protect them – Belize has the honor of being the final stronghold for these turtles, who are the last in their lineage. “

We are thankful to the Turtle Survival Alliance for their funding of the BFREE Science and Education Fellowship. This is the second fellowship funded by the TSA; the first was awarded to Jaren Serano who served as the BFREE Science and Education Fellow from January 2018 – December 2019. The Science and Education Fellowship is assigned to support the operations in one of three areas at BFREE – the Hicatee Conservation & Research Center, the cacao agroforestry project or the protected areas program. It is a two-year immersive work training opportunity for recent Belizean junior college and college graduates who exhibit leadership potential combined with a clear interest in the conservation of the country’s natural resources

Jonathan hands an adult hicatee turtle from the breeding pond to BFREE Executive Director, Jacob Marlin during the Spring 2020 Hicatee Health Assessments.

HCRC Pond Cleaning

For the past two weeks, Tom Pop and Jaren Serano have had the challenging yet important task of cleaning each of the three turtle ponds at the Hicatee Conservation and Research Center. With large, deep, muddy pools, the work is labor-intensive but critical to the health of the nearly four hundred Hicatee turtles in residence here.

The ponds were tackled one at a time starting with Pond A. This pond is dedicated to Breeding adults, so all turtles had to be caught and placed in holding tanks where they stayed throughout the cleaning process. Additionally, other wildlife like swamp eels and red-eared slider turtles and some larger fish like Tuba were also caught and placed in nearby creeks. 

Jacob Marlin and “Mustang.”

The actual cleaning process involved using a Honda Trash Pump (fondly referred to as “Mustang” due to its amazing strength and speed) to remove huge volumes of water as well as leaves and muck that had been gathering at the bottom of the ponds over the past few years. This has been followed by filling the ponds with fresh water to rinse the pond liner and dilute the thick muck, and then, once again,  using the trash pump to remove more diluted muck and dirty water. This cycle repeats until the water in the ponds is clear and there is little to no detritus remaining at the bottom. Each pond has taken about seven days of hard labor. 

With Ponds A and B complete as of May 17, the team has started on the rearing pond. The first task has been to lower the water to about two feet in the center in order to catch the over 200 juveniles living there. The “muck” which includes turtle manure is drained into an area outside the fenced area of the HCRC. The material gathered there will rest and break down before being relocated and used as compost for trees in our cacao agroforest.

Belize Wildlife and Referral Clinic Spotlight

Dr. Isabelle examines each 2019 hatched Hicatee before placing it in the bin to travel back to the HCRC.

Last week, BFREE Deputy Director, Heather Barrett, traveled to the Belize Wildlife and Referral Clinic (BWRC) in the Cayo District of Western Belize to retrieve twelve of the HCRC captive-born Hicatee turtles. They had been cared for at the BWRC by Dr. Isabelle Paquet-Durand, DVM, and her team and the turtles were in good health overall. While they could have stayed for longer observation and data collection on this unique species, Corona changed it all. The recent shutdown of tourism, which provided a large portion of the non-profit clinics income as well as hands-on assistance from interns was combined with being an essential business that continued to offer services. Then came the spread of dry season fires throughout Belize and the annual baby season (which is high season for wildlife orphan intakes)… and “anybody healthy had to make space for more critical cases”. Just like the human hospitals had to do for COVID patients, Dr. Isabelle, therefore, requested BFREE to retrieve our turtles to make room for those animals with more serious health conditions. 

Injuries to wildlife during a fire may include burns, injuries from falling out of trees, or having things fall onto them while escaping, or maybe less severe stresses that can still prove fatal if not addressed – like smoke inhalation and dehydration. Some animals just need access to water, food, or shelter, until their natural environment recovers. The BWRC received animals with all of these conditions. On the day that the Hicatee were retrieved, there were kinkajous, turtles, a howler monkey, squirrels, opossums, and snakes – escapees from the fire or orphans for unknown reasons. One kinkajou had fled the fire with minor burns only to climb an electrical pole where it grabbed a live wire and was electrocuted. 

The BWRC’s mission is to support wildlife conservation efforts; domestic animal health and welfare; and the veterinary profession in Belize through medical services, education, research, and collaboration. Their work is big and growing all the time but they try to stay focused on their mission. In addition to the fire victims in the clinic last week, there were also confiscated animals and animals that were neglected or abused by their owners. 

Jacob Marlin first met Dr. Isabelle in 2011 when the Hicatee Conservation Network was being formed and she first visited BFREE and the Hicatee Conservation and Research Center in 2015. Because of her valuable insight and a keen interest in helping to conserve this amazing species, she was invited back to participate in all subsequent Hicatee Health Assessments and has been a strong partner ever since.

Dr. Isabelle along with Jaren Serano and Heather Barrett of BFREE provide an ultrasound to an adult female hicatee turtle during a health assessment at the HCRC. Photo by, Nichole Bishop

Dr. Isabelle has been the lead Belize veterinarian evaluating our captive population of Hicatee for over four years. She attends two Hicatee Health Assessments per year to determine the health and reproductive status of our growing population of turtles. Just like baby humans, our hatchling and juvenile turtles are especially vulnerable to sickness caused by temperature changes, nutritional deficiencies, or other stressors. For this reason, when our young turtles are failing to thrive, Dr. Isabelle takes them to the clinic for several months to give them the additional veterinary care that will help them recover. This also gives her the opportunity to monitor them in order to gain a better understanding of their needs over time.

In the four years that BFREE has partnered with the BWRC, we have been impressed by their commitment to wildlife like the Hicatee and to educating Belizeans and visitors from abroad. As their partner, we would like to advocate for their campaign to fundraise for operational expenses during this trying time.  With the halt of all veterinary trainees from abroad due to travel restrictions from Covid-19, the BWRC has lost a critical revenue stream. Like many organizations in Belize and worldwide, they are struggling to make ends meet but don’t want to furlough any of their small but critical staff when animals are still in need of daily care.

BWRC is thankful for any and all kind words, supplies or donations via PayPal to payment@belizewildlifeclinic.org.

Un-Belizeable Land Snails Activity

Land snails in Belize can be found in a variety of habitats.  They are important food for many birds that live in Belize including currasow, crested guan, and other larger birds.  Coatis and other mammals also eat land snails. 

Biodiversity:  The health of an ecosystem can be determined by the different kinds of land snails found in an area or it’s biodiversity. Read the introduction of the attached card to learn more about the importance of land snails in Belize. Download Land Snail Diversity of Belize card here.

Citizen Science: Participate in our on-going research of the land snails of Belize by going out in your backyard or neighborhood to search for land snails.

Because this is the dry season, you will likely not find many live snails but that’s okay!!  You don’t need live animals to figure out what species (kind) of snail they are.  All you need is the shells.

Activity: HOW TO LOOK FOR AND COLLECT LAND SNAILS

Snails like moist places (but not too wet!) where plants are growing. 

  • Get a stick and use it to scrape leaves and sticks at the base of plants and trees.
  • Look around the edges of concrete buildings (snails like calcium for building their shells and can often find it on concrete).
  • Pick up as many shells as you can.
  • Take the shells back to your house and if you have a ruler, measure the length of the snails (using millimeters or mm).
  • Use the attached card to figure out which group of snails they belong to.
  • Write down your answers.
  • Abundance:  Count how many of each type of snail you find.  Make a graph to show your results.

Finally, if you have a phone that takes pictures, take pictures of your snails along with what you think they are and send them to contact@bfreebz.org or post on Facebook and tag @bfreebelize!

Download Land Snail Diversity of Belize card here.

Spring Health Assessment 2020

Between February 28th and March 1st, a total of 341 turtles (45 adults in the breeding population and 296 captive hatched animals) were assessed at the Hicatee Conservation and Research Center (HCRC). The primary purpose of the spring health assessment was to perform a basic exam of the overall health of the captive population at the HCRC, to look for follicles and eggs in breeding-size females and to PIT-tag animals.

Ultimately, we would like all turtles at the HCRC to be identified using a scute notching system and also a Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT) tag. A PIT tag is a small radio transponder that contains a specific code, which allows individual turtles to be assigned a unique 10 or 15 digit alphanumeric identification number. Unlike acoustic tags that actively send out a signal, they are “passive” and do not require a battery. Rather than the tag transmitting a signal, the tag scanner (or reader) sends out a radio frequency and when a tag is within range, it will relay the identification code back to the receiver. The lack of a battery is the greatest advantage of the PIT tag since it allows for the production of much smaller tags that can be used on smaller organisms, which should last the life of the turtle. 

As in past assessments, two days were dedicated to measuring, giving health checks and ultrasounds to adult and subadult turtles. A day and half was dedicated to PIT-tagging all of the captive born turtles in the 2018 cohort as well as the ones from the 2017 cohort that had yet to be tagged.  

We were thrilled to have a great group of return volunteers from last year’s spring assessment, as well as new participants from Jacksonville Zoo, Belize Wildlife and Referral Clinic, and recent graduates of Independence Junior College in Belize. The team worked tirelessly over three days to ensure that every turtle received the attention it needed.

We were grateful to receive support and assistance from the following participants in our spring health check: Dr. Isabelle Paquet-Durand, Veterinarian at Belize Wildlife and Referral Clinic (BWRC); Glendy Delcid, BWRC; Cayle Pearson, Supervisor of Herpetology, Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens; Meredith Persky, Veterinarian, Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens; return volunteers, Doris Dimmitt, Rodney Dimmitt, Tim Gregory, and Emily Gregory; and new volunteers, Jesse Rope, Jonathan Dubon and Ajay Williams 

We would like to express our gratitude to Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens for their continued financial support spring health assessments at the HCRC and to the Turtle Survival Alliance for supplying the PIT tags and associated equipment. Finally, a special thanks is in order to Doris and Rod Dimmitt for supplying Tom Pop with new waders to keep him warm and safe from leeches!

Bringing BFREE to You!

Read a full update from BFREE on the latest during COVID-19 here: https://mailchi.mp/225f4bd263bf/bringingbfreetoyou-2447813

For most of us who remain home, trying our best to flatten the curve, cabin fever can set in quick. Many of you have reached out daydreaming about swimming in the Bladen River or hiking the BFREE boundary line. In response, we have decided that if you can’t be at BFREE, then we will bring BFREE to you!

Over the next month, we will be sharing a new educational resource or activity every day on social media. Activities you can do on your own or with kids, as well as videos of virtual hikes at BFREE, the wildlife, the scenery, cooking classes, challenges, meditations, and so much more!

Our goal is to bring positivity, education, love, hope, and BFREE to your homes! Be sure to share your creations or participation with all of us online using #BringingBFREEtoyou


Day One, March 23: Make bird feeder with an upcycled plastic bottle!
“Protect Birds: Be the Solution to Plastic Pollution!”  is the theme of this month’s celebration of Migratory Birds at BFREE. For our first educational activity, let’s make our own bird feeders out of recycled plastic bottles. Reusing your single-use plastic is just one way we can reduce pollution harmful to wildlife. 

Check out this link for ideas on how to upcycle your plastic bottles:
http://www.bystephanielynn.com/2012/04/25-things-to-do-with-empty-plastic-bottles-water-soda-bottle-crafts-saturday-inspiration-ideas.html

Make your own hummingbird nectar for your upcycled feeder using 1 part sugar to 4 parts water. Recipe and directions by Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute:
https://nationalzoo.si.edu/migratory-birds/hummingbird-nectar-recipe


Day Two, March 24: Imagine you’re a bird meditation

Day two, Bringing BFREE to you with a short meditation created for all ages. Take a deep breath and imagine you are a bird. Close your eyes as you listen to the words or keep them open to take a virtual tour of the BFREE garden. The bird meditation was created to help bring positivity, education, love, hope, and BFREE to your homes during these uncertain times.

Read by Nelly Cadle, inspired by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology BirdSleuth curriculum. Filmed at the BFREE Biological Field Station & Privately Protected Area in Belize. BFREE is sharing daily educational resources, activities, and virtual experiences from our Field Station in Belize over the next month. We are in this together, #stayhome


Day Three, March 25 : Collect Leaves and Compare!

Day Three, Bringing BFREE to you with a short outdoor activity. If you can, take a walk outside and collect a few leaves from non-harmful plants. Sort them by size, color, and texture. Now compare. What did you collect? Can you name the type of trees or plants they came from?

Taking a moment to be in nature can help reduce feelings of anger, fear, and stress. It not only makes us feel better emotionally, but it contributes to our physical wellbeing, reduces blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the productions of stress hormones.

Will you join us in this short exercise to get outside in nature?

Here are some leaves we collected today at BFREE. What did you collect? Share your images, #BringingBFREEtoyou

Our goal is to bring positivity, education, love, hope, and BFREE to your homes! Over the next month, we will be sharing a new educational resource, activity, or virtual experience from BFREE every day on social media. We are in this together, #stayhome.


Day Four, March 26: Time-lapse drive to BFREE

Day four, virtually bringing BFREE to you with a time-lapse of the drive from the Southern Highway to the BFREE Field Station and Privately Protected Area along the 6-mile entrance road. The road begins in open savannah, later oak-pine scrub, and moist tropical broadleaf forest. About 3/4’s of the way into the entrance road the truck passes by the Bladen Nature Reserve observation post. Filmed by Alex Birkman, BFREE Intern in July 2019.

If you can’t be at BFREE, then we will bring BFREE to you!


Day Five, March 27: Belize Culture and Heritage!

Day five, Bringing BFREE to you with the theme, BELIZE! Take a moment to dive into the incredible culture, music, and history of Belize. 

The Belize Living Heritage website was developed by the Institute for Social and Cultural Research (ISCR) of the National Institute of Culture and History (NICH) in partnership with local communities, living heritage practitioners, cultural organizations and other stakeholders. Educators and parents can find learning activities and sample lesson plans based on living heritage. 
Click the link below and you will find word search and coloring pages to download for kids. 

http://www.belizelivingheritage.org/ich-education

Click ‘Resources,’ then ‘Cultural Celebration Series’ to find videos of celebrations around Belize. Click ‘Our Inventory,’ to find descriptions of culinary, dancy and craftsmanship traditions. More information on integrating living heritage in educational lessons can be found here: http://www.belizeanstudies.com


Day Six, March 28: Lizards!

Jacob Marlin holds a juvenile Old Man Lizard or Helmeted Basilisk which he found on a walk at BFREE last week.

Helmeted Basilisks have some unique behaviors to scare off predators. First they use camouflage—they can resemble lichen with spots forming on their skin when resting and can change color rapidly. They can freeze their body and become completely still. Next they compress their body, erect their crest, expand their gular (throat) pouch and bob their head. By doing this, they hope to appear bigger and deter the predator. If all else fails, they will attack and bite ferociously!

Learn more about cool lizards like this one and other wildlife by visiting  https://eol.org/pages/35565  

Our goal is to bring positivity, education, love, hope, and BFREE to your homes! Over the next month, we will be sharing a new educational resource, activity, or virtual experience from BFREE every day on social media. We are in this together. #bringingbfreetoyou 


Day Seven, March 29:

Day seven, bringing BFREE to you with educational materials from USFWS Migratory Birds. Let’s all take a moment to appreciate migratory birds! Visit their website 3billionbirds.org for more resources.
 


Day Eight, March 30:

Day 8, Bringing BFREE to you with bird masks! These DIY masks can be made with just about anything you have on hand, such a fun way to get creative. If you need some inspiration, listen to the “imagine you’re a bird” meditation we shared last Monday and then make a mask based off of what you imagined! Or check out the endless how-to’s online such as this one: https://www.paperchase.com/the-journal/bird-craft-mask/

This video is from Church of Christ Primary School in Independence Village when BFREE visited a few weeks ago to talk about World Migratory Birds Day and the effects of plastic. After making their bird masks the class played the migration game where students played the role of a migrating birds and tried to reach their final destination but were faced with obstacles similar to the ones birds face including glass windows, cats, kids with stones and hurricanes, all played by their classmates.


Day Nine, March 31:

Day 9, Bringing BFREE to you with backyard birding! It’s the last day of our celebration of migratory birds for the month of March.

To celebrate, take a moment to step outside and appreciate the sounds and sights of our feathered friends around you! If you’re new to bird watching you can start off with a notepad and pencil. Take a few minutes each day to write down what you hear or see. If you’re ready to take it a step further, download the free Merlin app from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
 
In the app, you can enter the size, color, and location of your bird-is it on a branch, on the ground or on a fence post. The app then generates a list of options to help you identify your bird!
If you take a moment to step outside and go bird watching today, share a photo with us 

Day Ten, April 1:

Happy April 1st! Day 10, Bringing BFREE to You with one of the most relaxing and peaceful videos taken in the Bladen River at BFREE by a visiting graduate student, Emily Buege.
 
If you’ve been daydreaming of days spent cooling off in this river, sit back and turn the volume up for a meditative like experience that will take you straight to BFREE. Featured fauna includes black belt cichlids, blue-eyed cichlids, firemouth cichlids, false firemouth cichlids, yellow belly cichlids, tetras, mollies, machaca, a neotropical river otter, invasive African tilapia, and others. The neotropical river otter makes a quick appearance at 3:30 (with slow-mo instant replay!)
 
Thank you Emily for this incredible video! #BringingBFREEtoYou


Day Eleven, April 2:

Day 11, Bringing BFREE to You with a Facebook Live reading of The Adventures of Herbert the Hikatee, written by Gianni Martinez, a teacher in Belize City. BFREE’s Field Course Leader, Nelly Cadle will be reading the book from her home in Belize! Please join us at 1PM in Belize (noon PST/3 EST) for this fun storytime! #bringingbfreetoyou #savethehicatee


Day Twelve, April 3:

Day 12, Bringing BFREE to You with hicatee activities! If you joined us for our live storytime reading of Adventures of Herbert the Hikatee yesterday, continue the turtle theme today and watch the 16-minute short documentary, “Hope for the Hicatee,” read more about this critically endangered species in the Fact Sheet, or if you have access to a printer, print out the activity sheets for kids.All of our Hicatee resources can be found here:https://www.bfreebz.org/hicatee-conservation-educational-resources/


Day Thirteen, April 4:

Day 13, Bringing BFREE to You with outdoor gardening! We have been busy at BFREE over the last week building raised garden beds and planting a vegetable garden outside the Dining Room. Next time we see you at BFREE we will have fresh vegetables aplenty!What a great time to use things you already have to make your own indoor or outdoor garden! Check out the links below for inspiration.

Planters: https://craft.theownerbuildernetwork.co/2015/03/19/plastic-bottle-planters/

Seed Starter Pots:https://www.diyncrafts.com/10038/repurpose/recycle-plastic-bottles-into-self-watering-seed-starter-pots

Vertical Gardens:https://www.thisiscolossal.com/2013/02/urban-vertical-garden-built-from-hundreds-of-recycled-soda-bottles/


Day Fourteen, April 5:

Day 14, Bringing BFREE to you with Nature Relaxation to get your morning started off right!
Is there anything more relaxing than nature sounds and videos? Our Deputy Director, Heather Barrett, took this short video of a Liana seed blowing in the wind while birds sing in the background.
I only wish this video was an hour-long so I could play it to fall asleep to!


Day Fifteen, April 6:

Day 15, Bringing BFREE to You with a hike to the Agami Lagoon. Nelly Cadle, BFREE Field Course Leader takes us on a hike along the Agami trail at BFREE. Sounds of howler monkeys and boat-billed herons make this virtual hike almost feel like reality! Will you join us for a hike at BFREE today? #BringingBFREEtoYou


Day Sixteen, April 7:

Day 16, Bringing BFREE to You with Tom and Heather talking coconuts! Tom explains that they each have a distinct flavor depending on the age of the coconut. Tom’s favorite? The one that tastes like Sprite! Sit back and take a virtual trip to BFREE with Tom and Heather today, you can even pretend you have a coconut in your hand!


Day Seventeen, April 8:

Day 17, Bringing BFREE to You with Nature BINGO! If you can safely access outdoor space, we encourage you to have some fun in the sun today! Inspired by our friend, Ms. Mallory Adventures all you need is a piece of scrap paper and a pencil to make your own at home BINGO card. Use Ms. Mallory’s word bank to help think of what to fill in the squares. Or, just print a pre-made BINGO card directly from her blog post: https://mallorylindsay.com/my-backyard-adventures-activities/2020/3/17/nature-bingo?rq=bingo

Check out the hand made BINGO card BFREE made today, don’t forget to fill in the center B-FREE space! Share your BINGO card activity with us for a chance to win a BFREE Bandana.


Day Eighteen, April 9:

Day 18, Bringing BFREE to You with wildlife! The BFREE Privately Protected Area adjoins what is now considered the largest tract of rainforest north of the Amazon. It’s an incredible hotspot for biodiversity where tapirs, howler monkeys, jaguars, and harpy eagles are often spotted, and is the last stronghold for many endangered species. We are so fortunate these animals share their home with us as we work to protect wild spaces for generations to come.  Today, we are bringing BFREE to YOU with a small compilation of wildlife shots taken at BFREE.


Day Nineteen, April 10:

Day 19, BFREE Bandanas! The “BFREE IN THE JUNGLE” bandanas were such a big hit last year that we ordered more to have available to all our guests this year! With visitation coming to a halt, we have a small surplus that never made their way to Belize. If you are in the US, you can support BFREE by making a donation of $25 through the link below and we will mail you a bandana. https://www.givecampus.com/campaigns/5619/donations/new?donation_type=generalUse it as a makeshift face mask or just wear it around your neck at home to pretend you are sweating in the jungle! These are uncertain and difficult times for many of us, your contribution will support BFREE’s staff and program work immensely! Thank you! **Shipping in the USA only. If mailing address is different from billing or you have any notes or questions, send an email to contact@bfreebz.org**


Day Twenty, April 11:

Day 20, #BringingBFREEtoYou with a great book! We miss the hammocks in the dining room being full of students and visitors curled up with a book to read. So today, we are sharing a favorite among BFREE staff, The Nature Fix by Florence Williams. Using research and personal investigations, Williams explores how our separation from nature impacts our lives and our mental health. She considers all five senses when describing how people across the planet connect with nature. And she uses herself as a test subject and has many adventures as a result.

Fun fact from her book: As little as 15 minutes in the woods has been shown to reduce test subjects’ levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. Increase nature exposure to 45 minutes, and most individuals experience improvements in cognitive performance.

#Stayhome but also if you can safely, #takeawalk


Day Twenty one, April 12:

Bringing BFREE to you, with chocolate bread! Join us in the BFREE Kitchen with our chef, Edwardo Pop. Today, we are making chocolate bread with cacao grown and processed right here at BFREE! You can bake along with us, a recipe card with ingredients and directions are shared at the end of the video. Happy baking!


Day 22, April 13:

Bringing BFREE to you with our chocolate story! The cacao trees at BFREE are extremely special because one of the varieties growing here is the only known 100% pure criollo variety to exist in the world.

Recently discovered deep in the rainforests of southern Belize lies a remnant population of ancient wild Cacao trees. Based on the advice of cacao experts, beans from the wild trees were submitted for genetic testing to the Heirloom Cacao Preservation Fund (HCP). The results determined that this could be the original chocolate tree, 100% pure Criollo parentage, grown and revered by the ancient Mayan Civilizations, and one of the few pure wild cacaos known to exist on the planet. In 2015, the beans were given the designation of “heirloom fine flavor” by HCP, only the 11th chocolate in the world to receive such an honor. 

These discoveries were especially exciting to us because of the inherent conservation value – the variety of cacao appears to require environmental conditions that incentivize tropical forest conservation. A high percentage of shade and a structurally diverse forested environment provide natural ecological barriers to disease and cross-pollination, and are likely the conditions necessary for productivity; ultimately correlating a high-value crop to a diverse and healthy rainforest habitat. As a result of this discovery, BFREE began a project to preserve and propagate this rare and wild ancient heirloom fine flavor cacao while investigating its economic, social, and environmental benefits. Propagated from these wild trees grown under a variety of different conditions, BFREE has over 15 acres of cacao growing in an agroforestry environment, where wildlife like Jaguars, Tapirs, Howler monkeys, Harpy eagles, and Scarlet macaws make their home. 

Since this designation, BFREE has become an active partner with HCP.  Virtually visit BFREE and learn more about our chocolate story with this incredible short documentary made by HCP.


Day 23, April 14:

Bringing BFREE to you with a climb to the top of the Bruce Cullerton Memorial Observation Tower at BFREE. Located about a ½ mile from the kitchen the tower is a 112’ foot galvanized steel observation tower. It’s the perfect place to witness the forest come alive at sunrise, observe and photograph wildlife, conduct research, or just take in a sunset over the Maya Mountains.

Film created by Alex Birkman. Alex first visited BFREE as a student on a field course with Western Michigan University in 2018, he later returned as a volunteer field assistant in 2019.


Day 24, April 15

Bringing BFREE to you with turtles! Researcher, Day Ligon manages the Turtle Ecology Lab at Missouri State University and began research in Belize last year to understand the feasibility of determining population estimates of Hicatee turtles in the wild. Just before the government-issued shelter in place order that put their research on hold, Day along with Denise Thompson and turtle biologist, Donny McKnight visited BFREE. Donny explored the Bladen River and a couple of creeks within the property. He was thrilled to find six White-lipped mud turtles Kinosternon Leucostomum in a small pool left in an otherwise dry creek bed. He was even more excited to note that two of the six turtles had notches on their scutes meaning that they have been caught previously by biologists and were marked for identification. We believe they were marked by students of Ben Atkinson’s 2018 field course from Flagler College. Photos were taken and shared with Dr. Atkinson for review before the turtles were released back into the creek where they were found.

The adult size of White-lipped mud turtles is 6 to 7 inches. They are generally found in quiet, peaceful areas in marshes, lagoons, swamps and ponds that have dense aquatic vegetation and soft sandy bottom. They are not limited to water and can be found strolling on land.


Day 25, April 16:

Many of us are finding comfort in journaling and writing down our thoughts and feelings about these truly strange and difficult times. Here is a short writing prompt to help you record your memories of today and a reminder to get up and stretch your legs! 

Wherever you go, there you are prompt: Get up and stretch your legs, take a walk or a jog, inside, outside, wherever you can, for as long as you have time for. When you get back fill in the following: 

While on my walk around ________ (the block, kitchen, neighborhood, etc), I saw _________, I heard __________, I tasted __________, I heard ____________, I smelled ______________, I thought about  _______________, I learned  __________.

Photos of hummingbirds Deputy Director, Heather Barrett took while on her walk at BFREE. There are at least four species that have been enjoying the Malay Apple Tree lately, providing plenty of entertainment and excitement for those working from the office.  #BringingBFREEtoYou


Day 26, April 17:

Bringing BFREE to you with wildlife! This short video is a compilation of wildlife spotted at the BFREE Field Station and Privately Protected Area in southern Belize. BFREE owns and manages 1,153 acres of tropical rainforest that lies within one of the largest contiguous tracts of rainforest in the western hemisphere. Here, we are fortunate to see all sorts of animals including harpy eagles, howler monkeys, coatis, and so much more!


Day 27, April 18:

Day 27, Bringing BFREE to You with snails! This one is for our friends in Belize and is brought to us by biologist Dan and Judy Dourson, authors of the book, Biodiversity of the Maya Mountains – a Focus on the Bladen Nature Reserve.

A fun citizen science activity for all ages! Click the following link for a blog post to learn more and download the Land Snail Diversity of Belize card: https://www.bfreebz.org/un-belizeable-land-snails-activity/


Day 28, April 19:

Bringing BFREE to you with a cooking class! One of our student’s favorite breakfasts at BFREE is a Belizean specialty called fry jacks. Field Course Leader, Nelly Cadle takes us to her kitchen in Belize for a Facebook Live cooking class showing us all of the steps to make these delicious, fried doughnut-like treats!


Bonus activity: The Belize Birding Network has selected today as Belize Big Day! From your home, farm, or wherever you are record the birds you see and submit your checklist and location to eBird.org. If you’re new to birding and want some help identifying what you see check out our post on Day Nine, March 31 to learn about the Merlin Bird App. 

You don’t have to be in Belize to participate, let’s see how many birds the BFREE Community can record today!


Day 29, April 20:

Bringing BFREE to You with a story from Canti, BFREE Head Ranger, and Protected Areas Manager. Canti says, “Our ranger team continues to be on the ground throughout the quarantine and are being very careful to practice social distancing measures and good hygiene. We believe that our role as a privately protected area makes us key to keeping our area and the surrounding Maya Mountain Massif safe from incursions. Our concerns are not isolated to our property. We understand that we are connected to a much broader area. We are near the top of the Bladen River which feeds into the Monkey River. Downstream from us – communities and farms utilize this same river. We are all responsible for being good stewards of the river and the forests. 

In the weeks and months since COVID-19 has reduced operations country-wide, we have noted that people at home without jobs are starting to move around in order to hunt, log, fish, and extra other valuable resources. Actions like these only provide temporary benefits to the individuals extracting the resource for themselves. Over the long-term, these actions have devastating impacts on the watershed and the flora and fauna that our country needs to remain a healthy place benefiting our planet. We must all recognize the role that we all play and try to make it a positive one. 

As Park Rangers, we are establishing and refining protocols now for hygiene, for monitoring wildlife, and for active patrols to manage fire and incursions. We plan to continue these adapted protocols well beyond anything that happens today. We remain true to our mission. We are on the ground making choices for today that will allow all of us and our country to have a healthy future.”

Thank you BFREE Rangers for the incredibly important work you do!


Day 30, April 31:

Bringing BFREE to You with a tour of our Cacao Discovery Center just after a cacao harvest. Join BFREE Executive Director, Jacob Marlin and BFREE Cacao Staff as they show the many steps necessary to go from harvesting cacao to fermenting the beans. Eat more heirloom fine-flavor chocolate!