Birdathon Belize

birdathon belize bird raptor research institute

“Birds of Belize” author, H. Lee Jones, and a team of experienced birders spent the early morning hours on March 24 at BFREE as part of Birdathon Belize – a competition and fundraiser for the Belize Raptor Research Institute (BRRI). Lee was joined by Victor Bonilla, Emanuel Chan and previous BFREE employee and expert birder, Wilfred Mutrie, to create a strong team of four. The team’s goal was to identify 203 birds in a 24 hour period which would surpass the Belize record of 202 in one day. For every bird counted, a certain amount of money is donated to BRRI. The rules are strict; everyone in the group has to see and/or hear 95% of the birds in order to add the bird to the count for that day, so teams have to stay together and remain quiet. The team started at 4:00am and by breakfast at 7:30am had reached 98 birds, 2 birds shy of their target while at BFREE.

After breakfast they stopped at the river and within 15 minutes had added 10 more birds to their count! The remainder of their day was strategically planned to ensure they put themselves in areas to identify specific birds within their allotted time. They were to stop in the Savannah between BFREE and the Southern Highway, then on to Aqua Mar Shrimp Farm to locate various shore birds, with a stop immediately following in Punta Gorda where they were sure to see Laughing Gulls and a particular heron roosting in the mangroves. The day would end at the Southern Highway junction known as “The Dump,” in order to bird in a wet area, overgrown with reeds where they were sure to catch sight of a variety of species at dusk. We look forward to hearing if they break the record and are excited that the majority of the birds were spotted right here at BFREE!

New Species of Plant Named for BFREE Co-Founders, the Marlins

sedgeThe Marlins have a new plant species named in their honor! In the current issue of Kew Bulletin, co-authors (Wesley Knapp and Wayt Thomas) and I pay tribute to the Marlins and their accomplishments by naming Rhynchospora marliniana. We felt it especially appropriate to honor the Marlins and their contributions by naming a species that is widespread and common in Belize.

We are pleased to name Rhynchospora marliniana in honor of Jacob, Kelly, Sofia, Shaman, and Hyla Marlin. The Marlins are leading advocates for the conservation of biological diversity in Belize. Their founding of the Belize Foundation for Research and Environmental Education (BFREE), and their development of what is now an active and important biological field station are especially notable among their many achievements.

Adding prestige to the Marlins’ recognition is the place of publication of Rhynchospora marliniana. Kew Bulletin is the flagship scientific journal of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, England, and one of the leading international journals of systematic botany in the world.

The beaksedges (Rhynchospora) comprise the largest genus of flowering plants in Belize. At least 46 species of these grass-like plants inhabit the country. Beaksedges occur in a variety of habitats, but are most diverse in savannas. Up to 16 species co-occur within a single savanna, and different savannas have different sets of species. As well, beaksedges often dominate these savannas. Floristically and ecologically, Rhynchospora is a very important genus.

On my first trip to Belize, Jacob Marlin introduced me to Belizean savannas. He showed me the savanna in the Deep River Forest Reserve, a short distance south of the BFREE border. There, I would make my first collection of what was to become Rhynchospora marliniana. However, I didn’t realize its status as a new species at that time. That recognition happened a couple months later, on a trip to the Mountain Pine Ridge in western Belize. There, in a savanna remnant, I found growing side-by-side Rhynchospora marliniana and R. plumosa, the species with which it had been confused. Quickly, I realized that two beaksedges were present. Their co-occurrence while maintaining their distinctions was compelling evidence of the existence of two species instead of one, one of them being new to science.Rhychmarliniana_drawing

In the time since my discovery on Mountain Pine Ridge, my co-authors and I conducted the thorough research on Marlins’ Beaksedge to document its status as a new species, its geographic distribution, and its ecology. During the course of additional trips, I found several more populations of it. On every one of these trips, Jacob, Kelly, and their children helped me with my research on Marlins’ Beaksedge, unknowingly. I say “unknowingly,” because I kept the naming a surprise until after publication.

Now, the Marlins have a species that bears their name. Marlins’ Beaksedge fittingly pays tribute to BFREE and many other accomplishments in Belizean conservation. More importantly, it serves as a reminder of the power of the few individuals who made these accomplishments possible through their vision, dedication, and perseverance.