Our Presence Matters

Head Ranger, Sipriano Canti “Canti”, identifies wildlife tracks while on routine patrol.

Around the world, the question is being asked: How does the pandemic impact threatened species and protected areas? The answer seems to be a resounding: We don’t know, but we suspect in some good ways and some bad ways. Wildlife and protected areas are likely benefited by less human presence and disturbance and also negatively impacted by unregulated use and illegal resource extraction including illegal poaching.

We know that the pandemic has led to the closure of many protected and conserved areas around the world. The consequences of closed protected areas are many and include staff layoffs and loss of livelihoods, suspension of critical research and monitoring programs, suspension and or decrease of ranger patrols resulting in possible illegal and environmentally damaging activities.

In Belize, both terrestrial and marine protected areas have seen periods of closure in short bursts since the pandemic was declared in April. The additional stress of dry season fires in April and May across the country and the early advent of hurricane season has made these challenges even greater. Protected Areas staff struggle to continue responding to these natural disasters while also continuing their daily work with less mobility due to Covid-19 restrictions and fewer staff.

At BFREE, our park rangers feel the stress of those restrictions yet maintain their important tasks in spite of the challenges. Throughout the pandemic, they have continued to come to work 24/7, patrolling the 1,153 acre property and its boundaries which connect us to nearly 1.5 million acres of lowland tropical rainforest.

Rangers and BFREE staff have also continued to document wildlife and weather patterns as part of our long-term monitoring programs.  We are entering our fifth year of an Agami Heron nesting population study in collaboration with the international Agami Heron Conservation Working Group. In partnership with Jungle Encounters, Inc, we continue to collect data on wild cats, specifically Jaguarundis, Ocelots and Margays, using camera trapping technology. Weather data has been collected since 1995 and continues both in hand-written form and via Hoboware weather stations situated throughout the property. Additionally, observational data is collected on the movements of Scarlet macaws and Harpy eagles in the area.

Monitoring wildlife will help us understand which animals utilize which pieces of the property and whether their populations are increasing, remaining stable or declining. Similarly, monitoring weather helps us understand how Belize’s climate changes over time.

By continuing to do the important work of patrolling the BFREE privately protected area and monitoring wildlife and climate, we not only protect the land around us, we contribute important information that helps better guide conservation policy and interventions over the long-term.

Releasing Hicatee with Belize’s Next Generation

Six years after the first Hicatee egg was laid and hatched at the Hicatee Conservation and Research Center (HCRC) at BFREE, we released 145 hatchlings turtles into the wild – representing the first significant release of captive bred and hatched Hicatee in Belize. The release not only provided the opportunity to increase the wild population, but also and most significantly to conduct a comparative early-life stage growth study of the 2020 cohort of 185 Hicatee hatchlings. Turtles were randomly assigned groups which were then designated for 1) release into a natural closed aquatic system with no other Hicatee present, 2) release into a natural closed aquatic system where other Hicatee are present, 3) release into an natural open aquatic system where other Hicatee are present, 4) release into the HCRC rearing pond at BFREE, and 5) kept in tanks indoors at the BFREE lab. After, eight weeks, turtles are recaptured, weighed, measured, and data collected on a number of parameters to compare the conditions of each group to determine overall health.

One of the release sites located adjacent to a wildlife sanctuary a nearby village provided the opportunity to get local community members involved. Representatives from BFREE, Belize Turtle Ecology Lab, and the Belize Fisheries Department met village leaders and a small group of school children one morning in early August. The organizations introduced the community to the captive-breeding program taking place at BFREE, presented on current Hicatee research, reviewed Belize’s laws pertaining to Hicatee, and described current outreach efforts including the upcoming fourth annual Hicatee Awareness Month in October. After the presentation, the group walked to the river’s edge where they released a dozen of the critically endangered captive-bred turtles into the wild.

The release and the associated outreach event represent a major milestone in our ongoing effort to save the Hicatee turtle from extinction. These milestones could not have been reached without the ongoing support of our project partner, the Turtle Survival Alliance. Their belief and engagement in Hicatee conservation efforts has allowed the project to continue moving forward even in the most difficult of times.

Members of the Belize Turtle Ecology Lab and BFREE pose for a photo during the community outreach event.

Turtle Survival Alliance Live Webinar at BFREE

BFREE joined the TSA for a live video chat from Belize where we shared the latest from the Hicatee Conservation & Research Center. This included an up-close look at the critically endangered adult and juvenile turtles as well as a surprise appearance from babies hatched that day. 

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.

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.

BFREE Support Leads to Discovery of New Sedge Species

Robert Naczi, Curator of North American Botany, New York Botanical Garden

Habitat of Belizean Beaksedge, Deep River Forest Reserve, 7 January 2008. Photo: R. Naczi.

On the morning of 7 January 2008, my students from Delaware State University and I hiked from BFREE to the savanna in Deep River Forest Reserve. Our goal was to establish plots and identify all sedges within these plots in order to test hypotheses about the effects of disturbance upon the savanna’s most diverse floral elements, members of the Sedge Family (Cyperaceae). Sedges are grass-like plants that dominate many habitats (including savannas), provide food and shelter for wildlife, and furnish nutritious forage for cattle. Previous research had revealed great numbers of sedge species in the savannas of Deep River Forest Reserve, an extensive protected area bordering BFREE’s southern edge.

Because many sedge species inhabit the Deep River savanna and they usually grow intermingled, our work was demanding, and time passed quickly. Soon, we realized it was time to make the 2-mile hike back to BFREE for lunch. However, as I rose from our last plot, I noticed in the distance a habitat that was unfamiliar. A scan with binoculars revealed a shallow, gently sloping depression dominated by grassy plants. Typical-looking savanna with scattered pines and shrubs surrounded the vegetationaly distinct depression. I was intrigued, had the students look through the binoculars, and asked if they wanted to take a few minutes to explore the place. They enthusiastically agreed.

Fruit of Belizean Beaksedge, the portion of the plant most important for identification.
Photo: R. Naczi

Shortly, we arrived. Exuberant at the prospect of exploring a new spot, the students bounded into the habitat. In a moment we were immersed in a place unlike any we’d seen in Belize. It was magical! Tall grasses grew very densely there, and some towered over us. Although the ground was wet and standing water was present in a few places, we did not sink far into the soil as we walked through the place. Soon, I found a narrow trail crowded with tapir tracks. Best of all, sedges were abundant. In fact, the most abundant sedge was one that I didn’t recognize. Discovering an unexpected sedge added to the excitement of exploring an unexpected habitat.

Study of plant specimens at New York Botanical Garden, Missouri Botanical Garden, and U.S. National Herbarium at the Smithsonian Institution lead to no matches for the unknown sedge. My systematist colleagues did not recognize it, either. On a later field trip, I discovered a second, but much smaller population of the unknown sedge on Mountain Pine Ridge, Cayo District. Analysis of DNA sequences indicated the unknown sedge was unique. We concluded it was an undescribed species, and recently published the name Rhynchospora belizensis for this new species in the online edition of the botanical journal Brittonia. Hard-copy publication is scheduled for the March 2020 issue of Brittonia.

Belizean Beaksedge appears to be a very rare species that grows only in Belize. Fewer than 500 plants are known from the two small populations. Fortunately both occur in protected areas. Nevertheless, it is of conservation concern, ranked Vulnerable according to criteria of the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Belizean Beaksedge is also biogeographically significant because it is the only one of a group of closely related species that occurs in Central America; the rest grow in South America.

BFREE played a key role in the discovery of Belizean Beaksedge. Proximity of BFREE to the study site allowed for extensive exploration and ultimate discovery of the small population within the savanna—a true “needle in a haystack.” Help from BFREE staff was critical, too. Jacob Marlin showed me the Deep River savanna and suggested I study its sedges. All of the BFREE staff have been very supportive and provided much help along the way. The kitchen crew even held lunch for us the day of discovery, though we showed up quite late (and hungry). I am most grateful to the entire BFREE community for their support. I am also grateful to the intrepid students who accompanied me in discovering the new species.

Belizean Beaksedge is the second new sedge species discovered and described from savannas in the Deep River Forest Reserve adjacent to BFREE. In December 2012, colleagues and I published Rhynchospora marliniana, Marlins’ Beaksedge, from this savanna. We named this species for the Marlin Family to honor their steadfast dedication to biological conservation.

Drawing of Belizean Beaksedge, from its publication as a new species. Artist: Bobbi Angell.

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!