Ecotourism—Virgin Islands, Belize.

For the first ecotourism trip, we went to Maho Bay, St. John, USVI. We had a wonderful time, and got a few recordings.  “Real birders” will tell you — "there’s no new birds out there".  (Meaning that the NUMBER of new species per trip to Caribbean Islands is often quite limited, as compared with mainland trips of similar latitudes).  But this is not really true, and numbers mattered little to us.

Our second family trip, was a return for me, after thirty-six years, to Belize, this time by airplane.  The whole trip was arranged by a e-friend, Kevin Loughlin, who seemed to know many Belizeans personally on very long-term friendships.  The trip was complex, but every time we drove into a small establishment, and mentioned his name, we often felt like arriving family, everything was all set up in advance — completely in defiance of the well known “latitude attitude” connection, made familiar songfully by Jimmy Buffett. 

Everything was prepaid, everything was as we expected, except very exciting and wonderful — for that we were quite thankful.  I consider it my first real lesson in ecotourism as a long term success.  We got lots of sun, culture, scenery, birds and even many new bird recordings. 

Toward the end of this trip, in Belmopan, at the Bullfrog Inn, we actually met up in person with Mr. Loughlin, and his partner Glenn Crawford, whose guidance at Crooked Tree had framed our first three days in Belize. After a few more days, the vice president of MIST remarked that the birds just seemed to be drawn to Glenn.  It was actually, of course, his remarkable awareness of their movements and sounds, that produced this almost magical effect.  Recordings galore, including wild Scarlet Macaws!

Viewing platform at Thousand Foot Falls, Augustine Pine Ridge, Belize.  From here, a recording was made of a distant Orange-breasted Falcon.

Thousand-foot Fall, Augustine Pine Ridge,
Belize; Wildside Birding Tour, 1998.

The trip then progressed beyond any expectations, to the famed Augustine Mountain Pine Ridge of Belize, and the thousand foot falls, (see left) and then on to Caracol, nearly against the Guatemalan border — a slow, difficult journey in the best of seasons, over deep calcareous-mud (if you live in Upper New York state, you have some experience with extreme slipperiness of this unique material).  Not the least obstacle to arriving quickly was the abundant fascination of the birds along the journey, itself — Mealy Parrots, Dot-winged Ant-wren, Rufous-breasted Spinetail.

Recording early in the morning on the mud roadway along the karst topography of western Belize was breathtaking.  At Caracol it became mind-boggling.  We strolled, alone, among ruins, dodging scattered brief rain showers, amazed at how well the wooden, rock and earth works of the Mayans have survived, and awed by the powerful a force over time exerted by tree roots, and the prowling of ants of countless species. 

The lowland tropical semi-deciduous forest around Caracol shows little if any impact from current civilization.  Even overflights by airplanes are rare.  We avoid using the word “pristine” because no place on the planet is static or ideal, in any real sense.  Each place is a transient snapshot of countless ecological struggles, all but a few of which are completely hidden from even the most astute hunter or scientist.  We realized that to really see Caracol, we would need weeks or months of looking and listening.

On the basis of this joint trip, we determined that MIST would utilize the guiding services of Kevin and Glenn -- Wildside Tours, Inc., for making more of the critical recordings of southern Middle America, as well.

Next page - Costa Rica

View from Caana, a partially restored temple top at Caracol, Belize.
Spectacular Mayan ruins at Caracol

Displaying male Ocellated Turkeys (Meleagris ocellata), photographed and recorded at Caracol, western Belize.

Ocellated Turkeys in the middle of a jungle road, displaying as if we were not even present! Click the image to hear their display sound.