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Great Apps for Birding

Photo by J. Kamstra Belize birding

I had the good fortune of spending 8 days in Belize with legendary bird guide Roni Martinez who has been working as a natural history guide since 2004.

What started as a career in Botany, morphed into Ornithology after a chance encounter with another Belize legend, the Harpy Eagle. For Roni, that moment helped launch a career, first serving as the Conservation Officer in the Mountain Pine Ridge area, and later working with an array of National researchers and conservation NGOs who share a love of avifauna and a dedication to protecting biodiversity of species and places.

Our bird search began within meters of the Belize City airport. As soon as we got in the car, we were birding the watery habitats along the road heading northwest to The La Milpa Research Centre. The Centre is nestled in a forested pocket of the Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area where we had more good fortune as a fruiting tree attracted a plethora of bird species each morning. Within 20 minutes another 30 bird species were added to our growing list. We stayed in thatched-roof cabanas, ate home-cooked cuisine, visited the La Milpa Archaeological Site, and hiked the trails to observe not only birds but other wildlife such as Howler Monkeys, grey fox, turtles, and crocodiles.

belize la milpa birding 840x546

While I compiled my list using the pen and paper method, Roni was prolific at listing by eBird. Over 8 days I was able to compile a list of 225 species with incredible views, many rarities and much joy at doing so. What was more impressive is that I barely broke a sweat doing this. Roni’s list of sights and sounds was more than 325. Currently he has a country list that includes almost 94% of the country list. His dedication to eBird by list, photo and sound uploads has helped earn him the title of country top eBirder.

A second hot spot was in the Toledo district of Southern Belize.  Awakening to the noise of parrots, chachalacas, and Montezuma Oropendolas, our days at the ‘dump’, along the rural highway leading to the Guatemala border were complimented by great food, hospitality and pleasingly comfortable thatched roof accommodation.

Roni was equally happy to introduce novices to his world of birding and travel with dedicated experts. During an excursion to see the Scarlet Macaws, he explained to a young villager, “these are your birds. This is your heritage.” Among his achievements, he co-founded a biomonitoring team to protect the last remnant population of Scarlet Macaws, and is President of the Belize Raptor Research Institute. By the way, we saw a most astounding number of raptors (over 2 dozen!), beyond any other trip experience.

Two potential tools for assisting with birding in Belize are:

Explore bird status and trends with maps, habitat charts, weekly migration animations, and more – all generated from modeled eBird data. Ebird does not help with bird identification however, so a field guide or bird guide are required. This next app can help with that:

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology offers this free bird app that can help instantly identify (by keying field markers or uploading images or sound) 3,000+ species in North, Central (including Belize), and South American, as well as European birds. When you identify a species and click “This is My Bird,” Merlin also saves your record.  Once confirmed, the sighting tags the GPS of your smart phone and adds it to a global collective list.

Tours of Exploration will offer an 8 day trip with Roni Martinez in early February 2020 as well as an 8 day trip to Southern Belize later that month.

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