Thursday, March 27, 2014

Tropical Forest Adventures

We recently spent a week in the forests of tropical Belize.  This was fitting, as it was our Tropical Forest Ecology course.  In fact, professor Jeff Port (Bethel University) took this quite seriously and made sure that we spent as little time in the building classroom, and as much time in the forest classroom as possible.

Learning about the strangler fig, a parasitic plant that grows around and smothers trees

Between the Chiquibul Forest Reserve (part of the largest national park in Belize) and our own 17-acre campus, there was no scarcity of things to explore, discover and learn from in the wilderness.  Thankfully we also had Jeff's expansive wealth of knowledge to help us focus our lenses and teach us the things that nature couldn't overtly tell us.

Gallivanting about in the forest with notebooks and binoculars in hand, we got to do and see some pretty amazing stuff.  For example:

See the dewlap of an anole (a male anole will display his brightly-colored dewlap to assert territorial dominance or attract a mate).

Try a taste of a termite (yes, you can eat them!  They taste like carrots or mint, depending on whom you ask).

Marissa grabs an unsuspecting termite off its mound

Have class literally in the middle of the (beautiful) bush,

Learning about relationships and adaptations in the forest

Eat lunch at the mouth of a cave.

Rio Frio cave in southwestern Belize

See Christmas plants in 80-degree weather.

Taylor discovers that we have poinsettia trees on our campus

And if you're lucky, you may even get the opportunity to push Harvey, our 15-passenger van, through some mud.

Handprint aftermath

One of the favorite activities of the week was mist-netting with birds.

Mara, Eric and Taylor scrutinize a Spot-breasted wren

Jeff, who has professional training in catching and banding birds, showed us how to catch some birds and hold them (without harming them), study them a little bit and let them go in a short enough time so as not to stress them out.

A Tawny-crowned greenlet

The stunning Blue bunting

Some of the students even got the chance to hold a bird in their open palms when Jeff was ready to release it.  Many times, the bird would lie there resting for a few moments before it realized that it was free to fly away (which was quite amusing).

Ren enraptured by the Ochre-bellied flycatcher

Rachel overcomes her fear of birds with the help of an adorably
 oblivious Dusky antbird

We certainly learned a lot from our adventures, and as usual the Belizean forest did not disappoint!

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