Promoting local conservation and sustainability in Belize and Guatemala
In March, Debbie Jordan traveled to Belize and Guatemala to learn more about National Audubon Society and its ongoing work there through its International Alliances Program (IAP). During this familiarization trip, she birded and explored these remarkable countries with representatives from Audubon, local NGOs, other travel providers, and the Belize Tourism Board. Debbie witnessed firsthand how IAP’s work has positively affected local communities. Below you may read her account of the trip.
IAP and Conservation
To give some background, the IAP seeks to integrate conservation into the increased economic growth within Latin America and the Caribbean. Its programs focus on establishing relationships with local advocates to preserve habitats that promote lifecycle stewardship essential to saving migratory species.
One of the distinct features of the program is its comprehensive training program with local guides. Another is providing local businesses with access to equipment (binoculars, scopes, and guidebooks) and improved trails and associated infrastructure. Perhaps the most important feature is the targeted environmental education and outreach programs to local schools and community groups.
Our trip began with presentations by National Audubon Society and Belize Audubon regarding how the IAP work has benefitted five communities around Cockscomb and two communities near Crooked Tree, touching around 7,000 people altogether.
The Belize Audubon Society, specifically, aims to create a balance between the people and the environment. Belize is home to 600 species of birds, 269 of which are migrants, 109 water birds, and 29 seabirds. They have 3 million hectares in Important Bird Areas and 100 protected areas in Belize, and most birding trips will average 200 species.
Birding in Belize
We began our experience at Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary, northwest of Belize City. I could hear Limpkins on the lake and decided to go to bed early to the soothing sounds, while a few of our group went out looking for the Yucatan Nightjar.
The next day we enjoyed an early bird walk on the grounds of the fantastic Bird’s Eye View Lodge, followed by a boat ride along the lake where we came across five Jabiru Storks, plus the Grey-necked Wood-Rail and Agami Heron. This area boasts 100 species, with its best months being periods with higher water, such as February and March. Later in the day we ventured to St. Herman’s Blue Hole, where we stayed at Jaguar Creek, where they have a bunkhouse for students, as well as a nice creek for swimming.
On the third day we stopped to bird along the Hummingbird Highway at the “gra gra,” and then continued to Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, the world’s first jaguar preserve. The super rustic field station is in a great location for walks and birding.
On to Guatemala
Next we headed to Guatemala as we traveled to El Sombrero Ecolodge near Yaxha. During the afternoon walk at Yaxha we saw several trogons, including my favorite, the Gartered Trogon, and climbed up a temple for a gorgeous sunset to end the day. Then we departed Yaxha and spent the next two days exploring the temples of Tikal, beginning with Temple II where we spotted the nesting Orange-breasted Falcon at eye-level. We also ran into Ocellated Turkeys, a Black-headed Trogon, and even a Bare-throated Tiger-Heron.
In the small, quaint town of Flores in Lake Petén Itzá, we had an authentic lunch and watched the women prepare tortillas. This is a stark contrast to the city of Pasco Caballos, home to over 1,500 residents, where we later arrived. Here we took a 20-minute boat trip downriver to the Estación Biológica Guacamayas (EBG). It was an incredible opportunity to experience both the fascinating nature and varying societies within Guatemala. Birding continued on the grounds before departing for the sprawling Guatemala City. We headed about three hours to Panajachel on Lake Atitlán, where we would spend the next day exploring the Parque Ecológico Corazón del Bosque.
IAP Meetings and Guide Training
Toward the end of the trip, our group participated in a two-day conference with local conservation groups, suppliers and guides facilitated by the National Audubon Society’s IAP leaders. A great deal of work has taken place in the last two years to educate and train local inhabitants on the benefits of conservation. I sat in on an IAP panel discussing how to spread the wealth to create economic development.
We wrapped up the trip at Mirador Rey Tepepul, another bird hot spot. This area is great for birding; however, it is better-suited for more experienced birders due to the difficult terrain. Here we were able to see the Crested Guan and, not too far from there, the Resplendent (Guatemalan) Quetzal.
All photos by Debbie Sturdivant Jordan.