I sorta stumbled my way into Belize, as many folks that end up living there do. After graduating from The Ohio State University in spring of 1998, and planning to head to a masters program in the fall, I was looking for some kind of field experience in the tropics for the summer after becoming addicted to the experience while I was in Costa Rica. I perused the birding magazines looking for ecolodges to contact, even volunteering to wash dishes and do laundry for room and board. It was the Lamanai Outpost Lodge/Lamanai Field Research Center that gave the best response, offering to pay my airfare and provide accommodation for a week to discuss setting up a birding tourism and research program. I arrived in September 1998 and didn’t leave until the summer of 2000.
The Landbird Monitoring Programme was an extremely broad-ranging study. Really, it was a variety of studies just trying as best as possible to document the species that were present in this extremely biodiverse, but relatively unknown area and make some sense of how those species interacted with their environment. All of my work was supported by leading birding tours, with additional funding provided by the Lamanai Outpost Lodge and funding for genetics work from Dr. Patricia Parker from The Ohio State University. The basic tenets of the fieldwork there were as follows:
- Basic field observations, including something so simple as birding, but also including point counts and line transects.
- Mist-netting, with general methods following those established by MAPS (the work, however, was not affiliated with MAPS in any way). Standard measurements were collected for all captured birds, and most were fitted with unique color bands. A blood sample was also collected.
- Sound recording.
All work was permitted by the Belize Ministry of Natural Resources. Unfortunately, I did not have my own US Geological Survey (USGS) permit for banding birds in the United States (my prior experience as a student was working under other permitted biologists), so migrant birds did not receive an aluminum band. I was fortunate to take the head of the USGS responsible for bird banding into the field while in Belize, and we discussed adding that permit, but I left Belize permanently before that happened.
I documented the presence of more than 300 species of birds at Lamanai, including a number of species not previously known to occur in the region. Among these was Yucatan Nightjar, found readily during much of the year during night surveys along the New River Lagoon. While many of the birding tours I led were independent, I did co-lead or assist on tours for a number of companies, including High Lonesome Ecotours, WINGS, and Field Guides.