Sustainable Camping Thatch completed, Dan Dourson author of new book, new field research at BFREE, and more.

Congratulations to Published Author, Dan Dourson!

I am thrilled to announce that the much anticipated book, Biodiversity of the Maya Mountains: a Focus on the Bladen Nature Reserve by Daniel C. Dourson, is in print and available for purchase on the BFREE website! With significant contributions and reviews from many of the most dedicated and productive scientists and biologists who have worked in the Bladen, and with support and assistance from his loving wife Judy, Dan has produced a volume that will serve as the textbook for Belizean schools and as an important reference for Belize’s wildlife and natural environments for years to come.

Inspired by his passion for the natural world and the diversity and uniqueness of its inhabitants, this skillfully crafted book is the result of countless hours of hiking day and night in the rainforests of Belize. Armed only with his trusted Sony Cybershot and a bright headlamp, Dan has drawn on his inquisitive nature, exceptional observational skills and love for all creatures great and small to capture the photographs and compile the information contained in this amazing work.

Whether you are a professional scientist, government official, educator, student, conservation worker or nature lover, this beautiful and informative resource will serve as your window to the tremendous array of creatures, plants and natural environments found in Belize, and the broader region.

We at BFREE are humbled and inspired by Dan’s unique ability not only to encourage others to look more closely at and appreciate the world around them, but also to take part in the effort to preserve magical places like the Bladen Nature Reserve and the Maya Mountains of Belize. Dan has truly accomplished a work that is one of a kind and will have a long lasting impact. I invite you to purchase a copy for yourself or as a gift to a local school or institution that would appreciate this resource.

In Conservation,
Jacob Marlin
Executive Director, BFREE

BFREE Facilities Manager Marcelino Pop (pictured top left) directs and oversees the construction of the new camping thatch at the field station.
University of Nebraska-Wesleyan students help gather building materials to construct the camping thatch. For more on this story, see "Sustainable Building: A New Camping Thatch" below.

Population Dynamics of the Wood Thrush

PhD student University of Maryland, MSc York University

I first visited BFREE in 2009 after meeting Dr. Jamie Rotenberg and the folks from the Institute for Bird Populations (IBP) at a conservation conference in Belize City. I was able to participate in a bird banding workshop IBP was hosting (it was also on that trip to BFREE that I saw my first puma!) Now, three years later I have the chance to start working at BFREE on a new project for my PhD at the University of Maryland.

My PhD research is part of a larger research program with the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center which is examining the population dynamics of a Neotropical migratory songbird, the Wood Thrush, across its annual cycle. Up to this point, we have been studying a breeding population of Wood Thrush in Indiana. Using geolocators, we were able to link that breeding population of Wood Thrush to wintering locations that ranged predominately from southern Mexico and northern Guatemala to Belize, right in BFREE’s neck of the woods.

This will be the first winter we are moving the project down south where we will be examining the Wood Thrush during their non-breeding season, and we have chosen BFREE as our study site. Our primary goal this season is to follow 60 birds over the winter to examine overwinter survival of the Wood Thrush inhabiting BFREE and the neighboring Bladen Nature Reserve. We are interested in understanding what features of a bird's territory are important to its overwinter survival and its chances of returning to BFREE the following winter. We will do this by monitoring these birds with radio transmitters. The radio transmitters are attached with a harness to the birds' back, similar to a knapsack, which allows us to follow the birds throughout the winter season. For some birds the transmitters will also allow us to re-locate them next year when they return to BFREE after their summer breeding season. This is the first year of a three-year project and I can’t wait to see what is in store for us here.


Volunteer Work at BFREE

BFREE Welcomes New Volunteer, Rebecca Cogen

I have recently arrived at BFREE and have rediscovered the rainforest. Although I have been to the jungle before, I am planning on staying at BFREE for five months. This length of time will give me a deep understanding of the complexities of living in the rainforest. So far, I have bathed in the Bladen River, worked with Elmer and Miguel in the cacao farm, and somehow have been able to sleep with howler monkeys calling at night.

Even though I am only 18, living in the rainforest is not much of a stretch for me as I have traveled extensively. I have lived in New Zealand for a year, hiking through forest and jungles alike. I have camped in the wilderness of Alaska for many weeks, fixing hiking trails and having streams as the only source of water. Finally, I have just come back from living in Nepal for three months. Through my experiences, I have prepared myself for living in this remote wilderness and could not wish for anything better.

I have discovered the thrill of night walks with Dan, our resident biologist and although I have not yet seen a big cat, I find the insects fascinating; lucky for me, they are found on almost every leaf. As an intern, I will be helping the overall management of the BFREE facility. As of now, I am helping build thatch buildings for visitors and researchers, updating the bunkhouse, and helping Solana in the kitchen. I came to BFREE to discover the wonders of the wilderness and see what research biology was like on location and from what I have experienced so far, I couldn't have come to a better place.

Follow the daily adventures at the field station by reading the Jungle Blog on the BFREE website.


Sustainable Building

A New Camping Thatch

The BFREE tenting area alongside the Bladen River is now equipped with a new Camping Thatch. All of the building materials (with the exception of 54 metal nails and six cement block footings) were gathered from the surrounding forest. Talk about sustainable construction! The supporting posts were hewn from tropical hardwood saplings salvaged after a blow-down.

Polewood rafters were then joined to the posts with tie-tie, a local vine known for its flexibility and durability. The tie-tie was wrapped green so that as it dries it will provide a secure connection able to withstand tropical challenges including those posed by rodents. Two days were devoted to cutting (with machete) 140 cohune palm leaves and dragging them to the site. The floor of the Camping Thatch is constructed of local Caribbean pine procured from BFREE’s closest neighbor and longtime friend, the Gomez Family Sawmill.

BFREE’s Facilities Manager (and master carpenter), Marcelino Pop, supervised the roof thatching and platform construction with help from BFREE staff Elmer Tzalam, Miguel Tzalam, Mick Baisley, and Rebecca Cogen, as well as students from the University of Nebraska-Wesleyan. The result is a beautiful tent platform and our visiting researchers from the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center have already moved in.


Thank You to All of Our Donors

Thank you to the donors who responded to our December appeal for infrastructure improvement support! We raised $3,800 toward our goal of $21,000 to build private cabins at BFREE. With these donations, we have begun to acquire materials for the first cabin.

Harry & Sarah Lee
Kirk & Gloria McDonald
Stanley Spracker
Bruce Vinik
Sheldon & Susan Sandler
Jane & Daniel Lindau
Donald & Victoria Velsey
Jeff & Lori Schroeder
William & Jeanne Dennler
Chester Hartman & Amy Fine
Diana Engel
David Osterhout & Susan Tannenbaum
Judith & Stanley Rapoport
Irvine & Leah Mermelstein
Richard & Phyllis Wasserstrom
Robert Tancer
Ruth Goldman
Alison Connell
Kenneth Hopper
C Rudy Engholm
Marilyn Oser
Denise Odell
Helen Peters
Julie Sandler
Theresa Rizzo-Ovia
Kenneth Hotopp & Mary Gorrell
Jane Lang & Paul Sprenger
Brumberg Publications
Paul Pickhardt & Kristine Feggestad
Bernie Levine & Alice Howard

Staff Spotlight: Miguel Tzalam


Miguel Tzalam started working at BFREE in November 2012 when Jacob Marlin decided to expand the cacao farm. Elmer Tzalam, the Cacao Farm Manager, immediately went and asked his younger brother to help; Miguel accepted and has been working here ever since. I met Miguel my first day at BFREE, but didn't get to know him until I started working at the cacao farm. Miguel and Elmer are managing this extensive area and have taught me the complexities of running a functional farm. Since I have been at the field station, Miguel has also been involved in many projects around the facility. He has maintained the grounds, helped build a thatch structure, harvested heart of palm for dinner and assisted in teaching visitors about planting and caring for cacao saplings.

Miguel lives in the village of Golden Stream, one of the closest communities to BFREE. He previously worked in larger farms near his village and also has additional agricultural experience from his parents' farm. He lives and works at BFREE Monday through Friday and returns home every weekend to relax. In his village, Miguel volunteers as a policeman as a way to contribute to his community. His favorite food is his mothers' homemade corn tortillas. Miguel’s favorite things about BFREE are meeting the visitors coming through and seeing the diversity of birds in the forest.

First Book on the Bladen Nature Reserve is Available!

Biodiversity of the Maya Mountains: a Focus on the Bladen Nature Reserve is available for purchase through the BFREE website. Books cost $40 each, plus $8 shipping and handling. Shipping and handling can be quoted for bulk orders to one address – email for more info.

Books are also available in our US office in Gainesville, FL. If you are in the area, please stop by to purchase your copy! We recommend calling the office first – small staff occasionally equals empty office. (352)727-4550

Learning Through Experience

One of the many goals of BFREE is to bring in researchers from universities and other institutions to conduct their own research on animals such as birds and insects, the environment or rainforest plantlife. After conducting their studies, researchers often write up reports of their studies to notify their universities or fellow academics of their discoveries. This past winter, Lincoln Memorial University professors Jessica Evans and Elissa Graff wrote a paper entitled "Promoting Environmental and Cultural Awareness through Experiential Learning," published in The International Journal of Sustainability Education. As stated in their abstract, "Using student narratives, this paper demonstrates how two groups of students enrolled at Lincoln Memorial University (Harrogate, Tennessee, USA) were able to develop greater environmental and cultural awareness of their own community by observing various environmental issues and cultural practices of Belizean communities." This experiential learning took place in part at BFREE as field courses in 2010 and 2011. BFREE is proud to be a part of the research and study conducted by Jessica Evans and Elissa Graff and is honored to be mentioned in their academic report.

If you have written a report mentioning BFREE or have seen one in a research journal or similar publication, please let us know! We would love to add it to our list of academic papers relating to BFREE on our website or possibly promote it in our newsletter. Email with any information.

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