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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Birding the Mopan Mayan Village of San Jose, Belize

A highlight of our research trip was spending three nights in the village of San Jose, deep in the Toledo District of Belize near the Guatemalan border. Thanks to the Toledo Ecotourism Association, we were able to sleep in the guest house in the village, and take meals with the local families. We also got excellent guiding from the members of the cooperative that run the guest house, and were able to leave after three days with over 120 Mopan Mayan bird names and some great local stories.

Most of the village is without electricity, though a few people have solar panels or generators, and most folks in the village still grow almost all their own rice and corn and other food. This is also where they grow the cacao for Mayan Gold Chocolate. One of our highlights was seeing the nest of a Little Tinamou, complete with two eggs, in the middle of a cacao orchard.

Accommodations in the guest house were cosy and the food was great--usually I was more concerned about getting sick at a lodge or hotel than when eating with the local folks. Nothing like handmade corn tortillas and palm heart for breakfast!

Since we were mostly collecting bird and plant names, our hikes each day didn't take us very far, but someone with more time for hiking and less time for note-taking can get to some nice primary forests, ceremonial caves, and other spectacular areas. We spent mornings hiking around, and afternoons going over bird books and recordings of bird calls with our guides. Our guides were knowledgable about local birds, and that was what we really wanted. My favorite local bird name: Totoweh for the Barred Antshrike, based on its long call of totototototototototweh, with all the notes on one pitch then twisting up at the end. Most birds are named for their calls, which makes learning bird calls much easier!

Hiking around the village we saw got looks at lots of birds including Bat Falcon, Striped Cuckoo, and White-crowned Parrots. One of my personal favorites was the Orange-billed Sparrow. Also great to see dozens of Vaux's Swifts, and to note how at stubby-winged these Central American birds look compared to the Chimney Swifts back in the States.

I highly recommend a stay in San Jose for anyone who wants to get to know some great people with some great traditions and way of life. You can contact the Toledo Ecotourism Association online, or write directly to the TEA Guest House, San Jose Village, Toledo District, Belize (Central America).

1 comment:

32ojuliana said...

I would very much like to read teh lore adn meanings of birds by these people, have studied maya (yacatec ) and have a thing about birds.
where can i find their stories?

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