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Doyle's Delight Expedition 2007

Expedition to the Belize's Highest Point - Birds

Shannon Kenney

Birds Without Borders – Aves Sin Fronteras
P.O. Box 97
Help for Progress Building, Forest Drive
Belmopan City, Cayo District, Belize

Juan Sho

Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center

Shannon Kenney Juan Sho

Preliminary Report on Birds Doyle’s Delight 2007

Introduction

The bird team of the 2007 Doyle’s Delight Expedition included myself and Juan Sho of the Belize Zoo. Juan and I brought complementary strengths to the table. My role was to familiarize Juan with ornithological field methods such as setting up mist-nets, proper handling techniques and biometric data collection. His sight and vocalization recognition, learned from a lifetime of birding in Belize, greatly supplemented my developing knowledge of Neo-tropical birds. Our goal was to conduct a general survey of birds at Doyle’s Delight and compare our records with those of previous expeditions in order to assess species diversity and abundance in the area.

Methods

We used a two-fold approach, the first being to set up mist-nets at three different locales in relative proximity to the summit of Doyle’s Delight. Each locale was representative of a different elevation – Helicopter Landing Site (elev. 1144 m), Slope (elev. 1099m) and Valley (elev. 1037m). We set up 5 nets in each section, spaced 200m – 300m apart, taking into consideration height, position relative to the ridge, wind, proximity to fruiting trees and canopy cover. The nets were set up randomly within these parameters and GPS reading taken at each net location. Nets were checked and cleared every hour. Data was collected nearby the nets and the birds were subsequently released. No banding was done on this year’s expedition. We collected the following biometric data: body and wing molt, wing cord, weight, age by molt, sex (by plumage, brood patch, or cloacal protuberance), body fat, and skull pneumatization. We also identified vegetation within a 1 meter radius of the nets and made a note of any that fruiting trees.

In addition to netting, we spent a portion of our time doing general observation, identifying birds by sight and/or vocalization, adding to our checklist for the expedition. We tried to evenly divide our twelve working days across each of the 3 elevation sections - 2 days netting followed by 1 day of observation. Nets were opened at 5:30am and closed for the night by 6:00pm. Our observation days followed the same time frame. Rain, consequently, lead to some sections having more net/observation hours than others. A conservative estimate would be roughly sixty-five total net hours and thirty total observation hours.

Preliminary Discussion

One of the many highlights of the expedition was getting to see, and even more so, hear, the montane Slate-colored Solitaire Myadestes unicolor. We were pleased to find that they were ubiquitous at Doyle’s Delight – seen and heard often throughout the day. Equally abundant was the montane Common Bush Tanager Chlorospingus ophthalmicus. Both were netted most frequently at the Helicopter Landing Site. It is always exciting to document new records for an area, especially one as unique as Doyle’s Delight. Across our netted, observed, heard survey we documented 11 new records for the area (please see checklist). The most notable were a netted Kentucky Warbler Oporornis formosus, observed Eye-ringed Flatbill Rhynchocyclus brevirostris, observed Rufous-tailed Hummingbird Amazilia tzacatl, observed Long-billed Gnatwren Ramphocaenus melanurus and photographed (by Jan Meerman) Brown Violet-ear Colibri delphinae. The expedition took place right at the cusp of migration season which allowed for spotting of some interesting migrant warblers such as the Golden-crowned Warbler Basileuterus culcivorus, Northern Waterthrush Seiurus noveboracensis and Black and White Warbler Mniotilta varia. Our most successful netting area was in the valley at the lowest 2 nets. Here we caught the highest numbers and greatest diversity of birds than any of our other areas. This is most likely due to a combination of favorable variables, i.e. high canopy cover, several fruiting trees and proximity to flowing water as these 2 conjoined nets were placed <.5m and parallel to a small stream.

My personal favorite was being able to watch, at great length, the intricate courtship display of the Red-capped Manakin Pipra mentalis – something I had never had seen, only read about. Also, the elusive behaviors of the Tawny-throated Leaftosser Sclerurus mexicanus and Scaly-throated Leaf Tosser Sclerurus guatemalensis. Their camouflage made them difficult to locate, but once your sights were on them their unusual foraging behavior was interesting to witness.

The final report will provide thee binomial name and abundance data for all species recorded as well GPS coordinates and vegetation data.

Brown Violet-ear Colibri delphinae. Picture by Jan Meerman

Slate-colored Solitaire Myadestes unicolor

Orange-billed Sparrow.

Golden-crowned Warbler Basileuterus culicivorus

Acknowledgments

I would like to extend my sincere gratitude and thanks to Sharon Matola for the labor-intensive organizing of the expedition and for so very generously inviting me to be a part of Doyle’s Delight team. This was an opportunity of a lifetime and an invaluable component to my pursuit of a career in ornithology. Bo’tic (“thanks” in K’echi Maya) to Juan Sho for sharing his extensive birding knowledge with me which tremendously aided not only our observation record, but the overall enjoyment of our experience on the mountain. It was truly a collaborative effort and I learned so much from the identification information he imparted. A special thanks to the rest of the Doyle’s Delight team for their bird sightings, sharing knowledge from their disciplines and infectious enthusiasm which all made for wonderful discussions. Many thanks to Gregorio Sho and Raul Balona who went above and beyond as support team to make sure everything ran smoothly. A special thanks to BATSUB for getting us there and back safely.

See Juan Sho's trainee report

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