Where they went: Belize
WHO: Caroline Haines, 62, of Gloucester.
WHEN: One week in December.
WHY: To join a group of volunteer bird banders with the Massachusetts Audubon Society to train local guides and lead demonstrations for schoolchildren. “I’ve volunteered with Mass Audubon for five years and I’m a big birder,’’ Haines said.
PARADISE PRESERVED: The group stayed at La Milpa field station, run by Programme for Belize, a 260,000-acre nature preserve founded by Mass Audubon and open to the public. “We stayed in little cabanas with thatched roofs and hammocks. The weather was great, warm in the day and cool in the evening, and dry.’’
BANDING BASICS: “A lot of the local guides we trained work in the tourist industry and this will help them with jobs. They identified a lot of birds for us that we didn’t know. To band birds, you set up mist nets between two poles in what’s called a net lane. You check them every 20 minutes for birds. You extract the birds from the net, bag them, identify them, put a band on them, record information, and then you let them go.’’
SCARY BIG BIRD: “We had one very large raptor fly into the net - a barred forest-falcon. I was the person in the net lane and the manager had to come get the bird out. It was scary and a thrill at the same time.’’
YOUNG AND CURIOUS: “We did the banding for five days and on the fifth day two groups of schoolchildren came from two local elementary schools. They were so excited. We let them carry the birds in the bags, which they loved. They also loved our gear, like the binoculars and telescope, and they were really excited about my iPhone.’’
BITTEN: “One day we had to deal with army ants. They travel in a line and all the insects they encounter try to escape, and as they escape all the birds come in to try to get them. So we had to extract all these birds with a thick river of ants underneath. We were tiptoeing and tapping. No one got bitten by the ants, but a lot of us got chigger bites that week. They were awful.’’
CULTURE ENTREE: “We learned about different cultures in Belize and explored two Mayan sites. We had a lot of great food, too. Often we had plantains, and I fell in love with them, and vegetables, like local squash and okra and carrots, in a broth with coconut oil. And the fruit was amazing, especially the papaya. We had an outdoor dining room, and toucans and hummingbirds and all kinds of birds were all around, and we could hear the black howler monkeys in the forest.’’
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