A True Guest Lecture

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Tadarida brasiliensis by Texas Co-op Power

Chan Chich is home to an array of wildlife, and coming from Arizona, many of the tropical mammals, birds, and insects are new to me. It isn’t surprising that this lodge attracts environment-enthused guests, currently two professors who study bats. Doctors Patricia Brown and Bill Rainey were kind enough to put together a miniature lecture about their bat research for the other guests and students last night.

Throughout their research, the Doctors’ goal is to change the human perspective on the creature from Dracula-esque to eco-systemically vital. This talk couldn’t have had better timing; Emily and I found two bats near our cottage the night before and knew next to nothing about them.

Even though there are 28 species of bats in Arizona, prior to the lecture, the extent of my bat knowledge was that young Bruce Wayne developed a phobia of them after falling into a well. My understanding of the creature has now expanded to the non-fictitious. Continue reading

Raise the Roof

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Yesterday evening, I watched a truck filled to the brim with groundsmen and bundles of bright greenery drive past the main plaza of Chan Chich Lodge. I thought nothing of it until I spoke with Crist this morning. Little did I know, this truckload of fan-shaped leaves was a major component of the contextual design and functionality of the property, and therefore, a huge element of my internship in sustainable hospitality development.

Today was a roof repair day.

The roofs of the cottages on site are constructed using a traditional Mayan style of layering young bay leaves on top of each other, starting around the perimeter and working in and up to create four slabs. Over time, the sun dries the plants to a sandy brown color and hardens them into a durable barrier. An entire roof is never redone at once. Instead, only weak spots are repaired. What is needed is cut down from the surrounding forest, and the old leaves are decomposed and recycled back into the earth: the epitome of closed loop system sustainability.

This practice dates back to ancient Mayan civilization. The men would go into the forest and cut down young, green bay leaves— but only a week and a half before or after a full moon. Why? Continue reading

Organic, Bird-Friendly Cold Brew Coffee At Chan Chich Lodge

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At All Day, a coffee shop in Miami that’s on the must-visit list of coffee fanatics, cold brew is the foundation of the menu. Credit John Van Beekum for The New York Times

Apparently it is iced coffee season up north. It is intern season here at Chan Chich Lodge. Maybe an intersection? Emily, from an agriculture and environmental engineering background, and Alana who is an aspiring sustainable hospitality developer are off to the races, as they say. They were out in the forest yesterday with GPS tools, a GIS mapping app and the assistance of Migde and Hector on the trails, developing a more scientific way of estimating the incidence of Ramon trees in our 30,000 acres.

More on that from them. But more on coffee from me. We have been cultivating an estate coffee unique to Belize, organic and as bird-friendly as you will find. Let’s add cold brew to your list of summer experimentation? Migde and Hector, aka bartender and waiter and therefore defacto coffee baristas, will be setting up the instrumentation in the kitchen.

How Cold Brew Changed the Coffee Business

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First Day at Chan Chich

Hi! My name is Emily, and I am one of the La Paz interns for summer 2017. As an environmental science and engineering student, I have never had an internship at a hotel, let alone one in a remote location in a foreign country. However, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University has prepared me for work in another large aspect of the Chan Chich property: sustainable agriculture. Ultimately, this is where my work will lead me, but until then I am becoming integrated with the lodge as a whole.

My first surprise during my experience so far was the actual lodge itself. On the drive to Chan Chich, we passed a great deal of farmland, with each area becoming less and less populated as we went on. However, as we turned down a road marked Chan Chich, the landscape instantly changed from cleared pastureland to a road densely surrounded by large trees draping over us as we drove. Soon, a sprinkling of lights entered our view, dotting the driveway and welcoming us to Chan Chich. Suffice it to say that my time searching Chan Chich on Google and Instagram did not do it justice. The greens of the grass and trees blended with the variety of flowers abundant across the property. The lodge and cottages were far more magnificent in real life making them feel humble and authentic while also luxurious all at once.

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Welcome to Belize

FullSizeRender.jpgHey there! My name is Alana, and I am a second semester senior at Cornell University studying business and hospitality. I am spending the summer as an intern at Chan Chich Lodge, where I will apply my Property Development studies to a conservation context. Post-graduation, I am hoping to work somewhere at the intersection of sustainability, hospitality, and development, so interning here in Belize seems like a great place to figure it out!

Upon landing, two things caught my attention: the vibrant, rainbow-colored “Welcome to Belize” sign on the airport tarmac, and the humidity. Both new, and both indicative of what (I’m assuming) my 10 weeks here will be like. Continue reading

Foraging Forays

Taking a break from packing for my upcoming return to Belize, I joined a group of old friends from the Georgia Mushroom Club in a foray near the Georgia/South Carolina border. Fresh air, a walk in the woods, good company, and foraging for mushrooms – what better way to spend a morning?

The weather has been warm and wet, great conditions for mushrooms and we were happy to find patches of chanterelles. As we searched we talked about Chan Chich Lodge and Belize, and that we’re in the midst of brainstorming collaborations with the staff and local community who carry the ancestral knowledge of the old Mayan and Belizean foodways, and chefs who focus on foraging in the creation of their menus. We’ve recently discovered a variety of foods that are plentifully available from the Chan Chich forests, and are excited to incorporate them into our culinary story.  Continue reading

Food Sleuthing

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The remnant of an old apple orchard among wheat fields in Steptoe Butte State Park in Washington. Credit Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

Yesterday magic happened. After sharing in the morning a quick mention of why my thoughts are on agriculture, I was walking with a member of Chan Chich Lodge’s groundskeeping team to review some work he had completed. On the way, we encountered a tree showering small fruits onto the ground. Fragrant. I asked him what it was and he said a word I did not recognize that sounded like “yo”.

About the size of a blueberry but not a berry, nor resembling anything I could identify. Until I opened it and its inside looked exactly like that of my favorite fruit. And then I realized my colleague had said higo, the Spanish word for fig. He then told me that in his village the old Mayans use this to make a flour, something they have done since olden times. He paused a moment, a bit of reverie I could tell, and then he continued about how the tortilla made from this is the best. It’s got me thinking. Thanks to Kirk Johnson for this second unexpected pleasure of a story:

Hunting Down the Lost Apples of the Pacific Northwest

STEPTOE, Wash. — David Benscoter honed his craft as an investigator for the F.B.I. and the United States Treasury, cornering corrupt politicians and tax evaders. The lost apple trees that he hunts down now are really not so different. People and things, he said, tend to hide in plain sight if you know how and where to look. Continue reading

Rewilding, Panthers & People

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As Florida panthers have begun to multiply, they’ve been forced to search for new home ranges. PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY FLORIDA FISH AND WILDLIFE / FLICKR

Rewilding is a topic I started linking to as a matter of solidarity. While based in south India, I had plenty of exposure to residual evidence of the complicated–sometimes resplendently beautiful and other times brutally tragic–relationship between mankind and wild animals as played out over millennia, and still evolving. So I have kept an eye open for these stories, and have posted so many times on the topic that it might give the impression that it is a thing. As if it is happening more or better than it is really happening. But it is happening so I will keep the links coming.

Now I am in Belize most of the year, where the man-cat relationship is also millennia old, and as constant challenge as ever. But I am seeing it from well within the confines of Chan Chich Lodge and its surrounding hundreds of thousands of acres of healthy cat habitat. I know there are big cats in the USA, but not enough. That is why this story is a thrill. Dexter Filkins, never yet cited in these pages but whose reporting I depend on for other kinds of stories, was not a byline I expected to see on this story, but thanks to him for it:

For years, the Florida panther, a majestic creature that lurks in and around the forests of the ovbnm,./, has teetered on the edge of permanent disappearance. Closely related to the mountain lion, the panther once roamed across much of the South, but the ever-advancing modern world pushed it into a tiny corner of Southwest Florida. By the late nineteen-seventies, fewer than thirty survived.

Since then, the panther has been coming back, helped by a government- and privately backed expansion of its habitat. Florida panthers are now thought to number around two hundred. Indeed, there are so many big cats in the Everglades that they are venturing out in search of new territory. Continue reading

Gallon Jug’s Bird Friendly Coffee

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I am back at Chan Chich, with one goal before I start focusing on my plan to go to graduate school. A recurring theme in my work for La Paz Group, especially at Xandari, has been the intersection of birds and coffee. And now I have some months to think about how this may relate to what I will study in graduate school. One of the programs I am considering applying to is the Masters in Environmental Management at the Yale School of Forestry. Can I link what I have learned while working to what I would study there? If so, maybe I could link that to what I do after grad school.

This other post today reminds me of the value of geeking out from time to time. Most of my attention to coral reef comes from Phil Karp’s posts on this platform and I admit to preferring stories featuring real people and their entrepreneurial approaches to conservation. But science is the other best friend of conservation. Today my attention is turning to coffee, in advance of the arrival this week of an intern coming from Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Just one of the many topics for an intern, with science and research on her side, to help us tackle over the next ten weeks, bird-friendly coffee has been on been on my mind since last year but I have been waiting for the perfect moment to focus. Nothing like the arrival of an intern to focus your mind. And so today in my task-oriented wanderings I came across this website (click the banner above), which I loved immediately for sharing this news on capsules, but the rest of the site is a great resource for present purposes as well:

A short round-up of coffee news.

The Value Of Coral Reef

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Economic value of coral reefs for tourism (A). This figure summarises the combined dollar values of expenditures for on-reef and reef-adjacent tourism. Reefs without assigned tourism value are grey; all other reefs present values binned into quintiles. Lower panels show Kenya and Tanzania (B), South-central Indonesia (C), and Northern Caribbean, with part of Florida, Cuba and the Bahamas (D). (Further maps can be seen in Appendix A and online at maps.oceanwealth.org

A country that depends on its coral reef to attract visitors, as Belize does, has every reason to pay attention to the various sciences paying attention to those reefs. Mostly marine biologists, perhaps, but also economists. Geeks and wonks are heroically gathering information, processing it, publishing it and if not for The Nature Conservancy’s efforts some of us might not ever see it.

The August, 2017 issue of Marine Policy, an academic journal, carries the article “Mapping the global value and distribution of coral reef tourism” by the scientists Mark Spalding, Lauretta Burke, Spencer A. Wood, Joscelyne Ashpole, James Hutchison, and Philine zu Ermgassen and TNC’s Cool Green Science has a summary in common language. Also they complement the academic illustration above with one of their own:

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Screen shot from the Atlas of Ocean Wealth showing global reef value to tourism. © The Nature Conservancy

If it’s true that people reveal their true values by how they spend their money, coral reefs are very valuable indeed. In fact, according to a new study in the Journal Marine Policy coral reef tourism generates $36 billion (U.S) in global value every year. Continue reading

Chan Chich Archeology Season, When Skygazing Is Also At A Premium

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Today and tomorrow we are finalizing preparation for receiving a nearly full house of archeologists, who will be at Chan Chich Lodge for the next couple months. I came across the photo above at the same time I was looking at the to-do list related to their arrival, and am remembering that in May 2016 I was struck by the quality of night sky at Chan Chich for stargazing.

So this is a shout out to all those people who are intrigued by Mayan archeology, are stargazers, and have not yet made vacation plans for the next couple months. We have a few rooms available, so come on over!  The photo above is paid content from Intel, and while usually we avoid passing along commercials, this is on a topic we care about. It is worthy of a read. Also, after the text the Skyglow short on Vimeo is worth a look:

Timelapse photographers zigzagged 150,000 miles across the U.S. to capture the wonders of the dark skies and raise awareness about the growing threat of light pollution.

Their family and friends think they’re crazy for devoting so many nights to create Skyglow, a book and video born from Gavin Heffernan and Harun Mehmedinovic’s passion for nature and photography. Just how Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking brought deeper understanding of the cosmos, Heffernan and Mehmedinovic are raising awareness about the damage caused by ever increasing light pollution. Their magical timelapse photography just might do the trick. Continue reading

Strengthening Our Birding With Citizen Science

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Team Belize finished with 242 species. From left: Roni Martinez, Andrew Farnsworth, Steve Kelling, Brian Sullivan.

Seth, since his time working for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and even after his time in Ithaca, has helped me to see how important the Lab’s work is to what our company has been doing since he was an infant. Citizen science is an essential component, and at Chan Chich Lodge guests have responded to the passion the guides have for eBird, which is why we put so much attention into this year’s Global Big Day. And it is why we are already planning the next collaboration with the Lab, a collaboration Seth will lead on our side. For now, a final roundup of stories from last weekend, starting with our favorite team:

…After pooling their lists, the teams ended the day with a whopping 327 species combined—reflecting not just great birding but the region’s importance to an immense diversity of birds. Team Belize topped the friendly group competition with 242 species (including 40 species the other teams didn’t find); Team Mexico found 224 species (with 43 unique to their list); and Team Guatemala tallied 213 (with 23 unique)…

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Flame Robin by John Cantwell/Macaulay Library, taken on Global Big Day

Also, the final numbers are in and news published late yesterday confirmed what I suspected as day was breaking in Belize, titled Global Big Day 2017: birding’s biggest day ever:

…On 13 May 2017, almost 20,000 birders from 150 countries around the world joined together as a global team, contributing more than 50,000 checklists containing 6,564 species—more than 60% of the world’s birds. This is a new record for the number of bird species reported in a single day, Continue reading

The Bells & Whistles Of The Forest At Daybreak

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We post a few times a day, sharing information about initiatives in our own realm of work and frequently observations on news links that we find interesting. For the record, here is a bit of news worth celebrating. As I type this at 5:30a.m. Belize time, the Global Big Day page on eBird shows the latest tally of the species count as seen above. At the same time, on the eBird Facebook page I am looking now at the last post, dated May 15 midday, that says:

The #GlobalBigDay total is now 6,255, less than 100 away from a new record for a single day of birding!

Looks to me like a new record has been set. Where are all the bells and whistles? They are outside my door right now, where the wildlife is whirring, cling-clanging, whooping and shrieking as the forest lights up…

Sticking To Mission & Unintended Consequences

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In recent months, as we prepared to host Team Sapsucker Belize at Chan Chich Lodge, our goals were focused on the citizen science mission. Using a couple simple metrics, the event was a clear success, comparing the number of species counted in Belize this year versus last year, and especially looking at the number of checklists submitted.

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If you look at this as the third iteration of an event that we hope to grow in future years, the progress from beginning to present is promising. As I type this there are still more than 40 hours of data entry remaining for this year’s event, so the increase in this year’s participation and species identification will likely grow larger by this time Wednesday.

GBDResult15.jpg Continue reading

Global Big Day 2017, Results

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When I left Team Sapsucker late last night it was pouring rain, a perfect punctuation to the day, telling them to stay under cover on Chan Chich’s deck since no bird would be out in the deluge. They were reviewing their lists, waiting to see if the rain would pass, allowing one final outing of the 24-hour period. I did not ask the final number, but I could tell they were happy with the day.GBD2017Result

As I type this at 5am the rain has long since stopped, the early birds are out in full sonic force, competing with the howler monkeys it seems, and results on eBird’s website look impressive. My eye is drawn to the Central America numbers. Partly because I moved to the region two decades ago and have worked in each country. Partly also because the region has embraced its ornithological importance, and yesterday provided one more metric for that embrace. But mainly, because I am here in Belize and the Lab team we had here was exactly as expected, not only as birders but as people.

The Chan Chich guide team had an amazing day with the Team Sapsucker on Friday, and over lunch that day they all celebrated several firsts, the details of which escape me now, but they involved two new species being added to Chan Chich’s list on eBird (a big deal) and our guide Ruben adding a life list bird that day to his nearly two decades of birding accomplishments at the Lodge.

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The Lab team explained the rules of the game for the following day. No assistance of any kind would be possible after midnight. Continue reading

Introducing The Team Prepping For Global Big Day At Chan Chich Lodge

GBD1On day two in Belize with Team Sapsucker introductions are due. The photo to the left, taken at about 5am today in front of Chan Chich Lodge’s reception area, shows two of them. The best information I could find to share with you about Andrew Farnsworth is on Songbird SOS Productions, where he says:

“I like the challenge of trying to figure out how to go birding when there’s a traffic jam on first avenue. It’s cool to be able to study birds in a city… Some people have seen technology as the end of all things natural, but there’s a whole other side to it that gives us access to a world that we would otherwise not have seen.” Continue reading

Counting Down To Global Big Day

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A world of birders has already marked out where they’ll be on 13 May. Where’s your place? Add it today!

Thanks to eBird for the one week marker until Global Big Day, which we look forward to supporting at Chan Chich Lodge. Click the map to the left to mark your territory, so to speak. This countdown notice uses one species to illustrate a conceptual premise of the annual event, and we are happy to report that this species is frequently seen at Chan Chich Lodge on birding walks, and excursions to Gallon Jug Farm, where the barns are accommodating:

The familiar Barn Swallow (right) has been recorded in eBird from 222 countries. You can hope to spot a Barn Swallow almost anywhere on the planet, from Alaska to Argentina, Siberia to Australia, Iceland to South Africa. Barn Swallows criss-cross the equator and traverse the Eastern and Western Hemispheres. Their movements not only span an entire planet of birds, but connect a worldwide community of birders.

In the same way, Global Big Day and eBird connect all of your local birds with the rest of the world, making a real difference in the collective understanding of birds worldwide. On 13 May, every bird that you report contributes to the global team total for an unprecedented snapshot of our planet’s bird diversity. Every bird counts.

To join the Global Big Day team from more than 150 countries, all you have to do is go birding on 13 May!  Continue reading

Does The Monkey Smile?

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When sharing wildlife photos here, whether from guests or some of our own, the idea is to provide constant reminders, to ourselves and to everyone else, of the value of conservation. Even with a title of a post meant to draw a smile, it is not to be cute so much as to address the wonder of the moment captured in the camera. I really do wonder whether the margay purrs. And Chrissy Mason’s photo of the margay helped me wonder that more effectively.

The photo above, and the one below–both also shared by Chrissy–got me thinking about whether primates really smile, or whether it just looks that way to us (you must have seen that photo, reportedly a selfie taken by a macaque, that sure looks like a knowing grin). Continue reading

Learning Archeology In Situ At Chan Chich Lodge

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We recently posted a brief description of this program in the events section on the Chan Chich Lodge website, and here we provide a longer description written by the program organizers. The photos are from recent years of the program. I am looking forward to welcoming Professor Houk and his team of archeology students to Chan Chich Lodge few weeks from now, and especially looking forward to the opportunity guests of the lodge will have to join the evening lecture series, discussing the history of the location and particular discoveries from the site:

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Guests of Chan Chich Lodge are the most recent inhabitants of the ancient Maya city of Chan Chich. Abandoned around AD 900, the once proud buildings, plazas, courtyards, reservoirs, gardens, and fields were gradually reclaimed by the jungle for over 1,100 years… Continue reading

Does The Margay Purr?

 

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Thanks for this photo go to a mom and daughter team who were out every day recently from pre-dawn until late evening, absorbing all on display at Chan Chich Lodge and its surrounding forests. Their last night, sharing the night safari with the family who contributed here, was a golden opportunity, so to speak. This margay looks so content, and intent, in a feline way, that I cannot help but wonder whether these wild cats purr.