One of the key aims of Raptor Aid is to raise awareness about other people and organisations doing great things for birds of prey and their conservation, for us its all about collaborating and working together. One of these fantastic organisations is the Belize Raptor Research Institute, a not for profit volunteer led organisation who’s aims are to protect and educate people about the Neotropical raptors of Belize. They carry out their work through education, collaborating with governments and carrying out long term studies on the native raptors of Belize including the Hook Billed Kite and Solitary Eagle.
One other fantastic initiative that BRRI have developed is their Raptor Watch scheme where they monitor thousands of migratory birds of prey as they migrate via Belize. The BRRI has also created a certification programme for locals who wish to learn more about the ecology and lives of local birds of prey and how to identify them. This year BRRI were looking for people to donate towards the cost of the course so that they could offer the course for free to local Belizean’s and it was a real privilege for Raptor Aid to donate $250 to allow David Hernandez the chance to participate. We got David to write to us about his life in Belize and how much he loves birds of prey and benefited from the scheme………..
San Ignacio, Cayo Belize.
Free-lance Tourguide and Cayo Birder’s Club Director.
BRRI RaptorWatch–Technician [Volunteer]
My name is David Hernandez; I am 32 years old, from San Ignacio Cayo, Belize.
My childhood days have been similar to the present; I have ever loved nature and outdoors. Presently, I have growing interest into learning about birds. Over the past two years, I have dedicated enough free and work time into this unique learning experience. This started as a hobby and now into a profession.
I have great attraction to ‘environmental education’; reason I am directing a Birders Club [Cayo Birder’s Club] in the Local vicinity. This affiliation with kids of various age and the general public, have provided an inner-self joy and satisfaction, which motivates me to extend to further public and schools. These have been possible with the help of other similar-minded guides, co-workers and friends. One of the top contributors is the Count Leader of the Raptor watch Project, Isael Mai.
I first heard of Belize Raptor Research Institute and the certificate program from friends [birders] and then confirmed in Facebook. Knowing all the requirements and signing was not easy, to a father, responsible for a family of 5. As deeply fond of kids—I knew I would deeply miss my kids and siblings very much—but the desire to enhance my birding knowledge was greater, so, I explained and sweetly convinced them. At the beginning, they denied, but, knowing my profession and how this life-time opportunity will benefit me, my work-section and them, they voluntarily agreed.
After application was sent, I could not withstand the emotion of receiving the news of acceptance; I felt Ryan, BRRI Director, was taking forever to reply. Finally, I received the overwhelming news and could not believe my eyes when reading it. I contacted all other candidates and made plans. Next, waiting for the in-class training and field practical was also of deep anxiety. Besides, everyday work, I was researching and practicing, preparing for this venture.
Honestly for a beginner, the in-class training was tedious, but far spectacular; every single piece of information was new but satisfying to my eager and absorbing brain. I deeply enjoyed everyday theory and been applying most of it now that I am in the field.
Travelling to the Punta Gorda, Toledo, was also new to me, as it was the only district I have never visited. My work has made me know all corner of the country, except the further south. It was jaw-dropping discovering the remainder of my country.
I arrived at midday at the Hawk Watch Site and witnessed several flocks of Hook-billed Kites and other raptor migrating. I was elated and overwhelmed. It was so wonderful on my travelling day to experience such thing. The following day [my first day of count] was extra spectacular as from the first hour to the last, raptor kept me busy and energetic. Although identification on my first day was horrible, I enjoyed the scenery and the numbers of raptors I saw. From day one to present, 10th day, I have been improving my identification skill. This would not be possible without the great help—explanation, and patience of the BRRI staff. I am confident that my knowledge on raptors has increased from a 10% to an 80%.
What I have learnt: the basic of raptor and migration. Identification of these high flyers is not easy at all. However, I have managed to understand and learn flight patterns, shape and silhouettes and make my best to see colors especially of hook-bills. This motivates me every day to keep striving.
Besides my daily experience and knowledge at the hawk watch, I keep escalating as I co-live with expert birders and interchange ideas. On my free hours, I would find myself birding in the vicinity, trying to cover all species that do not occur in the remainder of the country. This is indeed really enjoyable.
Reflecting on how this opportunity will benefit me, my profession and others is impressively correlative. There is no doubt that I benefit the most. My knowledge and skills are enhanced. I am now confident, I can identify raptors that—even high flyers—that should occur in my everyday field work and outside my perimeter. Next, I will be able to provide better birding service to the company I work. Most important, I’ll be able to train and share my knowledge to the members of the birding club to further our effort to educate kids and the public about raptors and conservation. Lastly, I feel proud of myself, for taking part of this opportunity as I would be contributing to citizen science— Ebird. Also, I adhere to keep supporting the Raptor Institute, either it is with field work or joining efforts in environmental education.
Belize is a developing country with increasing scientific data; and my solely reason is to contribute and be part of such. My recommendation is that Belizeans should take advantage of these opportunities; join BRRI and learn about the birds, namely raptors, their importance, ecology and the institution efforts. Also, they should know that their contribution is vital to the nation’s data, when it comes to the Birding sector.
I greatly extend sincere gratification to Belize Raptor Research Institute for this wonderful experience and knowledge they have helped me acquired. Special thanks to BRRI staff : Ryan Phillips, Roni Martinez, Victor Bonilla, Isael Mai. They are great assets for our learning processes. Keep up the great work!
Raptor Aid will of course continue to work with BRRI and visit Belize in the near future to meet the team and David himself. You can find out more about this great organisation at www.belizeraptorresearch.com