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A Paradise of Biological and Cultural Diversity: Duquesne Maymester in Belize

Meredith Bennett

The Belize Maymester is a wonderful experience! It is a 4 week-long program that offers two classes: Biodiversity and Belize People & Cultures. Biodiversity satisfies a CORE Natural Science class or an upper-level science elective. Belize People & Cultures satisfies the Core Theme Area of Global Diversity. There are also course options for graduate students. The faculty advisors for this trip, Dr. Brady Porter and Dr. Kyle Selcer are looking for students! Please reach out to them or Danielle Genemore at the Study Abroad office if you are interested!

Dr. Porter,

Dr. Selcer, 

Danielle Genemore,

Lower Dover Field Station is owned by Bill and Madeline Reynolds. It is in the village of Unitedville in Belize’s Cayo District. Shown here is the entrance to the station and some of the Reynolds’ pet chickens and turkeys.
The “mascot” of Lower Dover, the Great Kiskadee. They are one of the largest species in the flycatcher family and are known for their loud calls.
A small orchid growing on a tree at Lower Dover. Belize is home to many epiphytic plants (plants that grow on the surface of other plants).
Morelet’s Seedeater is a common bird in Belize. This is a male, as the females are completely brown.
The Melodious Blackbird has a pretty song that sounds like a musical sneeze. They also do a bobbing dance while they sing.
The tracks of a Coatimundi, a medium-sized mammal that is raccoon-like.
One of the common fruits of Belize, Soursop. We enjoyed iced Soursop for dessert several times during our trip.
The Cohune palm tree produces nuts that yield Cohune oil, which was used by the ancient Maya for various purposes.
A large grasshopper in the grassy area surrounding Lower Dover. Notice the combs on the back of its legs, which are used for sound production.
A beautiful White Spider Lily, a member of the Hymenocallis genus.
An epiphytic fern.
This large tree was full of many noisy birds during our morning expeditions.
A view of Big Barton Creek from the bridge that leads to Lower Dover. Big Barton Creek is a tributary to the Belize River.
A beautiful swimming hole in Big Barton Creek.
A small freshwater mussel found in Little Barton Creek. We found several live specimens of this species, along with many dead shells.
 A species of Basilisk lizard. These lizards are unique in their ability to run across the surface of water.
A Groove-billed Ani drying its feathers in the sun.
This bizarre fungus has an odor of decaying flesh and seems to be pollinated by flies.
Belize is home to many butterfly species. This species was frequently spotted at Lower Dover.
These photos show the spot where Big Barton Creek (1st picture) flows into the Belize River (2nd picture).
Lower Dover Field Station is the site of ancient Mayan ruins, but Bill and Madeline Reynolds had no knowledge of this  when they purchased the land! These images show some of the excavated ruins, but many more have yet to be uncovered. The last photo shows a Stella, which would have served as a plaque in the Mayan community announcing events and decrees.
A fossilized Jute snail (Pachychilus). These snails are abundant in the freshwater streams of Belize. The ancient Maya used these snails extensively for food and rituals.
We found this caterpillar slowly weaving this leaf together, likely for protection.
I spotted this lower jawbone on a hike through the bush at Lower Dover. It seems to be from a small rodent.
A Rufous-tailed Hummingbird. Belize is home to many species of hummingbirds.
An interesting species of bromeliad, likely from the genus Aechmea.
There are two kinds of iguana in Belize: the Spiny Iguana (colloquially called Wish Willys) and the Green Iguana. Pictured is a Spiny Iguana. They are very common and even considered a pest. Green Iguanas on the other hand are endangered. This photo was taken after this Wish Willy stole one of the chicks from the field station.
The beautiful fruiting bodies of two palms in the bush surrounding Lower Dover.
Another common butterfly seen in Belize.
The Gumbo-Limbo tree, often referred to as the “Tourist tree” because of its red, peeling bark. This pokes fun at tourists that neglect to wear sunscreen!
A flowering epiphytic cactus.
The entrance to San Ignacio, a city about thirty minutes away from Lower Dover by bus.
Fresh fruit for sale at the San Ignacio market.
Two male Green Iguanas that have been taken in by the iguana rehabilitation center at the San Ignacio hotel.
View of the Belize River on the outskirts of San Ignacio.
A Morelet’s Seedeater.
A beautiful tree growing on the bank of the Belize River.
A singing Melodious Blackbird.
An Amazon Kingfisher. Kingfishers use their highly streamlined beak to dive into streams and rivers to snatch fish.
This is either a Tropical Kingbird or a Couch’s Kingbird. The two species are very similar and difficult to tell apart.
A Neotropical Cormorant drying its wings on the Belize River.
A Black vulture perched in a tree beside the Belize River in San Ignacio. Belize is also home to Turkey Vultures and the rare, but beautiful, King Vulture.
A traditional Belizean breakfast: eggs, sausage, fruit, refried black beans, and fry jacks. Fry jacks are puffy pieces of fried dough often served with beans or jam.
The silhouette of a Plain Chachalaca. These chicken-like birds are quite adept at running through dense forests. They are also very loud, with partners often squawking back and forth.
A beautiful butterfly, with velvety metallic-blue wings.
A family of White-fronted Parrots. The fledgling is not visible in this photograph, but I observed it begging for food from its parents.
A Gartered Trogon. Trogon species are characterized by large, white eye rings.
A Lineated Woodpecker is a large bird, equivalent to the Pileated Woodpecker we have in Western Pennsylvania. If you look closely, you can see the woodpecker’s tongue.
This is a Yellow-throated Euphonia. This male is showing off his bright colors. Females are much more drab.
We found these three Keel-billed Toucans on one of our morning birding hikes. Toucans make a low croaking sound, and you often hear them before you see them.
A male Masked Tityra. These birds are unique in having a pink or red “mask” around their eyes and beak. The mask is actually an area of exposed skin.
This is an Agouti, a small mammal native to Belize. It was feeding on fallen mangos at the field station.
A large rhinoceros beetle was found one night while insect trapping. We projected a UV light onto a white sheet strung between two trees. We observed the insects were attracted to the light that landed on the sheet.
A tarantula emerging from its hole under the pathway through the field station. We made this spider happy by feeding it a small moth that landed on the sheet!
Images from Billy Barquedier National Park. We stopped here on our way to Hopkins. Our hike ended with a view of this beautiful waterfall and a swim in the pool below it!
Billy Barquedier is home to some amazing tree ferns. As the name suggests, these are ferns that can grow to the size of small trees! This is the fiddlehead of one of those ferns. Fiddleheads are the fronds of young ferns, which will eventually unfurl.
An impressive mural that celebrates the culture of Hopkins, Belize. Hopkins is dominated by the Garifuna people, a group descended from enslaved Africans and native Caribbean people. The Garifuna culture is vibrant, especially relating to customs around music and fishing.
A view of the wetlands around Hopkins, home to many fascinating bird species.
A large flock of Roseate Spoonbills in the Hopkins wetlands. These birds are a beautiful shade of pink with large spoon-like bills.
A Great Egret wading slowly in search of food. These birds are very large and lanky.
A Yellow-crowned Night-Heron grasping a small crab!
A White Ibisis a species distinguished by its bright red curved beak and pink legs.
A Royal Tern surveying the waves on the beach at Hopkins.
A striking piece of the coral reef off the coast of Hopkins.
Duquesne alumni, Dr. Brandon Hoenig, holding an Arrow Crab. Also known as Spider Crabs, these crustaceans resemble spindly aliens.
A very serious looking bird, this is a Bare-throated Tiger-Heron. We found it near the entrance to Guanacaste National Park.
A view of where Roaring Creek empties into the Belize River within Guanacaste National Park. The park is named after the Guanacaste tree, a large species that was used by the ancient Maya to build canoes.
A Green Iguana basking on a branch above the Belize River.
Views of the ancient Mayan ruins at Cahal Pech. The site is located at the very top of the hill in San Ignacio and provides a beautiful view of the city. Mayan settlements like Cahal Pech were typically divided into plazas, with separate areas for ceremonies, ball courts, and palaces.
The “Royal Bedchamber” at Cahal Pech. Archaeologists believe it belonged to the ruler of the settlement because it is the highest point in the ruins. Someone else has decided to rest there now!
Views from the property of Jorge Castellanos. Jorge is an artist and farmer who invited us to see his workshop and go on a hike. He is a descendent of Mayans and creates traditional slate carvings depicting ancient Mayan scenes. Some of his carvings are based on artwork that was discovered in Mayan ruins.
Jorge took us on a long hike around his property. We found many interesting animals: a bright red grasshopper, a supremely camouflaged moth/butterfly, a female Black-headed Trogon, and a cute little Yellow-faced Grassquit.

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