BELIZE– September 30th marks the end of Belize’s annual celebration of independence. Belize gained independence from the British in 1981. As a relatively new, vibrant and exquisite country, it makes sense that their celebration spans the entire month of September!
But what does this have to do with the Wisconsin Northwoods? Parallel to Belize’s independence, this is also a key time for warbler and other southbound songbird migration. Seeing birds in the North that will potentially reach Belize brings back my own vivid memories of the lush, humid landscape as if they were just over my shoulder. As if I could breathe it in. The Green Heron, Black-throated Blue, Yellow, Black-and-white and many more warbler species all contribute to this miraculous phenomenon of migration from the north to the tropics. Some of these warblers, such as the Blackpoll, make the stretch over the Gulf of Mexico in a single flight, averaging an astonishing 20 wing flaps/second.
Once they’re there, they experience their second home… well wait, or is it their first home? During my time in Belize, I was able to see that Belizeans (including the super-human birder Belizeans) also referred to these birds as “home”. Seeing this then made me realize, that birds like the Black-billed Cuckoo actually spend more time at their wintering grounds. I must say, as I saw the cuckoos, Scarlet Tanagers, Indigo Buntings, Green Herons and Ospreys in Belize with a backdrop of palms, saltwater and mangroves, I was able to see these birds as if it was my first sighting (In birder lingo, this is known as a “lifer”). In the wintering grounds, these birds are all a part of the Belizean collective sense of place, encompassing culture, environment, values, and folklore. They could teach us much about being cross-cultural. For 4-5 months these neo-tropical songbirds find nourishment and sustenance in the tropics that’s so hyper-productive that it can sustain both migrants and the year-round dwellers. This idea of migrating to find a land of plenty is nothing new, as it’s something nations strive to balance to this day.
So what happens when we realize that two nationalities share the same species? What happens when these nationalities are also geographical neighbors? What happens when these same neighbors also have hundreds or thousands of people migrating opposite to the birds in the fall? Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and even countries as far as Brazil are all homes for neo-tropical songbirds. They are also countries with high immigration rates into the US. If we can learn something from the birds, let us learn that a distant landscape with different cultures, values, and folklore is indeed, also a home. Perhaps with this idea as a foundation, the birds can help guide us towards unity. Looking beyond the issues and politics at hand (which of course are still important), it is the understanding of the wintering ground’s cultures, landscapes, and a golden sunset accompanied with birdsong after a long, hot day that will unite a continually migrating people.
As I say farewell to the Black-throated Blue warbler at the end of September, I know it’ll be in good hands.
A Black-billed Cuckoo migrating back north along the Macal River.
Black-and-white Warbler. Photo Credit: Jon Schelander-Pugh
A Meadowlark with Red-lored Parrots cruising by. It was amazing to hear both birds in the same setting.
An Ovenbird captured and safely released through a mist netting project.
Eastern Meadowlark with a backdrop of palms
A female American Redstart. Photo Credit: Jon Schelander-Pugh
Yellow Warbler wintering in Belize. Photo Credit: Jon Schelander-Pugh
A Green Heron on Glover’s Atoll off the coast of Belize.
A Black-and-white Warbler wintering in Belize. Photo Credit: Jon Schelander-Pugh