Letter from Belize no. 81
9th July 2019
It’s been a long time since my last letter. Usually an idea bubbles up or an event takes place that quickly develops into a letter but since April nothing, nada, not a thing, no inspiration. Now I finally have something to say thanks to a wonderful book I am reading called The Moth Snowstorm by environmentalist, naturalist, journalist and author Michael McCarthy.
In this book he shows how for eons man has “taken from nature without a thought because it was free and unnoticeable”. He goes on to describe the alarming losses to the natural world in the last 60 years due to man’s ever expanding population and relentless greed.
He remembers back to the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro when over 100 world leaders undertook to implement sustainable development – “development which meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” But he points out how, 20 years later at a follow up conference, it became apparent that sustainable development had simply not delivered.
He then goes on to talk about ecosystem services and a new practice – that of putting a monetary value, a universal price tag as he calls it, on all our ecosystem services. Billions of dollars attributed to coral reefs, rainforests, pollination, mangroves based on what it would cost to replace them when they are destroyed by us for further development. McCarthy says this leaves him feeling very uncomfortable. Me too! And only services which are useful to mankind are valued and therefore if something has no value it is not worth protecting. Oh my God, that is awful. What about the ecosystems that serve the rest of nature, the interdependence of all things?
He then asks some very important questions: What value do we give to the jewel like colours of butterflies? What value do we give to birdsong? And spring flowers or autumn mushrooms and the unfolding of ferns and the rising of trout? And can one put a monetary value on wildlife?
What, he asks, does it mean to our spirits? The sheer love of nature. The joy it gives us. The thrill we must have all felt at seeing a sunset, a whale breaching, a lion pride feeding, an elephant caring for its young, a bird’s nest alive with wide open mouths waiting for the next feed, trees in bud after the long cold winter. And so he sets out in his book to use this Joy as a way to defend the planet.
What I would like to do is share with you some of the joy we experience every day from watching the birds who share our few acres of the planet.
Nesting time – busy busy, busy and noisy and territorial. We sit on the front veranda every afternoon during our tea break and are highly entertained by the frenzy of activity.
One of the most territorial of the birds is the Social flycatcher on the left. They will hurtle themselves at anything that comes near their nests and the Ruddy ground dove, seen on the right, particularly annoys them.
Nesting at the top of the same Bob tree is a pair of King birds. They are most graceful and acrobatic and perform these amazing twists and loops in the air as they swoop for insects.
For the first time this pair of White-collared seed eaters have nested within sight of the house in a palm in the Om garden. They are tiny and very endearing.
This is the third year that the Greyish Saltator has nested in the Om garden palms. The first year it was so shy it took me ages to identify it, the 2nd year it showed itself a few times and this year it is so bold it has been sitting right out in the open all the time. Last year I remember being terribly upset when their nest of fledglings disappeared overnight and all their hard work came to nothing. While one of them sits on the nest (on the left) its partner perches in a near by tree on guard. It sings this incessant refrain, which I hear as, “Give me a bre-ak, give me a bre-ak.” Sometimes it seems to be, “Don’t you agree-ee? Don’t you agree-ee?” Here you can see its mouth open in mid warble.
Another great songster is the Clay-coloured thrush. Most of the year it has a gentle hen-like chuck chuck sound but when breeding it breaks into a full throated song from dawn to dusk, very reminiscent of the English thrush. It is the one who is experiencing joy. It just seems to sing for the hell of it.
It is so exciting when you see a successful breeding. They have survived predators and storms and the parents have just about broken their backs to feed the babies enough. Here the adult Black-cowled Oriole (on the right) brings his young son to check out the window where you can have many happy hours pecking away at your own image.
I was so thrilled to see this immature Rose-throated Becard. He will darken to almost black and his rose coloured throat will become larger and more vivid. We have not seen their nest this year having watched them closely the last 2 years so it was a very joyful moment to see they did nest here, just that it was out of sight.
It has been very special watching this family of Yellow-green Vireos in a tree at the back of the house.
How very cool is that. See how they have come on in only 5 days.
The way I see it is that we feel that joy because joy is inherent within us, just as it is in all these creatures. It is the very interconnectedness of Nature that sparks the joy. I haven’t got far enough into Michael McCarthey’s book to find out his joyful solution to the environment crisis but I look forward to pressing on and finding out what he suggests.
Our love to you all,
While you are in our website see also our 2018 annual review.