PROGRAMME FOR BELIZE HOSTS SECOND BIRD CERTIFICATION PROGRAM (BCP) AT LA MILPA FIELD STATION
Programme for Belize in collaboration with the Massachusetts Audubon society concluded a Birder’s Certification Course in bird ecology at the La Milpa Field Station. Bill Gette the Sanctuary Director and David Larson the Education Coordinator, both from the Joppa Flats Education Center in Newbury Port, Massachusetts were the main instructors. Phillip Balderamos of the UNDP SGP/GEF Belize Program also provided training to the participants.
The trio was supported by PfB personnel Efrain Cocom, the Hill Bank Station Manager who served as the PfB focal point for the course. The course was held in two intensive three day sessions, the first in December 2008 and the second in May 2009 at the La Milpa Field Station on the Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area.
The course of study is based on the Birder’s Certificate Program (BCP), the college-level ornithology course developed at the Joppa Flats Education Center (Mass Audubon). The modified BCP program has seven modules, plus student projects.
The concept of the Belize BCP program is to provide naturalist guides with the background information they need to enhance their skills, especially as it relates to visiting birdwatchers. The Joppa Flat Instructor’s experience from their many trips to Belize and other Central American countries is that the in-country guides are excellent at finding and identifying birds.
They note, however, that the naturalist guides often do not have a solid foundation in ornithology (e.g., anatomy and physiology, migration, reproduction, etc.). The idea behind the course is that the better trained the naturalist guides are, the better opportunities they will have for attracting more visitors, and the more successful they will be in working on conservation issues.
The main goals of the course are to develop the ornithological knowledge base of the participating students; demonstrate ways that the students can contribute to the scientific study and conservation of birds; provide professional development opportunities for naturalists and contribute to the conservation of birds and to the protection of the nature of Belize.
All the students who successfully participated and completed the course received a free course folder complete with related module information, a free binocular harness and a free Neo-tropical Companion paperback book. Some participants were able to attend on scholarships that were funded through grant donations from the Joppa Flats Education Center and the Protected Areas Conservation Trust used to offset the total costs of the course. Participants this year included representatives from the BFREE, Monkey Bay, TIDE as well as local private naturalists/guides from several private sector lodges and resorts. A similar course was conducted in 2007/2008 at the Hill Bank Field Station.