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A hand-held radio buzzed and snapped with static. The park ranger held up the antenna, a wand searching for a response. There was dead air and silence, and then, “Roger, roger,” crackled through the speaker.

We were two hours into a wilderness boat tour in the Chiquibul Forest Reserve of western Belize. It was midmorning, and our canoes were floating on a wide stretch of the Macal River.

“Quick, hand me the binocs,” said Lenney Gentle, our guide for the day. He scanned the forest, binoculars panning, in search of a bird.

It was my third day in the Cayo District, a region where mountains ascend thousands of feet into the tropical air. The canoe trip, a daylong expedition to find the scarlet macaw, a rare parrot in the area, would be the high point of my week of ornithological adventures.