Belize: Chan Chich New Year Dec 28, 2009—Jan 03, 2010

Posted by David Wolf

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David Wolf

David Wolf is a senior member of the VENT staff and one of our most experienced tour leaders. After birding the U.S. and Mexico for over a decade, an interest in the wildli...

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Simply put, Chan Chich has it all—delightful cabins set in a small clearing on a Mayan archaeological site, a wonderful variety of gourmet dishes to choose from for our daily meals, and, most importantly, almost unlimited access to a vast expanse of subtropical moist forest.  Hunting has been prohibited on this huge private reserve for decades now, and amidst this forest can be found almost all of the indicator species of true Central American wilderness, the large birds and animals that are gone in so many other places.

We spent this wonderful week exploring the richness of life here and each day brought special sightings. The one thing that we did not have was "perfect" weather. (Is there such a thing?) This year the rainy season continued longer than expected and our days were cloudy and cool, with occasional light showers, while substantial rain fell during the night several times. It was only after our return home that we learned that a massive winter storm was sweeping much of North America and clearly affecting the weather this far south. As I write this at home in East Texas, we are due to go down to the mid-teens F. for the third night in a row, the coldest temperatures we've had in 14 years!

One of the signature species of Chan Chich is the spectacular Ocellated Turkey. This is a bird of very limited world range that has been heavily hunted almost everywhere that it occurs, but here they are a common daily sight. In fact, we spotted our first flock not five minutes from the Gallon Jug airstrip! Then, just before entering the lodge clearing, we found a troop of Mexican black howler monkeys in a large fruiting fig over the road. Actually, we could hardly have missed them as they loudly and vigorously protested with their bone-chilling roars. This too is a declining regional endemic dependent upon large areas of forest. On other days we were to become acquainted with numerous Great Curassows (with a maximum of 11 in one morning), several troops of delightful Central American spider monkeys, and we were even lucky enough to get a quick look at a red brocket deer! All of these species have been widely extirpated from other parts of northern Central America.

The smaller creatures kept us busy too, from the pair of Chestnut-colored Woodpeckers and agressive male Green Honeycreepers at the flowering African tulip tree to the lizards scurrying around the bushes and butterflies visiting the flowering Poinsettias. Delightful lunches outdoors on the porch were regularly interrupted by wintering wood warblers bathing at the water feature and a male White-collared Manakin that sat motionless in the fruiting Hamelia bushes. Nearby, clusters of palm fruit not 10 feet away regularly attracted Collared Aracaris, Black-headed Saltators, and Olive-backed Euphonias that were almost close enough to touch. Forest trails yielded lessons on woodcreeper and ant-tanager identification, though the gorgeous Rufous-tailed Jacamars, trogons, and Keel-billed Toucans in the trees overhead were perhaps more spectacular. Our single most memorable sighting came our last morning afield, at an impromptu roadside stop, when our local guide spotted an adult Ornate Hawk-Eagle perched in the subcanopy not 30 yards away. This spectacular bird was so intent on hunting that it seemed oblivious to our presence and allowed scope views for over 15 minutes (after which a Black-headed Trogon distracted us, but not the hawk-eagle)!

A final evening's night-drive produced a surprise Yucatan Nightjar, a lifer for the leaders that required some serious study, and a very close Northern Potoo, and then all too soon it was time to say goodbye to this special place.