Belize: Relaxed and Easy Mar 20—27, 2011

Posted by Michael O'Brien


Michael O'Brien

Michael O'Brien is a freelance artist, author, and environmental consultant living in Cape May, New Jersey. He has a passionate interest in bird vocalizations and field ide...

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As we often do, we began our 2011 Belize: Relaxed & Easy tour on the grounds of our hotel in Belize City. And I am always a little surprised just how birdy this place is. This time, not only did we get a nice start to our trip with such birds as Social Flycatcher, Tropical Mockingbird, Black-cowled Oriole, Melodious Blackbird, and Cinnamon Hummingbird, but we also saw a fly-by Eurasian Collared-Dove, a species that continues to expand in the New World and seems destined to become established in Belize. But the main event of the morning was a visit to Altun Ha, a lovely Maya site where we toured the ruins and saw many new birds. Our guide, John, was very patient with us as we occasionally interrupted him to see such birds as Olive-throated Parakeet, Green-breasted Mango, Black-headed Trogon, and Keel-billed Toucan. Later, at Mayan Wells, we enjoyed a fabulous traditional Belizean lunch followed by birding on the grounds, highlighted by White-bellied Emerald, Boat-billed and Piratic flycatchers, Rose-throated Becard, and Red-legged Honeycreeper. We also visited the butterfly house there, which was full of Common Morphos, Malachites, Erato Heliconians, and an odd-looking hybrid that we haven’t figured out yet. En route to Crooked Tree, e stopped to visit a Jabiru on the nest, tending two large chicks.

We spent from the afternoon of Day 1 to the morning of Day 3 entirely at Crooked Tree Sanctuary. One of the great things about Crooked Tree, and Bird’s Eye View Lodge, is that there were birds literally right at our doorstep—binoculars were a must during cocktail hour on the porch! Right around the building there were wintering Yellow-throated Warblers and American Redstarts, and nesting Mangrove Swallows, Gray-breasted Martins, and Vermilion Flycatchers. And a scan of the lagoon from our porch yielded sightings of Jabiru, Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, Snail Kite, Laughing Falcon, Gray-necked Wood-Rail, and Northern Jacana, among many others. A boat trip on the lagoon allowed close views of many special birds including Bare-throated Tiger-Heron, Boat-billed Heron, Black-collared Hawk, Great Black-Hawk, and four species of kingfishers. Short walks from the lodge and short drives to nearby pine-savanna habitats yielded White-fronted, Red-lored, and Yellow-headed parrots, Acorn and Yucatan woodpeckers, Rufous-breasted Spinetail (on the nest!), Yucatan Jay (two very cooperative groups), and Painted Bunting. For those interested, a short night walk yielded excellent views of Common Pauraque hunting under streetlights.

The second phase of our trip was based at Lamanai Outpost Lodge, situated on the banks of New River Lagoon, and close to the beautiful Lamanai Maya ruins. Although only a short distance from Crooked Tree, the forested habitats and thatched-roof cabanas at Lamanai give this place a very different feel. Lush gardens around the cabanas attracted Squirrel Cuckoo, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Blue-crowned Motmot, Ivory-billed Woodcreeper, Barred Antshrike, Spot-breasted Wren, Black-headed Saltator, Green-backed Sparrow, Blue Bunting, Yellow-winged Tanager, and a host of North American migrants. Our local guide, Ruben, took us on a fascinating tour of the ruins, and on a couple of nice walks. Forest birding around the ruins produced some excellent sightings including Bat Falcon; Mottled Owl; Black-headed, Gartered, and Slaty-tailed trogons; White-necked Puffbird; Collared Aracari; Plain Xenops; Yellow-bellied Tyrannulet; a variety of little green flycatcher-things (each with a different call!); Black-throated Shrike-Tanager; and Yellow-throated and Olive-backed euphonias. One strangler fig was particularly loaded with birds, as well as a troop of inquisitive howler monkeys.

Ruben also took us on three wonderful boat trips. An evening Spotlight Safari produced some fine birds including Least Bittern, Yucatan Nightjar, Northern Potoo, and an odd mix of roosting diurnal birds. Equally interesting were several Morelete’s crocodiles, as well as gray four-eyed opossum, proboscis bat, and greater fishing bat (the latter was HUGE, and flew more like a nighthawk than a bat). Another trip across the lagoon to the Lamanai Savannah had many highlights, including Agami Heron, Yellow-lored Parrot, Mangrove Cuckoo, Canivet’s Emerald, Black Catbird, Grace’s Warbler, Gray-crowned Yellowthroat, and Botteri’s Sparrow. And, to really cap things off, on our last evening we took a delightful late afternoon Cocktail Cruise. Between the beautiful late afternoon light and some fine Belizean rum, we hardly needed to see any birds, but a few highlights included White-tailed Kite, Aplomado Falcon, and a large movement of migrating swallows. Finishing with sunset over High Temple was the perfect way to end our tour.