Belize: A Relaxed and Easy Tour Mar 18—25, 2012

Posted by Michael O'Brien

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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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After a bit of birding around Belize City, we launched into this year's Relaxed & Easy tour with a visit to the impressive Maya ruins of Altun Ha. Our guide, Ann, was very patient as we seamlessly mixed birding with a tour of the ruins. In shaded margins of the main clearing, birding was excellent and we found many exciting species such as Olive-throated Parakeet, White-bellied Emerald, Black-headed Trogon, Yellow-bellied Tyrannulet, Masked Tityra, Yellow-winged Tanager, Black-cowled Oriole, and numerous North American migrants. But we were especially drawn to the sky where there were at least six King Vultures and an amazing Black Hawk-Eagle in full display. Next we visited Mayan Wells, which is always a real highlight of the tour. After a fabulous traditional Belizean lunch, we walked the grounds and found more new birds, including Boat-billed Flycatcher, Black-crowned Tityra, and a fruiting custard apple being tended by Blue-gray and Yellow-winged tanagers, Red-legged Honeycreeper, and Yellow-throated Euphonia. An exciting find on the way out of Mayan Wells was a Gray-necked Wood-Rail in a roadside pond. Little did we know we would end up seeing several more of these stunning birds!

American Pygmy Kingfisher

American Pygmy Kingfisher— Photo: Michael O'Brien

From the afternoon of Day 1 to lunchtime on Day 3 we were at Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary. Crooked Tree is one of the birdiest places we know. Vermilion Flycatcher is perhaps the signature roadside bird of this little village. They are just everywhere, including on the fence right behind Bird's Eye View Lodge. Parrots, doves, flycatchers, swallows, warblers, orioles, and seedeaters are likewise abundant, and spice up every walk near the lodge or siesta on the porch. And that says nothing of the lagoon itself, which abounds with waterbirds. The centerpiece of our visit to Crooked Tree was a boat ride exploring Crooked Tree Lagoon and nearby Western Lagoon with local guides Leonard and Rudy. Among hundreds of whistling-ducks, Blue-winged Teal, Neotropic Cormorants, and herons of many species, we were excited to find Bare-throated Tiger-Heron, Boat-billed Heron, Black-collared Hawk, Laughing Falcon, Sungrebe, and four species of kingfishers including incredible views of the diminutive American Pygmy Kingfisher. To cap things off, we were especially thrilled to find an astounding 70 Jabirus, more than either of our guides had ever seen. A short drive from Bird's Eye View brought us into Crooked Tree's cashew groves and pine savannah where additional species included Canivet's Emerald, Green-breasted Mango, Acorn and Yucatan woodpeckers, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Yucatan Jay, and Grace's Warbler. For some of us, an evening walk behind the lodge produced nice views of Common Pauraque.

The next phase of our tour 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, forested habitats and thatched-roof cabanas at Lamanai give this place a very different feel. Howler monkeys were daily sights right around our cabanas, and our daily walks around the grounds yielded such species as Squirrel Cuckoo, Keel-billed Toucan, Collared Aracari, Ivory-billed Woodcreeper, Barred Antshrike, White-collared Manakin, Spot-breasted Wren, Black-headed Saltator, Green-backed Sparrow, and Painted Bunting. Our local guide, Ruben, took us on an informative tour of the ruins and museum, and found us some nice birds along the way. Forest birding around the ruins produced such prized sightings as Bat Falcon, Stripe-throated Hermit, Purple-crowned Fairy, Gartered and Slaty-tailed trogons, Blue-crowned Motmot, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Chestnut-colored Woodpecker, and Red-crowned and Red-throated ant-tanagers. Ruben also took us on three wonderful boat trips. An evening Spotlight Safari was highlighted by two (!) Agami Herons, Yucatan Nightjar, and Northern Potoo, as well as several species of bats, including greater and lesser bulldog (fishing) bats. Another boat ride across the lagoon to the Lamanai savannah produced Muscovy Duck, Yellow-lored and Yellow-headed parrots, Azure-crowned Hummingbird, Yucatan Flycatcher, Gray-crowned Yellowthroat, and Botteri's and Grasshopper sparrows.

To really cap things off, on our last evening we took a wonderful "cocktail cruise" on New River Lagoon. The late afternoon light was beautiful, and made for splendid views of such birds as Northern Jacana, Pale-vented Pigeon, Red-lored Parrot, and a steady movement of northbound Barn Swallows. We were also kept company by a pair of Mangrove Swallows that were nesting under our pontoon boat! Sipping fine Belizean rum while watching the sun set over Lamanai was a lovely way to end a relaxing tour.