Belize: A Relaxed and Easy Tour Mar 17—24, 2013

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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This year’s Belize Relaxed & Easy tour started off with a bang literally right at the airport as we were picking up participants. We hadn’t driven 100 feet from the airport parking lot when we had to stop to admire point-blank views of a Fork-tailed Flycatcher, several Groove-billed Anis, a White-collared Seedeater, and a nesting pair of Vermilion Flycatchers! What a way to start! The next day, on our way to Altun Ha, a very cooperative White-necked Puffbird caused another roadside stop. But eventually we made it to the impressive Altun Ha where our guide, Ann Marie, explained the difference between temples and ruins. We interrupted Ann Marie frequently to look at birds such as King Vulture, Olive-throated Parakeet, Black-headed Trogon, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Yellow-winged Tanager, and numerous migrant warblers. Our lunch at Mayan Wells, traditional Belizean stewed chicken with rice and beans, was delicious as always and a real tour highlight. Mayan Wells is also where we saw our first Keel-billed Toucan, as well as Ivory-billed Woodcreeper, Rose-throated Becard, Gray-headed Tanager, and Red-throated Ant-Tanager.

Birding at Crooked Tree Lagoon

Birding at Crooked Tree Lagoon— Photo: Michael O’Brien

From the afternoon of Day One to lunchtime on Day Three, we were at Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary, based at Bird’s Eye View Lodge. When we arrived at Crooked Tree Lagoon, we found low water levels, which tend to concentrate any waterbirds that are present. Crooked Tree is always one of the birdiest places we know, but at this time the number of birds there was simply staggering—hundreds of jacanas, Limpkins, Snail Kites, cormorants, and whistling-ducks; and thousands of herons, egrets, coots, and Blue-winged Teal. A sprinkling of American White Pelicans and Jabirus towered over these other species, and little groups of Roseate Spoonbills lit up in their absurdly pink coloration. A few odd shorebirds, most notably American Golden-Plover and Pectoral Sandpiper, were nice to see. Although we could see many of these birds right from the causeway or off the back deck of Bird’s Eye View Lodge, our morning boat ride through Crooked Tree Lagoon, with local guides Leonard and Michael, brought us closer to many, and also allowed excellent views of four kingfisher species, plus Boat-billed Heron, Gray-necked Wood-Rail, and a soaring Zone-tailed Hawk. And the birding at Crooked Tree didn’t stop at the lagoon. In short walks right near the lodge we were able to see an amazing diversity of birds, including Canivet’s Emerald, Ivory-billed Woodcreeper, Common and Slate-headed tody-flycatchers, Yucatan Flycatcher, Mangrove Vireo, Black Catbird, and Grayish Saltator, just to name a few. And a short drive to the nearby cashew orchards and Pine Savannah brought us views of Black-collared Hawk, Aplomado Falcon, Yellow-headed Parrot, Northern Beardless Tyrannulet, Yucatan Jay, and Grace’s Warbler. For those who didn’t want to walk, the “yard birds” at Crooked Tree were just wonderful. In addition to all the waterbirds visible from the back porch, the yard was always graced by such friendly neighbors as Ruby-throated and Rufous-tailed hummingbirds, Vermilion Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Mangrove Swallow, White-collared Seedeater, and Hooded Oriole. And friendliest of all was the Yellow-throated Warbler that regularly visited our breakfast table—they actually named the porch after him!

Morning boat trip to Lamanai savannah

Morning boat trip to Lamanai savannah— Photo: Michael O’Brien

After leaving Crooked Tree, we made our way to Lamanai, passing through Mennonite farm country along the way. Some highlights of the drive included White-tailed Kite, Plain-breasted Ground-Dove, a field full of Fork-tailed Flycatchers, Eastern Meadowlark, and a large flock of Bronzed Cowbirds, which seemed to prefer horses over cows. Upon arrival at Lamanai, we entered the next phase of our trip, where our time would be spent in more forested habitats than previously. Situated on the banks of New River Lagoon, and close to the beautiful Lamanai Maya ruins, Lamanai Outpost Lodge was a delightful place to spend a few days. Howler monkeys were a daily feature right around the cabanas, and short walks near the lodge yielded a wonderful array of birds, such as Plumbeous Kite, Keel-billed Toucan, Collared Aracari, White-crowned Parrot, Barred Antshrike, White-collared Manakin, Blue Bunting, and Yellow-billed Cacique. Tours of the ruins with our ace local guide, Ruben, were highlighted by sightings of Squirrel Cuckoo; Bat Falcon (eating a Black-and-white Warbler!); Slaty-tailed and Gartered trogons; Blue-crowned Motmot; Rufous-tailed Jacamar; Smoky-brown, Golden-olive, and Pale-billed woodpeckers; Yellow-bellied Tyrannulet; and a long list of migrant warblers. One particular custard apple tree captivated us for quite a while. We must have watched for 20 minutes or more as Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, Blue-gray Tanager, and Yellow-throated and Olive-backed euphonias feasted on the just-ripe fruit.

No trip to Lamanai would be complete without some time on the water. A special highlight was our morning boat trip across the lagoon to the unique savannah habitat. Our long list of species included Jabiru, Least Bittern, THREE! Agami Herons, Great Black-Hawk, Sungrebe, Laughing Falcon, Gray-crowned Yellowthroat, Botteri’s Sparrow, and Yellow-tailed Oriole. Just as exciting was our evening spotlight safari. The showstoppers were spectacular views of a Yucatan Nightjar, but it was also fun to see a juvenile Agami Heron, several Common Pauraques, night-roosting Ringed, Green, and American Pygmy kingfishers, Snail Kites, and Prothonotary Warbler. And to really cap things off, our evening cocktail cruise, complete with Belizean rum and a beautiful sunset, was the perfect end to a splendid tour.