Belize: A Relaxed and Easy Tour Mar 16—23, 2014

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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For a birder visiting from the United States, we think of our Belize: Relaxed & Easy tour as the perfect introduction to Neotropical birding, with just the right mix of Central American residents and North American migrants. And, as is often the case, our first walk at our hotel near Belize City provided a nice introduction to some of the commoner species we would be seeing later on the tour. In just 30 minutes, we had our first looks at Red-billed Pigeon, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Olive-throated Parakeet, Great Kiskadee, Social Flycatcher, Tropical and Couch’s kingbirds, Tropical Mockingbird, Melodious Blackbird, Hooded Oriole, and White-collared Seedeater, as well as Magnolia, Yellow, and Yellow-throated warblers. We also had nice looks at Cinnamon Hummingbird, which we see only in the Belize City area. Our introduction continued as we headed north along Northern Highway, stopping here and there for distractions such as Common Black-Hawk, Crane Hawk, Black-crowned and Masked tityras, and Rufous-browed Peppershrike. 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, Ann Marie, was very patient with us as we occasionally interrupted her to see such birds as Wood Stork, Swallow-tailed Kite, Great Black-Hawk, Black-headed Trogon, Lesser Greenlet, Worm-eating Warbler, Yellow-winged Tanager, and a nesting pair of Yellow-throated Euphonias.

Black-headed Trogon

Black-headed Trogon— Photo: Michael O’Brien

We spent the afternoon of day one to the morning of day three entirely at Crooked Tree Sanctuary. One of the great things about Crooked Tree and Bird’s Eye View Lodge is that there are birds literally right at our doorstep. Right around the building there were wintering herons, egrets, shorebirds, and warblers, and nesting Ruddy Ground-Doves, Groove-billed Anis, Mangrove Swallows, Gray-breasted Martins, Vermilion Flycatchers, several parrot species, and many others. There was even a pair of Bat Falcons nesting in a large palm tree behind the lodge. Water levels at Crooked Tree vary from year to year, and this year we experienced record high water levels. Despite this, our boat trip on the lagoon with local guides Leonard and Michael produced a predictably impressive list of birds such as Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Anhinga, Boat-billed Heron, Black-collared Hawk, Snail Kite, Great Black-Hawk, Laughing Falcon, Limpkin, Northern Jacana, Ringed and Green kingfishers, Mangrove Vireo, and Prothonotary Warbler. Short walks from the lodge and short drives to nearby pine-savanna habitats yielded Bare-throated Tiger-Heron, Squirrel Cuckoo, Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Yucatan and Acorn woodpeckers, Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Greenish Elaenia, Northern Bentbill, Common Tody-Flycatcher, Yucatan and Dusky-capped flycatchers, White-bellied Wren, Grace’s Warbler, and Grayish Saltator. On both evenings at Crooked Tree, we took short night walks right by the lodge and had excellent views of several Common Pauraques hunting under streetlights.

Great Black-Hawk

Great Black-Hawk— Photo: Michael O’Brien

The second 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, the forested habitats and thatched-roof cabanas at Lamanai give this place a very different feel. Lush gardens around the cabanas attracted Plain Chachalaca, Collared Aracari, Keel-billed Toucan, Barred Antshrike, Ivory-billed Woodcreeper, Brown Jay, Spot-breasted Wren (yes, we saw them!), Black-headed Saltator, Blue Bunting, Black-cowled Oriole, Yellow-throated Euphonia, and lots of wintering warblers. Our ace 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 Jabiru; King Vulture; Purple-crowned Fairy; Slaty-tailed, Black-headed, Gartered, and Collared trogons; Golden-olive Woodpecker; Plain Xenops; Ochre-bellied Flycatcher; Red-capped Manakin; Olive-backed Euphonia; and several close encounters with Howler Monkeys. Ruben, along with Eduardo, also took us on three wonderful boat trips. A delightful evening Spotlight Safari produced some fine birds, highlighted by Agami Heron and Northern Potoo, as well as Morelete’s Crocodile, 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 Azure-crowned Hummingbird, Black Catbird, Botteri’s Sparrow, and a loud (but not visible) Black-throated Bobwhite. 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 a fly-by Muscovy and a stately Jabiru perched on its nest. The perfect ending to a delightful tour!