Best of Belize: Chan Chich Lodge Mar 07—12, 2014

Posted by Barry Zimmer

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Barry Zimmer

Barry Zimmer has been birding since the age of eight. His main areas of expertise lie in North and Central America, but his travels have taken him throughout much of the wo...

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Our first morning at Crooked Tree was exceptional. It was hard to know which way to look. As soon as we exited the dining room from breakfast, our heads were spinning in every direction. Stunning Vermilion Flycatchers hawked insects from the fence posts. A flock of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks greeted the dawn raucously from a flooded field to our right, while a dapper Northern Jacana paraded by on its monstrous feet. A small flock of Olive-throated Parakeets darted past, followed quickly by a pair of White-fronted Parrots. A striking Yellow-throated Warbler, just feet away, gleaned insects off a barbed wire fence, while numbers of Mangrove Swallows and Gray-breasted Martins sailed past. A pair of Blue-gray Tanagers, a flashy Hooded Oriole followed quickly by a Black-cowled Oriole, a calling Striped Cuckoo—would we ever make it out of the parking lot?

Our primary target of the morning was the regionally endemic Yucatan Jay. We found a flock of 15 of these gorgeous birds next to the road and watched them from close range for over five minutes.

Yucatan Jay— Photo: Barry Zimmer

Slowly we began working our way down the entry road, where we quickly encountered a perched Bat Falcon, two Red-lored Parrots sitting up in the morning sun, a fabulous Squirrel Cuckoo in the open, a Grayish Saltator, and perhaps the most cooperative Common Tody-Flycatcher I have ever seen. Raucous calls to our left revealed the presence of a couple of Yucatan Jays, one of our prime targets for the day. A few tense moments later, we had one of these gorgeous birds perched up atop an oak. The calls of Yucatan Woodpecker, another regional endemic, distracted us from the jays. This was our other main target, and in short notice we had a pair right over the trail. No time to enjoy the woodpeckers, however, as a male Black-headed Trogon caught our attention, posing for superb scope views. Suddenly a Crane Hawk, very uncommon here, blasted right over our heads. Then a calling Rufous-breasted Spinetail demanded our attention. This localized species is often difficult to see, but we were able to get walkaway studies of a singing bird. Finally, a brief moment to catch our breath. We had been birding for less than an hour, and our list was growing by leaps and bounds.

After a quick bathroom break, we headed out to the nearby pine forests, but were almost immediately side-tracked by a Bare-throated Tiger-Heron no more than 20 feet off the road. It was a photographer’s delight, as this bird posed for many pictures. Suddenly a Gray-necked Wood-Rail appeared behind the heron, and it also cooperated in the open for photos! Eventually we tore ourselves away and finally reached the pine forests outside of the village. A short walk in this area revealed Buff-breasted Hummingbird, Green-breasted Mango, many Acorn Woodpeckers, Rufous-browed Peppershrike (singing in the scope), Roadside Hawk, Grace’s Warbler, and a brilliant male Baltimore Oriole. Just as we got back to the car, another flock of Yucatan Jays were spotted right next to the road. At least 15 birds poured into a roadside oak thicket, and we watched for several minutes from as close as 15 feet away. Their azure-blue backs contrasted brilliantly with their velvety-black plumage, and the immature birds with their bright yellow feet and bills were even more stunning! These birds were ultimately voted one of the favorite species of the trip! This concluded but one morning of an incredible, action-packed week in Belize.

But the show-stealer was this Gray-necked Wood-Rail that put on a five-minute performance and was ultimately voted the favorite bird of the tour.

Gray-necked Wood-Rail— Photo: Barry Zimmer

We had the better part of two days to scour the pine-oak savanna, lagoons, and coastal areas of Crooked Tree and Belize City. Despite unusually high water that prevented us from seeing a couple of our targets, we still managed some excellent birding. Boat-billed Heron, Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, Black-collared Hawk, Snail Kite, Great Black-Hawk, Common Black-Hawk on a nest, Limpkin, Cinnamon Hummingbird, Streak-headed Woodcreeper, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Mangrove Vireo, “Mangrove” Warbler, Yellow-tailed Oriole, and Montezuma Oropendola were among the many highlights.

In the afternoon of our second full day, we chartered a flight from Belize City to Gallon Jug (where the airstrip for Chan Chich Lodge is located). Within minutes of leaving the city, a sea of uninterrupted forest appeared before us, whetting our appetites for what was to come. Over the next five days we enjoyed the famed Chan Chich Lodge. The highlights here were many, but a few of the most memorable included King Vulture, White Hawk, Black Hawk-Eagle, a Gray-necked Wood-Rail that nearly attacked our group (!), incredible American Pygmy Kingfishers, fabulous views of a Black-and-white Owl on our night drive, Northern Potoo, a Purple-crowned Fairy that performed a water ballet right in front of us, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Tody Motmot (walkaway scope views), White-necked (very uncommon here) and White-whiskered puffbirds, Chestnut-colored and Pale-billed woodpeckers, four species of trogons (including the very uncommon Collared), Royal Flycatcher, two Lovely Cotingas (one stunning gorgeous male!), Red-capped Manakin, Rose-throated Tanager (another regional endemic), Black-throated Shrike-Tanager, and the best views ever of the endemic Gray-throated Chat singing right over the trail.

In all we tallied nearly 250 species of birds for the week, witnessed great butterfly displays (with kite-swallowtails, morphos, and many others), enjoyed Spider Monkeys and Howler Monkeys (what a great sound!), and soaked up the rainforest experience. I can hardly wait until next year!