Best of Belize: Crooked Tree & Chan Chich Lodge Mar 04—11, 2015

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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From the pine/oak savannah and open lagoons of Crooked Tree to the vast, protected rain forest surrounding Chan Chich Lodge, our Best of Belize tour was chock-full of highlights. We began with a day of land birding around the village of Crooked Tree. Our breakfast at Bird’s Eye View Lodge was full of interruptions. Brilliant Vermilion Flycatchers hawked insects from every direction we looked. Northern Jacanas strolled about the lawns like so many chickens. Overhead, White-fronted Parrots sailed by, followed quickly by their larger and scarcer cousins, Yellow-headed Parrots. A stunning Gray-necked Wood-Rail walked past us as we waited in line for the bathroom. A Yellow-throated Warbler and an American Redstart gleaned insects from the eaves of the building, while a singing Bright-rumped Attila was spotted in a nearby tree. Mangrove Swallows perched ten feet off the veranda, while Gray-breasted Martins rested on the aerial above us. A Limpkin walked along the lagoon edge. Would we ever be able to get away from breakfast?

A striking Gray-necked Wood-Rail also foraged next to the lodge.

Gray-necked Wood-Rail — Photo: Brennan Mulrooney

 

When we finally tore ourselves away from the lodge, a host of new species greeted us as we walked down the entry road. Lovely perched Bat Falcons, a cooperative Ivory-billed Woodcreeper, Olive-throated Parakeets, fantastic studies of the regionally endemic Yucatan Woodpecker, Spot-breasted Wren in the open, Black-cowled Oriole, and Blue-gray Tanager were among the highlights. A short drive to the pine forests produced another regional endemic, the highly sought Yucatan Jay. In addition, we added Bare-throated Tiger-Heron, a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl fifteen feet overhead for ten minutes, a Ladder-backed Woodpecker (a first for me in Belize!), and a feisty pair of Grace’s Warblers. A walk after lunch produced Rufous-breasted Spinetail, Barred Antshrike, Slate-headed Tody-Flycatcher, Northern Bentbill, Mangrove Vireo, and Yellow-billed Cacique before we worked our way back to our hotel in Belize City, which has good birding right on the grounds. Our primary target was Cinnamon Hummingbird, and we enjoyed point-blank views of three. One day under our belt and we had tallied an impressive 110 species of birds!

Our main target at the hotel was the Cinnamon Hummingbird, and we had great looks at three.

Cinnamon Hummingbird — Photo: Barry Zimmer

The next morning we took a boat trip to Crooked Tree Lagoon and Spanish Creek. Unusually high water would make some species more difficult than usual, but great birds were plentiful nonetheless. Fulvous and Black-bellied whistling-ducks, Boat-billed Herons, numerous Bare-throated Tiger-Herons and Gray-necked Wood-Rails, a dozen or more Snail Kites, Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, an immature Great Black-Hawk perched right over the boat, Crane Hawk, Ruddy Crake, a fabulous Sungrebe, three species of kingfishers, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, and Yellow-tailed and Altamira (rare here) orioles were some of the more noteworthy species. The show-stealer, however, was an adult Black-collared Hawk that was perched just a few feet above the water, allowing us to drift up to within fifteen feet! What an incredible photographic opportunity of this striking rufous, black, and white raptor.

Finally, it was time to depart Crooked Tree and head back to Belize City for our charter flight to Gallon Jug. En route we added several amazing Fork-tailed Flycatchers, a Common Black Hawk, and a pair of “Mangrove” Warblers. Within ten minutes of leaving Belize City, a sea of green forest appeared in front of us. The remainder of our short flight was spent sailing over jungle with no sign of man. No buildings, no roads, just rainforest. Excitement filled the air as we descended onto the Gallon Jug airstrip. A group of Ocellated Turkeys was spotted along the runway. A majestic King Vulture sailed overhead. This was going to be fun!

More impressive, however, was this Black-collared Hawk that we watched for five minutes from as close as 15 feet! Truly one of the most spectacular raptors of the world.

Black-collared Hawk — Photo: Barry Zimmer

 

After quickly checking into our rooms at the lodge, we still had a half-hour or so of daylight, and we made the most of it. Flashy White-necked Jacobins and improbable Long-billed Hermits buzzed about the dining room feeders.  A Bat Falcon surveyed the scene from above the swimming pool, and a Brown-hooded Parrot squawking from a treetop provided nice scope views. Red-lored and Mealy parrots sailed into their evening roosts, and Lesser Swallow-tailed Swifts twittered overhead. A rare Band-backed Wren chattered briefly from the bougainvillea, and a pair of Yellow-winged Tanagers showed themselves in the fading light. Day two ended with the sounds of Common Pauraque resonating through the plaza of the ancient Maya ruins. An amazing 133 species for the day and 160 total for our first two days!

Our night drive was perhaps our best one ever for birds. The highlight was this Black-and-white Owl that we watched for over five minutes in Gallon Jug.

Black-and-white Owl — Photo: Barry Zimmer

 

We had four full days to enjoy the surroundings at Chan Chich Lodge. With nine miles of trails radiating out from the lodge and a great birding vehicle (the “birdmobile”) to take us further afield, the possibilities were limitless. Highlights from our days here included Great Curassow; numerous Crested Guans (including two sets of babies); displaying Ocellated Turkeys right around our rooms all the time; a pair of Spotted Wood-Quail; all three species of hawk-eagles; the incomparable White Hawk; Swallow-tailed Kite; Blue Ground-Dove; Keel-billed Toucan (up to 25 a day); Collared Aracari; bathing Purple-crowned Fairy performing an incredible water ballet; three Tody Motmots (including one just ten feet away); Blue-crowned Motmot; Rufous-tailed Jacamar; American Pygmy Kingfisher; Chestnut-colored (wow!), Pale-billed, and Lineated woodpeckers; Slaty-tailed, Gartered, and Black-headed trogons; White-whiskered and White-necked puffbirds; Plain Antvireo; Stub-tailed Spadebill; Red-capped Manakin; Long-billed Gnatwren; White-throated Thrush; Blue Bunting; Blue-black and Black-faced grosbeaks; the regionally endemic Rose-throated Tanager and Gray-throated Chat; and Montezuma Oropendola. The list went on and on. Deserving special mention was our night drive which produced superb views of three species of owls: Mottled, Black-and-white (voted the favorite bird of the tour), and Vermiculated Screech. In addition we had five Northern Potoos and a Paca. Daily sightings of Mexican Black Howler Monkey and Central American Spider Monkey (both with babies) were also of note.

In all we tallied 268 species of birds for the week (plus many great mammals, reptiles, and butterflies) while enjoying this tropical paradise. A visit to Belize is simply a must!