Belize: A Relaxed & Easy Tour Mar 11—18, 2015

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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The perfect winter getaway, this year’s Belize: Relaxed & Easy tour was a nice break from a long, harsh winter up north. Although most of this tour takes place around two delightful lodges, it’s always fun to kick off the tour right in Belize City. This year, the Cinnamon Hummingbirds performed well at the Biltmore Plaza Hotel, where we also had instructive comparisons of the very similar Tropical and Couch’s kingbirds, and our first looks at a host of other species such as Social Flycatcher, Tropical Mockingbird, and Hooded Oriole. Along the nearby waterfront, we enjoyed side by side comparisons of Royal and Sandwich terns, as well as a Black Skimmer and numerous Magnificent Frigatebirds. Later on at Altun Ha, we had an interesting ruins tour with Ann Marie, highlighted by close looks at Gartered and Black-headed trogons, two soaring King Vultures, and our first of several Black-collared Hawks.

Tropical Kingbird

Tropical Kingbird— Photo: Michael O’Brien

 

Our two days at Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary gave us hardly enough time at this charming and incredibly birdy place. Just walking around the lodge area in the morning routinely produced 60–70 species including numerous herons, Roseate Spoonbill, Snail Kite, Gray-necked Wood-Rail, Limpkin, Northern Jacana, Groove-billed Ani, Canivet’s Emerald, Bat Falcon, several species of parrots, nest-building Rufous-breasted Spinetails, and numerous flycatchers, warblers, and orioles. Some of our favorites were the Ruddy Ground-Dove that was nesting right over the front door, the little flock of Least Sandpipers that enjoyed foraging in the driveway, and those dazzling Vermilion Flycatchers that greeted us every time we walked outside. And it was a special treat to have close looks at a Black Catbird attending an ant swarm right by the lodge.

Black Catbird

Black Catbird— Photo: Michael O’Brien

 



Although water levels were somewhat high, our boat trip to Spanish Creek was very successful, with highlights including Jabiru, Boat-billed Heron, six Black-collared Hawks, Great Black-Hawk, Sungrebe, four species of kingfishers, Gray-throated Chat, and Yellow-tailed Oriole. Our exploration of the nearby pine savannah produced some dazzling Red-legged Honeycreepers, as well as a flock of Yucatan Jays, Buff-bellied Hummingbird, several Grace’s Warblers, and numerous migrant warblers. For those interested, short night walks yielded excellent views of Common Pauraque hunting under streetlights right by the lodge.

After a final morning at Crooked Tree, we headed to Lamanai by way of the Mennonite farm country around Shipyard. This open agricultural land was quite a change of pace, and we saw numerous swallows, seedeaters, and grassquits; several Fork-tailed Flycatchers and Eastern Meadowlarks; and a few migrant shorebirds.

Snail Kite

Snail Kite— Photo: Michael O’Brien

 

Upon arrival at Lamanai, it was clear that we were in an area quite different from Crooked Tree, offering a very different set of birds. During our tours of the archaeological site, we found a long list of forest-dwelling species such as Slaty-tailed Trogon, Tody Motmot, Pale-billed Woodpecker, Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, Northern Bentbill, and Red-throated Ant-Tanager. Edge habitat right around the lodge was just as diverse, and our optional pre-breakfast walks were always active with sightings of Collared Aracari, Keel-billed Toucan, Blue Bunting, Black-headed Saltator, numerous parrots, and many migrant or wintering warblers, vireos, flycatchers, and orioles. Hearing the roars of Mexican Black Howler Monkeys periodically during the day gave an extra special ambiance to our stay at Lamanai.

American Pygmy-Kingfisher

American Pygmy Kingfisher— Photo: Michael O’Brien

 

Several different boat trips on the New River and nearby creeks were a real highlight at Lamanai. An evening Spotlight Safari produced excellent views of some elusive birds including Agami and Boat-billed herons, Gray-necked Wood-Rail, and Northern Potoo, as well as several Morelet’s Crocodiles 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 American Pygmy Kingfisher, Yellow-lored Parrot, Black Catbird, Gray-crowned Yellowthroat, Botteri’s Sparrow, and Yellow-backed Oriole. And, to really cap things off, on our last evening we took a delightful late afternoon Cocktail Cruise on the lagoon. Between the beautiful late afternoon light and some fine Belizean rum, we hardly needed to see any birds, but a few highlights included Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, Great Black-Hawk, three species of kingfishers, and a steady movement of swallows. Finishing with sunset over High Temple was a most relaxing way to end this tour!

A big thanks goes to the staff of both Bird’s Eye View Lodge and Lamanai Outpost Lodge. Both were extremely friendly and accommodated our every need. And it was a special treat to have Ruben Arevalo with us for almost every outing at Lamanai.