Belize: A Relaxed & Easy Tour Mar 08—15, 2016

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 the naturalist wishing to have a quick winter getaway, Belize offers some of the most delightful environments, friendly people, and pleasant birding in the Neotropics, all within a quick flight from the U.S. In this bird-rich region, this year’s tour proved to be one of our most productive, with some amazing wildlife sightings and an excellent list of hard-to-see species. Beginning at our hotel on the outskirts of Belize City, we immediately found an abundance of wintering Neotropical migrants such as Summer Tanager, Northern Waterthrush, American Redstart, and Yellow-throated, Magnolia, and Yellow warblers. We also found the local specialty, Cinnamon Hummingbird, as well as a surprise Bare-throated Tiger-Heron hunting the adjacent field. Nearby at Altun Ha, we learned about some magnificent Mayan temples from Ann Marie, and also got our first looks at some real Neotropical specialties like Black-headed and Gartered trogons, Spot-breasted Wren, Yellow-throated Euphonia, and Bat Falcon.

Yellow-throated Warbler

Yellow-throated Warbler— Photo: Michael O’Brien

 

The next phase of our tour brought us to the charming Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary and Bird’s Eye View Lodge. We are always amazed at how birdy this place is. Just a short walk around the lodge area in the morning routinely produced 60–70 species including numerous herons, Roseate Spoonbill, Limpkin, Northern Jacana, several species of parrots, Yucatan Woodpecker, Vermilion Flycatcher, Red-legged Honeycreeper, and numerous species of warblers and orioles, many at arm’s-length. We were particularly pleased one morning to find an antswarm right by the lodge, attended by Gray-headed Tanager, Tawny-winged Woodcreeper, Groove-billed Ani, and numerous other species. Although water levels were high due to an exceptionally late rainy season, our boat trip to Spanish Creek was lovely, with highlights including Boat-billed Heron, Black-collared Hawk, Snail Kite, Great Black-Hawk, three species of kingfishers, and Yellow-headed Parrot. Our visit to Crooked Tree’s pine savanna resulted in nice sightings of Acorn Woodpecker, Green-breasted Mango, Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Canivet’s Emerald, Yucatan Jay, Grace’s Warbler, and a dozen species of flycatchers. For those interested, short night walks yielded amazing views of Common Pauraque hunting under streetlights right by the lodge.

Black-collared Hawk

Black-collared Hawk— Photo: Michael O’Brien

 

 

After a final morning at Crooked Tree, we moved on to the final and longest element of this tour at Lamanai, traveling via the Mennonite farm country around Shipyard, where agricultural land was occupied by numerous swallows, seedeaters, grassquits, and meadowlarks, along with several lovely Fork-tailed Flycatchers. Upon arrival at Lamanai, we were immediately immersed into a wonderful forested oasis, and settled into our beautiful thatch-roofed cabanas as howler monkeys roared in the distance. During our time at this wonderful place, we took several tours of the archeological site and found many forest specialties such as Bicolored Hawk, Brown-hooded and White-crowned parrots, Keel-billed Toucan, Slaty-tailed Trogon, White-necked and White-whiskered puffbirds, Golden-olive and Pale-billed woodpeckers, Ruddy and Northern Barred woodcreepers, Plain Xenops, Royal Flycatcher, and Red-capped Manakin. It was also fun to find “leking” Long-billed and Stripe-throated hermits, and study differences between cryptic flycatchers such as Northern Bentbill, Greenish Elaenia, and Yellow-olive Flycatcher. In addition to resident species, Neotropical migrants were also abundant at Lamanai, including a different mix of species than at Crooked Tree, including Blue-winged, Kentucky, Hooded, Worm-eating, and Chestnut-sided warblers, Philadelphia Vireo, and Wood Thrush.

Gray-necked Wood-Rail

Gray-necked Wood-Rail— Photo: Michael O’Brien

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the special treats of our visit to Lamanai was taking several boat trips on the New River and nearby creeks. An evening Spotlight Safari produced sightings of some very elusive birds including Agami and Boat-billed herons, Sungrebe, Gray-necked Wood-Rail, Yucatan Nightjar, and Northern Potoo, as well as several Morelet’s Crocodiles and the massive Greater Fishing Bat. Another early morning trip across the lagoon to the Dawson Creek and the Lamanai Savannah had many highlights, including Yellow-lored Parrot, Black Catbird, and Botteri’s and Grasshopper sparrows. And to really end our trip in style, on our last evening we took a cocktail cruise on the lagoon. In addition to sipping some fine Belizean rum and watching a beautiful sunset, we also enjoyed fine views of a Jabiru sitting on its nest—the perfect way to cap off a delightful 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 at Lamanai.