TRIP REPORT: THANKSGIVING IN BELIZE
November 18 – 30, 2011
Day 1: Belize Biltmore
Arrived in Belize last night. No time for birding. Just eating. Slept a bit late this morning. Had breakfast and walked the grounds a bit. Partly cloudy and breezy today, about 85 degrees.
Pretty typical Belize day. Tropical Mockingbirds, pair of handsome Boat-billed Flycatchers up-close, Summer Tanager, Ruddy Ground-Dove, Common Tody-Flycatcher, Cinnamon Hummingbird, American Redstart, Yellowthroated Warbler all on the grounds of the hotel. Have to make four pickups of group members today at the airport since they are on four different flights!
Day 2: Belize Zoo, Crooked Tree Early breakfast, then off to the Belize Zoo
It was a bit overcast with some sprinkles when we left. We saw a couple of Common Black-Hawks perched on utility poles along the Western Highway. Many Belted Kingfishers and the usual number of Tropical Kingbirds everywhere. We arrived at the zoo just after opening. Much to our chagrin, we were informed of a new policy that prohibits camera lenses over 55 mm unless you pay a $100 an hour professional photographer’s fee! I was pretty outraged and had the desk person call the manager, but to no avail. Don’t really know what they think can accomplish, but it may stop us from going back. I really enjoy the zoo because of all the native species as well as many birds that free-fly around the area. We did decide to enter the zoo without big lenses. I think everyone enjoyed themselves. Nothing spectacular outside the cages, but the Harpy Eagles and Jaguars made a great impression on my guests. We had a few eastern warblers, Common Tody Flycatcher, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Bluegray Gnatcatcher, nice looks at Spot-breasted Wren.
We went to lunch at Cheers, my favorite place up the road. Most people had their delightful chicken with beans and rice. We had Yellow-faced Grassquit, Altamira Oriole, Vermilion Flycatcher, Social Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee as we ate.
After lunch, we made the drive back through Belize City and up Northern Highway to Crooked Tree. The water was higher than I’ve ever seen it. There were some birds about, most notable, a Gray-necked Wood- Rail, Lesser Yellow-headed Vultures, Wood Stork, Northern Jacana, Tricolored Heron, among others. On our return trip, we food a little group of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks. We totaled 68 species for the day. Off to Chan Chich in the morning.
DAY 3: Biltmore to Chan Chich
A bit of a late breakfast at 7:30, then some birding around the grounds where we had not very good looks at the Cinnamon Hummingbird along with good view of Boat-billed Flycatcher. Surprised to find a Whitethroated Thrush on the grounds. Olive-throated Parakeets flew through. We headed for municipal airport at 9:30 for our flight to Chan Chich.
We saw a few birds from the airport along the water: Laughing Gulls, Black-bellied Plover, Killdeer, Least Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone, Willet, Short-billed Dowitcher, Royal Tern, Brown Pelican were all new for the trip.
We arrived at Chan Chich about noon and had a nice lunch. We had a single Fork-tailed Flycatcher on Gallon Jug Farm after landing. Also, two Crested Guans along the road. At lunch, we saw our first Olive-backed Euphonias, also Ocellated Turkeys. It started raining at lunch, but it stopped by the time we were going to walk. After lunch, we walked down to Sylvester Village Road. We found a nice mixed flock that was following a beautiful Black-throated Shrike-Tanager (the “leader” bird) around. Wedge-billed and Ivory-billed Woodcreeper, Plain Xenops, Lesser and Tawny-crowned Greenlet, Red-crowned Ant-Tanager, Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher were among the birds in the flock. Also, Slay-tailed Tro gon. It started raining again, very hard, but it let up after about 30 minutes. By that time, it was getting dark, so we walked back to the lodge. We tallied about 68 birds for the day.
DAY 4: Chan Chich around the Lodge Trails
Coffee at 6:00 and off to bird with Marvin. I was amazed at the number of trees that came down from Hurricane Richard last year. Apparently, they had 130 mph wind gusts. But, still lots of primary forest and lots of birds. We walked in to the ruins area. We found Stub-tailed Spadebill, Thrush-like Schiffornis, a small mixed flock with Ruddy Woodcreeper, Northern Barred Woodcreeper. After breakfast, we went out with Gilberto, my favorite guide at Chan Chich. Even though he’s about 73, he still has great eyes and ears! He quickly located a Tody Motmot for us. Then, a couple of great mixed flocks with Golden-crowned Warbler, Yellow-olive Flycatcher, Red-throated Ant-Tanager, Green Shrike-Vireo (one of the best birds of the trip so far), Eye-ringed Flatbill, White-whiskered Pu’ird. We also had a juvenile Black Hawk-Eagle circling us. Gilberto said this one has been around for awhile, and he sees it most walks. Unfortunately, the adults didn’t show themselves.
We walked down to the new overlook in the afternoon. Fairly quiet, but we had White-whiskered Puffbird and Mealy Parrot among others. It was a beautiful evening with the sun setting over the rainforest.
DAY 5: Trip to Escarpment, Chan Chich
First thing in the morning, we walked down to Sylvester road. Our main goal was the Rose-throated Tanager, and we were rewarded, though only one person got good looks at the male. We’ll try again in the afternoon. Escarpment was really good. We had White-necked Pu’ird on the way out. Bat Falcon, White Hawk, Hookbilled Kite, Short-tailed Hawk, King Vulture from the overlook. The highlight was the juvenile Ornate Hawk- Eagle perched and scolding us.
After lunch, we walked down Sylvester Village road again looking for Gray-throated Chat and Rosethroated Tanager for those who hadn’t seen it in the morning. We didn’t have much luck this time though, through the scope, I did see a beautiful male perched for a few seconds before it disappeared. We also had Royal Flycatcher and Long-billed Antwren. We had entertaining looks at a Pale-billed Woodpecker who seemed to be amusing itself by peeking out its hole at us. Otherwise, it was pretty slow in the afternoon.
DAY 6: Trip to Laguna Seca, Chan Chich Lodge
Morning walk at 6:00 AM to Sylvester Village road. Black-headed Saltator and Smoky-brown Woodpecker were seen well. We couldn’t coax the Gray-throated Chat out though. Otherwise, fairly quiet morning. We left after breakfast for Laguna Seca. We had lots of Roadside Hawks along the way. Also, good looks at Cinnamon Becard at the suspension bridge. At Laguna Seca, we had a pair of Bat Falcons, then a pair of Black-collared Hawks.
It started raining very hard while we were there, cutting short our efforts to find more birds. We did have several Mangrove Swallows. We had five male and one female Great Curassow cross the road in front of us as we left, our first of the trip! Gray Hawk perched nicely for us on the way back. In the evening, we took the night drive. It was a beautiful night with huge numbers of stars visible. A Morrelet’s Crocodile was seen next to the suspension bridge. We found a perched Northern Potoo at Gallon Jug. We flushed a Barn Owl. We found a couple of perched Boat-billed Flycatchers. Otherwise, it was a fairly quiet night on the drive, but relaxing.
DAY 7: Depart Chan Chich for Lamanai Outpost
We left Chan Chich reluctantly at 8:30 AM. We traveled by van through the Rio Bravo Conservation Area, an area of almost 200,000 acres that was donated by the late Sir Barry Bowen to Programme for Belize. We had great photo ops of a Great Curassow along the road. Traveling through the Mennonite communities, we saw several Blue-black Grassquits, and we made a stop at the rice paddies where we saw two Jabirus in flight. Also, many American Coots, several Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs, Northern Harrier.
We arrive at the New River boat launch at about 11:30. We cruised down the river, stopping when we saw something interesting. We had great looks at Snail Kite. We had a resting Lesser Nighthawk on a branch over the river. Several Yellow-crowned Night-Herons flew out from the mangroves along the river. We also had a nicely perched Black- collared Hawk. We arrived at Lamanai in time for a nice lunch.
Afternoon walk in Church Village yielded a few birds including Blue-black Grassquit, Roadside Hawk, Groovebilled Ani, White-fronted Parrots (new for the trip).
DAY 8: Lamanai Outpost to Lamanai Ruins. Night Boat Safari
We hade breakfast at 6:00 AM, then had a leisurely walk down to the Lamanai ruins. Weather was beautiful with lower humidity for a change. Brief look at Yellow-crowned Parrots. Heard Black-faced Antthrush, but it wouldn’t show itself. We finally saw a Gartered Trogon. She was sitting quietly close to the museum. We had excellent looks at Rufous-tailed Jacamar finally, also Bluecrowned Motmot. We had a pair of roosting Mottled Owls as well. Ruben, our native guide, provided a very informative discussion of the history of Lamanai from 1000 BC to present. We spent the morning at the ruins, and it was great! We boated back for lunch about noon.
Afternoon walk was uneventful, with all the usual suspects with exception of two Lesser Yellowheaded Vultures that landed in the road outside the village, a fairly rare occurrence.
We took the night safari at 7:30 PM. We found perched Common Pauraque, Northern Potoo, Yellow-tailed Oriole, Green Kingfisher, Limpkin and, best of all, Sungrebe! A nice experience, as usual.
DAY 9: Lamanai, Savannah Boat Ride and Walk
Coffee and muffins at 5:30 AM and off on the boat at 5:45 AM. It was another beautiful morning. An American Pygmy Kingfisher ducked into the reeds before anyone could get a good look at it. Lots of North American warblers as we motored into the marsh. First major bird: Yucatan (Yellowlored) Parrots with excellent views by all. Then, Red-vented (Yucatan) Woodpecker only seen by a couple of people. Northern Beardless Tyrannulet was heard, then seen well later. Brief views of Green-breasted Mango, good looks at Canivet’s Emerald and Azure-crowned Hummingbird. Yucatan Flycatcher provided some close views as well. Yellow-headed Parrots flew by close enough for us to observe their yellow heads. White-fronted Parrots perched up nicely for us. Gray-crowned Yellowthroat pair perched for all to see well. Botteri’s Sparrow came in at the same time. On the way back to the boat, a couple of us saw Black Catbird, but it refused to come out in the open. As we motored back, we were able to coax a flock of Yucatan Jays in for good looks by all. Ruddy Crake was heard, then gave everybody nice looks as it flew in front of the boat and landed. At the same time, a Barethroated Tiger-Heron flew up and Snail Kite perched nicely for us.
After breakfast, we took a walk into town, then down a trail through some fields and along forest edges. We had two cooperative Barred Antshrikes, a couple of skulky Green Jays, a Yellow-billed Cacique, and a good looks at our first Golden-Olive Woodpecker. Also, perched Blue Ground-Doves. All-in-all, an exceptional morning with many new birds added to our list!
Looks like possible rain this afternoon. We left on the boat at 3:30 PM, and it was partly cloudy, but not raining. We boated up to Irish Creek and slowly wended our way down the creek. We had Green Kingfisher and Sungrebe, also Prothonotary Warbler (our first), but it was otherwise quiet. We headed down to the opposite end of the lagoon to check the Jabiru nest site. It was pretty dark by the time we got there, but the Jabiru was indeed standing on the nest, so a good end to evening. We heard Collared Forest-Falcon as well.
DAY 10: Lamanai to Hidden Valley Inn
We departed Lamanai by boat at 7:30 AM. We checked the Jabiru nest again and were rewarded when it flew out and right over us! Great looks! We saw most of what we had already seen before on the way up. We did, however, come upon a group of at ten Boatbill Herons sitting out in plain sight. I had never seen them do that before. Everyone got great pictures! Shortly after, an Amazon Kingfisher flew in front of the boat, but only a couple of people got good looks.
We met the Hidden Valley van at the airport and drove there. The drive was uneventful, though the road to Mountain Pine Ridge has gotten much worse. Two tropical storms over the last couple of months have really degraded the road surface. We arrived at Hidden Valley by 1:00 and had a nice lunch. Later in the afternoon, we did some birding around the lodge and were able to coax a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl in. He put on a show for about an hour.
DAY 11: Hidden Valley and Environs
Continental breakfast at 6:00 AM. It was extremely overcast and threatening. We were able to get out for a short time to find the Rusty Sparrow, but then it started to rain. It was clear after breakfast that it was not going to get any better for quite some time, so we basically took the morning off after everyone got brief looks at the Yellow-backed Oriole. After lunch, the rain let up a bit, and we drove out to 1000 Foot Falls. Fortunately, the Orange-breasted Falcon was perched up very close, and it was very cooperative while everyone took pictures. We also had at least six King Vultures flying around. One of them perched across the valley, and we were able to get good scope views of the adult. We also got good scope views of a pair of White Hawks. It started raining again, and we returned to the lodge for dinner. Stygian Owl, usually very reliable, has not been roosting recently, perhaps, due to the new fire in April.
DAY 12: Trip to Caracol
Up at 4:30 AM and off to Caracol at 5:00 AM. We picked our two military escorts at about 6:00 AM. They rode with us and spent the day at the ruins with us. They were very pleasant young men, and they were very happy to look in the scope at some of our birds. Although there is been no trouble at Caracol or along the way for several years, the Belize government wisely continues to provide the escort to make sure everyone is safe. The incursions from Guatemala gangs ended when the last one was rounded up, but it’s still good to keep things safe.
We found Collared Trogon shortly after arriving at the ruins. That was a first for the trip. We chased a Northern Bentbill for quite awhile, but it just wouldn’t show itself. We climbed the Acropolis and spent about an hour hawk-watching, We were rewarded with good views of Bat Falcon, Double-toothed Kite, White Hawk, King Vulture and Peregrine Falcon. We had a nice lunch in the park and called in a number of birds with pygmy-owl toots, including a Great Crested Flycatcher and a couple of Band-backed Wrens.
On the way home, we stopped at the junction of Las Cuevas and Caracol roads and got views of Rufousbreasted Spinetail, Dusky Antbird and Plain Antvireo. We also found a couple of Grace’s Warblers on the way back. Surprisingly, we were unable to find the usually common Rufous-capped Warbler or Golden-hooded Tanager! It appears the latest fire has suppressed some breeding among the birds there. It certainly has changed the roosting habits of the Stygian Owl which we were unable to find anywhere. Otherwise, we had a fine trip that ends in the morning on our return to Belize City.
DAY 13: Return to Belize City International Airport and End of Tour
We returned by van to the airport by 11:30 AM where the trip ended and we said our good-byes…