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Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 84,400
Marty Offline OP
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In researching various destinations in Belize, we knew we'd have to pay a visit to the village of Crooked Tree, because it is known as a birding hot spot, particularly in April, during spring migration. We love watching, identifying (or attempting to identify), and photographing birds, so we didn't want to let this month go by without a visit. We were particularly excited about the possibility of seeing the Jabiru Stork, the tallest bird in the Americas. Jabirus arrive in the late fall to nest in Crooked Tree, and we were excited by the possibility of viewing some before they migrated to their summer grounds in June.

Crooked Tree is said to be named for its many cashew trees (which do have a rather crooked, multi-branched habit) by early logwood cutters boating on the Belize River and Black Creek to what is now the Crooked Tree Lagoon (source: Lonely Planet). It's a small, sleepy village with a sparse full-time population, but fortunately, one of the "chicken bus" lines in Belize, Jex, runs a daily bus to the village. Since we are traveling on a budget in order to see as much of Belize as possible, this sounded perfect to us. We'd take the ferry to Belize City, then grab the bus to Crooked Tree and avoid car rental and taxi charges.

Barry, Jex Bus to Crooked Tree, and mystery building beside it

The bus ride to Crooked Tree took about an hour and fifteen minutes and was interesting, as locals got onto and off of the bus frequently all along the way, though it was never very crowded. For once, we each had a seat to ourselves, helpful since we had to share our seats with our backpacks. At one point a large number of adorable little children got on, going home from school. Naturally they had incredible amounts of energy, running, laughing, and shrieking, but finally the bus attendant got them settled down and into separate seats to calm them. The bus made frequent stops after that to let them off. The bus ride from Belize City to Crooked Tree set us back a whopping $3.50 BZD ($1.75 US) each!

The road to the lodge was well-marked with directional signs. Trees behind sign are cashew ("crooked") trees....

Crooked Tree Village
Finally, we were let off in the village of Crooked Tree, and hiked down the unpaved road to the Crooked Tree Lodge. As soon as we stepped off the bus, we began seeing (and hearing) numerous birds, so it took a lot longer to get there than we expected, as we kept stopping to view birds with our binoculars. It would have been about a twelve minute walk had we just walked without stopping to bird watch.

The cashew seed in its shell hangs below the fruits on the cashew tree

Cashews, a very interesting "nut"
We were fascinated by the many cashew trees we saw along the way to the lodge. The scent of the fruit was in the air, and it was easy to see the cashew shell itself hanging below the fruits. Inside the shell is the seed, which is what we think of as the actual cashew "nut" that we eat. In order to extract these "nuts", the shells have to be roasted first. I now realize why cashews are so expensive. Can you imagine how many of these fruits with shells have to be picked to make a can of shelled cashews?

Cashew tree

Crooked Tree Lodge
Finally, we arrived at the lodge, and it was an absolutely stunning setting. I knew I had picked the right place the minute I laid eyes on it. It was the perfect place to get away from it all, with birds everywhere, a shady canopy of beautiful trees; lush, green lawn, flowers, and shrubs. See for yourself...

After getting settled in our cabana, we walked around the grounds and did more birding. We were amazed at the number and variety of both shore and field/woodland birds we saw and were already adding to our life lists. I looked them up in the Birds of Belize book and jotted down the species we identified, and Barry snapped photos. We'll have a separate blog entry with bird photos as there are too many to include here.

The bar

Dinner is served family-style, and there were two tables of guests eating. We sat with an interesting family from Seattle with two boys and enjoyed chatting with them about Seattle and Belize while we dined on vegetable soup, two pastas, and salad. Dessert was a piping hot bread pudding right from the oven. (Sadly, we neglected to take photos; I guess we were really starving!) Everything was homemade and delicious. After showers and some reading, we hit the hay early in order to be ready for an early morning and full day of birding the next day.

Click here to read the rest of the article and see more photos on the BeBelize Blog

Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 84,400
Marty Offline OP
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The water was very glassy as we started out as there was very little wind, so the paddling was easy

Bird-watching paradise found in Crooked Tree, Belize - Day 2

Because the sun rises early over the lagoon, the birds start singing, and the dogs start barking, it is easy to get up early at Crooked Tree Lodge. We rolled out of bed at exactly 5:42 am, having just missed the sunrise by a few lazy minutes. This is at least an hour or more earlier than we usually rise. We were excited to start what we expected would be an excellent full day of birding.

After grabbing a cup of coffee in the lodge, we took a morning walk before breakfast and checked out the birds along the road. Of course we saw many, as birds are most active in the morning and again at dusk. It was a beautiful morning, and the sun was already getting hot -- it gets hot early in Belize.

Observation deck at Crooked Tree lodge

After breakfast, we took the two touring kayaks out on the lagoon to try to find some Jabiru Storks. We had seen them on the far side of the lagoon through our binoculars in the late afternoon of the day before, but they were too far off to photograph. It was a gorgeous day for paddling, and so much fun to be out on the water again. We used to own touring kayaks but sold them on Craigslist before we sold our house in 2010, and hadn't paddled for a long time. The water was very shallow in the lagoon. By the end of May, it might be dried up totally until the rains come again. We were glad we made it here while we could still enjoy a paddle.

Egrets and Wood Storks, drying their wings

Paddling towards the far bank of the lagoon, we spotted many Snail Kites in bushes and on tree branches. We'd first seen one of these large birds on our trip to Lamanai Maya site back in January, but there were so many here on the lagoon bank it was astonishing.

As we traveled farther up the lagoon, we eventually came upon a bank of large shorebirds in HUGE numbers.


Much to our delight, our suspicions were confirmed as we drew closer to the bank of birds. There were Jabiru Storks here and there, just a few, mixed in with the many Wood Storks and other shorebirds. We couldn't have been more delighted at seeing these massive, odd-looking birds so close.

After we'd satisfied our birding urges on the lagoon, we headed back to the lodge so that we'd be back in time for lunch. We definitely didn't want to miss one of the wonderful meals here!

After lunch we spent some time relaxing on our cabana's veranda. I mentioned before that there were a lot of dogs on the property.

In the afternoon we took another walk up the road. The original reason for the walk was to determine how long it would take us to walk to the bus stop the next morning, but we were having so much fun we walked all the way into the village (which is tiny, consisting of only a fruit stand and a couple of other small buildings). Barry was interested in this hurricane shelter because the Occupancy level hadn't even been filled in. He surmised that in Belize, the right answer is "as many as can be packed in"...

Barry is happy at seeing so many birds

When we returned to the lodge, we continued bird-watching around in the back. We discovered couple of pigs in a pen and some additional short trails we hadn't known were back there.

Click here to read the rest of the article and see LOTS more photos on the BeBelize Blog

Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 84,400
Marty Offline OP
OP Offline

Bird-watching paradise found in Crooked Tree, Belize - Day 3 & more bird pics

The only bus that runs directly from the village of Crooked Tree to Belize City, the Jex bus, comes through at 6:30 am, so we knew it was going to be an early morning by necessity. Fortunately, as I mentioned before, it's easy to get up early at the lodge, and I managed to pop out of bed just in time to catch the stunning sunrise over the lagoon. Barry just missed it!

We quickly dressed and packed our backpacks for the trek back to Ambergris Caye. I was at the lodge a little before 6 am and caught Angie coming in from a walk. The coffee was fresh and hot, and we were able to grab a cup (and a banana each for the road) while saying our goodbyes to Angie and Mick and checking out. Mick offered us a lift down to the bus stop, but our backpacks weren't that heavy, and it was a beautiful morning for a walk, so we declined.

Leaving the Crooked Tree Lodge

Green Heron, juvenile

Northern Jacana, a very cool bird we saw a lot of at the lagoon bank

If you enjoy bird-watching and are in Belize, you owe it to yourself to visit Crooked Tree. We can highly recommend the Crooked Tree Lodge -- Mick and Angie will treat you right, and you will see more birds than you can imagine.

Click here to read the rest of the article and see more KILLER BIRD PHOTOS on the BeBelize Blog

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