There are good reasons for my not updating the blog for almost a month now, mostly due to being off on a marvelous birding and nature trip to Belize for a couple of weeks, a one-day turn around to fly to my Mom’s house for a family celebration of a major birthday for her, and then about a week of wading through the more than 1500 pictures that made it home from Belize to cut them down to a more manageable size. I’ll be showing some of my favorite ones from the trip in this rather lengthy posting, but there’s lots more at the Belize Travel page on my website.
One of the first birds we saw (and there were plenty of them wandering around) at Bird’s Eye View Lodge in the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary was the Northern Jacana. This is one of the first pictures I’ve ever gotten of one of them flying, and if you look closely you can see the little spur on the wing similar to a Southern Lapwing.
There were also quite a few Roseate Spoonbills
and lots of different kinds of herons and egrets, including the familiar Great Blue Heron.
Great Blue Heron
Bird’s Eye View Lodge was a very friendly and comfortable place to stay, spending our days out patrolling the lagoon habitat in boats or walking a few of the trails on the lookout for a variety of interesting birds and other wildlife. The grounds themselves were home to quite a few wintering warblers, hummingbirds, and several parrots and parakeets. Lots of Magnolia Warblers and Vermilion Flycatchers were out hunting insects early in the morning, as was this Yellow-throated Warbler.
Out on the water, one of the more magical moments of the trip was quietly floating up on an American Pygmy Kingfisher keeping an eye out for something to eat who allowed us to approach quite closely and didn’t seem to mind our being there. Suddenly, there was a splashing noise as a Basilisk Lizard dashed across the water in front of us making its trademark display of being able to “walk on water” as it ran for cover.
American Pygmy Kingfisher
Some of the other cool birds we got to see on the lagoons were large numbers of Limpkin, a few Gray-necked Wood-Rails, other water birds including seven kinds of herons (one of which was the secretive and rarely seen Agami Heron),
three kinds of egrets, Wood Storks, Neotropic Cormorants, and this rather nicely posed Anhinga.
Plenty of vultures, mostly Lesser Yellow-headed but some Turkey and Black, and raptors of various kinds were busy working the area, too. I like this picture of a Snail Kite coming in to try to steal a big Apple Snail from another Snail Kite.
A Great Black-Hawk, though, stole the show that morning being the proud possessor of a fisherman’s leftovers.
Our trip next took us to Pook’s Hill Lodge near Belmopan for three full days, stopping along the way for a visit at the Belize Zoo. The zoo was pretty interesting as they have an interpretive guide go with you who carries a can of treats for the animals who readily appear when the guide rattles it. For some reason, they don’t let you bring in anything larger than a pocket camera so I don’t have many good pictures from there, but will remember some excellent views of mountain lion, jaguar, harpy eagle, jabiru, and other fascinating creatures.
Of the four places we stayed on the trip, Pook’s Hill was undeniably my favorite and I think everyone else would agree. The accommodations were excellent, the food extraordinary, and the owner and all of the staff were extremely friendly and helpful and seemed thrilled to have us stay and enjoy their little place in paradise. Wandering the grounds were a few prehistoric-looking Basilisk Lizards generally sunning themselves and waiting for flying insects, such as this male.
Basilisk Lizard (male)
We’d also see a couple of immatures and one fine female that at first I assumed was a different species because of the vivid yellow patterning.
Basilisk Lizard (female)
Among the avian highlights for the trip seen there was the Purple-crowned Fairy regularly nectaring on the large Erythrina trees including one just off the deck of the main lodge.
An even more spectacular sighting was of a White-collared Manakin early one morning perched at eye-level for at least a half an hour, and probably the longest and best view I’ve ever gotten of any kind of manakin, most of whom seem to flit about in dense thickets.
Being the dry season, we didn’t see a great many butterflies other than the profligate Banded Peacocks everywhere, but watching for them we did see close to fifty species overall, including this Chiapas Stripe-streak,
Chiapas Stripe-streak (Arawacus togarna)
and a surprising number of Crackers, which do a reasonably good job of camouflaging themselves against the bark of certain trees.
Gray Cracker (Hamadryas februa)
Our guide, Mark, also pointed out several nests of some kind of non-stinging bee. The first one was constructed on a corner of the lodge and I mistook it for a piece of old plastic tubing, but finally caught on when he pointed out another being built alongside a trail.
Non-stinging Bee Nest
Another fascinating experience at Pook’s Hill was listening to a mating pair of Spectacled Owls calling to each other from their hidden perches near our cabanas at dusk, and one night spotting an immature sitting in a leafless tree, apparently not yet having learned the importance of leaves for concealing your presence.
Spectacled Owl (immature)
One day, we made the short trip to the Green Hills Butterfly Farm. Although they were raising some great butterflies in an indoor enclosure and gave a pretty good short tour of it, I had been looking forward to the visit and was disappointed at being hurriedly escorted out of the empty enclosure at the end of the tour without getting to take more than a couple of pictures. Their hummingbird feeders, however, more than made up for it. Several different species would zoom in to the feeders for a quick sip before zipping away, including this Stripe-throated Hermit,
Stripe-throated (Little) Hermit
and the astonishing Violet Sabrewing.
Leaving Pook’s Hill, we next traveled up into the mountains (mountains in Belize – who knew?) to Hidden Valley Inn up in the Cayo District of Belize close to the Guatemalan border. Another fine place (fireplaces in the room no less!) but with the feel of more a vacation resort than nature lodge. There were a number of birds we saw on the landscaped grounds there different from what we’d seen in the lowlands, and the feeders proved quite popular with them. Among the visitors were flocks of Brown and Green Jays, including this handsome specimen.
Hidden Valley is also a great place to see the gorgeous Azure-crowned Hummingbird who hung around the feeder by the pool.
Another day we drove to the spectacular Mayan ruins at Caracol up by the border and spent the day wandering around the extensive complex of large temple mounds, some of which have been fully excavated while others hint at their existence only by the many unexcavated small hills and ridges in the area. On the drive in, we spotted a couple of good hawks and got a great look at a Gartered (Violaceous) Trogon by the side of the road.
Gartered (Violaceous) Trogon
A treat for me while climbing to the top of the 140′ Caana pyramid was spotting a new (for me) species of “88″ butterfly, the Turquoise-spotted Navy Eighty-eight, with the faint number-like markings on the outer wings and that thin red rim.
Turquoise-spotted Navy Eighty-eight (Diaethria astala astala)
It would occasionally spread those wings to show that turquoise coloring on the upper wing.
Turquoise-spotted Navy Eighty-eight (Diaethria astala astala)
The last few days of the trip were spent at Lamanai Outpost Lodge back in the lowland lagoon region and home to more Mayan ruins. Another well-run and comfortable lodge, we’d head out by boat day and night to either poke around the lagoon or to be dropped off for hikes to look for birds or tour the ruins.
Lamanai Mask Temple
We were generally pretty much alone exploring these ruins, which again are rather extensive but less excavated than the more well-know ruins at Caracol.
Walking the trails near the ruins, we’d spot several interesting creatures including a tribe of a few Black Howler Monkeys,
Black Howler Monkey
several Greater White-lined Bats resting on their day roost inside an abandoned sugar mill,
Greater White-lined Bat
two more species of trogon,
and a most patient White-whiskered Puffbird.
Late one afternoon near the Jaguar Temple, we had a mystical moment as a flock of Keel-billed Toucans followed by a large number of vultures came to their night roosts, and then three separate tribes of howler monkeys started calling to each other from far away, while a White-nosed Coati poked among the temple foundation.
On our boat ride back to the van and on to the airport for our flights home, we’d pick up a few more lasting memories. For example, our boat driver slowed at one point to show us this Laughing Falcon, which has apparently nested here for the last several years,
and we got surprisingly close looks at a Black-collared Hawk that buzzed us as we headed back up the river.
All in all, a terrific vacation and break from the February cold at home with a wonderful group of travelers. Our trip was organized and led by Mark Pretti of Mark Pretti Nature Tours, who is an excellent trip leader welcomed by all of the places we stayed, and does a wonderful job of identifying birds and other creatures we’d see and explaining among the natural relationships interactions between them and their environment – highly recommended.