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"The only place you can get the jabiru closer than this is in the zoo."

Guide Leonard Gillett shuts off our boat's motor and slowly poles us into a stalking, squawking flock of wading birds, where the massive stork, standing nearly five feet high, towers over great egrets and wood storks like a basketball center trying out for the soccer team. We are very close, indeed: I can practically count the wispy white feathers that crown the jabiru's otherwise naked black head.

Despite this morning's off-and-on drizzle, the dry season is well under way in Belize, a compact Central American country slightly smaller than New Hampshire. The lagoon at the heart of Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary has been steadily shrinking for weeks, concentrating hundreds of waders-egrets, herons, storks, white ibises, roseate spoonbills, and more-into smaller and smaller feeding areas.

"This is when the most birds gather," sanctuary director Derick Hendy says, scanning the flock from the seat in front of me. "Other times people come here and ask, 'Where are the birds?' But when the water is high you won't see the big congre- gations." The activity all around us on the lagoon is spectacular, almost dizzying, as I constantly turn to try to take it all in. A roiling flock of neotropic cormorants dive for fish underwa- ter, chasing them into the beaks of waiting waders. Mangrove swallows swarm the sky, limpkins and gray-necked woodrails patrol the shore, and a great black hawk observes the commotion from the tree line.

But it's the giant jabiru, with a huge bill and a crimson neck ring, that's provided my morning thrill. On three pre- vious trips to Belize I'd missed it, and as I look around I see at least a dozen fairly near, with many more in the distance. Earlier I watched one swallow an orange-sized apple snail, the same food sought by the snail kites that constantly pass overhead in floppy-winged flight. 

Covering more than 32,000 acres, Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary lies in a flat pine-savannah landscape less than an hour's drive north of Belize City's international airport. It's the first stop on my tour of the country, and it ought to be on every visiting birder's itinerary. Dry season (here, approximately January through May) brings flocks of waders and is the most popular time to visit, but the wetter remainder of the year has its own attractions. When the water level is higher, boats can travel farther into adjoining swamps in search of such species as the shy, lacy-plumed agami heron and the endangered Morelet's crocodile, found only in Mexico and Central America.

Established in 1984, the sanctuary is managed by the Belize Audubon Society, which also works in the adjacent village of Crooked Tree to promote conservation. Such traditional prac- tices as tree cutting and fishing are now restricted in the protected area, which has created ill will among some residents. "That makes it a management challenge," Hendy says. "Some people are living just for today, and not thinking about tomor- row." Hendy has organized a local bird club for young people, and holds monthly bird walks as part of his efforts to foster an environmental ethic. "Bit by bit I think people will see the long-term benefits of conservation," he says.

Several bird-friendly lodges and bed-and-breakfast inns operate in the village of 900 people, founded in the 1700s as a logging camp. To nonbirders, Crooked Tree's claim to fame is its status as the cashew capital of Belize. Nut trees grow in almost everyone's yard, and early May brings a popular cashew festival. In honor of the local specialty, I bought a bottle of cashew wine one night and took it back to my lodge for din- ner. Dear Reader, take my advice: If you ever have a chance to sample this drink . . . put down the glass and order a shot of Belizean-made 1 Barrel rum instead. You'll thank me later.


As she taxis our single-engine plane before takeoff from the Belize City municipal air- port, pilot Alisa Gassner provides a preview of the trip to Chan Chich Lodge, in the northwest part of the country. "The flight is 48 nautical miles, and it'll take 35 minutes," she shouts over the engine noise. "We'll cross the Belize River several times and pass a few small towns. The last 18 nautical miles are over forest." And that, simply put, is one major reason why for a quarter century Chan Chich Lodge has ranked among the best, and best known, birding destinations in Central America. Eighteen nautical miles (21 statute miles) of forest creates a substantial buffer zone to its east, and when you look in other directions you see that

Chan Chich sits in the middle of a quarter-million acres of tropical forest. Some of that land is protected by law and some of it is private property, but all of it is home to a range of wildlife from jaguars and monkeys to parrots and toucans to the little brown birds (leaftossers, foliage-gleaners, woodcreepers, and more) whose propensity to skulk in the underbrush makes them both the bane and delight of tropical birding. Chan Chich occupies the site of an ancient Maya settlement, with temples, draped in vegetation, rising beside the lodge and cabins. The ruins had been thoroughly looted before the lodge was developed; the constant presence of staff and guests has helped to protect what's left from further damage. I've been to Chan Chich before, so I'm prepared for the beautiful grounds, the flowers, the buzzing hummingbird feeders, the screeching parrots, and the welcoming committee of ocellated turkeys, so colorful they seem like cartoon creations. I'm not prepared for how much the place has been upgraded, with luxe-grade cabins and a swank swimming pool.

What I love about the lodge is the ubiquity of nature. Walk out of your cabin and you can choose from more than nine miles of trails through lush subtropical broadleaf forest, the soundtrack of your walk a medley of roaring howler monkeys, ratcheting keel-billed toucans, hooting motmots, cooing pigeons, and chittering honeycreepers.

In March, neotropical migrants are passing on their northward spring journey, so amid the kaleidoscopically colorful parrots, euphonias, and ant-tanagers I spot hooded warblers, American redstarts, and orchard orioles, with their yellows, reds, and oranges more than a match for their tropical relatives. I'm intrigued seeing a familiar backyard bird like a white-eyed vireo consorting with an olive-backed euphonia, or a black- and-white warbler alongside a long-billed gnatwren.

This juxtaposition of North and Central American avifauna seems a little odd at first, then delightful, and finally instructive. "Our" birds need habitat year-round, not just when nesting. Belize is in many ways a model of conservation, yet it's losing about two percent of its forest cover annually to expanding agriculture and the growth of towns and cities. Habitat degradation throughout Central and South America is already having an impact on North American migrants, and the trend is worsening, which makes a sustainable travel industry such an important alternative. Every year roughly a million tourists visit Belize, according to the tourism board, providing significant revenue.

One morning I'm scheduled to visit a nearby wetland called Laguna Seca with guide Lu�s Romero, a local native with 20 years' experience at Chan Chich. Early drizzle turns to real rain, so Lu�s takes us to Trish's Hill, where a thatched-roof shelter sits on the edge of a bluff overlooking Chan Chich Creek, at eye level with the forest canopy. Disappointment about the canceled trip quickly turns to joy, as a crow-sized, deep-green mealy parrot perches next to a pale-billed woodpecker, mostly black with its entire head bright crimson. Moments later they're joined in the same tree by a small flock of white-crowned parrots. A double- toothed kite lands nearby for a full-frame scope view, so close we can see its yellowish-amber eyes. Best of all, a troop of Guatemalan black howler monkeys feed on a fruiting tree directly in front of us, their youngster dividing its time between clambering along limbs and riding on its mother's back.

The morning's serendipity has just begun, though. After an hour of birding on the bluff the rain stops, and we climb back into Lu�s's vehicle for the drive to Laguna Seca. We haven't traveled 300 yards when we round a curve and there, in the road, stands a female great curassow, a long-tailed, long-legged, chestnut-colored turkey-sized bird with a weirdly elaborate, Marie Antoinette- ish crest. Curassows have been hunted to extirpation over most of their former range, and I've never crossed paths with one before. Perhaps I'm a little exuberant, judging from the way Lu�s flinches. The female curassow wanders into the forest, we round another curve, and there's the male, glossy black with a big, bright-yellow knob atop its bill. If I was happy before, I'm ecstatic now.


Another charter flight, this one only 20 minutes, takes me southward to a land- scape far different from the Chan Chich forest. The Mountain Pine Ridge area of western Belize might, at first glance, be somewhere in the southeastern United States: rolling hills, open pine forest, palmettos, dirt as red as Georgia clay. That impression ends when red-lored parrots shriek overhead and a laughing falcon eyes me from a roadside tree.

I'm staying at Hidden Valley Inn, a lodge at least equal to Chan Chich in comfort, fine food, and the temptation of its swimming pool. At check-in I'm offered a welcome hand mas- sage; flower petals are artfully scattered across my bed. At an elevation of 2,000 feet, Hidden Valley is noticeably cooler and less humid than the 300-foot-elevation broadleaf forest I just left.

The inn's lawn is alive with birds both colorful (green jays, yellow-tailed orioles, and acorn woodpeckers) and drab (plain chachalacas and clay-colored thrushes). In nearby scrub, nest- ing rusty sparrows and yellow-faced grassquits feed with blue grosbeaks preparing to depart for North America.

But there's one species that's made Hidden Valley a magnet for birders. The property's nearly 7,200 acres encompass steep escarpments at the edge of the Maya Mountains, limestone cliffs hundreds of feet high that are home to one of Belize's rarest birds: the orange-breasted falcon. Fewer than 30 pairs nest in Central America, according to The Peregrine Fund, which has been keeping tabs on the falcons for some 20 years; the species also breeds in South America, where its status is poorly known.

Arriving at midday, I meet guide Fredy Pineda, a jocular fellow from the nearby village of Ontario whose intimate knowledge of the local birds comes from 14 years of experience at the lodge. We agree to reconvene right after lunch for falcon hunting.

We drive first to King Vulture Falls, a 900-foot-high waterfall crashing down a wooded slope across a deep canyon from our lookout post. The eponymous king vultures are here, eight altogether-their white-and-black plumage equally striking whether they're perched on rocks at the top of the waterfall or soaring over the chasm, seeming as big as sailplanes.

Then it's on to Thousand-Foot Falls, whose name understates its actual height by 600 feet. Orange-breasted falcons have attempted to breed on the cliffs here for years, largely to no avail. Peregrine Fund experts say there may be multiple forces at work, among them harmful parasites, the nests' proximity to the waterfall, and the bird trade market. This year proves to be the excep- tion, and two female fledglings have managed to survive. Still, the population remains in steep decline, and a captive-breeding program is under way. We hear a falcon giving its rapid, repeated scream from somewhere far below but don't see it, and we return to the inn as the afternoon light fades.

My guide the next day is Walter Galicia, Fredy's young cousin. Despite his self-professed status as a trainee, he already shares much of his relative's expertise. I suggest that Walter drop me off at Thousand-Foot Falls, where I'm prepared to sit all day if necessary. I have water and snacks, and a fair amount of patience. That's fine, he says. But why don't we at least stop at King Vulture Falls for a quick look-see on the way?

We drive down the hill from the inn and across Tiger Creek and up a hill and down to the overlook, and then park. While I'm still fooling around with my backpack and binoculars, Walter is al- ready out of the truck. He casually says, "You are lucky. He is right here."

I think, This is no time for joking, Walter.

I walk to the cliff edge and look down. Less than 100 yards away, the falcon perches on a palmetto, a splash of orange and gray against the distant green slope.

I'm not going to say that the next half-hour comprises my biggest thrill in four decades of birding in nearly 40 countries. Once, at Chan Chich back in 1994, an ornate hawk-eagle landed near me at eye level in perfect dawn light and preened for a good five minutes; it's hard to imagine anything topping that. All I can say is that seeing this orange-breast- ed falcon so near, in this setting, ranks in my top few birding experiences.


When people ask me, 'I'm coming to Belize, where should I go?' my recommendation is Cockscomb. If you can't go anywhere else, go to Cockscomb. You have a better chance here to see the wildlife that people ex- pect to see in Belize than anywhere else."

The buzzing of cicadas nearly overwhelms Wayne Hall's voice as we enjoy a post-dinner drink in the campground of Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, a 128,000-acre forest reserve in the lowlands of east-central Belize. The New York City-based Wildlife Conservation Society was instrumental in the initial protection of this important preserve, now co-managed by the Belize Audubon Society and the Belize government. Hall and I met on the trail earlier and shared information: He showed me my first rufous-breasted spinetail (a brownish, wren-sized bird that's noisy but hard to spot in the underbrush), and I'd told him about a lek of white-collared manakins, where males and females of this tiny species gather to "dance" (actually, flit crazily from tree to tree) and choose partners.

An Alaska resident, avid naturalist, and videographer as well as a still photog- rapher, Hall is on his 22nd visit to Belize (believe it or not). Cockscomb Basin is the only place he's returned to on every trip. It's my first time exploring the sanctuary, but I already understand his enthusiasm. A day and a half of walking its trails has brought sightings of crested guans (related to the curassows I saw at Chan Chich); trogons and motmots in shades of green, red, yellow, and blue; a small colony of boat-billed herons; and the often-elusive yellow-billed cacique.

In addition, I've spotted several neotropical forest skulkers whose odd names are more intriguing than their drab appearance: the stub-tailed spadebill, northern bentbill, buff-throated foliage-gleaner, scaly-throated leaftosser, plain xenops, and thrush-like schiffornis. These guys may not be gorgeous, but they bring their own kind of reward. Toucans just sit there and invite you to admire them; you have to work to see a schiffornis as it hides in the often-inaccessible underbrush.

Accommodations at Cockscomb are basic-camping, or cabins with cold showers and a shared kitchen-yet the surroundings more than make up for a bit of roughing it.

The sanctuary was designated the world's first jaguar preserve in 1986, after research by biologist Alan Rabinowitz showed that the area had one of the highest known concentrations of jaguars. Cockscomb is famous for the big cats, even among casual tourists, who arrive midday in their shorts and flip-flops and hop out of their rental cars expecting to spot one in the first 10 minutes. The odds of seeing a jaguar are slim, of course, even at the productive times of dawn and dusk, but they're better here than they are at any comparably accessible place in Central America. 

"We have 60 to 80 jaguars in the sanctuary," says director Nicasio Coc as he shows me his new visitor center, a light-filled, pale-yellow building where workers are busy assembling educational displays. "There's some tension because jaguars sometimes wander onto nearby ranches and kill cattle. We work with seven neigh- boring communities, and we're hiring a new staff person who will be doing a lot more public education to enhance awareness of the environment." The goal of Coc, who was born nearby and whose family has been involved with Crooked Tree since its founding, is to reduce the poaching of game birds and mammals in the sanctuary, as well as encroachment by illegal loggers, both of which are major challenges.

With 55 miles of trails and 128,000 acres of forest, Cockscomb is a mecca for nature lovers. Wayne Hall has seen a jaguar here, as well as two other species of cats and the odd, piglike mammal called the Baird's tapir.

As for the birds, "The diversity is incredible," he says. "And you can observe them here as easily as you ever can." The range of habitats around the visitor center-combining grassy open areas, scrub, wetlands, riparian vegetation, and forest-means that birders sometimes set out on a morning hike and discover, two or three hours later, that they've traveled no more than a quarter-mile, so birdy has their time been. In the afternoon heat, Cockscomb's lovely creeks are great for tubing or swimming.

My trip ends much too quickly, but I'm content that on my fourth visit to Belize I've finally gotten around to sampling Cockscomb Basin. Next time, I vow, I'm heading straight here from the airport.

On the bumpy ride away from the sanctuary I'm remembering one brief sighting, beside a tiny creek in the deep woods. It began as just a rustling in the leaves, and then turned into a vague dark shape before becoming a uniform crake: a ruddy-brown rail, hardly bigger than a sparrow, that frequents forests rather than marshes. This rare and rarely seen bird was nothing I'd ever anticipated as I'd planned my trip, unlike the jabiru or the orange-breasted falcon. And yet its very unlikeliness symbolizes the appeal of these tropical lands: the seemingly endless possibilities that draw many of us back again and again.

Making the Trip

Getting there: Visitors need a passport valid for at least three months after the arrival date, a return ticket, and sufficient funds to cover their stay. Delta, United, American, and US Airways fly nonstop to Belize City from six U.S. cities. The Belize Tourism Board (800-624-0686) is a helpful source of information. Birders often visit during the dry season, approximately December through April, though it varies.

Getting around: English is the country's official language. The Belize dollar is pegged to the U.S. dollar at a rate of $1 Belize = 50 U.S. cents. Renting a car is practical for many destinations. Some ecolodges can arrange for quick and relatively inexpensive charter flights. Audubon chose four destinations to represent a variety of habitats, from wetlands to tropical wet forest to the upland Mountain Pine Ridge. A birder on a first-time visit to Belize could spend several days at any of these sites with no danger of boredom.

Crooked Tree: Crooked Tree Lodge and Birdseye View Lodge can arrange guided tours.

Chan Chich: This lodge can be reached via a four-hour drive from Belize City or a half-hour charter flight.

Hidden Valley Inn: Accessible by a three-hour drive from Belize City or a half-hour charter flight from Belize City.

Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary: Cockscomb Basin is about a three-hour drive from Belize City. Accommodations are rustic, and you must bring your own food, though meals are available in nearby Maya Center; a wide variety of lodging is available in the nearby resort towns of Hopkins and Placencia. Cockscomb receives more rain than areas to the north; the dry season is February to May.

This story originally ran in the November-December 2013 issue as "Heaven on Earth."

Audubon Magazine

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Belize's Bountiful Birds Showcased in latest Audubon Magazine

There is no doubt that Belize is a birder's paradise, according to the owners of The Lodge at Chaa Creek, who have been sponsoring professional, scientific and amateur bird watching for over three decades. And now the latest edition of Audubon Magazine not only confirms this but highlights it to an audience far beyond the Belize eco resort's usual reach, they said.

Chaa Creek co-owner and GM Lucy Fleming said that she was "overwhelmed and delighted" by the depth and detail of the November-December 2013 edition of Audubon Magazine's online edition's feature, "Beautiful and Bird-Filled Belize".

"Birding is one of our key activities and we've sponsored a great deal of avian research over the last thirty years, so to see an authority such as Audubon Magazine feature the bids of Belize, and in such an in-depth and beautiful manner is very exciting.

"As anyone involved in conservation knows, knowledge is power when it comes to protecting the environment and various species, and the November-December 2013 edition of Audubon Magazine raised awareness of Belize's avian treasures in a way we could never hope to.

"This translates to more protection for the birds and their habitats, and for that we are truly grateful," Ms Fleming said.

The Audubon article, "Beautiful and Bird-Filled Belize", has author Mel White take the reader on a four page journey of discovery through Belize's diverse eco systems to experience firsthand the abundance and diversity of many bird species who call this tiny central American nation home or a convenient stopping off point on their migratory passages.

"What Mr White does so wonderfully is convey the beauty and sheer abundance of Belize's bird population, both local and migratory. Here at Chaa Cheek we've sponsored the Zoological Society of Milwaukee and the Foundation for Wildlife Conservation's 'Birds without Borders' program, which has recorded over 308 species of birds right here, and I've seen my share of birds, but this article rekindled my excitement by the first page.

"I can only imagine the effect it has on readers who have never been to Belize," Ms Fleming said.

Mr White, whose credits run from Audubon, National Geographic, Outside and other nature based publications obviously shared the excitement and was unstinting in his praise of Belize as a birder's paradise. For example, on one occasion he writes;

"I'm not going to say that the next half-hour comprises my biggest thrill in four decades of birding in nearly 40 countries�. All I can say is that seeing this orange-breasted falcon so near, in this setting, ranks in my top few birding experiences." He wrote.

Ms Fleming said that transmitting that sort of enthusiasm is important, but the emphasis on the need for conservation and careful habitat management is where the true value lies in such articles.

She said that in one section Mr White points out how intrigued he was in seeing familiar North American birds, who, having migrated to Belize are feeding side by side with exotic tropical species.

"This juxtaposition of North and Central American avifauna seems a little odd at first, then delightful, and finally instructive. "Our" birds need habitat year-round, not just when nesting. Belize is in many ways a model of conservation, yet it's losing about two percent of its forest cover annually to expanding agriculture and the growth of towns and cities. Habitat degradation throughout Central and South America is already having an impact on North American migrants, and the trend is worsening, which makes a sustainable travel industry such an important alternative."

This, Ms Fleming said, is the crux of the problem. "Mel White hit the nail right on the head, and explains so succinctly why sustainable tourism and responsible travel is so important to Belize. Here at Chaa Creek and our Belize Natural History Centre we may sound like broken records in the need to foster eco-tourism as opposed to some of the other mass tourism schemes being proposed.

"If we act now, and in concert with government and private industry, we can protect what such as august authority as Audubon finds so fascinating about Belize.

"But the key is awareness followed by action. And again, this is why articles of this nature by such popular, well respected authorities as Mel White in respected publications like Audubon Magazine are so important.

"It goes beyond advertising," Ms Fleming said, "It's about the survival of a natural heritage that belongs to us all," she added.

The Lodge at Chaa Creek is an award winning eco resort set within a 365 acre private nature reserve in Belize.

The article found in the Audubon magazine:

Chaa Creek blog

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IDB's Multilateral Investment Fund, Audubon Unveil $2.6 Million Birding Ecotourism Partnership To Support Economic Development and Biodiversity Conservation in the Americas

Birds To Create Jobs for Local Communities in Belize, Guatemala, Paraguay and The Bahamas

In a novel regional program that uses bird-watching to create sustainable jobs in communities while simultaneously protecting biodiversity and natural resources, the Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF), a member of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) Group and the National Audubon Society today announced a $2.6 million agreement to achieve a niche, high-value sustainable birding tourism program in the Americas. "We are very pleased to partner with the National Audubon Society on this program," said Carrie McKellogg, chief of the MIF's Access to Basic Services and Green Growth unit. "Audubon's powerful network and expertise in birding and conservation, the MIF's innovative approaches to capacity building of micro and small businesses, and our shared interest in the sustainable management of natural capital all combine to create to build what we believe will become a powerful model for conservation-minded community development."

'Traveling' Birders

"It's win-win," said David Yarnold, president and CEO of the National Audubon Society. "The MIF's deep expertise in ecotourism and our extensive network and reach will help us engage local communities to create much-needed jobs in bird-rich areas for birders - who typically have a very light 'eco-footprint.' At the same time, the partnership will provide a sustainable way to conserve natural habitats for endangered migrating and non-migrating birds and other wildlife."

Project locations in Belize, Guatemala, Paraguay and The Bahamas were selected by 'layering' globally significant Important Bird Areas for conservation over economic maps with priority being given to sites with basic tourism infrastructure and potential for growth.

Audubon will build on partnerships with local organizations, including Belize Audubon Society, Asociaci�n Vivamos Mejor and Wildlife Conservation Society in Guatemala, Guyra Paraguay and the Bahamas National Trust.

The total cost of the 36-month program is $2.6 million, with the MIF providing more than $1.7 million, Audubon contributing $629,000 and Audubon partners providing $225,000.

The project incorporates four key components:

  • Improving the structure and capacity of bird-based tourism business, developing accredited bird guide curricula, training national guides, developing site-level business plans and developing bird trails;
  • Driving more bird-focused tourism to the sites by developing marketing content for Audubon magazine and other birding media channels, designing birding trip packages with international and local tour operators, organizing market events for each country, and integrating bird-watching content into national governments and tourism websites in each country;
  • Raising awareness about the value of the local natural environment and promoting local citizen science bird research programs;
  • Developing a "scalable" bird-based community tourism model that can be applied to other locations/countries.

Priority Birds and Other Wildlife

The project is designed to support the conservation of national protected areas and Important Bird Areas; Audubon's priority migratory bird species including Wood Thrush and Piping Plover; endemic endangered birds including the Bahama Oriole, Scarlet Macaw and Resplendent Quetzal; and other wildlife including the Jaguar, Maned Wolf and Rock Iguana.

About the MIF The Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF), a member of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) Group, is funded by 39 donors and supports private sector-led development benefitting low-income populations and the poor - their businesses, their farms, and their households. The aim is to give them the tools to boost their incomes: access to markets and the skills to compete in those markets, access to finance, and access to basic services, including green technology. A core MIF mission is to act as a development laboratory - experimenting, pioneering, and taking risks in order to build and support successful micro and SME business models. More information at

About Audubon Now in its second century, Audubon connects people with birds, nature and the environment that supports us all. Our national network of community-based nature centers, chapters, scientific, education and advocacy programs engages millions of people from all walks of life in conservation action to protect and restore the natural world. Visit Audubon online at and follow @audubonsociety.

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Belize Birding Videos

Crystal Paradise Lodge

Great place for easy birding and to visit archeological sites such as Caracol.

New River and Lamanai

Boat trip and birding on the New river and visit to Lamanai.

Mayflower Bocawina NP

Stayed at Mama Noots ecolodge in the park for three days. Very convenient for early birding .

Crooked Tree

We stayed at Crooked Tree Lodge for three nights. It is a marvelous place with very friendly hosts and excellent food. Birding is fantastic!

Belize birding at duPlooy's jungle lodge San Ignacio

The Birds of Belize - Complete DVD - Version 11

This is the complete DVD, The Birds of Belize, Version 11, with 315 species included. This video includes the Introduction, Main Body and Credits/Locations. All proceeds from the sale of the DVD go to Belize NGOs and for education in Belize. The DVD is available from eBay for shipment to the US only. It is also available at many locations in Belize.

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Birds Of Belize: 20 Cool Species (You Must See)

Birding is described as a hobby in which individuals enjoy the challenge of bird study, identification, listing or any other activity revolving around bird life. Documented as a hobby that rose in popularity after world war II, birding has been a pastime for those enthralled by our avian friends for a very long time.

In Belize, birding can be a very fulfilling hobby, since, as a whole, the small country boasts over 500 species of tropical birds and this number only grows when considering migrant species that make their way through here as the seasons change.

Special thanks to Sarah and the Belize Raptor Center for helping to make this list as cool as it could be! Sarah and her team do awesome work with educating Belizeans about the importance of our avian friends and why preserving their habitats are of utmost importance!

Click here to read the rest of the article in the Chaa Creek Blog

Birds of Belize

Photos of birds taken on grounds of Macaw Bank Jungle Lodge boasting a beautiful tropical garden and authentic Belizean rainforest.

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Birding - the Challenges and Opportunities!

The quality and long-term viability of the natural environment are critical to tourism businesses across the world. Marine animals, birds and wildlife contribute significantly and add value to Belize's tourism industry.� Birding for example, has been on the rise in the last few years, but birds across the world are under threat. While Belize has done a good job in its conservation and management efforts, there is a lot more that needs to be done to reduce the threats from poaching, illegal fires, deforestation, unsustainable development and other manmade activities. Tonight, we take a look at birding with experts in the field. Here is the story with News Five's Andrea Polanco.

Andrea Polanco, Reporting

Nearly three billion birds have disappeared from the skies. The journal Science published a report in September 2019 which revealed the staggering decline in bird population since 1970. This report focuses on that twenty-nine percent loss of breeding birds in North America - but bird expert Dr. John Fitzpatrick of Cornell Lab of Ornithology explains how this also impacts a country like Belize.

Dr. John Fitzpatrick, Director, Cornell Lab of Ornithology (Cornell University)

"What this tells us is that we are not in balance and we are at risk of seeing these numbers continue to go down and ultimately causing some real problems in terms of what they reflect in terms of our landscape."

Andrea Polanco

"What does this loss represent or mean for Belize, where twenty-percent of our birds are migratory birds?"

Dr. John Fitzpatrick

"The Belize bird population is an interesting one. Just like the people, it is a melting pot of birds; some resident and locally migratory within the tropics and many of them as you just pointed out migrating in from breeding grounds in North America where they will spend half the year here. That study that indicates a loss of birds in North America clearly indicates that Belize itself is losing birds because many of the birds are birds that wander here."

The threats to birds vary. Things like climate change, illegal logging, development, and poaching are just a few of the factors that threaten bird species. Author of Birds of Belize, Dr. Lee Jones has seen this firsthand how specie has pretty much vanished from Belize.

Dr. Lee Jones, Author, Birds of Belize

"I can think of one bird that has apparently gone extinct since I've been here that's in the Mountain Pine Ride is the Eastern Blue Bird. It wasn't common but it hasn't been seen now in twelve years. And I think that is from habitat destruction; bark beetle infestation; fire regimes; a number of things that could have caused its extinction. Whether that was natural or whether that was man-induced or what - but there are a few things. Extinction is final. I mean when something is gone, it is gone. A lot of things have gotten rarer but they are still hanging on."

Although birds face an increasing number of threats, Belize is still at the forefront of bird conservation. And this has helped to propel birding as a growing tourist offering. In 2018 alone, an estimated thirty thousand tourists visited Belize for birding activities. And this in turn, has also helped to raise the importance of birds in Belize:

Dr. Lee Jones

"We probably have more habitat or forest reserves or intact habits per unit area for the country than almost any place anywhere. Even thought we talk about habitat destruction and all the things that go with that, it is minimal when compared to places like El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and places like that. This also feeds into tourism because people come to Belize because they know this is where they can get all these rare birds, that are not so rare in Belize, but that they can't get elsewhere."

Dr. John Fitzpatrick

"This is an amazing country for getting people engaged in Birds which in turns get them thinking about the natural systems. That is a model for how countries all over the world could be moving, so Belize is really in a leadership role in that way."

But there must be continued conservation and protection efforts to maintain healthy populations of birds which in turn will sustain birding for tourism purposes. Fitzpatrick says each person can play a part.

Dr. John Fitzpatrick

"One of the thing that every citizen can do is think about your daily behavior in terms of what you consume. Use less plastics - we shouldn't be using plastic straws anymore. We should be using recyclable, reusable materials and everything that we eat and drink so that we have less pollution to the landscapes. You must pay attention that your landscape is cleaner and that we are encouraging local individuals to grow native plants, native vegetation that allows these migratory birds and some of the resident birds to live and to be safer. The other thing is to get out and enjoy it and spread the word because the more the populace in general understands that Belize is a magical country for birds, then the better the chances are that Belize as a whole, from the politicians to government officials to local individuals and private individuals, the more the country itself enjoys and rejoices in what you have, the better off these birds are going to be."

Later this week, we'll tell you how Central America is working to expand birding opportunities as a regional tourism offering and what opportunities exist for Belize.

Channel 5

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Belize, The Birding District

How many species of birds can you name? Some of you may know all 600 kinds found in Belize, and others, well, they're familiar with the chickens in the grocery store. But regardless, it's never too late to become a birder.

Belize has been dubbed the "Birding Nation" by the birding community here in the country because of the different landscapes that serve as nesting and resting areas for native and migratory birds. And as we head into December, these migratory birds are calling Belize home for the next few months.

It's an exciting time for birders, especially since there's been a sighting of a very rare bird right here in Belize. Today, Courtney Menzies went bird watching with a guide and learnt more about the animals and the community. Here is that story:

If you've been feeling cold lately, imagine the shorebirds living in the Arctic. That's why, during the winter months, they migrate to Belize. And this year, birders were rewarded with the sighting of a rare bird.

This is a snowy plover, and these photos were taken in 2019 in Belize City. It was only the fourth time this bird had been seen in the country.

But this year, another one returned and was spotted at Captain Hook's Shrimp Farm. And our news team went bird watching with birder, Francis Canto.

Francis Canto, Birder/Bird Guide
"We're in a good spot for migratory birds, right along the Caribbean coast. So we have birds that use what we call the Atlantic fly way so they would cross over the Gulf and fly along the coast of Central America. Some of them would stop here and spend the winter here so they would nest up in the Artic and during the cold months they would come down and spend the winter here."

"For the shorebirds we get the spotted sandpipers, the western sandpipers, black belly plovers. When it comes to the raptors, we get broad-winged hawks, Mississippi kites, we get a lot of warblers, those are the pretty ones usually like yellow and black and blue. We get tanagers like the summer tanagers which is a beautiful red bird. Some of the bigger birds we get would be like the egret and great blue heron."

Canto explained members of the birding community would venture from district to district in search of birds - but that this was all part of the fun and a major economic booster for many places.

Francis Canto, Birder/Bird Guide
"Birds like that help to build the connectivity with the birding community because sometimes you meet people you haven't met before, you're going for the same bird, and sometimes if the bird is in a small community it would boost the economy for that community maybe for four, five days because there are people who need to eat or spend a night."

And you'd be surprised to know how big the birding community is, especially since Belize has almost 600 species of birds. It's a hobby that Canto says can be extremely rewarding and it's a great way to be a tourist in your own country.

Francis Canto, Birder/Bird Guide
"I enjoy seeing what's there, it's a sense of not knowing, and when you go and you find out, hey, I didn't know this bird would show up here. Also it's the fun of doing with others, especially when you have someone new and you introduce them to the world of birding, you show them a new bird, and honestly Belize is beautiful and if I hadn't been birding I probably wouldn't have gone to these beautiful places. I think going bird watching helps us to open up to the natural world around us and we can see parts of the country that maybe we wouldn't have seen. Because even if you have a bad day birding, which you can't really have a bad day birding, being that you're out enjoying your beautiful country, it's a real treat."

And if that hasn't convinced you to make this your new hobby, maybe you just need to find your "spark bird." That's the bird that sparks your interest. For Canto, it's the black colored hawk. And if you need help getting started, you can always contact the community.

Francis Canto, Birder/Bird Guide
"The best advice would be to try to reach out to a birder. But if you can't, if you're on Facebook we have a group called the Belize Birding Network and we're pretty open so if you have any question, need recommendations, if you want a plan a trip but not sure, if you just want someone to bird with you can ask the question there and we'll reach out to you and give you as much advice as we can. if you want to see 300-400 species of birds, you can do that pretty easily without having to go above and beyond. Most of the resorts are open to bird watchers so if you're staying at one of these nice resorts, you can just open your hotel door and see birds there, and even that you don't even have to go to a resort, right in Belize city you can drive around and get 50-60 species for the morning quite easily. Belize, we call it the birding nation."

Channel 7

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For a historical prespective Bruce Miller wrote an article Ornithology in Belize 1960-98.

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[Linked Image]New book on Birding in Belize out...

Birds of Belize
Steve N. G. Howell and Dale Dyer
Illustrated by Dale Dyer

A state-of-the-art illustrated field guide to the birds of Belize

Belize is one of the world's premier birding destinations, home to a marvelous array of tropical birds and beautiful habitats ranging from verdant rainforests and extensive wetlands to rolling pine savannas and the country's famed barrier reef. Birds of Belize is the essential illustrated pocket guide to this birder's paradise. It covers all regularly occurring bird species found in the region and features facing-page plates and text that make field identification easy. Concise species accounts describe everything from size and distribution to voice, habitat, and status. This compact guide also features progressive taxonomy and a wealth of color range maps.

- Covers more than 500 species of birds found in Belize
- Includes more than 130 superb color plates
- Features concise species accounts, facing-page plates and text, and up-to-date range maps
- Its compact size and field-friendly layout make it the ideal travel companion for any birder

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