Birds of Belize...The Halfmoon Rookery

Bubba came home from a week-long fishing trip looking very thin. Without saying a word he went straight to the bookcase where we keep all of his bird books and buried his head. All I could get him to say was, "Boobies at Halfmoon," then he fell back into his research, mumbling to himself about "rookeries" and "colonies". I could feel an adventure developing.

Halfmoon Caye is a unique island on the rim of Lighthouse Reef Atoll, that contains the mysterious Blue Hole Cavern, formed before the ice age and explored by the Cousteau expedition in the 70's.

This 50 thousand year old coral atoll supports an eco-system that harbors a rookery of the Red Footed Booby on its barrier island.

Rookeries contain colonies of nesting birds and provide a safe place to roost. Roosting is a term used to describe what a bird does when it rests or sleeps. Roosting in close proximity to one another provides security from predators and sometimes protection from the weather.

The rookery on Halfmoon is special in that it's one of the last existing rookeries of the Red Footed Booby Bird.

The only influence of humans on the island is its lighthouse and the only human inhabitant is Monrad

Flores thelighthouse keeper who lives there with his dog, "Whiskey".

The island has been protected since 1928 when it became a Crown Reserve. Crossing the 50 miles to the island from San Pedro can be arranged by hopping aboard one of the dive boats bound for the "Blue Hole". It's a day trip and boat captains usually visit Halfmoon for a quick tour while lunch is being prepared for the divers.

My adventure began when I made a deal with Captain Azueta of the Miss Gina for my passage. I promised to guide his divers through the hole.

The trip and dive in the Blue Hole went smoothly. As we docked at Halfmoon the captain asked me to show the divers around the island. Walking barefoot along the well marked path to the west end was no problem. The path curved back into a thick wooded area of cypress, coconut and gumbo limbo, then ended at a metal observation tower. The tower rises to a level with the giant rookery. The view was stunning and the rookery was very active.

Boobies, frigates, pelicans, cormorants and gannets are all in the same order called Pelecaniformes. The island is crowded with them.

Pelecaniformes are a closely knit family of marine plunge-divers. They eat fish caught by diving or steal from others who are better at it. The entertainment level from the tower for a birdwatcher is a "10". The comic look of young boobies in the nest made me laugh.

Big clumsy young white boobies with blue clown faces and red feet were waiting for momma to deliver lunch.

The frigates seem to have no problem sharing space in the rookery with the boobies and their nests are intermingled.

Binoculars are not really necessary because some of the nests are only a few feet away. The birds seemed to ignore us, going about their daily life as if the tower of gawking wet-suit clad humans didn't exist.

Watching the young interact within the rookery of adults is fascinating. This must be what Bubba was mumbling about. From the tower in just a few minutes one can witness these young birds learning lessons about life in a colony.

I left the tower with a genuine feeling of thrill. I've heard Halfmoon described as a jewel in the crown of Belize. It surely must be.

San Pedro Sun

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San Pedro Town, Ambergris Caye, Belize News