Grand Belize Part II: Chan Chich Lodge Mar 05—11, 2012

Posted by Barry Zimmer

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Barry Zimmer

Barry Zimmer has been birding since the age of eight. His main areas of expertise lie in North and Central America, but his travels have taken him throughout much of the wo...

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On our fourth full day at Chan Chich Lodge, we decided to venture out the Xaxe Venic and Bajo trails. This route would take us initially through some nice tall forest and then out to a shorter, wetter forest known locally as "tintal." However, as we began our walk, the main plaza area of the lodge was hopping with bird activity. Before we could make it 30 feet from where we started, we heard the strident calls of a Rufous-tailed Jacamar and the soft "kow" note of a Chestnut-colored Woodpecker. Both of these birds were new for us, and we focused first on the woodpecker. It responded quite quickly, coming in directly overhead where we had marvelous views of its wild blond crest and rich chestnut body. This species has always been one of my personal favorites.

After we had our fill of woodpecker views, we turned our attention to the singing jacamar. In short order, we spotted the male and female at eye level and only about 20 feet away. The iridescent green and rufous plumage and the long dagger bill drew gasps from the group. A Montezuma Oropendola displayed from the top of a nearby tree, a flock of Ocellated Turkeys strolled across the path, three Masked Tityras posed in a ficus, and Mealy and Red-lored parrots squawked noisily from a tree above the bar. We managed to tear ourselves away from the jacamars and headed down the beginning of the Xaxe Venic trail. Once again, we made it only a short distance before the sweet song of a Blue-black Grosbeak stopped us in our tracks. We had great views of the male in a low tree, before we were distracted by a singing pair of Tawny-crowned Greenlets in the same area. A male Slaty-tailed Trogon vied for our attention, but was quickly forgotten when the song of a Black-faced Antthrush rang from the nearby forest floor. Twice the antthrush rocketed through our group at waist level, but we were having trouble spotting it on the ground. A singing Collared Trogon, the least numerous of Chan Chich's four trogons, drew us away from the antthrush. After some searching, someone in the group spotted the male trogon in a palm thicket and we had nice scope views. Chatters and squeaks from a mixed species flock up the trail revealed a group of Red-throated Ant-Tanagers, an Olivaceous Woodcreeper, two Smoky-brown Woodpeckers, a Black-headed Trogon, and a variety of Neotropical migrants. An hour had passed and we had walked less than a quarter of a mile.

When we finally reached the beginning of the short forest, we were greeted by a whole new group of birds. A Rose-throated Tanager, a regional endemic, sang from a tree right over our heads. Several stunning Blue Buntings played cat-and-mouse with us along the trail. A pair of Long-billed Gnatwrens with their ridiculously long bills sat in the open from 10 feet. A gorgeous Gray-throated Chat with its rich red belly sat in some bare vines. A male Gartered Trogon perched 15 feet above the trail right over our heads, while a pair of Royal Flycatchers with a nest provided nice views. Finally, a stunning pair of Black Hawk-Eagles circled low overhead, calling and giving us lengthy, close views. All of this in the first three hours of the day!

Highlights from our six days at world-famous Chan Chich Lodge were almost too numerous to mention. A Tody Motmot in the scope from 10 feet during a rainstorm was quite memorable, as was a Great Tinamou that walked out on the path right in front of us. A pair of Bat Falcons that were almost always perched over the swimming pool provided a dramatic moment when the male brought a Yellow-throated Euphonia to the female, which quickly led to an in-the-scope copulation! The favorite bird of the tour was King Vulture, and we had the most incredible views ever of 9 of these magnificent birds perched above a carcass no more than 30 yards away! In addition we had many stunning and colorful species such as White-collared and Red-capped manakins, Keel-billed Toucan, Collared Aracari, Blue-crowned Motmot, Pale-billed and Lineated woodpeckers, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, and White-necked and White-whiskered puffbirds to name a few. Eight Great Curassows cannot be forgotten, nor the plentiful Crested Guans and abundant Ocellated Turkeys. A night drive yielded superb scope views of Northern Potoo and crippling studies of a Mottled Owl among others. Mammals were also much in evidence with daily sightings of Central American spider monkeys and Mexican black howler monkeys, two red brocket deer, and a herd of collared peccaries. Butterflies were the most numerous I have seen them on this tour in years with hundreds, if not thousands, of Florida Whites attracted to roadside puddles, and many spectacular species such as Bow-lined Kite-Swallowtail, Blue-stitched Eighty-eight, Common Morpho, Yellow-fronted Owl-Butterfly, and Mayan Crescent.

Every visit to Chan Chich is a delight, and this year's trip was no different.