Belize: A Relaxed & Easy Tour Mar 16—23, 2017

Posted by Michael O'Brien

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Michael O'Brien

Michael O'Brien is a freelance artist, author, and environmental consultant living in Cape May, New Jersey. He has a passionate interest in bird vocalizations and field ide...

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The “Belize: Relaxed & Easy” tour is always our favorite way to welcome in the spring season, and this year’s trip was no different. One aspect of this itinerary that makes us feel particularly geared up for spring is the diversity of warblers we encounter—22 species on this trip, which is like a banner spring migration day at home! In addition to all the warblers and other migrants, we found a wonderful diversity of Neotropical species, with an emphasis on specialties of the Yucatan Peninsula.

Cruising Crooked Tree Lagoon

Cruising Crooked Tree Lagoon— Photo: Michael O’Brien

 

Some brief birding near Belize City got us our target Cinnamon Hummingbird, plus a few coastal species such as Magnificent Frigatebird, Royal Tern, and Common Black-Hawk. Then it was off to the impressive Maya temples at Altun Ha, where Ann Marie gave us a nice historical tour. Although we enjoyed our first taste of forest birding here, the sky-watching was especially productive, with sightings of King Vulture, Black Hawk-Eagle, Black-collared Hawk, and Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift! 

Upon crossing the causeway at Crooked Tree Lagoon, we were immediately aware that our tour was timed perfectly to coincide with rapidly dropping water levels and ever-increasing numbers of birds attracted to the shallow water: 60 Fulvous Whistling-Ducks, 70 Caspian Terns, and dozens of Snail Kites were among the throngs of birds we saw along the causeway. In front of Bird’s Eye View Lodge, a careful scan revealed nine species of ducks (that’s a lot for Belize!), eight Jabirus, 250 Limpkins, hundreds upon hundreds of herons, dozens of Roseate Spoonbills, and a staggering 98 Snail Kites counted one by one as they flew off to roost. What a magical sight! During our time at Crooked Tree, we soaked in that amazing waterbird spectacle, including a boat trip through the lagoon to Spanish Creek. This epic journey produced some outstanding sightings, including four species of kingfishers, several Jabirus, Russet-naped Wood-Rail, Bare-throated Tiger-Heron, and incredible views of Agami and Boat-billed herons. Our explorations of the pine savannah and cashew groves produced a delightful array of migrant and resident species, including many warblers and flycatchers, four species of orioles, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, Canivet’s Emerald, Yucatan Woodpecker, Yellow-lored Parrot, and Yucatan Jay. Close views of a Pinnated Bittern, a secretive marsh bird seen only rarely, were a special treat along the Western Causeway at Crooked Tree.

Northern Jacanas

Northern Jacanas— Photo: Michael O’Brien

 

After departing Crooked Tree, we traveled through the Mennonite farm country around the community of Shipyard, where we encountered a new mix of open country birds, including Plain-breasted Ground-Dove, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, many swallows, Gray-crowned Yellowthroat, Blue-black Grassquit, and Eastern Meadowlark. Of particular excitement was stumbling upon a group of nine Grassland Yellow-Finches, a local and nomadic species found mainly in southern Belize.

When we arrived at Lamanai, we were immediately greeted by a group of howler monkeys lounging in the trees over our cabanas. These animals would be a constant presence during our stay, at least audibly, and added much to the charm of this special place. Although just a few miles from Crooked Tree, the extensive mature forest at Lamanai meant a host of new species for us. As we toured the ruins and explored nearby trails, we encountered many exciting forest birds such as Bicolored Hawk, White-necked and White-whiskered puffbirds, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, three species of trogons, five species of woodcreepers, all sorts of flycatchers, Black-throated Shrike-Tanager, and so many others. Our optional pre-breakfast walks (attended by nearly everyone in this group!) were incredibly birdy, particularly for migrant songbirds as well as “edge” species such as Keel-billed Toucan, Collared Aracari, Barred Antshrike, White-collared Manakin, Masked Tityra, Rose-throated Becard, and flocks of Red-legged Honeycreepers.

Jaguar Temple at Lamanai

Jaguar Temple at Lamanai— Photo: Louise Zemaitis

 

As productive as the forest birding is at Lamanai, our group’s top highlights usually involve one of our several boat trips. Our evening spotlight safari was on a glorious star-filled night and produced nice views of roosting Great Curassow, all four kingfishers, hunting Northern Potoo, and a last-minute Yucatan Nightjar. An early morning boat trip across New River Lagoon to Dawson’s Creek and the Lamanai Savannah produced a host of great sightings including Canivet’s Emerald, three White-throated Flycatchers, Yucatan Flycatcher, Green Jay, White-bellied Wren, and Botteri’s and Grasshopper sparrows. And to really cap things off, on our last evening we took a “Cocktail Cruise” on New River Lagoon, complete with some fine Belizean rum. The weather was calm and the light stunning that evening as we cruised the marshy shoreline, listening to Ruddy Crakes, and catching a brief but close view of a stealthy Least Bittern. As we watched the sun set over High Temple, a Jabiru sat peacefully on its nest overlooking the lagoon. 

A big thanks goes to the staff of both Bird’s Eye View Lodge and Lamanai Outpost Lodge. Both were extremely friendly and accommodated our every need. And, as always, it was a special treat to have Ruben Arevalo with us at Lamanai.