Chapter 7. Western Belize
(Bert) We won’t travel to our next campground until noon, so most of the birders revisit Monkey Bay. Joanie and I, however, check out a new birding site along a farm road jutting off the Western Highway. The morning fog transforms the flooded and forested edges of the muddy road into an eerie world of ghostly broken tree limbs and tendrils of suspended mist over stagnant puddles, dissolving into a foreshortened view of the thicker forest beyond. The habitat looks ideal for a pygmy-kingfisher and Joanie is on the hunt. We hear a possibility and following the call to a fallen limb it turns out to be yet another Green Kingfisher.
The solitude of the unused road, but for the passing of one tall tractor carrying six workers to the fields, the muffling of the tree cover and the location’s remoteness makes it easy to hear bird songs. Mangrove Vireos seem to call from everywhere. Joanie identifies the “whit whit whit” call notes of a Wood Thrush, a bird she knows from those nesting near her Michigan home and a new call for me. A far off Gray-fronted Dove coos and to be sure I have the correct identity I count the calls in a 15-sec. interval: 7 calls, the matching equivalent to the 10 calls every 21-28 sec. I have in my notes for this species. I record the long-short-long 3-note “whooo kak’ cooooo” of a distant Scaled Pigeon and then a bit farther down the road I stop for the melodious song of a Spot-breasted Wren. While I am adjusting the equipment an even closer bird starts a wavering call that rises, then falls, in pitch. The Little Tinamou must be within 25 ft. of us. Typically, we cannot see the small bird, nor will it venture into the open even when I play back its call. Yet, Joanie is delighted at identifying another life bird.
We hear the soft “talking” of a parrot and we suspect first a Yellow-headed, perhaps wishful thinking as getting a better look at this species is one of the reasons Joanie accompanied me this morning. At the highest perch of the close forest horizon, on a dead limb, we see the talker and aligning my scope on it I see the characteristic yellow frontal band above the bill, sweeping down to the lores, of a Yucatan Parrot. Not the one we are after, but just about as good. It’s only the second time Joanie has seen this bird, the first a very brief view in flight when we were on the boat at Crooked Tree. Now we have a prolonged view through the scope and its features are available for study.
One and a half miles down the muddy road, it becomes an impassable wide swatch of waterlogged red limestone mud and deep ruts remain filled with water. The tractor that proceeded us took the driest route, leaving ruts almost 3-ft. deep, too much for my high clearance SUV. I park and we walk. Joanie sees a Crane Hawk; it disappears too fast for me to look in its direction. On our return walk I hear the “phew” call that reminds me of Mississippi Kites on nesting territory in Texas. I follow the call and find a juvenile Crane Hawk perched, somewhat obscured, high above us. The red eyes tell us its identity and the white facial markings differentiate it from the adult. Its legs, seen poorly, are a duller red, almost yellow, compared to the strikingly red legs of the adult. We may not have seen as many species as those that visited Monkey Bay, but Joanie and I go back delighted with the special ones we saw this morning.
(Shari) $37.50 for a mammogram the sign proclaims at the hospital in San Ignacio. The floor in the reception area is worn tile but clean. The walls are painted white but the paint shows scuff marks from previous years. Doorways down the hall are marked with horizontal signs hanging like street addresses on a lamppost proclaiming “Vital Signs,” “Emergency Room,” “Laboratory,” ”Dentist,” “Doctor’s Optics.” One of our ladies was not feeling well for a number of days and I offered to take her to the hospital in the car. She is immediately looked after and told to lie down on one of two beds in the “Observation Room.” Meanwhile I pay for her blood work, ultrasound and urine tests before they can be administered. After 2 hr. I learn that the doctor will be at least another two hours. I travel on to the camp and find the group is already in residence. I tell her husband where the hospital is located and that he should go see her. I scurry around preparing for our Valentine Party. Tables are put out and decorations hung before the first guests arrive. We have an ice breaker answering questions drawn from a deck of cards before we play bird bingo. I found a bingo program on the Internet where you can put in your own set of words and the cards are automatically generated. It promised only one winner, however we had 5 or 6. Something went wrong. Luckily I have enough prizes. Our next game I stole from Pat and previous caravans always liked it. It is called the Oldywed Game Birders Edition and is a take off on the old TV show of the 70s called the Newlywed Game. Men and woman are divided and each has three questions to answer. The couple with the most points wins. Glen and Iris win with a total of five points. After our games, we have a finger food potluck. The food is scrumptious and includes a Greek layer dip, shrimp cocktail, small chicken sandwiches, brownies and cake. Darnell and Stan give everyone a Valentine bag of chocolates. It has been a nice day and even my “unknown admirer” struck again this year. I got a bag of goodies this morning including heart cookies, heart fake fingernails, a heart shaped wand that lights up, and note pads. Since Bearded Bob is so interested in what I got, as he was last year, I just know he is my cupid. He also bought my breakfast this morning. He may grumble and groan a lot but he is a sweetie at heart.
(Bert) We reach our second birding spot – the first one was so poor it shouldn’t be mentioned – at 10 AM and decide to regroup at the picnic area at noon. Some of us bird along the shore of Aguacate Lagoon, again searching for pygmy-kingfisher. Penny spots the first kingfisher and soon we have two distant ones, at first dismissing them too quickly as more Green Kingfishers. Through his scope, Leonard notices the absence of white spots on the wings and immediately the line forms behind him, anxious to get a view of the Amazon Kingfisher. We have a pair of them and then find two Greens for a nice comparison. Our subgroup continues birding uphill from the lake and are delighted by prolonged views of a pair of Slaty-tailed Trogons but we see very little else. Most of us are about to dismiss this as another poor birding site. Just then we hear Mark and Joanie on the radio, asking if anyone can hear them. Voices respond from three sections of the preserve, without acknowledgment from Mark and Joanie. When I finally do locate them on foot we find that their radio is too low on batteries and we were unable to hear the original transmission about the bonanza of birds they had found. We are jealous of the long list of birds, including Yellow-bellied Tyrannulet and Strong-billed Woodcreeper. A few of us head back with them to the spot not far from where we found nothing. A small flock of Blue Ground-Doves takes flight and with patience we see a Sepia-capped Flycatcher, one of the harder birds to find in Belize.
After lunch most head back toward San Ignacio, but two cars (6 people) go back to the spot where Mark and Joanie found so many birds. Fortunately we pick up most of the same birds again. The flock entertains us for an hour and combined with the previous sightings, we see 22 species all in the same 100-yard strip of forest between the high road and the water’s edge. Clearly, some of the birds are a feeding flock moving together and paralleling the road so that they are in view for an extended period. Those feeding as a group include two Plain Xenops, Sepia-capped Flycatcher, two Eye-ringed Flatbills, Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher, Tawny-crowned Greenlet, Lesser Greenlet, Black-and-white Warbler, and Golden-crowned Warbler.
Meanwhile, Bob and Cindy head out on a newly built road – requiring rigorous 4-wheel drive – to a primary forest surrounded by Mennonite farms. They pick up some great birds, including Hook-billed Kite, Green Shrike-Vireo, a calling Rufous Piha and a Rufous Mourner. The road they find deserves more exploration another day.
Leaving the park and traveling through Mennonite farmlands, we stop to look for Plain-breasted Ground-Doves and find a few that are noticeably smaller, quite plain, and singing a slightly different rendition of the song that Ruddy sings. A flock of Killdeer suddenly takes flight and I swing my binoculars in the direction of the raptor that is responsible for the fright. The hawk springs airborne and I notice something odd about the tail. The hawk gains altitude and soars over the pasture and I switch to my spotting scope, as does Leonard with his scope. We take note of the dark wings, buteo shape but with longer wings, and the subdued off-white tail bands. It flies like a Turkey Vulture, with characteristic high dihedral and rocking instability. The sun’s direction keeps us from seeing the expected contrast in the wings. Leonard, Joanie and I agree we are watching an adult Zone-tailed Hawk. Glenn walks over from the other car and announces that Mark, Iris and he also determined it was Zone-tailed. I record all the details of our observation, including time and GPS coordinates for a report to the ABA Central American editor, since Zone-tailed is a very uncommon winter visitor to Belize.
This was certainly one of those days where the birders that kept birding after a dismal morning succeeded in plentiful benefits in the afternoon.
(Shari) “ICK!!!! SCHREEK!!!!” I shout as I raise my feet off the floor. It is 3 AM and I have been up for two hours watching Internet TV. I am lost in the program “Lost” when I see a mouse scurry past me and hide under the sofa. I decide I do not want to stay in the front room anymore and scurry myself to the back bedroom. Bert wants to know what all the shouting is about. I tell him and he says, “It sure woke me up.” Apparently not enough to go get the mouse trap though since there is no trap up front when I get up this morning. Later our patient comes home from the hospital where she was kept for observation. Since she is much better this morning they released her but they have no idea why she was feeling so poorly. She received two abdominal X-rays, an ultrasound of her vital organs (pancreas, gall bladder, liver, spleen, kidneys), blood work, urine analysis, stool analysis, the consultation of an internist and a surgeon (from the U.S.). The bill for this INCLUDING the one night stay in the hospital was a whopping $200 US. Arleen and I admonish her to drink drink and drink some more and not to eat anything heavy for a few days. Keep it to jello, applesauce, and maybe some rice. After I do a load of wash and hang it out to dry, I go with Bob, Arleen and Barbara to get some chicken and other groceries before I have lunch. I have accomplished so much today on my day in camp. The accounting, road logs, journals and picture album are all up to date. Tomorrow I just might go with the birders. At 9 PM Bert and I crawl into bed after he sets the mousetrap with Edam cheese smeared with peanut butter. Yum, yum! No sooner do I open my book to read when “Snap” the trap goes off. Surely the mouse did not come out of hiding in less than 5 min. Yes, he did. That is the good news. The bad news is that only his tail is in the trap. How to get him out of R-Tent-III. A box? A bowl? A rag? Bert gets a plastic bag and when looking at the dilemma, decides to just throw the trap with the mouse attached outside. I can sleep peacefully tonight.
(Bert) A plaintive “Help” is the call of the Collared Forest-Falcon that I hear not far from the road leading to the Macal River resorts. Surprisingly, we’ve not heard this species more than a few times so far on the trip, the best being at our campsite at our 6:05 departure time an hour ago. This one sounds close enough that I think we might see it. We walk a ways down the road and I try playing my iPod. The lanky hawk swoops over our heads to a hidden perch on the opposite side of the road. In the next few minutes this episode repeats. We don’t get to see the bird perched, but I’m quite satisfied with the close views we get of its outstretched glide only 30 ft. directly above us.
We move on down the road and park in the wide entrance to a gated road only to be asked to move when a school bus wants to use it for a turnaround. I pull up the steep foothill and park again. When I get out of my car I hear an almost familiar call. The very loud clear notes are reminiscent of the Carolina Wrens that sang daily in my backyard when we still had a house in post oak country of Texas. I suspect I’m hearing the White-browed Wren, a resident subspecies different enough from the Carolina to deserve species status and believed to be so by some authorities. I use my equipment to record the song. After 90 sec. of song I turn it off and am about to replay it when the bird sings a new verse. I record a minute of that song too. In playback the wren will not budge from the tree directly in front of me. I switch to the Chan Chich recording of White-browed Wren. It sounds similar, the bird continues to sing and yet will not come out of hiding. I’ve not found this bird before in Belize. In fact, Jones states that it is “resident in three widely separated areas,” and I’m standing in one of them now. I wish we could see it, though I’m quite happy with two good recordings.
By 8 AM we are at the Belize Botanical Gardens and most of the group head off for a visit and to find the birds that enjoy the gardens as well. Six of us wait for the workers to load canoes and gear on a truck and then with Cindy in the cab beside the driver and the rest of us on bench seats in back we return along the entrance road and head most of the way to Black Rock, cutting short to drive through an orange orchard to the Macal River. The passage is so narrow that an orange pulls from the tree and pops into Bearded Bob’s lap. Entry into the canoes is more graceful and less muddy than our experience a few days ago on the Belize River, the canoes are in better condition and the Macal River flows clearer. Short, shallow rapids give us brief thrills, followed by listless spells in barely flowing river where it is easy to stop and look for birds. The coolness of the morning also adds to our pleasure. During our leisurely birding we find 43 species – much better than the last river ride – including Blue-winged Teal, numerous Neotropic Cormorants, a heard-only Northern Bentbill as well as two Blue-crowned Motmots. Green Kingfishers are common and we have yet to see pygmy-kingfishers. A female Green-breasted Mango persistently hovers above us in mid stream. Why? No flowers there! Perhaps something colorful in our apparel stimulated its curiosity. I spy a Gray-necked Wood-Rail and Judy and I paddle back to the mud flat for a closer view. One of our odder finds is the bats that Bearded Bob notices springing from holes in the limestone rock. We paddle closer and see one still hanging upside down, getting close enough for photographs. Dozens fly nearby like swallows near a nest site.
We reach the sandy gravel beach of duPlooy’s just before noon and head directly to the restaurant where the others are just being served. After lunch we relax for a while on the deck in front of the bird feeders that attract Clay-colored Robins and Red-throated Ant-Tanagers while I’m there. Our carload leaves to visit two other resorts that cater to birders and I talk to the owners about future arrangements. In the evening we return to duPlooy’s for a “night walk,” which starts as a drive up the hill we just came in on. Our guide persists for an hour in an attempt to lure in a Mottled Owl but all we get is two hoots from a too distant one. He tries a Vermiculated Screech-Owl tape and a minute later Mark and I think we hear one far in the distance. I get our leader’s attention and he listens in the direction its coming from. He says the first call might have been the screech-owl, but all the rest are of a Bufo marinus, an overly large toad with a nearly identical stuttering croak. The rest of the evening fares poorly and the night walk is pretty much a bust. I don’t know if it is lack of preparedness of our leader or the light drizzle that accounts for only two hoots and a toad in two hours of darkness.
(Shari) Our little group of five S.O.B.’s – Spouses Of Birders - leaves camp at 9:30 to join the rest of the gang. Four of them walk the Botanical Gardens while I go to the deck to do some reading. I don’t get in much reading because others have the idea of bird watching up there and keep interrupting me with “Look at that Masked Tityra” or “Watch that Long-billed Hermit lift that flower up” or “Isn’t that Blue-crowned Motmot gorgeous?” or “Wow, the Red-throated Ant-Tanager is eating the watermelon.” I am adding to my life list without even trying and did not have to get up at 5 AM to do it. We order from the menu and at 12 gather in the dining room for a delicious lunch. The day is blissfully cool and even rains a bit near dinnertime. A bakery truck parks in the RV lot and in the rain I knock on some doors to tell others. Good thing I did, since so many come out with umbrellas to buy some delicious items made by the German Bakery in town. It is a funny sight and I wish I had taken a picture. Bearded Bob does get one snapped of me in my rain boots, dirty shorts, raincoat and umbrella standing by the truck.
(Shari) Some do yet more birding on their own on this free day. Others take a ferry to visit the Xunantunich Mayan ruins. Nancy and Ray go to Tikal for an overnight stay at the ruins. Still others stay in camp and do chores. Bob, Arleen and I travel to the Guatemala border to see about our visa extensions. We find a different story this year. We can get our vehicles extended at this border but not our visas. For that we must travel to Belmopan. I guess that will be Monday’s excursion. After obtaining this information, we stop at the ferry and peruse the vendor stalls. Colorful Guatemalan woven goods are on display and I buy table runners, placemats and a wallet. I notice the price of the items gets higher as I travel closer to the ferry. Even when I say the price is cheaper over there, the women are not willing to bargain. Their price is twice the price of the man at the first stall. Obviously he gets all of my business. When we return, the sheets I hung out after washing them are dry and ready to be put back on the bed. After lunch, Bert and I go to the market. Today is Saturday and the whole area is full of vendors not only selling fruits and vegetables but clothes, tools, toys, CDs, and other sundry items. It is a regular flee market and I love it. Tonight we go out to eat with Bob and Arleen. Last year Woody spoke highly of a restaurant called Sanny’s. We try it tonight and it is ever as good as he said it was. Bert has two grilled pork chops with honey mustard sauce and I have a T-bone steak with garlic wine sauce. All this for $17.50 including two beers. Unbelievable! Another bargain in Belize!
(Bert) We are gradually climbing in elevation, now 275 ft. higher than San Ignacio, on a well maintained gravel road, moving slowly so that we can observe birds. Near the top of one rise I quickly come to a halt when a rail crosses the road in front of the car, perhaps 30 ft. from us. Although our view is only about 4 sec., the image is so imprinted on our minds that it could as well have been 4 min. Most remarkably, the rail raised it wings as it scurried across – bright rufous wings set against a darker and grayer rufous back and crown. Joanie, Leonard (from the back seat) and I know it is a rail from its body shape, leg length and the way it moves. I think Ruddy Crake at first and almost as quickly dismiss that possibility because our bird is too large and the body, head, wings and tail are essentially all rufous with no offsetting colors except for the darker shade on back and crown. We hop out of the car to see if we can find it again. It is lost in the dense thicket. So, the analysis begins. For a host of reasons we dismiss Ruddy Crake, Gray-necked and Rufous-necked wood-rails. All of the other Belize rails and crakes, except for one, are other colors, not rufous. So, that leaves us with the conclusion we zeroed in on seconds after dismissing Ruddy Crake. According to Jones, Uniform Crake is a very uncommon and rarely seen resident on the Belize mainland in the southern half. Our location is at the northern edge of the crake’s range. I immediately write notes of our observations, Joanie and I agreeing on every point except, perhaps, Joanie visualized the back as a slightly grayer than the duller rufous I remember.
Back at camp Bearded Bob lets out that Cindy has a great bird for the day, in fact, two of them. I thought I had bragging rights for our Uniform Crake discovery, so I’m curious if Cindy has upped the ante. I tell Bob I’ll tell Cindy our bird after I write up the notes. When we meet at 5 o’clock social, I hand Cindy my notes. We’ve got a good one, a lifer for me, and when I hear her stories I know Bob, Mark and she have done very well also. They returned to the Spanish Lookout area, first stopping for Rufous Piha and Rufous Mourner for Mark, in the same place they saw them two days ago. They watch a Red-tailed Hawk, another good find. However, the real prizes are the Bicolored Hawk flying and then resting in the forest – and even photographed by Bob - and the Agami Heron lurking at a heavily wooded stream, two species we probably won’t be lucky enough to find again this trip.
(Bert) I stop when I see a pair of White-tailed Kites. It gets better. Beyond the pasture a broad tree is ornamented with hundreds of Montezuma Oropendolas and in another direction fly hundreds of Red-lored Parrots in loud agitation. The road to Black Rock Lodge passes through spacious cow pastures and orange orchards and then, as we enter dense secondary forest, it narrows to a single lane path with concrete supports for the wheels to keep from slipping down the steep embankment into the ravine. When our view opens again it is to a rock-faced canyon, the escarpment of the Vaca Plateau, and a less steep forested hillside on our side of the rushing mountain stream, the Macal River. My camera goes wild on the scenery. A pair of White Hawks circle above us and later we see King Vultures, two Black Hawk-Eagles and a juvenile Ornate Hawk-Eagle – or so we think after 15 min. of studying the distant bird through spotting scopes as it perches high above the ravine.
On our walk to Vaca Falls, Joanie identifies a Rufous-capped Warbler and I see a second one carrying nesting material. Although I’ve observed these warblers high up in Mountain Pine Ridge, this pair is beyond the range map shown in Jones. We are three-fourths of the way to the falls when Bearded Bob calls on the radio to say they have spotted a flying Orange-breasted Falcon against the cliffs behind the lodge. Deciding that the chances are small that the falcon will still be in view if we make the half-hour return, we continue hiking to the falls. We get back to the lodge in time for lunch. I hear from Bob that while Chuck was climbing a steep trail he was delighted to get great photos of a Keel-billed Toucan and, by the way, “There was this hawk too.” Chuck took photos of that too, from about 30 ft. away. Bob looks at the camera screen and immediately recognizes the bird Chuck so casually dismisses is the Orange-breasted Falcon. His photos are incredibly close-up and sharp. After lunch under an open-air A-framed restaurant with a dramatic view of the river and ravine, most of us head back within an hour. Four stay to hike up the forested slope and wait at a spot described to them by the manager. At 5:30 they expect to hear a Pheasant Cuckoo calling. When the four return to camp 90 min. later, I ask them if they heard the cuckoo. They didn’t.
(Shari) “This is my kind of place,” I exclaim as I get out of Tailgunner Bob’s car. Just he and I are the SOB’s today and we arrive at 11 AM, 3 hr. after the birders arrived. The drive to the resort reminds me a lot of Costa Rica; the scenery is breath taking. The hills are green and the rocky cliffs above the clear, fast moving river are a great backdrop for pictures. The resort is high on a bluff and the open-air thatched area allows a breeze. It is not needed today, as the weather is just perfect; the high reaches only 77º. The humidity is down and it feels like a great day in northern Wisconsin in July. Again I bird from the deck and add Red-legged Honeycreeper to my list. Wow, what a beautiful blue bird with red legs! After lunch, Bert wants to bird a bit more so I agree to stay another hour. I read a book swinging in the hammock on the porch as I listen to the rushing water of the rapids below. We have to be back by at least 4:30 since Bert has a talk on tinamous before our social hour. We stay out until dark since the evening is so nice.
(Bert) Purple-crowned Fairy is a magical name for a hummingbird and seeing one is magical too. How about three on one branch! An equally sized juvenile in the center is flanked on each side by its parents. They actively feed the youngster as I photograph the action. Red-throated Ant-Tanagers are extremely close to us and easy to photograph. We are in the small picnic area of Blue Hole National Park, not having moved much from this spot in the past two hours. Restless Chuck has been out hiking and once again he returns with a prize find. He says he saw a kingfisher-like bird and as he scans through one of the bird books he stops at Tody Motmot, a bird we’ve heard a few times but have not seen on this trip and a possible life bird for most of the group. Excitedly, Chuck is bombarded with, “Where did you see it?” The spot is close by, so he leads us to it. I try a recording and within 30 sec. the bird calls from deep in the woods and then comes closer to our spot. I record the motmot’s song and play it back. Now it comes into view, but only I see it. I try once more to lure it closer and this time Cindy sees where it lands and directs us all to the spot where it sits quietly for all to view and I even get a couple of photos. That bird made the day, but more is yet to come.
We head to the other parking lot for Blue Hole where we meet Israel who I had asked to be our guide. As has happened before, he did not receive any of the three e-mails I sent, but is still willing to guide us this morning. His uncanny ears and total recall of local bird songs allows us to find birds we might otherwise miss on our own. One is the Gray-chested Dove, close enough for me to record its single note coo. As typically happens though, we cannot find the dove even though it can’t be more than a stone throw away. We are more successful with a calling Stub-tailed Spadebill, a tongue twister of a name but quite descriptive of this little round bird. One other species new to our list is a Slate-headed Tody-Flycatcher, a bird that always seems to be well hidden in dense thickets. The group reforms at the parking lot and I meet up with Mark and Joanie who took a rugged uphill trail in hopes of finding White-whiskered Puffbird or, less likely, a Nightingale Wren. Mark describes a small dark wren to me and I ask him to repeat to Israel his description and the habitat he found the bird in. Israel agrees the wren is the Nightingale, a bird we have heard on two previous Belize trips but no one has seen. Well done, Mark! While exploring the trail, Mark and Joanie also came upon a Kinkajou sleeping in a tree and before we leave Blue Hole we find a Deppe’s Squirrel on another trail. Then our peaceful and successful birding morning is abruptly halted by news from Shari.
(Shari) The plaque on the wall reads “God grant me the courage to change the things I can change, the serenity to accept for what I cannot change and the wisdom to know the difference ...” I am sitting, alone, in the immigration supervisor’s office awaiting the answer from his director. I had heard the above quote before but I had never heard the second part of it as follows, “But God, grant me the courage not to give in upon what I think is right, even though I think it is hopeless.” I am waiting in this office because I think it is right that the immigration office should allow me to get everyone’s visa extended. Number 3 in charge, says the rule is that every individual must show up in person. The rule may be that and last year the rule was that but I was allowed to write a letter as a tour guide to get everyone’s visa extended. “Who did it last year?” the supervisor asks me. “Are you a citizen of Belize?” “Do you have a license to be a tour guide?” I respond, “Why do I need a license if I am an American citizen?” Ah oh, I think I am in trouble here. I quickly say that I just lead people in their cars and hire guides at the various places we go. That is true. Number 2 gathers up all my passports and says he has to take them to the director. Oh great! Now all the passports are gone. While I sit wondering if anyone will visit me in jail, Bob, Arleen and Ramona wonder where I am and someone comes to get me from the office. I tell them the situation. Number 2 comes out and sets the passports on a filing cabinet. When he is distracted I grab them, tell Number 3 that I am going to get my friends and I hightail it out of there. We decide to drive immediately to the picnic area of the Blue Hole where the rest of the group is gathering. We keep our eyes peeled for any oncoming traffic that looks familiar so that we can “cut them off at the pass.” We arrive at Blue Hole by 12:15 and everyone, except three, gathered there eating lunch. We lead two other cars to the immigration office and stand in line to get the extensions. First Number 3 looks at the passport. On a tiny slip of paper he writes the passport number, the amount $50, his name and date. I am told to take it to the next window to pay. I pay the $50 and am told to go back to Number 3. Back in line I wait until I have completed the full circle and again am in front of Number 3. He can now write my name, passport number, date of entry, date of departure, date of extension, date of new departure and address in San Ignacio in a wide ledger book, by hand. After he does this he stamps my passport and writes date of entry and date of departure in the passport also along with his initials. Meanwhile the line behind me gets longer and longer. This has to get repeated for the remaining 10 people in the first group and then the 8 in Bert’s group later on. Now we have ourselves legal and are allowed another 30 days. Not so for our vehicles, however! Unfortunately and ridiculously, we can’t get that extension at this office or even in this town, the capital and government seat of the country. No, we have to go to a port of entry. So tomorrow we will try to get our vehicles legal. What a pain in the you know what! Sometimes I could just scream and I desperately want to tell them how to do things efficiently. But I know that will do no good and will probably only make matters worse. I know you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. So I suck it up and mutter to myself and complain to the group. I know, I know. That is the adventure of it all. But I got a scare and I guess I am still frustrated. Cynical me wonders how tomorrow’s task will go.
(Bert) Four strong churning notes, same pitch with emphasis on the last note – I’ve heard this before but can’t place the singer. Pauses between 4-note verses are about as long as the song, which is repeated incessantly. I walk farther and get closer to the singer. The sound rings through the tall trees and seems to be coming from the canopy. I catch up with Mark and he hears it too, recognizing it from a few days ago when he visited this same wooded oasis in the middle of Spanish Lookout farmland. Green Shrike-Vireo, he says. Oh yes, the bird we hear sometimes, but never see because it does not descend from the canopy. Here the tall trees are fragmented and, even now, loggers are removing the giants, leaving shorter and scrubbier ones in the wake. Today it is an advantage and zeroing in on the song we see the “knock your socks off” shrike-vireo. Packed into this 5-1/2 in. bird is so much paint it glows like a light bulb, soft lime green coloring offset by a bright yellow throat and a pale blue crown. I don’t know which to grab first, my microphone or my camera. I try the camera, doubting if I can find the high up bird blending in with the bright sunlit green leaves. I do record its song, however. All eight of us get to see this beautiful bird, a serendipitous pleasure. And, as an added bonus, we see simultaneously watch a perched White Hawk basking in the bright morning light.
We call this our Big Day. We’ve divided into several groups, each heading in a different direction from San Ignacio. Our goal: to identify as many birds as possible in one day. Some make a half day of it, others consume most of the daylight hours. Back at camp we hear that Glenn, Iris, Bob and Juanita had a good time hiking at Clarissa Falls and picked up species we’d missed. The group that went to El Pilar spent 3 hr. on the road in a section that should take 30 min. They have a story to tell, but will refrain until they have the audience of the whole group. I wonder what happened? Our group finished with 109 species. We’ll find out later how many were added by the others. [The final Big Day tally was 137 species].
Next Day Table of Contents