Chapter 13.  Central Belize

Day 53 Ė March 7 Ė Honey Camp Lagoon, Orange Walk District

(Bert) We are barely underway on the dirt road to Honey Camp Lagoon when I spot a White-tailed Kite perched in a lone tree, a good start to a morningís birding.
I stop at a location where we consistently found Gray-throated Chat another year. A Bright-rumped Attila is singing vigorously and, with patience, this time we find it and everyone gets a satisfying look at the bird with a strange name. A side road Ė actually a cane field access road Ė follows a wooded shoulder on one side, a vacant field on the other and looks promising for birds. It is and we find many, including Yellow-olive Flycatcher, Yucatan Flycatcher and Mangrove Vireo. Someone draws my attention to a broken off tree trunk with a birdís head protruding from one side like a big knot. Through binoculars I see the face line identifying Lineated Woodpecker and I quickly align my scope on the odd sighting. The bill and head look small and some speculate it is a young bird. Those with cameras circle around to get a frontal view and after several photos the bird jumps out and we see it is a full-sized adult.

At the first sign of the marshes and open water near Doubloon Bank Lagoon we stop again. Snail Kites, a life bird for Heather, fly in the distance and one comes close enough to see its red legs. Then I see a flying hummingbird and watch where it lands at eye level only 20 ft. in front of us. Itís a female Green-breasted Mango sitting on her nest on a thin leafless shrub. I quickly retrieve my scope from the car and align on the nest. What an incredible view of the quiet hummingbird!

We stop again on the land bridge crossing Doubloon Bank Lagoon, near a truck with Belize plates. Two divers with mask and snorkel gear are wading and swimming in the reed choked edge of the lagoon. We ask the young lady at the truck what they are doing and first we understand they are searching for worms, but then get more details and learn they are collecting live snails to extract the fleshy part for fish bait. A woodpecker undulates across the lagoon and I get my binoculars on the flying bird, surprised to see it is a Golden-olive Woodpecker in an odd habitat.

The road is in its best condition, although still deeply rutted and would be challenge for our large RVís. A new campground on the lagoon looks inviting, but getting there would be a serious problem. We are now on the opposite side of Honey Camp Lagoon, seeing little while we drive past ripped up forests being cleared and then a gravel pit being excavated, when we stop because of orioles. In fact we find some 20+ orioles divided among Black-cowled, Orchard, Hooded and Yellow-tailed. Gordon spots a Black-crowned Tityra and everyone gets a good look at a species only he and Maxine have seen so far on the trip. At social hour Jim reports that Betty and he saw a flock of about 20 Black-throated Bobwhites and a Bat Falcon during an afternoon drive along the road we took this morning.

Day 54 Ė March 8 Ė Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary, Belize District

(Bert) Turning off Northern Highway and now on the gravel road to Crooked Tree, I stop when I hear raucous calls through my open window. I motion to the others to get out of the cars and listen to the trumpeting chorus of Limpkins competing in an who-can-be-loudest contest. A flock of three Muscovy Ducks flies across the Crooked Tree causeway as we near the village.

Although our three cars are only separated by a hundred feet, over the radio I hear, ďWeíve got a hawk here and it isnít a RoadsideĒ. I walk back to their car and am surprised at the good find theyíve located. A Crane Hawk is perched on a low bough and is intently using its beak to rip apart prey pinned in its talons. What a photo op! I go back to my car to retrieve my camera and tell the others to see the hawk, but by the time we return the hawk takes off and disappears.

Iíve been hearing common Red-lored and White-fronted parrots and not paying them much attention, but when I see a small plain-looking parrot sitting alone in the crown of a large tree Iíve got something different. I check my field guide and match it to a female Yellow-lored Parrot, a parrot species I identify least frequently in Belize.

Driving whenever rain falls and getting out whenever it stops is a 10+10 minute cycle. At one sequence I see a very far off raptor in a barren tree on the horizon, stop, take out my scope and get a nice view of a Laughing Falcon that patiently waits until everyone has a chance at the scope. The direct sunlight is hot so we move to the wind cooled shade of the Kiskadee Trail, a good place to find forest-lurking species. Iím surprised at how often we find Yellow-olive Flycatchers today; after many days where 0-1 is typical, seeing 5 seems excessive. We are within minutes of noon, so I gather everyone up and we head to Birdís Eye View for a delicious Belizean meal. After lunch I ask who wants to bird the afternoon until we can pass 100 species for the day. Jim, Betty, Tom and Charlu take up the challenge and we head back to Kiskadee Trail, the coolest spot to handle the mid-day heat.

I see a dull looking ground-dove on the barbed wire fence that looks suspiciously like Plain-breasted. It takes flight and lands near a male Ruddy Ground-Dove and its plainness is accentuated as is its small comparative size. In a few minutes I seen another ground-dove and this one has obvious scaling and a bicolor bill, marks for Common Ground-Dove. Three similar species in almost as many minutes!

Iím quite sure we have surpassed the 100 mark and we are still adding species. Betty calls out ďBlack-crowned TityraĒ and we find both male and female in the canopy, studying the female carefully to make mental notes about its difference from Masked Tityra. Weíve almost returned to the cars when a black bird springs from one side of the forest trail to the other and lands at eye-level on a horizontal limb. A catbird profile, glossy black, and in the right habitat, Iím delighted to find a Black Catbird so far inland. Betty sees it too on the limb before it takes off deeper into the woods. We surround the woody patch to relocate the bird, but the understory is too dense to see much more than 10 ft. and the catbird is gone. We end the Crooked Tree species day count with 112 as a group and 102 for me personally

(Shari) The SOBís plus Betty leave at 10:30 to join the birders for lunch. Marlene had big ideas about leaving early with the birders but fair weather birder that she is, when she heard a little rain on her rooftop she decided to leave later. Crooked Tree had a flood this past October and the road washed out and businesses were under 10 feet of water. Pictures of the places are amazing and so is the cleanup. The last time I visited Birdís Eye View was in 2003. All the other years, no SOBís wanted to leave later and I was unwilling to subject myself to 6 hr. of birding just to eat lunch. The place has improved even considering the flood. A nice restaurant room catching the breezes off the lagoon has been added. The food is just as good as ever. I visit the gift store and buy food items made from cashews, vinegar, butter and syrup. We will see whether this was a smart choice. On other years I purchased cashew wine that tastes a bit like sherry but I do not like sherry so passed on it this year. Vermilion Flycatchers are a dime a dozen and as common as Red-wing Blackbirds at home. Iguanas sit on cement protrusions or logs sunning themselves. The cashew trees are blooming. Spring has sprung in Belize. Sitting in the air-conditioned car, looking out, the landscape is beautiful. Getting out into the humidity, it doesnít seem as nice any more. Again, I say that we are lucky this year with our cool temperatures. Today only reaches to mid 80s and then cools quickly as the sun sets and the breezes start.

Day 55 Ė March 9 Ė New River and Lamanai, Orange Walk District

(Bert) We are at the Tower Bridge boat dock at 6:15 and the first bird we see is new for the trip, a Black-collared Hawk perched next to an expanse of lily pads on the New River.
Soon we are on the river with Amir piloting the boat equipped with a brand new 250 hp outboard motor. Iím surprised when Amir points out a couple of spider monkeys swinging through the canopy. Although Iíve seen howlers on the river and at Lamanai, this is the first time Iíve come across spider monkeys.

Mostly we cruise at high speed, stopping for unusual sightings like the Proboscis bats clinging to a tree trunk, the two Lesser Nighthawks sleeping on horizontal branches and the Purple Gallinule at the same patch of lily pads Iíve seen it many times before. This time the boat gets very close and I get some of my best photos yet. Gordon spots a night-heron in a densely foliaged tree at riverís edge. I train my binoculars on the spot and see a tree full of Boat-billed Herons. Amir positions the boat below the tree and the group gets its first good look at the herons with grossly oversized bills. Then we relocate the adult Yellow-crowned Night-Heron and an immature one as well.

Only Janice gets a good look at a Sungrebe. By the time we back up to the spot a canoe has passed by and, according to Amir, canoes and fishing boats scare off Sungrebes, but loud and fast powerboats do not. This one retreats into the mangroves and even when Amir climbs out of the boat and tries to coax it back to the river, it escapes our view.

The pair of Jabiru has nested again on the thickest bough of the giant Ceiba. I photograph them standing atop the nest, a quarter mile distant. Although I not surprised by large numbers of Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets and even the 12 Great Blue Herons, Iím impressed that the Green Heron count reaches 51 birds on our day list. This year my kingfisher counts are: Belted 17, Ringed 12, Green 10, Pygmy 1, Amazon 0.

We reach Lamanai Maya site and disembark. We start at the biggest fig tree which is fruiting now and in the canopy find both Yellow-throated and Scrub Euphonias, the later one new to my Lamanai checklist. While walking slowly on the trail beyond Jaguar temple, a lanky raptor flies toward us and lands in the subcanopy. Most see the full bird; I only see the tail, but it is enough for me to recognize Collared Forest-Falcon.

Weíve been seeing many Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds, but Iím suspicious of a pair scrabbling on a vine that includes a White-whiskered Puffbird. Iím photographing the puffbird and I swing the lens toward the hummingbirds and take a flash photo. When I study the photo I see the belly and tail markings match Buff-breasted Hummingbird, which Iíve not seen this far south previously.

On the way to the Mask Temple we hear rustling in the jungle and about 40 ft. into the dense underbrush we watch four Collared Peccaries walking slowly single file. Before we leave Lamanai, I decide to climb to the top of High Temple just to prove Iím not an old man yet. I do it in a single climb without stopping and while catching my breath at the top I enjoy the panoramic view of jungle, river and lagoon at eye level with soaring Turkey Vultures. A decade older, mountain climber Tom ascends and descends the temple faster than I do.

At 5 PM, just before we leave the dock a flock of 25 White Ibis wings through New River Lagoon. We cross the lagoon to a marsh penetrated by narrow Dawson Creek where we find a Snail Kite nest Ė a flimsy collection of sticks erected on a 7 ft. shrub - with two juveniles almost fledged. In fact, one of them takes flight while we watch and later after we pass the nest, it returns. Meanwhile, the adults fly nearby, calling to the young ones and encouraging them to leave the nest.

From the New River Lagoon, both operators gun their boats to top speed and we slice through the river as the sun sets, reaching Shipyard as darkness sets in and the full moon reflects brightly. I bring out my high power flashlight and the drivers use two dimmer ones as we search the trees for birds and the river for crocodiles. Two Laughing Falcons call forward the night. Within minutes we spot the large eye shine of a Northern Potoo. This one is close to the river and I get great photos. We keep finding potoos, reaching a surprising total of nine in less than an hour. We can identify three nightjars as Yucatan Nightjar from their cinnamon collars and a fourth likely the same. Another one is distant and I cannot get a photo. Bob gets a poor photo and later when I study the photo on my computer I see it is a pauraque. Depleting my two flashlight batteries, we head for the dock guided by moonlight for another 45 min. On the drive back to camp we see a Northern Raccoon, our eighth mammal species for the day. When I finally add our sightings for the day, it comes to a gratifying total of 124 bird species.

(Shari) Only five of us take the later boat to Lamanai but by my count we see enough to keep us happy. This year our guide Elio takes us to visit two spider monkeys. The monkeys land on the canvas cover of the boat and peer in at us. Heather gets close enough to touch one of the monkeyís hands. Our guide seems overly happy to show us the river and points out lots of different kingfishers, bats that blend into the trees, turtles, crocodiles, nighthawk, potoo, boat-billed herons, and on and on. I keep reminding him that we have more to go and that we have the lunch that the rest of the group expects to eat at 12:30. At 12 when we are only half way there, I tell Elio again to hurry up. We arrive at the dock 30 min. late and are greeted by some very hungry people. They dive into the chicken, rice and beans, potato salad, and coleslaw that have been provided for us. After eating they go back into the ruins for more birding. Larry and I stretch out on the picnic table and take a nap. Later I read my book until it is time to depart for our night birding experience. This part of the trip I enjoy. The river is spooky at night as the sun sets and the noise of the jungle takes over. The river is lit by an almost full moon tonight and many reflective red eyes can be seen in the high powered flashlight that Bert bought just for this purpose. We are hoping to see some owls but most of what we see is potoos. I lost count around eight of them during the trip.

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