A Birder's Guide to Belize

Big Falls Farm and Cox Lagoon

[February 14]  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 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.  The muddy road becomes an impassable wide swatch of waterlogged red limestone mud, and deep ruts remain filled with water.  The tractor that preceded us took the driest route, leaving ruts almost three feet deep, too much for my high-clearance SUV, so we continue on foot. 

Ecoregion and habitats: Appendix A, Checklist 8, Belize and Sibun Rivers riparian forests and coastal savannas.  Habitats include: savanna, secondary lowland broadleaf forest (BFL3), swamp forest around lagoon (BFL2), and riparian along Belize River (BFL1), as well as agricultural lands (AG).

Description: The private road extends from Western Highway about 12 miles to the Belize River bordered by the huge Big Falls Farm, a few thousand acres of rice and cattle country.  Along the way the road intersects Cox Lagoon Crocodile Sanctuary, which lies within 30,000 acres of swamp forest, marsh, mudflats, and—at higher elevation—pine savanna.  A research team identified 124 species of birds, 23 species of mammals, and 14 species of reptiles at the lagoon.  The farm and lagoon have hosted a significant number of rarities, particularly waterfowl.  The waterfowl list includes Fulvous Whistling-Duck, Snow Goose, Mallard, Cinnamon Teal, Northern Shoveler, Green-winged Teal, and Masked Duck.  Other Belize-scarce species recorded here include Pinnated Bittern, Least Bittern, and Yellow-breasted Crake.  For species seen or likely to be seen, consult the lists under Belize Zoo and Monkey Bay Wildlife Sanctuary as they share much the same habitats.

Birding strategy: The entrance road to Big Falls Farm is blocked by a locked gate.  To gain access, make arrangements with Monkey Bay Wildlife Sanctuary.  While you can bird at least the first portion of the road on your own, you will need a canoe and guide to explore Cox Lagoon because this is private protected land.  Like many rural roads of Belize, the Big Falls Farm road can become impassable after heavy rains. 

Zero your odometer at the intersection with Western Highway.  Mangrove Vireos seem to call from everywhere and you may hear the whit whit whit call notes of a Wood Thrush.  Listen for the cooing of Gray-headed Dove.  One way to identify it is to measure the time it takes to make ten calls: 21-28 sec.  For more information on identifying Belize doves by call, see Chapter 7. 

About a mile from the highway listen for Little Tinamou which might come to within a few feet of where you are standing and still remain hidden.  Here also occurs Yellow-lored Parrot, often perching high on the forest horizon, perhaps on a dead limb.  You may hear it “talking” first, and then with a scope see its characteristic yellow frontal band, sweeping down to the lores above the bill.  Crane Hawk has been observed here.  The road intersects a narrow portion of Cox Lagoon at 4.  Farmlands start at 6 and extend another 4+ miles, eventually reaching the Belize River. 

Location: N 17 29.53' W 88 35.37' for Big Falls Farm at Belize River. N 17 27.17' W 88 32.55' at Cox Lagoon. Heading west on Western Highway, the dirt road to Big Falls Farm intersects at mile 8.9, N 17 24.24' W 88 30.18'.

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  Website created by Bert Frenz.  Last updated January 18, 2012.