A Birder's Guide to Belize

Community Baboon Sanctuary

[February 11]  We are leisurely floating down Belize River in canoes, occasionally using our paddles to move closer to the bamboo-covered shores or to avoid an overhanging branch.  Sometimes we can hear distant howlers and twice we find a monkey in a tree.  From the few we see along the river, it is hard to imagine the 2000-2500 howlers inhabiting this sanctuary.  The habitat looks good for the pygmy-kingfishers which so many want to see.  I diligently search for them in the tangles along the shore.  Bob says we aren’t finding any because rains have pushed the water level too high and the edges are too deep for the minnows to be visible to the tiny kingfishers.  The Ringed Kingfishers are prominent, however, following us downstream with Gatling gun calls.  High in the trees, dinosaur-like Green Iguanas lounge in profusion.  There must be hundreds of these huge reptiles.  One does a high dive jump, misses the river, and lands loudly on the muddy shore.  Wow, that must smart!  Striped Basilisks are even more common than iguanas.  They go unnoticed until we get close and then run off hastily along low branches or across the water, running so fast they do not sink below the surface.


We hear more birds then we see.  Rufous-breasted Spinetails and Barred Antshrikes are constantly calling along the entire river, none visible however.  The joyous song of the Yellow-tailed Oriole is about the prettiest melody of any tropical bird.  Now that we are familiar with the two-note call of the Striped Cuckoo we hear it more often, twice along the river today.  Undoubtedly the best bird of the river trip is Blue Seedeater...

Ecoregion and habitats: Appendix A, Ecoregion 8, Belize and Sibun Rivers riparian forests and coastal savannas. Habitats include: riparian along the Belize River (BFL1), secondary lowland broadleaf forest (BFL3) adjoining farmland (AG3), small villages (PC).

Description: Monkeys outnumber people at Community Baboon Sanctuary.  The first settlers mistakenly called the local monkeys “baboons”; their proper name is Yucatan Black Howler, a husky monkey that are found in troops of 2-12 members, led by a dominate male with an amazingly loud territorial call that can be heard a mile away. The idea for a protected reserve began in 1985 with mutual agreement of the farmers in several adjacent communities.  At Double Head Cabbage you can launch canoes from the muddy shore, then pass downstream on the Belize River through Scotland Halfmoon Village, and take out at Bermudian Landing.  A leisurely canoe ride downstream takes about two hours.  Approximately 200 species of birds have been recorded here.  This undoubtedly is one of the best places in Belize to see Yucatan Black Howlers close enough to get excellent photos.  Although, avoid getting too close as they hurl branches and feces in defense.  The Visitor Center in Bermudian Landing offers an interesting museum, bathrooms, tour arrangements, and local information.  RV parking (no hookups) and tent camping are nearby.

Birding strategy: One of the goals of visiting this area might be to canoe about an 8-10 mile stretch of the Belize River.  Arranging a trip might be difficult, however.  Trips are offered by Howler Monkey Lodge, whose website was far more impressive in 2008 than their rundown facilities, impaired equipment, and laid-back approach to getting an early morning start.  Perhaps a better approach would be to stop at the visitor center and museum and ask locally for alternatives, check out the facilities, and arrange for travel early on another day.  You could also inquire there about getting a guide to lead you along the three miles of trails through private land.  At the very least, take the hour-long tour of the forest intermingling with Bermudian Landing.  Follett, a local resident, provides an excellent biological commentary of the ecology and leads you to the rather tame wild monkeys.

Fees and contact: Sanctuary entrance, museum, and tour are bundled for US$7. Hours are 8 AM to 5 PM. Community Baboon Sanctuary, P.O. Box 1428, Belize City, Belize District; (011) 501-220-2181; info@howlermonkeys.org; www.howlermonkeys.org.

Location: N 17 33.34' W 88 32.08' at museum. Access is from Belize City Bypass through the village of Burrell Boom, 20-30 minutes from Philip Goldson International Airport. The bypass connects Northern and Western highways and there are two exits from the bypass that reach Burrell Boom.

Directions: If heading south on Belize City Bypass, zero your odometer at its intersection with Northern Highway. Exit at mile 2.9, just after crossing Boom Bridge over Belize River, N 17 34.19' W 88 23.25'. For another 1.2 miles, follow the dirt road along the bank of the river until you come to a T-intersection on the back side of Burrell Boom.  Continue straight.

If heading north on Belize City Bypass, zero your odometer at its intersection with Western Highway. Exit at mile 7.3, just after crossing a small bridge over a creek, N 17 33.64' W 88 24.26'. Turn left, drive through the village for a half mile until you come to the T-intersection at the back side of Burrell Boom. Turn left at the intersection.

Reset your odometer at the T-intersection in Burrell Boom. Shortly after crossing the bridge over Mussel Creek at 4.6 you will see a sign for Community Baboon Sanctuary, where the paved road starts. Pass Flowers Bank turnoff at 5.6 and Scotland Halfmoon Village turnoff at 7.5. A Texaco gas station is at 7.7 shortly before the bridge over Belize River. Bermudian Landing village starts at 8.3, Howler Monkey Lodge is at 8.5, followed by the visitor center and museum at 8.7.

To reach the drop-off point for canoeing, continue beyond the museum to Double Head Cabbage at 9.1. One mile farther, turn left toward the river. The canoe drop off at Belize River is at 10.9, with GPS coordinates N 17 32.54' W 88 33.05'.

The road continues through interesting birding areas, including Spanish Creek and Rancho Dolores.  See the section on Spanish Creek for details.

Key species of Community Baboon Sanctuary: Little Tinamou, Muscovy Duck, Black-throated Bobwhite, Hook-billed Kite, Plumbeous Kite (S), Black-collared Hawk, Aplomado Falcon, Gray-necked Wood-Rail, Sungrebe, Limpkin, Scaled Pigeon, Yellow-lored Parrot, Yellow-headed Parrot, Striped Cuckoo, Vermiculated Screech-Owl, Long-billed Hermit, Stripe-throated Hermit, Azure-crowned Hummingbird, Amazon Kingfisher, American Pygmy-Kingfisher, White-necked Puffbird, Acorn Woodpecker, Rufous-breasted Spinetail, Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Royal Flycatcher, White-winged Becard, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Grace’s Warbler, Swainson’s Warbler, Mourning Warbler [R,T], Gray-headed Tanager, Thick-billed Seed-Finch, Chipping Sparrow, Blue Seedeater, Rose-throated Tanager, Hepatic Tanager, Yellow-backed Oriole, Yellow-tailed Oriole.

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