A Birder's Guide to Belize

San Jose and Jimmy Cut to
Columbia River Forest Reserve

[February 27]  We decide to check out the Jimmy Cut logging road, shown on 20-year-old topo maps, before committing to an ill-conceived birding excursion.  We find the start of the logging road four miles from San Jose and proceed for nearly a mile on the deeply rutted road, with ruts made by vehicles much wider than our SUV’s.  Although I think I could make it to the end, I doubt the other vehicles could.  And, besides, we still seem to be a long way from deep forests, the place where we hope to find the birds missing from our trip list.  We decide there must be a better way to spend the day and return to town for a late afternoon swim in the pool.

Ecoregion and habitats: Appendix A, Ecoregion 16, Toledo southern lowlands and foothills. Habitats include: disturbed secondary broadleaved forested foothills (BFF3) leading to primary forest at higher elevation, interspersed by small villages (PC). Columbia River Forest Reserve is included in Ecoregion 15 with other higher elevation southern Maya Mountain sites.

Description: Among the resident bird species of southern Belize are those difficult to find because they inhabit higher elevations.  Before the hurricane that ravaged much of the forested areas between Punta Gorda and the Guatemala border, some of these birds occurred in the lower foothills.  Recently (2011), the birds have been returning in small numbers.  However, to find the birds where they are more likely to occur requires penetrating farther up the Maya Mountains into the Columbia River Forest Reserve.  Reaching an elevation over 2200 feet, the logging roads near San Jose hold promise for finding some of these species, so the site is included here.  Scientific expeditions have visited the reserve, reaching the site after long hikes along the logging tracks.  One of these areas is Little Quartz Ridge, a five to nine-mile summit running from 2610-3412 feet elevation.

Birding strategy: Make prior arrangements to hire Alfredo Sho as a birding guide.  He lives in San Jose and can show you the way, either to Jimmy Cut or Little Quartz Ridge.  Leave Punta Gorda very early in the morning so that you can start birding at a reasonable hour.  It will probably take at least two hours from Punta Gorda to San Jose (if you are picking up a guide there) and backtracking to Jimmy Cut, the start of the logging road.  If you want to organize a multiple-day hiking trip, it would be best to plan it for January to March when it is drier and not as hot.

Follow the directions below, passing up Jimmy Cut at 10.3.  This is the birding road, but if you wish to pick up Alfredo, continue on the main road to his house at mile 14.2, then double back to Jimmy Cut.  On the logging road, it is at least two miles to primary forest and at four miles the elevation is still below 1400 feet.  At seven miles the elevation is over 2200 feet.  Good luck on getting that far!

A different route is taken to reach Little Quartz Ridge.  Past trips have started from San Jose Village and hiked to Edwards Central and Union Camp.  A strong, experienced hiker can make it to the ridge in two days without birding along the way, but most others would require three days with minimal birding en route.  Backcountry throughout, there are no facilities at the ridge or along the way.

Concerns: The Jimmy Cut trip is not advised unless you love freewheeling and have a vehicle equipped to handle it.  It would be best to take two vehicles in case you break down or get stuck.  A hike is required after you reach the end of the logging road.

Contact: Alfredo Sho, Maya's Inland Expedition Group, San Jose Hawaii, Toledo District; (011) 501-722-2972; adventuretoledo@hotmail.com. Additional information on Columbia River Forest Reserve is available at: http://ambergriscaye.com/pages/town/parkcolumbiariver.html.

Location: N 16 17.50' W 89 2.82'; elevation 675 feet, at start of Jimmy Cut, which is reached by San Antonio Road.

Directions: From Southern Highway, zero your odometer at the T-intersection with the San Antonio Road and continue past Mafredi to the T-intersection at 4.0. 

4.0       Turn right at the T-intersection, continuing on gravel road toward San Antonio.
5.5       Veer right at the Y-intersection, leading toward Crique Jute and San Jose. N 16 14.99’ W 89 0.66’.
6.7       Cross bridge and another at 7.1.
7.2       Crique Jute School. Wooden bridge at 7.7.
8.0       Lumber camp Salamanca.
8.2       Logging road on right, continue straight.
10.3     Jimmy Cut logging road (for birding) on right.
11.8     "Welcome to San Jose"
13.2     Concrete bridge.
14.2     Alfredo's home on right. N 16 16.03’ W 89 5.75’; elevation 823 feet.

Key species of San Jose: Little Tinamou, Slaty-breasted Tinamou, Ruddy Crake, Gray-chested Dove, Striped Cuckoo, Great Antshrike, Dusky Antbird, Paltry Tyrannulet, White-winged Becard, Crimson-collared Tanager, Passerini’s Tanager, Buff-throated Saltator, Orange-billed Sparrow, Green-backed Sparrow.

Key species of Columbia River Forest Reserve: [A mixture of low and high-elevation species, M marks montane or submontane exclusively or nearly so]. Great Tinamou, Crested Guan, Great Curassow, Spotted Wood-Quail, Double-toothed Kite, Harpy Eagle [R], Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle, Barred Forest-Falcon, Pheasant Cuckoo, Crested Owl [M], Spectacled Owl, Chuck-will’s-widow [R,T], Wedge-tailed Sabrewing, Violet Sabrewing, Brown Violetear [M], Violet-crowned Woodnymph [M], Azure-crowned Hummingbird [M], Stripe-tailed Hummingbird [M], Tody Motmot, Keel-billed Motmot [M], Emerald Toucanet [M], Tawny-throated Leaftosser [M], Scaly-throated Leaftosser, Spotted Woodcreeper [M], Russet Antshrike [M], Plain Antvireo [M], Slaty Antwren [M], Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher, Rufous Mourner, Speckled Mourner [M,R], Lovely Cotinga [R], Rufous Piha, Plumbeous Vireo [M], Nightingale Wren, Slate-colored Solitaire [M], White-throated Thrush [M], Tropical Parula [M], Cerulean Warbler [M], Common Bush-Tanager [M], Shining Honeycreeper [M], White-winged Tanager [M], Elegant Euphonia [M], White-vented Euphonia [M].

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