2015 Birding Trip to Mayan Belize

Our small group tours are geared to beginner and expert birders alike, and our birding trip to Mayan Belize in March of 2015 was no exception. If you enjoy tropical nature travel, or are interested in exploring the possibilities, give us a call at 888-505-9056.

Below are some excerpts from the group Trip Report that we gave to everyone after our most recent trip to Belize. This will give you an idea of what a day is like on one of our tropical birding trips. Many thanks to one of our participants, Sarah, who took copious notes and wrote this up with a little help from Jerry. A memorable getaway to usher out the end of a very long and snowy winter!

Wednesday, March 11:

Rising early for coffee, one of our group, Sheldon, spies a White Hawk across the river; it stands out against the green of the jungle forest. Our pre-breakfast walk yields views of a Piratic Flycatcher, Yellow-faced Grassquit,, Keel-billed Toucan (Belize’s national bird), Collared Aracari, White-fronted and White-crowned Parrots among others.

After breakfast, Black Rock Lodge guide, Giovanni, joins us for birding in the parking lot and along the river trail. He and Nathan find a pair of rare and endangered Orange-breasted Falcons in the cliffs overlooking the Lodge. Giovanni explains that Robert B. Berry, Director of the Orange-Breasted Falcon Project, is working to breed these endangered birds in captivity in conjunction with other scientists to prevent their extinction. (For the goals and background of this important work see http://www.peregrinefund.org/projects/orange-breasted-falcon.) We watch these distant birds through the scope for some time before moving on to another sighting of the White Hawk as well as sightings of, among others, Masked Tityra, Broad-billed Flycatcher, Black-cowled Tanager, male and female Summer Tanagers, Keel-billed Toucan, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, and a distant Ornate Hawk-Eagle. Our hike around the Black Rock Lodge parking lot and upper trail along the river yields beautiful looks at the usually elusive Squirrel Cuckoo, as well as Yellow-winged and other warblers, Black Phoebe, Broad-billed Flycatcher, Lesser Greenlet, the colorful underside of an Ornate Hawk-Eagle, plus immature and adult King Vultures.

Wednesday afternoon’s hike takes us toward the Black Rock Lodge entrance, closer to the river. More of the usual suspects appear: Brown Jays, a Roadside Hawk, Magnolia Warbler (ubiquitous on this trip…), as well as Red-legged Honeycreeper, a nice look at a White-bellied Emerald with its red lower mandible, Rough-winged Swallows, a Streak-headed Woodcreeper, and a great look at both male and female Red-throated Ant Tanagers. We get to observe the difference between the whiter Louisiana Waterthrush (with yellow legs) and more buffy Northern Waterthrush. The hike ends as several Montezuma Oropendolas fly overhead.

Saturday, March 14:

Today is a full day of birding! After coffee and banana muffins we head out on a lovely morning walk and see many birds including some old friends: Northern Parula, American Redstart, Tennessee Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler, Clay-colored Thrush (seen almost daily on this trip), Ruby-throated Hummingbird, and Golden-olive Woodpecker (peeking out of its nest). More unusual sightings include a beautiful male Barred Antshrike, Plain Chachalaca, and Ivory-billed Woodcreeper. Non-avian sitings include an agouti and a green iguana. We return to the lodge for breakfast, eager for more!

Nathan combines botany, history and great birding during the morning hike through Lamanai Archaeological Preserve. He shows us cohune palms, a tropical feather palm whose nuts yield an oil similar to coconut oil and another sabal palm whose fronds, insect resistant because of their sap at time of harvest around a full moon, are used in roofs. We see remains of a Spanish church built on a Mayan site and destroyed by Mayans. We also visit the museum at this large Mayan site and learn Lamanai’s long history (ca. 1500 BCE – 1500 CE), in which it thrived due to the presence of the New River which kept it going when other sites collapsed because of drought. Our hike through the ruins is highlighted by sightings of a beautiful Royal Flycatcher (thanks, Jack!), Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher, a female Black-throated Shrike-Tanager, Spot-breasted Wren, and a Plain Xenops. The longest and best view of the morning is a Slaty-tailed Trogon, sitting just above us on the trail. The bird eyes us curiously and even jumps down to the ground where it is easily photographed at close range. Meanwhile some of us are “rained on” by howler monkeys who protest our presence. We later watch a Bat Falcon, sitting in top of a palm, devour a small bird. Those of us who climbed atop a temple ruin got to see the bird at eye-level!

A smaller group of us take an afternoon hike behind the Lodge and see a Stripe-throated Hermit, several warblers, a Pale- vented Pigeon, and a Red-lored Parrot, among others. We watch a Bat Falcon who, mobbed by parrots, tries to attack one unsuccessfully.

Our night boat ride on the New River Lagoon reveals a tree full of sleeping Neotropic Cormorants, great views of two elusive Agami Herons, a wide-eyed nocturnal Boat-billed Heron, regular and white morph Little Blue Heron, and Limpkin, to name a few. We see Green, Ringed, and American Pygmy Kingfishers. The Pygmy is sound asleep on a branch! Nathan tells us they choose small branches to sleep on because the branch vibrates when predator snakes approach. Abdul, our 18-year-old guide-in-training gives us a wonderful “tour of the constellations” in the beautiful, clear night sky–devoid of light pollution–a perfect end to a great day.

Tuesday, March 17 (St. Patrick’s Day):

Howler monkeys serenade the pre-breakfast walk, as, accompanied by turkeys, we walk to the workers’ village. We see a Brown-crested Flycatcher, a heavily streaked Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher (similar to the Streaked and Piratic Flycatchers in appearance, but with an all dark bill and dark lateral throat stripe and chin) and other usual suspects: Social Flycatchers, Tropical Kingbirds, Red-legged Honeycreepers, numerous Baltimore and Black-cowled Orioles. On our return to the Lodge we see a troop of Spider Monkeys and hear our first Wood Thrush.

During the morning we see our first Mealy Parrots, a Gray-headed Dove, Scaled Pigeon, male and female Rose-throated Becard, a juvenile Black Hawk-Eagle (identified later in consultation with Chan Chich’s own guide, Humberto), and Brown-headed Parrots, Spot-breasted Wren, and Plumbous Kite. We come upon a leafcutter ant nest and nearby we spot Red-throated Ant Tanager, Northern Barred Woodcreeper, Tawny-winged Woodcreeper (think “bad hair”) and Gray-headed Tanager–all following the ants. Another view of the Black-headed Trogon, and sightings of a Double-toothed Kite and White-bellied Wren complete a full morning.

After siesta we see numerous spectacular Red-capped Manakins at close range–the major find of the afternoon! We see our only Golden-hooded Tanager, plus Band-backed, White-bellied and Spot-breasted Wrens, and Olive-throated Parakeets.

Following dinner and Sheldon’s rendition of “Danny Boy” in honor of St. Patty (very few dry eyes . . .), some of us take a night hike to the bridge. Nathan shows us a large tarantula, several wolf spiders, and we see crocodile eyes in the water near the bridge. The best sighting is a Wood Thrush asleep under a leaf of a tree close to the road!

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