20 - 29 August 2001
by Dave Klauber
From August 7 through August 29 I spent 3 weeks in the Yucatan peninsula, visiting both Mexico and Belize. The Mexican portion is described in a separate trip report, Part 1, Mexico. The Mexican portion was far more productive.
Based on my experience, I would strongly recommend that a trip to Belize NOT be taken in August, as I found virtually none of my target birds due to being unable to get to various sites due to rain. I knew the rainy season was not a good time to visit Belize, but due to personal reasons I was in the area and decided to try my luck. I was not lucky.
I used several trip reports from the Internet as a guide. Independent birders should be aware that almost all the reports on Blake Maybank’s website for the last few years are by people who went with a tour group. Kevin Loughlin has a few reports, but he runs a tour agency. The lodges such as Chan Chich and Lamanai Outpost Lodge are expensive and made no effort to accommodate me as an independent birder. Getting to and from the lodges is also quite costly. For accommodations I used the Lonely Planet Belize, Guatemala and Yucatan, 4th edition, March 2001, which was pretty good. I bought a book called The New Key to Belize by Stacy Ritz, but I used this book very little. In general I found the author seemed to be showing how much she knew about Belize and various artists or craftsmen rather than providing useful advice to the traveler that could not be found in the Lonely Planet book. The Belize map from the Belize Tourist Bureau had more detail than the Central America maps I had purchased.
I used public transportation, since the more remote areas that I wanted to visit were difficult to reach without a 4 wheel drive, which is quite expensive to rent (over $100 / day). Public transportation in old US school buses was very cheap and adequate, if crowded and hot at times, especially when it rained and the windows were closed.
I brought traveler’s checks, American Express, US dollars. These were accepted in most places, even by independent tour guides, and are highly recommended.
The exchange rate is 2 Belize dollars to 1 US dollar.
I saw 147 species in Belize, and heard another 2. I missed all the
birds but did get 1 lifer, the Yellow Bellied Tyrannulet. I have
not generated an electronic trip list, but any queries will be answered
regarding specific species. Most species of interest are mentioned in
report. My main target birds were hawk-eagles, Keel Billed Motmot,
breasted Falcon. Inquiries about specific species will gladly be
BAD NEWS DEPARTMENT
A Harpy Eagle was seen the previous year at the Caracol ruins. A local guide in San Ignacio told me that a Guatemalan had shot the bird, and even had a photo of himself holding the dead eagle.
This was mostly a travel day. I took an early bus from Cancun, Mexico to Chetumal. In Chetumal I had to wait 2 hours for the bus to Belize. The bus stops at the border, where you get out and go through customs. There is a bank, but it was closed when I got there. There are moneychangers who will give you the 2 to 1 rate for US cash. My original intention was to take the bus to Orange Walk Town, then try and get a bus to the village of Indian Church, which is next to the Lamanai ruins, and has a couple of places to stay. A tropical storm blew in that day so I revised my plans to go to Crooked Tree Sanctuary. The bus to Belize City drops you off at a covered bus stand about 6 miles from Crooked Tree. You have to wait for a bus to Crooked Tree, which runs infrequently.
I stayed at the Paradise Inn, based on recommendations I had read about Glenn Crawford in trip reports. Another birding hotel is Sam Tillett’s Hotel, a bit closer to town. The bus driver dropped me off near the Crawford home, which is a mile or so from the cottages/huts. Rudy Crawford, the father, drove me to the straw thatched cottages, which cost $37 with fan and hot water. The room was rather damp, and the roof leaked when it rained, although fortunately not on the bed. The place in general was in need of repair, with a broken light bulb, holes in the screens, and similar things. The cottages are on the lagoon, in a nice setting. The Crawfords cook meals at reasonable prices. My total bill for 2 nights with 2 dinners, 1 lunch, and 1 breakfast was about $90. They take traveler’s checks. His son Glenn, the birder, was in town but was supposed to visit me later in the evening, which never happened. Behind and up the road a bit are savannas where there are parrots, Yellow-headed, Yucatan, and others, according to Glenn. I did see one Yellow-headed Parrot fly by near the cottages, but no Yucatans. I only had about an hour’s birding time before dark.
It rained during the night and into the morning. I set out at 7:30, after it stopped raining, but saw that they were waiting for me to make breakfast. I went to have a quick breakfast, and was joined by Glenn. He is very knowledgeable and pleasant. He reviewed my want list of about 15 birds and told me various places in Belize to look for them. We birded together for about 10 minutes as he walked back to his house, and we planned to take a river ride to look for Agami Heron the next morning. That was the last I saw of him.
At this time it was nearly 10 AM, and I saw very little on my 2-hour walk through the savannas behind the cottages. I heard Yucatan Bobwhite, and saw Yucatan Woodpecker. I returned for lunch, and it rained hard for a while. I set out for a walk into the “town”, just a store and a couple of houses. Just as I got there it rained very hard again for about 30 minutes. I walked back along the lagoon to the Crawfords. Right in front of the cottages was a Black Collared Hawk. There were Snail Kites flying over the lagoon, but no Jabirus, which I never did see. Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture also flew by. I set out again for the savanna trail at 4:30. There were some parrots that I could not ID, Grace’s Warbler, and a few other passerines. Glenn never returned to tell me what time we would set out for the river ride (which costs $70), even though I asked his father about him at dinner.
It rained hard all night and into the morning. I was up early, wanting to leave to catch the only 2 buses out, at either 6:15 or 7:00. Unfortunately Rudy Crawford did not show up until 7:30. (It would have been a 40-minute walk with luggage through a flooded mud track to the bus). He drove me to the bus stop on the main highway, where I waited over an hour for a bus that would finally stop. The road from Crooked Tree was very flooded, with the road under up to a foot of flowing water. I went to Belize City, and changed buses for San Ignacio, near the Guatemalan border.
In San Ignacio I checked in at Eve’s, the local information center and restaurant. I took a $3.50 taxi to the Mayan Mountain Lodge, about 3 miles outside of town in a beautiful forested location. I opted out for a cabin by myself for $59 US with fan and hot water. There were cheaper rooms for $34. They have a good but somewhat pricey restaurant. There is a trail that goes through some good habitat on the property. A pair of Bat Falcons is resident on the nearby hill, and Band-backed Wrens are resident next to the restaurant. I birded the trail in the late afternoon and found Kentucky Warbler and Black Headed Trogon. Red Throated Ant Tanager was on the grounds outside my cabin, also Little Hermit.
I had arranged to go on a non-birding tour through the lodge to Caracol for $75 US, where there are ruins and some good birds, like breeding Keel-billed Motmot. Since it had rained the night before, they decided to visit other places – the Chechen Ha caves and the Xunantunich ruins. There was a pair of King Vultures in the trees on the mountains above the caves parking lot. Along the trail to the caves were Cerulean and Golden-crowned Warbler and Collared Aracari. On the drive into the caves was a Crimson-collared Tanager. Otherwise this was a non-event birding-wise, although the forest on the trail to the caves is very good habitat. Back at the hotel was a flock of Montezuma Oropendulas and feeding White-crowned Parrots. Note that trips arranged through the lodge are a bit more expensive and add taxes, which were not added on my other tour.
I had arranged a trip (not really a birding trip) to Caracol with a guide based in Eva’s restaurant – Everaldo - for $60. It had rained extensively the night before. We drove 1.5 hours to a flooded river about a half-hour from Caracol that had submerged the bridge to Caracol under 6 feet of water. We turned back and visited the Rio Frio caves. A nice flock outside the caves included Eye-ringed Flatbill, Royal Flycatcher, Yellow-olive Flycatcher, and Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher. We next visited the 1000-foot waterfall, arriving after 10 AM. There are breeding Orange-breasted Falcons here, but of course I didn’t see any in the hour we spent here. The afternoon was spent at the El Pilar ruins, which had nice birding habitat, although I did not get a chance to do much exploring. I would recommend independent birders to visit this site early and bird the grounds, which had Aracari, Toucan, and trogons. I returned to the hotel, and birded the trail during the last 45 minutes of daylight. I managed to see a Black-faced/ Mexican Antthrush.
I took the bus to Belmopan, then through Dangriga to Cockscomb Jaguar Sanctuary. It took me about 3 hours. I stayed in the Nuuk Cheil cottages at Mayan village, about 10 minutes walk up the road towards the sanctuary. It was $35 Belize for a basic cottage with a fan. Bathroom and cold water shower are shared facilities in a separate building. The ride to the sanctuary is $25 Belize each way, but I got the “discounted” rate of $40 round trip because I was staying there. There are basic cottages and dormitories in the sanctuary, but you have to provide all your own food. The food at Nuuk Cheil was pretty good.
I got to the sanctuary about 2:30, birding until near dusk around 6:15. This is excellent birding habitat, although I did not see any lifers. A group of javelinas were feeding on the main trail. Birds seen were Great and Barred Antshrikes, Dusky Antbirds, Common Tody-Flycatcher, Worm-eating and Kentucky Warblers, Crimson-collared and Yellow-winged Tanagers, Red-legged Honeycreeper, and Blue-black Grosbeak. Nesting next to the Nuuk Cheil dining room was Passerini’s Tanager. Heard outside my cottage after dark was a fairly close Mottled Owl, although I could not see it.
I arranged an early ride to Cockscomb, arriving about 6:15. Half an hour earlier would have been even better. A Pygmy Kingfisher flew across the main trail near a bridge, and Green Kingfishers were further up. I took the river loop trail and another one that went off to the right and returned to the main HQ. Seen were: immature Pauraque, Little Hermit, White-necked Jacobin, Rufous tailed Hummingbird, White-bellied Emerald, Plain Xenops, Plain Antvireo, Sepia capped Flycatcher, Northern Bentbill, Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher, White-crowned and Red-capped Manakins, Olive-backed Euphonia, Golden-hooded Tanager, Orange-billed Sparrow, Black-faced and Blue-black Grosbeaks, among others. A tayra ran across the main trail around 9 AM. On the drive back around noon a Laughing Falcon flew by and perched in a nearby tree. In the afternoon I birded about 1-2 miles up the road from the cottages. Just by the first orange grove was a Striped Cuckoo immature begging food from a Rufous-breasted Spinetail. I managed to get a Yellow-Bellied Tyrannulet with the aid of a tape about a mile up the road. The road edge was pretty birdy.
I birded the road edge near the cabins in the morning, seeing no new birds. I took the bus back to Belize City, seeing a White-tailed Kite along the road. I stayed at the Hotel Mopan, for about $40 US with AC ($30 with fan only). Belize City is basically a dump, of little interest.
August 28 - Last birding day
I had arranged to go on a tour to the Lamanai ruins for about $60
I took a bus to Orange Walk, then waited there for 2 hours while the
2 people showed up. There had been heavy rains, which resulted in the
level being very high. So the 2 hour boat trip was almost birdless,
there was no edge whatsoever. The ruins themselves are nice, and in
jungle habitat. Little of note that I had not seen previously was here.
Lesser Greenlet, Violaceous Trogon, and Black-cowled Oriole were seen.
It rained off and on, and I got soaked on the return boat ride