12 - 28 November 2000
by Mary Beth Stowe
Flew out of San Diego on 12 NOV 00 on American Airlines to Dallas, where I spent the night and flew on in to Belize City the next day (also on American; they have daily flights). I was picked up by Javier's Flying Service and flown to Gallon Jug, where we took a van to Chan Chich, where I stayed through the 19th. On that day was flown again by Javier to Central Farm, where I was picked up by Five Sisters Lodge and driven up. Stayed there until the 25th, when I was driven to Belize City and picked up by St. George Lodge for a boat ride out to the caye, where I stayed until the 27th. They took me right to the airport, where I flew back to Dallas, spent the night again, then flew in to San Diego on the 28th.
This is indeed the end of the rainy season! The time at Chan Chich (CC) was wonderful, and the weather was perfect! The day I arrived at Five Sisters (5S) was lovely, too, but for the next four days straight it rained--yuk! (Sometimes it would let up a little, but I got drenched a couple of times...) The day before I left was pretty, and thankfully it was pretty the day we drove to Belize City and boated over to St. George (SG), but after that it was on and off rain again (with a pretty good boomer the last night; I was beginning to think Hurricane Keith had returned!)
The food was wonderful at all three places! Meal times were consistent across the board: breakfast at seven, lunch at noon, and dinner at seven. At CC and 5S it was a restaurant sort of setup with separate tables and a choice of one or two entrees, but at SG it was definitely a "family affair" with one big table and everyone, including the owner (Fred Good) and his assistant (Chip) joining whoever was there! Here you ate whatever they provided, but unless you're a very picky eater there was nothing to complain about!
All three places had "cabanas", round, thatch-roofed buildings with bed, dresser, desk, closet space, and private bath. At SG the less expensive room was right in the lodge building, which was handy for meals cuz you were right there, but the room didn't have a desk, so I'd probably go with the cabana next time, which was really nicer because you had your own little dock where you could sit on a chase and watch the mangroves for goodies! Chan Chich was definitely the superior of the three, with hot water in the showers with good water pressure, and they provided water coolers in the room where you could fill up your water bottle each morning with cold water! Five Sisters also provided bottled water in the room with each cleaning; my cabana had a little trouble with the showers, however (the "hot" water was rather lukewarm and kinda dribbly, and up in the mountains where the rainy weather made it even MORE cold and miserable, I really coulda used a nice hot shower!). Ended up only taking a sponge bath at SG cuz I couldn't figure out how to use the shower (I thought it was broken, but you had to turn the faucets, THEN hit the button on the flexible shower thingie...)! Both CC and 5S had hammocks and chairs outside the cabana where you could crash and watch (or listen) for birds; CC was less constrictive as 5S's hammock area was screened in, while CC's cabanas had open decks that ran around the whole cabin. Had a few little critters visit me in CC, but the other two places were pretty bug-free inside. Beds were clean and comfortable all around.
Arrived at Chan Chich in the late afternoon, so I really didn't have much time to bird the first day. (Should probably mention here that I got the only Lesser Yellow-headed Vultures of the trip flying out of Belize City: you could look right down on their white primary shafts!) My plan for the week was to bird a pre-determined route in the morning, crash and read during the early afternoon, and bird another pre-determined route in the late afternoon. NOT! I ended up with THREE good morning birding routes, and they almost always had afternoon excursions to Gallon Jug of some sort, so there went siesta! I could have easily spent THREE weeks there to thoroughly bird the area to my satisfaction.
So I ended up birding the lodge area between six and seven each morning, eating at seven, then going on a four hour bird walk, so with three routes, that meant that I got to do each route twice while I was there. After lunch at noon I had a little time to journal before the "bus" left for Gallon Jug at 1:30. After that was about the only crash time I had until dinner, and I had two nights where I went out with a guide (birding that is; wanted to clarify that...).
The lodge area was wonderful for birding in itself, and a lot of things hung around here that you really didn't see elsewhere. Full of flowering plants and other exotic things, all three euphonias (Scrub, Yellow-throated, and Olive-backed) were always around, and Rufous-tailed was the prominent hummer. As promised, you had to kick the Ocellated Turkeys out of your way each morning (or else you had to watch out for them as they'd scream in from their roosting trees at warp ten)! The Crested Guan was usually somewhere way in the treetops, and both Red-lored and Mealy Parrots tested your vocal identification skills, as they'd both be yelling at the top of their lungs! The Oropendola Tree was right outside my cabana, and they were always the first day birds to awaken me, along with the Melodious Blackbirds (Paraques were the ubiqutous nightbirds, with the odd Mottled Owl). A group of Masked Tityras made their funny noises from the top of another tree, and the Bat Falcon would terrorize the sailing Turkey and Black Vultures! If you've listened to John Moore's "Bird Walk at Chan Chich" tape, you'll smile at his reference to "John", the resident Strong-billed Woodcreeper, who is indeed still around (or at least his progeny) along with Ruddy, Olivaceous, Barred, and Wedge-billed Woodcreepers. Occasionally you'd hear Blue-crowned Motmots and Bright-rumped Attilas in the early morning as well, and on a couple of occasions had both Barred and Collared Forest Falcons. Black-cheeked Woodpeckers were fairly easy to see, while the Chestnut-colored and Golden-olive were easy to hear but never did show themselves.
At the actual lodge, they have a little rocky fountain surrounded by more flowering bushes, and this is a great place to camp out and watch: Purple-crowned Fairies hog this one bush (I think the consensus was that it was a Hybiscus), with the occasional Little Hermit (also around my cabana, giving me fits with the camera), and rarely the Long-tailed Hermit. White-collared Seedeaters were a common visitor to the water, along with migrant warblers; had my only Black-throated Blue of the trip here. An Ochre-bellied Flycatcher was a permanent fixture here, along with both White-collared and Red-capped Manakins (usually females) making occasional appearances, but on one occasion a knockout male Red-capped showed up! The familiar Summer Tanager is an everyday sound here as well. On one occasion had a calling Red-billed Pigeon.
ROUTE 1: Sylvester Road to the Bajo Trail, to Xaxe Vanec
This route (a little over two miles) is toted as being the easiest: you head down a nice wide trail into the rain forest, and personally I think it's best to go backwards from the recommended direction: make a right on Sylvester Road with a stop at "the dump", then turn left on the Bajo Trail to where it intersects Xaxe Venec, where you go left again and back to the lodge (a right turn at Xaxe Venec theoretically takes you to some ruins, but it looked as though it was closed off due to flooding from Keith; a lot of the trails were underwater for awhile!). Ubiquitous jungle birds, no matter WHAT trail you took, included Spot-breasted and White-breasted Wood Wrens, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Red-throated and Red-crowned Ant Tanager (although the latter was less common), Dot-winged Antwren, Stub-tailed Spadebill, both Tawny-crowned and Lesser Greenlet (all pretty responsive to pishing). There were several other ubiquitous vocalists that I could never actually see (please no flames regarding counting heard only birds!!): Thrushlike Mourner, Yellow-olive Flycatcher, Long-billed Gnatwren, Northern Bentbill, Black-faced Antthrush, and Sepia-capped Flycatchers were the main offenders. I often heard a single "ssssp" during my stay that I strongly suspected was the Eye-ringed Flatbill, but since I wasn't sure it wasn't an insect of some sort, I had to let that one go.
The trick is, of course, to catch an ant swarm, and this is where you find most of the woodcreepers as well: at the intersection of the Xaxe Venec and Sylvester Road trails, I was fortunate enough to have run into Gilberto, one of the local guides (the best, actually, as he trained all the others), and he helped me spot several things going after a swarm, including my only Smoky-brown Woodpecker of the trip, and the only seen Ivory-billed Woodcreeper and one of the few Barred Woodcreepers. He pointed out that the Black-throated Shrike Tanager is often the "lead bird" in a feeding flock, so if you heard his sharp "WHEET chu!" call, keep your eyes out! (He was another culprit that you heard a lot but seldom saw...)
"The Dump" is probably one of the favorite stops of visiting birding groups, and it does seem to attract the birds (including "barking" Black Vultures)! A Rufous-tailed Jacamar likes to hang out here, as well as Clay-colored Robins, Couch's Kingbirds, Social Flycatchers, and Squirrel Cuckoos. I was told a Gray-necked Wood Rail likes to poke around here as well, but I never got to see him.
The Sylvester Road is nice and wide, and not as "buggy" as the smaller Bajo Trail (which runs along a sometimes dry creek bed). Saw one of two Blue-black Grosbeaks seen at CC here, and also had my only Great Currasow of the trip along this road, and my only Royal Flycatcher for the area at the Bajo Trailhead. On the Bajo Trail you're truly "in" the stuff, and the skeeters are certainly annoying: they don't bite if you're properly gooped up, but they don't hesitate to buzz around your face and ears! Interestingly, I found that if I just sat quietly for five minutes, they'd eventually go away (go figure)! There are lots of roots along this trail that you have to negotiate, too, so you watch your feet a lot! The spadebills were more cooperative on these narrow trails, and the Bajo was the only trail where I had Yucatan Flycatcher, Gray-throated Chat, Tropical Gnatcatcher, Streak-headed Woodcreeper, Green Jay, and Green-backed Sparrow. Also had one of two Rufous Mourners on this trail: he wasn't much bigger than the female ant tanagers (which are pretty good sized themselves), but behaved more like a trogon.
The Xaxe Venec Trail was a wider trail, and also went through an area of more stunted forest where the knockout Blue Morpho butterflies hung out! White-eyed Vireos and migrant warblers were more common here; Black and Whites and American Redstarts were seen every day of the trip, much less at Chan Chich, so they were definitely the most common warbler. Magnolia came in a close second, along with Black-throated Green, and I found both Hooded and Kentucky Warblers to be fairly common as well. Ironically, about the only places I saw Butterbutts (of the eastern variety) was one or two individuals back at the lodge and at the bridge! (Those of you in southern California will understand my incredulity...)
As an aside, one morning I spent my "pre-breakfast" birding hour simply sitting at the beginning of the Xaxe Venec Trail (still up on the rise where the cabanas are) and tallied Tody Motmot, Plain Antvireo, and White-crowned Parrot in addition to the regular stuff. I was told by the guides that this was also a good place to hear Spotted Wood Quail, but dipped on that one.
ROUTE 2: Logger's Trail to Sac Be Trail
Both the Logger's and Sac Be Trails are "narrow" trails, and this loop is definitely easier if you start at the lodge with the Logger's and come back via Sac Be (there's a pretty good little hill on the Logger's, and doing it this way you go DOWN more than UP!) Aside from the usual jungle stuff, a White-whiskered Puffbird tended to hang out at the beginning of the Logger's Trail, and I caught a Great Tinamou crossing the trail at one point, who then proceeded to play hide and seek with me! Had my only CC Worm-eating Warbler along this trail, my first Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher (which seemed to pop up more along the main road, which see), and at least heard the Black Hawk Eagle ("Look way up HEEERE!") here. Along the water you can get both waterthrushes, which I did, and it was neat to be able to compare their call notes, especially.
The trail dumps out at the Suspension Bridge, which is one of the best birding areas in the place: open grass with a little creek, plus forest edge. This is an easy place to find Social Flycatchers, Clay-colored Robins, Wood Thrushes (plus the only Swainson's of the trip was bouncing around here as well), Ringed and Green Kingfishers, Black-headed Saltators, and Northern Waterthrushes. One day had a Roadside Hawk sitting on top of the bridge, and on more than one occasion had good encounters with Collared Aracaris and Black-headed Trogons. Also had my only Emerald Toucanet here, and a Cinnamon Becard that refused to be cooperative. There was also a very loud-peeping Empid that was hanging out here, that on one day looked like an Alder then on another day looked like a Yellow-bellied! (If it was the same bird both times...) That loud peeping note really stood out to me, but not being familiar with eastern Empids, I had no clue what it could be. A pair of Dusky Antbirds sang on a couple of occasions. Scan the skies: had Vaux's Swifts here, and there's always a chance for a raptor.
The Sac Be Trail's claim to fame is its nesting Ornate Hawk Eagle, which you'll walk right under if you don't know where it is! Both times the adult bird was right there; what a sight!! (This trail runs along said creek...) This was also a good place for Black-faced Grosbeaks, and along this trail at one point also had BOTH species of ant tanagers; it helps to become familiar with their separate scolds! (Red-throated is very harsh, whereas the Red-crowned sounds almost robin-like in its scold.) Tawny-winged Woodcreeper is by far the commonest woodcreeper, and it was along this trail that a very tame individual let me walk right up to him!
ROUTE 3: the Main Road
If you want an easy "sneaker" walk and relatively few bugs, this is the route for you! I basically would walk down the road till 9:45 or so and then head back, but it was terrific in that you'd have a clear view of many of the big, bare-branched trees which would house Keel-billed Toucans, Collared Aracaris, Slaty-tailed and Violaceous Trogons, and both Lineated and Pale-billed Woodpeckers (their double-tap sounds like rifle shot if you're close!)! You also get another crack at the Suspension Bridge area, where a Lovely Cotinga is rumored to hang out at first dawn and last light (we DID see a cotinga-shaped bird one morning, but with no field marks and only someone's word to go on, I wasn't gonna count it). Had Short-billed Pigeons on a couple of occasions, and this was an easy way to view feeding flocks if they happened to cross the road: got good views of the shrike tanager here, as well as Yellow-bellied Tyrannulet, Black-cowled Oriole, Golden-crowned Warbler, and Plain Xenops. Also had my only Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher and Double-toothed Kite of the trip along this road, along with a Wilson's Warbler whose "chek" note sounded familiar but I couldn't place at first (well, what do you expect? He wasn't in San Diego!!). There are a couple of clearings that are supposed to be good for spotting White-necked Puffbirds in the cecropias, but dipped on that, although I did hear Green Shrike-vireo and had a silent pewee flycatching (and around here it can be either Eastern Wood or Tropical; only heard the former for sure during the trip).
THE RIVER TRAIL
I only got to do this once, on the one afternoon I DIDN'T go out to Gallon Jug. I understand the birding groups prefer to go up Sylvester Road and take this trail from that direction (it's really a continuation of the Bajo Trail), but I took it from its beginning point by the pool, where it goes STRAIGHT down the hill (pulled a hamstring on that one)! There are a lot of of still-water pools along this trail, but only picked up Green Heron and a Jacamar; the Field Guides group found Bare-throated Tiger and Agami Herons in here, plus another Tody Motmot!
CHAN CHICH: Afternoon Excursions
In the afternoon they offered various excursions to the Gallon Jug area (actually, you can go in the morning, too, if you want, but I prefered to bird around the lodge): horseback riding, canoeing, an historical tour of Gallon Jug, and even a special birding trip to Laguna Seco is offered. I of course joined the latter, along with several other people (mostly non-birders, interestingly), and under the expert leadership of Felipe we found several goodies, especially on the way out in the open grassy area: saw a couple of great Roadside Hawks, and a wonderful Great Black Hawk on the ground! At the lake (which had a lot more water in it due to Keith) had Jacana, Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Mangrove Swallow, Anhinga, Belted Kingfishers, and of course a Great Blue Heron. Workers were clearing away the mess from Keith, and because of that Felipe told us that many of the birds they used to see there were "scared away". Heard a classic Yellow-bellied Flycatcher "che-bek"ing, and Felipe was able to spot him.
On another occasion Felipe took me out by myself to the Gallon Jug area, which is basically a farming area with a lot of sugar cane and cattle (this was theoretically the historical "Gallon Jug Tour" but because it was only me, we went birding instead...). Here you got open grassland and farmland birds such as Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Ruddy Ground Dove, Gray Hawk, and things familiar to us gringos such as Cattle Egret, Killdeer, Barn Swallow, and Great-tailed Grackle. On one occasion we had Groove-billed Anis, and Felipe showed me my life Giant Cowbird in with the grackles at a feeding pen!
On two occasions I hitched a ride on the "bus" when other guests were going canoeing at Laguna Verde and would hike the roads while the others canoed. Laguna Verde had Mangrove Swallows as well, and in some of the big isolated trees we picked up Yellow-winged Tanager as well as a couple more North American migrants: Yellow-throated Warbler and Red-eyed Vireo. There's more rain forest along the road (although you're walking a very wide right-of-way), yet there were different birds here in addition to the regular stuff, such as Brown Jays, Olive-throated Parakeets, Gray-headed Tanagers, and a pair of Barred Antshrikes. On another day I had Jose (Felipe's brother) drop me off where the farmland started, and had things like Great Kiskadee, hordes of Orchard Orioles, and White-tailed Kite. Also had the trip's only Short-tailed Hawk in here, and along with the Fork-tailed Flycatchers they occasionally had Scissor-tailed, which according to Howell & Webb is accidental here, but apparently is becoming more frequent as the years go by, according to Chris Benesh, the Field Guides leader!
Had two night excursions, one a local walk and another a drive out to Gallon Jug. The walk was just myself and Rick, another guide, and while it was very quiet, we DID have very cooperative Paraques, and even had a Mottled Owl call! On the Gallon Jug drive we only got my target bird, the Northern Potoo, before the spotlight blew out, but I was happy! We also picked up Barn Owl and got a snoozing Blue-crowned Motmot on the way back, which was incredible!
The most incredible animal to me was the Basilisk: this thing looked like a miniature dinosaur, with its helmeted head and spiky back, and habit of running on its hind legs! In the mammal department I logged Agouti and Coatamundi, and of course Spider and Howler Monkeys, although I only heard the latter. You quickly learned not to walk under the trees that the Spider Monkeys are passing through! ;-) White-tailed Deer were plentiful out at Gallon Jug, and did see a small crocodile on the night walk; which kind it was I don't know (probably Morelet's). Several small bats flew around during the night walk as well, and Deppe's Squirrel (or Brown-and-gray Tree Squirrel) was the squirrel I noticed most often. Spotted a Gray Fox early one morning, and saw Jaguar tracks along the Bajo Trail, but no owners, unfortunately! Because they have such an abundant food supply, they don't worry about "encounters" with Jaguars like we do Mountain Lions here in southern California!
One of many lodges up in the Mountain Pine Ridge Preserve, this one was recommended by several Birdchatters. It's named for the famous "Five Sisters", a series of little waterfalls cascading down a river that I couldn't figure out the name of... The lodge is built up on a hill so you get a marvelous view of this spectacle from the dining area. The basic habitat (you're between 2000-3000 ft. up here) is pine/oak woodland with lots of understory, to me very reminiscent of the piney woods of central Florida or southern Georgia. They also had a little three mile (I'm guessing) nature trail that went through some rainforest habitat, but not nearly as high and thick as at Chan Chich. My game plan (even in the lousy weather) was to bird the nature trail in the morning, crash, then bird the main road in the late afternoon. I also looked into what kind out excursions they had available, and Carlos (their main activity director) suggested a trip out to a local farm for broad-leaf forest birds, and a trip out to Hidden Valley Falls for a crack at the Orange-breasted Falcon. They also had trips to Caracol offered, which next time around, I may go ahead and take, because I discovered that even though it's an almost two-hour drive over a nasty road to get to the place, there AIN'T anywhere closer you're gonna get to it so far as lodging goes!
The lodge grounds was similar to Chan Chich in that it had many flowering bushes and exotic plantings, but also the ubiquitous pines. The first bird to greet my ears made me think I had returned to San Diego: the Acorn Woodpecker! This is one of their "specialty birds" of the area (even though they're thick as peas here; I was gonna say "trash bird" but I knew someone would rightfully object! ;-) ), but there was another little guy that, in my opinion, would be even more of a draw to birders, and especially since they practically begged to be stepped on, and that was the little Rufous-capped Warbler! Now, I understand that Clements treats them as conspecific with the Chestnut-capped Warbler that reaches into Costa Rica, but since Howell & Webb treats them quasi-separately (and there appears to be a disjunct population of the beasties right there in Pine Ridge), I personally got excited about the idea that this lodge could be an easy place to get this bird, and told Ruby (the manager) so!
The Yellow-backed Orioles stuck to this area, while the Hepatic Tanagers were all over (and would occasionally come to visit during breakfast)! Another target bird, the Rusty Sparrow, was also a "step-on bird" and was easily seen or heard all over the grounds and in the pine habitat (and sound incredibly like a scolding Cactus Wren when you pish at them). You'd hear the Montezuma Oropendola every day, but I only saw him once, in an incredible view right from my hammock! Melodious Blackbirds and Masked Tityras also occur here, but in far less numbers than at Chan Chich. On less frequent occasions an Azure-crowned Hummer would show up, and once I had a White-bellied Emerald and knock-down gorgeous Violaceous Trogon in my face (and I had left the camera in the cabana due to the rotten weather; that was the only time on the trip I came close to tears!) Carlos told me right off about "their" Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, but I only heard him once, along with a Mottled Owl (on the only clear morning we had). Another fairly common early morning sound was the Collared Forest Falcon, and Brown Jays often sounded off during the day. The deck is a great place to watch for raptors, but only had Turkey and Black Vultures while I was there; apparently King is not all that difficult to get here.
Aside from the ubiquitous Hepatics and Rusty Sparrows, there always seemed to be a group of Gray Catbirds hanging out at the lodge entrance, as well as occasional Black-headed Saltators. Incredibly, on a couple of occasions, the Red-throated Ant Tanagers showed up in the brush even up here, and once had a male each of Red-crowned Ant and Hepatic side-by-side for good comparisons (when the ant-T decided to break with tradition and hop up into a pine...amazing what pishing will do)! True to southeast Arizona form, it was easy to see (or at least hear) Dusky-capped Flycatchers and Grace's Warblers, but was weird at the same time to have their eastern counterparts, the Great Crested Flycatcher and Yellow-throated Warbler, either calling together or showing up in the same tree! Two very similar-sounding birds, the Yellow-faced Grassquit and Golden-hooded Tanager, gave me fits until I could sort them out (especially since they usually occurred together): the grassquit sounded like a healthy junco and was usually eye-level, and the tanagers sounded like asthmatic juncos (complete with coughs and sputters) and were usually high in the pines! The most abundant warblers were redstarts and Black and Whites, with lesser numbers of Black-throated Greens, Hoodies, and Maggies (had one Blue-winged). Blue-gray Gnatcatcher was also an everyday occurrance, and dominant parrots appeared to be Red-lored and White-crowned. On one occasion actually heard a Thrushlike Schiffornis singing (probably projecting from the rainforest...)
Along the main road there were several spur trails; most of these dead ended or else turned into little horse trails. One took you to another marvelous overview of the river! My favorite "spur" was a good dirt track kind of "hair-pinning" off to the left, which went into a little more open area and "cul-de-sacked" after about ten minutes' walking; there was always a Boat-billed Flycatcher or two hanging around here, and it seemed to also be a good place to run into a pair of Laughing Falcons! Had a beautiful Olivaceous Woodcreeper working the pines just like our Browns, and Yellow-throated Euphonias were all over, flitting from pine to pine like siskins. The Golden-olive Woodpeckers were easy to hear but difficult to see (I only saw one the whole trip but heard them most every day), and there was at least one Yellow-bellied Sapsucker that seemed to like the same tree! Had Lineateds on one occasion, in this habitat reminding one very much of Pileateds! Where there were more oaks (that reminded me very much of our California live oaks) had Bentbill and Red-legged Honeycreeper on one occasion. On another occasional actually pished in a Royal Flycatcher, but he wasn't mad enough at me to show his crest... :-(
The first time I hiked this trail I got dumped on, so the only birds I saw were a Wood Thrush and a female Red-capped Manakin, but the next day was more tolerable and yielded many Chan Chich standbys such as both ant tanagers, Wood Wren, Tawny-winged Woodcreeper, and Lesser Greenlet. At one stop a feeding flock included a nice female Black-throated Shrike Tanager, a Golden-crowned Warbler, and incredibly, what should come sailing in to pishing but a Great Black Hawk! A Kentucky Warbler was new for the area as well. The trail opens up at one point to the river, where you can climb out on some of the rocks and sit and enjoy the view, hoping for a heron or kingfisher or raptor to sail by! No such luck this time, tho...
I only did this trail twice because it's VERY strenuous (at least for me): the recommended direction takes you down a couple of steep dirt slopes, which in this weather was tretcherous, then back up a bazillion stairs to the lodge! I did it backwards the next day, which was by far much easier (although your legs feel like rubber by the time you get to the bottom of the stairs), and for a reasonably healthy person, the dirt grades going back up aren't that bad. Being asthmatic, I found it difficult, however.
We arranged to have David, one of the guides, drive me out to his family farm, where the habitat is more broad-leaf forest and open areas. Although he wasn't a birder, he was very good at spotting stuff, and we found Keel-billed Toucans and Collared Aracaris, White-collared Seedeaters, Yellow-winged Tanagers, Gray-headed Kites, Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, and Blue-black Grassquits while driving; the latter were especially cute as the male would sing his little buzz from a post and then hop straight up in the air like one of those spring-loaded terriers!
Although it was on and off rain all along the road to his farm (he dropped me off so I could walk), typical rainforest specialties were fairly easy to at least hear along here, such as Spot-breasted and White-breasted Wood Wren, White-collared Manakin, a nice Kentucky Warbler, Tawny-crowned Greenlet, and a cooperative Worm-eating Warbler (until I got the camera out). Up at the farm proper, a very wet Empid landed on the wire, followed by a very dry, very small Empid with a big bold eyering that had to be a Least (have no idea what the drowned one was...) Also logged Black-headed Saltators, Great Kisakdee, Masked Tityra, Groove-billed Anis, and a group of Plain Chachalacas that fell out of the bushes and onto the ground, making a racket as they did. Red-legged Honeycreepers buzzed, and a dull green honeycreeper with gray legs turned out to be a real Green Honeycreeper! Also had Ruddy Ground Doves, White-eyed Vireo, Wilson's Warbler, a probable Ovenbird (that wouldn't come out), and a Rufous-tailed Hummer.
Pedro is the guy at the Thousand Foot Falls that you wanna corner so he can show you where the Orange-breasted Falcon nest is, but we think he got shanghaied by the Field Guides group that had arrived the day before ;-) cuz he was nowhere to be found! The falls are spectacular, however, and worth a visit even if you DON'T see the falcon (which I didn't, of course)! This area was more of the pine habitat, but it also had some different vegetation, in particular thick ferns lining the road; it appeared that here, the Yellow-backed Oriole was replaced by the Yellow-tailed Orioles! Golden-hooded Tanagers were very plentiful around the buildings, along with the usual "Catalina Mountain"-type specialties. A hike along the road produced the same types of birds as at Five Sisters, with the addition of Green Jays and a possible Rufous Piha (the unseen bird sounded identical to John Moore's recording on "Bird Walk at Chan Chich", i.e., an explosive "WHEEooo!", but was delivered at about one per second, rather than intermitently, so that left me wondering).
The most exciting find was a Black-tailed Indigo Snake I stumbled upon on the main road, and was he HUGE!! He was trying to pretend he was a rattler by "vibrating" his tail at me, but I understand they actually make good pets... Also scared up a herd of Collared Peccaries on the Nature Trail, and had a beautiful but unidentified lizard with yellow "racing stripes" and a red belly that rather reminded me of our Western Fence Lizards in shape and behavior. We also had a beautiful Tayra cross the road on the way to Hidden Valley.
This was an unscheduled, quickie stop, since we were making good time to Belize City. For 12 bucks Belizian, you can explore this great little place that has excellent exhibits of the local animals, and plenty of native habitat for wild birds: I picked up several new ones (including Common Tody Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, and Blue-gray Tanager) and saw several old ones (such as Acorn Woodpecker, Ruddy Ground Dove, and Yellow-tailed Oriole). Picked up Tropical Mockingbird on the wires on the way in.
ST. GEORGE CAYE
Since I was only here one full day and two half days, I really didn't have time to "survey" this area like I did the other two, plus the weather didn't cooperate for the most part, either. The most unbiquitous seabirds were expected things like Magnificent Frigatebird, Laughing Gull, Double-crested Cormorant, Brown Pelican, and Royal and Sandwich Terns (often standing side by side for good comparisons). A single Brown Booby flew in front of the boat on the way to the island, but that was the only one I saw. Along the shore (what there was of it; Hurricane Keith did quite a bit of damage and a lot of the foliage was gone; even the tops of the mangroves had been stripped away) were Ruddy Turnstones, Black-bellied Plover, and the occasional Willet and Spotted Sandpiper. Herons included Little Blue, Green, Great Egret, Great Blue, and even a "Wurdemann's" Heron!
There were a pair of Ospreys that hung out, and in the songbird department the most ubiquitous things were the Great-tailed Grackles strutting their stuff. The next commonest landbird was the "Mangrove Warbler", a race of the Yellow that personally I think oughta be given full species status because a) their habitat is so specialized, b) they LOOK incredibly different, and c) they SOUND incredibly different! But, hey, what do *I* know...? :-} Couldn't get away from the Redstarts and Black and Whites here, either, and also had a Northern Waterthrush in the mangroves and Palm Warblers and Yellowthroats in the brushpiles; a pair of Indigo Buntings hung around the owner's house as well. Kicked up another Golden-fronted Woodpecker, but the real prize was a very cooperative Yucatan Vireo! Rufous-necked Wood Rails have been seen here previously, but I couldn't even get one to respond; got a Yellow-crowned Night Heron to pop up instead. Also at the grounds was a Cinnamon Hummingbird buzzing the flowering bushes, and Belted Kingfishers were seen every day. The owner's not a birder (the place is primarily a diving lodge), but he did take me out in the boat in hopes of seeing something a little more pelagic, but the highlight of that trip was a fledgeling waterspout! He knew of the Red-footed Booby colonies, but said it was a 40 mile boat ride from St. George; a bit of a hike! Unfortunately saw no other mangrove specialties, such as White-crowned Pigeon or Mangrove Cuckoo.
CC = Chan Chich
5S = Five Sisters
SG = St. George
BZ = Belize Zoo (or City)
A = All Locations
* = Lifer
|LOCALE||COMMON NAME||SCIENTIFIC NAME|
|CC||Great Tinamou||Tinamus major|
|SG||Brown Pelican||Pelecanus occidentalis|
|SG||Brown Booby||Sula leucogaster|
|SG||Double-crested Cormorant||Phalacrocorax auritus|
|SG||Magnificent Frigatebird||Fregata magnificens|
|CC, SG||Great Blue Heron||Ardea herodias|
|SG||"Wurdemann's" Heron||Ardea herodias (GB X GW)|
|CC, SG||Great Egret||Ardea alba|
|5S, SG||Little Blue Heron||Egretta caerulea|
|CC, 5S||Cattle Egret||Bubulcus ibis|
|CC, SG||Green Heron||Butorides virescens|
|CC, SG||Yellow-crowned Night-Heron||Nyctanassa violacea|
|CC, 5S||Black Vulture||Coragyps atratus|
|CC, 5S||Turkey Vulture||Cathartes aura|
|BZ||*Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture||Cathartes burrovianus|
|5S||Gray-headed Kite||Leptodon cayanensis|
|CC, BZ||White-tailed Kite||Elanus leucurus|
|CC||Double-toothed Kite||Harpagus bidentatus|
|CC, 5S||Great Black-Hawk||Buteogallus urubitinga|
|CC, 5S||Gray Hawk||Asturina nitida|
|CC, 5S||Roadside Hawk||Buteo magnirostris|
|CC||Short-tailed Hawk||Buteo brachyurus|
|CC||*Black Hawk-Eagle||Spizaetus tyrannus|
|CC||*Ornate Hawk-Eagle||Spizaetus ornatus|
|CC, 5S||Laughing Falcon||Herpetotheres cachinnans|
|CC||*Barred Forest-Falcon||Micrastur ruficollis|
|CC, 5S||*Collared Forest-Falcon||Micrastur semitorquatus|
|CC||American Kestrel||Falco sparverius|
|CC||Bat Falcon||Falco rufigularis|
|CC, 5S||Plain Chachalaca||Ortalis vetula|
|CC||Crested Guan||Penelope purpurascens|
|CC||*Great Curassow||Crax rubra|
|CC||*Ocellated Turkey||Meleagris ocellata|
|CC||Northern Jacana||Jacana spinosa|
|SG||Black-bellied Plover||Pluvialis squatarola|
|SG||Spotted Sandpiper||Actitis macularia|
|SG||Ruddy Turnstone||Arenaria interpres|
|SG||Laughing Gull||Larus atricilla|
|SG||Sandwich Tern||Sterna sandvicensis|
|SG||Royal Tern||Sterna maxima|
|BZ||Rock Dove||Columba livia|
|CC||Red-billed Pigeon||Columba flavirostris|
|CC||Short-billed Pigeon||Columba nigrirostris|
|CC, 5S, BZ||Ruddy Ground-Dove||Columbina talpacoti|
|CC, 5S||Olive-throated Parakeet||Aratinga nana|
|CC, 5S||Brown-hooded Parrot||Pionopsitta haematotis|
|CC, 5S||White-crowned Parrot||Pionus senilis|
|CC, 5S||Red-lored Parrot||Amazona autumnalis|
|CC, 5S||Mealy Parrot||Amazona farinosa|
|CC, 5S||Squirrel Cuckoo||Piaya cayana|
|CC, 5S||Groove-billed Ani||Crotophaga sulcirostris|
|CC||Barn Owl||Tyto alba|
|5S||Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl||Glaucidium brasilianum|
|CC||*Northern Potoo||Nyctibius jamaicensis|
|CC||Vaux's Swift||Chaetura vauxi|
|CC||Western Long-tailed Hermit||Phaethornis longirostris|
|CC, 5S||*Little Hermit||Phaethornis longuemareus|
|CC, 5S||Rufous-tailed Hummingbird||Amazilia tzacatl|
|SG||Cinnamon Hummingbird||Amazilia rutila|
|5S||*White-bellied Emerald||Agyrtria candida|
|5S||*Azure-crowned Hummingbird||Agyrtria cyanocephala|
|CC||Purple-crowned Fairy||Heliothryx barroti|
|CC||Black-headed Trogon||Trogon melanocephalus|
|CC, 5S||Violaceous Trogon||Trogon violaceus|
|CC||Slaty-tailed Trogon||Trogon massena|
|CC, SG||Belted Kingfisher||Ceryle alcyon|
|CC||Ringed Kingfisher||Ceryle torquata|
|CC||Green Kingfisher||Chloroceryle americana|
|CC||*Tody Motmot||Hylomanes momotula|
|CC||Blue-crowned Motmot||Momotus momota|
|CC||Rufous-tailed Jacamar||Galbula ruficauda|
|CC||White-whiskered Puffbird||Malacoptila panamensis|
|CC||Emerald Toucanet||Aulacorhynchus prasinus|
|CC, 5S||Collared Aracari||Pteroglossus torquatus|
|CC, 5S||Keel-billed Toucan||Ramphastos sulfuratus|
|5S, BZ||Acorn Woodpecker||Melanerpes formicivorus|
|CC||Black-cheeked Woodpecker||Melanerpes pucherani|
|5S, SG||Golden-fronted Woodpecker||Melanerpes aurifrons|
|5S||Yellow-bellied Sapsucker||Sphyrapicus varius|
|CC||Smoky-brown Woodpecker||Veniliornis fumigatus|
|CC, 5S||Golden-olive Woodpecker||Piculus rubiginosus|
|CC||Chestnut-colored Woodpecker||Celeus castaneus|
|CC, 5S||Lineated Woodpecker||Dryocopus lineatus|
|CC||Pale-billed Woodpecker||Campephilus guatemalensis|
|CC||Plain Xenops||Xenops minutus|
|CC, 5S||Tawny-winged Woodcreeper||Dendrocincla anabatina|
|CC||*Ruddy Woodcreeper||Dendrocincla homochroa|
|CC, 5S||Olivaceous Woodcreeper||Sittasomus griseicapillus|
|CC||Wedge-billed Woodcreeper||Glyphorynchus spirurus|
|CC||*Strong-billed Woodcreeper||Xiphocolaptes promeropirhynchus|
|CC||Northern Barred-Woodcreeper||Dendrocolaptes sanctithomae|
|CC, 5S||*Ivory-billed Woodcreeper||Xiphorhynchus flavigaster|
|CC||Streak-headed Woodcreeper||Lepidocolaptes souleyetii|
|CC||Barred Antshrike||Thamnophilus doliatus|
|CC||*Plain Antvireo||Dysithamnus mentalis|
|CC||Dot-winged Antwren||Microrhopias quixensis|
|CC||Dusky Antbird||Cercomacra tyrannina|
|CC||Black-faced Antthrush||Formicarius analis|
|CC, 5S||White-collared Manakin||Manacus candei|
|CC, 5S||Red-capped Manakin||Pipra mentalis|
|CC||*Yellow-bellied Tyrannulet||Ornithion semiflavum|
|CC||*Greenish Elaenia||Myiopagis viridicata|
|BZ||Yellow-bellied Elaenia||Elaenia flavogaster|
|CC||Ochre-bellied Flycatcher||Mionectes oleagineus|
|CC||*Sepia-capped Flycatcher||Leptopogon amaurocephalus|
|CC, 5S||Northern Bentbill||Oncostoma cinereigulare|
|BZ||Common Tody-Flycatcher||Todirostrum cinereum|
|CC, 5S||Yellow-olive Flycatcher||Tolmomyias sulphurescens|
|CC||*Stub-tailed Spadebill||Platyrinchus cancrominus|
|CC, 5S||*Royal Flycatcher||Onychorhynchus coronatus|
|CC||Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher||Terenotriccus erythrurus|
|CC, 5S||*Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher||Myiobius sulphureipygius|
|CC||Eastern Wood-Pewee||Contopus virens|
|CC||*Yellow-bellied Flycatcher||Empidonax flaviventris|
|5S||Least Flycatcher||Empidonax minimus|
|CC, 5S||Bright-rumped Attila||Attila spadiceus|
|CC||Rufous Mourner||Rhytipterna holerythra|
|CC||*Yucatan Flycatcher||Myiarchus yucatanensis|
|CC, 5S||Dusky-capped Flycatcher||Myiarchus tuberculifer|
|CC, 5S||Great Crested Flycatcher||Myiarchus crinitus|
|CC, 5S||Great Kiskadee||Pitangus sulphuratus|
|5S||Boat-billed Flycatcher||Megarynchus pitangua|
|CC, 5S||Social Flycatcher||Myiozetetes similis|
|CC||Tropical Kingbird||Tyrannus melancholicus|
|CC||Couch's Kingbird||Tyrannus couchii|
|CC||Scissor-tailed Flycatcher||Tyrannus forficatus|
|CC||Fork-tailed Flycatcher||Tyrannus savana|
|CC, 5S||*Thrush-like Schiffornis||Schiffornis turdinus|
|CC||Cinnamon Becard||Pachyramphus cinnamomeus|
|CC, 5S||Masked Tityra||Tityra semifasciata|
|CC||Mangrove Swallow||Tachycineta albilinea|
|CC||Barn Swallow||Hirundo rustica|
|CC, 5S||*Spot-breasted Wren||Thryothorus maculipectus|
|CC||Carolina ("White-browed") Wren (if split would be a life bird)||Thryothorus ludovicianus albinucha|
|CC, 5S||White-breasted Wood-Wren||Henicorhina leucosticta|
|CC, 5S||Gray Catbird||Dumetella carolinensis|
|BZ, SG||Tropical Mockingbird||Mimus gilvus|
|CC||Swainson's Thrush||Catharus ustulatus|
|CC, 5S||Wood Thrush||Hylocichla mustelina|
|CC||Clay-colored Robin||Turdus grayi|
|CC||Long-billed Gnatwren||Ramphocaenus melanurus|
|5S||Blue-gray Gnatcatcher||Polioptila caerulea|
|CC||Tropical Gnatcatcher||Polioptila plumbea|
|CC, 5S||Green Jay||Cyanocorax yncas|
|CC, 5S, BZ||Brown Jay||Cyanocorax morio|
|CC, 5S, BZ||White-eyed Vireo||Vireo griseus|
|CC||Red-eyed Vireo||Vireo olivaceus|
|SG||*Yucatan Vireo||Vireo magister|
|CC, 5S||Tawny-crowned Greenlet||Hylophilus ochraceiceps|
|CC, 5S||Lesser Greenlet||Hylophilus decurtatus|
|CC||Green Shrike-Vireo||Vireolanius pulchellus|
|5S||Blue-winged Warbler||Vermivora pinus|
|CC, SG||Yellow Warbler||Dendroica petechia|
|SG||"Mangrove" Warbler||D. petechia bryanti|
|CC||Chestnut-sided Warbler||Dendroica pensylvanica|
|A||Magnolia Warbler||Dendroica magnolia|
|CC||Black-throated Blue Warbler||Dendroica caerulescens|
|CC, SG||Yellow-rumped Warbler||Dendroica coronata|
|CC, 5S||Black-throated Green Warbler||Dendroica virens|
|CC, 5S||Yellow-throated Warbler||Dendroica dominica|
|5S, BZ||Grace's Warbler||Dendroica graciae|
|SG||Palm Warbler||Dendroica palmarum|
|A||Black-and-white Warbler||Mniotilta varia|
|A||American Redstart||Setophaga ruticilla|
|CC, 5S||Worm-eating Warbler||Helmitheros vermivorus|
|CC, 5S||Ovenbird||Seiurus aurocapillus|
|CC, SG||Northern Waterthrush||Seiurus noveboracensis|
|CC||Louisiana Waterthrush||Seiurus motacilla|
|CC, 5S||Kentucky Warbler||Oporornis formosus|
|5S, SG||Common Yellowthroat||Geothlypis trichas|
|CC, 5S||Hooded Warbler||Wilsonia citrina|
|CC, 5S||Golden-crowned Warbler||Basileuterus culicivorus|
|5S||Rufous-capped Warbler (if split from Chestnut-capped, would be a life bird)||Basileuterus rufifrons|
|CC||*Gray-throated Chat||Granatellus sallaei|
|CC||Gray-headed Tanager||Eucometis penicillata|
|CC, 5S||*Black-throated Shrike-Tanager||Lanio aurantius|
|CC. 5S||*Red-crowned Ant-Tanager||Habia rubica|
|CC, 5S||Red-throated Ant-Tanager||Habia fuscicauda|
|5S, BZ||Hepatic Tanager||Piranga flava|
|CC, 5S||Summer Tanager||Piranga rubra|
|BZ||Blue-gray Tanager||Thraupis episcopus|
|CC, 5S||*Yellow-winged Tanager||Thraupis abbas|
|CC, 5S||Yellow-throated Euphonia||Euphonia hirundinacea|
|CC||*Olive-backed Euphonia||Euphonia gouldi|
|5S||Golden-hooded Tanager||Tangara larvata|
|5S||Green Honeycreeper||Chlorophanes spiza|
|5S||Red-legged Honeycreeper||Cyanerpes cyaneus|
|5S||Blue-black Grassquit||Volatinia jacarina|
|CC, 5S, BZ||White-collared Seedeater||Sporophila torqueola|
|5S||Yellow-faced Grassquit||Tiaris olivacea|
|CC||*Green-backed Sparrow||Arremonops chloronotus|
|5S||*Rusty Sparrow||Aimophila rufescens|
|CC, 5S||Black-headed Saltator||Saltator atriceps|
|CC||Black-faced Grosbeak||Caryothraustes poliogaster|
|CC, 5S||Blue-black Grosbeak||Cyanocompsa cyanoides|
|SG||Indigo Bunting||Passerina cyanea|
|CC, 5S, BZ||*Melodious Blackbird||Dives dives|
|CC, SG||Great-tailed Grackle||Quiscalus mexicanus|
|CC||*Giant Cowbird||Scaphidura oryzivora|
|5S||*Yellow-backed Oriole||Icterus chrysater|
|5S, BZ||*Yellow-tailed Oriole||Icterus mesomelas|
|CC||Baltimore Oriole||Icterus galbula|
|CC||Orchard Oriole||Icterus spurius|
|CC||*Black-cowled Oriole||Icterus dominicensis|
|CC, 5S||Montezuma Oropendola||Gymnostinops montezuma|
41 lifers (if you count the RC Warbler and White-browed Wren...)
King Vulture: a pale raptor with dark flight feathers, about the right shape, flying very distantly against the clouds on a miserable day; shot behind the trees before I could get a good look (5S).
White-tailed Hawk: saw a raptor-shaped bird with brownish-gray wings and a white tail from above as the plane was coming into Belize City.
Gray-headed Dove: heard a "Whooooo!" which could have been either this bird or the Ruddy Quail Dove; I didn't feel confident enough with either to ID without a visual (CC).
White-fronted Parrot: heard a higher-pitched Amazon-like vocalization, but wasn't confident enough to ID without a visual (CC).
White-collared Swift: Heard vocalizations at the 1000 Ft. Falls which could have been this species, but with ambient noise and no visual I wasn't willing to count it.
Brown Violetear: Briefly saw a dull brown hummer that gave a husky, grasshopper-like vocalization; descriptions from Howell & Webb lean towards this species, but am not confident without a visual (5S, in the pine/oak habitat).
Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner: Heard one brief sample of a vocalization that COULD have been this bird; something about the right size, shape, and color whizzed by shortly after that, but again, I wanted to hear more and didn't (5S Nature Trail).
Eye-ringed Flatbill: Consistently heard a single, weak, lisping "sssst" that could have been this species (and in all probability was), but I really had no way of knowing I wasn't hearing an insect without being able to see the bird (CC).
Tropical Pewee: a silent pewee happily chased bugs from a dead tree at Chan Chich; could have been either this species or Eastern Wood (which I DID hear), and I'm terrible at judging primary projection...
Lots of mystery Empids; a note from Lee Jones enlightened me regarding the loud, "ad nauseum" (as he put it) peeping of the Yellow-bellied Fly, so many of my dull-colored Empids that were nonetheless peeping their heads off were probably this bird. A brightly-colored bird, plus one loudly "che-bek"ing in classic form, give me confidence that I have indeed actually seen this species!
Rufous Piha: an unseen bird near Hidden Valley, with a loud, explosive "WHEE-ooo!" call identical to the sample on John Moore's tape, but rather than uttering it intermitently, the call was given repeatedly, about one per second. I couldn't find any evidence in the book that they vocalize that way, so without confirmation, I let that one go.
Lovely Cotinga: according to the guides at CC, this bird likes to show up on a dead tree visible from the Suspension Bridge area, and we did indeed see a cotinga-shaped thing up there, but with only a sillhouette to go on, I didn't feel good about counting it.
Southern House Wren: while near a farm in the 5S area heard, among the cacophany, something that sounded rather like a House Wren, but couldn't pick it out well enough to tell for sure.
Scarlet-rumped Tanager: heard a squeaky song at CC that could have been either this species or Blue-gray, and not being intimately familiar with either, that was a "let go".
Blue Bunting: heard what I strongly suspect was this species (and saw what was probably a female) in the farm area near 5S, but since to my ear this bird's song sounds so close to Painted Bunting, I wasn't willing to count it (unless there's no way a Painted Bunting would show up up there...). In the recordings, the Blue's song sounds weaker to me, while the Painted's sounds a bit brighter, and this sounded more like a Blue's, but again, I wasn't confident without a visual.
Mary Beth Stowe
San Diego, CA