Five years in the US (two in Texas, three in Boston, and trips to Florida, Arizona, California) had pushed my North American list past 500, but with life birds getting harder to come by, it was time to head for the tropics. Happily, my wife agreed to the idea of five days at Chan Chich, and we flew in to Belize on Dec 23rd. A night in Belize City, two days on Caye Caulker, and then the main event.
By way of preparation, I'd found a couple of Belize trip lists from the birding tour groups, and marked the possibilities in the Peterson Mexico guide. Also had Jones' excellent Birds Of Belize, for a second opinion.
Belize City, 24th
An early morning walk around our hotel (Radisson) picked up Tropical Mockingbird, Social Flycatcher, Cinnamon Hummingbird, Mangrove Swallow, Olive-throated Parakeet, and Common Tody-Flycatcher. Frigatebirds offshore, and a Clay-colored Robin in the garden of the Belize Audubon Society office.
Two days on Caye Caulker. Bird highlights included a pair of Common Black Hawks, Black Catbird and Bananaquit. Great views of a Clapper Rail in a marshy area adjacent to the airstrip. Keep an eye out for arriving aircraft; surprising how rapidly a distant speck can come in to land. Christmas Day with the manatees, a life mammal.
26th Flew direct to Chan Chich, in a state of some excitement. From the air, an enormous white bird flapping lazily above one of the lagoons, surely a Jabiru, and a definite Black-collared Hawk. Fork-tailed Flycatchers perched on the fences at the Gallon Jug farm.
Birds waiting at the lodge included Melodious Blackbird, the remarkable Montezuma Oropendola, Crested Guan, Green Honeycreeper and Ocellated Turkey, but another key sighting was Ann Richards, the former governor of Texas, a keen birder.
A couple of hours on the River Trail to get things underway. Relatively few birds, but I was happy just to identify the ones I saw - a pair of Gray-necked Wood Rails, Red-capped Manakin, Slaty-tailed Trogon, a couple of the woodcreepers, and Black-faced Grosbeak out on Sylvester Road. Woodcreepers for the week were Ruddy, Olivaceous, Tawny-winged, Wedge-billed, Barred, Strong-billed and Ivory-billed. First three of those were seen frequently, others less so. Keel-billed Toucan back at the lodge, and the nightly arrival of the Bat Falcon.
27th Early birding around the lodge and main road produced Red-lored, Mealy and White-crowned Parrot, Chestnut-colored, Lineated and Pale-billed Woodpecker, Masked Tityra, White-collared Manakin and Long-tailed Hermit. Other hummingbirds seen during the week were Little Hermit, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Purple-crowned Fairy, Canivet's Emerald and Scaly-breasted Hummingbird. Wood Thrushes everywhere, and I was delighted to find my life Kentucky Warbler. Saw them most days, along with abundant Hooded Warblers, and both Waterthrushes. A single Ovenbird. American Redstarts, B&W, Magnolia Warblers also very common, a single Black-throated Green. I thought I might be seeing Golden-crowned Warblers, but then I started seeing Worm-eating Warblers everywhere I went, so not sure.
First full morning of birding on the Xaxe Venic trail. I'd anticipated being overwhelmed by sheer abundance of birds, but it was quite the opposite. Found it hard going, long periods of silence, occasional bursts of activity in the badly-lit forest canopy. Grew discouraged by the continuum of small greenish-olive birds, some tending towards the warbler end, others the flycatcher, all apparent candidates for the Lesser Greenlet. Eventually got a handle on the real Lesser Greenlets, and also the Tawny-crowned Greenlet, fine birds both. Further along the trail, second growth forest let in more light, and I found my first antswarm with the attendant woodcreepers, Gray-headed Tanagers, and constantly scolding Red-throated Ant-Tanagers.
I'd read that if you found the antswarms, you'd find the birds, and while that was true, the reality was that if there were birds around, then it was wise to check where you were standing. Some good forest birds now: Plain Xenops, Squirrel Cuckoo, Smoky-brown Woodpecker, Stub-tailed Spadebill, Eye-ringed Flatbill, and a life warbler, the Golden-winged.
An afternoon wander down the main road found a pair of Golden-hooded Tanagers, real beauties. Late afternoon, the forest gets gloomy, but heading back to the lodge along the Loggers Trail, some crashing in the leaves overhead revealed my first Blue-crowned Motmot.
28th A road and boat trip to the Mayan site at Lamanai. A chance for some good herons, I felt. Best birds of the day were actually on the early drive out. Great Curassow, Amazon Kingfisher, Laughing Falcon, White Hawk and Roadside Hawks. Wood Storks, Groove-billed Anis and Fork-tailed Flycatchers in the Mennonite farming areas. A juv Northern Jacana at the boat ramp. Didn't see the shy Boat-billed Heron in the end, but we had a pair of Snail Kites, a Limpkin, and a distant nesting Jabiru. Ruins were admirable. Back at Chan Chich, a flock of Collared Aracari by the suspension bridge. Lovely.
29th A better rainforest strategy now, passing up on the tiny silhouettes in the canopy, and spending more time in the better lit areas. The Upper Plaza area is fairly open; started the day there. Bright-rumped Attila, and stunning looks at a Blue-crowned Motmot, perched at the entrance to one of the Mayan tombs.
A hasty breakfast, then the River Trail and a White-whiskered Puffbird, chubby little fellow. And then the Bajo trail, where the ants were swarming. Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher, Rufous Mourner, Black-crowned Tityra, and the tiny Canivet's Emerald. The missing wren, Spot-breasted, to add to the more common White-bellied and White-breasted Wood Wrens. Severely scolded by some Brown Jays. Back at the lodge, completed the set of toucans when a pair of Emerald Toucanets dropped into the orange tree round the back of our hut.
After lunch, went out with one of the bird guides, Raul, to the Escarpment. Better in the morning, apparently, but nice views of the King Vulture. A stop at Gallon Jug on the way back found White-collared Seedeaters, Yellow-bellied Elaenia and the monstrous Giant Cowbird. A calling Pauraque at night, sitting on the path at the back of the lodge.
30th A morning with the legendary Gilberto, the senior bird guide. High expectations, I thought this would be my chance to pick off some of the tricky ones, but after he led us to his special spots for the Rufous-tailed Jacamar and the splendid Tody Motmot, the birds dried up. Virtually nothing for two hours, we ambled along, a bit frustrating, as time started to run out.
Out again after lunch, the day instantly redeemed by a couple of Great Tinamous on Sylvester Road and the Bajo Trail. A possible Great Black Hawk through the canopy, and a great view of the last, and therefore best, trogon, the Violaceous. More antswarms, bringing the Ochre-bellied Flycatcher and a real prize, the Barred Antshrike.
Pushing on back down the main road in the fading light, a stop at the frog pool revealed a tiny canopy dweller, the Yellow-bellied Tyrannulet, with a pair of Blue-crowned Motmots down by the stream to end the day.
31st A relaxed breakfast for once, but a couple more successes before the sad moment of departure. A final hummingbird, Scaly-breasted, and the glorious Blue-gray Tanager at the fountain next to the dining area. A final hike down the trail yielded another parrot (Brown-headed) and a tantalising glimpse of another Tinamou, probably another Great, but just maybe a Thicket or Slaty-breasted. Get it next time.
* life bird!
*Great Tinamou Sylvester Road, Bajo trail
American Anhinga Lamanai boat
Great Blue Heron
Little Blue Heron
Wood Stork Drive to Lamanai
White Ibis Caye Caulker
*King Vulture Escarpment
*Black-collared Hawk Flight to CC
*White Hawk Drive to Lamanai
Common Black-Hawk Caye Caulker
*Great Black Hawk
Gray Hawk Gallon Jug
*Roadside Hawk Drive to Lamanai
Short-tailed Hawk Escarpment
*Laughing Falcon Drive to Lamanai
*Bat Falcon CC Lodge
Plain Chachalaca Drive to Lamanai
*Crested Guan CC Lodge
*Great Curassow road in to CC
*Ocellated Turkey CC Lodge
Clapper Rail Caye Caulker
*Gray-necked Wood Rail River and Bajo trails
Limpkin Lamanai boat
*Northern Jacana Boat ramp, Lamanai trip
*Red-billed Pigeon CC Lodge
Ruddy Ground-Dove Gallon Jug
White-tipped Dove Gallon Jug
*Gray-headed Dove CC lodge
*Olive-throated Parakeet Belize City, Caye Caulker
*Brown-hooded Parrot Sylvester Road
*White-crowned Parrot CC Lodge
*Red-lored Parrot CC Lodge
*Mealy Parrot CC Lodge
*Squirrel Cuckoo CC trails
Groove-billed Ani Drive to Lamanai
Common Pauraque CC Lodge
*Long-tailed Hermit CC Lodge
*Little Hermit CC Lodge
*Scaly-breasted Hummingbird CC Lodge
*Canivet's Emerald Bajo trail
*Rufous-tailed Hummingbird CC Lodge
*Cinnamon Hummingbird Belize City
*Purple-crowned Fairy Lamanai, Sac Be (stream)
*Black-headed Trogan CC trails
*Violaceous Trogan Bajo trail
*Slaty-tailed Trogan CC Lodge, trails
*Tody Motmot Back plaza (Gilberto knows!)
*Blue-crowned Motmot Upper plaze, Loggers trail (stream)
Ringed Kingfisher Lamanai boat
*Amazon Kingfisher Drive to Lamanai
Green Kingfisher Lamanai boat
*White-whiskered Puffbird River trail
*Rufous-tailed Jacamar Back plaza
*Emerald Toucanet CC lodge
*Collared Aracari Suspension bridge, CC lodge
*Keel-billed Toucan CC lodge, Gallon Jug
Acorn Woodpecker Drive to Lamanai
*Black-cheeked Woodpecker CC lodge
Golden-fronted Woodpecker Belize City
*Smoky-brown Woodpecker CC trails
*Chestnut-colored Woodpecker CC trails
*Lineated Woodpecker Main road
*Pale-billed Woodpecker Main road
*Plain Xenops CC trails
*Tawny-winged Woodcreeper antswarms
*Ruddy Woodcreeper antswarms
*Olivaceous Woodcreeper antswarms
*Wedge-billed Woodcreeper antswarms
*Strong-billed Woodcreeper antswarms
*Barred Woodcreeper antswarms
*Ivory-billed Woodcreeper antswarms
*Barred Antshrike Bajo trail
*Dot-winged Antwren CC trails
*Dusky Antbird River trail
*Yellow-bellied Tyrannulet Main road frog pool
*Yellow-bellied Elaenia Gallon Jug
*Ochre-bellied Flycatcher Bajo trail
*Common Tody-Flycatcher Belize City
*Eye-ringed Flatbill Bajo trail
*Yellow-olive Flycatcher CC lodge
*Stub-tailed Spadebill Bajo trail
*Royal Flycatcher Sac Be trail (stream)
*Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher Xaxe Venic
*Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher CC trails
Least Flycatcher CC lodge
*Bright-rumped Attila CC lodge
*Rufous Mourner Bajo trail
Dusky-capped Flycatcher CC trails
*Social Flycatcher Belize City, Gallon Jug
*Fork-tailed Flycatcher Drive to Lamanai, Gallon Jug
*Masked Tityra Suspension bridge
*Black-crowned Tityra Bajo trail
*Thrush-like Schiffornis Bajo trail
*White-collared Manakin Suspension bridge, Bajo
*Red-capped Manakin CC trails, Sylvester Road
Yellow-throated Vireo Sylvester Road
Red-eyed Vireo Caye Caulker
*Tawny-crowned Greenlet CC trails
*Lesser Greenlet CC trails
Green Jay Xaxe Venic
Brown Jay Xaxe Venic, Gallon Jug
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
*Spot-breasted Wren Bajo trail
House Wren CC lodge
*White-bellied Wren CC trails
*White-breasted Wood-Wren CC trails
Wood Thrush CC trails
Clay-colored Robin CC lodge
*Black Catbird Caye Caulker
*Tropical Mockingbird Belize City, Caye Caulker
*Golden-winged Warbler Bajo trail
Black-throated Green Warbler
Ovenbird Loggers trail
*Kentucky Warbler Sac Be (stream)
Bananaquit Caye Caulker
*Gray-headed Tanager CC trails
*Black-headed Shrike-Tanager Bajo trail
*Red-crowned Ant-Tanager CC trails
*Red-throated Ant-Tanager CC trails
*Blue-gray Tanager CC lodge (fountain)
*Yellow-winged Tanager CC lodge, Gallon Jug
*Scrub Euphonia CC lodge
*Olive-backed Euphonia CC lodge
*Golden Masked Tanager Suspension bridge
*Green Honeycreeper CC lodge
*White-collared Seedeater Gallon Jug
*Black-headed Saltator CC lodge
*Black-faced Grosbeak Sylvester Road
*Blue-back Grosbeak Sylvester Road
*Blue Bunting Bajo trail
*Melodious Blackbird CC lodge
Bronzed Cowbird Gallon Jug
*Giant Cowbird Gallon Jug
*Black-cowled Oriole Sylvester Road (near lodge)
Orchard Oriole Belize City, Gallon Jug
Altamira Oriole Belize City
*Montezuma Oropendola CC lodge