Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary, Belize

31 March – 2 April, 2017

As I near the end of my five months in Central America, I visit Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary, a lagoon in Belize famous for harboring multitudes of birds in early spring. Most of these birds are North American migrants staging for their migration back north. Just like the migrants, I am staging for my flight back north as well.

For three days, I intensively bird the sanctuary by canoe and foot. In the process, I meet friendly local birders and even an enthusiastic young birder. Two of the birders (Francis Canto and Ernaldo Bustamante), are kind enough to show me the elusive Pinnated Bittern. Below is a selection of my favorite images.

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Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks (Dendrocygna autumnalis)
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Jabiru (Jabiru mycteria)
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Jabiru (Jabiru mycteria)

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Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes)
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Pinnated Bittern (Botaurus pinnatus)
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Black-necked Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus)
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Bare-throated Tiger Heron (Tigrisoma mexicanum)
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Wood Storks (Mycteria americana)
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Fledgling and adult female Vermilion Flycatcher (Pyrocephalus obscurus)
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Fledgling Vermilion Flycatcher
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Great Egrets, White Ibis, and Roseate Spoonbills congregating on the lagoon.
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Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea)

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Snail Kite (Rostrhamus sociabilis) hunting for snails.
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Tropical Kingbird (Tyrannus melancholicus)

Belize: Favorite Images

November 2016

Out of my five months in Central America, I spent the first five weeks exploring Belize. Staged at my friends’ house in the Maya Mountains of western Belize, I hitchhiked and rode buses across the country in search of birds and adventure. While I previously uploaded two blog posts detailing some of my time in the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve (A New Awakening and 30 Days in the Jungle), I have now assembled my favorite photographs from my initial five weeks in Belize.

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Rio on Pools, a series of waterfalls and pools running through the unique Belize landscape of the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve.

A male and female White-necked Jacobin (Florisuga mellivora) independently perched on the same stick at the Green Hills Butterfly Ranch in western Belize. While White-necked Jacobins were the dominant hummingbird species at this location, there were also Long-billed Hermits, Stripe-throated Hermits, Wedge-tailed Sabrewings, Violet Sabrewings, Canivet’s Emeralds, Scaly-breasted Hummingbirds, White-bellied Emeralds, and Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds.

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Bicolored Hawk (Accipiter bicolor) Silhouetted in a Trumpet Tree

Due to the country’s limestone geologic composition, Belize’s subterranean world harbors extensive cave systems. Like many other limestone caves in Belize, St. Herman’s Cave is home to the Ridgway’s Rough-winged Swallow (Stelgidopteryx serripennis ridgwayi), a subspecies of North America’s Northern Rough-winged Swallow.

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Yellow-bordered Owl-Butterfly (Caligo uranus)
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Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charitonius)
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Yellow-winged Tanagers (Thraupis abbas)
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Tropical Gnatcatcher (Polioptila plumbea)
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Rufous-tailed Hummingbird (Amazilia tzacatl)
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Wedge-tailed Sabrewing (Campylopterus pampa)
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After thirty days in the mountainous landscape of western Belize, I was ready for a change of scenery. With new birds and the ocean in mind, I jumped on a bus headed east for the Caribbean coast.
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Yellow-throated Warbler (Setophaga dominica) and Cape May Warbler (Setophaga tigrina)
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Willets (Tringa semipalmata)
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Magnificent Frigatebird (Fregata magnificens)
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Royal Tern (Thalasseus maximus) with a group of Sandwich Terns (Thalasseus sandvicensis)
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Before moving next door to Guatemala, I finished my Belize experience with a magical few days staying with a family on a river completely off the grid. An hour from Punta Gorda via motorboat, the family lives amongst a rugged jungle, mangrove swamps, and a pristine river environment teeming with life. During the day, we explored the river systems and jungle, and during the night, I slept on the family’s sailboat. Beyond experiencing the natural wonders of the river, I experienced the challenges and excitement of living off the grid in the jungle.

Thirty Days in the Jungle

2 December 2016

To my friends who don’t know what I have been doing, and to those of you who have stumbled upon my blog, I will bring you up to date with a few words and photographs:

For the past thirty days, I have been living in the Maya Mountains of Western Belize. I spend most of my days wandering the surrounding jungle, searching for birds, and visiting with my kind hosts, Dennis and Dottie. Situated atop a protruding ridge, their home overlooks a mountainous landscape of dense broadleaf forest. The wildlife is plentiful, and I have had the opportunity to study the flora and fauna in great depth.

A long bumpy ride to the main road discourages frequent daytrips to other parts of the country, thus confining me to this one ecosystem. This isolation has enabled me to explore the area with great detail, and become proficient in the identification of the local birdlife. Since November 3rd (see A New Awakening), I have seen over 150 species of birds in the area. Keel-billed Toucans are seen daily, and nine species of hummingbirds are found feeding on the flowers of chichipín (Hamelia patens) and wild ginger (Alpinia purpurata).

At night, the nocturnal creatures of the jungle become active. The stars come out, and the bushes light up with luminescent insects. Chirping crickets fill the air with their music, and singing Common Pauraques add to the chorus. Occasionally, you can hear a distant Howler Monkey vocalizing, which sounds like a large beast slowly, but loudly, inhaling and exhaling. Some nights are quieter than others, and sometimes the sound of pounding rain provides the only noise, but it is always peaceful here in the jungle.

While my focus is on birds and the natural world, I have also become acquainted with Belizean life. In general, life is laid back and easy going. People are hardworking, eager to help out, and very friendly. As I quickly found out, hitchhiking is extremely easy in Belize; you don’t even need to stick a thumb out! Whenever I walk the road, I am surprised that most passing vehicles slow down, tap the horn, and yell out, “need a ride?” If I decide to hitchhike, the first vehicle usually picks me up.

Now, here are a few photographs to further illustrate my experience . . .

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The Jungle
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Gartered Trogon
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Groove-billed Ani
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Lesson’s Motmot
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Ruddy Ground-Dove
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Squirrel Cuckoo
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Rufous-tailed Hummingbird
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Gray Hawk flying off into the jungle . . .

While these past few weeks have been a big adventure in itself, my journey has only just begun. If you are interested in following my upcoming travels, I welcome you to subscribe and be a part of them.

A New Awakening

3 November 2016

Stirring from a deep sleep, my ears pick up on the ambient noise of early morning. The dimness of light suggests the morning is new. I roll out of bed and spring to life. Shivering with excitement, I snatch my binoculars off the bed stand and reach for the doorknob. A vast environment completely foreign to my eyes lies beyond the door, and I prepare to have my mind blown away. I open the door, and my mind is indeed blown. I overlook a landscape of lush, green jungle, with topography sloping either up or down. A thick tropical haze blankets the surrounding hills, and everything is sopping wet. I am in the Maya Mountains of western Belize, and I have one exciting adventure to come.

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Bleary-eyed from severe sleep deprivation, I try focusing on movement in the brush ahead. I see a small yellowish bird with a distinct black tail band. It is a Magnolia Warbler, a migrant that breeds in Canada. Next, I glimpse a reddish-brown bird climbing up a vertical tree trunk. Before I know it, the bird takes flight and disappears deep in the jungle. I recognized the bird as a woodcreeper, but the species will remain unknown. I fear this will be the theme of the day, as my knowledge of Central American birdlife is extremely limited.

Shifting my attention to the valley, I notice a raptor up top a dead tree protruding from the nearby slope. I focus my binoculars and am amazed. It is an Orange-breasted Falcon, the second rarest falcon in the world. It is feasting on its prize, a large bat that is clasped in its talons. The falcon will remain on its perch for another four hours, even through the pouring rain to come.

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The critically endangered Orange-breasted Falcon digesting a breakfast of bat.

From the one-roomed guesthouse where I am staying, I set out to explore the property. I meander my way down the steep driveway and take note of all the bird vocalizations I have previously never heard. I have much to learn about these birds, but I am confident I will quickly become acquainted with them.

The following images cover a few of the birds seen the remainder of the morning:

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Gartered Trogon
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White-collared Seedeater
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Collared Aracari
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Black-headed Trogon

11/03/16, 6:00-8:00 AM, Feucht’s Yard, Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, District of Cayo, Belize: Rufous-tailed Hummingbird 2, Black-headed Trogon 1, Gartered Trogon 3, Collared Aracari 7, Orange-breasted Falcon 1, Red-lored Parrot 2, Least Flycatcher 1, Great Kiskadee 1, White-eyed Vireo 2, Brown Jay 1, Clay-colored Thrush 2, Gray Catbird 8, Black-and-white Warbler 1, Hooded Warbler 3, American Redstart 2, Magnolia Warbler 13, Wilson’s Warbler 2, Blue-gray Tanager 1, Blue-black Grassquit 1, White-collared Seedeater 5, Yellow-faced Grassquit 1, Summer Tanager 1, Melodious Blackbird 1, and Yellow-throated Euphonia 2.