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Belize in February - Trip Report

Belize, February 13-22, 2004

Notes : On this wonderfully personalized trip with our 2 delightful guests, we were challenged to remain committed to the enjoyment of life, and especially the birds, when we too are considerably past 80 years!  These notes are dedicated to these inspirational participants who infused the tour with positive energy, enthusiasm and great enjoyment.

We experienced more rain in 2004 than in any of our 10 previous trips to Belize! 1 full day and 2 half days of hard, hard rain trimmed our trip list by at least 35 of the expected species to give us a total of 165. However, appropriately for wet weather, we saw all 5 of the possible kingfishers.

February 13 - We were met at the airport by Philip, duPlooy's guide, then made our way to Crooked Tree.  Along the way, we saw our first Anhinga, Cattle Egret, Little Blue Heron, Limpkin, Black Vulture, Vermilion Flycatcher, Tropical Mockingbird, and a Peregrine Falcon.

February 14 - A canopied launch carried us to Lamanai up tree-lined New River. Around every bend were new birds including Neotropic Cormorant, Tricolored Heron, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, White Ibis, Jabiru, Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, Snail Kite, Great Black-Hawk, White-tailed Hawk, Northern Jacana, a roosting Lesser Nighthawk, Ringed Kingfisher, Gray-breasted Martin, Mangrove Swallow, Red-legged Honeycreeper and Melodious Blackbird. On a quiet lagoon we observed Muscovy Ducks and a "colony" of Least Grebes. In the evening we got to see one of the many calling Common Pauraques.

February 15 - After grabbing early morning coffee and fruit, we walked from the lodge a few steps to our covered launch for a ride into the lagoons. Among many species at Crooked Tree were Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Boat-billed Heron, Wood Stork, Black-collared Hawk, Gray-necked Wood-Rail, Green Kingfisher, American Pygmy-Kingfisher, and Prothonotary Warbler. We returned for a late breakfast, then began our trip to duPlooy's. Of course, we did more leisurely birding and to our list added White-tailed Kite, Gray and Roadside hawk, Laughing Falcon, Olive-throated Parakeet, Violaceous Trogon, Blue-crowned Motmot, Collared Aracari, Fork-tailed Flycatcher and Bronzed Cowbird. A beautiful day of easy birding!

February 16 - This was a day to relax after the traveling and to get acquainted with some of the birding possibilities at duPlooy's. Before breakfast we made our way to the treetop level deck for coffee and birds whenever we were awake enough to do so. There we met the greedy aracaris and the quiet Blue-crowned Motmots who wait each day for fruit to be delivered from the kitchen. Wood Thrushes, Red-throated Ant-tanager, Yellow-winged and Summer tanagers arrived, along with Plain Chachalacas, to feed from the fruit tray.

Besides the fruit tray the Gumbolimbo tree in fruit attracted birds to within just a few feet of us. Today some of these included Great Kiskadee, Boat-billed and Social flycatchers, White-eyed Vireo, and various warblers like Magnolia and Black-and-white. The Rufous-tailed Hummingbird frequented the nearby "Cow Hoof" tree and other flowering plants nearby.

After breakfast we took our first walk at duPlooy's. duPlooy's is the home of the registered Belize Botanic Gardens where indigenous trees have been planted in forest "groups" and are filling in the former watermelon farm with fantastic habitat for birds that no doubt lived here before the land was cleared many, many years ago. Among the trees is a small lagoon that attracts nesting Northern Jacana and Least Grebe, as well as wintering Blue-winged Teal, Spotted and Solitary sandpipers. One year (not this), we watched a Sora swim across! These Gardens are a remarkable national treasure, and birds are returning to reclaim their turf.

After visiting the lagoon, we walked on an easy new trail in the forest. Here we had amazing close-up views with binoculars and scope of a Black-headed Trogon pair. It was a nice comparison with the Violaceous Trogons we'd already observed. This morning we began seeing and hearing the plaintive Tropical Pewee that is easily found. It began to rain, ending our day of birding by lunch time. However, the deck is covered and we enjoyed watching the birds that braved the rain all afternoon to frequent the feeding tray and surrounding trees!

February 17 - As we left duPlooy's for Blue Hole National Park, we found a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl sitting in one of the trees that line the driveway. Some other new trip birds we found at duPlooy's were Red-billed Pigeon, White-crowned Parrot, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Keel-billed Toucan and Scrub Euphonia. As we stopped along the highway we found Yellow-bellied Elaenia (a flycatcher with a persistent "bad hair day") and Orchard Oriole.

Blue Hole is a great "trap" for birds funneling through mountains that divide northern and southern Belize. Over the years, this has been a favorite day for some Norita's World© participants, someone noting that "you just sit around and the birds come to you." Some birds that "came to us" this year were Long-billed Hermit, Black-cheeked Woodpecker, a calling Dusky-capped Flycatcher; Blue-winged, Chestnut-sided, Hooded and Wilson's warblers, as well as Ovenbird; and Olive-backed Euphonia. The Red-throated Ant-Tanagers were everywhere, just begging for hand-outs. About noon it began to rain, and rained the rest of the day, so reluctantly we left earlier than we would otherwise have done.

February 18 - This day was non-stop rain, but we made the most of it, starting out at the deck where we found a White-tipped Dove on the ground below us. Nearby a Pale-billed Woodpecker made a brief stop. Surprising us all was a well-marked Blue-headed Vireo. As an aside, we discovered later that H. Lee Jones suggests it has been overlooked because of the fairly recent split of the "Solitary" Vireo complex. Many birds braved the rain so we had some good looks at Great Crested Flycatcher, Rose-throated Becard male and female, Masked Tityra and Yellow-throated Vireo.

Mid-morning we set out for the Maya village of San Antonio. Although it rained hard most of the short drive, we did get some breaks so saw a few birds along the way. A Crimson-collared Tanager was perhaps the most striking, but we also saw Red-legged Honeycreeper which is considerably brighter when the sun shines on its brilliant plumage and red legs! At Philip's home we were privileged to meet his children who came home for a few minutes during their school noon break for the occasion. As well, we were honored to enjoy lunch with him and his wife.

February 19 - The rain stopped the night before and this morning we were ready for some good birding! Our short drive took us across the Belize River to Spanish Lookout where there are fields, as well as forest, unexplored Maya ruins, and inland lagoons. Today we finally had decent looks at Red-billed Pigeon, Red-lored Parrot and a Squirrel Cuckoo. Along forest roads we found targeted Wedge-tailed Sabrewing and Azure-crowned Hummingbird, Slaty-tailed Trogon and Rufous-tailed Jacamar. Unpredictable Smoky-brown and Golden-olive woodpeckers, and an unbelievably “tame” group of 3 Ochre-bellied Flycatchers were also found.

On the way back to duPlooy’s we stopped in San Ignacio and had a delicious lunch at Café Sol. Terrific menu; it’s hard to choose! Then we did a brief bit of souvenir shopping.

February 20 - This was the promised long day! After an early breakfast we set out for Mountain Pine Ridge. It’s not very far from duPlooy’s, but all the roads are birdy, and it is hard not to spend a lot of time at each stop! However, we did get to “Thousand-foot Falls” for lunch. Just some of the highlights of the day were Swallow-tailed Kite, Common Black-Hawk, Bat and Orange-breasted falcons, White-collared Swift, Greater Pewee, Mangrove Vireo, Grace’s and Rufous-capped warblers, Hepatic Tanager, Yellow-faced Grassquit, Black-faced Grosbeak, and Black-headed Siskin.

February 21 - This was a relaxing day, a day to get up late for those who wanted to. We started the day at the deck and did some very laid-back birding right around duPlooy’s and then on to the Mopan River. Several birds that had been elusive, not seen or barely seen, were found. Others we were simply delighted to see once again!

At duPlooy’s we added a few new birds to the trip list like the Green-breasted Mango, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Royal Flycatcher, Black-throated Green Warbler, and Yellow-throated Euphonia. There we got to see again the Least Grebe at the Botanic Garden lagoon, a handsome Bat Falcon, Violaceous Trogon, Rose-throated Becard, Yellow-winged Tanager, and the Scrub Euphonia right beside the Yellow-throated Euphonia!

At the Mopan River we got good looks at a Green Heron, Amazon and Green kingfishers, Black Phoebe, a calling(!) Couch’s Kingbird, the sleek Black-crowned Tityra, and Blue-gray Tanager.

February 22 - We joined one of our guests for a VERY early breakfast since she had an early flight out of Belize City. A bit later in the morning the other tour participant departed, not for home, but for 3 days of snorkeling in the Stann Creek District and after that, her destination was Costa Rica.

Did I mention that these ladies were totally inspiring?!! We are privileged to have birded with them.