BELIZE BIRDING TRIP REPORT
2006 Belize Birding Tour
Our stay at wonderfully comfortable Hidden Valley Inn featured some great birding highlights. Azure-crowned Hummingbird is common there but not encountered elsewhere on our tour. Certainly, one of the highlights was great looks at the secretive Stygian Owl we found roosting in some pine trees on the private reserve. Other local specialties we saw included Rufous-capped Warbler and Rusty Sparrow, both not readily found elsewhere. We were happy to find a White Hawk but missed the endangered Orange-breasted Falcon on this visit. We tried hard for the Lovely Cotinga that had been seen there recently, without success, but did see Thrush-like Schiffornis and had great looks at displaying male Red-capped Manakins.
In addition to seeing the fantastic ruins at Caracol Archaeological Site, we enjoyed some great birding. We had great looks at Ocellated Turkey on the approach road, a rare sighting indeed. We also had good looks at a Short-tailed Hawk en route to the site. Some members of the group saw a secretive Great Curassow lurking in the underbrush. At Caracol itself we saw plenty of trogons, woodpeckers, flycatchers, warblers, and tanagers. Some notable birds we didn't see anywhere else included Collared Trogon, Black-crowned Tityra, Olive-backed Euphonia, Green-backed Sparrow, and Giant Cowbird.
Cockscomb Basin Jaguar Reserve is one of our favorite birding locales in Belize. It's best birded early in the morning, so we stayed in rustic accommodations inside the park. On our next tour we plan on "upgrading" to basic cabinas in Maya Center. The birding didn't disappoint. Some of the notable birds we saw there were Crested Guan, Blue Ground-dove, Long-billed Hermit, Little Hermit, three species of trogons, Amazon Kingfisher, Pale-billed Woodpecker, Ruddy Woodcreeper, White-collared Manakin, Red-capped Manakin, Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, Gray-headed Tanager, Crimson-collared Tanager, Thick-billed Seed-finch, Black-faced Grosbeak, and Blue-black Grosbeak.
Crooked Tree Lagoon had unusually high water levels during our visit, causing many of the water birds requiring shallow water to disperse. We did see Jabiru in a field on our way to Hidden Valley the first day of our tour and during a boat ride along the New River where we saw a nesting pair, but Jabirus were absent from the lagoon itself. Similarly, we saw Wood Stork along the Northern Highway but not on the lagoon. We did see some great birds on the lagoon, including the always hard to find Agami Heron, the first one found by our guide that spring, Boat-billed Heron, Great Black-hawk, Black-collared Hawk, Sungrebe, the always common Northern Jacana, and a very rare visitor from the south, a Southern Lapwing. We also birded several trails on the island and found some of the near endemic specialties of the area, including Black-throated Bobwhite, Yucatan Flycatcher, and the elusive Yucatan Jay. As a final exclamation point on our visit to Crooked Tree, we spotted an Altamira Oriole in a tree across the way from our guide's deck, a bird he had never seen there before.
The participants on this tour were a privately organized group, so we adjusted the itinerary to suit a non-birding spouse and a beginning birder who wanted to do other things besides just birding. We took the boat up the New River to Lamanai instead of birding our way by car, which would have been more productive especially in terms of raptors. We did see a Northern Tamandua and a flying Crane Hawk in addition to the Jabiru along the way. At the group's request, we did not bird areas surrounding Lamanai like we normally would. We did see a good variety of birds on the grounds of Lamanai (see checklist) but none that we didn't see elsewhere. That reduced our overall species count below that expected on a tour devoted entirely to birding.
The group continued on to Caye Caulker for the last 2 days of the tour. We picked up a variety of additional and near endemic species such as various marine birds, migrant warblers, Cinnamon Hummingbird, Yucatan Vireo, Black Catbird, and Altamira Oriole. We also visited the barrier reef in a glass-bottom boat, viewing numerous colorful reef fish. This was certainly one of the highlights of our visit to Caye Caulker.