Yucatan Jays Photo: Bob Gress- Birding Belize
Belize is quite simply a birder’s paradise. Formerly known as British Honduras, this small Central American country remains a member of the Commonwealth and a popular destination for tourists. Bordered on its western side by Mexico and Guatemala, and on the east by the Caribbean Sea (and the second longest barrier reef in the world), Belize forms part of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor stretching from Mexico to Panama. For such a relatively small country Belize has a small population which ensures there are extensive areas of good habitat to be found. Indeed, some 60% of the country is covered by forest and only around 20% by cultivation or settlements. In addition, Belize has been proactive in protecting it natural resources and today some 37% of the land mass is covered by some level of protection.
Our tour takes us all around this little gem of a country from Crooked Tree in the north, to Crystal Paradise in the west, Blue Hole in the centre of the country and Mayflower Bocawina National park in the east. The ancient Mayan culture can be seen across the landscape of Belize and we’ll spend a day amidst the wonderful ruins at Caracol. With some wonderful lodges, easy trails through lush habitats, and exciting resident and migratory birds, we are assured of a wonderful birding tour.
Day 1: The tour begins this morning at Belize airport. After clearing immigration and customs we’ll be met by our local guide and begin our tour by driving along the Northern Highway to Crooked Tree village, located inside the eponymous wildlife sanctuary, where we’ll spend two nights. Night in Bird’s Eye View Lodge.
Day 2: The Crooked tree Sanctuary was founded in 1984 by the Belize Audubon Society and consists of some 16,000 acres comprised of inland waterways, swamps and lagoons. The wetland is approximately a mile wide and more than 20 miles long and the reserve features a number of trails allowing exploration on foot. We’ll spend most of the day birding along these trails and along the lagoon side where a variety of birds can be expected. Specialities of this area include Jabiru, Agami Heron, Bare-throated Tiger Heron as well as Black-collared Hawk and Black Catbird. Species associated with wetland will be in abundance and could include Roseate Spoonbill, Blue-winged Teal, Purple Gallinule, Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers, Snail Kites, and an array of gaudy kingfishers including the diminutive American Pygmy. Away from the water there will be much to vie for our attention as we come across Savannah (Lesser Yellow-headed) Vultures, Bobwhites, Northern Potoo, Acorn, Yucatan, and Red-vented Woodpeckers, Yellow-headed Parrot, Yucatan Jay, Vermillion Flycatchers, Canivet’s Emerald, and Rufous-browed Peppershrike to mention a few. As dusk approaches we’ll venture out again to look for Yucatan Poorwill.
Day 3: We’ll enjoy a magical early morning cruising gently out of the waterways of Crooked Tree. Quietly gliding along the various channels we’ll be able to get close to many shy species such as Jabiru, Sungrebe and both Agami and Boat-billed Herons.
Later after breakfast we’ll depart for La Milpa, crossing open savannah and farmland, and then later driving through mature hardwood forest. There will be birds to look for on the drive and we’ll be keeping an eye open for Short-tailed and Gray Hawks, Laughing Falcon, and Fork-tailed flycatchers among others. This area is a key wintering ground for North American wood-warblers, and we should bump into amongst others, Blue-winged, Yellow, Tennessee, Black and white, and Chestnut-sided. If we’re very lucky we might even see the flamboyant Blackburnian, or even the odd Magnolia. Night in La Milpa.
Day 4: The lodge at La Milpa lies nestled deep in the forests of northwestern Belize. It is located only a short distance from the third largest archaeological site in Belize. The La Milpa Archaeological Site is only one of at least sixty other archaeological sites found on the Rio Bravo area. We’ll look for birds throughout the day on the many trails in the area as we look for Green Honeycreepers, Spot-breasted Wood-wren and Spot-breasted Wren, Turkey Vulture, Great Tinamou, Ornate Hawk-Eagles, Barred Forest-Falcons, Crane Hawks, Scaled Pigeon, Buff-throated Foliage Gleaner, Barred Woodcreeper, Streak-headed Woodcreeper, Ruddy Woodcreeper, Yucatan flycatcher, Chestnut-collared woodpecker, the very vocal Green Shrike Vireo, and talking of vocal, the far-carrying call of the Rufous Piha. Night at La Milpa.
Day 5: We’ll spend the first part of the day birding in the grounds of the lodge where hummingbirds could include Purple-crown Fairy and Long-billed Hermits. Leaving after breakfast we’ll take a route along the back roads through rainforest for our journey to western Belize. Along the way we have a real chance of encountering some mammals such as Red Brocket Deer and Peccaries, and these forests are the haunt of Jaguar, Puma, or Margay although we would be extremely fortunate to see one. There will be birds to look for as well with Laughing Falcon, Crested Guans, Black Hawk-Eagle, Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle, Brown- hooded parrots, Mealy Parrots and more. We’ll have a packed lunch along for the drive so we can make the best of the birding along the way and will arrive at our lodge, the wonderfully named Crystal Paradise, in plenty of time to look for the resident Band-backed Wrens, Blue-gray Tanagers, and Collared Aracaris in the grounds. Night in Crystal Paradise Lodge.
Day 6: Leaving early we spend much of today in the Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve. This large reserve is dominated by Honduras Pine, with but a significant amount of broadleaved forest as well as small patches of grassland. A nice selection of birds awaits us here. Flocks of Black-headed Siskins can often be seen flying overhead and in the wonderful ‘hidden valley’ we have a strong possibility of seeing the Orange-breasted Falcons, as well as King Vultures sailing over the impressive Thousand Foot waterfall.
Elsewhere we’ll search for Black and White Hawk-eagle, Yellow-faced Grassquits, Rufous-capped Warblers, Yellow-backed Orioles, and Golden-hooded Tanagers. Stygian Owl can also be found here, and there is a very good chance of finding the Lovely Cotinga. Night in Crystal Paradise Lodge.
Day 7: Today we drive to Caracol. It was in 1937 that a logger came across the hidden Mayan remains deep in the jungle here. Subsequent excavations revealed a huge site covering some 200 square kilometres that contains a wealth of ancient buildings, including the highest manmade structure in Belize today – the Caana Sky Palace. We’ll take some time to explore the ancient site, and to look for many of the birds that make this location their home. Keel-Billed Motmot, Crested Guan, Great Curassow and the fabulous Ocellated Turkey are some of the gems we should locate.
Not far away are some pools we have the opportunity to see a variety of birds including Tody Motmot, Buff-throated Foliage gleaner, Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Golden-hooded Tanager, Rufous Piha, Rusty Sparrow, Olive-backed Sparrow, Green-backed Sparrow, Bat Falcon, Gray-headed Kite, Great Black Hawk, and Scarlet Macaw. Night in Crystal Paradise Lodge.
Day 8: We’ll depart in the morning heading for the Mayflower Bocawina National Park. On the way we call in at Blue Hole National Park. Besides the famous blue hole – a deep pool – there are a number of hiking trails which we’ll explore looking for White Hawk, Spotted-Wood Quail, Crested Guans, Northern Royal flycatcher, Barred, and Great Antshrikes, Emerald Toucanet, Slaty-tailed Trogons, and Cinnamon, and Rose-throated Becards. Night at Night at Bocawina Lodge.
Days 9 - 10: We have two days to explore this region. A short drive takes us to the Mayflower Bocawina National Park consisting of over 7,000 acres of superb habitat. It is home to waterfalls, lush vegetation and a wide variety of interesting birds such as the Keel-billed and Tody Motmots, Black-faced Ant-thrush, tinamous including Little and Slaty breasted, Ruddy Quail Dove, Black and White Owl, Spectacled Owl, American Pygmy kingfisher, Cinnamon Becard, White winged Becard, Yellow bellied Tyrannulet, and Tawny -crowned Greenlet.
We’ll spend a morning birding in the Jaguar reserve where some of the birds we hope to see include Crested Guans, White-collared Manakins, Passerini’s Tanagers, Hook-billed Kite, Rufous-breasted Spinetail. Orange billed sparrow, Black faced Grosbeak, Chestnut-headed Oropendola, along with Dot-winged Antwren and Dusky Antbird. This area is very birdy, and with over 200 species having been recorded here, we are guaranteed a bird-filled time. Night at Bocawina Lodge.
Day 11: We have a leisurely return to Belize International Airport where the tour ends.
Updated: 11 October 2018