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Belize - part III
February 2024

    Itinerary:
   
Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary
    San Pedro, Ambergris Caye
    Hidden Valley Environmental Lodge, Mountain Pine Ridge
    Cockscomb Basin Reserve
    Tropical Education Center and Belize Zoo Lodge


Synopsis

We made it back to Belize City where we picked up our rental car and headed inland to our next destination.

Hidden Valley Wilderness Lodge, Mountain Pine Ridge

On our way to the mountains, we stopped at Guanacaste National Park, a tiny rainforest patch on the edge of the capital, Belmopan, and sandwiched between the George Price Highway and the Belize River. It was a lovely little pocket of broadleaf forest with a few short loop trails. Even during the heat of the day, the bird activity was pretty decent when we came upon a small mixed flock of Red-throated Ant-tanager, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Summer Tanager, and Ivory-billed Woodcreeper. A White-breasted Wren was singing continuously from a thick tangle of fallen palms. A Little Blue Heron waded in the river and a pair of White-browed Gnatcatchers chattered from the high foliage.

After traveling the 2-lane paved George Price highway through many small towns that were demarcated with speed bumps, we turned off at Georgeville to climb the nicely (also newly) paved road to Mountain Pine Ridge. As we climbed higher, the palms and broadleaf forest gave way to thin tall pines amongst dense green mats of tigerfern and patches of oak. Leaving the asphalt, we turned onto an iron-rich red dirt road toward the lodge and arrived late afternoon. At check-in, we were greeted with lemongrass pandan drinks (with or without a shot of rum). This lodge was a caliber higher than what we were used to and also where we'd be staying for the next two nights.

The lodge offered a range of housing options, but we stayed in the least expensive: the garden cottage was very comfortable. Each room feature a clay pot where you could filter your water, fresh cookies and locally crafted soaps. Sap, the onsite restaurant, boasted the best chef in Belize who designed a menu that highlighted traditional locally grown food (within 15 miles). Both dinners we had there were excellent in presentation and taste. They were also the most expensive meals of the trip. But even local people traveled up to this lodge just for this restaurant.

Aside from eating, we also had time to explore the grounds of the lodge. On the first evening, we hiked out to the small lake in search of amphibians. We didn't see any birds due to the lateness of the day, but we did find a few Brown Leopard Frogs and Mesoamerican Sliders at the lake. We signed up for a morning bird tour of the Hidden Valley. In the early morning, we met Marvin Rameriz. Birding was difficult given the heavy misty that rolled in overnight. All coloring was muted to a dull gray, making identifying even the most colorful birds pretty challenging. Marvin was an excellent guide. He knew the birds well and was eager to share this passion for the birds. He showed us the montane specialty birds of Belize including Rufous-capped Warbler, Black-headed Siskin, and Rusty Sparrow. At the King Vulture Lookout, he pointed out the pair of Orange-breasted Falcons, which we got excellent views of (despite the fog). We also had a great flyover view of a King Vulture that was patrolling the ridge. Throughout the many habitats of oak, pine, broadleaf, savanna, and old plantations found throughout Hidden Valley, we lucked upon several mixed flocks of Yellow-rumped and Grace's Warblers, Hepatic Tanager, and Black-faced Grosbeak. We searched the pine forest for Stygian Owl (but missed). In the boardleaf, we did find a pair of silent and beautiful Collared Trogons.

In the afternoon, we meet our friends who had flown into Belize City in the morning. They hired a local bird guide, who drove them out to Mountain Pine Ridge and would also guide all of us that afternoon at Slate Creek, which was just down the hill from the lodge. In the late afternoon, we walked the short jeep trail through a mixed broadleaf forest. The birds were mostly quiet during this hour, but we did find a couple of ant-tanagers and a female White-collared Manakin. The trail ended at an overlook of a forested valley below. From the lookout, we spotted several King Vultures and Swallow-tailed Kites gliding past. Over the valley, White-crowned Parrots squawked to each other. And a Great Tinamou whistled its haunting call from the unknown depths of the rainforest below.

The following morning, we had hired Marvin to guide all of us for more local birding. He took us down the road, stopping along the way whenever bird activity looked promising. Unfortunately, the morning was just as misty as the previous morning, so it was difficult to see the smaller birds in the pine treetops. Still we had great looks at Black-throated Saltator, Collared Aracaris, Keel-billed Toucan, Black-crowned Tityra, and Pale-billed Woodpecker. Marvin took us to Green Hills Butterfly Ranch where the lowland bird was particularly busy with Lesson's Motmot, Scrub Euphonia, Russet-naped Wood-Rail, and Red-legged Honeycreeper. The hummingbird feeders were a frenzy of activity with White-necked Jacobin outnumbering the Wedge-tailed Saberwing, White-bellied Emerald, Scaly-breasted and Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds. A single brilliant Violet Sabrewing male would occasional zip through for a quick drink at the feeders. It was a whirlwind of buzzing wings. While there, we were given a tour by one of the butterfly ranchers. The operation was an impressive endeavor to breed and grow owl, glasswing, and longwing butterflies, which were shipped as chrysalis all over the world. After another wonderful morning birding with Marvin, we packed up and left Mountain Pine Ridge behind. Along with our traveling companion friends, we hit the scenic Hummingbird Highway southward to the

Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary (aka. Jaguar Reserve)

Along the way, we had stopped at Belmopan for the best grocery options and at Ms. Berth's Tamales for some really tasty tamales. The Hummingbird Highway is purportedly the most scenic in Belize. It's difficult to argue otherwise. Between the small towns and farms along the highway were stretches of lush rainforest and green mountains on the horizon.

We arrived at Cockscomb Basin by mid-afternoon. Tall dense jungle of buttress-root trees, strangler figs, vines, and palms lined the dirt road up to the reserve. The reserve was run by the Belize Audubon Society and it was not easy making a reservation for accommodations at the ranger station. Even though information about the cabins and rooms were available online, making the reservation was difficult. Emails went unanswered and phone messages were not returned. I'm guessing they were understaffed and didn't have anyone to handle reservations or maybe they didn't see the need to. However, thanks to our friends' similar experience and WhatsApp, we were able to connect with someone to secure the cabin that would be ours for the next two night. We stayed in the "Jaguar" cabin. An elevated rustic cabin on the edge of the maintained grounds. The accommodations were basic with running water, electricity, 2 small bedrooms, a bathroom, kitchen and dining area. There was a screened in veranda with a sitting area that looked out toward the other housing, dining area, and forest beyond.

In the evening, we were treated to pairs of Scarlet Macaws flying over the opening. Their raucous calls gave us warning that they were coming over. Yellow-winged and Blue-gray Tanagers, Pale-vented Pigeons and Yellow-throated Euphonias fed in the cecropia. A Least Flycatcher sallied from the low branches. Northern Waterthrushes bobbed their rumps as they perused the lawn.

The first evening, I had arranged a night hike with Gregorio who owned one of the lodges in Maya Center, the town just below the reserve. He meet us in the evening to take us out on the trails. He got down to business pretty quickly - giving us the option of a long hike or a shorter one. We opted for the longer one, which required a brisk walk out the main trail. In silence and waning light, we hiked over small streams along a well-maintained trail through tall reeds and the edge of the forest. We stopped briefly to spotlight the Common Paraque that sat on the path and the few frogs in the slow moving creeks. In the distance, the howler monkeys gave their fearsome grunts and cries and a marine toad's call resonate from deep in the jungle. Once we reached the trail that would take us into the jungle, Gregorio gave us the option of looking for mammals or looking for any wildlife. We opted for mammal spotting where Gregorio lead us while sweeping his spotlight back and forth in search of movement or eyeshine. We walked behind him as silently as possible so as not to cast shadows in the light and to allow him to listen for any activity. We followed the stocky figure of Gregorio and his single beam of light as it past over vines and dense undergrowth. Occasionally he'd sweep the light up toward the canopy. We walked in relative silence, trying not to crunch too many leaves or fallen nuts underfoot. We saw one kinkajou and heard a pacca crunching on palm nuts. Near the ranger station we spotted a large possum, but as there were never any guarantees with animals that move, we didn't see much else unfortunately.

The next morning Gregorio was supposed to take us birding around the reserve, but he had a family obligation arise. Instead his brother, Ouscal guided us. I don't know how the birding skills differed between the two brothers, but Ouscal was not a very good guide. He often misidentified the birds and wasn't very good at directing us to where a bird was. Still he knew where the birds should be located and we saw a lot of good birds that morning. A mixed flock of Rose-throated Becard, Masked and Black-crowned Tityra and Yellow-winged Tanagers were feeding in the treetops near the ranger station. Crested Guans, Keel-billed Toucans and Clay-colored Thrushes ate ripe fruits in the canopy. Lower down the White-collared Manakin displaying with wing snap and pops in the dense understory. Stipe-throated Hermits were performing a mini ballet by hovering with tail and bill raised and emitting a series of chirps. We also saw a pair of Chestnut-colored Woodpeckers, got a brief glimpse of a Royal Flycatcher, and watched a Bright-rumped Atilla singing overhead. A gorgeous Agami Heron hunted tetras in a slow moving creek. A Laughing Falcon and a Gray-headed Kite obliged us with long looks as they sat on open branches.

The time we had on the trails without a guide was equally exciting. With the help of the Merlin app, we were able to find a Slate-tailed Trogon singing above the trail and a singing Rufous-breasted Spinetail hidden deep in a tangle of brush and reeds. We listened to the haunting calls of a Great Tinamou, then saw one picking along the main trail. A startling bright red flash flew toward us as we walk through the dim forest. The male Red-capped Manakin then gave its whistle-squeak call from behind a jumble of vines. Long-billed Hermits sang from a patch of banana palms. We watched a Rufous-tailed Jacamar tenderize and prep a dragonfly before swallowing it whole. Mixed flocks caused us to stop and watch in awe. The flurry of activity quickly appeared and disappeared in the matter of seconds. Streak-headed and Tawny-winged Woodcreepers, Fawn-throated Foliage-gleaner, Barred Antshrike, Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher, Gray Catbird, and Gray-headed Tanagers were just a few of the birds caught up in the frenzied activity. The Red-throated Ant-tanagers were often the ones leading the charges through the jungle. One particularly exciting mixed flock was following a large swarm of army ants that flowed over the leaf litter. We stood there for several long minutes watching the flock pick their way through the understory. New birds would show up, while some birds continued to stay around.

At night, we had a productive hike on the short trail that followed the creek. Going slowly, we were able to see a Kinkajou in the treetops, Vaillanti's Frog and a Mexican Climbing Salamander near the stream, a surprising number of small Red Coffee Snakes, a couple of scorpions, a vinegaroon, and a Variable Coral Snake that quickly slithered away. There were also several night hike tour groups that we encountered. It's a popular activity for people staying in hotels/resorts in Dangriga or Hopkins.

After our stay lovely and short stay at Cockscomb Basin, we left the jungle behind and stopped at the Maya Center for locally-crafted souvenirs and some chocolate milk. Although the milk was sold in reused plastic bottles, it was probably the best cold chocolate milk I've had. Drinking it in the heat of the mid-day sun added to the decadent experience. Heading back north, we stopped at a little roadside open shack (for lack of a better term) for a delicious lunch of traditional Belizean bbq chicken, rice and beans, and plantain.

We had an early flight out of Belize the next morning. Instead of staying in the city, we decided on the Tropical Learning Center, which was a part of the adjacent Belize Zoo. It was also only a 30 minute drive to the airport from there.

Tropical Learning Center, Belize Zoo Lodging

We continued our the final legs of our journey up the also recently paved Coastal Highway through more farmland, ranchland, and open savanna. There were few towns on this highway. We arrived at the savanna-nestled TEC in the early afternoon, during the peak heat of the day. The housing varied from dorm-style to cabins with shared bathroom facilities to self-contained cabins. I had booked early enough that we had a self-contained cabin on stilts above the pond. The cabin was rustic, but offered more comfort than the Cockscomb cabin. A large open floor plan featured two sleeping areas divided by the kitchen and enclosed bathroom in the middle of the cabin. The highlight of the large screened in veranda was a 180-view of the pond. Despite the heat of the day, agoutis grazed the grounds and a troupe of white-faced coatis bounded up with driveway. We explored the different habitat of the savannah. On the trails nearby, we walked in the contrasting mix of Caribbean pines and silver palmetto palms. A couple of wooden platforms, which were in need of a little TLC, offered views over the open grasslands. The trail took us through microhabitats of dry and wet savanna and oak and pine forest. There were a few birds still active in the late afternoon. A pair of Red-legged Honeycreepers briefly stopped in the oaks. A Northern Bentbill gleaned the orchid ladened branches. Across the open savanna, a Couch's Kingbird called from a distant treetop. Turkey Vultures float above in the blue sky. In the evening, pairs of White-fronted and Red-lored Parrots squawked and flapped overhead headed to their evening roosts.

Dinner was included with the price of housing at the TEC. It was standard Belizean fare, which even after 10 days was still tasty and filling. The freshly made juice was a nice bonus. Our last day and night in a new environment at the TEC was a reminder that Belize has much more to offer. And I hope we return to further explore this country.

back to part I or back to part II

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Pictures

















































































Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary
San Pedro, Ambergris Caye
Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary
Mountain Pine Ridge


back to part I or back to part II


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Bird List

Great Tinamou SC (heard), CB
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck CT
Muscovy Duck CT
Blue-winged Teal CT
Lesser Scaup NR
Plain Chachalaca CT, HV, CR< GH, TEC
Crested Guan CB
Great Curassow NR
Pied-billed Grebe CT
Rock Pigeon SP
Pale-vented Pigeon CT, NR, TEC
White-crowned Pigeon SP
Red-billed Pigeon CR, GH
Short-billed Pigeon GH, CB
Eurasian Collared-Dove SP
Common Ground Dove CT, SP
Plain-breasted Ground Dove CT
Ruddy Ground Dove CT, CR
White-tipped Dove GH, CB
White-winged Dove CT, SP
Groove-billed Ani CT, NR
Squirrel Cuckoo CT, HV
Lesser Nighthawk NR
Common Pauraque CT, TEC (heard)
Northern Potoo CT
White-necked Jacobin GH
Long-billed Hermit GH, CB
Stripe-throated Hermit CB
Green-breasted Mango CT
Canivet's Emerald CT
Wedge-tailed Sabrewing GH
Violet Sabrewing GH
Scaly-breasted Hummingbird GH
Azure-crowned Hummingbird HV, CR
Cinnamon Hummingbird SP
Rufous-tailed Hummingbird CT, SP, G, SC, CR, GH, SB, TEC
White-bellied Emerald G, CR, GH, CB
Russet-naped Wood-Rail CT, GH
American Coot CT
Purple Gallinule CT
Limpkin CT
Black-bellied Plover SP
Killdeer CT
Northern Jacana CT
Spotted Sandpiper CT, SP, G
Ruddy Turnstone SP, CC
Sanderling SP, CC
Least Sandpiper CT, SP
Laughing Gull SP
Caspian Tern SP
Sandwich Tern SP
Royal Tern SP, BC, CC
Jabiru NR
Wood Stork CT, BC
Magnificent Frigatebird SP, BC, CC
Anhinga CT, NR
Double-crested Cormorant SP, BC, CC
Neotropic Cormorant CT, NR, BC
Brown Pelican SP, BC, CC
Bare-throated Tiger-Heron CT
Boat-billed Heron CT
Yellow-crowned Night Heron CT, NR
Black-crowned Night Heron AIR, CT, NR
Little Blue Heron CT, CC, G
Tricolored Heron CT
Snowy Egret CT, NR
Green Heron CT, NR, CC, GH
Western Cattle Egret AIR, CT
Great Egret AIR, CT, CC
Great Blue Heron AIR, CT, NR, SP
White Ibis CT
Roseate Spoonbill BC
King Vulture HV, SC
Black Vulture CT, NR, G, TEC
Turkey Vulture AIR, CT, NR, SP, BC, CB, TEC
Osprey CT, NR, SP
Gray-headed Kite CB
Swallow-tailed Kite SC
Black-collared Hawk CT
Snail Kite CT
Crane Hawk CT
Roadside Hawk CT, NR, CR, CB
Gray Hawk HV
Short-tailed Hawk CT
Barn Owl CT (heard)
Mottled Owl CB (heard)
Slaty-tailed Trogon CB
Black-headed Trogon CT, SP, GH
Gartered Trogon CB
Collared Trogon HV
Lesson's Motmot GH, CB
Ringed Kingfisher CT, NR
Belted Kingfisher CT, SP, BC
Amazon Kingfisher CT, NR
Green Kingfisher CB
White-necked Puffbird CT
Rufous-tailed Jacamar CB
Collared Aracari CR, CB
Keel-billed Toucan GH, CB
Acorn Woodpecker HV, CR, TEC
Yucatan Woodpecker CT
Golden-fronted Woodpecker CT, SP, G, CR, TEC
Pale-billed Woodpecker CR, CB
Lineated Woodpecker HV
Chestnut-colored Woodpecker CB
Golden-olive Woodpecker HV
Laughing Falcon CT, CB
Bat Falcon CT
Orange-breasted Falcon HV
White-crowned Parrot SC
Red-lored Parrot HV, CR, GH, CB
White-fronted Parrot CT, CR
Mealy Parrot CR
Olive-throated Parakeet CT, SP, CR, CB
Scarlet Macaw CB
Barred Antshrike CT, CB
Dot-winged Antwren CB
Dusky Antbird CB
Ruddy Woodcreeper GH, CB
Tawny-winged Woodcreeper G, CB
Northern Barred-Woodcreeper CB
Ivory-billed Woodcreeper CT, G, HV
Streak-headed Woodcreeper CB
Plain Xenops CB
Fawn-throated Foliage-gleaner CB
Rufous-breasted Spinetail CB
White-collared Manakin SC, CR, CB
Red-capped Manakin GH, CB
Black-crowned Tityra CR, CB
Masked Tityra CB
Northern Schiffornis CB
Rose-throated Becard CT
Tropical Royal Flycatcher CB
Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher CB
Ochre-bellied Flycatcher GH
Sepia-capped Flycatcher CB
Northern Bentbill SC, TEC
Common Tody-Flycatcher CT
Yellow-olive Flatbill CT
Greenish Elaenia CB
Yellow-bellied Elaenia CT, HV, GH
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher SC, GH
Least Flycatcher GH, CB
Vermilion Flycatcher AIR, CT
Bright-rumped Attila CB
Dusky-capped Flycatcher CT, G, HV, SC
Great Crested Flycatcher HV
Great Kiskadee CT, SP, BC, HV, CR, CB
Boat-billed Flycatcher HV, CR
Social Flycatcher AIR, CT, SP, CR, GH, CB, TEC
Tropical Kingbird CT, SP, BC, CR, CB
Couch's Kingbird HV, TEC
Fork-tailed Flycatcher AIR
Rufous-browed Peppershrike CT
Lesser Greenlet GH, CB
Mangrove Vireo CT, SP, HV
Plumbeous Vireo HV
Brown Jay CT, HV, GH, TEC
Green Jay HV, CR
Tree Swallow CT
Mangrove Swallow CT, G
Gray-breasted Martin CT
Northern Rough-winged Swallow BC
White-browed Gnatcatcher G
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher CT, HV, CR
House Wren CT
Spot-breasted Wren CT, G, CB
Cabanis's Wren HV
White-breasted Wood-Wren G, CB
Black Catbird SP
Gray Catbird CT, HV, CR, GH, CB
Tropical Mockingbird AIR, CT, SP, BC, CC
Swainson's Thrush GH
Wood Thrush CT, G, CR, CB
Clay-colored Thrush CT, HV, GH, CB, TEC
House Sparrow roadside
Scrub Euphonia GH
Yellow-throated Euphonia CR, CB
Black-headed Siskin HV, CR
Lesser Goldfinch CT
Rusty Sparrow HV
Yellow-breasted Chat CT
Black-cowled Oriole CT, CB
Orchard Oriole CT
Hooded Oriole CT, SP, BC, CB
Yellow-backed Oriole HV
Yellow-tailed Oriole HV
Baltimore Oriole CT
Red-winged Blackbird CT
Melodious Blackbird CT, HV, CB
Great-tailed Grackle AIR, CT, SP, CC
Ovenbird CB
Worm-eating Warbler CR, CB
Northern Waterthrush CT, GH, CB, TEC
Black-and-white Warbler CT, SP, G, HV, GH, CB, TEC
Common Yellowthroat CT, CB
Hooded Warbler CT, G, GH, TEC
American Redstart CT, SP, HV
Northern Parula CT, CB
Magnolia Warbler CT, G, SC, GH, CB
Yellow Warbler CT, SP, BC
Palm Warbler CT, BC
Yellow-rumped Warbler HV
Yellow-throated Warbler CT, HV, CR, GH
Grace's Warbler HV, CR
Black-throated Green Warbler CT, G, HV, SC
Rufous-capped Warbler HV
Hepatic Tanager HV
Summer Tanager CT, G, HV, SC, GH, CB
Red-throated Ant-Tanager G, SC, CB
Black-faced Grosbeak HV CB
Northern Cardinal CT
Rose-breasted Grosbeak SP, CB
Blue-black Grosbeak CB
Indigo Bunting CT
Gray-headed Tanager CT, CB
Crimson-collared Tanager CB
Blue-gray Tanager CT, CB
Yellow-winged Tanager CB
Golden-hooded Tanager CB
Red-legged Honeycreeper CR, GH, TEC
Variable Seedeater CB
Morelet's Seedeater CT, SP, HV, GH, CB
Bananaquit SP
Yellow-faced Grassquit HV
Buff-throated Saltator CB
Black-headed Saltator HV, CB
Cinnamon-bellied Saltator CT
Critters
West Indian Manatee near Belize City, near San Pedro
Yucatan Black howler monkey CT, L, CB (heard)
Mexican Hairy Dwarf porcupine CT
Kinkajou CB
Central American Agouti L, TEC
White-nosed Coati TEC
Bulldog bat CT
Sac-winged (proboscis) bat NR
Yucatan Squirrel CT, Green Hills
Deppe's Squirrel CB
Morelet's Crocodile CT, NR
Variable Coral Snake CB
Red Coffee Snake CB
Green Iguana CT, NR, SP
Black Iguana CT, NR
Brown Basilisk G, CB
Teapen Rosebelly Lizard L
Middle American Whiptail CB
Mexican Climbing Salamander CB
Vaillanti's Frog CT, CB
Stauffer's tree frog CT
Yellow tree frog CT
Mexican Smilisca CT
Sabinal frog CT
Brown Leopard Frog CT, HV
Mesoamerican slider HV, GH

AIR = Philip S. W. Goldson International Airport, Belize City
CT = Crooked Tree
NR = New River (Orange Walk to Lamanai)
L = Lamanai
SP = San Pedro, Ambergris Caye
BC = Bacalar Chico
CC = Caulker Caye
G = Guanacaste NP
HV = Hidden Valley Lodge, Mountain Pine Ridge
SC = Slate Creek, Mountain Pine Ridge
CR = Chiquibul Road, Mountain Pine Ridge
GH = Green Hills Butterfly Ranch
CB = Cockscomb Basin
TEC = Tropical Education Center & Belize Zoo Jungle Lodge

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page updated: 3/10/24