Winter Vacation 2010, Day Six: Birds of Belize

by J.D. Roth

One of the great things about staying at Black Rock Lodge was there was so much to explore just on the grounds themselves.

The Grounds of Black Rock Lodge

We could have hiked up the hill to see the cave, gone further to the scenic view, or climbed all the way to the top. We could have floated further down the river. We could have biked along the 6-mile gravel road that leads toward San Ignacio, looking at the birds and iguanas and, yes, the crocodile. There’s so much we didn’t do.

On our last full day in Belize, we decided to take advantage of some of the lodge activities. I’ll quote from Kris’s journal:

Thursday. Early morning bird hike with Elvis. Absolutely the best. 1-1/2 hours not very far from the lodge. Saw about 30 different species including the keel-billed toucan, national bird of Belize. Elvis was amazing at spotting the birds and locating them from their calls.

Giovanni and Elvis
Giovanni (one of the managers) with the guard dogs, and Elvis with his spotting scope.

Then a quick breakfast and off to horseback ride with Louis. We rode Romeo and Mercedes. As usual, J.D. has the pokey horse, so we end up switching. 3-1/2 hours and I am so sore at the end! Right knee, especially, but a fun ride, very challenging, with trotting and cantering at the end. Saw a flock of ~20 montezuma oropendola flying up from the canopy.

Kris and Louis Saddle Up

Kris is right that I always seem to get the pokey horse. Worse, I’m the world’s worst horseman; I have no talent for it. Romeo and I were basically immobile. Kris was sad to have to give up Mercedes, and so was Mercedes. She and I didn’t really get along, though she did actually move for me.

It took me a long time to figure out how to trot properly. For an hour or more, I just sat in there and let my ass (and other parts) slam into the saddle. It was so painful! (I eventually had to cup my private parts with my hand when we trotted.) After some tips from our guide Louis, I managed to find a position that let me trot with a little less pain. (Thank goodness!)

We made our way along the road to town, then cut through the orange grove. As we took in the sweet scent of the blossoms (seriously, one of my favorite smells ever), Louis paused to pick an orange for each of us. Then we continued on our way up into the hills.

Eventually we came to Tipu, a small Mayan ruin. Leon (from Saskatchewan) and Louis chatted about the ruins (and about horses):

Leon and Louis at Tipu

I posed in front of the gorgeous valley view (which a photo cannot do justice):

J.D. Overlooking a Vista

On our return trip, Louis stopped to ask the orchard’s caretaker if we could have some coconuts, and he agreed. Louis cut them down with his machete, hacked open an end, and gave us each one to drink. Kris loved the milk, but Leon hated it. I was somewhere inbetween.

Back at the lodge, Kris spent the afternoon roaming the grounds with the camera, photographing the birds of Belize. We’ve been saving up these bird photos all week. Rather than space them out, we’re going to give them to you all right now. Some things to note:

So, here you are. The birds of Belize…

Let’s start by looking at this handsome fellow, the keel-billed toucan, the national bird of Belize:

Keel-billed toucan

There were tons of cattle egrets all over the place. They particularly like to hang out with the dozen horses as they roamed the grounds of the lodge:

Cattle egrets

On our early morning bird hike, another guest (Andy) loved these violaceous trogans:

Violaceous trogan  Violaceous trogan

This little gray catbird is a cutie. She gets her name because she purportedly makes a noise like a cat, though it’s not like any cat I’ve ever heard:

Gray catbird

Here are two birds with American names, the Baltimore oriole and the Kentucky warbler:

Baltimore oriole  Kentucky warbler

And here are two woodcreepers, the ivory-billed woodcreeper and the olivaceous woodcreeper (which is small, and photographed from a distance in dim light):

Ivory-billed woodcreeper  Olivaceous woodcreeper

From woodcreepers to woodpeckers — here are the black-cheeked woodpecker and the pale-billed woodpecker:

black-cheeked woodpecker  pale-billed woodpecker

There were so many hummingbirds around the lodge. We photographed tons, but most of the photos didn’t turn out, as you can imagine. This white-necked jacobin is quite nice, though:

white-necked jacobin

Kris likes hawks, so was quite pleased to see this juvenile black hawk hanging around the lodge:

juvenile black hawk  juvenile black hawk

On our early morning bird-watching expedition, Elvis spotted this white-crowned parrot peeking out of his nest. We’re not sure how he saw it since it looks like just a nub on a tree. (Actually, Elvis has done this so often, that he knows where the birds live, so he probably knew to look here.) Eventually, this little guy came out for a snack.

white-crowned parrot in nest  white-crowned parrot

Here’s a blue-crowned motmot and a cinnamon becard (no relation to the jean-luc picard):

blue-crowned motmot  cinnamon becard

Here’s a bird we could not identify:

Unidentified bird of Belize

There were lots of yellow birds in the jungle, including the kiskadee and the white-collared manakin:

Kiskadee  white-collared manakin

At Tikal (in Guatemala), we saw a couple of birds we didn’t see in Belize, including the ocellated turkey (which is sort of iridescent blue and green) and the unidentified bird on the right:

Ocellated Turkey  unidentified bird at Tikal

Also at Tikal, we saw Kris’s favorite bird: the montezuma oropendola. While riding horses, we saw an entire flock of them moving through the jungle canopy. They’re beautiful. So beautiful that I’m including two photos (neither of which do them justice):

montezuma oropendula

montezuma oropendula

Here are two vultures: The common turkey vulture we see in Oregon, and another one that Kris is calling a King Vulture, but which I think is something else:

Turkey Vulture  Vulture

Here are two tanagers. The first is a yellow-winged tanager hanging out at the lodge’s compost pile. The second is a beautiful crimson-collared tanager.

yellow-winged tanager  crimson-collared tanager

And, finally, my favorites: The collared aracari from the lodge. They flew in every morning and afternoon to have a snack at the banana trees. They’re beautiful:

Collared Aracari

Collared Aracari

We saw lots more birds than just these, and took more photos than I’ve shared. Kris is sure to be cranky that these are the only birds I’ve posted, but not everyone is as into birds as she is. (As she left for work today, she paused at the doorway. She was doing something with the jays — I’m not sure what. “I’m trying to train them,” she said. I didn’t ask in what way, but don’t be surprised if the next time you see her, Kris is followed by a flock of scrub jays.)

“Was it worth it?” Kris asked at the end of our trip.

“What do you mean?” I said.

“The five months of writing? The book? Was all of that a fair trade for one week in Belize?” We used my advance on royalties to fund this trip.

“No,” I said. “It’s not a trade I’d make again. But if the book earns back the advance, it might be worth it. Besides, that’s not how I look at it. The book is one thing, and Belize is another. They both have their goods and their bads. I’m glad I did both.”

Kris and J.D. on Horseback

Tune in tomorrow for one last look at Belize, including a look at the lodge’s kitchen (and a couple of soup recipes)!

Updated: 04 March 2010

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