Sunday, February 20, 2011

Lamanai For The Birds

Lamanai, for the Birds
Lamanai is a Maya word meaning “submerged crocodile”, but also the name of the third largest, and possibly the most interesting archeological site in Belize. Located in the Orange Walk District, the Lamanai temple complex sits atop the western bluff of the New River Lagoon and is surrounded by pristine rainforest. This Pre-Classic site had its origins 3,500 years ago and experienced the longest period of occupation and development of any other Maya archeological site in Belize.

The journey to Lamanai is as interesting as Lamanai itself. Tour operators on Ambergris Caye sell this day trip as an eco-adventure and for the aware “birder” it may be the most productive of rare and unusual sightings Belize has to offer.

The trip leaves the dock in San Pedro for the New River Lagoon at approximately 7:30 a.m. and passes through a number of diverse avian habitats along the way. The boat first crosses through mangrove channels at the southern tip of Ambergris Cays offering opportunities for sighting Belted Kingfishers, Great White Herons, Little Blue Herons, Great Blue Herons, Roseate Spoonbills, Black-Necked Stilts, as well as the common occurrence of Brown Pelicans, Frigates, Cormorants, Ospreys, Plovers, Pipers and Terns.

The boat then exits the mangrove on Ambergris’ west side and crosses the southern end of the Bahia de Chetumal. Early Spanish frontiersmen accessed Lamanai via the Bay of Chetumal from Corozal traveling up the New River to a large bluff. The bluff is adorned with very impressive Maya temples that date from 1500 B.C. until the arrival of the Franciscan Friars in 1650.

Our crossing to the shortcut takes approximately 45 minutes and ends entering the Belize mainland at the mouth of the Northern River in the Northern Rover Lagoon. Elbert spotted a Green Heron fishing the shallows of a small island lagoon, the only island that was supporting tall coconut trees. The Northern River runs through tropical swamp where the fresh water of the river mixes with the tidal salt water, so that salt levels fluctuate. Characteristic in this area are Red Mangroves (Rhizophora harrisoni), with spreading silt roots. The flowering orchids, vermilions and epiphytes they support are the chief source of nectar for the Mangrove Hummingbird. In this swamp, Mangrove Vireos, Mangrove Warblers, Flycatchers and Snail Kites permanently reside, and many water birds rest, forage and nest.

This leg of the trip ends on the firm earth and dark soil at the edge of the swamp in the village of Bomba, where you are transferred from boat to bus for the trip along the Old Northern Highway. During the 50-minute trip to the New River you will pass through savanna. Elbert and I spotted three Jabiru Storks in the marsh grasses along the way as well as a flock of White Ibis and a variety of Hawks, Vultures and Egrets.

We boarded a different boat on the New Northern River near Tower Hill. The New Northern River between Tower Hill and Lamanai runs through Riverine/Gallery Forest and is a habitat for Limpkins, Kites, Bitterns, Rails and a variety of Herons, such as the Tri-colored and the Chestnut-bellied. A common site along the river is the female Northern Jacana trotting along its lily pads foraging for water bugs and small frogs or fish.

The journey ends at the base of the bluff and the edge of the rainforest on the New River Lagoon at Lamanai. Our group was introduced to a very will informed Belizean Archeological Tour Guide who led us through a field museum first and then on a jungle walk – up, down and around several Maya temples set under the rainforest canopy.

He began our trip by pointing our a Keel Billed Toucan in the trees above where we did our introductions.

He identified flora and fauna of the forest along the way, stopping at a tree of Howler and Spider Monkeys and pointing out the need to not stand directly under them. He also gave notice to the Wood Creepers, Yellow-headed Parrots, a Groove-billed Ani, a Keel-billed Toucan and a Slaty-tailed Trogon. We had a wonderful lunch on a picnic table under the shade of a giant Bullet tree at the edge of the river before returning.

Yes, definitely. Lamanai, for the birds.
Lamani Tour is $155.usd plus a $5. park fee call 226 2405 or

Friday, October 22, 2010

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

‘Birds don’t fly South for the Winter’

Birds of Ambergris Caye
“Birds can fly where they want to, when they want to, or so it seems to us,”
‘Birds don’t fly South for the Winter’
It’s September, and from now until late April Bubba and I will be enjoying an unusual variety of migratory
Avifauna visiting Ambergris Caye and its Bacalar Chico Reserve. The northern part of the planet has begun
to lean away from the sun. Invisible plotable lines of temperature gradients called ‘isotherms’ move further
south on the weather maps and all life on earth pays them heed.
The Bacalar Chico Reserve on the north end of Ambergris is a 60 square mile terrestrial reserve and
serves as a refuge for migratory birds. About 225 species of long distance migrants occur in Mexico and
Northern Central America. Observers have long theorized that migrants use mountain ranges, rivers, and
coastlines for guidance. Scientific research suggests that some birds may also set their courses by the sun, by
the patterns of stars, even by the lines of force in the Earth’s magnetic field, perhaps in combination with
gravity. Scientists don’t know exactly how the migrating birds find their way over long distances, but they are
discovering that birds tune into an astonishing variety of sensory cues that may be used for navigation.
Bubba believes Birds use specific migratory paths that consist of rivers, lakes, and various other food
sources like a dotted line of rest stops. These paths are called flyways. The Atlantic flyway leads migratory
birds from as far north as Greenland down Florida’s eastern coast across the Caribbean into Cuba, Haiti,
and Dominica.
The Mississippi flyway leads birds from Alaska and middle Canada down the Mississippi River Valley
to the Gulf of Mexico where it divides, leading some to Cuba and some to the Yucatan.
It is the Central and Pacific flyways that lead the majority of migratory birds to Ambergris Caye. The
bottleneck effect of the flyways narrowing at the base of the Yucatan cause a concentration of migratory
Avifauna looking for shelter, food, and water. The Bacalar Chico Reserve seems to be a logical place to stop
for this, and creates a birdwatching spot second to none.
I said to my resident expert, “Birds in the North use this cooling as a signal to begin their annual
migration southward. Bubba gave me a look that made me feel I had said something wrong. With a little
bit of an annoyed tone he said, “birds don’t fly south for the winter, Canadians do. The birds fly North for
the summer and I bet you think that’s the same thing!”
“Yes, and the way I look at it that’s called ‘the same difference.”
Bubba sighed and said,” If you look at this properly, you’ll discover something you didn’t know about
migration. Birds we see in Belize, (Neotropicals) have been moving north slowly each season and retreating
a little less south since the end of the ice age.
The American continent was very different during this frozen era. Most living things where compacted
into areas near the equator.
The ancestors of neotropical migrants originated in Amazonia (an area believed to be 15 million years
old, known today as Brazil). Areas north of this were not at that time in the earth’s history temperate
enough to reside in. Amazionia was then and today the greatest expression of life on the planet. One third
of the world’s birds still live there. As the ice age ended, areas to the north of Amazonia were habitable
during summer months and provided refuge from competition for food and shelter in this over-populated
area. But in winter months migrants were forced to retreat. Each year as the ice receded, more northern
territory became available as refuge during summer months and migration distances increased. As some
found the decreasing winter months tolerable they became residents in places like Belize. Canadians go
home in spring and birds migrate north. Does that seem like a ‘same difference’ still? I said you where
going to learn something new.”
San Pedro tour operators are now offering day trips into the Bacalar Chico area September also marks
the beginning of the slow season for tourism this might be just the time for Bubba and I to explore the
Island we are living on.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The White Ibis on Bird Island

Photo by K.Verdeck

The White Ibis
The " Bird of the Week" has a way of picking itself, as did this bird of the week, for instance.
I was cruising through the lagoon river and a white bird flew over that seemed to be carrying a twig in its bill. I watched it, hoping it would reveal a nest in the mangrove hollow, when I noticed it wasn't carrying a twig at all; it was just the proud owner of the longest, most odd-shaped nose (bill), I've seen since Jimmy Durante. Another in the order of Ciconiiformes from the family of Threskiorenithidae is this 'white ibis'. Flying above, it can be distinguished from an egret by its outstretched neck and black wing tips that look like five black fingers on each wing, of course, if you're close enough, a long slender decurved bill. One bird book calls it sickle-shaped; it reminds me of a Hermit Hummingbird's bill, only big. The ibis uses it as a specialized tool for eating animals from the lagoon's shallow bottom.
I watched it walk for a few minutes. It steps forward a step and extends its neck forward with each step, cocks its head to point one eye downward, then quickly puts its special bill to work. I had hoped to hear the soft, grunting noise I read that they make while eating and hunting, but I disturbed it by getting to close, and it made its alarm noise instead, and flew off. It nests inside the mangrove tree for protection, not on top but in the middle. The mangrove grows like bars around its nests that prevent things like me from even getting close. I've only seen six white ibis on this island; three flying along the coast at Basil Jones, one in San Pedro lagoon, one at the Costa Del Maya lagoon.

Monday, October 19, 2009


Pitangus sulphuratus

Monday, August 17, 2009

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

You can observe a lot just by watching

‘You can observe a lot just by watching!’

Yoga Bera, a famous old baseball player once said, “You can observe a lot just by watching”. If you
have been observing birdwatchers you’ve realized over the last 10 years it has become a billion dollar
industry, according to Tourism Consultants, Bird watching is the second fastest growing outdoor activity
on the planet.
In the past every community had a family with a birdwatcher in it, but they where usually kept in
a closet and never talked about in public, and forget the stereotype of elderly birders wearing white
socks under sandals, eating bag lunches and taking bus rides to national parks.
Baby boomers flooding the hobby tend to fly to faraway ecotourist destinations stay in expensive
hotels and treat themselves to gourmet meals and boat excursions. US Parks and Wildlife reports, 95,000
birdwatchers spent more than 39 million usd in just one state in North America, formally only known for
its agriculture.
Birding is a jackpot for a country savvy enough to see it. US, Canadian and European travel retailers
are busy devising ecotourism vacation packages for upper income vacation travelers.
Birders bring cash to unlikely spots. The smaller villages in Belize need tourist to survive the dynamitic
economic change our country has embraced. Belize Tourism leaders have been savvy enough to market the varied Belizean habitats.
A good example is how the Orange Walk community known primarily in the past for its sugar cane
industry and orange harvests has found new resources in tourism through the new river birding tours to
the rainforest at Lamani.
Crooked Tree Village once only known only for the Cashew nuts it produced now has tourist pass
through spending their money in hotels, restaurants and gift shops, while taking boating tours to see the
many species of waterfoul in the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary.
Birdwatchers have skyrocked these communities economy. Tour operators in San Pedro (a former poor
fishing village) on Ambergris Caye, market a day trip as an eco-adventure for the aware “birder”.

While visiting Belize along with your days watching of Avian delights you may also observe a wonder of many wonders, the versatile Belizean people who have successfully made the vocational transition into the new economy of their country.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009