Friday, January 30, 2009

Birding Belize, part 2 - Blue Hole Nat'l Park

On our first full day in Belize I awoke with the dawn (go figure) and waited outside the doorway of the hotel (where I noted an armed guard with a submachine gun - we eyed each other curiously) for Ginger to finish up getting ready.  A few flyby parrots and a pair of ruddy ground-doves were the only major tropical birds (there were also some of "our" orioles, a golden-fronted woodpecker (the Belize version has a red front though), and a yellow warbler).

We drove the Hummingbird Highway to Blue Hole National Park.  We started stopping for various perched birds including white-lored parrots, a short-billed pigeon, vermilion flycatchers, and some of our migrants - Indigo bunting, rose-breasted grosbeak, magnolia warbler.  Eventually we found a flock of birds which included this social flycatcher, a small kiskadee knock-off:
As I was sorting through the flock (which included magnolia, black-and-white, and black-throated green warbler, along with a catbird and a sulphur-bellied flycatcher), Ginger noticed some vultures in a distant tree and casually announced that some of them were white (!):
This King vulture (whose fabulous portrait I had studied in the Eastern Peterson since I was a kid) was a bird I knew would be possible but didn't really expect to see.

Eventually we made it to the park (seeing fork-tailed flycatchers and white-collared seedeaters on the way) just as the gate opened at 8.  A blue-gray tanager appeared as soon as I got out of the car.  The jungle was fairly impressive:

We made it about 20 yards down the trail when Ginger spotted this black-cheeked woodpecker:

Numerous passerine-type birds such as my first euphonias (a small finch-like tanager), trogons (both citreoline and violaceous), saltators (imagine a cross between a green towhee and a thrasher), various small flycatchers (including yellow-olive and slate-headed tody) all appeared.  This female barred ant-shrike looked at us curiously:

Amidst the birds showy tropical varieties of flower would appear infrequently including this bird-of-paradise looking thing and what looked like some kind of arboreal parasitic orchid:

This, per google, is a banded peacock butterfly:

We then drove a mile or so down the road to get to the actual Blue Hole:
The Blue Hole itself was pretty underwhelming.  We saw a few small fish in the pool which Ginger claimed were piranhas but I somewhat doubted that.  The dark gloomy vegetation surrounding it, however, was anything but underwhelming.  A few of our warblers, Tennessee, Kentucky, and chestnut-sided were joined by such specialties as a white-bellied woodwren, Aztec parakeets, and Northern Bentbill.

By now the heat of the day was well on, but there was still bird activity.  I tracked an odd buzzy  wheee-wheee-wheee call to a thicket where long-tailed hermits were lekking.  These big dark hummingbirds were impressive with their long sickled bills and longer white tails, both of which would be raised and lowered in unison in time with the call.  An ivory-billed woodcreeper appeared (picture a red-bellied woodpecker with a pale bill colored like a brown creeper), my best ever view of a hooded warbler (apparently they don't skulk on their wintering grounds), as well as this Yucatan flycatcher, an endemic of the region: 
It looks like a lot of other myarchis flycatchers, but (per my Howell and Webb) the brownish "wingbars" are fairly unique to this species.  Other marks to note include the plain tail and shorter bill separating it from brown- or great-crested flycatcher.  The whitish rather than cinnamon edged tertials separate it from the Belizean race of dusky-capped flycatcher. 

An entire day could have been spent here, but our limited time left us to push on to Guanacaste Nat'l Park, which is where I'll pick this up next post...

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