So, I’m finally getting back to the blog even though I’m home. Internet access on the island was pretty much non-existent so I had to wait until I was back in Sacramento. Be sure to check out the new material that I’ve added since the last time you visited, especially the videos of the Greater Fishing Bat and the slow motion videos of hummingbirds.
Welcome to my blog about my latest trip to Belize. I left Sacramento on a red-eye flight on July 8, 2013 and will be in Belize through July 20. When I am able to get internet access, I will try to update the blog with new pictures and more information. So check back periodically to see what is going on….
As I said, I left California on an early morning flight (12:30 am on July 8) and arrived in Belize at 10:00 am the same day after a stop-over in Houston. Only managed to get a couple of hours of sleep during the flights so I figure that I’ll be quite tired before the day is out. Met up with Michael Starkey and Dr. Kerry Kriger (Founder and Executive Director of Save the Frogs) in the town of San Ignacio in western Belize. We stayed at the Maya Mountain Lodge – fantastic! Really nice people running the place and the ambiance is terrific! Highly recommended for a very nice get-away.
Went with them to a couple of lectures that they were giving regarding frog conservation – they were great talks and well received! The first one was to a group of students visiting the only Wildlife Veterinarian in Belize (maintaining a wildlife veterinary practice) and the other was to the Cayo Tour Guide Association at their monthly meeting.
After 22 hours of being awake, I could have made a cameo on “The Walking Dead” – but I did take time to set an early alarm (yeah, still had to go birding early in the AM). Maya Mountain Lodge is a very nice place.
Wild Ginger at Maya Mountain Lodge…
Tuesday July 9 – Morning arrived much too early! But, the birds started calling at 5:00 am (I avoided that siren song and got up at 6:20). Got some birding and butterfly watching in before breakfast.
This morning saw: Brown Jay, Great-tailed Grackle, un-ID Amazon Parrots (flying over), Spot-breasted Wren, Black-headed Saltatator, Masked Tityra, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Red-legged Honeycreeper (a male/female pair), Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl (a pair), Melodious Blackbird, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Sulfur-bellied Flycatcher, heard a Plain Chachalaca, Stripe-throated Hermit, Long-billed Hermit, and a Social Flycatcher. A bit later, saw a Violaceous Trogon at the entrance. Then it was onto breakfast.
A Spiny-tailed Iguana…
After breakfast, we headed to the large Mayan archeological site at Caracol. The road to Caracol is quite a challenge with most of it being unpaved and rocky. Pretty much you can go no faster than 25-30 mph at the fastest…and Caracol is about 50 miles south of the highway and San Ignacio. Did get to see three Collared Aracaris though…a fantastic species of toucan.
Also managed to see a Gray Hawk and a Green Jay while driving. The Green Jay was fantastic – bright green with bright yellow belly and tail edges and having a blue and black head! Finally made it to Caracol a bit after noon. They have a military escort to Caracol due to it’s proximity to the Guatemalan border and past problems with bandits from Guatemala robbing people occasionally.
Here is a cool banana plant…too bad they weren’t ripe yet!
The rains hit for about a half hour – we took shelter under a lintel about half way up one of the pyramids. Man did it pour for a bit, impressive thunder and a bit of lightning too.
Here are some more pictures from Caracol. Really a spectacular archeological site – at one time Caracol had nearly 150,000 people living there and it was one of the most powerful city-states in the Mayan world (and was a rival to Tikal).
Here is a view of the Maya Mountains from the top of the large pyramid. This was an interesting pyramid because there were three levels. The first level had 28 steps, the second had 24 steps, and the third was around 20 steps (I didn’t get a full count of that one). When you reach the top of the third pyramid, you are just above the forest canopy level, thus allowing a great view of the Maya Mountains to the east.
At the top of the pyramid, Michael and Kerry displayed the Save the Frogs bandana…
We were able to hear Howler Monkeys to the north and also found a lizard at the top of the temple and saw a couple of Keel-billed Toucans.
The top pyramid structure had two openings into a portion of the pyramid. Here is a picture of that pyramid with the openings on the left and right. The right opening had a real cool bat called the Golden Bat (Mimon bennettii). I’m attaching a couple of pictures of this cool bat here…
Back to the buildings, here is a real cool mask at the base of one of the pyramids. To the right of the mask are three glyphs that are vertically oriented. The middle glyph (I think) is a toucan…although Michael thought it was a snake (I think he hadn’t had lunch yet so was seeing things)…
On the way to the second complex (Complex B) we encountered Mexican Tree Frog. He/She was nicely photogenic…enjoy these pics….
The second complex (Complex B) had some really cool stellae and structures…
To the east of Complex B was a large Ceiba Tree with a colony of Montezuma Oropendolas. These are large birds (between 16-19 inches long) that weave pendulous nests that hang from the canopy of trees. Here are some pictures of these nests…
Michael also managed to make a buddy – this young dog. She was really friendly and just wanted to wrestle with Michael…but he wasn’t having any of this – maybe because she was a rough player. I befriended her too.
Some more of the sights of Caracol…
Once we made it back to San Ignacio (after a real “theme park” style ride down the dirt road). After a quick swim, we had a cool light show of Glow Poi…this is an activity spinning pulsing lights on tethers (without whacking yourself on the head or some other body part). Quite challenging and with a camera, makes some very interesting photographs.
So, that was the first full day in Belize! Yeah, crammed a lot into the day (Tuesday July 9, 2013).
Now, onto Wednesday July 10, 2013. Today we had a very nice rainstorm starting around 5:00 am with periodic showers all day. This is great for us because now the frogs will come out – prior to this, it’s been quite dry (dusty roads and such). In fact, the frogs have responded by becoming more active. I’m right now sitting in the dining area at the Tropical Education Center (near the Belize Zoo) working on this blog and behind me are multiple Red-eyed Tree Frogs calling. In about a half hour, Michael, Kerry, and I are going to go hiking to see if we can see any cool frogs…I really hope we see a Red-eyed Tree Frog!!!!
Anyhow, back to what we did – we stayed around Maya Mountain Lodge until about noon. I got up at 8:00, actually I rocketed out of bed then, because I heard the call of the Blue-crowned Motmot. I’ve been wanting to see one of these for years! After about 15 minutes, I got to see it. Beautiful big bird! A trogon was also near it but I didn’t get to identify it because it never turned around for me to look at it’s front colors. Oh yeah, we also found that a tire had gone almost flat – so we drove it down to a tire shop and for $5 US they fixed the tire (15 minutes). Why are our tire stores not like this???
While at the Maya Mountain Lodge, we also were able to see a Wedge-tailed Sabrewing (a giant hummingbird) and a Ferruginous Pygmy Owl. Both of these were seen as we were getting ready to leave. There was a pair of the owls. Fantastic!
After we left the tire shop, we headed east on the Western Highway until reaching the outskirts of Belmopan. We got gas (about $6.00/gallon) and also stopped at a place called Art Box – lots of Belizean crafts here – where we waited out a major rainstorm. The rainstorm gave us hope for frogs! As we drove up to the Tropical Education Center, we saw this Fork-tailed Flycatcher!
We got checked into the TEC and then went exploring a bit. Lots of areas with ponded water so we’re hopeful. After dinner (and working on this blog a bit), we took a hike to see what can be found. Lots of Red-eyed Treefrogs were calling. And, lo-and-behold, we found quite a number of the beautiful frogs. We also found a Gulf Coast Toad, Mexican Treefrog, and a Morellet Crocodile.
Now onto the pics of the Red-eyed Tree Frog!!!
One heck of a day! Looking forward to more adventure tomorrow. Stay tuned and keep coming back to this webpage.
Thursday July 11 – Today is the day we meet up with the group. Two people are already at the Tropical Education Center while the rest will be arriving this afternoon. Michael and I will head to the airport at 11:30 to get there early. On the way, dropped off the rental car and also stopped at Brodies (a large supermarket/department store) in Belize City to pick up an extra mosquito net. Hung out at the airport while waiting for flights to arrive.
Before our airport adventure, I managed to get some birding in as well as paying the Belize Zoo a short visit. Today’s bird haul for a short survey: Groove-billed Ani, Pale-vented Pigeon, Black-collared Seedeater, Acorn Woodpeckers, Common Tody-flycatcher, Solitary Flycatcher, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird and Turkey Vulture. All of those were at the Tropical Education Center where I had a half hour of birding.
Also this morning was greeted with an army ant colony dispersing on their foraging run. Amazing sight – they were all massing outward in this large group and after about 5 minutes they had coalesced into about a dozen columns. When I came back about 30 minutes later they were in one main column with a couple of smaller columns (all going the same direction). Ants returning with food were “swimming upstream” against the tide to bring their wares to the nest.
Also got to see a real cool Hairstreak Butterfly that was feeding on something on this Bird-of-Paradise inflorescence.
The Belize Zoo took some hits from Hurricane Richard in 2012 but it also gave them a chance to update a few things. The place looked great and a new porous concrete walkway winds between the enclosures. Plus it gave them a chance to enlarge their Tapir area.
The signs at the Belize Zoo remain handpainted and oh-so-original. I love them!
A number of other animals can be seen in their natural habitat at the Belize Zoo. This zoo has taken patches of the forest and literally enclosed them for the animals…thus leading to a much more realistic habitat condition for the critters.
As I was hanging out with the coatis watching their antics the raindrops started. Just a few at first but in about five minutes the downpour began and lasted for about an hour.
After the raining slowed down a bit, we headed to the airport in Belize City to meet the trip participants. Met up with three flights and once we had everyone we boarded a bus to head to the Tropical Education Center. Once we got everyone settled we had dinner and an hour after dinner we hiked around to look for frogs. The red-eyed tree frogs were out as well as a number of other frogs. Plus we found a real cool snake – Parrot Snake. Here are some pictures of the Parrot Snake…
Only a couple of Red-eyed Treefrogs were at ground level tonight…unlike last night.
Another real cool frog that we found was this one…scientific name is Tlalocohyla picta.
A number of Stauffer’s Treefrogs were also calling above the seasonal ponds. This is a real cool frog. Here is a picture as well as a video of this one calling…
Here is a video of the Stauffer’s Treefrog as it calls…
Friday 12 July 2013
Today is the last day for entries for a few days at least. We’re headed to Blue Creek the next morning (Saturday) and that field station is in the middle of the southern Belize Rainforest so no internet access is available. I’m sure I’ll have lots of updating to do once we get back to where wifi is available. During the morning, got a bit of birding in: Melodious Blackbird, Gray Catbird, Pale-vented Pigeon, Acorn Woodpeckers (lots of these here), Plain Chachalaca, Common Tody Flycatcher, Clay-colored Pigeon, Wood Stork, Ruddy Ground Dove, Black Vulture, and Hooded Oriole.
For Friday, we did a bit of birding in the morning then headed out to Xunantunich, the large Mayan archeological site in extreme western Belize.
The major structure at Xunantunich is called El Castillo. A magnificent structure with amazing friezes.
An interesting plant is this one – called Cajones de Caballo – check out the picture and you’ll get why it gets it’s name (even if you don’t speak spanish…
A couple more pictures of Xunantunich including a cool panorama from the top of the pyramid…
This is a character from a troop of Black Howler Monkeys that I saw behind one of the archeological sites. She/He was definitely relaxed in the heat. At one point, (s)he looks around and then reaches out and grabs a leaf and pops it into his/her mouth and leisurely chews…cool!
On the way back to the TEC, three of us got dropped off at the Belize Zoo for a short time. Great critter pics follow…
On Friday night we also got to have a guided night tour of the Belize Zoo. That was fantastic – and we got to pet and feed a young Tapir. That was awesome! No pics yet since I don’t have them downloaded. You’ll just have to wait for those. We’re 20 minutes away from departure so I’m going to sign off for now. Check back in about four days and hopefully I’ll be able to repost some more adventures from Blue Creek.
Okay, back to an area with some internet access. We’re now at the Toucan Ridge Ecology & Education Society lodge. The internet access is via 3G so it’s slow but I’m on-line again.
The night trip to the zoo occurred the night before we left for Blue Creek. The tapir was a lot of fun to feed. Some pics…
We also had close encounters with a Mountain Lion and Ocelot…
Blue Creek was terrific…extremely humid and nice bouts of rain but heck, it’s a Tropical Rain Forest. Lots of birds – will post a list later. Some of the nice ones will be coming in photo form below. On our last day Michael and I were able to see Ignacio. He’s doing well after the accident that resulted in the loss of the lower portion of his right leg. He’s scheduled to get a prosthesis some time this year.
Some pics from Blue Creek…
At Blue Creek, we took a number of night walks. Some very interesting invertebrates were seen on the hikes.
Another big spider. The coin is a Belizean quarter and is the size of our quarters.
Another arachnid called a Tailless Whip Scorpion…
A bit prior this evening, we were able to see some very large bats flying overhead. Perhaps Crotopterus? There were quite a lot of them the first night and we also saw them the other two nights shortly after dusk. From my perspective, they appeared to be 24 or more inches in wingspan.
The following day, we took a hike up to a cave. A bit of a tight squeeze getting into the cave but we got through. Here are some of the cave pictures plus pictures of a mother bat with a pup.
Also inside the cave was a mother and pup Least Sac-winged Bat (Balantiopteryx io). This is one of the species in the family Emballonuridae – called the Sac-winged bats because the males have a small sac on their wings that they produce and store hormonal secretions that they use to mark their females in their harems by “salting” them with the male’s scent.
Notice the “lump” clinging to the chest of mom. In the other photos look for the pup’s wrists.
Of a different flying variety of animal was this Crimson-collared Tanager. Spectacular bird. We regularly saw this bird (a pair).
And, here is a Black-headed Trogon…
An Ivory-billed Woodcreeper…
A few more insects…
Another bat was found outside of our cabin. This is another Emballonurid bat called the Lesser White-lined Bat (Saccopteryx leptura).
Some artsy pics from Blue Creek…
And lastly for Blue Creek, here is a pic of a very personable dog that visited us periodically. I would have loved to stuff him in my luggage and bring him home but alas, I was unable to convince Michael to put him in his backpack!
So, we depart Blue Creek and head north up the Southern Highway. We reach TREES (Toucan Ridge Ecology and Environment Society) around 2:00 pm after stops at Lubantuun (Archeological Site) and the Maya Women’s Cooperative (for more crafts).
Lubantuun is a really neat archeological site that is famous for it’s arts and crafts. A wide variety of pottery, figurines, and fired clay whistles were produced here and traded widely with other Mayan city-states. Some pics of Lubantuun and it’s caretaker Santiago Coc (a very distinguished gentleman).
When we left Lubantuun we joined up once again with the Southern Highway. After a number of miles, the bus driver stopped because there was a snake crossing the road. We stopped and Michael wrangled it – a five foot long Vine Snake. Many people from the village came over too but they were frightened of the snake and would not approach.
We reached TREES and I have to say that it is spectacular! A very new, and very nice field station/lodge. The owners Vanessa and Matt are wonderful and inviting. I love this place!
Dining Hall at TREES…
Here is the “caretaker” of TREES – Eva the Belizean Dog…
Also present was the individual who really believes TREES belongs to him and all things here are here to entertain him…
The birding here has been really special. White-necked Jacobins all over the place along with Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds. Occasionally a pair of Violet Sabrewings (the largest hummingbird in Belize) comes by and chases off the other hummingbirds. After the pictures of the hummingbirds I’ve attached a couple of videos that were taken at 120 frames/second (four times slower than normal frame rate).
And, another hummingbird from here – the Long-billed Hermit…
Here is a cool video of a male Violet Sabrewing. The video is filmed at 120 frames/second, thus provided a video that is four times slower than the normal frame rate.
In this video, multiple hummingbirds are present at the feeder. The dark blue headed hummers are the White-necked Jacobins and the reddish-tailed hummer is the Rufous-tailed Hummingbird. They all do a lot of chasing each other…one portion of the video has six hummingbirds in the confined space around the feeder.
Today also saw a female White-collared Manakin and this really cool Golden-hooded Tanager.
Here is also a cool mushroom I found along the Well Trail.
And, lastly – Will from TREES found this cool Peanut Bug (Homoptera).
So, that’s it for now. Tonight we’re mist netting (weather permitting) down at the stream. Greater Fishing Bats have been seen there so I’ve got all my fingers and toes crossed. Will add more tomorrow…hopefully with a picture of a Greater Fishing Bat!!!
Well…the finger and toe crossing worked!!! We got a Greater Fishing Bat – a lactating female – plus two other bats (two species). The Greater Fishing Bat has a wingspan that reaches nearly two feet across and has these massive feet that it uses to grab small fish from the surface. Their echolocation is so sophisticated that they are able to detect the fin of a minnow sticking out of the water only a few millimeters and the width of a human hair! They then drag their feet in the water and grab/spear the fish before flying to land and eat. Very cool bat! Only the third one of this species that I’ve caught (first two were in the northern part of Belize in 2003).
Here is a video of the release of this wonderful bat….
We also caught this bat – Carollia sowelli (formerly C. brevicauda).
Before we started catching bats, this frog was captured. The common name is Vaillant’s Frog.
Vanessa from TREES also brought over a Mud Turtle that she caught at the stream. While holding it, the turtle managed to get his/her head around and clamped his mouth on Vanessa’s hand. Sounded pretty painful from Vanessa’s reaction.
The rain really started pouring so we packed up at 10:00 pm and headed back to the lodge. In our cabana was this scorpion…we managed to liberate it from the building.
It’s now Thursday July 18th and we’re going to be heading out to South Water Caye pretty soon. Likely to have internet out there too so will update later.
Turns out the internet was pretty much down all of the time. Apparently the antenna was pretty shaky and with the wind it was unable to maintain “signal lock”…thus no internet.
We left TREES around 11:30 am and headed to Dangriga for lunch and then catching the boat out to South Water Caye…by the way, it’s Thursday. We are going to have lunch at Hawthorns – I had eaten there for several trips. It’s a roof-top catering spot and the meals have been quite good. Buuutttt…the place has apparently closed. Luckily we hadn’t paid for this in advance. So, we ended up at Richie’s Restaurant in Dangriga. Pretty good too….then we caught the boat and headed out to South Water Caye. Oh, and we stopped at a store while we were trying to figure out what happened to Hawthorns – I found something I couldn’t resist buying and presented it to Michael…a Durag! Here Michael models it…
It was pretty windy so of course the sea was pretty choppy. As we got to Twin Cayes (the islands just to the west of South Water Caye, the prop on the boat stripped. Thus we ended up only going the speed of a fast rowing job but we did make it to SWC.
The official “owner” of South Water Caye is Stardust. She’s been on the island for over 15 years and definitely feels that she owns everything on the IZE property.
The morning of our first full day at South Water Caye we snorkeled the patch reef on the south end of the island.
Here is a cool school of Blue Tangs…these fish have a dagger-like projection at the base of their tail…ninja fish!
Here is a cool video of this school of Blue Tangs…
During the snorkel, we had a cuttlefish check us out.
Here is a short video of the cuttlefish…
Also had a real neat encounter with a ray…here is the video….
After the snorkel we returned to the IZE property. Just in front of the IZE portion of the island is a location that the bonefish aggregate in a large school of several hundred fish. Of course I had to snorkel out to see the school. I really love these fish and can spend a long time just watching them. Once they got used to me, I was able to swim along the outer edges of the school…it was fantastic!
Here is a short video of the school…
I also checked out the dock area and found these interesting critters too…
During the afternoon, we took a boat ride out to the Smithsonian Institution’s field station on Carrie Bow Caye.
After touring the station, we loaded back onto the boat and went further southward to a patch reef. We snorkeled down the patch reef then back to the boat. This is a very nice reef with a good diversity of sponges and some sea fans. The sea fans took a bit hit from a disease a number of years ago and are still affected by the reduction in their numbers.
Here is a school of grunts under some soft corals…
A nice big spiny lobster…
We snorkeled at the patch reef for about one hour then headed back to South Water Caye. A Magnificent Frigatebird was perched in one of the trees on the island.
During the evening, I was able to film this beautiful Caribbean Octopus…
Also tonight I checked out a bunch of Ghost Crabs on the beach. These guys are real fast movers too….
This is night photo (30 second exposure) to the south of South Water Caye. In the distance is Carrie Bow Caye. The foreground is illuminated by a quick pass of a flashlight.
The following morning is Saturday, the day we leave Belize. I got up at 5:30 and had a cup of coffee on my deck watching the sun come up over the flats. So very peaceful and beautiful!
For a final picture…an Anolis on driftwood….
We loaded onto the boats at 7:30 am to head back to Dangriga. On the way we got caught in a rain shower and also encountered some rough seas but we made it to Dangriga in about 45 minutes. The bus picked us up and we dropped off Rosie in Dangriga at the bus station (she’s staying longer), then dropped off Marty at Blue Hole National Park, and John at The Belize Zoo. The rest of us went on to the airport – three or four of us have a flight at 12:50 pm (including me).
The flight from Belize City to Houston went well until we got to Houston. I had 1.5 hours before my connecting flight to Sacramento (supposed to take off at 6:12 pm). However, there was a lightning storm over the airport…including lightning hitting the airport…so they had the airplane circle three times before landing. Once we landed, we cooled our heels on the tarmac for about 30 minutes because the ground crew couldn’t come out due to the lightning. So, I’m really in the weeds because we’ve spent 20 minutes or so circling and another 30 minutes on the tarmac.
So, as soon as I got off the plane, I sprinted to customs. Luckily they opened several more kiosks and I was ninth in line. However, some of the people in front of me were taking quite a bit of time. There was a couple and teenage son in front of me – the woman was quite agitated about all of this taking so long. As soon as she got up to the customs officer, she starts to berate him. Soon a yelling match ensues with the agent telling her to get out of his line that he won’t serve her…she was yelling that she’s an “American citizen”…and him continuing to yell at her to get out of her line. I’m thinking “Oh crap! And I was next in line too!” Finally a supervisor comes up and he tells the supervisor that he won’t serve her and that if he is forced to serve her he would walk off the job. The supervisor took the lady and her family to another customs officer – and the officer called out “I’ll help the next person if they are nice”. I came up and told him that people tell me I’m nice. I asked if the lady was giving him a hard time for doing his job…he said yes…I commiserated with him. He took my passport, opened it and looked at it and me, then asked if my plane was delayed – I said yes, then asked if I had checked luggage – again my response was yes, and he hands me my passport and says “Have a good day”. Pays off to be nice!
So, I ran off to collect my checked luggage and ran it over to the United Airlines check-in. Then ran to security clearance. Huge line here too…and I only had 5 minutes before my plane is supposed to take off once I reached the X-ray machines. Of course I got pulled aside because I forgot to pack the Marie Sharps hot sauce into my checked luggage. They kept the bottles and I got all my stuff. Ran over to the gate about 6:20…plane was still there…I gasped out if I can still catch the plane to Sacramento. Got the reply that the flight is delayed until 7:15. Then the gate gets changed to a new place and the flight is delayed more. Finally got to load at 8:00 and took off at 8:30.
This continues to get funnier. On the plane, one of the flight attendants is quite large. During the two times they served drinks, the cart was parked just behind my seat and this resulted in the “husky” airline attendant continually hitting me on my shoulders with her rather ample hips. I thought about throwing an elbow at one point but discarded the idea after only briefly considering it. Finally the cart moved down the row and the bruising stopped. Got to see the new Die Hard movie during the flight.
So, that was my Belize adventure…hope you enjoyed reading my blog about it.