Birding In Belize Is An Adventure!
Last week Jeff (my husband) and I went on an adventure trip to the jungles of Belize. The Jungle, where at any time you could run in to such wild animals as the Margay, the Ocelot, the secretive Puma, or even the dangerous Jaguar with its powerful bite. Then there is the Fer-de -lance pit viper snake to watch out for. This is a dangerous snake that can reach lengths of up to six feet with a venomous bite that can lead to infection, amputation, or even death….OH MY!
That’s kind of intimidating to say the least when you are out walking about alone and have no clue as to what to expect. You have to watch where you step wherever you go. Luckily, or unluckily in our case (photo opportunities you know), we did not encounter any of the wild cats but did find a dead Fer-de-lance snake out on the road one morning.
Fer de Lance Snake
We also were lucky enough to spot several Spider and Howler Monkeys climbing and/or swinging through the trees, a Red Fox, a Coyote, and a few Agouti (photo below) which is a Mexican rodent (very cute!).
Of course that wasn’t the real reason that we went to the Belizean jungle. The mammals were just an added bonus. The main reason was for the 370+ possible species of birds that we might see at Chan Chich Jungle Lodge, where we stayed for 4 days. That is a birdwatcher’s dream for sure!
Belize is located in Central America and is 8867 square miles. It is slightly larger than Massachusetts to give you an idea. It is nestled between Mexico, Guatamala, and Honduras just below the Yucatan Peninsula. English is the official language there however Kriol, Spanish, Garifuna, and Mayan are other regional languages spoken.
Many tourists like to go to Belize not only for birding, but mostly for the amazing scuba diving on the Belize barrier reef. This is the largest reef in the western hemisphere and stretches along 190 miles of the coastline, sheltering the interior cayes and providing divers with countless opportunities to explore. Plus it has the well known landmark, The Great Blue Hole, made famous by Jacques Cousteau, who declared it to be one of the Top Ten Places to scuba dive in the world. The Great Blue Hole is a giant circular, submarine sinkhole that is 318 miles across and 407 feet deep. It is located off the coast of Belize.
In addition, the land that is now Belize was once the heartland of the ancient Maya Empire. There are many interesting ruins to explore and discover which lure vacationers to the country.
The Chan Chich Jungle Lodge
We flew in to Belize City and from there traveled by van to the Chan Chich Jungle Lodge (about 197.9 km or 123 miles) taking about 3 hours and 1/2 to get there. Thirty six of these miles was gravel road, a rough ride but well worth it as we were birding along the way. We were able to get good views of Wood Storks, Collard Aracari, Toucans, Parrots, and Hawks just to name a few.
Chan Chich Lodge was built on the site of an ancient Mayan city and is situated among 30,000 acres of wilderness and surrounded by half a million acres of conservation lands. This type of wilderness provides many an opportunity to see abundant wildlife such as the cats, snakes, monkeys, and bird species that I mentioned earlier.
The nights are quiet in the jungle but come 5 AM it comes alive with Red-Lored Parrots making their high-pitched trilling noises and Howler Monkeys moving in the trees making their loud, deep guttural howls. Mostly it was the parrots that woke us up and got us running for the door to hopefully get a glimpse of the noisy birds and maybe even get a photo or two. That was a highlight every morning except one when it was pouring down rain and all the birds were hunkering down. It didn’t last long though and once the sun came out a little later, we would be blessed with a rainfall of birds such as the Red-capped Manakin (photo below), the Crested Guan (seen below), Blue Bunting, or the Black-cheeked Woodpecker calling and moving about for photo opportunities.
The Rainy Season
From June to November is the rainy season in Belize so it was no surprise to have to deal with downpours here and there during our stay. Unfortunately this made the trails surrounding the lodge impassable due to flooding, which I believe limited the number of birds that we were able to see. Our best place to go was the gravel road that led in and out of the lodge area. We would walk up to the Suspension Bridge at least 3 times a day which was about a mile and a half one way. We would see warblers , hawks, various woodpeckers, orioles, woodcreepers, and many others. The funny thing about seeing some of the warblers was that they were just in our own backyard a few weeks ago. The only one that was a life bird was the Mangrove Yellow Warbler which was a great find (see photo below).
Yellow Mangrove Warbler
Of course the grounds around the lodge with the beautiful hibiscus type flowers blooming was also a great place to see birds. The Ginger Lily, the Hibiscus, and the Heliconia flowers attracted hummingbirds such as the Scaly-breasted, the Rufous-tailed, and the Long-billed Hermit Hummingbird. The beautiful Ocelated Turkeys were always present too, strolling around the gardens feeding on berries, seeds, and insects. Always a welcome site to see!
Long-billed Hermit Hummingbird
We also took a couple of tours with great guides (Luis and Reuben) around Gallon Jug which is where the Chan Chich lodge is. This is where we were able to spot Fork-tailed and Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, Kiskadees, Jabiru, Toucans, Aracari, Cinnamon and Rose-throated Becards, Chestnut-colored, White-cheeked, Golden-fronted, Smokey-brown, and Golden-olive Woodpeckers, and the Olive-throated, Mealy, White-crowned, and Red-lored Parrots. That’s just to name a few of the many birds that we saw.
Gear That We Took With Us
- Zeiss Conquest Binoculars
- Head lamp for night and early morning birding
- Nikon Camera
- Sony Camera (great for still photos mostly)
- Night-time vision binoculars
- Belize E-Birding Checklist
- Hiking boots
- Deet for mosquitos but the black flies? or some other biting insect were really the problem
- Hiking hats for both sun and rain
- Small birding notebook used when out in the jungle or on a tour to log our finds
- Lite long convertible pants (zip-offs)
- Long sleeve shirts for me but my husband always wore short sleeves
- Rain jacket
- Sunscreen but didn’t need it as it was mostly overcast the entire time we were there.
- Swim Suits because the lodge has a wonderful pool with spa that has netting around it to keep the bugs out and where you can see the Howler and Spider Monkeys moving about above you in the trees.
- We took a spotting scope but didn’t need one because our guides always carried one.
The Belize Jungle is an amazing experience for anyone who loves to be around nature of all kinds. Chan Chich Jungle Lodge was chosen because of it being a top choice among birders for seeing so many species of birds (possibly 370+ that have been logged there). Jeff and I were lucky enough to see 147 of those species. That’s not too shabby considering the rain we dealt with.
The staff at the lodge said that January through April is really the ideal time to see the birds but is also their busiest season. Jeff and I were not interested in the busy season as we tend to like smaller crowds much better. Going in October turned out to be a plus for us in that respect as there were only a few people staying at the lodge (business people working) so it felt like we had the place to ourselves. We couldn’t beat that. Great Food! Great Cottage! Great Birding!
Lastly, …this was the first time that we ever went somewhere during the “rainy season” and actually dealt with rain. We have gone to Mexico and St. Lucia during this time and never felt a drop of rain. So the rainy season doesn’t guarantee that you will get wet. And even if you do take a good attitude with you and you will have a fantastic time!
Next stop….MataChica Resort – Our Ocean Experience in Belize – Stay tuned!
Have you ever been to the jungles of Belize? I would love to hear about your experience or if you just have a comment about this article. Please do so below.