Sunday, 22 February 2015

Belize 2015: first day at Chan Chich

The next morning my eyes open long before dawn and my ears take in the night-time soundscape of the forest at Chan Chich. This is one of my favourite places in which to wake up: I love to lie in the guides' cabin here and just listen to the forest come alive. Owls often sing in the pre-dawn: Spectacled Pulsatix perspicillata, Mottled Ciccaba virgata, Vermiculated Screech Megascops guatemalae and Central American Pygmy Owls Glaucidium griseiceps have all been heard on past mornings. Sometimes a Pheasant Cuckoo Dromococcyx phasianellus gives its disembodied trill. As the sky lightens Yucat√°n Black Howler Monkeys Alouatta pigra frequently roar. And just before first light, a Strong-billed Woodcreeper Xiphocolaptes promeropirhynchus will usually sing just two or three times, to be answered by a rival on the other side of the clearing and yet another deeper within the forest. But today I am out in the lodge clearing, coffee in hand, well before first light. It's great to be back!

Our first surprise is a newcomer to the lodge: Band-backed Wren Campylorhynchus zonatus, a bird of drier, non-forest areas. This is one of suite of dry-country birds that have arrived over the decades since the lodge opened. A lone male apparently arrived towards the end of 2014 and – like most wrens – began singing to establish his territory while he built a series of nests to offer to a potential female. It is new for Chan Chich. Huge Crested Guans Penelope purpurascens sit prominently in the canopy trees, giving spectacular views with the low sun shining through their red dewlaps. WE manage to scope three Brown-hooded Parrots Pyrilia haematotis that fly into the crown of a tall Strangler Fig.

White-whiskered Puffbirds Malacoptila panamensis
The rest of the day is spent exploring the trails and becoming reacquainted with the signature birds of the Chan Chich forests. After breakfast we start at the suspension bridge, with wonderful looks at a pair of perched White Hawks Pseudastur albicollis and an immature Double-toothed Kite Harpagus bidentatus. Species from the quintessentially Neotropical families dominate: hummingbirds, Furnariids, woodcreepers, antbirds, tyrant flycatchers. Blue Ground Doves Claravis pretiosa and White-whiskered Puffbirds Malacoptila panamensis are all over the place this year – impossible to miss.

In the Cohune Attalea cohune forest, Chan Chich
Our afternoon consists of a short walk around the Back Plaza where we find a beautiful Chestnut-coloured Woodpecker Celeus castaneus and a singing male White-throated Thrush Turdus assimilis. We reach the Aguada as the light begins to fail. As usual, there are wintering migrants like Wood Thrush Hylocichla mustelina, Hooded Warbler Setophaga citrina and Louisiana Waterthrush Parkesia motacilla as well as a resident male Rufous-tailed Jacamar Galbula ruficauda. A Great Tinamou Tinamus major and a Scaly-throated Leaftosser Sclerurus guatemalensis sing, but we are unable to find them in the gathering darkness.

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