Saturday, 21 February 2015

Belize 2015: Crooked Tree Lagoon

Great Black Hawk Buteogallus urubitinga
The Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary is a low (3–15 m), flat, seasonally flooded wetland in central Belize. In 2000 it was designated a 6,637 ha Ramsar Site and is now co-managed by the Government of Belize and Belize Audubon Society. No trip to Belize is complete without a boat trip on Crooked Tree Lagoon. The birding varies markedly with water level. In my experience, at this time of year low waters produce better birding, with a good chance of seeing shorebirds, kingfishers and specialities like Jabiru Jabiru mycteria, Sungrebe Heliornis fulica and Agami Heron Agamia agami. High water levels – like those we have today – are typically less productive, but good for migratory wildfowl, especially diving duck. Over the years, the local boatmen-guides Lennie and Michael have become so experienced that even with high water they always have something of interest to show, thus ensuring that every day is a good day for a boat trip.

Roosting Proboscis Bats Rhynchonycteris naso
But before we head out on the boat, we like to explore the adjoining pine savannas in the cool of the morning. Arriving at a clearing at dawn, the first sound we hear belongs to Yucatán Jay Cyanocorax yucatanicus, but these birds seem to have become shy and will not grace us with an appearance. Next we hear the harsh calls of Yucatán Parrot Amazona xantholora and, by manoeuvring a little, we are able to get a wonderful scope view of a bird perched on a pine top just 50 metres away. The rest of the parrots are all White-fronted Amazona albifrons – we were lucky to have the one Yucatán. Before returning to The Bird's Eye View for breakfast, we pick up one or two more widespread dry-country birds.

Boat-billed Heron Cochlearius cochlearius
Before we have even boarded the boat, Moez has picked up a couple of Wilson's Snipe Gallinago delicata drilling into the mud in the marsh next to our lodge. With the boat trip under way, we quickly find many of the lagoon's emblematic species: Bare-throated Tiger-Heron Tigrisoma mexicanum, Snail Kite Rostrhamus sociabilis, Great Black Hawk Buteogallus urubitinga, Gull-billed Gelochelidon nilotica and Caspian Terns Hydroprogne caspia, Purple Gallinule Porphyrio martinicus. There are plenty of Ospreys Pandion haliaetus, all of them wintering birds of the North American breeding subspecies carolinensis, in contrast to those on Ambergris which are largely resident ridgwayi. Then, surprisingly with this level of water, an Agami Heron trying to keep well out of sight along a weed-choked channel. On the large area of open water beyond, we see some 80 Fulvous Whistling Duck Dendrocygna bicolor and a dozen Ring-necked Duck Aythya collaris, birds only seen here occasionally. In Spanish Creek, a roost of Boat-billed Herons Cochlearius cochlearius numbers over 20 birds. We have been on the water for almost three hours, so must get back quickly for lunch and our long drive to Chan Chich. On the way, a distant Sterna tern catches my attention: Forster's Tern S. forsteri! Not common here, it is the only new bird for Belize that I will see during the trip. Michael tells us he has never seen one – can he be right? Since it is flying fast in the direction of the lodge, we speed after it to get a photograph. An exciting end to a really good boat trip. 

Forster's Tern Sterna forsteri

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