We woke up this morning to the coolest temperature recorded on our digital thermometer since moving to Ambergris Caye -- 62F. Yes, that's sixty-two. COLD by island standards! The humidity was desert-like for here (which I love), and the wind was blowing fairly hard out of the northwest. Dressing quickly as I shivered, I got Paisley out for her morning ablutions, and felt just how brisk it was out there. This would be a much cooler than usual Sunday morning bike ride!
Once we'd had a snack (and a quick cup of coffee for me), we saddled up and headed north on the beach and over to Grand Belizean Estates on our bikes. It was a bit chilly starting out, and the wind was at our noses as we headed west on the road towards the lagoon side of the island. It was a slow slog as we fought the fresh breeze, but once we'd hit the most westerly point of the road and made the u-turn, we were flying! Such fun that is, to be pushed along by the wind.
We continued riding east, then southward, right past our condo and on into town as we had breakfast at Estel's by the Sea on the brain. We hadn't been there in a long, long time, and were hoping that with high tourist season in full swing, the slight chill in the air would keep at least a few folks away so we'd be able to snag a table on the beach, and fortunately, we were rewarded with a nice one.
Long sleeve weather!
Barry got his usual breakfast burrito. Not for the faint of heart, this thing is huge. And yes, he ate every bite!
He added some Marie Sharp's on top before he ate it, naturally
I had been hankering for a cinnamon roll ever since seeing (and smelling!) a tourist eating one outside of The Baker earlier in the week, so I went with two eggs over medium and a warm, gooey cinnamon roll. It hit the spot just perfectly! And I too joined the clean plate club.
Seems like a lot of folks were sitting inside today rather than on the beach. Wimps!
You can see just how large my cinnamon roll was in this photo!
After our delicious breakfast, we headed back home. Barry chose to be brave and venture into the pool for the traditional post-biking "pool down", but I just sat on the pool deck with Paisley and enjoyed the sunshine. Our pool was bathwater warm a few days ago, but thanks to the cold front has cooled down a bit now.
While enjoying the pool, we caught a glimpse of a Green-Breasted Mango in a tree close by. We actually had time to run inside for binoculars (to confirm the id) and camera.
It was a good day for the birds as I also noticed that this woodpecker pair were tending their nest-hole in a palm tree right outside our condo.
Despite the "chill", and a high temperature only in the 70s, it was a beautiful day!
Occasionally we have seen a Yellow-Crowned Night Heron
hanging around Grand Caribe at dusk. And sometimes Paisley flushes one out of the grass during her night-time walk that I don't even see until it flaps off, startled. But recently Barry saw one down the beach, hunting in the shallows, in the light of day. He rushed back in for his camera, hustled back down the beach, and the heron was still there. He managed to get some really nice shots, which had proved impossible at dusk. I love this hunting sequence.
A lone hunter
Before we head back to Belize, this seemed as good a spot as any to share the photos of birds we saw in various spots in Mexico. Although this was not a trip where we focused on birding, as some of our mainland Belize trips have been, we did bring our binoculars (of course!) and managed to see some beautiful birds. Several species we'd already seen in Belize (or in the US), but we managed to snag a few new ones for our life lists.
This may be the first time we've been able to see the red throat of the Plain Chackalaca
Male Golden-Fronted Woodpecker peering out from among berries
Well-camoflaged Ruddy Turnstone
Blue-Crowned Mot Mot -- seen in Palenque site
We were surprised to see Wood Thrushes in Palenque -- used to have them in our wooded yard in North Carolina!
Ovenbird -- also sighted in Palenque (and we'd seen them in NC)
Male Yellow-Throated Euphonia in Palenque site
The following birds were all seen in the beautiful Orquideas Moxviquil
botanical garden, which we previously blogged about
. This was a real haven for hummingbirds, thrushes, and flycatchers especially.
White-Eared Hummingbird (new for our life lists)
Rufous-Collared Robin (new for our life lists)
Male Magnificent Hummingbird (new for our life lists) -- a real beauty who lived up to his name
Female Magnificent Hummingbird -- the white marking behind her eye makes it appear that she has a huge eye, but it is really just feathers!
Female Magnificent Hummingbird
Female Magnificent Hummingbird
Buff-Breasted Flycatcher (new for our life lists)
Our old favorites, Olive-Throated Parakeets
Stay tuned for our trip back home to Belize!
One of the most interesting things we did in San Cristobal, Mexico was visit the Orquideas Moxviquil botanical garden. The garden is a preserve for over 600 species of Chiapas orchids, cacti, bromeliads, ferns, and other flora. Most of the specimens were rescued from within the Chiapas state from sites that were disturbed by human activities.
It was a little over a mile from our hotel as the garden is north of the city in a more rural area, but we had a beautiful day for it. We had a bit of difficulty finding the entrance and ended up hiking along a woodland trail in the Moxviquil Reserve (which the garden is part of). We finally realized that we were not in the right place, back-tracked, and went farther up the road where we saw this sign.
Before we knew it, we found the gardens up the road just a bit.
Love their fencing and gate
This place was absolutely gorgeous! The owner met us and gave us a quick tour as he had to get back to a ceremony there on the premises. We spent a good long time walking around and looking at orchids and other specimens. And after we'd seen all the plants, we spent a good amount of time bird-watching -- of course we had brought our binoculars!
Calla Lily -- one of the few non-native plants in the garden
I'm looking for birds in front of the office where we paid our entry fee
Charming office -- loved the metalwork on windows and door
The hothouse -- very unique!
Owner showing us something inside the hothouse
A real beauty!
This sculpture demonstrates the natural erosion process of a cube.
Amphitheater for classes and ceremonies
One last look at the hothouse showing its unique architecture
We'll have to do a separate blog post with bird photos, as well as one about the wonderful woodland hike we took in the Moxviquil Reserve behind the Orchid Garden. In the meantime, check out the Orquideas Moxviquil website
for much more information on this unique and fascinating site. We would love to go back again and hope to get the chance to.
We had a great visit!
I'm sure our regular readers have noticed that things have been kinda slow here on the blog lately. 'Tis true. With Barry partially out of commission with a pinched nerve in his upper back, he can't even ride his bike without a lot of pain, so we haven't been traveling, going out, or doing many interesting things of late. Hard to believe, but it's been six weeks since his injury. He's improved somewhat, but it's very slow going. I considered putting the blog on hiatus for awhile, but I decided that an occasional post was better than none at all.
One thing we have been doing lately is taking photos of the stunningly beautiful scenery right outside our windows, mostly around sunset or moonrise time, so I thought I'd share some of my favorite photographs taken in the past week or so. I hope you enjoy them.
Egret at dusk
Full moon rising
Unfortunately, ugly plastic washes up among the sargassum in certain weather conditions.
Ruddy Turnstones on the dock while storms brew beyond the reef
Coastal Express water taxi loaded down with passengers
Other side of the rainbow
One of my favorite views
It takes time to get used to the fact that Belize doesn't have the same concept of the four seasons we are used to in the United States. In North Carolina, where I grew up and spent most of my life, Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter are distinct seasons and provide an easy way to refer to times of year. "Last winter we went to Florida," or "Sure has been an early spring," or "The leaves are especially pretty this fall."
Here in Belize, the year is not structured exactly the same. Instead of the four seasons I'm used to, there are only two: dry season and rainy season. The latter is the longest, stretching from June through December in most cases, though this year it seemed to last through January and start up again in May, leaving but a short three-month dry season. Even during rainy season, it certainly doesn't rain all the time. It rains more at night than during the day, but storms are more frequent and can be heavy, even if short-lived. Occasionally it stays gray and rains off and on all day long, but that is rare. And it rains on occasion even during dry season, but much less frequently.
This year -- this "summer" -- just when we thought rainy season was here to stay, Mother Nature's waterworks turned off. Although I don't have official rainfall statistics to quote, on Ambergris Caye July was dryer than June, August seemed dryer still (with the exception of our brief brush with Hurricane Ernesto
in the early part of the month), and September was downright desert-like. Even the locals were complaining about the heat and dry weather, and passing motor vehicles kicked dusty dirt in our eyes when they passed us on the unpaved roads. It was 83 or 84F every morning by the time I got up (6:30 to 7 am). Almost every day without fail, the skies were brilliant blue, the sun was shining brightly, and it was a perfect time for visitors to enjoy a tropical island vacation. But for residents, the lack of clouds and cooling rain can get a bit stifling over time.
And then it changed.
Over the past few days, we've started getting some brief daytime showers and brilliant lightning and thunder shows at night. And clouds, yes cooling clouds! Although the high temperature most days is still hitting the 88 through 90F range in the mid-morning to early afternoon timeframe, we've been having great breezes in the later afternoons and evenings; and at times, there is the slightest "edge" to the breeze that almost feels...dare I say, cool.
The birds are in high gear as fall migration time has arrived as well. Almost overnight we started noticing wood warblers in the heavy tropical foliage out our windows, along with the plaintive call of the Great Kiskadee that had been silent all summer long. Even year-round residents like orioles seem more active and plentiful. The Roseate Spoonbills are back at Grand Belizean Estates, along with the flock of Blacked-Necked Stilts wading in the mangrove pools, and many more birds flying overhead. But again, I used the the US seasons "fall" and "summer" to describe these differences -- because they are important and distinct times for birders -- even though both are part of the rainy season in Belize.
I suppose no matter where one lives, there are certain constructs that will never die, and for me, one of those is the concept of the four seasons. It's different here in Belize in spring, summer, fall, and winter, no matter how those "seasons" are described. So now, I'm going to say it, even though the leaves won't be changing: Fall is here!
If you are a regular reader of our blog, you know how much we've enjoyed traveling around Belize. And some of the highlights have been our visits to the tropical rainforest in Stann Creek and Toledo Districts for hiking and birding. There's just something about the jungle; it's quintessentially tropical -- moist and green. It smells and feels so earthy, as if all the massive trees forming a canopy above your head are shielding you from all things wrong in the world. Even with its inherent dangers, the jungle feels safe, almost womb-like.
There's no arguing that Ambergris Caye is beautiful, but it tends towards a sandy, beachy environment. So, we were awfully surprised (but delighted) to find a little jungle oasis right in southern Ambergris last weekend.
As we mentioned in a previous blog post, we took a long bike ride south on Sunday
, and after going as far as we could, we turned around and headed back just a short ways to the Marco Gonzalez Archaeological Reserve/Maya Site
, which we'd never checked out because we don't get down that far south very often, and when we do, we don't always have bug spray with us. Today we did, so we decided to venture in and have a look around. As we learned from the sign below, this is a very ancient site. And it became the first Maya Site National Park on Ambergris Caye in 2011.
The attendant booth is closed on Sundays, but you can still walk in and have a look at the site.
Our bike parking
Although we slathered ourselves with bug spray, we really didn't notice any mosquitoes -- a lucky break.
Applying bug spray
Entering the site
To get to the site, you first must traverse a quarter-mile boardwalk over a swampy mangrove area. According to the link above, this marshland was created after 2000 years of ocean rise and the resulting mangrove encroachment. The boardwalk was only built in 2010, allowing public access to the site. Just traversing it is an adventure in itself, as it was built with various sizes of lumber, probably mostly salvaged or donated, along with some newer parts. You definitely have to watch your step, but I enjoyed walking it.
A newer section
Gotta watch your step here!
Still kinda low, scrubby growth here, but just wait!
Getting into some taller foliage
Entering the site
The site, once we got inside, was much bigger than we expected. However, there was enough standing water in parts of it that we couldn't access the entire site.
Map of Marco Gonzalez site
There were some nice fans made from palmetto (?) leaves near the entrance we borrowed for our walk in case of spider webs blocking the trail or to whack bugs away, though we didn't notice any webs or bugs.
The signage in the park is very educational. We learned all about the Gumbo Limbo tree, the bark of which can be used to as an antidote if you are unfortunate enough to get too close to a Poisonwood tree. Sounds like the Gumbo Limbo bark has other uses as well -- for burns, insect bites, and even for gout, among other things. It's an attractive tree and a good one to know about, just in case!
Here's a better shot of the Gumbo Limbo, also called the "Tourist Tree" since its bark peels like a sunburned tourist!
The site is also home to a bevy of Poisonwood trees -- fortunately marked. It would have been just my luck to grab onto one and end up burned and miserable. This blog post
gives an excellent description of the dangers posed by the Poisonwood tree. The warnings on this sign should not be taken lightly. DO NOT TOUCH!
As we got a little farther into the site, it really started to feel like being in the jungle. Sure, the trees weren't quite as tall as the rainforests of southern Belize, but for Ambergris Caye, it was a welcome haven. The temperature was at least 10 degrees cooler in here than out in the open.
Poisonwood (note the black sap) on the left, Gumbo Limbo right beside it. Mother Nature is wise, no?
The Maya structures in this site are un-excavated and not very large, so it's no Lamanai, but it's still an interesting site if you enjoy history. There are forty-nine structures total on the site. Here are examples of a few:
This limestone and conch shell mound was quite impressive. I've certainly never seen so many conch shells in one place.
Here are some nice collections of Maya pottery shards we came upon:
The going got a bit wet in places! We ultimately had to turn around when we encountered a larger wet area that we didn't feel like slogging through (not this one).
From our photos, it appears that we didn't see another soul on the site, but that wasn't quite true. We did run into a small group of tourists with a guide, much to our surprise. We thought we were alone in there!
We also enjoyed watching birds as we trekked through. There were a lot of them! But we didn't have our binoculars, so birding was a little frustrating since we weren't able to identify too many of them other than just general categories ("flycatcher"). We also saw quite a few hermit crabs crawling about. I've seen more hermit crabs in Belize than anywhere else in my life!
We finally finished our tour and emerged from the jungle into the light once again.
It was an interesting visit and definitely worth checking out if you're on Ambergris Caye. For further information, click here
Birding in southern Belize is great fun and very productive, with many exotic specimens just waiting to show you their colors. We spent lots and lots of time looking for and watching birds on this seven-day trip and got quite a few new additions to our life lists, even though we certainly didn't get photos of all of them. We also saw many birds we'd seen before but never mind seeing again, like the exotic Montezuma Oropendola, this time hanging from its very interesting pendulous nest. This was right outside Hickatee Cottages
, and very easy to spot, thanks to its distinctive call, appearance, and size. This is a BIG bird!
Montezuma Oropendola and nest
While we were at Hickatee Cottages
, Ian, the proprietor, presented us with a very thorough list of the birds of the Toledo district, keyed by whether each bird was a full-time resident, whether it had been previously sighted at Hickatee, and the likelihood of seeing it. This list was very helpful, especially if we were trying to determine a bird identification and were torn between two similar species, some with a very high likelihood of being seen, and some with a very low or nil likelihood.
But let's back up a bit. Here are the birds we identified at Mama Noots
or Mayflower Bocawina National Park, on the first half of our trip, in the Stann Creek District of Belize. Starred birds are new for our life lists. Photos we managed to catch are included below. Sure wish we'd gotten more!Black-Cowled Oriole* ~ Black-Headed Saltator* ~ Stripe-Throated Hermit ~ Chestnut-Colored Woodpecker* ~ Brown-Crested Flycatcher* ~ Purple-Crowned Fairy* ~ Ivory-Billed Woodcreeper* ~ Violacious Trogan ~ Great Kiskadee ~ Social Flycatcher ~ Rufous-Tailed Hummingbird ~ Smoky-Brown Woodpecker* ~ Buff-Throated Saltator* ~ Emerald Toucanet* ~ White-Collared Manakin* ~ Long-Billed Hermit ~ Yellow-Winged Tanager ~ Crimson-Collared Tanager(*Barry) ~ Masked Tityra* ~ Golden-Hooded Tanager(*Barry) ~ Blue-Black Grassquit* ~ Olive-Backed Euphonia*
Blue-Black Grassquit (female)
Chestnut Colored Woodpecker
Smoky Brown Woodpecker
Stripe Throated Hermit
Violaceous Trogan -- love his turquoise back!
And here are the birds we identified at Hickatee Cottages or nearby in the Toledo District. Once again, starred birds are new for our life lists, and when we got photos, they are included below.
Golden-Hooded Tanager(*Emily) ~ American Pygmy Kingfisher ~ Barred Antshrike* ~ Bat Falcon* ~ Black-Headed Saltator ~ Brown Jay ~ Montezuma Oropendola ~ Red-Legged Honeycreeper* ~ Grasshopper Sparrow* ~ Red-Lored Parrot ~ Blue-Black Grassquit ~ Eastern Meadowlark* ~ Muscovy Ducks ~ Common Pauraque* ~ Little Hermit* ~ Lesser Greenlet* ~ Long-Billed Hermit ~ Masked Tityra ~ Orchard Oriole ~ Spot-Breasted Wren* ~ Roadside Hawk ~ Bank Swallow* ~ Ochre-Bellied Flycatcher* ~ Plain Chachalaca ~ Olive-Throated Parakeet ~ Northern Waterthrush ~ Black-Headed Trogan ~ White-Necked Jacobin* ~ Thick-Billed Seed Finch* ~ White-Collared Manakin ~ many Seedeaters ~ Sulphur-Bellied Flycatcher ~ Yellow-Green Vireo* ~ Yellow-Faced Grassquit*
American Pygmy Kingfisher
Barred Antshrike (female)
This photo is blurry, but since it includes both the male and female in the same shot (so rare), I wanted to include it. Interestingly, unlike with most birds, the female is more showy than the black and white male.
Barred Antshrikes (pair)
I had to include several photos of the beautiful Black-Headed Trogan. They were singing madly on the grounds of Hickatee Cottages, and at one time we saw four in the same tree! I love their Carolina blue eyes and brilliant yellow breast.
Blue-Black Grassquit (male)
Eastern Meadowlark -- this guy posed for us for a long time along the road on our bike ride, and sang and sang!
Little Hermit enjoying the nectar of the "Hotlips" plant
A tree full of dangling Montezuma Oropendola nests along the road on our bike ride -- condo living!
There was a Plain Chachalaca nest in a tree right outside our cottage. Ian was sure it was a Brown Jay nest, but we saw her coming and going. Definitely a Chachalaca!
Red-Lored Parrots -- we saw three close together in the same tree, so it must have been a family!
Thick-Billed Seed Finch (female)
White-Collared Manakin (female)
White-Collared Manakin (male)
White-Necked Jacobin -- so beautiful!
And, just for completeness, this precious little Ochre-Bellied Flycatcher on her nest on the grounds of Hickatee Cottages that I'd already shared in a previous post:
Please stay tuned for the final post from this trip -- bug bites!
We already introduced you to Hickatee Cottages
near Punta Gorda town in a previous post
, but we wanted to share more about this gem of a place to stay in southern Belize. There was so much to love here, from the peaceful setting with so many plants, to the resident howler monkey troop, to the lovely, comfortable cottages, to the cooling dipping pool, to the fantastic food, and last but not least, to the helpful and knowledgeable owners, Ian and Kate. I'm sure a lot of folks who stay here spend most of their time venturing out on excursions during the day, but we really enjoyed just hanging out here, watching birds on the grounds or on the road right outside. The natural setting can't be beat, and as you enter the gates you can actually feel your stress slipping away.
Flora and fauna
Here are some of the plants and animals we enjoyed seeing around the grounds. There are great identifying signs for many of the plants. Some we'd seen before in other spots but hadn't known what they were, so it was helpful to put a name with a face, so to speak.
This little "Jesus lizard" really blends right into the ground -- look very closely or you'll miss him!
Belize has more different species of butterflies than I've ever seen in one place. and there were numerous specimens flitting around at Hickatee. Many are brightly colored and so striking. It is very hard to get photographs since they often don't want to alight even for a few seconds, but Barry got a couple nice shots.
This butterfly perfectly coordinates with the "hot lips" plant it was enjoying
We're going to have a separate blog entry for most of the birds seen on this trip, but here is one that properly belongs here, as it was nesting right on outside the office/restaurant building. Check out this adorable ochre-bellied flycatcher sitting on her sweet little nest:
The nest was a bit too high up to see inside, but Barry was able to hold his camera up above and shoot down into the nest when she took a break. What a thrill when he uploaded the photo to see two sleeping nestlings!
Every baby bird is like a miracle to me
There are numerous cleared trails in the jungly woods on the Hickatee Cottages property that we yearned to explore, but this being rainy season, we weren't able to check them all out. We did hike as many of them as we could manage without being up to our ankles in water, but a return visit during dry season will be necessary to finish our exploration.
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Look for the rare bottle trees along the trails
Very high water in the creek from heavy rain the night before
Bridge constructed of a huge log that probably fell across the creek
Beautiful, tiny female American Pygmy Kingfisher posed for us for a long time
Could go no further on this trail!
Jungle setting was magnificent
Howler monkeys right overhead!
We saw this troop of five howlers nearly every day, which was very exciting. I mean, come on, how often do you get to live among howler monkeys, for goodness sakes?! One afternoon they were moving from tree to tree right over the Hickatee cottages, stopping to eat leaves on occasion, and we got many great looks at them. Barry got some great photos, so I've included quite a few below since it was so hard to choose the best ones.
They made me a little nervous when they got kind of close, but they were fascinating to watch, and didn't seem too fazed by us; or at least they didn't make any howling noises. We did hear some very loud howling, which sounds more like the roar of a HUGE, hungry lion, late at night, but those were probably from a different troup across the road, judging from the direction they appeared to come from. Even when they woke me up, hearing them roar was a huge thrill, since I felt perfectly safe in the cottage, yet electrified by their primal calls.
See the baby on his Momma's back?
This guy did all sorts of gymnastics to find the very best leaves
Ahhhh...that's the one I wanted!
Stay tuned for Part 2 -- for more photos of lovely Hickatee Cottages, including our ever-popular FOOD photos!
Here are photos of many of the birds we saw on our recent trip to Hopkins. Most of these birds we saw while hiking in Bocawina Mayflower National Park or Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, but a few we sighted right near the place we stayed, Beaches and Dreams, technically in False Sittee Point, just south of Hopkins Village. We added quite a few new birds to our life lists and only wish we could have identified all the birds we saw and/or heard. Some we only got a fleeting glance of and not even a photo.
We are fairly confident of all the identifications below, but if you disagree, please let us know in the comments section -- we are certainly not infallible!
Note: New birds for our life lists are identified with an asterisk (*).
American Pygmy Kingfisher * (we saw a pair hanging out by the water for a good long time -- so pretty!)
Black-Headed Trogan (love his blue eye!)
Crested Guan* (these are HUGE -- we saw a lot of them)
Groove-Billed Ani (think this funny fellow was a juvenile)
Another view of the Ani -- couldn't pick just one
House Wren with a yummy morsel -- s/he was jumping all over the place at our inn
Long-Billed Hermit* (not the best photo but got great looks through the binoculars -- neat bird)
Flock of Olive-Throated Parakeets
Had to include this photo of the Parakeet taking flight with wide-open beak!
Pale-Billed Woodpecker* (not a great resolution photo, but a thrill to see)
Pale-Billed Woodpecker yet again -- loved this photo so wanted to include it
Pale-Vented Pigeon* (not exciting, but one for our life lists!)
Plain Chachalaca with young
Red-Throated Ant Tanager*
Red-Throated Ant Tanager* (female)
Red Throated Ant Tanager* male (another specimen)
Violaceous Trogan* singing brightly
We saw other species we were unable to identify or get photos of, as they moved away too quickly. We missed getting photos of the White-Breasted Wood Wren*
, but we did identify it for our life lists with binoculars and our Birds of Belize
The following photos are obviously not birds, but we thought they were particularly interesting:
Find the huge Damselfly
I thought the photos that Barry took of this interesting fly were particularly attractive -- and I'm certainly no fan of flies!