Barry got some great photos last night of the full moon from our veranda.  I couldn't pick just one, so I'll give you a series.  It really was breathtaking.
 
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.
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A lone hunter
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Prey sighted!
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Success!
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The prize!
 
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.
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Afterglow
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Afterglow peacefulness
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Egret at dusk
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Full moon rising
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Unfortunately, ugly plastic washes up among the sargassum in certain weather conditions.
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Ruddy Turnstones on the dock while storms brew beyond the reef
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Coastal Express water taxi loaded down with passengers
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Approaching storms
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Rainbow
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Other side of the rainbow
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Afterglow
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One of my favorite views
 
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.
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The attendant booth is closed on Sundays, but you can still walk in and have a look at the site.
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Our bike parking
Although we slathered ourselves with bug spray, we really didn't notice any mosquitoes -- a lucky break.
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Applying bug spray
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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.
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A newer section
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Gotta watch your step here!
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Still kinda low, scrubby growth here, but just wait!
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Getting into some taller foliage
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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.
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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.
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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!
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Black Catbird
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.
 
Since arriving in Belize, we've gotten our share of insect bites:  mosquitoes, sand flies, and various biting ants are fairly ubiquitous, at least when there is no wind or it's blowing from the right direction.  We've been lucky enough not to be stung by any yellow jackets or hornets to date.  However, on our recent trip to the mainland, we experienced a biting insect we knew nothing about.  We're now properly educated!

There we were, innocently walking from our cabana over to breakfast through the grass at Mama Noots Eco-Resort in Mayflower Bocawina National Park in the Stann Creek District of Belize.  We hadn't bothered to put on any insect repellent for such a short walk, though of course we'd planned on slathering ourselves with it before our hike in the jungle after breakfast.  All of a sudden, we noticed that we were attracting little black, gnat-like bugs, especially on our lower legs.  It felt like they were biting us, though their bites didn't hurt or sting badly like a fire ant bite; it was just a passing annoyance, kind of like a no-see-um bite.  After slapping at them awhile, we realized that where each one bit us, there was a small drop of blood.

As we arrived at the dining room, we ran into Liz, the proprietor, with one of the zip-line workers.  We asked them about the bites, and they immediately recognized that they were made by some sort of fly.  I could never understand exactly what they were saying; it sounded like "bottle fly", but maybe they'd called it "blood fly"?  The latter was certainly fitting! 

Here's how the bites looked the day I got bit.  Not too bad yet.
We didn't give the bites much more thought until that night, when I realized that not only were my calves and shins itching like crazy, they were swelling up, especially the right one, where I'd gotten many more bites, for some reason.  The bites were redder and more inflamed, and the skin on my lower right leg felt tight and hot to the touch.  I've had bites that itched this bad before (fire ants -- ugh), but never accompanied by this amount of generalized swelling.  Plus, as time went on, I could see how many bites I'd gotten, since each one was marked with a blood drop that began red but soon turned to black.  NOT a pretty sight.  And we were not very close to medical care, being in an off-grid jungle resort, so I hoped they wouldn't be even worse in the morning and require medical care.  I counted 87 bites on my right leg alone!
Fortunately, although the bites continued to look really bad for the next couple of days, and my right lower leg remained swollen and inflamed, I didn't seem to be getting much worse after that first night, so I didn't seek any medical care.  I'd brought plenty of Benedryl (an essential in Belize), which I lived on for the next few days to try to help with the itching and swelling.  I guess I am quite allergic to these strange bites, since Barry didn't swell up nor have nearly the itching that I did.  Liz also confirmed that she barely noticed them.  Somehow I managed to hike even with the swollen leg, and with plenty of insect repellent, don't think I got too many more bites after that first morning.

By the time we got home from our late July trip, my legs were feeling a lot better.  The swelling was gone and the itching was much less, but they still looked bad.  It took a couple of weeks for all the little scabs to fall off.  

As soon as we unpacked, we googled to find out more about these mystery flies, and although information was sparse, we did find a few things.

They are not bottle nor blood flies, nor are they (thank the gods) bot flies, the awful creatures whose larvae burrow under the skin of humans.  They are sometimes referred to as bot-less flies because of this fact; but the correct name is BOTLASS Fly (Diptera: Simuliidae; blackflies, bloodsucking insects).  They are a local type of blackfly and are apparently found primarily in the Silk Grass Creek area of Belize [ref: http://biological-diversity.info/Downloads/Mayflower_REA_s.pdf, search for botlass], which is very close to Mayflower Bocawina Park and Mama Noots.  We found several mentions of them in blogs and forums solely in this area, but no mention of them elsewhere in Belize, nor have we encountered them anywhere else in the country where we have traveled fairly extensively.  
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Tiny Botlass Fly packs a mean punch
Fortunately, the referenced report states that botlass flies are not known to spread any diseases.  Actually, even a month earlier (June) when we were in the same park, we didn't get a single bite, so they must be seasonal as well.

This photo was taken on the last night of our trip, and you can see bites on my lower right leg. 
And you can see them here, the day we arrived home.
I'm pleased to say that within a couple of weeks of arriving home, all the bites had healed, and I don't even believe I have any scarring, thankfully.  I hope this is the worst the jungle ever has to throw at me!
 
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Cottage gecko

In addition to the great things about Hickatee Cottages I shared in part 1 of this post, there's even more that we loved about being here.  They have this great little dipping pool.  It was cool, refreshing, and just right for lounging around in.  Even though I am bird watching in this photo, I did enjoy this pool daily after our hikes and bike rides.
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Flowers in our cottage
There are cute stone paths around the property, perfect for watching birds and butterflies from.
The paths did get a bit wet after a heavy rain one night, but they didn't take that long to drain.
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Umbrellas outside your door are a thoughtful touch
There's a pretty creek with lily pads.
And the road right outside the property is great for birdwatching too since it's the perfect wood's edge environment.  We spent many an hour here.
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Jacket bulging in front from binoculars, of course!
The office/restaurant/lounge is well equipped with a bar, sitting area, and library, in addition to outdoor dining.  We loved eating meals out on the porch.
This great library full of books on Belize could have occupied us for a couple of months!
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The bar and office
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Great place for a meal

Fantastic food

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the food here is super tasty and beautiful as well.  Kate is a wonderful cook!  Continental breakfast (hot breads, butter, jam) and an excellent French press pot of coffee is included in the daily cottage rate, and a HUGE plate of fresh fruit is just an extra $10 BZ ($5 US) and worth every penny.  We got two of these every morning.  I'm sure we could have split one, but we love fruit!  There's also a hot breakfast available for $15 BZ, but we had eaten so many eggs at Mama Noots that we skipped it.
My favorite breakfast was these hot and melt-in-your-mouth English pancakes (similar to French crepes), served with raw sugar and lime.  Ian explained that these pancakes were historically made before Lent began to use up all the eggs in the kitchen.  Sure enough, a quick glance at Wikipedia under "pancake" says the same. 
And here is the other dinner we enjoyed on our last night at Hickatee.  (Our first night's dinner is documented in a previous blog post.)  It was delicious and healthy to boot.  Dessert was more of the yummy local dark chocolate drops and a shot of "Belizean Bailey's" liqueur.  We did not leave hungry!
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Salad
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My fish cakes
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Zucchini soup
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Barry's chicken breast
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Hot rolls melted in our mouths

Delightful hosts

Ian and Kate were great -- helpful, knowledgeable British expats who positively bubble over with enthusiasm for what they do and where they live.  They seem to be doing exactly what they were born to do, and we enjoyed all they had to offer and share.  From birds, to bats, to butterflies, to howlers, to plants, to spiders, and even to salamanders, there's very little about the natural world that one or both of them don't know.  This makes Hickatee such a delight for nature lovers like ourselves, and very hard to leave!
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Ian and me
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Kate and me
Stay tuned for blog posts on our short trip to Placencia and finally back home to Ambergris Caye.
 
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.
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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.
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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!
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Every baby bird is like a miracle to me

Hiking Trails

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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Trail signs
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Look for the rare bottle trees along the trails
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Very high water in the creek from heavy rain the night before
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Bridge constructed of a huge log that probably fell across the creek
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Beautiful, tiny female American Pygmy Kingfisher posed for us for a long time
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Could go no further on this trail!
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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.
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See the baby on his Momma's back?
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This guy did all sorts of gymnastics to find the very best leaves
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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!
 
As I mentioned in our first post on this trip back to Mayflower Bocawina National Park (and points south to come -- stay tuned) in Belize, we stayed at Mama Noots Eco Resort right in the park for three nights.  In the first post, I shared photos of the authentic cabana we stayed in, so in this post, I wanted to share additional photos of the facilities, grounds, people, and wonderful food we were served over the three-day period.

Mama Noots is entirely off the grid and generates its own electricity through solar panels.  A back-up generator is also utilized when the sun isn't shining or additional electricity is needed.  
Here are some shots from around the property.  It's absolutely gorgeous, with hummingbirds buzzing about, brightly colored butterflies flitting, and beautiful foliage and flowers everywhere.
Here's the final platform for the zip-line.  We enjoyed it for bird watching and checking out the view.
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View from platform
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Flowers on the top of the tree in the above photo
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Lots of citrus growing on the property
This is a Great Kiskadee nest.  It was behind our cabana, and we could watch the male and female coming and going from the nest.  They had a favorite branch right outside one of our windows where they would sit and sing and call, and then fly into and out of the nest.  
On our second full day at Mama Noots, we tried to hike down the road to the Bocawina Falls trail, but unfortunately, the road was just too muddy (it is rainy season in Belize) to make it in.  We had already hiked to these falls in June, so we were not too disappointed.  The photos below are actually not the worst part of the road; unfortunately we didn't get a photo of the mud pit all the way across that finally stopped us in our tracks.
Here's the restaurant/bar where we ate all the delicious meals.  Since we were the only guests, we were usually the only ones here, but sometimes a few of the workers were eating as well.  The restaurant is open to the public for lunch, which is a great option after a hike in the park or run on the zip-line.  You won't go home hungry!
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Mama Noots restaurant and office
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Our private dining hall!
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The bar wasn't in operation during slow season
Ms. Marci cooked us some absolutely delicious food.  I don't think there's anything this sweet lady can't make!
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Ms. Marci

The food (delicious and plentiful!)

Here are some of the great meals we had at Mama Noots.  Ms. Marci made sure we never went away hungry!
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Starter of fresh fruit
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Fruit and hot scone (yum)
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Even Barry got enough to eat here!
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Loaded chicken nachos -- highly recommended!
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Jerk chicken, mashed potatoes, broccoli, and cucumber/watermelon "avocados"!
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Creole shrimp with veggies, rice, and watermelon/avocado garnish
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Belizean breakfast -- veggie eggs, black beans, bacon, and tortillas
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French toast, eggs, and bacon
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Watermelon juice
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Delish veggie burrito and fresh salsa for lunch
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Pineapple upside-down cake
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Pretty flowers on our table one night before dinner
Last, but certainly not least, the hostess with the mostest, Mama Noots manager Liz made sure we were comfortable and happy.  She's been managing the resort since January and seems to be making a lot of positive changes.  We both give Mama Noots a big thumbs up!
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Liz Lathrop
Stay tuned for our continuing adventures to Punta Gorda in the Toledo District of southern Belize!
 
Wednesday, July 25th was our first full day in Mayflower Bocawina National Park, and we spent most of it hiking.  In the morning, we hiked the Bird Trail, which was an easy, mostly flat trail, but longer than we expected.  Most of the birds were actually out in the open area where some un-excavated Maya ruin mounds were located, not along the jungly, dense trail, but it was a fun walk anyway.  As usual, we had the trail entirely to ourselves.  (Stay tuned for a separate post with bird photos coming later; we'll just show the hiking photos here to keep this post from getting too long.)
Besides birds, we saw some cool flora and fauna along the way, like these interesting mushrooms, and a couple of huge owl butterflies, who seemed to be posing just for us, as Barry was able to snap a lot of shots of them.
Some parts of the trail were semi-blocked where trees had fallen, so we had to do a bit of trail blazing.
After lunch we attacked the Antelope Falls Trail, which we'd not been able to make it to the top of on our last attempt due to not enough time and severe fatigue.  This time around, we had no time limit and were feeling fresher, and it didn't seem nearly so difficult.  However, it is still some of the toughest hiking we've ever done; more like rock climbing in parts.  There were many, many stairs, and many places where using a rope was required to climb up steep and sometimes slippery rocks.  You can see the Antelope Trail on the map at the top of this post.  Note that it says "steep in places".  Uh, yes.  Here are some of those places:
We knew there was a pool at the top of the climb where we could cool off, so we were excited when we saw this sign:





Only 75 meters more to go, and we were rewarded with this beautiful sight....
I wasted no time in changing into my swimsuit and taking the plunge.  The water was cool and refreshing -- just perfect!
Barry didn't think he was going to go in, but I talked him into it; some things are just too good to miss.
Of course, getting back down the steep trail was a challenge as well.  It's easier to turn around and back down while holding the rope.
Half-way down (or up) the trail is the best view of the falls.  Unfortunately, the sun was in a bad place for a photo.
So yes, this time we did manage to summit Antelope Falls, although we later heard from Miss Marci, the cook at Mama Noot's, that we could actually have climbed a bit higher, above the pool area, and gotten a panoramic view of the entire area, even out to the Caribbean Sea.  Oh well, perhaps we'll just have to visit again one day -- third time's a charm?!

Stay tuned...tomorrow we'll have more photos from around the grounds at Mama Noot's Eco Resort as well as more photos of the great food Miss Marci served us during our stay! 
 
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 (*).
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American Pygmy Kingfisher * (we saw a pair hanging out by the water for a good long time -- so pretty!)
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Black-Faced Grosbeak*
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Black-Headed Trogan (love his blue eye!)
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Blue-Black Grosbeak*
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Crested Guan* (these are HUGE -- we saw a lot of them)
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Groove-Billed Ani (think this funny fellow was a juvenile)
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Another view of the Ani -- couldn't pick just one
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House Wren with a yummy morsel -- s/he was jumping all over the place at our inn
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Ivory-Billed Woodcreeper*
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Long-Billed Hermit* (not the best photo but got great looks through the binoculars -- neat bird)
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Flock of Olive-Throated Parakeets
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Had to include this photo of the Parakeet taking flight with wide-open beak!
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Pale-Billed Woodpecker* (not a great resolution photo, but a thrill to see)
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Pale-Billed Woodpecker*
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Pale-Billed Woodpecker yet again -- loved this photo so wanted to include it
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Pale-Vented Pigeon* (not exciting, but one for our life lists!)
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Plain Chachalaca with young
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Red-Throated Ant Tanager*
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Red-Throated Ant Tanager* (female)
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Red Throated Ant Tanager* male (another specimen)
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Squirrel Cuckoo
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Stripe-Throated Hermit*
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Sulphur-Bellied Flycatcher*
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Tropical Pewee
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Vermillion Flycatcher
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Violaceous Trogan* singing brightly
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White-Tipped Dove*
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Yellow-Backed Oriole*
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Yellow-Bellied Elaenia*
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 book.

The following photos are obviously not birds, but we thought they were particularly interesting:
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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!