Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Water Birds of Belize

This is the third post in a series based on Karyn and I's recent trip with two birder/biology friends to Belize. This post is focused on water birds, while the the previous posts included a general overview of the trip - The Pursuit of Wild in Belize - and a post focused on - The Raptors of Belize. I intend a few more posts in the series including one on Mayan ruins and another on the remaining birds not covered in this and the raptor post, so be sure to check back.

Having spent time on Caye Caulker and in the lagoons of Crooked Tree, we did quite well in our observation of water birds. The two top desires from a water bird perspective were to see an Agami Heron, which would be a life bird for all of us, and to see all five Kingfisher species including another group lifer, the Pygmy Kingfisher. I am happy to report that we were successful in each of these endeavors!

The Herons.

We were successful in seeing every heron species in the country, with the exception of the Bitterns. They are a bit more secretive and difficult to track down. The highlight of course was the Agami Heron. We had chosen to go to Crooked Tree specifically for this bird, although as one of the top birding locations in the country we were happy to see many others. On our first night there we were disappointed to hear that it was the wrong season for Agami Herons. The water level was too high. They were expected to be far up in the creeks. Regardless, we booked an early morning boat ride to head as far up Spanish Creek as we could go in a 3-hour tour. We arranged with the guide to omit much of the usual lagoon tour that we had seen with another guide a few days before, and head straight for the creek. Wow, we had an amazing tour seeing four of the five kingfishers and all of the herons, including the Agami!. It may have been a juvenile, but none of us were complaining. Look at the size of that beak! The Boat-billed Heron was another prize. Green Herons were probably the most abundant bird on our Spanish Creek boat trip, tallying over 60 sightings. Wow.

Juvenile Agami Heron. Crooked Tree.

Great Blue Heron. Crooked Tree.

Tri-colored Heron. Caye Caulker.

Little Blue Heron. Crooked Tree.

Green Heron. Caye Caulker.

Boat-billed Heron. Crooked Tree.

Juvenile Yellow-crowned Night-Heron. Caye Caulker.

Black-crowned Night-Heron. Crooked Tree.

Pale-throated Tiger-Heron. Crooked Tree.

The Egrets.

The egrets may not be as exciting as we have all three species here in Idaho. With that said, they are amazing birds and fun to watch. In addition to the Great and Cattle Egrets pictured below, a number of Snowy Egrets also presented themselves.

Great Egret. Crooked Tree.

Great Egret. Crooked Tree.

Where else would you find a Cattle Egret?

The Kingfishers.

Belize has five kingfisher species, one of which is present in Idaho - the Belted Kingfisher. For our first few days on Caye Caulker, Belted Kingfishers were all that we would see. Even the first day at Crooked Tree presented only Belted Kingfishers. We were once again told it was the wrong season for the others. That would change on our boat ride to Spanish Creek. We would see Belted and three other species - Ringed, Green, and Pygmy Kingfishers. Later in the trip we would see numerous Amazon Kingfishers completing the list. The Pygmy Kingfisher was fantastic. It was in low light as the sun had not yet fully risen, but we watched it on its perch then watched as it dove in the water after prey. A nearby Green Kingfisher was visible at the same time for size comparisons.

Pygmy Kingfisher. Crooked Tree.

Green Kingfisher. Crooked Tree.

The largest - The Ringed Kingfisher. Crooked Tree.

Ringed Kingfisher. Crooked Tree.

The Others.

Not to dimish the other water birds, there were some fantastic finds. Numerous Sungrebes presented themselves, which is a rare find. Our early morning start definitely helped.

Sungrebe. Crooked Tree.

The White Ibis as another fantastic find. We had a few on Caye Caulker, but on our first boat ride in Crooked Tree we watched as hundreds flew into the roost for the evening. The picture does not represent the volume of birds. The tree looked full as we watched many additional groups of 50-60 birds each come into the tree. Listening to the racket they were making was amazing. We reported a conservative number of over 360 birds! There could have been double that.

White Ibis and Neotropical Cormorants roosting for the night. Crooked Tree.

White Ibis. Caye Caulker.

Another favorite is the Northern Jacana. They were everywhere at Crooked Tree. I love their long toes which help them walk on floating vegetation. Their wings are a beautiful greenish yellow when they fly.

Northern Jacana. Crooked Tree.

Northern Jacanas in flight. Crooked Tree.

I've always wanted a great photo of a Roseate Spoonbill, but they are always so far away. This is better than I've captured before, but still not what I wanted. They are such funky birds.

Roseate Spoonbills. Crooked Tree.

Clearly Belize is a fantastic place for water birds, specifically Crooked Tree.

Anhinga. Crooked Tree.

Gray-throated Wood-Rail. Crooked Tree.

Willet. Caye Caulker.

Limpkin. Crooked Tree.

Wait, I forgot the Frigatebirds, Pelicans, and the Cormorants... Too many birds, too many pictures...


Birding is Fun! said...

What a trip!!! I'm insane with jealousy both for the trip and the fun company. Thanks for sharing it.

Diane said...

It is a pleasure to read your blog and see your fantastic photos! I birded in Belize in 2009 and this is a wonderful trip down memory lane!