REPORT NO. 18 OF THE LUTMAN'S TROPICS 2000 TRIP

Friday, May 5, 2000. Trip Day 29 of 38. WE ARRIVE IN THE JUNGLE. TARZAN NEVER HAD IT LIKE THIS.

Reminder Note: An UPPERCASE* bird with an asterisk means a life bird for us.

The alarm is off at 7:00 am at the Miami International Airport Days Inn, we get ready, have breakfast and take the 8:30 am shuttle to the airport.

At 10:55 am, we are on the airplane, headed for Belize, the dessert for our five course vacation. The first four courses were Florida, Trinidad, Tobago and St. Lucia.

We pick up two hours by flying west, so at 1:12 Miami time, it's only 11:12 Belize time when we land. We clear immigration and customs by 11:23 am, and are immediately met by Margie, representing Javier Airlines, who is holding up a sign with our name. Funny how a little thing like that is so welcome.

She makes us feel at home, then explains that our small plane is going to be a little late because we're a little early, so just have a seat. She introduces us to a porter named Mario, and says that he will watch after us, and connect us with the pilot when he lands here.

I check the bank and find that there are exactly 2.00 Belize Dollars per 1 U.S. That makes me glad I changed only $20 U.S. in Miami, where I only got 1.79 Belize per US. Minor ripoff. Sharon immediately takes advantage of the exchange by buying souvenirs in the airport shops.

Later, our porter Mario introduces us to our pilot, Raf (for Rafael), who seems to know everybody in the little airport. He takes us under his wing, and whisks us through the $2 Belize Airport exit tax line, and the porter delivers our luggage to his little four-seater Piper Cub or whatever. It's an old plane, but he said it just had its periodic checkup. I have put on my motion sickness patch this morning, so I'm not the least bit worried about getting sick.

I am, however, too nervous to remember to give our helpful porter a tip, so Raf reminds me to "take care of" Mario. Which I gladly do. Note that "take care of Mario" in Sicily would have a completely different connotation.

I take the back seat and Sharon rides shotgun, on the right, in front. Raf's seat is front left. We taxi down, get clearance and take off. Easy as key lime pie. I don't get the slightest bit queasy during the whole flight, except when I look at the floor in the plane (Look at the ground, look at the ground). I take some video of the takeoff, the climb, and the landing at the airport with the wonderful name of Gallon Jug, 35 or 40 minutes later. This comes from all the clay jugs they found during excavation of the Mayan ruins in the area.

After we land, Sharon says that during the flight, she was thinking of all those movies where the pilot passes out and the passenger has to land the plane by talking over the radio. So she watched all the things that Raf was doing, so she could fill in if necessary. What a goofball. I'd say she watches too many movies, or has lost the line between fantasy and reality, wouldn't you?

Anyway, from the back seat, I was checking all the gauges to see what the correct settings were, just in case. . .

Jose, our driver from the Chan Chich Lodge, meets us and welcomes us to Gallon Jug. He is in a big silver van with A/C, waiting for us. He loads us up, and off we go. Six miles and perhaps 15-20 minutes to Chan Chich.

On the way, we quickly learn that he's a birder. He points out a pair of Gray-breasted Martins at the barn, some Great-tailed Grackles, an orange tree orchard and more. It was 86 degrees in Belize City and hot. It doesn't feel that hot here. It's cooler and breezy, although the sun's behind a cloud right now.

Fork-tailed Flycatcher on a fence crosspiece, feeding young in the nest. These beautiful birds have all the length of their tails, as opposed to the ones we saw in Trinidad. At the time we thought they had lost their tails by wear and tear, and still do.

Then the lifers begin. MELODIOUS BLACKBIRDS* do their tuneful whistle, and a Social Flycatcher sits on a fence, but Sharon doesn't quite get it so we don't count it. A Giant Cowbird also sits on the fence, with his red eye. A spectacular OCELLATED TURKEY* is in the pasture by the cattle feed bins, but they are wild birds, not tame. Many Cattle Egrets, several White-tailed Deer, including two sets of spotted fawns. Oscillating would go well as the description for this bird, because after the final, official numbers are in the Ocellated Turkey is our 800th life bird (species). So we have seen about 8% of the world's birds. Doesn't sound like much, does it? Well, if you thought that, you'd be what you call wrong.

The Ocellated Turkey is an incredible bird. Basically the shape of our North American turkey, but with a light blue head with small, orange-red bubbles on them, sort of like warts. No wattle or beard. Plumage dark, glossed with blue-green and bronze. Wings black and white, flight feathers barred black and white. Tail brown and teal. Females don't have the facial warts, but we will not see one female the entire time. They are out in the jungle, on their nests right now.

We are met and welcomed by Patty, who takes us to Cabana No. 2, our own personal thatch-roofed home. It's got two queen beds, a desk, storage shelves for clothes, a rod with plastic clothes hangers a bathroom with hot and cold running water, including a shower, a water cooler (only drink this water), a ceiling fan, 120 volts AC for my laptop, screens on three sides of the cabana with easy-movement shutters you can close if you want, for privacy. A big porch on all four sides with chairs and two hammocks for us to lie in, if we ever take a break from birding. The ceiling fan is drawing air up, so this keeps the air circulating, without blowing warm ceiling air onto us.

And we learn that within the last few years, they built a marvelous modern swimming pool, with a jacuzzi, and a meshed screen enclosure. So you can see the trees and sky and so forth, but it cuts out a lot of direct sun. And it keeps the leaves and insects out. Fantastic. Sharon plans to make great use of the pool.

Viewed from our cabana, the main house consists of a bar on the left, a breezeway in the center, then the administration and reception office plus kitchen and screen-enclosed dining room on the right. All under one compound thatched roof. But mostly we will eat out on the porch, under the shade of the extended thatch roof. The grounds are the best combination of Disneyland and Jungle. Everything is immaculate and constantly being trimmed, raked and swept. But it's also wild and natural.

Hey Greta, you were right about Belize, this is my favorite stop of our vacation. Even though we're not going to Ambergris Caye for reef diving.

By 2:30 pm, we are walking around, and pick up the most common bird here, also one of the most spectacular, the MONTEZUMA OROPENDOLA*. The Oropendola looks like the Trinidad bird with the same last name, but with extra facial coloring. An orange tip on the upper and lower bill. Light blue patch under the eye, and a red patch below that. Otherwise an overall chestnut body with yellow outer tail feathers. It is nesting season, and they are all over the place, doing their calling/swinging pendulum thing, and we never get tired of it. Their nests are enormous hanging baskets of grass. One tree has a hundred nests. We can see them fly up to, and pop right down into the top of their nests.

We continue birding around the main house, just steps away from the dining room, and Sharon gets us a YELLOW-WINGED TANAGER* - an overall light olive-green bird but with light violet head, dark gray shoulders, and black wings, with two yellow wing patches on each wing.

We meet Stacy and Phil, in Cabana No. 1. Phil is an investment banker from Los Angeles who does a lot of business in San Francisco, and Stacy was a producer for NBC, producing segments for the Today show. Now she freelances for them, she says, but wants to do acting full-time. She must hang around the Tonight show sometimes too, because later, in the bar, she talks of meeting musician Santana backstage one time, saying that he is a friendly, totally unassuming fellow.

But meantime, we're birding again, and we get a Streaked Flycatcher overhead in the Secropia. We meet Gilberto (the 'G' is pronounced like 'H'), who confirms the Streaked Flycatcher ID. He is raking leaves off of the trail when we first see him. We later learn that he is the most experienced birder here, as well as a groundskeeper, and we further learn later, that he was in on the initial construction of the complex, more than 11 years ago. Gilberto suggests either continuing the Sac Be Trail (where we might see a particular bird he mentions), or taking the River Trail for late afternoon, to a spot the birds come to bathe. We decide to continue on the Sac Be, and very soon, we see the bird he described for us, the GREAT TINAMOU*. It looks sort of like a baby chick, but grown up to be as big as a rooster or bigger, while retaining the shape of the chick. It's all drab gray or brown, and walks around on the leaves. Very quiet. What do you call someone who walks in the leaves? Russell. Old old joke. What do you call someone who tells old jokes? Old.

Further on, we come upon a flurry of activity, and though it takes a while, we confirm three different types of woodcreeper -- RUDDY WOODCREEPER*, TAWNY-WINGED WOODCREEPER*, and STRONG-BILLED WOODCREEPER*. The differences are subtle, and I won't go into them, but they're very cool to us. They behave like all the woodcreepers we have seen, flying to and landing on the side of the tree like a woodpecker, then creeping up the tree (get it?).

We see another bird that looks sort of like a flycatcher, but it's a GRAY-HEADED TANAGER* (olive back, bright yellow underparts and gray head), and also flitting around the same area is a little WHITE-BREASTED WOOD-WREN* (a tiny wren with black and white crosshatching below and behind the eye, a clear white breast, buffy belly, rusty wings with black bars, and a tiny tiny tail, cocked a little forward).

I happen to look down on the path, and I see a huge, enormous, HUMONGOUS swarm of ants moving through on the jungle floor from right to left, across the path, and these birds are following that swarm. Picture the shadow a cloud makes as it moves along the ground on a sunny day, and you get a notion about this ant swarm. We're told that mostly the birds we see are eating the insects that the ants scare up, but I think they eat some ants too. Anyway, these are army ants, and they bite like crazy, so we're careful to stay out of the ant swarm.

By 4:30 pm, we have finished the Sac Be trail (except for the last little bit) and are taking the road back to camp. Did I say camp? Well, I guess in a way, this is like grown-up summer camp, and it's the best one you ever went to.

Once back to the main plaza, we have to work and work, but we get two kinds of parrots, the RED-LORED (aka Yellow-cheeked) PARROT*, and an all-green one with red on the front of his wing. This second one turns out to have some hard-to-see blue on his forehead and crown, but we can't see that till tomorrow. Both of these parrot species are unbelievably rackety and noisy. Squawk on

I spot a handsome little bird high up in a palm tree, and it's a falcon. We check the raptor pages, and decide that it has to be a BAT FALCON*, calling and calling. "Bat" because it flies a little like a bat. We get later confirmation of this, and then we see that there are two of them, one bigger than the other but they are similarly marked. The consensus is that it's an adult and a little one, who is the one doing the calling. Gilberto can speak bird, and he says the little one is saying "feed me, feed me, wah, wah, wah."

We see two birds fly over, and I immediately think "Hornbill," but know better, and I yell to Sharon, "KEEL-BILLED TOUCAN*," and she gets on them immediately. If I didn't mention, or if you have forgotten, the pronunciation here is "TOO-c'n." Also, the pronunciation of machete is muh-SHETT here, which I've never heard before.

I signed us up for the room and board package, so all our meals are already paid for. Dinner is from 7-9, and there is always a choice of food for lunch and dinner. That is, they always have two appetizers and two entrees to pick from. We take the steak and mashed potatoes, with green beans entree. I have a diet coke and coconut pie for dessert. Then it's off to sleep. What a place, what a place.

Lifers Today: Melodious Blackbird, Ocellated Turkey, Montezuma Oropendola, Yellow-winged Tanager, Great Tinamou, Ruddy Woodcreeper, Tawny-winged Woodcreeper, Strong-billed Woodcreeper, Gray-headed Tanager, White-breasted Wood-wren, Red-lored (aka Yellow-cheeked) Parrot, Bat Falcon, Keel-billed Toucan.

Handsomest Birds: 1. Ocellated Turkey (unbelievable array of colors, plus little colored bumps on his face), 2. Montezuma Oropendola (the pendulum bird).

Most Difficult Bird: All three woodcreepers were tough, because they all came at about the same time.

Most Remarkable Bird: Ocellated Turkey (These birds look exactly like wild California Turkeys, except that they have blue heads with red "warts." Well, also their feather colors are different. And their gobble is different. But everything else is the same. See?).

Totals: Today 13, Belize 13, Trip 169+13 = 182

Thirteen life birds in half a day. I'm gonna LOVE this jungle birding thing.

Two can,
Sharon and Bob

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