REPORT NO. 20 OF THE LUTMAN'S TROPICS 2000 TRIP
The alarm goes off at 4:45 am -- the Howler Monkey alarm, that is. Wonderfully spooky. Then at 5:00 am, the regular alarm goes off, but by now the monkeys are already quiet. However, they got the parrots going, and they are even louder when they all go together. By 5:35 am, we are out on the trails, intending to bird a couple of hours, have breakfast, then get ready for our 8:30 am departure in a van to Lamanai, a Mayan ruins site.
A Clay-colored Robin makes an early appearance on the trail, followed by some kind of faraway woodpecker with red on its head, who eludes us. At 6:15 am, we get the second of the three toucans they have here -- the COLLARED ARACARI*. He has a long toucan-type bill, with yellow on his chest, otherwise a black bird. Very handsome. He's the middle-sized one in the Chan Chich Toucan trio.
Soon thereafter we get a pair of BLACK-CHEEKED WOODPECKERS* (black-and-white ladder back, red crown, black cheeks (surprise), tan underparts). We bump into Gilberto, leading another group, and we hear him ID a SPOT-BREASTED WREN*, but by sound only. We don't see this bird. We head back to our cabana to get ready for Lamanai.
We are met by Luis, the driver, at the assembly area, and are traveling with John and Betsy, an older couple from the Boston area. He is a transplanted Brit by his accent. They are both associated with Harvard, and are pleasant company all day long. He is in cell biology and she is in embryology. Both PhD's I would say.
We take off and get a close-up view of our first ROADSIDE HAWK*, a brownish hawk, with light brown horizontal barring on the underparts. I think this turns out to be the most common hawk of the area.
Lewis remembers where there has recently been an Ornate Hawk-Eagle nest, and after a failed attempt, he gets it, stops, and we all get out, because, holy moly, WE GOT THE BIRD!
We can see with binoculars, the scope and the video camera one of the most distinguished-looking raptors you can imagine, the ORNATE HAWK-EAGLE*. What a bird. Black crest with black feathers sticking straight back from the top of his head, tan on the cheeks, back of the neck and shoulders; black and white barring on underparts including legs, black and white striped tail. But the feeling you get when you are looking at this bird is that it is in charge.
After a bit, she stands up and hops over to a large branch for a minute, then flies over to another tree. More video, then we finally leave. Everyone got great scope looks.
We continue on, heading down onto plains containing sugar cane fields when a medium-sized dark cat runs across the road from right to left. Luis describes it as "perhaps a small black panther." This after Sharon asks, "House cat?" Luis smiles and says there aren't any house cats out here. If there are, he continues, the jaguars get 'em." [Later, both Jose and manager Tom think it was a Jaguarundi.] We continue on, past rice fields, and to cleared farmland inhabited by a large group of Mennonites who use both pickups and buggies. Luis says the Mennonites drive the fastest of anyone in the area. Maybe they know where they're going.
The last little community before Lamanai is called Indian Church, and we later learn that artists here make some of the cooler souvenirs we will later purchase.
We get to Lamanai, park and check out a few birds. Then as we begin walking towards the entrance, a man is walking towards us. Our eyes meet, then I look away, then (wait...) I look again, and Good Night, it's my old GE buddy Juan Villarreal! He has recognized me too.
The last communications we had was by email. He was in Miami and I was in San Jose. So we meet in Belize, naturally.
"Bob? Bob Lutman?" he asks. Then shakes Sharon's hand and says, "Juan Villarreal." We start talking about the last time we worked together (1978, north central Italy). Then Juan says, "I'm on my second honeymoon." I already know that he's been divorced for several years, then he quickly adds with a laugh, "I just got married. I'll go get Julia," but he pronounces it HOO-lia.
Sharon has been saying, "Bob. Bob!" I turn around, and she has a litttle warbler. We check and check, and it seems like it's a North American one, but we don't have our NGS with us, so just record its features. Black and yellow streaks on the chest, real black tip on the tail, black mask with a white eye and a white cap on the head. We'll check when we get back "home." (It turns out to be a Magnolia Warbler who hasn't yet migrated north).
Meantime Juan brings over Julia, who turns out to be a beautiful 100% American woman and I am delighted for both of them. I invite ourselves down to visit them in Santiago, Chile, where they will live and where Juan works, still for GE.
They are with a group that is snorkeling at Ambergris Caye, and they have come over here just for the day to see the ruins. We are with a group that is birding Chan Chich and we have come over here just for the day to see the ruins. What are the chances of this happening? 100%, according to Sharon's older son Matt, and I can't argue with that logic.
Their group eats, then tours while our group tours, then eats. So we bump into each other mid-tour and I video-tape the beautiful Julia and the well, uh, the uh, the uh, lucky Juan. But by the smile on Julia's face, I would have to say that she feels she's lucky too.
Hey have fun, you guys. We say goodbye, and I say, "It feels like now that we've bumped into each other after such a long time, that we are going to work together and see each other every day. When in reality, we may never see each other again." What an exciting, quirky thing life is! Somebody once said that this proves that there are really only 120 people on the earth.
But back to touring, or birding in this case. We see a large bird in a tree, and it's a BROWN JAY*. I saw one in deep south Texas one morning while Sharon was sleeping while riding shotgun. I woke her, but by the time she was alert, the bird was gone. Lewis says they call this bird something like Pyem Pyem, because of its call. About noon, we get a female RED-THROATED ANT-TANAGER*, with yellow on the throat, so it's not the Red-crowned one.
By 12:50 pm, we are up at the main temple, which is 33 meters high, says Luis. Steps going straight up, with some destroyed, rubble pieces. "Climb it, Bob!" Sharon yells, as she turns on the video camera. I decide to climb the first dozen steps, so first I do that. Then Betsy meets me, having climbed up some gentler steps around on the left side. I go around to that side, and there are easier steps going further up, so I take them. I make it to about 80% of the way to the top, then do a little more climbing till the only thing left is a wooden ladder with about six rungs. I climb it, and I'm at the top of the pyramid!
Sharon is a long way off, and she's taping some monkeys. Hey, Sharon, look at ME! Not those other monkeys. She finally pans over so I can climb back down. I'm remarkably not out of breath or leg-weary. With the videotape running, I yell (so everybody'll think Sharon stole something, which she didn't), "Hey Sharon, are those artifacts you picked up yours or Mayan?" Hee hee. Sorry, I couldn't help it, belize me. Hee hee hee. It's a rule that you have to work that corny line in somewhere, so you can relax. I won't do it again. But seventy-seven guys walk into a bar...
By 1:30 pm, we are at the last burial ground that's been excavated. There is a huge tree, probably a fig, and we see a dark euphonia (little warbler-like bird) with a yellow forehead, and it can only be an OLIVE-BACKED EUPHONIA*. He is just enough in the sunlight to get all the necessary features.
At 1:45 pm, we are about to have our lunch, when someone (I won't tell you who, but her initials are S-h-a-r-o-n) spots a trogon. Then we get two more. An absolutely beautiful male is visible from the back, calling and calling. A female is nearby and we get great and long looks at a pair of BLACK-HEADED TROGONS*. Then they fly, just as I pull out the video camera.
At 2:30 we have cleaned out all the souvenir shops (By the time Sharon has finished shopping, she knows the name of the proprieter -- Blanca, as well as the fact that Blanca has a bad back), and back at the van, we stop to admire another Brown Jay. Which magically turns into a Squirrel Cuckoo, a much better look than the one we had from a distance at Asa Wright in Trinidad.
We reverse directions and head for home in Luis's van. At approximately the sugar cane field area again, we see a little gray fox zip across the road from left to right, and as we pass I spin around to the right, and can see that he has curled around, behind a thick palm tree, and sat right down to let us pass. Pretty cool.
Here's the incredible part of this whole day. The staff at Chan Chich called Luis. Luis left his home in Orange Walk this morning about 5:45 am. Two and a half hours later, he was at Chan Chich, and we loaded up and took off at 6:00 am. Two and a half (driving) hours later, we are in Lamanai. Normally Luis would turn us over to a guide, but it's Sunday, and all the guides are already scheduled for other tours. Luis becomes our guide, rather than sitting down and relaxing while we tour.
After a couple of hours of touring, eating and souvenir-buying, he drives us home for 2 1/2 hours. Then he turns right around and drives 2 1/2 hours back to his home in Orange Walk. Wow, that's some driving. Thank you Luis!
But back to the present. Lewis picks us up WHITE-FRONTED PARROT* on the way home. We may have heard one the other night with Gilberto, but this one is certain.
And finally, as the last birds of the day, we see a wonderful pair of GREAT CURRASOWS*, walking towards the edge of the jungle from the roadside. They have the approximate shape of a female turkey, but stretched so they are taller. We get very good looks, then they're in. The black color of the male, with the contrasting yellow beak and yellow knob above the beak, together with his curly crest are truly wonderful to see. The rich browns of the female, who also has the crest, are also nice.
We at last make it home from a long long, but very enjoyable day. We visit the bar, have dinner, and head home for the evening.
INCREDIBLY (are you sitting down?), not all the visitors here are birders. Some are here to see the Howler Monkeys, Spider Monkeys, swim in the pool, relax, go horseback riding and canoeing. But the BIG thing they are after -- the big thing EVERYONE is after is to actually SEE a Jaguar. I haven't heard of anybody seeing one yet though.
When I was planning this trip, I was afraid that Jaguars might attack hikers and we would have to beware, but owners Tom and Josie Harding (two great people, by the way, who told us we weren't black-listed, as we left) say no one has ever died on the trails in the eleven years or so they've been in business. And in fact, from the way the guides talk, the Jaguars are wary of people. When they see a human, they may stop a second or two, but they invariably then retreat or continue their path straightaway into the jungle.
So what's all this Jaguar talk about? Just to let you know that at first, I was sort of afraid we might run into one, but now we're not even thinking about them.
Beginning today, I am adding a new category called "Upgrades," because we are beginning to get better views, or are getting visuals on previous "heard-onlys," etc.
Lifers Today: Collared Aracari (toucan), Spot-breasted Wren (heard), Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Roadside Hawk, Ornate Hawk-Eagle, Brown Jay, Red-throated Ant-Tanager, Olive-backed Euphonia, Black-headed Trogon, White-fronted Parrot, Great Currasow
Upgrades Today: Squirrel Cuckoo (PREVIOUS: long distance view from Asa Wright veranda; NEW: long, close overhead view from 12 feet)
Handsomest Bird: Ornate Hawk-Eagle, Black-headed Trogon
Most Difficult Bird: Spot-breasted Wren (heard over and over, but could NOT see this bird)
Rarest Bird: Ornate Hawk-Eagle
Most Remarkable Bird: Great Currasow (colors of black and yellow on the male, together with his crest are spectacularly unique, no, uniquely spectacular.)
1 black Jaguarundi (crossed the road in the plains near the sugar cane. A sort of half-size black panther-type, dark brown or black cat with a small head and long tail);
1 Juan Villarreal (old GE colleague and buddy just married beautiful Julia in New York. They are headed for Santiago, Chile, where Juan works now, still for GE. They are staying at Ambergris Cay, and just came over to Lamanai for the day. Hey, us too);
1 little Gray Fox.
Lifer Totals: Today 11, Belize 38+11= 57, Trip 207+11= 218
Upgrades: Today 1, Total 1 (Just started this category. There were previous upgrades during this trip, but I'm not going to go back and re-do them. The insanity has to stop somewhere. Well, maybe not. . .).
Former GE work buddies: Today 1, Trip 1
It is so cool to finally get the magnificent Ornate Hawk-Eagle. Too big to be a hawk, too small to be an eagle. Some people call it "the eagle" for short anyway, and it DOES seem more like an eagle, because of its regal bearing. The regal eagle.
Still plenty of birding days left,
Sharon and Bob
Continue to Next Report (21) - 4th of 7 Belize reports
Back to Previous Report (19) - 2nd of 7 Belize
Back to Tropics 2000 Page
Back to Birding Trips