24 January, 2022

Belize Bird Rescue

We stopped for lunch at Corkers in Belmopan to eat on their shady open air terrace before we went to pay a visit to the nearby Belize Bird Rescue.  And who should we see also having lunch there but Nikki Buxton, who along with her husband founded BBR in 2004 with the original goal of rehabilitating captured parrots for release back into the wild.  Their work has expanded over the years to include veterinary care for injured wild birds of any species (song birds to birds of prey), permanent housing for birds that cannot be returned to the wild, hand-rearing baby parrots that were at risk of poaching for the lucrative (and illegal) wild bird trade, and support for birds that still need a little help  but can live freely.  The goal is to get as many birds back into the wild as they can.  They have an amazing facility and have built up a cadre of international and local veterinary and trained volunteers to support the massive work they do.  In fact, Nikki was dining with 3 volunteers/colleagues who had just arrived that morning and were on their way to BBR.  It was also no surprise that they were lunching at Corkers, which is owned by Nikki's daughter and gives a portion of its profit to support BBR.  Nikki's passion is parrots, especially the endangered yellow-headed parrot.  BBR's yellow-headed parrot program, which they began in 2014, has reintroduced more than 150 yellow-headed back into the wild at two sites.  You can check out this BBR website to see the work they do for the yellow-headed parrots.   

We had an all too short visit to BBR, but were able to see - hear! - lots of parrots and get some nice photos.  There was also some excitement with a happy ending!

We took a few photos of these two white-crowned parrots which get to fly free, but still need feeding support.  They were very inquisitive.  I love how they raise their white crowns when they talk to you.

Red-lored parrot.  If I remember correctly this individual is not releasable and is a permanent resident of BBR.  We see wild red-lored parrots at our place.

Quite a few yellow-headed parrots in this enclosure.  In nature, they live in flocks and this enclosure is large enough to house a small flock.   
Every day we see or hear a flock of yellow-headed parrots as they feed on papayas, mangos, craboo, and other fruit trees at our place.  Their wild presence here is due entirely to the yellow-headed parrot program of BBR.  One of their release sites at Payne's Creek National Park is only 8.5 miles from us as the parrot flies.

Now for the excitement.  As we were touring the enclosures, Jonathan noticed that 2 birds had gotten out of their own enclosure.  These are 2 huge macaws - Bella, a blue and gold macaw, and Kat, a Catalina macaw which is a hybrid between a blue and gold and a scarlet macaw.  These 2 birds, although healthy, are not releasable because they are not native to Belize.  So there was some consternation at seeing them out of their enclosure.  The visiting avian vet was talking to one of the employees about capture strategies involving nets and boxes while another employee ran to get Nikki.  Nikki arrived with a tray of peanuts and you can see the rest for yourself . . .
What an amazing display of Nikki's rapport with the macaws!  Because they trusted her, she was able to lure them into an enclosure with  very little fuss and no trauma.  They wouldn't go in just for the peanuts - they wanted Nikki!  You can see why Dennis and I are proud to support BBR; they are passionate about birds and work tirelessly to keep birds flying free.

22 January, 2022

Birding and Hiking along the Leisurely Trip to Belize City

Jonathan met us at the Dangriga Airstrip and we began birding right away. The weather seemed to be clearing up a bit, but Jonathan told us that the Hummingbird Highway was very rainy with a low ceiling of heavy clouds - not great conditions for birding in the jungle. We dallied along the shore, giving the weather a chance to clear off in the mountains.
Setting up the spotting scope.
Jonathan very kindly took some digiscope shots with my phone camera through his spotting scope.  Here is a series of a very distant great egret as it leaves it rocky perch in the sea.

The vignetting is due to the edge of scope's eye piece.  
Scoping out the birds on the sandbar.
The birds on the sandbar were not bothered at all by our presence, probably because they felt protected by the expanse of water separating us.  Lots of good birds out there.
A group of 7 or so little sanderlings, a black-bellied plover, and a laughing gull having a bath.

A royal tern (lower right) joined them, as did a couple of sandwich terns which are not in this image.

A couple of my favorite sightings of the day were a tricolor heron and a willet.  Alas, no photos.

We moved on to St. Herman's Blue Hole National Park.  Along the highway we set up the scope to see this lovely bird - a white-tailed kite.  These are digiscoped photos that Jonathan took with my phone and his scope.
Look at that fierce face!

Fluffing up against the cold dampness.
The weather was not cooperating and you can see that we struggled with visibility.  But you work with what you get in birding.
The nest of a royal flycatcher.
We heard and had glimpses of many birds at St. Herman's, but with the drizzle and low light, photos were hard to come by.  In the distance we could hear a keep-billed toucan, but didn't even manage a glimpse.  We did get good looks at several hummingbirds - a stripe-throated hermit, a wedge-tailed sabrewing, and a white-bellied emerald.  Also watched a very active lineated woodpecker on a tree just next to the hiking trail.  We hurried back to the van as the drizzle turned to actual rain and continued on our way.  After lunch in Belmopan, the weather cleared a bit, and we paid a visit to one of my favorite places in the world - Belize Bird Rescue.  That stop will get its very own post very soon, maybe tomorrow.  Then it was time to get on the George Price highway toward Belize City with a birding stop at Captain Hook's Shrimp Farm while we waiting for our "to go" shrimp dinner to be prepared.
Looking out over the shrimp ponds near dusk.
Jonathan spotted a clapper rail along the bank of the pond.
They aren't rare, but they are rarely seen.  I was thrilled to watch this bird through the scope as it preened.

We also had great looks at another tricolor heron, green heron, great and little blue herons, yellow-crowned night herons, great egrets, snowy egrets, lesser scaups, anhinga, white ibis,  These birds love their shrimp!

In all we saw or heard 62 different bird species.  And we got to our hotel in time for Becki to have her departure covid test before we ate our shrimp dinners relaxing by the hotel's pool.

21 January, 2022

Becki and I Fly to Dangriga

The day before Becki's departure back to the US, we planned a fun day that would eventually get us to Belize City before nightfall.  We arranged for Jonathan Urbina, an amazing birding guide, to meet us super early in the coastal town of Dangriga for some birding before heading north to Belize City with stops at St. Herman's Cave and Blue Hole National Park, Belize Bird Rescue, and the birder-friendly Captain Hook's Shrimp Farm.  To make our schedule, we left our place while it was still dark at 5:30AM, boating in light drizzle conditions to Placencia where we met up with Walter, my favorite taximan, who took us to the Placencia airstrip for our 7:00AM flight to Dangriga.

Still drizzling for departure.

Uh oh - we are not heading in the direction I thought we should be!  Did we get on the wrong flight?
I had a fleeting second of panic when it seemed we were heading south instead of north, but I quickly realized that we were going to make a stop at the Savannah airstrip just outside the village of Independence .

I haven't flown into the airstrip for quite a few years.
This airstrip is home to only one commercial airline - Maya- but is the base for a crop dusting enterprise.
Two of the crop dusting planes.
I'm not sure which crops they cover, but I can hear the planes zooming back forth on many mornings before it is well and truly light.

I bet the crop dusters have to be careful not to contaminate any of the numerous shrimp farms.

This is a huge banana farm near the village of Riversdale.

A couple of resorts at the north edge of the coastal village of Hopkins.

I believe this is the village of Silk Grass.  The Southern Highway cuts across the upper lefthand corner of the image.  
We arrived in Dangriga about 15 minutes late due to the weather.
Dangriga Airstrip just ahead.

A textbook perfect landing, smooth as silk.

Take heed!

Pretty landscaping at the Maya Island Air Terminal.
Jonathan arrived a few minutes after we did - he had an early start driving from the town of San Ignacio - and we were off for our day of sightseeing and birding.

20 January, 2022

Lemons in Belize

Citrus fruits are a major export of Belize and many varieties are farmed on  commercial scale for juicing, pulping, and shipping.   But, oddly enough,  not lemons.  It is very difficult to get lemons in Belize and they are a treasure to be prized when you come across them.  Imagine my pleasure in getting some lemons from Chris and Sue at White Rock Farm when we got all that lovely cheese. The lemons were small, juicy, and thin-skinned - and should be perfect for making Persian salt-preserved lemons.  Sue told me it was very easy to do and to just look up a recipe on line.  So that is what Becki and I did.

The results of our efforts - two pints of preserved lemons and some lemons to spare.

All you have to do is scrub the lemons, cut them into quarters that remain joined at the base, rub coarse salt into the cut surfaces, and cram them into canning jars so that their juice fills the space between the lemons.  No sterilizing, or heating, or cooking - just clean lemons plus salt pressed into a jar.  The hard part is waiting the 3 to 4 weeks before they are ready use in your Mediterranean and Middle Eastern recipes.

19 January, 2022

Up the Monkey River with Jason

A Monkey River tour is one of the most popular outings for nature lovers visiting Belize, and for good reason.  Dennis and I have taken a tour up the river many times, including a really fun night tour.  The standard tour is in the morning and we didn't want to join a convoy of boats, so this time we decided to take a late afternoon tour that would finish at dusk.  That was a good call - we were the only boat on the river and could look at whatever struck our fancy at a leisurely pace.  It seems the older I have gotten the less I like to be rushed.

Jason, our preferred tour guide (although all the guides are extremely competent and knowledgeable) driving Dennis, Becki, and me up the river.
The downside to a late evening tour is that the light can be a little low for zoomed photos on a phone camera.  
Great egret fishing for supper.
But sometimes you can catch the golden light.
Great egret on the left with a group of mature (white) and immature (brown) white ibises feeding in the shallows of the river.

A couple of mangrove swallow took a breather from catching mosquitoes over the river.  Yay for swallows!

Willows and cattails grow along the river banks.

This male green iguana is in its bright orange mating colors.  It is more than 3 feet long and was quite distant from the boat.

Adult bare-throated tiger heron.

Juvenile bare-throated tiger heron.
Bare-throated tiger herons are fairly common around here; we often see them at our place.  Even more often we hear them making their gutteral, growling song and barking calls.  They sound like a jungle should sound!

And these towering Ceiba trees look like a jungle river bank should look!  The seeds of these trees, also known as kapok trees, are still a source of stuffing for life vests and pillows.  These particular trees were roosting sites of large flocks of Montezuma Oropendolas, another bird that sounds like the jungle.  The light was too low for photos of these active birds, but we enjoyed watching them get settled for the night.  They have magnificently long tails edged in bright gold feathers, hence the name "oropendola" - golden tail.
Ceiba trees along the river bank at dusk.  Scenes like this bring peace to my soul.

18 January, 2022

Back to Englishtown

After two lovely yoga sessions separated by breakfast, it was time to pack up for the 2 boat trips taking us home to Englishtown.

At breakfast, we saw one of the commercial fishing boats anchored off Ray Caye.

The "mother boat" with 2 canoes. 
The 6 to 8 fishermen live on the mother boat for a week or so at a time.  Each day they go out in their little canoes to catch lobster, conch, and fish and then come home to mother for the night.  They sell their catch to restaurants such as the one at Ray Caye and to recreational/vacation boaters who sail between the cayes.  They also take their catches into Placencia to mainland restaurants.  What a tough life that must be.

After settling our bill, we had time for a fruit smoothie before boarding Our Devocean for the first leg of the trip home.
Shooting the breeze with Captain Sean on the way home.  He has had quite a few adventures on the sea!
Orington picked us up at the Wild Orchid dock in Placencia for the trip back to Englishtown.  It was coming up on dusk when we arrived with just enough time to walk the dogs before a light dinner.
Cheese board with a selection of delightful items from White Rock Farm - Chevre, Sage Derby, Chive Cheddar, Stilton, Red Leicester, Brie, and Lonzino.  Served with thin toasted slices of locally made whole wheat sourdough.  A feast!
Becki taught us the trick of cooling wine with a few frozen grapes.  
Planning ahead, I texted Dennis on our way home and asked him to please put some grapes in the freezer.  It works a treat!
Dennis and the pups were happy to have us back and we were happy to be home.  Yoga with Brice at Ray Caye had been wonderful, but best to leave before you get tired of it.
Welcome home cuddles with Clove.

17 January, 2022

Swimming with Rays, Turtles, and Nurse Sharks

Saturday saw one of us going to the sunrise yoga session before breakfast, then we both attended the other morning session.  Right after lunch, we boarded Our Devocean for the short trip to the ray, turtle, and shark snorkle site and then hopped over to the Silk Cayes.  

Our Devocean at the Ray Caye dock

Becki elected to stay on the boat and be photographer for the first stop, so I got to snorkel.  This place attracts rays and sharks because it is spot where commercial fishermen anchor to clean their catches, thus attracting stingrays and nurse sharks.  Nurse sharks are quite docile and not a threat to humans - they would much rather eat lobster heads and fish guts.  Rays can be a danger near shore if you step on their stinging tails, but that is not an issue when snorkeling.

Large nurse shark looking for food.

Here come 3 slightly smaller sharks toward the boat.
The rays were all near the floor of the sea, about 15 feet down, so there are no photos.  But I did manage to spot a couple of Southern Stingrays and one rough tailed stingray from the water.  The rough tailed ray was HUGE - at least 6 feet across.

But for me the real treat was seeing the turtles.  These were logger turtles out here.  I don't know if there are other kinds at this particular spot.  At our place, we see hawksbill turtles.  These loggerheads were pretty large.  They swim so placidly and were slow enough that it was easy to swim alongside them.  They feed on the sea grass beds in the area.  I could have stayed out there for hours, I was so entranced by them.  I kept having to check myself to be sure I wasn't swimming too far away from the boat.
One of our guides near a loggerhead turtle.
Finally, those of us in the water tore ourselves away from the sea creatures and reboarded the boat.  It was a 10 minute ride to the Silk Cayes - 3 tiny sand bars surrounded by coral beds.

One of the Silk Cayes.
This time Becki swam over to the caye while I snorkeled over the coral.  Another beautiful undersea world filled with colorful fish and both hard and soft corals.

Then it was time to go back to Ray Caye, shower off the salt, and prepare for yoga, dinner, and more yoga.

The head of this lobster may have been lunch for one of the sharks I swam with.