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Belize bird trip report

2018-11-15 - 7:26 a.m.


Wednesday, Nov. 7

Early morning flight MSY-MIA. First class, of course. I expected them to look harder at my new passport, but nobody cared, & I was through security in less than 5 minutes. Pre-departure Bailey's and coffee, and wheeee, the vacation is officially underway. In MIA, I found out I had a free pass into the Flagship Lounge. I decided it was too early to explore the open bar,, but I did try some salad and some mini cheesecakes for lunch. Alas, the gate was not where I thought it was, and I ended up in a panic jog to find my plane, which was already boarding when I got there. The guy ahead of me was holding up the whole show because he didn't have his passport. Turns out he thought he was boarding a plane to Newark. Mmm-kay, buddy.

Onboard was maybe another inflight Bailey's or two. Hot nuts, a cheese plate, and I was on the ground in Belize City by two o'clock.

My guide was waiting, and we headed north for Crooked Tree. First we stopped at a sort of puddle near the airport where we saw Morelet's crocodile & our first birds of the trip, including the very first bird, the ever-popular Great Egret. Not too far down the road we had to stop again to chase a downed Royal Tern out of the street.

Eventually, we got into the Crooked Tree area, and then the lifers as well as the warblers & the orioles got going for realz. Yucatan Jay, Mangrove Vireo, and White-fronted (Amazon) parrot were great life birds. Old friends included a beautiful perched and then flying Crane Hawk, and an excessively whiny, crying, juvenile Roadside Hawk that tore your heart out with its grief over no parent coming to put food in its beak...

I'd made a list the day before the trip of all the potential lifers available in Belize. The guide looked over the list at dinner and handed it back, which became more amazing later on, when I realized he remembered the entire list from then on out. A good memory is a good thing to have when you're a birder, but he was really phenomenal.

Thursday, Nov. 8

We spent the day hiking in search of birds, of which there were many from the moment I stumbled out of my room. A tree forever full of orioles, another full of warblers and rufous-tailed hummingbirds. Limpkin and friends along the shores of the lagoon. And everywhere, on every perch and fence, a male Vermilion Flycatcher to survey the scene...

Among the many lifers were the impressive Russet-naped Wood-rail, the Yucatan Woodpecker, Spot-breasted Wren, and cheerful Rufous-breasted Spinetail.

Unfortunately, the night tour road was washed out-- the down side of having the whole resort to myself because I was the first tourist of the season after the rains stopped...

Friday, Nov. 9

Sunrise is impressive here at Crooked Tree lagoon... This looks so good on my infinity screen that it is now my phone's new lock screen.

Crooked Tree sunrise

It was boat trip morning. Water was still high-- I'm told the majority of birds gather in the dry season-- but we found a Sungrebe (hiding in the shadows of a tree), Boat-billed Herons, and two beautiful pairs of Black-collared Hawks. I fell in love with a trio of beautiful White-necked Puffbirds. One of them sat a little apart to feast on a moth it had caught, but then they gathered together in the same tree. A pair and an interloper? A mini-flock? Who knows, but they were as cute as three little buttons.

Heading out, we stopped at the secret place near the zoo, which was hot even in the shade but which produced a few lucky birds...and then it was time to journey onward to Crystal Paradise. As I settled in, I took a stroll down the cobble stone path to the river, encountering birds as diverse as a male painted bunting splashing happily in a puddle and a collared aracari skulking a bit in the branches. Oh, and I got super-close to a blue-winged warbler.

Although I was the only guest, I gather they meant overnight guest. When I got back to the verandah, I first encountered the local fox, and soon thereafter was joined by a couple having a drink while enjoying the view. You had any choice of drink you wanted as long as it was coconut rum. So, what the hey... I too ordered a coconut rum on the rocks.

Saturday, Nov. 10

Birded along the way to Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve. At the time, it seemed best, since we'd be scanning for raptors, and there was no use arriving too early. Also, we were having great luck getting a variety of small bird species. However, Slate Creek Canyon itself was a slightly frustrating experience-- no Ornate Hawk-Eagle or Lovely Cotinga. However, we did get a good look at a White Hawk and many terrific views of flying and perched King Vultures, both younger birds and full adults. A good-looking bird!

A call from the 1,000 Foot Falls let us know the Orange-breasted Falcon was around. Alas, the bratty falcon in question had already departed by the time we got there. Nice scenery, but this particular area wasn't birdy at all at this time of day, although it was still a good picnic spot because of the falls... and of course the picnic table!

Back at Crystal Paradise, for another stroll around the grounds, where I encountered a rather mysterious trail to learn the trees. Here is one of the first:

horseballs tree

A lil while later I come upon this:

dogballs tree

Needless to say, by then I was becoming suspicious that these were perhaps not the true name of these trees. And then I came to this sign...

purple anal tree

They're just effin' with the tourists, aren't they?

In the bathing puddle used by the painted bunting, a flock of wood thrushes splashed and bathed.

Sunday, Nov. 11

We tried to head for the 1000 foot falls first thing in the morning, but this time the orange-breasted falcon supposedly came out around 6:30 AM and then slipped away never to be seen again. Arghhhhh. Oh, well, can't win 'em all.

During siesta, I sipped another glass of coconut rum over ice and watched the Saints game on twitter. The other team failed to show up for the occasion, and the score was Saints 51- Bengals 14. Low stress.

1000 foot falls

Monday, Nov. 12

The only super-early day, since we left at 4:30 AM for Caracol. We wanted to stop at the Scarlet Macaw bridge to see the macaws fly over, as well as the famous Ocellated Turkeys. The location is near the border with Guatemala, and it turned out there was some kind of training exercise going on, i. e. soldiers marching around and firing off guns and driving around in jeeps as a show of "Guatemala, don't even think about invading us," and the big birds probably weren't real cool with this activity, since there were no macaws, turkeys, or currasows to be seen. However, the day was far from a loss, as smaller and often much more challenging species were hitting thick and fast-- everything from Tody Motmot to Rufous Piha to Green Shrike Vireo. At one point, I saw at least four life birds in ten minutes, and these weren't quick glimpses... they were great prolonged views, some of them really close. And even the yellow-bellied tyrannulet and green shrike-vireo up in the canopy were allowing themselves to be well seen...This was the day when I became confident I would hit my goal of finally adding 2000 species to my bird life list. I started keeping a list in 1998, so it took 20 years, but what a 20 years!

Also, we also visited the actual archeological site with the guide's buddy, an expert on archeology, who gave me a personal tour of the place. I even had the big pyramid to myself to hike on, although later in the day some other tourists came shambling in... But you can see the picture of me and the archeological guide in the top photo. The place was freakin' huge! Oh, and a cute moment came when we both spotted a Bat Falcon flying around to check us out.

Tuesday, Nov. 13

Time to head out from Crystal Paradise. We went first to Blue Hole National Park (not the diving park, an Audubon birding spot with a small blue pool in it that is almost spookily blue). It was another fantastic place for forest birds, with lifers and old friends coming thick and fast. Also, a six foot long green vine snake came almost right up to the platform, in fact, it was so close I failed to get a good focus on the photo...

Then we took the water taxi to Caye Caulker, by which time it was late enough in the afternoon to stroll the strip (called the split) and sample a frozen margarita on the beach.

Wednesday, Nov. 14

There was a huge rainstorm at dawn, which delayed the morning bird walk. It may have worked out for the best, since I could tell the guide was pleasantly surprised by the number of Black Catbirds (many noticeably wet) hanging out. Other good lifers include an eye-level Yucatan vireo and a skulking Rufous-necked Wood-rail.

At mid-day, I went out on the snorkeling tour. We first made a stop to feed the tarpon, and my tarpon was a clumsy beast who bopped my shoulder as he grabbed for his sardine. Thump! Next, we went snorkeling in Coral Gardens. I thought it would take me longer to remember how to do it, but it really didn't take too long, and soon I was swimming around inspecting all kinds of colorful fishes. Oh, and I was wearing some kind of fancy Land's End long-sleeved swim outfit that keeps off the sun, which meant I didn't get chilled or have to worry about a ton of sunscreen washing off. After Coral Gardens, we went to an area where we could swim with the sting rays and the sharks. Also... the brown boobies & the immature frigatebirds scuffling overhead to encourage the boat guide to toss them a few goodies too.

The marine park rules say you should not pet the wildlife but the sting rays don't know the rules and a couple of them seemed to get a cheap thrill from swimming under my feet. Maybe they get a cheap thrill from goosing the tourists? On the way back, three of us got a chance for a final fifteen-minute snorkeling session to say our last farewell to all the colorful fishies...Well, I suppose all six of the people on the snorkeling tour had the chance, but only three of us took advantage of it. The other three was probably already pretty tired.

In the heat of the afternoon, I sipped a frozen margarita by the pool while I worked on my bird list. The final dinner was a blackened snapper in an open air restaurant, oh, and a second margarita.

Thursday, Nov. 15

It was a very windy morning, so I focused on packing and eating some healthy bananas for breakfast. We were going to take the 10:30 water taxi but the concern about weather caused us to take the earlier one, just in case the sea got too rough later. On the Belize side, we had extra time to check out the shrimp ponds, where we added a few random birds like Black-necked Stilt and also got a better look at Common Black-Hawk (on the road) and also some great light on some flying Lesser Yellow-headed Vultures. There was no real reason to get to the airport three hours early, other than, we were already there + American Airlines put it on my calendar, but I got in place in the fullness of time and read my book and eventually got the plane to MIA. More Bailey's. I don't think I drank anything on a plane this time except Bailey's. More hot nuts. A so-called protein (turkey & hard-boiled egg) plate.

I had a long layover in MIA, so I again visited the Flagship Lounge, only it was more of an hour to explore the open bar. I made a whiskey sour with Johnny Walker Black, and later made a sort of white Russia with Kahlua, some fancy white rum, half and half, and a sugar stick and maraschino cherries. Also I tried their chardonnay. Oh, yeah, and there was food too-- ceviche, some kind of lady operating a fried potato bar, fancy salads & cookies...

The plane was delayed and my driver kept texting to find out if there was going to be a plane at all because snowstorms in Philadelphia. They told her my flight was delayed three hours, it was more like 35 minutes, and I actually ended up rushing to the gate again. Turns out they were holding the plane for a flight from Philadelphia, and once it arrived, we were off. More Bailey's. Listening to some Jason Molina while I pondered the meaning of it all... and then, finally, a driver to whisk me home & to bed.

rufous tailed jacamar blue hole national park belize

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