Belize: This Place Is Crazy

Now that everyone has arrived, the main event started up officially this evening with a welcome and a pleasant dinner together here at Birds Eye View. But we early arrivals took full advantage of the day, starting with an early morning walk that took us a good eighth of a mile out the entrance road—the birding was too good for us to cover any more distance.

The highlights were many, including great views of white-fronted and yellow-headed parrots, that latter a seasonal visitor to the immediate area that waits for the cashews to fruit each spring. We also enjoyed a female green-breasted mango feeding young at a nest, rose-throated becards at startlingly close range, nice views of a bat falcon and lineated woodpeckers. . . .

You get the idea.

Entertainment over breakfast was provided by palm and yellow-throated warblers and a ringed kingfisher perched just outside the dining room. It was growing warm by then, but I set out on the nearby Limpkin Trail, a short path through wet woods with ten parulid species, unusually visible spot-breasted wrens, a russet-naped wood rail, barred antshrike, and on and on. With so many birds, I figured I had walked a great distance over those two and a half hours, but when I turned around so as not to miss lunch at the lodge, I found that I was no more than a briskish five minutes out.

The heat and humidity were sensible after lunch, but still bearable. More warblers in the little campground included a northern parula, and Kathy and Robert appeared just as my first lifer of the visit did, a splendid little Yucatan woodpecker. Two different groups of soaring birds continued to provide excitement: black vultures formed and re-formed flocks of up to 80 birds at a time, and gray-breasted martins made us laugh every time as they plunged into the water to bathe and then shook themselves in the air like so many flighted dogs. Always something to enjoy!

And tomorrow should be even finer. We’ll start with another quick walk, then breakfast, then out on the boats to see what we may see.


Crooked Tree and Birds Eye View Lodge

Right on the shores of Crooked Tree Lagoon, Birds Eye View will be our comfortable home base for the next couple of days. Toni and I arrived mid-afternoon, leaving us time for a little birding before the rest of our group arrives, and it has been well worth it. Among our highlights so far: the black-collared hawk that flapped in to land just a few yards away, and several lesser yellow-headed vultures skimming the low treetops in search of carrion. And of course, the dapper little Morelet seedeater, a bird that if it isn’t everyone’s favorite should be.

Birding starts up in earnest tomorrow morning. Can’t wait!


A Gadwall Blonde

In my experience, the handsome gadwall is not a species given to much variation or aberration in color. This hen’s patchy white head and face was obviously no deterrent to her suitor.


Histrionic Ducks

At Barnegat Light, on our Montclair Bird Club visit February 26. There are few places on the US east coast where harlequin ducks can be found so easily.

And much the same goes for another haunter of wintertime jetties, the sweet little Ipswich sparrow.

I am nearly tempted to rotate this photo 90 degrees, but this is really what they look like, scaling the granite blocks and picking through the seaweed in search of prey.

Just a few weeks left this year for both these species in the state, so get out before it’s too late!



Noisy and colorful, the eastern towhee appears to have been a well-known bird to early European settlers in North America. Indeed, this big and conspicuous sparrow was the subject of one of the first bird paintings ever made by a European naturalist on this continent.

The caption to this copy of John White’s sixteenth-century watercolor reminds us just how many folk names, and in how many languages, this bird has had over the centuries. I was reminded of another one this morning—one that I believe is attested in the writings of only one ornithologist.

In his manuscript list of the birds of Point Breeze, Charles Lucien Bonaparte calls the towhee “chitterwing.” On his return to Italy in 1827, he used the same name in the Specchio comparative, and it occurs again in the German-language reprint of that work in the 1834 volume of the Isis von Oken. In each instance, “chitterwing” is the only English name assigned the species.

It is very rare that a vernacular bird name turns out to be genuinely hapax in the ornithological corpus, but I think that this one is. Or have you run across it elsewhere? And if you have, what do you think its origin is?