Friday, February 8, 2008

Belize - February 8, 2008

Day 8 began with us waking up both excited for the opportunity to hike in the rainforest and sad because our flight home left right after lunch. So, we heading out at first light. Before lunch we hit as many trails as we could. A low mist had settled in near the bridge:
Chan Chich Bridge

But the birds didn't seem to mind, including this Rufous Tailed Hummingbird:
Rufous Tailed Hummingbird

And this Green Heron:
Green Heron

We also saw a very interesting exchange between the Spider Monkeys and Howler Monkeys. The Howler Monkeys were very subdued our entire trip (unlike the ones we have seen before in Costa Rica) while the Spider Monkeys were more agressive. Well, on this day, the Spider Monkeys decided to go after some of the Howler Monkeys. There was lots of hooting and howlering, but thank goodness no blood was shed. The Spider Monkeys would swing quickly over to the Howlers, shake a bunch of branches and retreat. Obviously, some sort of territorial display. Here you can see a moving Spider Monkey displaying in front of two Howler Monkeys:


We had one final visit with our friend the crocodile before lunch:

And, one final glimpse of the great Purple Crowned Fairy:
Purple Crowned Fairy

After a few scenary shots, we said our goodbyes and headed out of the rainforest and back to the lodge.

On the Sac Be trail:
River Reflection

Jungle Foliage:
Jungle Plant

And with that, our trip was over. But, what a great trip. It far exceded our expectations and we want to thank everyone at Chan Chich for their great hospitality. This jungle lodge is highly recommended. If you are looking for luxury in the jungle with ample wildlife, it doesn't get any better than this.

When we got home, we tallied up our list of sightings which included:
- Over 100 different species of birds (Chan Chich boasts 300 species so we need to go back and look harder)
- Over a dozen species of reptiles and amphibians including crocodiles, anoles, Geckos, Basilisk lizards, toads and frogs big and small
- More insects that we could count but we were never bothered by biting insects. (Probably because we used deet).
- And best of all, we saw 11 kinds of mammals including Spider Monkeys, Howler Monkeys, Deppe's Squirrels, Collared Peccarys, Agouti, Gray Fox, White Tailed Deer, a Coati, Jaguarundi and our unforgettable time with the two Ocelots and the Northern Tamandua.

An awesome trip to an incredible place. But, we left and couldn't help thinking that we had some unfinished business at Chan Chich. Both the Puma and Jaguar eluded us. Just two of dozens of reasons to go back some day.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Belize - February 7, 2008

Day 7 began with the usual early start. But it was our last full day so there was a bit of sadness as we headed back down towards the bridge and looped back the other way along the Sac Be trail. Boy, we sure know why Chan Chich attracts so many birders. During this hour hike we saw Tanagers, Manakins, Kingfishers, Tinamou, Woodpeckers, Motmots, Trogons, and our favorite little Purple Crowned Fairy.

Summer Tanager

White Collared Manakin

Blue Crowned Motmot

Back at the lodge, I decided to take a closeup of the Oscillated Turkey feathers. They are quite pretty:
Oscillated Turkey

After Breakfast we headed out again. By this point in the trip, I was wearing out. There is no time to set up gear in the rainforest because everything moves too quickly. So, the whole week I have been hiking with the Nikon D300 and 300mm lens around my neck supported by one hand, a fully extented carbon tripod in my other hand, and a photo backpack on my back (extra lenses, lens cloths, filters, and lots of water). I don't want to kid you...I hurt. But, the adreneline caused by the spirit of adventure (and a few advil) helped a lot. The other factor was that we walked all day and never napped like others did in the heat of the day. We may rethink that approach on future rainforest trips.

Anyway, we set off again with the usual gear in tow and we hiked around until lunch time. The rainforest was alive as usual:

Purple Crowned Fairy

Red Hibiscus

Black Headed Trogon


Huge Ant

One of the great thing about the rain forest is that action happens on 3 levels. The ground litter is filled with interesting insects, amphibians, fungi, and ground mammals. The middle level is filled with song birds, butterflies, and flowers. The canopy level is filled with tree mammals, exotic birds, and many things you can't see. Action is everywhere. As mentioned before, the key is to walk, stop, look around and repeat.

Back at our cabana, I decided to go out and take some pictures of the tree full of nesting Oropendolas. This bird is really interesting because it creates hanging nests that resemble sacks and they like to swing upside down when they call. And it has quite a distinct call. And a very distinct sound when it flies.

Montezuma Oropendola

Montezuma Oropendola

Montezuma Oropendola

Today was turning into a really hot day, so after lunch we just got a guide to drive us around looking for wild cats. We saw turkey, Curasow, some crododiles and assorted birds, but no cats.

We hung pretty close to the lodge the rest of the day and took pictures close to our cabana.

Chan Chich Trail Map:
Trail Map

More jungle flowers:


Our night walk was pretty uneventful. We heard multiple Tree Frogs calling, but we could not locate them. However, the outside of our cabana was full of life when we returned. If you don't like critters, don't go to the rainforest:

Sleeping Butterfly

Unknown Moth

Wolf Spider

House Gecko

Sleeping Lizard

Big Striped Basilisk

We reluctantly went to sleep knowing that this was our last night in the jungle.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Belize - February 6, 2008

Again, no howler wake up call today. They must be sleeping in, those lazy buggers... However, we did step outside our cabana just in time to see the resident flock of Oscillated Turkeys fly down from their canopy roosts. It was quite a thrill to see a dozen or so of these big birds flying down at you. They aren't the most gracefully flyers that's for sure.

After watching the Turkeys float in, we headed off for a hike as the sun came up. One thing to remember about the rainforest is that it still doesn't get very light until the sun is well up. We walked down to the bridge and looped back to the lodge via the Loggers Trail and the Upper Plaza. This is a great loop for birding. We saw Slaty Tailed Trogons, a Great Curasow, Blue Crowned Motmots, the usual assortment of smaller songbirds and we heard the haunting Great Tinamou.

As we returned to the Upper Plaza, the sounds of the resident parrots were relentless. They were flying right above the lodge and were exceedingly vocal this morning. To get a better look, we climbed up to an overlook that gives you a great vantage point of the lodge and cabanas:
Chan Chich Cabana

All of a sudden, two of the birds swooped in to a tree not far from our location. We had a great closeup view of these pretty, but loud, Mealy Parrots:

Mealy Parrots

Mealy Parrots

As we were eating breakfast, Marvin, one of the many terrific guides, came by to see us. On one of our previous hikes with Marvin, we had talked about finding some large more exotic insects like Walking Sticks and Praying Mantis. It turns out that he found a Walking Stick in the jungle and brought it back to bush near the lodge to show us. That was very thoughtful...
Walking Stick

I guess now is a good time to mention that the service at Chan Chich is second to none and we have traveled a lot. This Walking Stick is just one example but everyone that works there is friendly and really makes you feel at home. But, they also know how to keep their distance and not badger you. All tips can be done at once when you leave and they distribute them evenly among the staff.

After breakfast, we journeyed back into the rainforest. The weather was warmer today and bordered on hot (definitely over 85 degrees). That coupled with the humidity makes for some sweaty times. But, since everyone is equally sweaty it really isn't a big deal.

As we were coming up to an intersection in the trail, we saw a small ground bird scamper down the trail to our left. So, we quietly followed him and I set the tripod down hoping for a nice picture since I thought it might be a Tinamou. However, it scampered into the undergrowth too quickly for a picture. However, my attention quickly moved to my right as I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. Out of the undergrowth came a small family of Collared Peccarys. With the tripod already set up and camera in place all I had to do was take the shot. It doesn't get much easier than that:

Collared Peccary

After the family crossed the trail, we headed down the trail in the opposite direction. We were intent on going back to the river trail to see the croc. Just as we turned off of Sylvester Rd onto the River trail, I spotted a beautiful bird in the canopy. It wasn't moving, I just happened to look in the right spot at the right time (It is tricky watching where you step and watching the canopy at the same time. The trick is to walk, stop, and look around for a few minutes and then repeat). Anyway, this Keel Billed Toucan posed really nicely for us:

Keel Billed Toucan

Keel Billed Toucan

As we watched the toucan, it was obviously looking at us. At one point, it turned it's head almost completely upside down as it looked at us. We assume that it was trying to get a better look at us by doing this. Regardless, it was interested behavior to watch:
Keel Billed Toucan

The rest of this walk was birder heaven. We saw Tinamou, Trogons, Green Kingfishers, and Pygmy Kingfisher, Crested Guan, Tanagers, Woodcreepers, Woodpeckers and more.

Purple Crowned Fairy taking a bath:
Purple Crowned Fairy

Crested Guan:
Crested Guan

Squirrel Cuckoo (which has an interesting chattery kind of call:
Squirrel Cuckoo

We did see our buddy the croc but it was being camera shy. In addtion to the birds and the croc, we also saw a Big Headed Anole which is a really striking lizard:

And a cooperative Julia Butterfly:
Julia Butterfly

Plus we had some really good photo opportunities with both Howler and Spider Monkeys:
Spider Monkey

Baby Howler

Howler Monkey

The afternoon was relatively uneventful except for the "poop episode". I will sum it up by saying that even if you pay close attention to the Howler monkeys above you, don't be surprised if a sneakly Spider Monkey quietly scampers directly over head and let's loose the bombs. Luckily, the splattering was a bit off target, but my wife got a good scare out of it anyway.

After dinner we took another solo night hike. We saw the usual spiders, frogs and toads.

Rio Grande Leapard Frog:
Rio Grande Leapard Frog

Red Rumped Tarantula:
Red Rumped Tarantula

The highlight of the walk was on the way back. We heard a rustling in canopy and searched overhead. We assumed it would be spider monkeys since we saw them in this area right before nightfall. If fact, my wife said it was just a monkey. However, we shone our lights into the canopy and saw two eyes looking back at us. From our previous night drives, I learned that only nocturnal animals have eyeshine. Since monkeys aren't nocturnal, this was no monkey. So, after my excited exclamation of "Monkeys don't have eyeshine!" I pulled out the night vision monoculars (Yes, truly a tech geek toy) and saw that we had a Kinkajou above us. The Kinkajou scamperd up some branches and out of sight pretty quickly. Unfortunately, we had technical difficulties with the recording device hooked to the monoculars and weren't able to record this experience, but I have it etched in my memory.

We arrived back at our cabana to find that one of the workers, Emil, had been looking for us. After almost a week at Chan Chich, we had become friendly with many of the workers and they know that we wanted to see cats. Well, Emil had an Ocelot that would frequent his backyard looking for chicken scraps that he would occasionally throw out there. Apparently, the Ocelot was there and Emil came to get us. He drove us down to the village and we got out and hustled into a small building to the back door. He turned on the back lights to reveal this...

Two Ocelots, mother and baby:


I took a few pictures and then put the camera down to better enjoy the moment. The cats would dart in from the forest eat a piece of chicken and then dart back. There was a bit of snarling but what I will remember most is the wildness of them. It was their eyes, their movement, their sounds. Pure wild. It was awesome!

Well, we finally had our encounter with wild cats and we loved every minute of it. I doubt we slept much that night because we were still talking about it the next morning.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Belize - February 5, 2008

No howler wake up call today, but the jungle noises still had us up at 5:40AM. So, we headed out again hoping our mammal luck would change. And it did. As we climbed a small hill, I saw movement in the canopy. Typically, during the day we only saw monkeys in the canopy, but this animal moved slower, didn't swing and stuck to the thick branches. Once we got up higher we found some gaps in the canopy that allowed us great viewing of a Northern Tamandua. The Tamandua is a tree dwelling anteater. What a thrill! We spent over 1/2 hour watching the Tamandua before it journeyed out of sight.

Northern Tamandua

Northern Tamandua

In the same area we also spotted our first Motmot. This is a Blue Crowned Mot Mot and is an incredible beautiful bird with a cool call:

Blue Crowned Motmot

After Breakfast, we did more hiking. This time through some of the thicker jungle trails. We saw a Squirrel Cuckoo, Sun Grebe, Trogons and other birds. As usual, the insects were out in force:

Army Ants

Here's a look at a typical jungle trail:
Jungle Trail

And, a typical critter along the trail:
Striped Basilisk

The afternoon's entertainment consisted of a drive out to the Escarpment. This is a high overlook about an hour's drive away. It is a great place to see raptors. But, our mission was to get out on the roads to see if any felines were being cooperative. Only a few miles down the road, we had our first possible feline sighting. A dark animal loped (almost weasel like) across the road ahead of us. It happened so fast we only saw it for a second or two. The guide was positive it was a Jaguarundi so we will take him at his word. But, it was too bad that we weren't closer or had more time to positively id the animal. But still...very exciting. We also saw a Coati cross the road. These are more easily identifed due to their long tails. Here are some shots from our trip to the Escarpment.

Juvenile Little Blue Heron:
Little Blue Heron

White Whiskered Puffbirds:
Puff birds

Pale Billed Woodpecker:
Pale Billed Woodpecker

View from the Escarpment:
The Escarpment

After dinner, we headed out solo for another nightwalk. Instead of taking the paved main road however, we decided to walk down the gravel Sylvester Rd. This road has had many feline sightings. The narrower confines of this road coupled with the thick overhang made this walk pretty erie. The echoing calls of Howlers didn't help alleviate the tension. My wife wasn't too thrilled with this particular walk because we had to really watch where we stepped which took our attention away from the trees and canopy. (You don't want to step on something alive in the rainforest!) So, we decided to sit and wait a while to see if anything came up the trail. After a 1/2 hour or so we gave up and turned around. So, besides hearing the Howlers and seeing the usual glowing eyes of hundreds of wolf spiders, the only new sighting was this cool Whip Scorpion:
Whip Scorpion

So, we headed to bed and dreamed of wild cat sightings....