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.

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