Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Chan Chich, Belize August 1st, 2010

After three trips to the rain forest (two to Costa Rica and one to Belize), we couldn't wait to return to the wonderful sights and sounds that the jungle brings. All three previous trips were in the so called "dry" season. So, this time, we decided to try the "wet" season. A little research seemed to show that for a few weeks in July and August there is a mini dry season. So, we took a chance and booked our trip to Chan Chich lodge in Belize for the 1st week of August. We expected more rain, but we also hoped for different wildlife than our previous Chan Chich visit. We got both...

We have certainly become creatures of habit when it comes to this Central American travel. We take the same red-eye Continental flight to Houston (on which we can never sleep), have breakfast at the same diner in the Houston airport (where we are typically almost too tired to eat), arrive in country by mid-morning (in a zombie like trance), take a small plane to our lodge (operating on fumes now...) and arrive for lunch and a welcome drink (Once arriving in paradise the excitement wakes us up immediately). It works great, so why mess with it I say. The only highlight from our inbound travel was seeing Thierry Henry (world famous soccer player) in the Houston airport.

We arrived at Chan Chich, hungry, thirsty and tired. After lunch and a afternoon rain shower, we took off exploring the grounds of Chan Chich. Chan Chich has incredible wildlife from exotic birds, to pre-historic looking lizards, to colorful butterflies. But, we came here again for the opportunity to see one of five wild cats;margay, jaguarundi, ocelot, puma and jaguar.

Unfortunately, the first critters that we encountered on our hike were the mosquitoes and blackflies. While virtually non-existent in the dry season, they were veracious while we were there. The staff said it was the worst they had ever seen it. But, we weren't going to let a few bugs and a little blood loss ruin our trip.

The afternoon exploring turned up many of the expected Chan Chich regulars including the Oscillated Turkey we lovingly refer to as the "prettiest ugly bird we have ever seen):

Our only mammal sighting was a brief glimpse of an agouti. However, birds were plentiful in the afternoon including this Rufous-tailed Hummingbird that "owned" the feeder at our cabana:

After dinner, our excitement levels were still high so we decided to head out for a night hike. Typically, the nights are alive in the rain forest and tonight was pretty good. We ended up seeing tons of toads, geckos, tarantulas, and our first Chan Chich snake which was a Cat-eyed Snake about 18 inches long. It slithered under a storage bin before I could get a good picture.

House Gecko on our screen:

??? Toad:

The absolute highlight of the day was spotting a kinkajou up in a tree during our night walk. Using our flashlights to look for eyeshine we spotted this one hanging out in a tree mid way up the canopy. Here's a quick night vision video that gives a pretty good look at this interesting animal. Since we really hadn't slept in over 36 hours, we decided to hit the sack and end our first day at Chan Chich.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Chan Chich, Belize August 2nd, 2010

After a solid seven hours sleep, we were up at 5:15AM and out exploring less than an hour later. We headed down the main road and circled back via the Sac Be trail. We had another agouti sighting and many birds including Olive-throated parakeets, Fiery-billed Aracari, and Great Curassow. However, the only one that cooperated for pictures was this Little Hermit:

At breakfast, we had great views of the humming birds zipping around the garden sipping nectar and of the butterflies floating from blossom to blossom. That, coupled with the chorus of birds, solidified that we were really back in the rain forest. We even had some Crested Guans fluttered in and landing on the roof of the lodge. But, they quickly moved out of sight.

After breakfast we decided to hike Sylvestor Road which is traditionally one of the best places to see cats (and really not much of a road). While we struck out on cats, we had our first good Spider Monkey sighting along with a Lesser Scaly Anole:

A few minutes later, we topped that. Out of the corner of my eye, there was sudden movement along the road....SNAKE! But, this was no ordinary Snake sighting. This was a Speckled Racer that we caught during lunch. Poor toad never had a chance (See the brown and black toad legs):

Speckled Racer Having Toad for Lunch

The excitement of the snake had barely dissipated when a beautiful Banded Owl Butterfly flew by and landed on a nearby tree:

These butterflies are magnificent since they are so colorful and about as big as my hand. But, it wasn't until I got home that I noticed it was more than one butterfly. It is actually two butterflies who are presumably making a new generation of Banded Owl Butterflies.

A bit further down the road a colorful bug flew by and landed on a nearby leaf. I have no idea what this is, but it is pretty:

On the way back, we stopped where the Speckled Racer was having lunch to see if it might still be around. It was still around which gave us a better chance to see this really pretty snake:

With lunch came some of the closest lighting and loudest thunder I have ever heard. It was quite the lunch time show. Unfortunately, with it came monsoon like rain that quickly created huge puddles and mud everywhere. Luckily, the wildlife decided to come to us including this troop of Black Howler Monkeys that came to feed in a tree not 50 yards from our cabana:

Even a Gray Cracker Butterfly and a Central American Mabuya (a type of skink) came close to say hello:

Due to the iffy weather, we decided to take a drive in the afternoon for awhile to see if any cats were venturing close to the road. No cats unfortunately, but we did see lots of turkeys, more Great Curassow, and many..many..White-tailed Deer. The Puma sure have no shortage of food supply.

The rest of the afternoon was pretty uneventful. We spent most if it like this...
Looking for Critters

we didn't have much luck.

After dinner, we set off on a quick night walk since we had organized a night drive with the guides later. Our walk yielded the biggest snail we had ever seen (about 4 inches long), a great look at the Red Rump Tarantula that lived near our cabana, a Turnip-tailed Gecko, and a gorgeous but brief look at a juvenile Yucatan Banded Gecko:

While the night drive yielded no pictures, it was exciting. I had a brief glimpse of a Gray Fox before it darted into the undergrowth. More excitement came later as we were driving near the coffee plantation. All of us could see eyeshine ahead as something walked across the road, but it was too far for a clear look. As we got closer, the spotter (the guide manning the spotlight) banged on the roof for the driver to stop. From the angle of the front seat, neither the driver nor myself could see anything. But, in the back seat, Karen was more in line with the spot light and was able to clearly see the outline of a cat. But, that was the best look that any of us got. The spotter was 100% sure that it was an ocelot. One of the cats that is basically nocturnal but is seldom spotted on a night drive (We were lucky enough to see an adult and juvenile ocelot during our last Chan Chich visit which is when I took these pictures):

Wild Ocelot Cub, Belize

Despite the lack of a great look, it was exciting to see a cat. Plus, it was a great way to end our first full day.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Chan Chich, Belize August 3rd, 2010

It's a good thing that we had a full day yesterday because today was a near bust. It rained all night long but seemed to stop around dawn so we got up and went exploring by 6AM. Boy, there sure was a lot of mud. Good thing we borrowed some rubber boots that the lodge had. They didn't fit either of us particularly well, but for a few hours at a time they sure kept our feet dry.

We hiked the trails around the back plaza and upper plaza but not much was out. We did see more Fiery-billed Aracari and heard some Spider Monkeys. So, since the wildlife wasn't out I took some pictures of the local flora instead:

I did get one bird picture but we haven't positively identified this one yet:

We had signed up for a trip to Laguna Seca after breakfast so we didn't have much pre-breakfast time. Laguna Seca is a medium sized lake nearby that tends to have some water fowl that isn't seen around the lodge. Plus, it would give us a chance to get out on the roads again to look for cats.

After breakfast we headed out with Marvin (one of the guides). About 15 minutes into the drive the heavens opened up and let loose. It only took about 5 minutes for the road to be covered with water. About a half hour later when we arrived at Laguna Seca it was barely raining. So, we got our gear and headed out with Marvin. However, about 10 minutes into our walk the rain came again. We waited for about 20 minutes under some palm trees but it didn't let up. We decided to head back to the car to wait it out. So, we waited....and waited. After another half hour, we gave up and Marvin started the car to head back home. At this point, I should probably share that we were parked at an incline in a grassy area. We would need to head up and over the incline to get to the main road. Unfortunately, the rain had turned the whole area into mud and our little two wheel drive truck just sat and spun. Eventually, Marvin and I got out to push as Karen manned the wheel. She did a great job considering she hadn't driven stick in 25 years. We actually got about 20 yards before the hill was just too angled to go any further. We were stuck. Marvin radioed the lodge and about 20 minutes later the Manager came with the big truck and pulled us out.

With Laguna Seca a bust, Marvin drove us around the area for a while looking for anything that we could see. It was during this drive that we got our only good looks at the beautiful Keel-billed Toucans:

We also got more looks at the many rafters of turkeys (Yes, I had to look up what a group of turkeys was called). Most of these groups had polts with them. This group had polts of different ages and you can see that some don't even have their blue heads yet:

I would probably consider the whole outing a huge bust if it weren't for what we saw next. As we were driving down the road to the lodge a beautiful green snake was in the road. We have always wanted to see one of the bright green snakes that call the rain forest home and here was our first chance. This particular snake was a six foot long Green Tree Snake and it was stunning:

That one sighting made the day.

We arrived back at the lodge to more rain. In fact, it pretty much rained the rest of the day. Not wanting to get stuck inside, we decided to rent the golf cart that Chan Chich has. It is covered and we could get out on the main road to look for critters and stay relatively dry. This worked out nicely since we were able to go slow enough to see any wildlife around yet fast enough to stay a few feet ahead of the bugs chasing us. No, the rain didn't deter the mosquitoes.

We stopped at the suspension bridge to see if we could find the Becards that had built a nest but they were no where to be found. So, I took a picture of the nest:

Besides seeing some sort of rat hop across the road, our golf cart outing was pretty uneventful. We did have a good photo op of this Gulf Coast Toad and I can now say that I have driven a golf cart in a foreign country:

After dinner, the rain had stopped so we went out for another night walk. The heavy rains during the day did bring out a lot of interesting critters:

Mexican Tree Frog:

Mexican Salamander:

Praying Mantis:

Large Gulf Coast Toad:

Cat-eyed Snake:

Red-eyed Tree Frog:

And, this huge colorful moth that had to be 5 or 6 inches from wing tip to wing tip:

Between the fantastic look at the Green Tree Snake and the many critters we saw on our night walk, we still considered it a good day despite the weather. Hopefully, the rest of the week won't be this wet though.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Chan Chich, Belize August 4th, 2010

Once again it rained during the night. For a while I laid awake wondering if the rest of the trip would be washed out. Had we been naive to think that the rain would be relatively predictable during the wet season?

As it turns out, I didn't need to worry. By the time we were out of bed, the rain had stopped. In fact, the whole day was sunny and relatively cool for the rainforest (probably mid 80s).

For our pre-breakfast trek today, we headed back to Sylvestor Road. This road and the main road were really the only areas that weren't super wet and muddy as you can see by this photo:

Flooded Trail

Here is a shot of Sylvestor Road (the wettest section):

Outside of this Banded Owl Butterfly and yet another Gulf Coast Toad, there weren't too many photo ops:

We did manage to see a Smoky-brown Woodpecker which was a new sighting for us. Plus, back at the cabana, I had a few minutes to take some butterfly and flower pictures:

After breakfast, we did a big loop. We went out the main road and back via the Logger's Trail and Temple Loop. We saw lots of birds during this hike including Pale-billed Woodpeckers and Black-headed Trogons. Here are some shots from that hike:

Yellow-throated Euphonia:

Unknown bird that we are still trying to identify:

The Logger's Trail:

And, a new snake for us. This juvenile Indigo Snake was just laying in the middle of the trail. Good thing I always watch my step. While this snake was only about 2 feet long they can be as large as 10 feet long:

Some sort of fungus:

Tired of toad shots yet?

After yet another great Chan Chich meal, we headed out around that lodge and ended up at Sylvestor Road again. The rain from the day before really made all the colors seem brighter in the sun today:

Barred Whiptail (notice the great colors):



Here's something that we never expected to find while hiking in the rainforest....a turtle. It's a White-lipped Mud Turtle:

Another colorful Butterfly:

And finally, our resident Rufous-tailed Hummingbird. Yet one more example of wildlife taunting me by sticking it's tongue out at me. From elk, to monkeys, to coyotes, I have lots of wildlife tongue photos.

After dinner, we had another eventful night walk. This time we only walked the stone paths around the lodge.

Schmidt's Black-striped Snake. Too bad this snake was really shy and slithered quickly into the undergrowth:

Yet another huge insect. This grasshopper was around 4 inches long:

Red Rump Tarantula:

A scorpion on the deck of our cabana:

The same scorpion but under ultraviolet light. The glowing is caused by fluorescent chemicals in the scorpion's exoskeleton:

A 3 inch millipede:

And, finally the lit up Chan Chich welcome sign:

We also saw 2 more cat-eyed snakes, a Paraque (a night hawk), more toads (of course), and another praying mantis.

And so ends another successful day of hiking, photography, and critter watching in the rainforest.