Ferruginous Pygmy Owl
Ferruginous Pygmy Owl – this was my favorite of the whole day – photo by Cayo Birders Club

Last spring my BFF Kathe and I spent 5 days in Cayo, aka “cottage country” in Western Belize. We stayed in a cute cottage at Windy Hill Resort and took day trips out of there.

One of the things on my bucket list was to hire a private birding guide in Belize so that I could broaden my knowledge of Belize birds. Elmer, the manager of Windy Hill, set us up with David Hernandez… what a great tip that was!

David is a dedicated birder, and has set up an excellent Facebook page called the Cayo Birders Club. He took us to three different locations, all near San Ignacio. We spent about 4 hours with him that morning. Mostly he identified birds by sound. We started out on the grounds of Windy Hill, and then moved on to up behind Cahal Pech ruin, then to the confluence of the Macal and Mopan Rivers, and finished up under the Hawksworth Bridge on the banks of the Belize River.

While behind Cahal Pech he also showed us some unrestored ruins that no one but locals know about. We saw a stelae from 300 BC and pottery sherds all over the place. We also heard howler monkeys in the distance. What a morning! You can contact David directly: hernadav2219@yahoo.com. Here is the list of all of the birds that we saw that day.

Spotted Sandpiper
Linneated Woodpecker
American Redstart
Golden-Fronted Woodpecker
White-Fronted Parrot
Great-Tailed Grackle
Social Flycatcher
Ferruginous Pygmy Owl
Yello-Tailed Oriole
Clay Colored Thrush
Great Kiskadee
Plain Chachalaca
Green Jay
Magnolia Warbler
Gray Catbird
Rose-Breasted Grosbeak
Yellow-Throated Vireo
Turkey Vulture
Red-Billed Pigeon
Indigo Bunting
Mashed Tityra
Sulphur-Bellied Flycatcher
White Collared Seed Eater
Blue-Gray Tanager
Baltimore Oriole
Rufus Tailed Hummingbird
Keel-Billed Toucan
Female Summer Tanager
Green Kingfisher
Cerulean Warbler
Amazon Kingfisher

The Wildlife Conservation Society, owners of nearby Middle Caye and the Glover’s Reef Research Station has just published a new on-line Picture Guide to the Organisms of Glover’s Reef Atoll. They are posted on the Glover’s Reef Marine Reserve web site and can be downloaded free and used by anyone.

These are designed to assist interested individuals in quick recognition of organisms they may encounter on the islands and in the waters of Glover’s Reef Atoll. Guides have been completed for land plants, sea grasses, land crabs, birds, reptiles, marine mammals and stony corals. Under development are guides to octocorals, fishes and other marine species groups.

Also available is a List of Species known to occur at Glover’s Reef Atoll.

We have a birding register in our dining hall. Sometimes months go by and no one enters anything in it, but we have quite an impressive record going back to 1999. Last week I made a cumulative list and found we have collectively seen 82 species on this little island.

The complete list:

American Redstart, Anhinga, Baltimore Oriole, Barn Swallow, Bay Breasted Warbler, Belted Kingfisher, Black And White Warbler, Black Bellied Plover, Black Catbird, Black Crowned Night Heron, Black Neck Stilt, Black Throated Green Warbler, Blue Grosbeak, Blue Winged Warbler, Boat Billed Heron, Brown Booby, Brown Pelican, Canada Warbler, Caspian Tern, Cattle Egret, Cedar Waxwing, Cliff Swallow, Common Grackle, Common Nighthawk, Common Yellow Throat, Double Crested Cormorant, Eastern Kingbird, Eastern Wood Pewee, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Great Tailed Grackle, Green Breasted Mango, Green Heron, Grey Catbird, Groove Billed Ani, Hooded Warbler, Indigo Bunting, Least Flycatcher, Lesser Nighthawk, Little Blue Heron, Magnificent Frigatebird, Magnificent Hummingbird, Magnolia Warbler, Mangrove Swallow, Mangrove Warbler, Northern Perula, Northern Waterthrush, Olivaceous Cormorant, Orchard Oriole, Osprey, Ovenbird, Palm Warbler, Palm Warbler, Pectoral Sandpiper, Peregrine Falcon, Prairie Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Rose Breasted Grosbeak, Royal Tern, Ruby Throated Hummingbird, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling, Scarlet Tanager, Snowy Egret, Solitary Vireo, Spotted Sandpiper, Summer Tanager, Swainson’s Warbler, Tri-Colored Heron, Tropical Mockingbird, Veery, Virginia Warbler, White Crowned Pigeon, White Fronted Pidgeon, Willet, Yellow Bellied Elenia, Yellow Bellied Sapsucker, Yellow Billed Cuckoo, Yellow Crowned Night Heron, Yellow Rumped Warbler, Yellow Throated Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Yucatan Vireo.

(Click on each photo to see the full image)

Belize frigate birdFound throughout the Caribbean, the ubiquitous Frigate Bird is no stranger to Long Caye. One can see them everyday without fail, soaring above the island on updrafts created when the trade winds hit the island. They are aerodynamic birds, the best fliers of any local birds we see, with their distinctive swept back, long narrow wings. Frigates are so good at soaring that we seldom ever see them take a wing beat. They seemingly can float forever and soar on the smallest updrafts of wind.

We seldom, if ever, see Frigate Birds land or roost on our island. We know of several rookeries inside the barrier reef where they nest, but we don’t know if they actually return there each night. It still is a mystery to us where our ‘flock’ of frigates spend the night.

Frigate Bird at Glovers Reef

Frigate Birds are also known as ‘Man of War’ birds, both names having been derived from mariners in the early days of sailing ships. The names come from the habits of the birds, who attack (like the old, fast frigate class of sailing ships, and man of war ships) and steal food from other sea birds. Frigates are so adept at flight that they swoop down on other birds whom they see catching fish, and through attacks and harassment the other birds eventually disgorge and drop their freshly caught fish, which the Frigates then scoop up.

Birding in Belize, frigate birds

We see Frigates attack gulls, terns, pelicans, and even the ospreys, although the ospreys hold their own since they are quite heavily ‘armed’ themselves. So, bird life on the island is never boring as we watch the drama unfold daily with the Frigate Birds holding all the others under their control. We also can watch the up close Frigates when scoop up some of our compost leftovers from meal prep, such as chicken parts, which we toss over our seawall.

If you wish to do some Belize birding, travel to Belize this winter! The birding is best during the month of April!