Friday, December 30, 2011

Christmas Count Turkey

With the 112th Christmas Bird Count underway across the Americas, and the Gallon Jug 21st Christmas Bird Count coming up this weekend, I thought this bird would be an appropriate subject.  It is, of course, the Ocellated Turkey (Meleagris ocellata).  This colorful species has become something of an icon at Chan Chich Lodge, where a dozen can be seen at any given moment, and dozens more found in Gallon Jug.  On average, we record 119 each Christmas Bird Count.  The least we've counted was 37 (way back in 1990). And the overall best count for this near-threatened, endemic species in our count area  is 236 (see below).

Clearly, good management on the Gallon Jug Estate has helped the Ocellated Turkey thrive in Gallon Jug/Chan Chich.   Wonder if we'll break the record on Saturday?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Jingle Bells -- Gallon Jug Style!

Every year we look forward to the Casey Community School Christmas carolers as they make the rounds in Gallon Jug and Chan Chich.  It's the official kick-off of the holiday season for us. And while it is true that there is no snow or ice, they lack nothing in holiday spirit. 

This year, teacher Miss Debbie composed a more "relevant" verse for the familiar favorite "Jingle Bells."  Listen carefully!  Those of you familiar with Belize's normal modes of transport will get a chuckle out of this one.

With Season's Greetings to Belize Field Notes readers from sunny Gallon Jug!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Sneak Peek

We finally got a good "hit" on our single camera. We'd placed it at a junction near Laguna Verde over the past week.  Any idea what this animal is?

This is a tayra, Eira barbara, taking a sneak peek at the remote camera.  The tayra is a large member of the weasel family and in my experience anyway, is not often photographed.  It's a common diurnal animal, very curious and bold and frequently encountered.  Tayras seem always to be in perpetual motion and it is my guess that they move so fast and frequently that the remote camera is just too slow to catch them.  In this case, there were several "blank" photos (after an image of its departing backside) indicating it was still in the immediate area.

Pretty clear than animals notice what's new in their environment, even if it is camouflaged!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Sure to be Counted

 This time of year, our thoughts turn to the annual Christmas Bird Count (see my November 18 post).  Pictured here, thanks again to Frank Buck, is a bird that will almost certainly be recorded on the Gallon Jug count: the Chestnut Woodpecker, Celeus elegans.   It is a species that, with a little effort, can be seen on any given day here in our neck of the woods.  This particular bird appears to be a  male with its red cheek patch -- females lack this.  Otherwise, the sexes appear alike.  They are richly chestnut in color, even orangish in brighter light.  The Chestnut Woodpecker is fairly large in size.  It prefers dead trees for nesting and foraging in good quality tropical forest which the Gallon Jug Estate and Chan Chich Lodge are fortunate to have.  Join us, if you'd like to see this attractive species.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Nocturnal Visitor

So we had this hole in our downstairs door.  And after a while, there was a sort of well-worn path to it.

Finally got the remote camera up last night ... and here's the culprit: an opossum.  We have a few different opossum species in Belize but so far as I can tell, this is the common Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana).  Found not only in Virginia, and the eastern half of the US, this adaptable creature's range extends all the way through Central America as well.  It is fairly frequently seen here in the Gallon Jug Estate. As you know from personal experience, this is a creature that often raids the garbage.  Fortunately for us, it so far has left our garbage untouched.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Very Creepy, Very Crawly

It's probably a safe bet that this little predator isn't often featured in nature blogs.  In fact, when we stumbled over it (well, not literally), I wasn't even sure what it was.  Recently, it has been common on the Gallon Jug Ring Road in the early mornings, exactly the time when I take my walk or run.  But I wasn't seeing it in late afternoon.  Finally, Bruce took a few minutes to research it.

As it turns out, it is a flatworm or land planarian, (Bipalium kewense).  It preys upon earthworms, slugs, larvae and is even cannibalistic.  Evidently it is Asian in origin and has been accidentally introduced around the world.  It requires high humidity which probably explains why we only are seeing it on the roads in the early morning when it tends to be especially damp and/or foggy.  How this invasive species arrived in our remote corner of Belize, we'll never know.  Exotic species like this one can be hard to eradicate (how would you even go about it?) and often negatively impact local species.  So interesting though this little creature is, it's not exactly a wonderful sign to have it here.  If you want to learn more about Bipalium kewense, check it out here.

Friday, November 18, 2011

112th Christmas Bird Count

Thanksgiving is just a few days off and Christmas is right around the corner.  So it seems appropriate to feature the Slaty-tailed Trogon (Trogon massena), festive in holiday colors, for a post about the Christmas Bird Count.  Yes, it's that time of year again ... and we're planning for 21st Christmas Bird Count to be held in Gallon Jug and Chan Chich Lodge.  The date we've selected is  December 31.  So just think, we're going to count birds all day, including the Slaty-tail, and retire to beautiful Chan Chich Lodge on New Year's Eve to compare results and raise a Belikin beer.  What could be better?

Not familiar with Christmas Bird Counts?  Here's more detail from the National Audubon Society: 

Citizen Science in Action
The count period for the 112th Christmas Bird Count will begin on December 14, 2011. 

 From December 14 through January 5 tens of thousands of volunteers throughout the Americas take part in an adventure that has become a family tradition among generations. Families and students, birders and scientists, armed with binoculars, bird guides and checklists go out on an annual mission - often before dawn. For over one hundred years, the desire to both make a difference and to experience the beauty of nature has driven dedicated people to leave the comfort of a warm house during the Holiday season.

Each of the citizen scientists who annually braves snow, wind, or rain, to take part in the Christmas Bird Count makes an enormous contribution to conservation. Audubon and other organizations use data collected in this longest-running wildlife census to assess the health of bird populations - and to help guide conservation action.

From feeder-watchers and field observers to count compilers and regional editors, everyone who takes part in the Christmas Bird Count does it for love of birds and the excitement of friendly competition -- and with the knowledge that their efforts are making a difference for science and bird conservation.
We'd love to have you join us ... or join a count closer to your home.  Check out the National Audubon Society's website for more details about how to go about signing up online, past count results, why Christmas Bird Counts are important and much more.

My thanks to Frank Buck for the use of his Slaty-tail image!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Catching Some Rays

I think it is pretty obvious what this bird is doing:  sunbathing.  Birds sunbathe for various reasons.  In cooler climates, it can be to warm up.  In hot climates, it is thought that sunning supports feather health, distributes Vitamin D (from the oil from the preen gland, located at the base of the tail) and even dislodges feather parasites.  Sunning can involve various body postures from fluffed up feathers, spread wings and tails with the bird angling its body for maximum sun exposure.

In the case of this Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura), on our hill here in Gallon Jug, I think it was enjoying catching some rays and drying off after a rainy night.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Just to Prove My Point ...

Just to prove my point, my neighbor, Alan, reminded me that the water was even higher over the Chan Chich Bridge last year ... and he had the photos to prove it!  That's October 26, 2010 with water well over the bridge, the lower bridge submerged entirely and people marooned on the Chan Chich side (although one staff member is making his way along the railing!).  Impressive! And, all things considered, there are worse places to be than being stuck on the Chan Chich side!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

High Water

For those of you that have seen Chan Chich Lodge's famous suspension bridge during the dry season, you may well have thought it was, well, a bit extravagant.  After all, Chan Chich creek is not very wide and ankle deep and here's this big bridge arcing over it.

That all changes during the rainy season!

Recent photos from our rainy season (above) show how much water is passing beneath it these days.  Since our area includes a vast drainage network, we can often have near flood conditions depending on what the rainfall has been in Guatemala.

And, while you may have thought the bridge is overkill, keep in mind that every few years it actually is under water!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Impressive Creepy-Crawly

Halloween is coming -- it's time for a creepy-crawly!  This large spider (genus Nephila) is a Golden Orb-Weaver, named for its web which often glints gold in the sunlight.  Its web is made of incredibly strong stuff and has been investigated for potential commercial use with regard to the compounds that comprise it and give it strength.  Genus Nephila is widespread in warm climates and, as you can see, in the case of females anyway, can be quite large.  So large that, in fact, there are reports of orb weavers that can entrap and consume small birds!    (Warning!  If you are an arachnophobe, you do not want to check out this link).

While no one wants to be bitten by a spider, the Golden Orb-Weaver is only mildly toxic and not a danger to humans (unless, of course, you were to have an allergic reaction).  With a little effort, you should be able to see this impressive spider at Chan Chich Lodge.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

It's a Violated Trogon!

"I saw a violated trogon!"

What a chuckle we got out of that when a beginning birder shared his excitement over seeing the Violaceous Trogon. Now there are no more Violaceous Trogons or Trogon violaceus at Chan Chich Lodge.  Oh the birds are still here, but now we must call them by their new official name: the "Gartered Trogon (Trogon caligatus)." 

Who comes up with these names?  Well, in the case of North, Central and South America, that would be the august members of the American Ornithologists' Union (AOU).  As science marches on, ornithologists are uncovering minute differences in some populations of species that had been lumped together as one.  Often these differences have been detectable via recent DNA studies and are thus responsible for some some populations being split off and renamed.  In the case of the attractive bird above, apparently there was a slight difference in the call of the Gartered v. the Violaceous trogon and a slight difference in color. So  "violated" no more, we now have added the Gartered Trogon to Chan Chich  list.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Horning In

It's that time of year ... when the rhinoceros beetles appear (family: Scarabaeidae).  And I don't mean just one or two.  No, multitudes of these giant -- and by that I mean fist-sized -- creatures congregate around the lights by the Gallon Jug Airstrip.  They move like wind-up toys and are relentless (and totally harmless to humans, it should be noted). 

It is always interesting to me that these giant beetles seem to spend a lot of time upside down, legs flailing in a vain effort to flip over.  Even with an assist, some seem doomed to upending again.  Is this evolutionarily "smart?"  Apparently, it works because they appear year after year.

My neighbor, Alan Jeal, snapped this series of images of a male rhino beetle -- note its impressive "rhinoceros horn" -- feasting on the newly planted elephant ears in Gallon Jug.  For size reference sake, well, they aren't called elephant ears for nothing -- they really are (almost) that big.  Thanks Alan!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Seeing Red

Love the red eye on the Giant Cowbird (Molothrus oryzivorus) -- really stands out on this otherwise plain black bird. This is a male bird, who can be readily seen puffing up his chest and strutting his stuff to attract a female. Like most cowbirds, this one is a brood parasite, meaning it lays its eggs in other birds' nests, specifically, the Montezuma Oropendola (Psarocolius montezuma) who then raises the cowbird babies as its own.

It's said that the Giant Cowbird can be found in forests -- something I have not witnessed myself -- and that it prefers open areas. That is the case here where it can be readily seen on the Gallon Jug Farm. Birders from Chan Chich Lodge are known to make the 20 minute drive to the Farm in order to add it to their lists. The call of this bird can best be described as fairly irritating.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Another nice view

Here's another nice view of a coatimundi (Nasua narica) taken by Frank Buck while at Chan Chich Lodge. This shows the typical stance as the coati moves through the forest, with the ringed tail upright. The males often travel alone, but it is not at all uncommon to see large groups of females and young animals.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Coati Portraits

We are treated to these portraits of coatimundis (Nasua narica) from Frank Buck. They are such curious animals and rarely seem to worried about encountering people which is probably fairly frequently, around Chan Chich Lodge. Frank had this story to share:

"As we walked down a trail, these coatis were coming up. At first they seemed somewhat distressed by encountering us as I shot this picture and the next. As we watched each other, the troupe became more alarmed and dissipated. When we got back to the lodge about an hour later, we learned that two ladies who had followed us had seen a jaguar just a little later in the same vicinity."

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Pair of Ant-followers

Although these two birds look dissimilar (dimorphic), they are in fact, the same species. This denizen of the forest, is found commonly around Chan Chich Lodge: the Red-throated Ant-tanager (Habia fuscicauda). The female is the mustard colored bird and the male is the red bird. As the name suggests, they are ant followers and are often seen in pairs or small flocks. They are loud and noisy birds and thus fairly easy to find.

Thanks to Frank for sharing these images!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Not a Peacock

Many people, used to the plainer North American version, can hardly believe this large bird is a turkey. In fact, I've heard it referred to as "that peacock that hangs around by the Lodge." This is the Ocellated Turkey (Meleagris ocellata), a species that has nearly been wiped out throughout its range. Fortunately for us, this gorgeous bird, is common, really common around Chan Chich Lodge and the Gallon Jug Estate.

While I don't often "guarantee" that visitors will see a particular bird, I'm not going out on a limb when I say I absolutely guarantee that you'll see this one. And you'll be lucky enough to get as close as Frank Buck did, to get some spectacular pictures of a spectacular bird.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Puffbird with Prey

Here's another engaging photo from Alan Dahl: a White-whiskered Puffbird (Malacoptila panamensis) with prey. This appears to be a female with her more subdued buffy coloring. Not sure exactly what that tasty morsel is but looks like it'll make a good meal.

White-whiskered Puffbirds are quite easy to see around Chan Chich Lodge. I've posted about them before and how their numbers seem to have increased since last October's Hurricane Richard. Or maybe in the modified forest, they are simply more conspicuous.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Which hummingbird?

This hummingbird is a bit more colorful than the Little Hermit of last week. When Alan sent this image to me, we had a bit of debate as to which hummingbird it actually was: Scaly-breasted (Phaeochroa cuvierii) or Rufous-tailed(Amazilia tzacatl)? Both can be readily seen around Chan Chich Lodge although the Rufous-tailed is by far the more common. This photo seems to show a "scaly" breast ...

However, I recently learned that female Rufous-tails have white edged feathers on the throat. So we'll go with Alan's original ID!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

It's a Little Hermit

Most hummingbirds are brilliant in jewel-like colors. Even though this little hummer is more plainly colored, it is readily seen around Chan Chich Lodge. It's a Little Hermit (Phaethornis longuemareus) also known these days, as the Stripe-tailed Hermit. It's tiny, at about 3.5 inches.

The males congregate in "leks," where they show off in an effort to attract females with lots of tail-flashing and squeaky little songs. With their slightly decurved bill, hermits are well suited to feed in heliconia flowers such as make up some of the natural landscaping at Chan Chich. Thanks to Alan Dahl for sharing yet another exceptional image!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Howling Monkey

Generally speaking, my photos of howler monkeys stink. They always look like dark lumps away up high in the shady branches of a tree. Alan's image, on the other hand, is really superb. He's got this male howler monkey, taken at Chan Chich Lodge, in full-blown howl, in lovely light. It's so vivid, you can almost hear the call.

I have searched in vain to find an audio of the Black Howler Monkey, Aloutta pigra, on line and have yet to find it -- sorry! If any Belize Field Notes readers find one, could you please post the link in Comments? It's such an amazing call, it would be great to share it here.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Lodge Monkey

We have Alan Dahl, a Belize Field Notes reader, traveler and Chan Chich Lodge repeat guest, to thank for this stunning image of a spider monkey (Ateles geoffroyi) taken near the Lodge some months ago. I love how the monkey is totally engaged with the photographer. And don't you love the white fluff on his cheeks? Thanks Alan!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Golden Oldie: Diamond Jane

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The tag line under "Belize Field Notes" says "Camera traps, natural history and news featuring Chan Chich Lodge." It probably hasn't escaped your notice that I haven't posted camera trap photos for a long time. There were 3 on loan when I started this blog but they have since gone south, that is, are defunct. They need repair and honestly, it is not worth it to send them up to the USA, get repairs, have them shipped back and pay duty on the whole shebang. And anyway, technology being what it is these days, we'd be better off buying the latest and greatest instead of trying to fix several-year-old units.

Oh well. I thought you might enjoy my favorite jaguar photo of all time which is also my very first jaguar camera-trapped. This was using a small all-weather film camera and the TrailMaster set up. August 8, 1993 a bit after 11AM, this gorgeous female jaguar was photographed at the intersection of the River Trail and Sylvester Village Road at Chan Chich Lodge. Could she have been more beautifully illuminated?

Remember Norm? Some of Belize Field Notes readers will remember Norm, the well-loved, irreverent heart-of-gold bartender at the Looter's Trench back in the day. As we carefully studied this fabulous photo, it was Norm that dubbed her "Diamond Jane" for the horizontal diamond shape smack in the middle of her side. Can you find it?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Knock-knock, who's there?

Thanks to Alan once again, for sharing more of Chan Chich's birds. These are Pale-billed Woodpeckers (Campephilus guatemalensis), possibly a pair although the female normally has more black on her head than is shown here. North American visitors often comment that this resembles a Pileated Woodpecker, which indeed it does, although it is somewhat smaller. This species is readily seen around Chan Chich Lodge -- it likes good quality forest -- and is well known for the distinctive knock-knock on wood, making it fairly easy to spot.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Belizean Classic

Here's a real Belizean classic -- the Keel-billed Toucan (Ramphastos sulphuratus). It's probably the most sought after bird by visitors, birders and non-birders alike. Not only is it gloriously colorful, just like a tropical bird should be, it is also Belize's national bird. It's readily seen around Chan Chich Lodge, often in the treetops, and where there is one, there are usually several. The toucan is not known for its melodious voice, quite the contrary -- it croaks.

As you might expect, this species is a frugivore, or fruit-eater. Perhaps more surprisingly, it also eats eggs and nestlings, one reason why you often can see small birds dive-bombing, scolding and attempting to drive it off.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

White-collared Manakin

So appealing with its bright tropical colors! This is a male White-collared Manakin (Manacus candei), snapped by talented photographer Alan Dalhl near Chan Chich Lodge. The females are more olive in coloration but still sport the bright orange legs.

Perhaps one of the most interesting things about manakins -- and there are many species throughout the new World tropics -- are the wing-snapping sounds that the males use to attract females. Not only that, the male manakins congregate in "leks" darting from branch to branch after clearing a patch of the forest floor. All of this in order to display their wing pops and fluff out their white "beards" to best advantage so that the female can choose the most ardent suitor.

This species is definitely "veranda viewable" from the Lodge dining area, or venture out to thickety forest edges. It won't be hard to find.

(Thanks to Sheila for mentioning that the photo was not attached the first time out!)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Pond Visitor

Ok, so the Black Vulture is not a very charismatic bird. I've never heard anyone visiting Chan Chich confess that this species was on their "most wanted" list. Of the four vulture species found in Belize, the Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus) is arguably the most abundant. It thrives around human habitation where it scavenges on garbage and refuse. This one came down to our pond to drink -- interesting how it is resting on its "haunches." I think it must be nesting on our hillside since I've seen two of them hanging around.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Garden Innovation

Here's a bird's eye view of a an exciting new feature in Gallon Jug Estate: an organic garden! This impressive spread, complete with footpaths, is all thanks to the efforts of Jackie Bowen (above) who has put heart and soul into the design and plantings. And lucky for us, it is finally paying off with fresh, luscious organic produce for Chan Chich Lodge and the rest of our community. A variety of lettuce (or is that "lettuces?"), herbs too numerous to remember, squashes, melons, radish, peppers and cucumber to name a few are all beginning to produce.

Those gardeners among my readers appreciate how difficult it can be to "go organic" battling pests using old fashioned non-chemical ways. I think it is even more difficult here since we have so many more insects to prey on tender leaves -- and that's 12 months out of the year too! Jackie's got that figured out too as she has started tobacco in case she needs to make a natural pest repellent.

Other garden plans include a stream bed which has been cut where the natural stream drainage used to be. It's dry now, but should fill up when the rains come in a couple of weeks. If that's successful, then fish will be added which could possibly provide another organic protein source (in addition to the Gallon Jug beef) for the Lodge.

The garden is a very exciting innovation that both Lodge guests and Gallon Jug residents will likewise appreciate.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

More Babies

Who can resist these little fawns? This pair was at the bottom of our hill recently. Not worried enough to dash under the fence, but checking me out for sure. They could be the same pair recently pictured with mama at our pond a cuple weeks ago. Or perhaps not. One thing Gallon Jug Estate is not lacking is white-tailed deer!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Forest Headlights

This is how we know it is late dry season: click beetles with headlights! We were recently doing bat surveys near Laguna Seca in Gallon Jug Estate, and the night was lit with these interesting large beetles. It is amazing how much light is put out by them!

In the family Elateridae, click beetles have the ability to make a snapping sound thought to help them avoid predation. If the beetle finds itself upside down, the ability to click pops it up and over, right side up.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Laguna Seca morning

How many Belize Field Notes readers (that are former Lodge visitors) have visited Laguna Seca? It's a wetlands system that extends northward across the Gallon Jug Estate property. If you are visiting Chan Chich Lodge, be sure to take the excursion from the Lodge for a leisurely Laguna Seca walk. There is a nice path wending its way through fairly extensive Maya ruins. Both spider and howler monkeys can almost always be seen there. For birders, specialties include the Agami heron, Northern Jacana, Least Bittern, and Black-collared Hawk. Of course the surrounding forest is filled with the "usual" cast of tropical birds.

There's more. Not long ago I posted about a "procession of peccaries." That video was taken at Laguna Seca. Last night when we returned to do a survey, there were the peccaries again, in the same spot. I could see they were attracted by the low water levels and nice cool mud wallows. Next project: get a photo of them wallowing...

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Waiting in line

Thought you might enjoy seeing the drink queue at our pond. Of course, not everyone is interested in the water!

Apologies for delayed posting ... It seems Google Blogger had some problems 11-12 May and deleted quite a few posts and comments. This blog was affected. They claim they will restore everything and I've filled out the appropriate maintenance request forms but here it is a week later, and my posts are still among the missing. I'll try to get things back on track for next week. Have a great weekend!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Veranda Bird Viewing

Is this a cool bird or what? Thanks to Jim Wright for sharing his Masked Tityra (Tityra semifasciata) image. This bird was, Jim says, "viewable from the veranda" at Chan Chich Lodge. Apparently it was a long sought bird, and then suddenly, there it was. This snowy white bird is a male while the females are more gray/buffy on the back and head.

If you don't readily see it, you certainly can hear it, even if you think you are not good at recognizing calls. This one is very distinctive although you could be forgiven for mistaking it for a frog or an insect... Take a listen here.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

A Procession of Peccaries

Gorgeous morning today in Gallon Jug, sunny, breezy, about 80F. We like to walk on Sundays, so we headed out to Laguna Seca, a vast wetlands system extending northwards across the Gallon Jug Estate property. The great thing about Gallon Jug is the sense that, even after our 25 years in Belize, anything can happen, that the jaguar is just around the next corner.

In this case, it wasn't a jaguar but rather, a procession of peccaries. White-lips, or warrie, to be exact (Pecari tajacu) . This is the "big" peccary and a species that requires large forested areas to forage for their preferred food items. I was able to get out of the car and approach them slowly on foot in order to get this video. You can see that they were fairly unconcerned. I didn't push it by going too close or attempting to make them scatter. They tolerated our presence for a long time before easing off into the bush when we finally slowly moved the car forward.

By our estimates, there were about 6o of them that crossed the road, a good sized herd. And I'll repeat my mantra: because of good protection here on the Gallon Jug Estate, this large herd of a heavily hunted species, appears to be thriving. Believe me when I say they are wiped out in many areas of Belize, Central and South America.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Traveling Monkey

This must be the week for monkeys. My good friend Norma, who pretty much runs Gallon Jug (don't tell Zander), snapped this photo the other night of a young howler monkey (Alouatta pigra) near her office, hanging out in a flamboyant tree. Right in the heart of Gallon Jug not far from the airstrip. Those of you that are familiar with the tiny Gallon Jug community and airstrip will recall that this area is very much in the open, about 500 m from the forest edge.

Not so very far really, for a howler monkey to come, and nice of this guy to prove my point. Unlike the spider monkey discussed in the previous post, howler monkeys are perfectly capable of traveling through open areas as this little guy convincingly proves. Of course we don't know what happened, or how he came to visit the heart of Gallon Jug, but a guess anyway, is that he's reached the age where he needs to strike out on his own and perhaps establish or join a new troop. The howlers just inside the forest margin had been vocal all day, perhaps encouraging him to leave. He could have crossed the Ring Road, traveled through the mango orchard and dashed through the citrus orchard coming to rest for the night in that friendly flamboyant.

He spent the night, was there the following morning before striking out again, on his own.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Monkeys at Breakfast

I don't suppose it is too often that you can dine with monkeys ... but that was apparently almost the case when good friend Jim Wright snapped this photo from the Chan Chich Lodge veranda over breakfast recently. He and Patty were here with birding friends that we've come to enjoy seeing on an annual basis.

Spider monkeys (Ateles geoffroyi) thrive in closed-canopy tropical forests which provide arboreal pathways for their foraging activities. Unlike the howler monkeys that are known to come to the ground, cross roads, swim rivers and otherwise move about in a "disturbed" landscape, the spiders require contiguous tropical forest for their wide-ranging lifestyles. With just a little thought, you realize that this is exactly the sort of habitat under pressure elsewhere as forests are cleared for agriculture or other human activities. Not so in Gallon Jug.

By the way, if the name "Jim Wright" sounds familiar, it is because he is the author of "Jungle of the Maya" which I posted about in January 2010. It's a great book, I'd encourage everyone with an interest in tropical forests here, to check it out. Chan Chich Lodge, Gallon Jug Estate, and the Selva Maya -- Maya Forest -- are the focus.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

So Great, Again

You've seen Great Currasow (Crax rubra) on this blog before but here's more nice images from Frank Buck. The point again being, how easy it is to see this "game bird" at Chan Chich Lodge since 1) it has not been extirpated from the area by over-hunting and 2) since it has never been shot at, it is therefore confident enough to allow itself to be photographed.

One of the great features of this bird is the yellow knob on the male, shown peeking through the foliage on the inset photo. If you'd like to hear the distinctive booming call and other vocalizations, check them out here.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Crested "Quam"

Crested Guan (Penelope purpurascens) by Frank Buck, copyright 2011

The guan, or quam as it is called in Belize, is another of the un-shy game birds Frank Buck photographed during his December stay at Chan Chich Lodge. And it is true that this big chicken-like bird is scarce to exterminated in many areas of its range. Not so at Chan Chich Lodge, thanks to the good protection of the Gallon Jug Estate.

If you'd like to see a Crested Guan, look up ... and listen. The quam is a noisy bird that likes tree tops in forested areas. It often creates quite a disturbance, which, at Chan Chich anyway, makes it fairly easy to find.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A Great Tinamou

Frank Buck visited Chan Chich Lodge last December with his family. He recently emailed the following:

"I thought that you might want to comment on the abundance and absence of shyness of the game birds at Chan Chich. Compared to my experience in other parts of Belize and Costa Rica, I was stunned to see so many Tinamou, Crested Guans, Curassows, and Turkeys so indifferent to my presence. I don't remember if I sent you this Tinamou photo. In my previous experience, they disappeared like ghosts. This one posed for me."

It certainly did ... and in my experience, the Great Tinamou (Tinamus major) is a very infrequently photographed bird. I love the red eye glowing like a little jewel on this otherwise plain bird. Also noteworthy for this species are the distinctive piping notes of its call, often given at dusk or dawn. The tinamou, a ground nester, has gorgeous "Easter eggs," normally a glossy porcelain blue.

And Frank is absolutely right about the lack of shyness here. I've commented several times on this blog about how the animals here are not afraid and very confident. Makes for great birding and wildlife viewing. That confidence comes because the Gallon Jug Estate (which includes Chan Chich Lodge) has been strictly protected for nearly 30 years with "no hunting allowed" strictly enforced. The Estate is buffered on all sides by large blocks of property. There are security gates one must pass through at the two road entrances. Would that the National Parks were so rigorously protected!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Forest Spectacle(d)

We're on a run of great bird images, thanks to contributions from Chan Chich Lodge guests. The most recent comes from Fred and Nancy, ornithologists who are long time "repeaters" at the Lodge. We've come to really look forward to their annual visit, both for their friendship and their bird and wildlife reports.

This large and gorgeous bird is a Spectacled Owl (Pulsatrix perspicillata) they encountered just a couple weeks ago on Chan Chich's Sac Be trail. It's a large owl that needs mature tropical forest to survive and is often found near streams. This owl is about 18" tall and weighs just under 2 lbs. Its distinctive markings -- the white "spectacles" -- make it unmistakable. The young are simply adorable: fuzzy white as if they are wearing snowsuits with big yellow eyes.

One of my favorite things about this owl is the call, which reminds me of the boing boing boing of a bouncing ball. It's something you really must hear because the written word simply doesn't do it justice.

And once you've heard it, you'll never forget it.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tody Motmot

Frank Buck also came up with a very nice shot of this sought-after species, the Tody Motmot (Hylomanes momotula). As tropical birds go, I think just about everyone likes motmots.

First of all there is the great name which sort of mimics most motmot species' hoot hoot call. And they just look like a tropical bird ought to look with beautiful turquoise, green and rusty colored plumage. The tody is the smallest of the three motmots species found in Belize. It is quite readily encountered near Chan Chich Lodge, much to the delight of many birders.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Follow Those Ants!

Here's a really nice photo of a seldom photographed bird: the Gray-headed Tanager (Eucometis penicillata). Frank Buck was lucky enough to snap this bird in the forests around Chan Chich Lodge where this species frequents the understory. Although it is not often photographed, it isn't really all that hard to find. It is most often found in the company of woodcreepers and other army ant specialists.

Such birds don't actually eat the army ants. Instead they follow the ants as they wend their way through the forest, grabbing insects fleeing the approaching column. If you are lucky enough to find this situation in the forest, it can be an entertaining way to pass the time as the birds dive, swoop and glean the abundance of insects.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


This ceiba tree was something of a landmark. We could readily spot it in historical photos of Gallon Jug's logging days where it served to orient us to the Gallon Jug of today. I think all of us in the Gallon Jug community were sad to find it toppled during October's Hurricane Richard.

The ceiba tree (Ceiba pentrandra) had mythological and sacred significance for the ancient Maya people. Also known as kapok, the cottony fibers from its seed pods were formerly used in flotation devices, before synthetics took over. I had been collecting the kapok fibers to stuff a pillow and was sorry that this tree wouldn't be supplying any this year. A colony of bats that lived there must have had to relocate (which they may have done in our roof, actually ...). I am sure there are dozens of birds that miss this tree as well.

Although we thought this landmark tree was history, as it turns out, some roots are still embedded in the soil. New leaves are sprouting from its branches as the inset photo shows. The Maya considered the ceiba the Tree of Life. And as these photos show, life does indeed go on.

Friday, March 4, 2011

A Secretive Heron

The only way this Agami heron (Agamia agami) could be any more beautiful is during that time of year when it has filmy powder-blue "nuptial plumes" trailing down its neck. That's a once-a-year occurrence when the agami enters into courtship. Recent Lodge guest Frank Buck took this photo in December and although somewhat early for courtship plumage, it still shows what an attractive bird it is.

Even for a heron, the Agami has an especially long thin bill, and likes swampy forested areas as opposed to open water. Around Chan Chich Lodge, that would mean along Chan Chich creek and Laguna Seca are good places to look for it.

While Laguna Verde is a lovely spot, those of you that know it would agree that it is probably a bit too open for this forest-loving species. Even though the Agami can be rather secretive, it is a sought-after species by birders, and as this image proves, it is very possible to get a good look at it.

Monday, February 28, 2011

One Year Anniversary

This past weekend, the Gallon Jug community remembered those lost in the plane crash that took the lives of Sir Barry Bowen, teachers Mike & Jill Casey, and their two children, Makayla and Bryce, on February 26, 2010.

The Gallon Jug school has been formally renamed the Casey Community School. On Friday, the flag was raised to half staff. There was nary a dry eye as the students remembered their beloved teachers with original poetry, the Rainforest Song (see post on 9 March 2010), posters and Mike's favorite "chicken dance."

In San Pedro, Sir Barry was fondly remembered:

Although a year has gone by, Sir Barry and the Caseys are sadly missed, gone but never forgotten.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Suddenly "Common" Puffbird

As I mentioned in an earlier post, here is a recently "conspicuous" species: the White-whiskered Puffbird (Malacoptila panamensis). I say that because prior to Hurricane Richard last October, this was a species that, with a little effort, could be seen along the forest trails near Chan Chich Lodge on most days. When we conducted the Christmas Bird Count in late December, it was suddenly "everywhere." We counted more than 30 puffbirds that day ... and our previous record had been 9.

This species is a "sit and wait" insect and small vertebrate predator. Interestingly, it excavates a burrow in order to build its nest. I have seen motmots excavate their nest burrows, but not the puffbird.

Since the hurricane, there is evidently something this bird "likes" about the modified forest that makes it seem much more common than previously. Frank Buck grabbed this nice photo of the puffbird in December -- my thanks for sharing it.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Canopy Cat (even more)

Is this not an absolutely fantastic spotted cat photo? I told Stewart that their experience with this margay is even more unique than the experience everyone seems to want ... and that is seeing a jaguar.

Margays are sometimes confused with ocelots. One field mark is the significantly longer tail of the margay, no doubt helping it balance in the canopy tree tops. That longer tail is evident in this image. Ocelots have a shorter tail (appearing to hit somewhere knee length) and are larger in size than margays (but nowhere near as large as a jaguar).

This lovely image was taken just moments before it scampered down the tree and into the forest. Thanks to Stewart Greisman for sharing these with us.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Canopy Cat continued

Here's the margay a minute or so later on a tree on the Chan Chich road. It appears to be thinking about coming down, not too sure with people near the base of the tree. Since margays are nocturnal, it is also interesting to have caught this one with the morning well under way (8:15AM). This species is one of only two cats to have the ankle flexibility to climb head-first down trees (the other is the clouded leopard, not found in the New World). Another great image coming up ...

Friday, February 11, 2011

Canopy Cat

Recent Chan Chich Lodge guests, Stewart Greisman and his wife, came across this gorgeous margay cat (Leopardus wiedii) in the tree canopy while walking with premier Chan Chich guide Gilberto (aka "Jack"), a little after 8AM on 28 January. Some Belize Field Notes readers will know the exact spot: on the main road, between Chan Chich Lodge and the Bridge, directly across from the Frog Crossing sign.

Since the margay is a mainly arboreal cat, it is no surprise to see it in the treetops. But a day time picture of this secretive animal is a surprise. Margays do come down occasionally as I have recorded them on the camera traps from time to time. But that is infrequent, so this series of photos is extra-special ... Stay tuned, more margay to come.