Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Belize! Part VI: Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, Mayflower Bocawina National Park, Hopkins

Morelet's Seedeater (formerly White-collared Seedeater) is one of the most abundant and widespread birds in Belize. I was hoping for a Morelet's Seedeater-Morelet's Crocodile combo but it never happened. Photographed at Hopkins Bay Resort.

After Black Rock Lodge, it was time to head over to the coast for the last part of our trip. We made the semi-long drive (by Belize and/or driving with toddler standards) over the Hummingbird Highway without any birding stops, as it rained most of the time...which the Black Rock army ant swarm had correctly predicted, for the second time. We made it to Hopkins in the afternoon, where we checked in to the Hopkins Bay Resort at the very north end of town...this was the first time I've ever stayed at a typical beach resort, and while it worked for our family purposes I wouldn't recommend it to birders visiting here. It's expensive, the birding on the grounds is mostly poor, they spray the beach sand with pesticide every morning (!) and rake up any sargassum on the beach, and they try to claim to be all sustainable despite clearing out large swaths of mangrove forest...not going to be staying there again. On the flip side, I will say I did have a couple great cocktails there, and the resort is right across the street from the old cemetery in town...this is where I lifered Yucatan Vireo, which I was super stoked on, and I also had my first really good looks at Mangrove Vireos a little further north.

Tropical Kingbird are, as one might expect, dirt common in Belize. It's still a nice looking bird though. There were Couch's Kingbirds at several sites but Tropical was generally much more abundant. Photographed at Hopkins Bay Resort.

Hopkins has a lot of visiting foreigners but is also pretty's certainly not overrun by tourists and not dominated by sky-scraping mega resorts or anything. There is a great deal of good birding within 45 minutes of town, and with many lodging options it is a sensible place to be based out of for birding in the area if you don't opt for staying at the lodge in Mayflower Bocawina National Park or the rustic Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary cabins. Bordering the west side of town is a huge marsh, which provided some trip birds but more importantly got me my first Ruddy was a heard only, but I'll take it!

No matter how many of them you have seen, if Brown Pelicans are plunge-diving next to you, you must stop what you are doing and watch. Or crush. Photographed at Hopkins Bay Resort.

While our lodging sitch in Hopkins wasn't super productive for birdlife, I was able to get out for multiple ace mornings of birding while staying there. One morning I went out to Mayflower Bocawina National Park, just 20 minutes or so up the road. Of course the camera was out of comission at the the time so I've got nothing to illustrate my time there, but the birding was very entertaining and I would definitely recommend a day or two here. Within the boundaries of the park is the Bocawina Rainforest Resort, which gives you excellent access to the area and no doubt has good birding right there on the grounds...I would definitely consider staying there if I return to the area. As for birding the park itself, I was impressed. Highlights included looks at Gray-headed Dove, Blue Ground-Doves, Ornate Hawk-Eagle, and Stub-tailed Spadebills. Here is my eBird list from my visit, if you're interested.

The last birding spot of the trip turned out to be the very best - Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, where I was lucky enough to spend two mornings. Billy had been here before and recommended it highly, and she was right to do so. In doing my research before this trip, I found Cockscomb listed in surprisingly few trip reports despite the blood red pin it sported in eBird's hotspot map...why birders overlook this gem while birding in Belize is a mystery to me. This place is fully legit. Visitors have the option of staying the night here at some rudimentary cabins, but I suspect you have to bring all your food/water/supplies in with you. This was the one place we visited where both diversity seemed very high and bird abundance was staggering at times, and I was super impressed with the quality of birding both days I was there. The place is huge and there are lots of trails to choose from...I totally could have birded there a third day and probably seen a grip of birds I missed the previous days. The entrance road alone is probably worth a whole morning, and the one place I pulled over yielded the only Green Honeycreeper of the trip.

Shockingly, my camera worked one of the days I was at Cockscomb, so here are some more pics!

Northern Waterthrushes are one of the commonest neotropical migrants that winter in Belize. This one would not get out of the path I was walking down so I took its picture.

White Hawks were easy to find on the trip...huzzah! Back before I saw my first White Hawks in Costa Rica some years bak, this was a neotropical bird that really stood out in my imagination...difficult to fathom a bird like this without seeing it with one's own eyes. Like a handful of other prominent birds, I literally dreamed about seeing these (as opposed to just fantasizing about it, like usual) before I actually did. Easily one of the coolest raptors I have ever seen.

While not abundant, Pale-billed Woodpecker is another widespread, fairly common woodpecker...but they are huge, exotic, and are in the same genus as the iconic Ivory-billed and Imperial Woodpeckers. The day after I took this photo, I came back and got a glimpse of it (or its mate) almost get taken out by some kind of large, black raptor that went plunging through the trees after was livid.

One of the many idyllic creeks that run through the preserve. I was unsuccessful, but Agami Herons are regularly found in Cockscomb in places like this.

Ruddy Woodcreeper was a lifer back at Black Rock, but I was able to get a few identifiable photos of this bird here in a nice mixed flock.

While not exceptionally scarce, Slate-headed Tody-Flycatcher are notoriously difficult to actually they say. I had no such misfortune with this tiny todyish tyrant of the tangles, a true trip target. Luckily I had the prescience to memorize their song and found this shrub friend (shrub-friend) relatively easily instead of walking by it obliviously as it sang away, which I've probably done with dozens of other neotropical would-be lifers in the past. How embarrassing. 

One of the wildlife highlights of the trip was seeing this tayra! I only knew what it was because we had seen them close up at the Belize Zoo the week before...way to go Belize Zoo for successfully educating a dumb tourist. A tayra is like a giant mega weasel, a wolverine-otter looking thing. Megawolverotter. It paced back and forth across the trail in front of us a few times for good looks before trotting away.

From this angle it looks more like a bear-weasel combo. This was a very high quality lifer mammal - we also saw brocket deer, which the zoo had prepped me for as well. No jaguar sign (Cockscomb is famous for jaguars) but those were two sweet lifer mammals.

Pretty sure this was a lifer creature as well, white-lipped mud turtle (right?). It was crossing the entrance road during a rain storm. I know I am GBRS #7 in the U.S. and all that, but did you know my first real love of wildlife was herps? 

Billy and Annie in action. Billy's action was probably scanning for a Gray-headed Tanager I failed to get her on before it flew away (sorry Billy). Annie's action was sleeping.

Some unphotographed highlights from Cockscomb: absolutely stunning views of a confiding Black-faced Antthrush (the first I've seen, rather than just heard), lifer Yellow-tailed Orioles and Royal Flycatcher, getting the Leptotila hat trick (seeing White-tipped, Gray-headed and Gray-chested Doves in the same morning), and mixed flocks and concentrations of birds of such quality that I was beside myself.

I'll do one more post to kind of summarize the Belize trip for anyone who is thinking about going, but this will about wrap it up! You can thank Nikon for making a shitty product - the lack of photos to sort really enabled me to actually blog the whole trip in an almost respectable amount of time.


  1. Awesome megawolverotter! I had no idea that thing existed, but I am guessing that's true about many things. Glad the camera worked on occasion for you. Have you made any decisions about your photo-future?

    Ruddy Woodcreeper? That eBird checklist? MWO? Think I'm sold on Belize.

    1. No solid decisions beyond the lens...kind of waiting for the 90D to be officially announced to be decisive. I am oddly happy using my old hella slow backup Nikon lens for the time being, while my newer one (which is broken) is sitting around collecting dust.

      Yeah Belize is legit! Going to meet with Max Rebo about it tomorrow.