Thanksgiving in Central America

This blog post is a couple months late but it kind of coincides with my 100th blog post.  Technically, this is my 101st post but it will be a celebratory post.

My seasonal position ended on November 20th and we made our way to Galveston, Texas on the 21st.  From Galveston we set sail and visited Roatan, Honduras, Belize City, Belize, and Cozumel, Mexico.  We birded at least a little at each locale.  Belize is where we spent the entire day birding and got tons of cool birds.

Galveston, Texas, United States

We arrived at our hotel on the island of Galveston just after sunset on the 21st of November.  We were all tired and hungry so no attempt to bird was made that night.  However, a couple of us got up early on the 22nd and birded Pier 21 which is where our hotel was located.  There were gobs of Laughing Gulls with a few Herring Gulls mixed in.  Brown Pelicans mixed in and were chased if they came up with a tasty fish.  We walked down the marina to find a lone Snowy Egret mixed in with American White Pelicans.  A Neotropic Cormorant sat on the boardwalk and was just a little taller than the surrounding Laughing Gulls; size being an important distinguishing from the Double-crested Cormorants.  Despite occurring in the state, this was our lifer Neotropic Cormorant.  The trip was off to a great start.

Around 1000 am we headed to the East End Lagoon and East Beach of Galveston Island.  There are far superior beaches on United States’ Gulf Coast than Southeast Texas, in terms of aesthetics, however they probably aren’t as good for birding.  On  a day when Galveston was issued a frost warning, we set out on the windy beach, dressed for tropical weather.  We first birded the eastern shore, which was quite popular with fishermen but not so much with any other hobbyist.  We found a nice stretch of sandy beach that was low on human interference and combed it for birds.  Immediately seen and ever-present were the Laughing Gulls and the Great-tailed Grackles.  In a small stretch of southeast Texas coast is where the Great-tailed Grackle’s and the Boat-tailed Grackle’s ranges overlap.  The best way to distinguish them is their eye color:  GT’s have a pale iris while BT’s have a dark iris, which is not the case for the BT’s throughout their range.  A few feet from the car we walked right by a couple of Black Skimmers that were among Laughers.  A group of Willets foraged in the background.  A little Sanderling weaved in and out of this group to reach a piece of Sargassum that had been beached.  It was joined a little later by a Ruddy Turnstone, both being in basic plumage.  We looked out on the water to see a larger group of Skimmers flying by with more Laughers and a lone Royal Tern.  Our landlubber Skimmers joined their ilk and flew north.  We moved on to the southern shore to find a vast, sandy parking lot that no doubt is filled in the busier seasons, but on this day was empty.  Well, it was actually quite full, but with birds.  We flushed large groups of Sanderlings, Western Sandpipers, and Turnstones so we decided to just stop and stare.  While stopped we scanned and noticed a stampede heading our way.  This stampede was orchestrated by one of the cuter beach denizens, the Snowy Plover.  Among the Snowy hoards we found a couple of their more endangered kin, the Piping Plover.  We watched these meander about puddles in the parking lot and teeter here and there.  They are an absolutely fun to watch.

As we left the lagoon and the beach we found a Reddish Egret fishing in the shallow part of the lagoon, a Northern Harrier soaring low over the coastal scrub, and a White-winged Dove on a power line in a nearby park.  Galveston was a birding success.

SNPL-Galveston

Snowy Plover

WILL pair-Galveston

Willets

BLSK and LAGU-Galveston

Black Skimmers (foreground) and Laughing Gull (background)

REEG-Galveston

Reddish Egret

Ruddy Turnstone-Galveston

Ruddy Turnstone

PIPL-Galveston

Piping Plover

Sanderling-Galveston

Sanderling

Roatan, Honduras

Our first stop was Roatan, an island of Honduras.  We went to the Big French Caye and kayaked around the islands.  After kayaking, we snorkeled a little but the water was incredibly murky as this was the rainy season.  We got a little time to walk around the beach and explore.  Some of the group decided to spend this time birding.  We walked around the mangroves and found the aptly named Mangrove Vireo.  This was the first lifer seen at Roatan.  The interior of this Caye was low and had some drainage.  In this area were several Great-tailed Grackles as well as a Black-bellied Plover and a Louisiana Waterthrush.  As we were about to depart we saw a large group of Snowy Egrets fly by.  Even higher above we found two Magnificent Frigatebirds, our other lifer for the island.

bbpl-Honduras

Black-bellied Plover basic plumage

Mangrove Vireo-Honduras

Mangrove Vireo

Belize City, Belize

We spent about 6 hours birding around Belize City.  We hired a guide through the Belize Audubon Society and we ended up seeing a little over 70 species on the day.  We started right at the terminal where we picked up Tropical Mockingbirds, Ruddy Ground-D0ves, Clay-colored Thrush, Great Kiskadees right off the bat.  Of course there were also several Laughing Gulls, Brown Pelicans, and Great-tailed Grackles.

Next, we hit a school that had open fields that were partially flooded.  We had hundreds of Short-billed Dowitchers with an occasional Killdeer, Yellowlegs, Western Sandpiper, and Spotted Sandpiper mixed in.  In the grassier areas we found White Ibis, Black-necked Stilts, Northern Jacanas, Tricolored Herons, and Little Blue Herons.  In the shrubs and trees nearby we found an immature male Vermilion Flycatcher, male Yellow Warbler, and two male Common Yellowthroats.  Two Olive-throated Parakeets flew by as we walked on.

We drove to Belize’s airport and found a White-faced Ibis in one pond and the next pond we found Osprey, Wood Storks, Roseate Spoonbills, Green Heron, White Ibis, and Great Blue Heron.  We had Mangrove Swallows flying throughout.  As we came closer to the airport we found Groove-billed Anis and Fork-tailed Flycatchers.  A single Red-winged Blackbird joined the Grackles.

At a prison pond we found tons of Black Vultures on fences and a Jabiru (probably the bird of the trip) mixed in with herons and ibises.  The nearby savannas had White-collared Seedeaters, Brown Jays, and more Fork-tailed Flycatchers.

We stopped at the Black Orchid Resort where we came across Gray Catbirds and Blue-black Grassquits on the roadside.  We found Hooded Warblers, American Redstarts, Common Tody-Flycatcher, and Montezuma Oropendolas in the resort.

We birded around the Belize zoo towards the end of our stay.  Here we got a Yellow-bellied Elaenia and Magnolia Warbler in the parking lot.  We moved down an old road and picked up more Brown Jays along with Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, Melodious Blackbirds, Plain Chachalacas, and Northern Waterthrush.

As we left we found Ringed Kingfishers, Acorn Woodpeckers, Social Flycatcher, Black-and-white Warblers, Ruddy Turnstone, Willet, Roadside Hawk, and Common Black Hawk.  I’m not doing the trip justice but it is difficult to capture all the great things we saw in just this post.  Anyways, I plan on birding Belize again in the not so distant future.

Vermilion Flycatcher female-Belize, Steph

Vermilion Flycatcher female

Roadside Hawk-Belize

Roadside Hawk

LBHE-Belize

Little Blue Heron

Northern Jacana-Belize, steph

Northern Jacana

Jabiru-Belize, steph

Jabiru

Groove-billed Ani-Belize

Groove-billed Ani

Fork-tailed Flycatcher-Belize

Fork-tailed Flycatcher

Mangrove Swallow-Belize

Mangrove Swallow

Great Kiskadee-Belize, steph

Great Kiskadee

White-faced Ibis-Belize, stph

White-faced Ibis

WOST, ROSP, WHIB, and NOJA-Belize, steph

Wood Stork (back), Roseate Spoonbill (front-center), White Ibis (Front right), and Northern Jacana (back right)

Cozumel, Mexico

We actually departed Cozumel as soon as we got there, headed for Chichen Itza on the Yucatan peninsula.  I planned to get some more great birds but Chichen Itza was more of historical visit than a birding visit.  However, we did get a few good birds and one lifer.  On the 2 hr 45 min drive to the park I saw Turkey Vultures and Great Kiskadees.  In the park there were hundreds of Great-tailed Grackles.  While walking to a cavern I came across a White-eyed Vireo and a Black-throated Green Warbler.  Both of those were new to the trip and were delightful, yet familiar surprise.  As we were about to board our bus I heard this odd calling.  I looked up to see a tiny falcon flying overhead.  It had a orange collar.  I checked the guide and found this to be a Bat Falcon, the last of the lifers for the trip.

 

Overall we had a blast and saw several different species.  I would love to bird Belize again and I highly recommend it to other birders.  If you do go, get in contact with the Belize Audubon Society.  Link is here.

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