Birding with the Belize Raptor Research Institute

After three years of trying, I was finally able to participate in the Belize Raptor Research Institute’s (BRRI) Belize Bird-a-thon – this is an annual event in which teams across the country race to see as many bird species as possible in a 24 hour period. It is a wonderful fundraiser for this fledgling NGO and a great way to spend a day birding in Belize!

Ringed Kingfisher Belize Whitehawk Birding
Ringed Kingfisher in Belize

Though I could only join them for half a day, but what a great day it was. The team, a 12 person crew, led by BRRI’s founder, Ryan Phillips, picked me up a little after 2 p.m. They were already exhausted but super excited. They had seen a Lovely Cotinga that morning – a life bird for more than one member of the team. After spending the morning in the forests of the Mountain Pine Ridge, the team was headed to Crooked Tree. This area is a RAMSAR site and one of the best birding spots in the country.

Crooked Tree – Birding Paradise

There are many interesting species can be seen along the roads, forest patches and backyard flower gardens in the town of Crooked Tree. However, its main attraction for birds and, therefore, birders is the large lagoon that sits at the entrance to the village. This freshwater ecosystem attracts flocks of waders, ducks, and many other interesting birds. Our team decided that the best way to see as many bird species as possible was to do our birding by boat.

But, before we even got to the dock, we found ourselves stopped along the road, looking at a curious sight. Far off in the distance, we noticed that the width of the lagoon was covered in a trail of white from one end to the other. We whipped out our binoculars and it soon became clear that the line of white was thousands of American White Pelicans. This was surely a numbers record for Belize and a life bird for BRRI President Roni Martinez who was part of our team. After we were finally able to pull him away, we continued to the boat dock at the Bird’s Eye View Lodge.

Osprey Belize
An Osprey hunting fish over the lagoon at Crooked Tree

Birding in Belize by Boat

We loaded onto the boat and crept slowly into the lagoon. It was so shallow in places that the motor even scraped the bottom in some places. Once out in the lagoon, we didn’t think much about it anyway. The place was teeming with birds and it was all we could do to keep up the count! Jabirus, hundreds of Snail Kites, Roseate Spoonbills, Fulvous and Black-bellied whistling-ducks were abundant. Tricolored Herons, American Pygmy and Green Kingfishers, Glossy and White-faced Ibis, Wood Storks, Yellow-crowned Night-Herons adorned the lagoon. Even a passing Peregrine Falcon was spotted that day. To top it all off, the sunset was spectacular, turning the sky pink and gold. Egrets, silhouetted against the sky, flew off to roost. Birding in Belize definitely has its memorable moments!

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron Belize
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron in the lagoon

Tallying the totals for the Bird-a-thon

At dinner that night we went over our checklist, a ritual in any bird-a-thon. In total, the team saw 180 species of birds and all but two of the team members got life birds! Apart from the camaraderie and fun, I think the highlight for me was getting a close up look at the beautiful, but shy Boat-billed Herons. Though I had seen them before, I was able to get much better looks this time around. Their enormous bills and huge eyes make them one of my personal favorites!

Whitehawk currently offers several tours focused on birding in Belize. Our tours include a stay in Crooked Tree, a boat tour on the lagoon, and many opportunities for birding along the town’s lovely trails.

Note: Belize Raptor Research Institute has now become the Belize Bird Conservancy. Learn more about this amazing organization and the work that they do here

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