Tourists in the Belize Jungle – Birds
Our cottage at Chan Chich was situated right next to a temple hill with a large tree on top of it. The tree was full of Montezuma’s Oropendolas flying in and out of their hanging nests. Nests that were very reminiscent of large bull scrotal sacs. The tree was a constant flutter of flying birds and noise as they talked to one another. We were awakened every morning by the dawn chorus, which consisted mainly of the calling of the oropendolas.
Every morning and in the evening, dosed with Deep Woods Off against the mosquitos and black flies, we would sit on the veranda of the lodge drinking either morning coffee or evening Belikan beer and watch the hummingbirds. At least four species of hummingbirds were working the flowers that grew around the periphery of the lodge. Watching them feed on nectar and scuffle among themselves was never dull. I did manage to get some footage of the hummingbirds. Colorful, quick, buzzing wonders.
The pathways within the grounds of the lodge were home to a variety of bird life. Ocellated Turkeys strutted around and did their turkey thing. Ocellated Turkeys are an endangered species and have been disappearing from much of their range throughout Central America. You’d never know that at Chan Chich. There was a flock that occupied the grounds daily. We also saw them frequently along the road as we were traveling back and forth between the lodge and Bruce and Carolyn’s digs.
Melodious Blackbirds fussed at one another, sang their choruses, and searched for insects in the grass. The Melodious Blackbird, to me, is an example of one of the great anomalies in nature. Probably because I am a human, I operate pretty much within the domain of human thoughts, ideas, perspectives, and biases. My mind tells me that things that make beautiful sounds should also be beautiful in appearance. Things that make raucous sounds should be dull or something, but not impressive. Melodious Blackbirds are about as plain in appearance as anything you can imagine. Shiny, black birds. Oropendolas, on the other hand, are gorgeous, colorful birds – black with yellow heads. Toucans are generally black or dark feathered but have huge colorful bills. But … Melodious Blackbirds, as their name implies, have a simply beautiful melodious song and they sing it at one another more or less continuously as they move about and forage. Oropendolas and toucans have raucous, non-melodic calls. One might refer to the call of oropendolas as a song, but it is to the blackbird’s song as rap is to Ella Fitzgerald’s blues renditions.
Flocks of parrots flew overhead every day. There are eight species of parrots in the general area, and all are green from sixty feet below. The parrots were always noisy and didn’t sit still for long. They were always high up in the canopy of the forest and probably were busy eating whatever fruit was currently available. I tried to get videos of them, but the telephoto on my camera just wasn’t up to the task. Lots of noisy, green, flying pixilated blurs.
The occasional toucan made an appearance. There are three species of toucans in the area. We have no idea which one we saw flying overhead. You would think that the large colorful bills of the toucans would be easily visible and the birds easy to identify. No such luck. Just like the trogons in the Mexican pine-oak forests that I visited as an undergrad, the toucan’s beak colors just sort of disappear. Trogons are beautiful green plumaged birds. You can hear them calling in the upper levels of the forest, but you seldom see them. So, too, the toucans. On one of our walks, Carol found a toucan bill on the forest floor. No color – it was just bone – the remnant, no doubt, of some predator’s lunch.
On her walk from Bruce and Carolyn’s house to the lodge, Carol saw a Chachalaca, albeit briefly. Wandering around the grounds one late afternoon, we saw a Crested Guan high in one of the trees. No details, just the unmistakable outline – plus prompting from Bruce. That seems to be the story of birding in a tropical rain forest. Without binoculars, you mostly don’t know what you are looking at. Even with binoculars, you often don’t know just what you are seeing – at least until you spend enough time watching to get familiar with what you are viewing.