Friday, 22 September 2017

Operation Black Phoebe Blog #4

Where the Roaring River meets the Belize River 

From I began birding I've always wanted to see a Black Phoebe. Something about this bird had me drawn to it, I mean it's a black flycatcher with a contrasting white belly who loves rapids a strange combination but cool none the less.

I had some free time so I decided to use it to search for the Phoebe. This first step was to find where this little bird would be so I went to my trusty friend called eBird to look for recent sightings.

eBird map of Phoebe Sightings 

 As seen on the map above the Cayo district is definitely the place to go for Mr Phoebe. The latest sighting at that time was at the Xunantunich ferry so I was planning to go there but then I realized it's like a 3 hr bus ride which wasn't a problem I mean it's a Black Phoebe. To be sure I checked with the chief Roni to see if I had a good chance at Xunantunich. He told me to try Guanacaste National Park instead and if I wasn't successful there to try Ian Anderson's Caves Branch. So I adjusted my plans, I contacted my friend Jose from Guanacaste and we were set to meet up in the morning and start operation Black Phoebe.

Guanacaste National Park managed by the Belize Audubon Society 
I arrived at Guanacaste a little before 8 which is very late for birding. I missed two buses because of my social life the night before but I was here and ready to find this Phoebe. I stopped at the office and chatted with my uncle the park manager.  Soon Jose arrived and we were off to look for the Phoebe, this was my first time birding the park but Jose is a ranger there so I was in good hands. 

On the trail we started to hear some birds, Northern Barred Woodcreeper, Hooded Warblr and the usual Spot Breasted Wren. We reached our first stop for the Pheobe, a lookout over the Roaring River, we had looks at  Boat-billed Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee and Social flycatcher the 3 derby flycatchers that inhabit Belize but no Phoebe. 

We continued moving along the trail, we had a pair of Pale-billed Woodpeckers, a summer Tanager calling from it's winter home, a pair of Dusky-capped Flycatchers and some Black-headed Saltators calling in the distance.
Pale-billed Woodpecker 
We reached the next stop for the Phoebe, it was where the Roaring River meets the Belize River, a beautiful piece of the country. Here we had brief looks at both Amazon and Green Kingfisher, some Neotropic Comorants, Spotted Sandpipers ( I swear these are everywhere) and to my surprise a Band-backed Wren a lifer for me came right in front of us I had some good looks at the highly arboreal wren but didn't get a good shot but mien was I happy that I saw this bird he was right alongside the Phoebe on the list of birds I must see. We got the Wren but again to Phoebe.

Roaring River 

Horrible shot of the Band-backed Wren (Lifer!)
Immature Gray Hawk
We dipped on the Black Phoebe in Guanacaste but I did manage to score the Band-backed Wren. The next stop was at Caves Branch which Roni had arranged for us the day before. We stopped for a quick breakfast in Belmopan where we had a small flock of migrating Eastern Kingbirds. We hit the Hummingbird Highway(the most scenic highway in Belize) on the way to Caves Branch, we were on motor cycle so birds easier to spot. We stopped for a strange look raptor, it had a very long tail almost resembling an accipiter but it turned out to be and immature Gray Hawk, there was also and Ornate Hawk-eagle calling in the area but no looks at him.

We arrived at  at Caves Branch a wonderful lodge nestled in the jungle near the Caves Branch River, perfect Black Phoebe Habitat.  We were greeted by a nice lady by the name of Ella and she gave us a short but sweet tour of her botanical garden which was filled with epiphytes a group of plants that I believed is often overlooked. But Ella is very knowledgeable and passionate about them and she's willing to share that knowledge with anyone willing to learn. So I'll have to come back to get my full tour and learn quite a bit more. Pineapples and Orchids are both epiphytes something new I learned that day.

Beautiful, isn't it?

Ella showing me and Jose around.


After the wonderful tour we were given access to the lodge grounds to search for the Phoebe, we headed straight to the river. But right beside the river was a pool and guess who was hanging out there? Yes! the Black Phoebe himself like he was just waiting there for us, it was an epic moment. Two years ago I'd never thought that I'd jump on a bus and on the back of a motorcycle to go find a bird but I did and it was an awesome experience. 

Black Phoebe lifer!!!!!!!!!

I was so excited that a messed up my camera settings and only got a moderately good photo. We stayed around to try and get a couple more shots but nothing great. We picked up  Yellow-olive Flycatcher, Northern Waterthrush, Yellow-crowned and Black-crowned Night heron and even a Buteogallus soaring high that gave us some ID trouble (write in the comments if you know what it is).

Yellow-crowned Night Herons

Buteogallus sp
 After caves branch we headed to St Herman's Blue Hole to try out the Dusky Antbird Trail. We had White-tipped and Gray headed doves, Red-troated Ant Tanagers, White-collared Swifts, a pair of Northern-barred Woodcreepers and a Lesson's Motmot giving a very weird vocalization.

Very simple park rules

Red-throated Ant Tanager

We moved over to the main office of the Blue Hole and did the lowland trail for about 30 minutes. It was pretty hot and bird activity was very low but we did have a good look at a Tawny-winged Woodcreeper and some other critters like a pair of Gray Foxes and a Rainbow Ameiva. After this we decided to call it a day so we headed over to Wingstop in Belmopan to get some drinks and food, this best way to end a good day birding.

Gray Foxes
The day was a real exceptional one I got to hang out with my good friend Jose, if you're ever going to Guanacaste to look for birds make sure you ask for Jose he knows that place well. Caves Branch has a drove of information for those who are willing to learn, meeting Ella who is as passionate about epiphytes as I am about birds was great, birders should go there and learn about these plants, they go hand in hand in birding. Operation Black Phoebe was successful and the day went 10 times better than I had expected.

I wanna thank Roni Martinez for the info on the Phoebe and arranging for us to visit Caves Branch, Ella Anderson for giving us that wonderful tour and giving us access to Caves Branch ( I will be back).

eBird checklists: 

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful...I'm serious when I said I'd proof for you...Ella is great, next time you see her ask her about Tamanduas...


The best Christmas Birdcount in Belize? The Mountain Pine Ridge CBC. Blog #6

Male Collared Trogon F or birders Christmas time is a very important part of the year in addition to the food, family gatherings and gif...