Thursday, 7 December 2017

Belize's 1st Pelagic Trip, Warbler Mania on Halfmoon Caye Blog #5

So this has been what many Belizean Birders have been waiting for, a Pelagic Birding Trip. For those of who don't know a Pelagic is a trip that goes out in the open ocean look for seabirds (boobies, shearwaters, storm-petrels etc)

This trip has been in planning from the beginning of the year and thanks to the chief Roni Martinez and the Belize Audubon Society the day has come. We boarded the Booby at the Old Belize Marina to start our journey out to the Lighthouse Reef Atoll we had a pretty solid group of birders Roni Martinez, Fidelio Montes , Isaias Morataya, Diego Cruz, Eduardo Ruano, Marcos Corado, Meshack Eliah, Eric Tut and myself. Before the trip even started Eduardo, Marcos and I managed to stumble upon a Brown Noddy in Belize City.

The Booby 

Brown Noddy 

So we took hour two hour journey and our first stop within the Lighthouse Reef Atoll was at a caye called Northern 2 it was supposed to be some sort of mega resort on the atoll but it never really took off ( thankfully) so now the island is abandoned buildings that have become fishing camps and an abandoned airstrip. A perfect stopover point for migrating birds before long we were picking up migrants such as Palm Warblers, Blue Grosbeak, Dickcissels, Merlin, Peregrine Falcons and my first pair of lifers an Acadian Flycatcher and a Prairie Warbler. Other than birds we stumbled across an Allison's Anole an Anole that's found only on a few Islands in the Caribbean.

Allison's Anole 

Acadian Flycatcher

Royal Tern 
After birding the island a bit we had lunch which for us consisted mainly of bread, canned sausages and cheese followed by some fresh coconut water (can't beat that haha) and some talk about HAARP, conspiracy theories and evolution. After Northern 2 we headed across to Sandbore Caye where I fell of the pier with my camera and phone luckily a managed to save my camera but my phone was finished. Well I little fall can't stop the birding jam so I took off my shoes and continued birding the island where we had good looks at some nesting Ospreys, a whole drove of Palm Warblers and a Yellow Warbler that was having us thinking Orange-crowned Warbler.

Brown Noddy at Sandbore


Palm Warbler 

Confusing Yellow Warbler 
After Sandbore Caye we headed to Halfmoon Caye. On the way we passed a very sad sight, a ship that had run aground on our beautiful Belizean barrier reef. It's quite an eyesore and a remembrance of how we are slowly destroying mother earth. The good thing was that  Brown Pelicans, an Osprey and a Merlin were on the ship.

We docked at Halfmoon Caye, set up camp and went to do what we do best, birding. We managed to pick up some good birds although we were losing light. We had a Mourning Dove, Male Painted Bunting and some more of the warblers we had earlier in the day. The Sunset at Halfmoon Caye was beautiful, so beautiful that I managed to capture just the end of it.

We settled in to camp had some some great birder talk, made dinner with headlamps as there is no electricity for the campsite, the coffee addicts (I wont call any name) made their coffee and we headed off to our tents and hammocks. Halfmoon Caye gets a lot of wind and that night was no different, we had strong winds blowing throughout the night at one point my tent was beginning to collapse on me so I had to get out and fix it. We survived so it was all good.

The wonderful sunrise at Halfmoon Caye

The day was here PELAGIC! time. But before the pelagic we did an early morning walk on the caye, we picked up some great migratory birds like the very shy Swainson's Warbler, a beautiful male Painted Bunting, Black-throated Green Warblers, Palm Warblers, Ovenbirds, Cape May Warbler and the list could go on, by the end of the checklist we has about 24 species of warbler! But the highlight of the morning birding came about when I was showering, Eduardo uttered two words that made the entire team stop what they were doing.... Townsend's Warbler!!!!! Within 10 seconds the whole team was there, some even in their towels haha. The Townsend's Warbler winters on the Pacific coast of Central America but somehow one wonder out to the most eastern part of Belize, amazing stuff. This was the first record for Townsend's warbler for Belize on eBird and we had photos.

Townsend's Warbler

Female Hooded Warbler

Black-throated Green Warbler

Male Painted Bunting
Red-footed Booby
Magnificent Frigatebird

Red-footed Booby

Cape May Warbler

After breakfast and coming down off the high that was caused by the Townsend's Warbler we boarded the Booby once more, our plan was set we were going to head out 5 mile north east of Halfmoon Caye in search of some pelagic birds. The sea was pretty rough but that was expected we were prepared for it  well at least some of us haha. We stopped at 2.5 miles out an tossed some bait fish and waited for a bit, all eyes glued to the horizon scanning diligently for any signs of life. The boat tossed and turned in surf but we continued looking, after we had no birds we continued east another 2.5 miles, by that time one of our birders had already lost their breakfast due to sea sickness. We threw out some more bait fish and waited a bit longer but we hadn't come across any pelagic species except 2 Red-footed Boobies so we turned around and headed back to halfmoon.

The blues of Halfmoon Caye

Back on land we had another 2 hours to spare before we went back to the mainland, we were at one of the 4 atolls that are in the Western hemisphere so we had to get some snorkeling done. The reef right near the island is pretty good for snorkeling we had Barracudas, puffer fish, parrot fish ( a lifer?) and even the very beautiful Rock Beauty.

Back to camp we began packing up to leave one of the most beautiful places in the world. While we were packing up we had an unexpected visitor a male Black-throated Blue Warbler, one of the most beautiful species of warbler. He was right in the coconut tree over Eric's hammock, like he just wanted to tell us goodbye.

Black-throated Blue Warbler

That time had come, back to the city, we were back aboard the Booby getting ready to endure the 2 hr boat ride back. We passed by a flock of terns feeding nothing too special but as we passed near where the cruise ships dock this large bird began to fly towards us, the flight seemed almost falcon like it had white under the wings and was quite brown, it flew right by the boat and Roni yelled "jaeger" (a huge mistake because this was one of the target birds for the pelagic trip so all the birders went to one side of the boat and almost toppled it haha) all of us managed to get some brief looks at it, just as fast as it came it disappeared but we were certain it was a Pomarine Jaeger! pelagic species check! and only a mere 10 miles from the mainland imagine that. That was the icing on the cake for this trip.

The Crew

We managed to complete Belize's first pelagic, we had some amazing birds, everyone had a life birds but most of all a group of people who are passoniate about birds came together and did what we love. Birding is more than just about birds but also about the people we meet and bond with I'm thankful we have such a tight birding community in Belize and I'm looking forward to the next pelagic trip.

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