Until next time, Belize

This past week has been pretty amazing! Matt and I traveled north to Crooked Tree, stayed in a very nice lodge and visited the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary (where we saw jabiru!). We then traveled down southeast to Hopkins, a very nice, very small beach town where we ate pizza on the beach and went to Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary – known for being a jaguar reserve. We spent all day hiking through the jungle and while didn’t see any cats we did see some amazing birds! The highlight of the day was watching a pair of rufous-tailed jacamars (male and female) feeding each other insects. To say it was incredible would be an understatement. We then met up again with Devin and Rachel and went southwest to San Ignacio where we explored several Mayan ruins – Cahal Pech, Xunantunich, and we even went into Guatemala and visited Tikal which was breathtaking. We also had the opportunity to visit the Iguana Project which is a breeding program for green iguanas in San Ignacio. Green iguanas are considered a delicacy in Belize, especially pregnant females. It is illegal to kill them and they are endangered but unfortunately there just isn’t much enforcement. The Iguana Project collects eggs laid in the river banks each year, incubates and hatches the iguanas, then releases them between 2 and 3 years old when they are large enough to no longer be an easy meal to natural predators. It was pretty impressive.

But now it is time for me to go home. I am so very thankful for the two months I spent here in Belize. I learned a great deal about the country, met some very wonderful people, and  had the chance to work with some amazing animals. I am truly grateful that I have had this opportunity.

Rachel will be here for one more month. Nikki will be home on Saturday and Rachel is going to stick around to help with the baby parrots that are pouring in. Currently we have 3 white crown fledglings, 3 red-lored pre-fledges, 5 white front pre-fledges and one naked baby that we don’t know what it is! Tomorrow Rachel will be picking up two more and there is a rumor that there are 12 somewhere in the pipes as well. The worst part about these babies is that the vast majority of them have been stolen out of their nests to be sold as pets. Unfortunately stealing parrots from their nests and selling them (and oftentimes for not very much money) is an easy way to make some money – Nikki recently remarked that some families send their kids to school using the money they make selling baby parrots. It is a very large problem that will take many years and many dedicated people to find a solution for. We are also going to pick up a magnificent frigate in the morning before heading to the airport. It was found on the beach with a broken wing and the veterinarian here has pinned it. We got a glimpse of it today – what a beauty!

Rachel is going to try and keep up with the blog through June, but for now, thank you for going on this adventure with us. We are so grateful for the love and support we have been shown the last few months. Neither of us are sure what our futures hold but we will always remember our time in Belize – and I am sure we will both be back!

Trish

Dock chairs at the Crooked Tree Lodge - perfect for birding!

Dock chairs at the Crooked Tree Lodge – perfect for birding!

View from the dock at Crooked Tree.

View from the dock at Crooked Tree.

Nest of mangrove swallows! So wonderful to watch them fledge. :)

Nest of mangrove swallows! So wonderful to watch them fledge. 🙂

Jabiru! This is one tall stork reaching heights of 5-6 feet.

Jabiru! This is one tall stork reaching heights of 5-6 feet.

Limpkin, Cockscomb Basin.

Limpkin, Cockscomb Basin.

Snail kite with snail! He was so graceful catching it - just floated over the water, put a foot down and boom!

Snail kite with snail! He was so graceful catching it – just floated over the water, put a foot down and boom!

I was so excited to see wild yellow headed amazons, they are almost extinct in Belize. This one was seen calling to a mate at Crooked Tree.

I was so excited to see wild yellow headed amazons, they are almost extinct in Belize. This one was seen calling to a mate at Crooked Tree.

The view from our room in Hopkins.

The view from our room in Hopkins.

This display is of the traps they used to capture the jaguars at Cockscomb Basin to collect samples and place a transmitter.

This display is of the traps they used to capture the jaguars at Cockscomb Basin to collect samples and place a transmitter.

Buff-throated foliage gleaner (I think) Cockscomb Basin.

Buff-throated foliage gleaner (I think) Cockscomb Basin.

Rufous-tailed jacamar! So insanely beautiful! Cockscomb Basin

Rufous-tailed jacamar! So insanely beautiful! Cockscomb Basin

Waterfall at Cockscomb Basin.

Waterfall at Cockscomb Basin.

Ben's Bluff, Cockscomb Basin.

Ben’s Bluff, Cockscomb Basin.

The Iguana Project in San Ignacio.

The Iguana Project in San Ignacio.

Rachel and Devin with Gomez - the largest male iguana in the collection.

Rachel and Devin with Gomez – the largest male iguana in the collection.

Matt and I with young iguanas. The guide collected the iguanas off the walls and put them on all of us.

Matt and I with young iguanas. The guide collected the iguanas off the walls and put them on all of us.

There were piles of green iguanas everywhere you looked! A variety of colors and ages.

There were piles of green iguanas everywhere you looked! A variety of colors and ages.

Fork-tailed flycatcher - an amazing bird to see! His tail flows in the wind. San Ignacio.

Fork-tailed flycatcher – an amazing bird to see! His tail flows in the wind. San Ignacio.

One of the temples at Cahal Pech.

One of the temples at Cahal Pech.

Blue-crowned motmot seen at Cahal Pech.

Blue-crowned motmot seen at Cahal Pech.

xunantinich 247

The view from the tallest temple at Xunantunich.

oropendula 253

Montezuma Oropendola – Tikal

tikal temple 248

Temple at Tikal, the round altars were used in sacrifices.

Tikal - the Gran Plaza which houses two large temples which face each other, the royal housing unit and the royal mausoleum. There were swarms of rough-winged swallows going in and out of every crevice of these structures.

Tikal – the Gran Plaza which houses two large temples that face each other, the royal housing unit and the royal mausoleum. There were swarms of rough-winged swallows going in and out of every crevice of these structures.

tikal temple4 250

The tallest temple in the Mayan civilization, Temple 4 in Tikal. We made it to the top! Luckily they had a staircase of normal-sized stairs on the side of the temple.

rachel and devin tikal temple4 249

Rachel and Devin at the top of Temple 4, Tikal.

Naked baby parrot! I am rather amazed that they can stand upright as this age. Aren't barn owl babies so much cuter than this?

Naked baby parrot! I am rather amazed that they can stand upright as this age. Aren’t barn owl babies so much cuter than this?

Juvenile gray hawk, came in today after being attacked by grackles. Bruised shoulder, eye and ego.

Juvenile gray hawk, came in today after being attacked by grackles. Bruised shoulder, eye and ego.

Baby pygmy owl! Found on the ground with a dead sibling after a storm rolled through.

Baby ferruginous pygmy owl! Found on the ground with a dead sibling after a storm rolled through.

Advertisements

Altun Ha, Howler Monkeys and the Cayes!

Our Belize adventure continues! We are so lucky to have a chance to explore most of the country! On Friday, Devin, Rachel, Matt and I went on a tour of Altun Ha, another Mayan site north of Belize City. Our tour guide was an archeologist who knew Dr Pendergast, the man who discovered and documented Altun Ha. It was very interesting going on a tour with this man, he knew each of the buildings, he had pictures of them as they were being uncovered and he was able to describe how they would have looked in Mayan times. He informed us that this site once housed 15,000 to 20,000 Mayans. Currently there are over 120 buildings on the site,which is a small fraction of what once was. In the 1930’s when the road was being built to Belize City the builders needed stones to fill the road and unfortunately they found mounds of stones on this site. They destroyed about 90 percent of the Mayan structures at Altun Ha. You would think this kind of mistake would not happen today but it actually just happened in northern Belize where builders needing stones to fill a road destroyed a very large and well known Mayan temple. The laws protecting these structures are weak and our guide informed us that the builders will most likely get a maximum fine of $10,000. A tragedy.

After touring Altun Ha we were taken to a “baboon sanctuary” – as I mentioned before the locals call howler monkeys baboons. It turns out we did not go to the official, government sanctioned baboon sanctuary, but one run by a Rastafarian a half of a mile down the road. It was a pretty neat experience in any case. Shane, the man who runs the sanctuary, told us that he has developed a relationship with the small troop of howler monkeys on his property. He has erected ladder bridges for them so that they can access the fruit trees he has planted for them. They know him and they come to him, but he claims they are no way dependent on him. His property runs along a river and is absolutely beautiful. He took us on a walk across the property until we found the troop of monkeys. The youngest male came running down the tree to him and we all got close up looks of him and his mother. Shane allowed Devin, Rachel and I to offer banana slices to the young monkey – a really awesome experience as the monkey grabbed our hands to get the banana – not that we necessarily agree with feeding wildlife – but this was an experience we will not forget.

On Saturday we left Orange Walk, took a shuttle to Belize City and then a very bouncy water taxi to the cayes. Devin and Rachel went to Caye Caulker, a very laid back caye popular with backpackers and the locals. Matt and I continued on to Ambergris Caye, a very large caye with resorts, lots of shopping and restaurants.  I must say that the hotel we are in is by far the nicest place we have ever stayed. Ever. Yesterday we spent an entire day on a catamaran – it was incredible. We went snorkeling at Hol Chan Marine Reserve and saw so many species of coral, beautiful fish, large moray eels and green sea turtles. The guides have named one of the sea turtles Eileen because she is missing a front flipper and she leans when she swims. Our guide told us she is 5 years old and will live her whole life at the reserve because of her disability. She was the biggest turtle we saw. From the marine reserve we went to Shark Ray Alley – a place known for nurse sharks and sting rays. We saw several sharks that were over 6 feet in length. Our guide caught one of the smaller ones for us to touch and also guided one of the very large stingrays up to the group for touching as well. From there we went to Caye Caulker for lunch and then had a very slow ride back to the resort. It was incredible. Someday Matt and I will own a catamaran.

Our plan is to spend a couple more days here on Ambergris Caye, go ocean kayaking and do more snorkeling before heading back to the mainland. We will then go to Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary where we hope to find some storks! From there we will travel to Hopkins to go to Cockscomb  Basin (a jaguar preserve) and then meet back up with Devin and Rachel and travel to San Ignacio. Devin and Rachel are spending one more day on the cayes then heading back to Nikki’s place for a couple of days before heading down south to Punta Gorda for the Toledo Cacoa Festival. One of the benefits of the festival is that Bellikin beer has made a chocolate stout in honor of it and it is so good! I will be a happy camper if I can figure out how to take home some chocolate stout and the Belizean rum Rachel and I have been drinking. 🙂 We have about a week and half left before it is time to go home, so much to see!

A typical street view in Orange Walk.

A typical street view in Orange Walk.

The clock tower in the center of Orange Walk.

The clock tower in the center of Orange Walk.

The mural in Orange Walk that depicts the major symbols of their Mayan temples: the jaguar, the mask, and the large piece of carved jade that was found buried with a priest at Altun Ha.

The mural in Orange Walk that depicts the major symbols of their Mayan temples: the jaguar, and the face from Lamanai and the carved jade head that was found in a burial chamber at Altun Ha.

Temple at Altun Ha - there are three layers, each constructed hundreds of years apart.

Temple at Altun Ha – there are three layers to this temple, each constructed hundreds of years apart.

Large temple at Altun Ha, was a mausoleum.  The box in the middle was the burial chamber where a priest was found with a large piece of carved jade. The largest piece found at any Mayan site.

Large temple at Altun Ha which was a mausoleum. The box in the middle was the burial chamber where a ruler was found with a large piece of carved jade. The jade head is the largest piece of carved jade found at any Mayan site and is kept out of view in a protective vault in Belize City.

One of the carved images of a royal face on the side of the temple at Altun Ha.

One of the carved images of a royal face on the side of the temple at Altun Ha.

The sign of the unofficial baboon sanctuary.

The entrance sign to the unofficial baboon sanctuary.

The matriarch of the howler monkey troop.

The matriarch of the howler monkey troop.

Devin offering banana slices to the young monkey.

Devin offering banana slices to the young monkey.

The view from our room!

The view from our room at Belizean Shores Resort on Ambergris Caye!

The beach outside our resort at Belizean Shores.

The beach outside our resort – seconds away from our room.

Much of the beach on Ambergris Caye looks just like this.

Much of the beach on Ambergris Caye looks just like this. We have seen small sharks, sting rays and fish from the beach.

Paradise found at Ambergris Caye.

Paradise found at Ambergris Caye.

I am calling this a leukistic great blue heron - seen along the beach outside our resort.

I am calling this a leucistic great blue heron, any other suggestions? Seen along the beach outside our resort.

Nothing is better than starting your day on a catamaran.

Nothing is better than starting your day on a catamaran.

So relaxing - so much sun!

So relaxing – so much sun!

Nurse sharks approaching the boat at Shark Ray Alley.

Nurse sharks approaching the boat at Shark Ray Alley.

The main road in Caye Caulker.

The main road in Caye Caulker.

Beach at Caye Caulker.

Beach at Caye Caulker.

Magnificent frigates coasting over Caye Caulker.

Magnificent frigatebirds coasting over Caye Caulker.

Exploring Lamanai

Rachel and I just completed 6 weeks at Belize Bird Rescue. It has been quite an experience. During our time there we received 16 intakes and we are pretty amazed at how much we handled – and mostly by ourselves – though Dr Shannon Riggs was always just an email away. Our bare-throated tiger heron was released, our white hawk will be released next week. Our barn owl babies are growing like weeds on a diet of chicken with bones, beef and rat, and should be released in 2-3 weeks. Our nighthawk from Placencia caused some trouble – it came in with a fractured coracoid which healed beautifully and then during a very loud thunderstorm it fractured its mandible in its reptarium. We fashioned a splint out of a plastic q-tip and tegaderm, amazingly, the fracture actually healed, and that bird was released. One of the non-releasable aracaris developed a pretty severe infection in its hocks at the beginning of our stay and not only did we get the infection under control, the bird also regained full range of motion. All of the parrots that came in are settled and doing well. This experience has actually been quite incredible. We went from a center that has everything available to a center with very little available (most of the things we are used to are just not in Belize) and not only did we cope, we did well. We are both so very thankful for this experience and I have a feeling we will both be back in the future.

Yesterday Devin and Matt flew in to Belize, we met them at the airport and then headed to Orange Walk in northern central Belize. We are staying at Hotel de la Fuenta, a nice little hotel in the middle of Orange Walk with a very helpful and friendly staff. Today we took a boat about 20 miles up New River to the Mayan settlement of Lamanai. The boat ride was incredible – we saw so many birds! And bats, and crocodiles and monkeys! We were the first ones the boat picked up and Rachel informed the captain that we are bird people, so he went out of his way to look for birds for us and stop the boat as he could. It was amazing.

Once we reached the ruins we stopped at the picnic tables and enjoyed a lunch of rice and beans and stewed chicken. We then toured the small museum at the site and hiked through the jungle to the temples. We saw three different temples, a residential area and a ball court – though the guide told us that there are more than 700 buildings in the area. He also informed us that they are not allowing access to all of them because they want to save them for future generations. The first temple was the Mask Temple which had two large carved faces on either side of the stairs. Rachel, Devin, Matt and I all climbed to the top where we had a really nice view of the river. The second temple was the High Temple at a towering 108 feet – it is the third tallest structure in the Mayan world. I climbed about halfway up and once seeing that a rope was needed to get to the very top, decided I was fine where I was. The rest of our group did make it to the top – I heard the view was incredible and that you could see Mexico and Guatemala from that vantage point. The next area was called the Royal Complex where we saw the foundations of a village which opened to a large field and the Temple of the Jaguar Masks. On either side of the stairs of that temple there are images of jaguars – though you do need to use your imagination a bit to see them. I thought that this temple was the most impressive – it was beautiful and it appeared to have a tree coming up out of the top of it. This completed our tour and we went back on the boat.

On the boat ride back to Orange Walk, the boat took a loop in the river that we had passed on the way up. We stopped at a bend where a spider monkey was swinging through the trees. Our guide handed a passenger on the boat a banana to give to the monkey – which the monkey happily accepted. This kind of thing is very common in Belize but unfortunately these “friendly” animals often are captured and kept at resorts or stores to impress tourists. It is illegal to own a monkey in Belize and we know that the Forest Department has done several dozen monkey confiscations in the last two months. There is a monkey rehabilitation group in northern Belize called WIldTreks and that is where all the monkeys go. It takes several years to get a tamed monkey back out into the wild – just as it does with parrots.

Along the river we also saw a sugar factory. Sugar cane is a big part of Orange Walk, it is harvested and processed here. We learned it takes 10 tons of sugar cane to produce 1 ton of sugar. They load the raw sugar (or the molasses) on to barges in the river and send the barges to Belize City where the product is exported. Some of it goes to Europe and the US, the rest of it stays in Belize and goes towards making rum and stout.

Tomorrow we will be going to the Baboon Sanctuary (the locals call the howler monkeys baboons) and another Mayan site, Altun Ha. On Saturday we will go our separate ways, with Devin and Rachel headed to Caye Caulker and Matt and I headed to Ambergris Caye for snorkeling and hanging out on the beach! We are looking forward to it!

New River scenery.

New River scenery.

Devin enjoying the boat ride!

Devin enjoying the boat ride!

Snail kite! We saw so many today, males and females. We even saw one get in the water and catch a snail!

Snail kite! We saw so many today, males and females. We even saw one get in the water and catch a snail!

Purple gallinule! Apparently a rare bird to see along the river! The water lilies were very beautiful too - on our way up the river the flowers were all opened to the sun, on our way back, they were all closed.

Purple gallinule! Apparently a rare bird to see along the river! The water lilies were very beautiful too – on our way up the river the flowers were all opened to the sun, on our way back, they were all closed.

Insect bats lining the tree. The guide put the boat right up against the tree so we could see them.

Insect bats lining the tree. The guide put the boat right up against the tree so we could see them.

Green iguana! Saw several of these guys climbing trees along the river.

Green iguana! Saw several of these guys climbing trees along the river.

Green heron - there were many egrets and herons along the river.

Green heron – there were many egrets and herons along the river.

Morelet's crocodile on a log.

Morelet’s crocodile on a log.

We were very excited to see this adult bare-throated tiger heron - the striping along the neck and back is remarkable.

We were very excited to see this adult bare-throated tiger heron – the striping along the neck and back is remarkable.

A Northern jacana. The undersides of its wings are bright yellow.

A Northern jacana. The undersides of its wings are bright yellow.

So many kingfishers! The one on top is a ringed kingfisher - coloration is similar to a belted but the bird is much bigger. Below is a female green kingfisher. We also saw pygmy kingfishers - though they didn't cooperate for pictures.

So many kingfishers! The one on top is a ringed kingfisher – coloration is similar to a belted but the bird is much bigger. Below is a female green kingfisher. We also saw pygmy kingfishers – though they didn’t cooperate for pictures.

One of the bridges over the river had this Mayan art work on the supports.

One of the bridges over the river had this Mayan art work on the supports.

The most awesome bird we saw all day - the boat-billed heron! Check out that bill, it is huge! I would love to see one of these up close.

The most awesome bird we saw all day – the boat-billed heron! Check out that bill, it is huge! I would love to see one of these up close.

Entrance to Lamanai

Entrance to Lamanai

Pale-billed woodpecker! Huge woodpecker (like a pileated) with beautiful markings and a bright red head.

Pale-billed woodpecker! Huge woodpecker (like a pileated) with beautiful markings and a bright red head.

I believe this is a snake cactus around a guanacaste tree. So beautiful in person.

I believe this is a snake cactus around a guanacaste tree. So beautiful in person.

The Mask Temple. The Masks have actually been covered by fiberglass replicas to protect the actual structures underneath.

The Mask Temple. The Masks have actually been covered by fiberglass replicas to protect the actual structures underneath.

Rachel climbing the Mask Temple.

Rachel climbing the Mask Temple.

Mom and baby howler monkey at the High Temple.

Mom and baby howler monkey at the High Temple.

The High Temple. If you look closely you can see Devin at the top left, with Rachel and Matt near the center.

The High Temple. If you look closely you can see Devin at the top left, with Rachel and Matt near the center.

This is the Temple of the Jaguar Masks.

This is the Temple of the Jaguar Masks.

This is the image of the jaguar that is on either side of the stairs of the Temple of the Jaguar Masks. If you look closely you might be able to see the jaguar face staring back at you.

This is the image of the jaguar that is on either side of the stairs of the Temple of the Jaguar Masks. If you look closely you might be able to see the jaguar face staring back at you.

Sugar factory

Sugar factory

Barges loaded with raw sugar. When all of the barges are loaded a tug boat takes them down the New River.

Barges loaded with raw sugar. When all of the barges are loaded a tug boat takes them down the New River.

Spider monkey - very friendly, definitely knew what time to arrive to get its banana.

Spider monkey – very friendly, definitely knew what time to arrive to get its banana.

 

Cave tubing!

Today was a perfect day! After taking care of all the animals, Celisha took Rachel and I to Caves Branch River to go cave tubing. Celisha’s sister’s boyfriend, Edwin, is a cave tubing guide and he met up with us to give us a personal tour. Unfortunately we were unable to bring a camera with us so I will have to describe how wonderful it was to you. After traveling 6 miles on a dirt road we arrived at the entrance to the park. The river is part of Belize’s park system and there is a small fee to access it. You must have a guide in order to go cave tubing and there are several large companies that cater to cruise ship passengers and other tourists. Edwin told us that on very busy days he can have as many as 20 people in his group – which is pretty amazing since he often gets out of his tube and helps steer his passengers down the river! Luckily it was just the three of us! It was amazingly beautiful and peaceful.

As soon as you pay your entrance fee and enter the parking lot you see a very large building that belongs to Caves Branch Outpost – it is a huge giftshop. There are also buildings that house showers, changing rooms and bathrooms, and a large row of storage closets where the guides keep their equipment. Edwin equipped each of us with a large yellow inner tube, a head lamp and a life jacket. With the inner tubes slung over our shoulders we began the 20 minute walk to the entrance of the cave. The walk was beautiful. We walked under the jungle canopy along a rocky trail. We saw a baby pineapple – it looked like a purple pineapple-shaped flower – a very large tarantula with her egg sac which was the size of a chicken egg – incredible! She had her front legs over the top of it, protecting it, and when Edwin got too close to her, she rolled her egg down her burrow. We also saw a group of coati mundi including an albino one. Edwin told us that his previous employer actually had this group at her resort and when she closed shop she released them in the jungle. Not many people know this fact however and even some of the guides got excited seeing these “wild” animals.

At the end of the walk through the jungle we came to a large cliff face with the river right below it and the cave entrance to the right. It was an incredible sight. The water was crisp and cool and different shades of blue and green. There were cliff swallows flying over the water and scaling the cliff.  It was finally time to get in the river! We put our head lamps on, Edwin connected our inner tubes together and we were off. Once we entered the cave the light slowly faded. The cave was very large and the water depth ranged from inches to 40 feet. The crystal formations in the cave were incredible and they sparkled in the light from our headlamps. Edwin pointed out the various natural formations in the cave – there was the mother looking down at her child (or George Washington, depending on your point of view), there was a large bird looking into the river, a large serpent along the ceiling, a dolphin and a jellyfish. At one point in the cave we could hear the sound of water rushing, Edwin reassured us that it was just the 150 foot water fall that we would be tubing down – he might have exaggerated a little bit. The cave opened up to the outside and the view was so perfect it was surreal. The top of the opening was jagged and it almost looked like you were looking out from inside a fish’s mouth. There was a perfect sliver of jungle visible with the sun shining through – and the 150 foot water fall was actually three small water falls that flowed from the outside into the river where we passed. It was incredible. We continued down the river to the cave’s exit which was populated with insect bats (tiny little bats clinging to the ceiling) and the sounds of baby cliff swallows filled the air.

Once we exited the cave we continued to float down the river. We had toucans and aracaris fly over us, the group of coatis caught up to us and we saw various other birds including a black phoebe! It was a beautiful way to spend the afternoon!

After our cave tubing adventure Celisha took us to the Art Box, a small gallery and gift shop along the highway. Belizean artwork is very beautiful, very colorful and often nature-inspired. Rachel and I are both looking for that perfect piece of bird artwork! They also do quite a bit with wood, creating different animal carvings, boxes, kitchen ware and furniture. Celisha then took us out to dinner to experience some local food. We went to a part of Belmopan known as Salvapan because it is where the people from El Salvador have settled. We dined on empanadas, garnaches and salbutes – all are different variations of fried corn with meat, beans, cabbage and tomatoes. It was very good!

We have less than one week left before Matt and Devin arrive and we are both excited to see them again. However, there has been one major change to our plans – Nikki has a family emergency to tend to in the UK and will not be able to return to Belize in the immediate future. Rachel has offered her help and will be staying in Belize through the month of June to take care of the animals and to train Celisha who will move onsite and work for Belize Bird Rescue full time. I, on the other hand, am still heading home on May 30th. It has been quite an adventure! We are both looking forward to the break we have coming up and finally getting to see the side of Belize the tourists come to see!

Rachel getting ready for our cave tubing adventure!

Rachel ready for our cave tubing adventure!

Caves Branch Outpost - a large tour company and gift shop.

Caves Branch Outpost – a large tour company and gift shop.

The row of storage closets where the guides keep their equipment. You can see the inner tubes out front.

The row of storage closets where the guides keep their equipment. You can see the inner tubes out front.

Dinner! Coca-cola is a major brand out here - there really are no other products available. Not that I mind one bit!

Dinner! Coca-cola is a major brand out here – there really are no other products available. Not that I mind one bit!

Many mouths to feed!

Belize Bird Rescue is a wildlife rehabilitation center as well as a sanctuary. Currently Nikki has 60 birds on the property (not including the 30ish guinea fowl, the 100+ muscovy ducks and the one lone goose). Most of them are parrots. Parrot rehabilitation is a very long process – usually the birds come to Nikki with very poor feather condition from being improperly housed or they come in imprinted. If they are pretty wild because they were never handled but their feathers are trashed, Nikki holds them until they molt and grow in new feathers. If they are imprinted – that’s a different story. Some can return back to their wild temperament by being put with others, but others just enjoy (or hate) people too much to ever really be released. Some of these birds have become “house birds” – they are allowed to be free all day and roam the property coming back to the house to eat, sleep,or just to get out of the heat. These are the birds that Rachel and I spend every day with – they all have their unique personalities and are quite amazing to be around.

Besides confiscated or relinquished “pet” parrots, Nikki also takes in any injured or orphaned wild birds. Currently we have the bare-throated tiger heron, who is slated to be released this weekend, the gray headed kite, the white hawk, 3 barn owls, a common nighthawk, and new today, a Central-American pygmy owl. The difference between working with these birds and the parrots is huge – they have different needs, from food to housing to enrichment. I must say, it has been a very interesting experience having to catch the food to feed our birds. The men who work on Nikki’s property catch and kill rats for us almost every day, they also get live fish out of her pond. To supplement all the meat-eaters we have also been chopping up chicken with bones (for the barn owl babies) and offering beef strips to the adult hawks.

Nikki also has 4 very lovely dogs who keep us company. They are also free to roam and just about every other day they take off at dawn and stagger home late afternoon/evening. We aren’t sure where they go or what they do – but they always sleep well the next day. They walk out with us every evening to check on the ducks and happily play in the lawn on the way back. They are sweethearts.

Nikki returns on Sunday – I can’t believe how fast this month has gone by! Her daughter is getting married next Saturday so Rachel and I will be on our own again for a couple of days next week. Matt and Devin arrive on the 14th which will mark the beginning of our vacation! 🙂 We are planning on seeing Mayan ruins, going to the Cayes, caves, waterfalls – it will be amazing!

Blue headed (mealy) parrot - this one is named Buzz. He lived at a resort where he buzzed visitors. He is not releasable - he is beautiful.

Blue headed (mealy) parrot – this one is named Buzz. He lived at a resort where he buzzed visitors. He is not releasable – he is beautiful.

Yellow-headed parrot - Nikki currently has 8 of them. 1 is bonded to a red-lored and has quite a repertoire of songs. The other 7 will hopefully start her breeding program. They are incredibly aggressive and very vocal!!

Yellow-headed parrot – Nikki currently has 8 of them. 1 is bonded to a red-lored and has quite a repertoire of songs. The other 7 will hopefully start her breeding program. They are incredibly aggressive and very vocal!!

This female yellow lored is bonded to a golden crowned conure - Nikki is hoping to rehome them together.

This female yellow lored is bonded to a golden crowned conure – Nikki is hoping to rehome them together.

This golden-crowned conure is my absolute favorite here. He is such a sweetheart! I might just take him and his girlfriend home - if I can figure out how to do that. :)

This golden-crowned conure is my absolute favorite here. He is such a sweetheart! I might just take him and his girlfriend home – if I can figure out how to do that. 🙂

These are two white-crowned parrots (pionus) in one of the aviaries.

These are two white-crowned parrots (pionus) in one of the aviaries.

This is Cho-cho, a red-lored, he just arrived last weekend. The woman who had him is moving back to the States and couldn't take him with her. He is starting to come out of his shell, he has lots of vocalizations and a very over-grown beak.

This is Cho-cho, a red-lored, he just arrived last weekend. The woman who had him is moving back to the States and couldn’t take him with her. He is starting to come out of his shell, he has lots of vocalizations and a very over-grown beak.

Red-loreds in the aviary - this group will hopefully be releasable.

Red-loreds in the aviary – this group will hopefully be releasable.

Milo - a relatively quiet boy who loves having head/back/wing massages. He has cataracts in both eyes and prefers to stay up on his perch.

Milo – a relatively quiet boy who loves having head/back/wing massages. He has cataracts in both eyes and prefers to stay up on his perch.

Sancho - was found and raised by a biologist and her children - they turned him over to Nikki because they knew having him was wrong. We soft released him a few days ago so now he roams the property and comes back at night. Though he does find us while we are feeding the aviaires and hangs out on our shoulders.

Sancho – was found and raised by a biologist and her children – they turned him over to Nikki because they knew having him was wrong. We soft released him a few days ago so now he roams the property and comes back at night. Though he does find us while we are feeding the aviaires and hangs out on our shoulders.

Pepper - a very sweet red-lored, also soft-released on the property. Pepper loves Nikki, her daughter Sam, and Rachel.

Pepper – a very sweet red-lored, also soft-released on the property. Pepper loves Nikki, her daughter Sam, and Rachel.

Sassy - a very fat, one-eyed red-lored that was found walking in the middle of the street. Also a very sweet bird. Likes to put his foot up as you walk by and hitch a ride to wherever he wants to go. If you go in the wrong direction he bites your thumb to let you know.

Sassy – a very fat, one-eyed red-lored that was found walking in the middle of the street. Also a very sweet bird. Likes to put his foot up as you walk by and hitch a ride to wherever he wants to go. If you go in the wrong direction he bites your thumb to let you know.

Harry - a girl - a white-crowned parrot. Loves Nikki's son-in-law Geoff and is making a nest in his apartment for the two of them. Will do anything for cheese.

Harry – a girl – a white-crowned parrot. Loves Nikki’s son-in-law Geoff and is making a nest in his apartment for the two of them. Will do anything for cheese.

Tucker - a very silly dog. Used to be a house dog and will sometimes stay back with us instead of roaming.

Tucker – a very silly dog. Used to be a house dog and will sometimes stay back with us instead of roaming.

Dyson is a very loyal dog, he is always at the front of the line leading the pack.

Dyson is a very loyal dog, he is always at the front of the line leading the pack.

Buster - a very big boy! Part mastiff and surprisingly Sophie's sibling.

Buster – a very big boy! Part mastiff and surprisingly Sophie’s sibling.

Sophie - what a sweet girl! Sophie sits in the kitchen with us in the morning while we prep food.

Sophie – what a sweet girl! Sophie sits in the kitchen with us in the morning while we prep food.

 

Belize Zoo!

Well, we finally made it to the zoo! Celisha, the woman who works with Nikki here at Belize Bird Rescue, is one of the education directors at the zoo and she invited us as special guests to April the tapir’s 30th birthday celebration. She did a great job organizing entertainment and games for the kids. We listened to a steel drum band and watched young boys perform tumbling exercises. The highlight of the festivities was, of course, seeing April get her birthday cake (she got at least 4!) and singing her “happy birthday.” It was really something.

The zoo is very interesting. It is small and it only has animals that are native to Belize. There are quirky signs all over the zoo describing the animals and telling visitors that they need to protect Belize’s wildlife. They offer encounters, for $5 you can come face to face with a jaguar, through a fence, or you could feed a tapir a banana. You can tell that some of the animals are used to getting food from visitors as they are the ones that run up to you when you approach. Rachel and I did touch April’s nose through the bars…she was so soft…

Most of the enclosures are built around the jungle that was already in place so the enclosures are beautiful and spacious. The animals appear to be happy and relaxed which is a good thing to see at a zoo. The jaguars were stunning! One of them was laying right next to the fence and was chewing on his toes while we watched – he was just so beautiful! They also have a black jaguar named Lucky Boy. Lucky Boy was being illegally housed at a resort and when the owners closed up, they abandoned him and a spotted jaguar. The spotted jaguar starved to death and that is when the authorities found Lucky Boy. He was severely emaciated. The zoo took him in and nursed him back to health – an incredible story. He is gorgeous.

Today was Kathy’s last day with us. It was so wonderful having her here! We are really going to miss her. She was a yellow-headed amazon whisperer…now Rachel and I are going to have to tackle those crazy birds on our own!

National Tapir Day! Time to celebrate!

National Tapir Day! Time to celebrate!

This is a paper mache model of April - made in her honor.

This is a paper mache model of April – made in her honor.

This is April eating one of her four birthday cakes. It appeared to be a combination of fruits and veggies.

This is April eating one of her four birthday cakes. It appeared to be a combination of fruits and veggies.

Yum! She was so sweet! Apparently 30 is very old for a tapir!

Yum! She was so sweet! Apparently 30 is very old for a tapir!

These plain chachalacas were on hand to help April eat her cake.

These plain chachalacas were on hand to help April eat her cake.

Spider monkey in the pouring rain - yes it rained - and yes we got very very wet.

Spider monkey in the pouring rain – yes it rained – and yes we got very very wet.

Keel-billed toucan

Keel-billed toucan

Jabiru! An amazingly large stork. Nikki had one in rehab once - apparently it ate very large fish. It was released!

Jabiru! An amazingly large stork. Nikki had one in rehab once – apparently it ate very large fish. It was released!

Jaguarundi - kind of a mix between a cat and a monkey.

Jaguarundi – kind of a mix between a cat and a monkey.

Saw this beautiful gray-necked wood-rail in the tapir exhibit.

Saw this beautiful gray-necked wood-rail in the tapir exhibit.

Harpy eagles do not eat babies!

Harpy eagles do not eat babies!

The magnificent harpy eagle - apparently they do have some nesting pairs in Belize though they are very rare.

The magnificent harpy eagle – apparently they do have some nesting pairs in Belize though they are very rare.

Spotted jaguar - we resisted the urge to touch him through the bars - though isn't that face tempting?

Spotted jaguar – we resisted the urge to touch him through the bars – though isn’t that face tempting?

Fire burning in the night

Remember our first patient, the bare-throated tiger heron? Well after the swelling went down in his shoulder it became apparent that he had fractured something, even though the radiograph didn’t show anything obvious. He started drooping his wing and when we test flew him, he couldn’t fly. After consulting with the amazing and incredibly generous Dr Shannon Riggs, we got him in a body wrap and kept him in the shower for 2 weeks on cage rest. We moved him to a small aviary at the beginning of the week when he figured out how to get out of the shower and was found standing in the middle of the bathroom! Foreseeing an unpleasant surprise for those going in and out of that bathroom we decided it was time to get him outside. Today we test flew him in Nikki’s large flight aviary and he not only flew, but flew gracefully as herons do! We are so excited about this! Hopefully he will be released next week.

Last night the power went out while we were on our evening walk (saw some great birds!) We cooked and ate dinner by flashlight. When we stepped outside to get some air we saw that there was a large fire burning just past the edge of Nikki’s property on the other side of the river. The night sky was glowing bright orange and we could hear the fire cackling from the veranda. The fire, coupled with the power outage and the single gun shot we heard echo across the property, made for a rather unnerving night! Thankfully the power returned after a few hours and the fire burned out before we went to bed. It is very common for there to be fires burning at this time of year in Belize. Nikki and Sam have explained that it is cheaper to burn the brush than to hire people to clear it so we often see fires burning in the distance. We were all commenting on how different this is from home – if a fire starts in California someone quickly puts it out!

We didn’t make it to the zoo last week but are going to try again this Friday. Apparently Friday is National Tapir day and the zoo will be celebrating the 30th birthday of their tapir, April, the most famous tapir in Belize. Sounds like fun! Friday is Kathy’s last day with us as well – she has been such a great help here! We are really going to miss her!

Black-headed trogon!

Black-headed trogon!

Masked tityra - a really awesome looking bird!

Masked tityra – a really awesome looking bird!

Red-lored flying to their roost at sunset.

Red-lored flying to their roost at sunset.

Okay - if you look closely, see that pink petal? There is a leaf cutter ant carrying it! We saw a whole trail of them yesterday!

Okay – if you look closely, see that pink petal? There is a leaf cutter ant carrying it! We saw a whole trail of them yesterday!

Orb weaver living in the large flight aviary.

Orb weaver living in the large flight aviary.

Plantains growing near the river.

Plantains growing near the river.

Our now flying tiger-heron! Yay!

Our now flying tiger-heron! Yay!

The fire at the edge of the property last night.

The fire at the edge of the property last night.