One of my favorite summer birds is the wood thrush with its flute-like song echoing through our woodlands.
Alas, we enjoy the tune only for a few warm months before the thrush heads south again. This year, I got to see one in January — but it was in Belize in Central America.
Wood thrush numbers have plummeted across the eastern United States. Fragmented forests here and in Central America are major factors. Forsyth Audubon is partnering with the National Audubon Society’s International Alliances Program and Belize Audubon Society in support of wood thrush research and conservation efforts.
On Jan. 11, five of us traveled to Belize. Not only did we experience the rich diversity of bird species, but we also spent time with local Audubon members conducting bird surveys, providing eBird data collection training and discussing ideas for signage at their wildlife sanctuaries.
Upon our arrival at Black Orchid Resort, we were greeted by a pileated-like lineated woodpecker and knew immediately this was a great spot to begin our adventure.
Early next morning, we were in a boat on the Belize River. Accompanied by Matt Jeffery of International Alliances, we watched red-lored parrots and Montezuma oropendolas fly overhead, while raucous groove-billed anis, colorful black-cowled orioles and other tropical species foraging along the shore. For most of us, these were previously unseen “life” birds. Many more were to come.
Later, at the Baboon Community Sanctuary, we met a howler monkey carrying her baby, and posed for photos with her family. Our guide, Russell, knew his birds, too. Hearing a piercing call, he tracked down a rufous-tailed jacamar. Close views of this rufous, a metallic green bird with a dagger-like bill, provided a trip highlight for all.
Belize Audubon assigned us a task on Monday: Conduct a bird survey along the Burdon Canal at the edge of Belize City. Helping us was Lee Jones, author of “Birds of Belize,” and several Audubon folks. Many species we saw were familiar wading birds — herons, egrets, ibis, wood storks. But the bare-throated tiger heron was new for many and thrilled even the local birders. And how often do you see three kingfishers — our own belted, plus ringed and green?
A second job on Monday fell to Katherine Thorington, who used to live in Winston-Salem. She led an eBird training session for sanctuary wardens and other local Audubon staff. The goal is to have Belize Audubon use eBird to maintain a permanent and accessible online record of its bird survey data to support future conservation efforts. We also conducted training at St. Herman’s Blue Hole National Park and Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, which are both administered by Belize Audubon.
Blue Hole and Cockscomb offer upland forest habitat for a tremendous variety of birds. Guides Israel and Frederico showed us many new birds, but many others we already knew. About 230 species native to the U.S. winter in Belize.
For example, we found catbirds, wood thrushes and 13 warbler species, such as magnolia and American redstart. Kitty Jensen, of Winston-Salem, waited for birds to come to her. Resting on a Cockscomb bench, she watched an ovenbird gather crumbs at her feet.
At Cockscomb, we also assisted with a bird-banding project. It was exciting to hold manakins and hummingbirds in our hands as we released them, although Shelley Rutkin, of Winston-Salem, worried when her little hummer delayed take off. But after a puff of air on the bird’s rump, away it went.
We crammed much birding into our final two days, but the brilliant red, blue and yellow scarlet macaws at Red Bank likely left the most lasting impression.
Then at Mayflower Bocawina National Park we walked through Mayan ruins and continued to add species to our “life” lists. Jeremy Reiskind, of Winston-Salem, especially liked the woodcreepers and black-faced grosbeaks. Of the 158 total species that I saw in Belize, they are high on my list of highlights.
As we waited for flights at the Belize airport, we were already thinking about future Audubon trips to Belize and possible visits to Winston-Salem by our new Belizean friends. For more about the trip and the birds we saw, look for blogposts at www.forsythaudubon.wordpress.com.
On Saturday, the Forsyth Audubon Saturday Bird Walk is at Salem Lake. Meet at 9 a.m. at the Linville Road parking area at the east end of the lake. For more information, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bird’s-Eye View is a joint column by Ron Morris and Phil Dickinson. If you have a birding question or story idea, write to Bird’s-Eye View in care of Features, Winston-Salem Journal, P.O. Box 3159, Winston-Salem, N.C. 27101-3159, or send an email to email@example.com. Please type “birds” in the subject line.