My trip report for 10 days of beaches, birding, and Belize.
With a 7-day cruise on the horizon, we tacked on 4 extra days of relaxation in Galveston, Texas before boarding the Carnival Magic. My traveling companion, my sweet mother, and I were pumped to go on our 4th cruise. In Galveston, we squeezed in a day of birding between reading and beach walking. Yes, it was rough to dress in something besides a bathing suit. But we managed it for a day. Each morning, God greeted us with lovely sunrises. These are views from the front porch where we stayed for 4 nights.
We first drove the area around 8 Mile Road, spotting lots of ibis and White-tailed kites. At Laffite’s Cove, shorebirds entertained us for an hour before we drove to Yacht Basin Road. Despite the lack of water and being nearly high noon, two Clapper Rails appeared, one preening nearby for more than 5 minutes as we studied its barring through our binos. Half way across the bay on the Bolivar Ferry, we spotted a Magnificent Frigatebird overhead. It circled the ferry for the remainder of the ride.
Best birds during 4 day stay: The rail, the frigatebird, and 1 Great Black-backed Gull from the beach house deck. It was nice to see Black-bellied Plover still in breeding plumage and the White-tailed Kite took up residence every morning over the large undeveloped acreage next door. There also were some HUGE dragonflies migrating in swarms.
On Sunday, we squeezed our suitcases shut and drove to the Lighthouse Parking on 29th Street. For $55, there is covered parking and a shuttle bus directly to the terminal. The cruise line parking is $50, but not covered and you HAVE to drop off your luggage at the terminal first and then go park in the cruise lot. They won’t let you take luggage on their shuttles. I’ll always use the Lighthouse from now on. You park, they drive the shuttle to your car, get your luggage out of the car for you and load it. When you reach the terminal within a few minutes, they take off the luggage and Carnival personnel take it. (When we arrived home, the Lighthouse shuttle was at the curb waiting on us.)
Once inside the terminal, we only waited about 20 minutes before we were processed. Got the obligatory “welcome aboard” picture taken and then proceeded to eat, of course! Entertainment and shows were cranking up and the buffet line was busy. No passengers can’t get to the rooms for a couple of hours as the elevators are being used by the luggage personnel dropping off allllllllllllllllll those bags at the doors to the rooms. It always amazes me that all the luggage is placed in the hallways until guests come down hours later, and yet, I’ve never heard of or seen anyone stealing or messing with it. We were pleasantly surprised to find our room on the Carnival Magic a bit bigger than the Carnival Conquest. Even the bathroom was a tiny bit larger. My hint to first time cruisers: Never enough clothes hangers! I take plastic ones and leave them behind at the end of the trip if they don’t fit in my luggage–they’re usually replaced with treasures from the ports.
The first 2 days at sea were packed with game shows, trivia games, watching karaoke and of course, more lounging. I finished 2 books during the trip plus several magazines. The magic show was outstanding, the big screen showing of Cher’s last concert was entertaining and there were a lot of movies that I missed because we were doing other things. Exploring the ship took some time as we’d never cruised on the Magic, the second largest in Carnival’s fleet. (I can honestly say I like the design of the Conquest better. It’s more open, higher ceilings in the halls and the Conquest atrium is larger and often the hub of activity prior to dinners.)
Our first port day was Honduras and right off the boat was a nature trail which we immediately took. We saw several Canivet’s Emerald with their long forked tail. But the most numerous bird was the Mangrove Vireo. There was a very cooperative, appearing at eye level once we reached the summit of the trail. (Please ignore hat hair below!)
There was a hummer with long wings projecting beyond it’s tail but not forked. Squared tail. With a slice of emerald green down it’s back and a little light shoulder patch. I have yet to call it anything and likely won’t.
A pair of Golden-fronted Woodpeckers continued calling and flying about the entire time we were there and a Great Crested Flycatcher posed within a few feet of us. We scanned every Turkey and Black Vulture hoping for Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture but no luck at Roatan (later seen in Belize). By about noon, the humidity and temps got to us and we went for some AC relief in the stores and left behind a few dollars. There were many iguanas lounging on the limbs.
Our second port day was Belize. I had hired Peter Herrera (via email months ahead), a local birder who bands and surveys birds throughout Belize. He normally guides extended trips but he was not busy on the 20th, so he agreed to take us inland for the day. He picked us up at the dock and we traveled in his extended cab pickup that was surprisingly quiet. No roaring motor. He was fantastic guide. Knew all the calls, new the locations, new the history of the country, and had a wonderful story to tell about how he became a birder. I encourage you to read it and if you need a bird guide in Belize, contact Peter. You won’t be sorry.
My first lifer on Belize was a Melodious Blackbird. When I heard the calls, I was mesmerized! A blackbird making beautiful music? Who knew? Here’s a clip but doesn’t do it justice!
Next lifer was a Gray-breasted Martin, several swooping around us and perched on telephone wires. On the way to Crooked Tree, Peter stopped at his favorite lagoon area for Boat-billed Heron. The three of us crawled into the bed of Peter’s pickup for a scope view of this bird that had been on my must-see list for several years! Luckily the two we observed were actively pruning. Otherwise, they would have completely blended into the mangroves where they perched.
On a dirt road surrounded by Belize “forest,” my lifer Blue Ground-Dove perched nearby. A true blue beauty! The only regularly-occurring parakeet in Belize, the Olive-throated Parakeet, made several appearances throughout the day.
By the time we reached our final destination at Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary, we had only a short time to bird and return to the port. We had made NUMEROUS stops throughout Belize City. Being at and near sea level, there were marsh and ponds everywhere and of course, we HAD to stop to see what was on them. I was a little surprised that we even made it to Crooked Tree. My last lifer for the day was a Tropical Peewee. But we were immediately distracted by the call of a Black-headed Trogon, which unfortunately stayed hidden but called for more than 20 minutes. I just despise HO (Heard Only) birds! Especially a TROGON!
My mother’s life list was much longer for the day as she had not gone to Panama where I’d previously birded. Her list included (but not limited to) Limpkin, Social Flycatcher, Gray-necked Wood-rail, Groove-billed Ani, Common Toddy-Flycatcher, and our last bird of the day, a Jabiru! With the beak of a dinosaur-like creature, this immature individual seemed to be a little lost, near a restaurant with numerous people milling about. Peter said it’d been in the same general beach area for 2 weeks. Peter had studied the bird extensively and assured me it was healthy. Maybe a little crazy but healthy. It stood about 4 feet from us. Jabiru, 4 foot away. Imagine it!
Belize Audubon manages much of acreage at Crooked Tree and continue to educate the locals in the importance of this Jabiru breeding ground. Although we didn’t see any in the sanctuary because Peter said they have dispersed at this time of year. We stopped at one of the local homes where Peter is friends with the owner. They produce cashews. The trees surround the property and they roast they straight off the tree. OMGosh! They were delicious! We got a big ole’ bag but by the end of the day they were GONE! Should have bought some to bring home.
Do you know what a cashew nut looks like? Blew me away when I saw it. Had no idea.
Right before we saw the Jabiru, Peter discovered we love our salsa. He said, “We need to make a stop then.” He assured us we’d love the local hot sauce and then told us a story about a local woman who had grown habenero peppers to sell to a large company that went defunct before her plants produced. Once they produced, she decided to just make some salsa for her family and friends. All the family and friends LOVED what she made in different degrees of hot. After several months of people telling her, you need to bottle and sell these, she decided to try. She took a few bottles to several stores and they sold quickly. She now bottles and produces the hot sauce worldwide. We haven’t cracked open the bottles yet, but looking forward to it.
As we pulled away from Belize, we saw three Brown Booby on a industrial metal cap of some type. Not a lifer for me (seen off of FL), but it was for my mother.
Our last port was Cozumel. We shopped and hit the beach. No birding other than the vultures and frigatebirds overhead.
The last two days were uneventful as far as birds. But we enjoyed the entertainment on board and reading yet more books. Having stayed in Galveston and relaxed for 4 days prior to the trip made me jelly by the time we arrived home.
- Belize: 4 Eco-Nature Destinations (interactivejungle.com)