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Tired. Exhausted. Dirt under my fingernails. More than my share of mosquito bites.
We were on our way to the airport in Belize to go home after our two-week adventure. Our first week we spent on Ambergris Caye, scuba diving every day and the second week we spent birding at places such as El Pilar, Mountain Pine Ridge, Aguacate, Blue Hole National Park, and even Tikal, Guatemala. But now it was time to go home and my heart ached a little bit at the thought of leaving Belize.
We were squeezing in one more birding trip before our guide, Eric, was to drop us off at the airport. The nervous-Nellie side of me didn’t like the idea of doing some birding right before we caught our flight back home, but Eric assured us that there was time and he promised me that I’d get a good look at some Jabiru Storks at Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary.
That’s all I needed to hear. I wanted to get a good look at a Jabiru Stork. I saw some juveniles–not yet fledged–in Rio Lagartos, Mexico on our honeymoon two years earlier, but it was only through a scope. I wanted a better look.
Eric was not lying. There were birds galore: Jabiru storks, for sure, and herons, egrets, ibis’s, and terns and the list goes on. It was the end of the dry season and the water was low, which was a special treat, as all the birds were concentrated together. Birding was almost too easy.
An osprey swooped down to catch a tilapia from the lake,
we caught a Limpkin eating an apple snail,
and I was fascinated as I watched a heron shadow feed. (Shadow feeding is when the bird makes a shadow with his wings over the water, which helps him see the fish better for feeding. Rather clever, I’d say.)
The birds didn’t seem to mind that we were there. Unlike warblers who flit around dense leaves and play a game of hide and seek, or the toucan, which I never was able to get a good look at, the waders at Crooked Tree seemed to be indifferent about our presence and had no problem parading out in front of us.
I’m not the first and I won’t be the last who will write this: Being out in nature and seeing wildlife–birds in this particular instance–is a very reverential experience.
I find spirituality in churches, synagogues, cathedrals, temples and especially in nature, and the reverence I feel in watching birds astounds me every time, and never so much (at least up to this point) as when I was at Crooked Tree.
Wonderment. Respect. Awe. It’s akin to the feeling I had when I sat in the Sistine Chapel and looked up at Michelangelo’s masterpiece until my neck couldn’t take it any longer. Or when I first heard Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor played live on a big church organ. Yes, sometimes birding gives me spine-tingling moments.
And so who cares that I had dirt under my fingernails. I was in a sacred place and my soul felt cleansed.
More photos of the birds at Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary. Click on any in the gallery below and you will taken to a slide show where you can view it much better.
When we were planning our two-week honeymoon to Mexico three years ago I was thinking about lounging around on the beach and spending a lot of together time watching sunsets, eating Mexican food and just blissfully looking into each other’s eyes.
Steve, on the other hand was thinking about birding.
I was a little skeptical at first, because the only birding we had really done together during our two-year long-distance courtship was when he was in Utah visiting and we went to Antelope Island or Bear River Wildlife Refuge. Those were really just day trips. We hadn’t really done any serious birding with guides in Utah.
But Steve didn’t want to miss the opportunity to see some lifers in Mexico while we were there, so he arranged to have bird guides at each of our locations: Cancun, Rio Lagartos and Celestun. (We also went on to Cozumel for the last three days of our honeymoon, but we didn’t do any birding there–we went scuba diving instead.)
One of the most memorable birding trips was when we arose at 4:00 a.m. (yes, on our honeymoon) and drove two hours north to Rio Lagartos, a little fishing village where flamingos are known to nest. We got a little lost as we went through one of the small towns on the way to Rio Lagartos. The streets were crazy! All were one-way streets, and would you know it, all the signs were in Spanish. We eventually flagged down a taxi driver and we convinced him to let us follow him out of the town on to the main road. I gave him a few Pesos for his effort and on our way we went. At 6:00 a.m. we arrived in Rio Lagartos and met Diego our guide. Steve had made arrangements with him before the trip to take us on a private birding tour.
We saw so much! The highlight was seeing the young Jabiru storks in their nest (it was a total National Geographic moment, as I saw them practicing how to fly by flapping their wings and lifting up their spindly legs over their nest). We also saw the Ferruginous Pygmy-owl get hassled by a bevy of birds (including a hummingbird) who all wanted him to get out of town.
We walked deep into the mangrove jungles and navigated carefully across broken foot bridges and I was impressed by Diego’s thoughtfulness in taking care of the precious area by picking up trash left behind by previous explorers.
At lunchtime we took a break and had lunch at Diego’s family restaurant. (Yea! More chips and guacamole!) Then Diego’s son, Diego Jr., and his daughter, Andrea, and her friend joined us for a boat ride. We saw American flamingos, Roseate Spoonbills, and even a crocodile among other things. We stopped at the salt flats and played in the foamy bubbles and the mud. I just loved spending time with Diego and his family. They were so hospitable to us and at the end of our trip I didn’t want it to end.
The next morning we got up not as early and took a private tour of the grounds at the Hacienda Chichen where we were staying in Chichen Itza. My favorite bird, by the way, at this place was the Melodious Blackbird. He’s like the tenor in Turandot and has a big “voice.” To watch the bird sing is fun–the bird squats down a bit to fill his lungs with air and just belts it!