Birding Chan Chich Lodge, Belize (Part 1)

 Earlier this month Jacob and I spent a full week at Chan Chich Lodge in western Belize. We chose Chan Chich for a number of reasons but mostly because the birding was supposed to be great, there were lots of options for day trips and birding outings, and it is surrounded by 30,000 acres of rain forest (and several hundred thousand more acres of protected conservation land). The fact that jaguars and other large cats were seen on a somewhat regular basis was also very persuasive.

Flying out of Belize City to Gallon Jug

We flew into the Philip S.W. Goldson International Airport in Belize City where customs took a hot and sweaty several hours thanks to multiple planes arriving at once. Then we had to track down our pilot which took a bit, but eventually he found us and we took off on a tiny plane to head west to Gallon Jug. 

It's a short 25 minute flight to Gallon Jug where Ocellated Turkeys and a Chan Chich guide named Kris were waiting for us. The other option was a 4-hour drive from Belize City to Chan Chich, but the plane sounded more fun. We drove the last 15-20 minutes to Chan Chich in one of their open air vehicles that we would come to know well.

Our cottage

Upon arrival the manager welcomed us and gave us an introduction to the area including some history. Chan Chich was basically built on an archeological site, the lower plaza of a Mayan site, to conserve the area and help prevent looting (of the tombs and ruins) and trophy hunting (of the jaguars). Most (60%) of the food served comes from their organic farm, and they do their best to use eco-friendly and sustainable products. They sell their own organic coffee and hot sauces as well. It's a really cool place. 

We had a little time before dinner to explore the grounds and get excited about the days ahead. 

Front porch view of the central gardens and an Ocellated Turkey

Before I get into all the birds I want to mention that we were a bit worried about staying at a lodge in the middle of nowhere where we would have no control over what and when to eat. There was no store to run off to if we needed a bag of chips. We overpacked granola bars, crackers, and nuts, just in case. It turned out to not be an issue at all. The food was all good and there was always at least one vegetarian option at every meal, often more than one. Plus dessert! Homemade ice cream, hummingbird cake, cheesecake, all sorts of deliciousness. We did not suffer.

Ok, now for the birds! 

Guided bird walk to the staff housing

Our first morning we signed up for the 6:30 a.m. bird walk with one of the lodge guides. The morning's group included a couple from San Francisco (who had seen a jaguar on the bird walk the day before!) and a couple from Omaha, Nebraska. Our guide was Luis, who ended up being our guide on most of our outings and he was great! 

Crested Guan

Luis led us to the main entrance road, then down a side road to one of the staff housing areas. Chan Chich staff get free housing (including water and electricity) close to the lodge. 

This area was very birdy from the Crested Guans eating fruit right by the road to the Ocellated Turkeys strolling around to our lifer White-necked Puffbirds flying overhead. The biggest draw here was a single tree behind one of the house's that I think was a fruiting gumbo limbo tree.

Boat-billed Flycatcher tossing back the fruit

Our first glimpses of Yellow-winged Tanager

Ocellated Turkey

The ubiquitous Social Flycatcher

The bird walk was fun, complete checklist here. We were back at the lodge in time for breakfast which was served until 9:00. I should mention we ate every meal outside on their big covered deck which faces their gardens and water feature. One of our first meal lifers was at lunch that first day when Jacob spotted a Central American Pygmy-Owl perched very close by. 

Central American Pygmy-Owl

Everyone at lunch got to enjoy this bird, including the staff who were also trying to take pics. Eventually the Gray Catbirds discovered it and harassed it till it tired of the attention and left.

It did not take long to realize that birding around the lodge was fantastic! We joined the 6:30 a.m. bird walks most mornings and wandered around on our own as well. Our second morning walk with Luis was to a different staff housing area where someone spotted a perched White Hawk.

White Hawk

Another Ocellated Turkey

Everyone but me had seen a Red-capped Manakin on this outing so I was bummed, but then we went to breakfast and one was hanging out right next to our table.

Red-capped Manakin: the perfect bird?

Do not forget they have yellow pants

Morelet's Seedeater, a lunch bird

That evening after dinner we decided to take a walk down the main entrance road with our flashlights to see if we could find anything cool. Of course we hoped for a jaguar or other big cat but really I thought maybe we'd see some cool frogs or a rodent. Things started off tame with giant spiders and a click beetle.

Wandering spider?

Click beetle

We had not gone very far down the road when Jacob said "cat!" I lifted my binoculars to see a freaking ocelot cross the road ahead of us and disappear into the woods. Holy crap. We got closer and Jacob spotted the cat watching us from the trees.


This blew our minds. Even though we knew this area was known for cats we still did not believe we would see one!


It was hard to focus on much else after the cat but this was my lifer Central American Gulf Coast Toad:

The next day the couple from Omaha was on a tour driving to the Gallon Jug farm when they spotted a puma in the road! This place is the real deal for cats. 

We did lots of wandering around the main grounds because there were birds everywhere. The lodge has its own eBird hotspot if you want to check it out, and our guide Luis is the #2 birder. Here are some pics from our wanders:

(Northern) Tropical Pewee always perched on one particular slope

Melodious Blackbird by the pool

Blue-black Grosbeak next to the restaurant deck

Best photo I could get of Long-billed Hermit

Seriously, there were birds in every corner of the property!

Black-cheeked Woodpecker behind our cottage

Masked Tityra next to our cottage  

Northern Waterthrush behind our cottage

As you can tell, we had a really fun time here! I have lots more to share soon. Good times!!!