Hawk Migration Association of North America

Tour 2023
Belize Raptor Tour

HMANA 2023 Belize Tour a Soaring Success

HMANA’s Tours program continued its tradition of visiting premier hawk watching and birding destinations around the world this past November with a trip to Belize. The Hook-billed Kite spectacle at the Cattle Landing Hawk Watch was the ‘hook’ for many who participated to witness the world’s largest migration of this species. But the nine-day tour of Belize – which featured stays at four distinct parts of this tiny Central American nation – was about so much more.

A dozen tour participants and I were capably guided by renowned Belize bird expert and local guide, Roni Martinez (and our driver, John), to great birding destinations full of tropical and neotropical migrant bird species. The species tally of 275 reflects the incredible diversity of habitats visited and the guides’ amazing bird-finding abilities, as well as the group’s own enthusiasm for raptors and so much more. 

In terms of raptors, an impressive 32 species were located. Several were migrants like the 500+ Hook-billed Kites (termed ‘hookers’ by the locals) which the group enjoyed at Cattle Landing, along with smaller numbers of more familiar northern migrants – Broad-winged and Swainson’s Hawks, American Kestrels, Merlin, Peregrines, and Cooper’s Hawks. Many southern and more local raptor species were relatively common, too, and provided excellent looks. It’s hard to pick even a few raptor highlights, from soaring White Hawks and Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle to perched Snail Kites and Black-collared Hawks to the many cooperative Roadside Hawks in appropriate powerline habitat. Some group birding highlights from the trip were interacting with the friendly, welcoming crew from the hawk watch; enjoying a morning liftoff of soaring raptors in the mountains after a rainy period; excellent looks at five species of owls including handsome Black-and-white and Spectacled Owls, and the cute diurnal Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls; and of course, the spectacular lagoon boat tour at Crooked Tree from our charming waterfront lodge. It was here where the ‘bird of the trip’ – the elusive Yellow-breasted Crake – made itself abundantly known on a rare daytime foraging trip at floating vegetation right next to the boats! Some other non-raptor highlights were toucans, trogons, nine species of hummingbirds, 18 species of shorebirds, many diverse waterbirds, parrots, a remarkable 26 species of well-fed flycatchers, 22 species of warblers, and regional endemics including the Yucatan Jay and Yucatan Vireo.

Some participants remarked how joyful it was to connect with non-breeding warblers which breed near their homes in the US. It was downright hard to get away from Ovenbirds, Northern Waterthrushes, and Hooded Warblers! Participant Liz Lackey noted so perfectly how hawk watchers, like those in our group, are so skilled at simply ‘finding’ birds, even in dense tropical forests (as well as distant specks in a bright sky). And on a similar theme of praise for people, participant Andrew Sturgess noted that traveling with birders is always so enjoyable as they are often genuinely good people.

It must also be noted how wonderful the Belizean people are, too. Their kindness, warmth, and hospitality truly lived up to the lofty reputation we had all heard about. Our guide, driver, hosts, wait staff, local guides, truck-pushers-out-of-the-mud, and all others who made our trip possible on the ground went to great lengths to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for us. Special cultural tours included a cooking course at Roni’s family farm where his wife led participants in tamale-making. A tour of an authentic Maya village, too, included a homemade lunch and tour of a cacao farm, where we got to make (and enjoy) pure chocolate the traditional way. With a successful first tour now under our belt, HMANA is already thinking about another tour here in the not-too-distant future. Lastly, a big thanks to Ryan Phillips and tour partner, the Belize Bird Conservancy, without who this tour wouldn’t be possible.


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