19th-23rd March 2014
Crooked Tree Lodge, Belize
Near the end of my stay at Crooked Tree, I finally got the chance to photograph a Jabiru in a nearby flooded field. I have been told that in normal years these enormous birds are present in quite large numbers along the shoreline of the lagoon, but due to this year's floods there is no exposed shoreline and consequently no Jabirus, Wood Storks or Roseate Spoonbills were present on the lagoon.
As mentioned above, Wood Storks were in short supply this year at Crooked Tree and the only ones I saw were a party of three flying overhead on the final morning of my stay.
Breeding season for the Vermillion Flycatchers was in full swing with the parent birds busily collecting flies to feed their chicks.
They don't make any attempt to hide their nest, making it on the tops of exposed fence posts. It's amazing they manage to rear any chicks to adulthood as the predation rate must be fairly high when the chicks are so completely exposed to the eyes of predators!
As the temperatures rose, the female took up incubating duty to protect the chicks from the blazing heat of the sun.
The Vermillion Flycatchers weren't the only ones engaged in rearing chicks and early one morning a pair of Northern Jacanas shepherded their newly-hatched chicks across the open water of the pond.
The Great-tailed Grackles were not quite so advanced in their breeding cycle and were still at the stage of collecting plant material for their nests.
I spent several afternoons exploring the far side of the lagoon in a kayak. Although I love the freedom of paddling around around the water on my own, it does have the downside that I am limited to only being able to take the 400mm with me, meaning I have to get much, much closer to the birds than if I was using the 600. Fortunately that is not difficult with the abundant Snail Kites and I had numerous opportunities to get frame-filling shots of these beautiful and fascinating raptors.
The long, sharply hooked bill of the Snail Kite is superbly adapted, and perfectly shaped, for the purpose of eating Apple Snails, of which their diet is almost exclusively made up of.
The abundance of their prey, and the reason for the high density of Snail Kites around the lagoon, is obvious from the number of egg cases on the emergent vegetation (see photo below). The Apple Snail lays its eggs under the cover of darkness and then drops back into the water. Unfortunately for it, the space in its body cavity that had been filled by the eggs is now filled with air and the snail is unable to escape into the relative safety of the underwater world and is left floating on the surface until it is able to expel the air from its body. During the couple of days this takes to achieve, the snails are easy pickings for the Kites.
Ospreys, although common, were a lot more timid and I found it impossible to get close enough to the perched birds to photograph them. Occasionally though one would fly-by close enough for a decent flght shot.
My main target on my kayaking forays, however, were the numerous Fork-tailed Flycatchers. These spectacular birds were also unfortunately a bit timid, and it took a lot of patience and perseverence to get sufficiently close to take a decent photo.
While clearing up a building site at the lodge, a couple of tarantulas were found and translocated to a nearby tree for me. The above photo was taken shortly after it had been moved but as it got over the stress of being handled it wandered to the underside of the branch and settled down to rest in a shady crevice. (below).
On my final morning, a small flock of birds, including the Hooded Warbler and Ivory-billed Woodcreeper shown here passed through some palm trees on the shoreline.
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