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iPhoniscoping Belize [slideshow]

Text and images by Hugh Powell

Over the holidays I went to Belize, Central America, for a week. I didn’t take a camera, but I brought my phone. And though I’m not an expert iPhoniscoper by any stretch, the tropics offer enough large, colorful birds that even I was able to nab a few pics through my Nikon Monarchs.

It was a great trip—a modest 171 species in 7 days, including 3 days just hanging around (and snorkeling from) the sleepy beach town of Placencia. I had spent the Saturday before my trip on a Christmas Bird Count in western Massachusetts, where we fought 20-degree weather for a Golden-crowned Kinglet and a Winter Wren.

Three days later I had seen three species of toucan before seven in the morning. We also saw all four toucan species, two motmots, a jacamar, four kingfishers, three parrots, both oropendolas, two manakins, a hawk-eagle, a family of howler monkeys, plus subtler delights like Sepia-capped Flycatcher and Rufous Mourner.

I was also amazed to be reminded of how so many of North America’s breeding birds cram themselves into roadsides and forest edges of Central America. Gray Catbirds were the most common species we saw, period. They were in towns, abandoned lots, forest interiors, pastures and plowed fields, along streams, crossing roads at dawn, and on fenceposts at dusk. Usually with a Wood Thrush or two right alongside them. I saw more Magnolia Warblers than I’ve ever seen before, along with 17 other species of warblers and the occasional Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

Belize is a friendly country where English is the main language (spoken with a delightful Caribbean lilt); the food revolves around coconut-flavored rice and beans, spiced with habañero peppers if you like. Large parks and preserves help the country retain more of its forest than in many other Central American countries. The size of the country (60 by 180 miles; about the same area as Massachusetts) keeps its bird list manageable (in the 600 range), meaning it can be a great introduction to tropical birding. Does anyone else have good memories from a trip to Belize?

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American Kestrel by Blair Dudeck / Macaulay Library