Birding Notes from Ambergris Caye

On the last full day of our trip to Ambergris Caye, I had the chance to go on a birding excursion to a Mayan ruin site outside the town with Professor Paul Patev and Belize fellow Alyssa Ferrell. Despite the blazing mid-day heat, we were able to observe several exciting species. As sometimes occurs when birding, some of the most exciting species we saw were not at the destination itself. On the way to the ruins, we made a stop at a sandfill that looked promisingly “birdy”. Sure enough, in addition to several other species, we saw the striking White Ibis (Eudocimus albus) and the undeniably odd Black-necked Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus) in the brush and standing water along the side of the road. Upon arriving at the ruins, we had looks at several woodpeckers, orioles and flycatchers. Although the birds seemed unperturbed, I found that even under the shade of the trees, the noonday sun was uncomfortably hot. Wanting to sit down for a minute, I walked over to a comfortable looking tree bough low to the ground, only to be greeted by a sign hanging from the branch with the label “poisonwood”. After a short search on Google, I believe this was probably Metopium brownie, commonly known as Black Poisonwood, which contains the same irritating urushiol found in the poison ivy of Massachusetts.  As we were exiting the area, we were lucky to get long, close up looks at a Tri-colored Heron, which was standing on the boardwalk just ahead of us. By its plumage and slightly confused behavior, I’m fairly confident this was a juvenile bird. Young birds will often allow for closer approach than adult birds. Due to the agitated behavior of a nearby pair of stilts, I believe they nest in that same area as the herons there.

In addition to listing birds, I noticed two aspects to birding on Ambergris Caye that surprised me. First, Eurasian Collared Doves (Streptopelia decaocto) seem to be established on the island. This species is not even listed in my guidebook to birds found in Belize, so I’m guessing it exists only in isolated patches or its presence is a very recent occurrence. It is also possible all the birds I saw were escapees and the doves are not currently breeding on the island, but this seems unlikely to me. I do not know what the potential implications of this new species are for the many native avian species of San Pedro. My second observation was the curious lack of gulls along the shoreline, especially given the fact that fishermen frequently clean fish in the shallow water along the beach. I suspect the fishermen do this, in part, to give tourists a chance to interact with the incredible Southern Stingrays (Dasyatis americana) that will swim right over people’s feet to get pieces of fish. However, I would expect gulls to similarly take advantage of this handout given the usual scavenging behavior of many gull species. The abundant Magnificent Frigatebirds (Fregata magnificens) certainly seemed to have no hesitation in diving for nearby scraps. I began to wonder if these large, opportunistic Frigatebirds might outcompete gulls for resources on San Pedro, as they seem to behave in a similar manner to the latter.

I left San Pedro marveling at the species that can be seen both above and below the surface of the water. I naturally hope to return someday! After all, I still need Roseate Spoonbill on my life list…    

 

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