The Lodge at Chaa Creek, a Belizean eco-resort situated in the midst of a 400-acre private nature reserve, has announced expanded birding activities for 2017 in response to what one naturalist guide said is a growing interest in Belize’s impressive bird population.
Ricky Manzanero, a Chaa Creek naturalist guide with a special focus on birds, said a steady rise in interest about Belize’s avian wildlife has prompted the popular Belizean eco-resort to dedicate more staff and resources towards birding activities, which currently include daily early morning guided birding walks.
“When Chaa Creek hosted the ambitious “Birds Without Borders” project years ago, some guides took the opportunity to learn more about the hundreds of beautiful birds we see here in Belize. It turned out to be a real eye-opener that started a passion for some of us that’s still alive today.
“We also noticed that each year more and more of our visitors were showing an interest in birds. We’ve had serious birders with sophisticated equipment, books and checklists arriving, as well as the more casual visitor who began by saying, ‘what’s that lovely bird called?’ Some of those people began taking more of an interest, and now we see some of them returning year after year.
“It’s a great to watch,” Mr Manzanero said.
The growing interest in Belize’s resident and migratory birdlife prompted Chaa Creek to place a greater emphasis on birding during 2017, he said.
“The early morning birding walks seem to grow in popularity each year, and we have enough trained guides now to cater to a wide range of birding activities. This year we’ll be emphasising birding during guided nature walks, canoe excursions down the Macal River to look at riverine wildlife, horseback rides along the network of trails crisscrossing Chaa Creek’s 400-acre private nature reserve, or even just being on hand to answer guests’ questions.
“’What’s that lovely bird over there called?’ is still a popular one,” Mr Manzanero said.
Chaa Creek’s general manager, Bryony Fleming Bradley, agreed that birding is growing as an activity, and said it was the subject of a recent managers meeting to identify new or refreshed activities for 2017.
“Actually, before my parents first began taking in guests at our family farm and started Chaa Creek as one of Belize’s first eco-resorts, some of our earliest visitors were bird watchers looking for a place to stay in what was then a very remote part of Belize.
“Birds, butterflies and the nearby ancient Maya temples were what attracted people to the Cayo district back then.
“Now, over thirty-five years later, we have regular staff meetings to discuss guest feedback and identify areas where we should place more emphasis and dedicate more resources, and we just completed the annual new year review and planning sessions,” Ms Bradley said.
“Birding was up near the top of the list of visitor interest, so we’ll continue to grow that area,” she said.
Ms Fleming said Belize has long been regarded as a birders’ paradise, with huge resident populations and flocks of migrant species visiting each year to rest and feast amid a veritable smorgasbord of fruits, insects, grains and other foods found in the huge swaths of rainforests, rolling pasturelands, savannahs and seacoast areas.
Migrants make up some twenty per cent of the nearly 600 species found in Belize, with residents such as Belize’s national bird, the Keel Billed Toucan, the Scarlet Macaw, and the Blue Crowned Mot-Mot some of the more popular attractions.
The huge Harpy Eagle, capable of preying on large game like monkeys and sloths, the Jabiru Stork, King Vulture and Great Egret join flocks of parrots and seabirds such as the rare Red Footed Booby and Magnificent Frigate Bird in attracting birders from around the world, Ms Bradley explained.
“We see people in the restaurant and lounge coming back after a day of birding and you can’t help but share their excitement. It rubs off on many of our staff members and even on someone like me, who was born and raised here. You begin to understand why so many people become avid birders,” she said.
Now, about “birding” and “bird watching”…
Jonathan Rosen, author of “The Life of the Skies: Birding at the End of the Nature” discussed “the difference between birding and bird watching” in a New Yorker article of that title.
“Birding is the opposite of being at the movies—you’re outside, not sitting in a windowless box; you’re stalking wild animals, not looking at pictures of them. You’re dependent on weather, geography, time of day—if you miss the prothonotary warbler, there isn’t a midnight showing,” he said, before making a distinction between serious birders and more casual bird-watchers.
“Huge numbers of people are bird-watchers; the United States Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that something like forty-eight million Americans watch birds. Of those, only a tiny fraction have the time, money, and obsessive devotion for hardcore birding,” he explained.
Back at Chaa Creek, Mr Manzanero said he doesn’t give much thought to the distinction between the two terms, except to say that “birding” seems to be the more acceptable designation.
“You’ll never get in trouble by referring to some as a birder,” he said.
“But however you chose to call it, observing, identifying and counting birds is a great pastime. There’s nothing like getting up early when the jungle is just starting to come alive with the sounds of so many birds and other wildlife. It’s just a great time to be out with people, especially when they spot something special, or see a species they’ve been searching for.
“That’s when you realise how rich in wildlife Belize is, and how lucky we are to be surrounded by so much pristine nature.
“During times like that, distinctions such as ‘bird watching’ or ‘birding’ no longer seem to matter.
“I’m sure the birds don’t worry about it either,” he smiled.
The Lodge at Chaa Creek has a team of licenced naturalist guides available to conduct a range of cultural and naturalist tours for individuals, groups, couples and families, Ms Bradley said, and encouraged people to visit Chaa Creek’s website, contact the eco-resort directly, or speak with their travel agents to learn more.
“Better yet, just come for a vacation and bring your binoculars, camera, sensible footwear and a willingness to learn. You may find yourself joining the thousands of other people for whom birding has become a lifelong passion,” Ms Bradley said.
The Lodge at Chaa Creek is a multi award winning eco resort set within a 400-acre private nature reserve along the banks of the Macal River in Belize. It is currently a finalist for National Geographic’s 2017 World Legacy Awards.