Category Archives: Birds

Rio Dulce

After Copan we took a series of buses to Rio Dulce.  It is, I think, impossible to describe the beauty of Rio Dulce.  It was hard enough to get good photographs. We spent the first night in a lodge called ‘Kangaroo’.  This failed to impress.  It was set up for tourists, expelled sewage straight into the river and was generally tacky.  We got the lancha up to Hotelito Perdido the next morning.  We’ve been to Hotelito Perdido before.  I would love to go there again.  It is incredibly tranquil.  The situation is sensational and it’s run mostly by volunteers who work for the privilege of staying there.  The meals are all vegetarian and it is, I guess, a bit newagey for some tastes, but I love it there.

What did we do?  Well we took out a kayak on the first day and managed not to sink it.  We had no particular destination, we just paddled up and down the river, enjoying the views and the birdwatching.  The river is full of fish and herons of many sorts.  There are also pelicans, Montezuma’s Oropendola, some frigate birds, flycatchers of many sorts, banded kingfishers…. it’s quite a long list.

We booked a jungle hike for the second day but it was cancelled due to a great deal of rain.  Proving that it’s called rainforest for a reason.  We took the kayak out again when the rain cleared.  The third day we hiked to Livingstone.  A sort of medium difficulty hike but very interesting.  A boat bought us back to the hotel.

Mostly, though, we just lay around the jungle lodge, enjoying the view, lazing in a hammock and reading.  The dog is called Rasta and he likes canoes.

 

 

Xunantunich and Cahal Pech

Xunantunich3

The next day we went to visit Xunantunich and Cahal Pech.  These sites are local to San Ignacio and easily reachable on public transport.  Though I would like to point out that the reggae on the bus from San Ignacio to Xunantunich was…. extremely loud.  From the place the bus dropped us off we caught a cable ferry across the river then a pleasant half hour or so walking to the site.

Xunantunich was not one of the major powers in Maya history, but it does have some wonderful friezes and wildlife.  There were four or five troupes of howler monkeys in the vicinity and they constantly made their presence heard.

 

 

Inside some of the structures there were many bats and the wildlife in general was abundant.

 

 

Cahal Pech is a much smaller site but very charming.  Lots of little plazas and courtyards.

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The day after that, as we failed to find transport to El Pilar, we headed to Belize zoo.  Belize zoo is rather special.  Firstly they only have animals that are living in Belize.  Secondly they do not buy in animals (or swap in).  Every animal there was either born on the site or rescued from somewhere in Belize.  They have a very good release programme but many of the animals do not want to be released!  Furthermore, the feeding wagons attract a great deal of local wildlife.  Here are two yellow winged tanagers and a hepatic tanager exploiting food destined for captive tapirs!  I confess that this is one of my favourite photographs from the entire trip.  The yellow winged tanagers are so, so pretty.

zoo-tanagers

And that was not all!

 

Onwards to San Ignacio

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There is a company which runs buses from Flores through to Cancun.  The buses have toilets (which you are asked not to use any more than you have to) and English speaking guides.  They are marginally more comfortable than the local second class buses.  But their huge advantage is that they are allowed to cross the necessary borders.  We caught one of those from Flores to San Ignacio (in Belize)

Belize is culturally fascinating.  The people there speak English, Spanish and a local language known as Kriol which is a kind of Spanish/French/English patois spoken very, very fast.  San Ignacio itself is quite touristy.  There’s a certain amount of hustle – there’s an entire street full of tour operators offering to take you to various places (it’s pretty well price fixed and none of them were happy to take us to El Pilar).  So we were able to fix ourselves a trip to Caracol, which was one of our definitely ‘must see’ sites and pretty well impossible to reach independently.

I don’t think we have many pictures of San Ignacio, but it is an attractive town (away from the tourist strip, which isn’t all that bad anyway) sitting on a river with a lovely vermillion flycatcher, right in the town centre.

The first afternoon we wandered down to branch mouth, a local beauty spot.  We got lost several times on the way there which was not entire a bad thing as we saw this which we are pretty sure is a lesser yellow legs.LesserYellowlegs

We ate mostly in Ko-Ox Han nah which means ‘Let’s go eat’ – fantastic Belizean food.  Not just chicken rice and beans.  This was where we first experienced fry jacks… But chicken rice and beans along with cole slaw is what you mostly get to eat in Belize.

So, the next day we headed off to Caracol.  It’s a long and bumpy drive (we saw a crocodile in the river), so on the way we stopped to view some caves which were used by the Maya for ritual.

 

Onwards to Caracol.  We had an excellent guide who pointed out a number of birds and other sorts of wildlife, as well as giving us his own take on what the Maya were all about (every guide seems to have their own theories).  I have a list of the birds we saw but the one in the photo is an emerald toucanet.  We were very lucky to see it – they are quite rare.

 

Caracol itself is an interesting site, the largest in Belize – allied at one time with Tikal and subsequently with Calakmul.  The excavations are relatively recent.  There is a wonderful story about a Princess from Caracol who was exiled, for a while to Xunantunich.  Xunanatunich means stone woman.

But really, what we enjoyed most there, was the wildlife.  Belize is excellent for wildlife and there are notices everywhere, exhorting the locals to look after it.

 

 

Tikal

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We organised a trip to Tikal via our hotel.  It was just not possible for us to stay in Flores without visiting Tikal.  We had been there before, in 2010 when Ashley had his arm in a cast.  But Tikal is very, very special.  Yes, it’s a popular site, never devoid of tourists, but it’s also huge with widely separated plazas and some excellent chances for wildlife spotting.

We were there all day and nearly managed to miss visiting the grand plaza with the temple of the Jaguar.  Quite how that happened  I am not quite sure – we left it till last then took a wrong turning.  We ran most of the way there and got back in time for our collectivo back to Flores.

I don’t think anything I can say would do this site justice.  There are a great many really lovely plazas.  My personal favourite is the plaza of the seven temples.

I mentioned the wildlife.  We did see monkeys but no monkey pictures here (we got better monkey pictures on other sites).  We did not manage to get a photo of the dead monkey being eaten by a vulture.  Those vultures do a great job of keeping the forests clean.  What we did see was a trogon.  This was the only sighting of a trogon we got the whole time we were in Central America.  We also saw a motmot but it had lost half of its tail (and therefore could be described as a mot)…  The tree in the picture is a Ceiba tree, sacred to the Maya people it represents the underworld, the real world and the heavens.

 

A weekend in Akyaka

Akyaka-balcony-scene

Taking a break from Central America, and home, we headed off for a weekend in Akyaka.  It is a good place to go late April or early May, it is before it heats up, and before the throngs descend, well, unless you go May bank holiday weekend, in which case it is very busy.   Akyaka is an easy two and a half hours away along good highways so also serves as an excellent opportunity to blow the cobwebs off the bike and check that all is well post winter.

Akyaka-Nova-apptWe stayed in our usual apartment hotel, a simple and comfortable place with facilities to make a breakfast of eggs, cheese, bread, olives, tomatoes, cucumber, honey and strawberries, along with copious quantities of tea.  It would have been possible to cook an evening meal, but why.  Part of the whole point of going to Akyaka is to partake in the local restaurants, many of which are a cut above those in other resorts.   We indulged, a seafood dinner of fried squid and prawns in garlic and tomatoes along with a huge salad and mezes.  Then there was slow kid, an utterly delightful kebab of aubergines and meatballs (not served in the usual way) which we went back for the following night, and slow roast lamb shank in onions and mint.  Then there was ice cream, hand made goat milk ice cream, Hilary discovered the one with roast almond and honey.  So yes, we ate very well. Akyaka-river-and-beer

Between indulging in food and the occasional beer by the river, we had a couple of days out, one walking in the nearby farmland and wetland.  We were hoping to see bee eaters but beyond a possible long distance sighting did not.  We did see a red backed shrike, egrets, storks and a glossy ibis.  The second day we went to Kaunos, it’s an easy day out from Akyaka, in part along a winding road with stunning views of lake Koycegiz, but with a poor surface so we did the return via the small ferry into Dalyan.

Kaunos is a great site, one we have been to a few times.  It is really well maintained and in a wonderful setting, so there is great wildlife in what feels like an archaeological park.  We saw the expected rock nuthatches around the theatre, but the best wildlife is around the old harbour.  Egrets, loads of tortoise, lizards – star agama mostly, and a snake, well we thought it was a snake but it turned out to be a glass snake which is actually a limbless lizard.

 

Lake Prespa

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We left Kerkini in very windy weather.  For this part of the journey we were glad not to be on the bike.  The wind was pushing the car around and trees were falling into the road ahead of us.  We went by a scenic route – bits of highway and bits of very windy mountain roads.  Something to repeat on the bike at some point in the future as the scenery was spectacular.

We were headed for Lake Prespa through which run borders between Greece, Macedonia and Albania.  We did not encounter any snow but there was plenty to be seen on the mountains that surround the lake.

On our first evening we walked from our hotel in Psarides along the shore of the lake.  We saw caves that belonged to hermits, we saw lizards and we had to crawl through a cave to get around a headland.

On our first full day we drove out to various sites where we hoped to see many Prespa-wildcatbirds.  We were not very lucky when it came to taking photographs though we did hear nightingales and cuckoos and Ashley saw an oriole.  We saw more lizards.  We then went across a causeway to an island that used to be attached to the mainland.  There was some very pleasant walking there and we encountered a wild cat.  Well, it was wild about tummy rubs and ear scritches…  It followed us for quite a long way.  Using our monoscope we were able to see the many, many pelicans on their islands in micra Prespa but we have no means of taking photographs at that sort of distance.  It is a pretty island though!

Wildcat-island

 

 

On the last day we went walking upwards through an ancient Greek Juniper grove.  The flora were spectacular.  Fields full of flowers including quite a lot of orchids.   The views out over the lake were amazing.

 

 

Traveling season

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We were in the UK and Ireland in February then, in April, at Hilary’s father’s 90th birthday party in London.  Pretty well as soon as we got back we took of on the ferry to Kavala, hired a car (with some difficulty, as it was a Sunday and everywhere was shut) and drove straight to Lake Kerkini.

Kerkini village is a delightful place.  On this occasion there was a (very well behaved) school party staying in the hotel so we were treated to three nights in a beautifully restored house.  Beers were taken at our favourite bar in the village and meals at the Oikoperigitis where our friend Vasilis is a guide.

black-kite-2On our first day we traveled around the lake, visiting favourite places and taking photographs of birds.  The next day we went up to the monastery, above which is a small reservoir where we were lucky enough to see a black kite perched, motionless in a tree for about twenty minutes. We went on to a spot near the Bulgarian border where rollers are often found but we can’t honestly say that we found any.  It was only a short drive on some extremely good roads.  We did see a very long line of trucks waiting to cross the border.

We also went out on Vasilis’ boat.  This is always a magical experience and different every time.  This year the level of the lake has been kept low to avoid flooding of the villages.  This has not been a totally good thing for the wildlife.  We were not able to enter the drowned forest (which is, sadly, slowly dying) though we did get quite close.

It was, of course, perfect biking weather (we left the bike at home).  But the next part of the trip was very windy so we were, eventually, glad of the hired car.