Category Archives: Birds

In which we lose our camera… (and other disasters) Though the trip was a lot of fun.

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Towards the end of June, during Bayram, we went to Greece again.  This was a rather mixed adventure. We did, of course, have a wonderful time, but a couple of not very good things happened.

The first day we rode up to Cannakale. A longish ride but, once we got past Izmir, a pleasant one. There’s a really great place right above Assos where we stopped for tea and to admire the view.  Canakkale itself was, as ever, a lively and interesting place to spend an evening. Come morning we headed for the border. There were a load of cars parked up in a sort of queue but we just rode past them. It was very hot and there was a longish wait to get across the border but, really, no hassle. Though being stuck in very hot sunshine for an hour or so was not all that pleasant. Other travelers reported waiting eight hours or more at that crossing so we were lucky.  Once over the border we had a smooth run to Loutra near the Evros Valley and Alexandropolis. Our hotel room was overlooked by a huge tree occupied by a large colony of Spanish sparrows who were a constant source of entertainment.

Dadia-vulturesThe village has three hotels and one restaurant (semi-attached to our hotel). We took several walks around the area seeing bee eaters and a whole load of different raptors, although it was not really the best time of year for birding in the area. We rode over to Dadia forest and walked up to the hide for viewing the vultures. Got some wonderful photos. On our last night, we gave some mosquito repellent to some fellow guests which, somehow or other, led to several bottles of wine, ouzo, cheese and dancing till the early hours.

 

Next morning we headed to Chalkidiki where we had arranged to meet up with some friends from the UK. We had booked a hotel in Afitos which is absolutely lovely.  OK, it’s a holiday resort and totally geared up for tourists, but that has distinct advantages. We found a bar with a wonderful view…

We met up with our friends and had a very good lunch and a long natter. Then it was off to Kerkini.

Well, we love Kerkini. We met up with Vassilis who is an expert on the local wildlife. His nickname is Πελικανος. We took a boat trip with him in the early morning out to the drowned forest and where the pelicans are. We took lots of wonderful photos. We went to where he told us the bee eaters were.  You can see Ashley searching for the bee eaters in the picture below.  We took lots of wonderful photos. We went out to where he told us the rollers were. We didn’t see rollers but…. On the way home we had a luggage malfunction and lost the DSLR. And all the photos. Except the ones I took on the pocket camera.  Which is why there are no high quality photos in this post.

We retraced our steps to the place of the rollers (still saw no rollers) then Ashley went out again on the back of Vassilis’ bike. And they saw rollers (but I was in the hotel with my Kindle).

That, sadly, was not the end of the bad stuff. The bike made a horrible clunk as we were leaving Chalkidiki. And, by the time we got to Kerkini, there was obviously something wrong. Vassilis called in a friend of his who is a mechanic and, between Vassilis, his friend and Ashley, they managed to shorten the clutch cable. But it was not right. When in neutral, the bike kept creeping forwards…

Next day we rode to Kavala. It was very, very hot. We arrived many hours before our ferry was due to sail and sat in a bar, drinking coffee, then in a restaurant where we had a meal. There was a huge air and naval show going on and it was entertaining to watch the jets flying formation and the helicopters making whirlpools around the harbour.  The show continued whilst we queued for the ferry and as we left the harbour on the ferry.

We didn’t have a cabin. We had booked airline seats but the lounge was very noisy so we attempted to sleep in the bar area. Got off the ferry at Lesvos and stayed for three nights at our usual Studios (Shine Studios – really well equipped and tastefully decorated studio apartments with lovely owners, highly recommended) whilst we waited for space on the boat back to Ayvalik. We went to visit the house again. At this point we were waiting for the formalities to be done and the vendor to fix a date to come out to Lesvos to visit the notary together and finalise the sale.

The bike got us to Mytilini, onto the ferry, off again and as far as just before Menemen. At which point Ashley decided it was not safe to ride it any further. We phoned Harley Izmir who were not able to send a recovery vehicle to us till the next day. The guys in the petrol station we stopped in phoned a friend and we got recovered to Harley Izmir.  Not cheap, but necessary and very efficient.

We sat for an hour in the café at Harley Izmir awaiting a diagnosis. It was a broken clutch bearing. Which was replaced and, after about 90 minutes, we were on our way.

There was an incredible amount of traffic on the way out of Izmir (did I mention it was really, really hot?), but it thinned out just before the (toll) motorway. We’d planned to do stuff after we got home but, really… we were pretty totally exhausted. So dinner out then bed.

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Rio Lagartos

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Rio Lagartos is really all about the birds.  It’s a small fishing village in a quiet location, with a few hotels and restaurants.  Day trippers come in from all around to hire a boatmen to take them out to see the flamingos.  You really do need to AdolescentBrownPelicanhire a boat to get to see the flamingos.  All the way along the estuary we saw ospreys flying overhead.  And, of course, crocodiles (the Spanish invaders made a mistake as Rio Lagartos is not a river and contains crocodiles, not alligators).  Just strolling by the harbour we saw two kinds of pelicans (brown and white), including this youngster who had bitten off more than it could chew.  Apparently the fish do go down eventually!  There are royal terns all over the boats and cormorants everywhere.

One bar/restaurant where we took to hanging out feeds the humming birds which can be seen coming and going whilst the humans enjoy a beer.  Sadly none of the many photos we took of the hummingbirds came out very well.  It was a very relaxing few days at the end of our trip and the birding was wonderful.

Caye Caulker and Orange Walk

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Our next stop was Caye Caulker, a ‘barefoot’ island in the Caribbean.   Sadly we have no photos from there.  It’s a laid back island with some excellent snorkeling.   We snorkeled.  We snorkeled over coral reefs and with nurse sharks and rays.  We saw seahorses.  It was a great day out but Ashley got too much sun which meant a quiet day the next day.  We ate lion fish.  Lion fish are an invasive species which are damaging the corals and the general marine ecology of the area.  Tourists are encouraged to eat them.  They are delicious, especially when stuffed with lobster tail.  Reggae is everywhere on Caye Caulker.

After three nights on Caye Caulker we headed for Orange Walk (where we took lots of photographs).  The journey was interesting as the bus conductor (on the run between Belize City and Orange Walk) decided we didn’t actually want to do into Orange Walk but to a tourist lodge about ten miles outside of Orange Walk itself.  He would not be dissuaded so we ended up having to get another bus.  Orange Walk has a handful of hotels but is not really set up for big tourism.  We stayed in a beautiful lodge by the side of the river.  The view from just outside our bungalow is in the picture at the top of this post.  The river is rich in wildlife.

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Apart from the crocodiles (we saw many, two different species), we saw all sorts of herons and egrets, cormorants, bitterns, a wood stork, anhinga, wood rail, kingfishers, spider monkeys, the ubiquitous Montezuma’s oropendolas, iguanas and an osprey.  Many could be seen from the hotel grounds but we saw more when we took the boat trip to Laminai.

The boat trip to Laminai was fantastic – one of the highlights of the trip.  We had a very knowledgeable guide who was able to ensure that we didn’t miss any wildlife or any aspect of the important Maya site.  We had all taken bananas for the monkey but the monkey was only interested in chocolate.  None of us had any chocolate.  On the way back we viewed a molasses factory and some of the people on the boat bought molasses.  Most of which, of course, is used in rum production.

The site itself has some extraordinary reliefs, though many have been carefully restored and preserved using fibreglass.  Laminai is interesting as it was one of the sites that was still occupied by Maya when the Spanish arrived.

And, finally, here are some of the best bird pictures from this part of the trip!

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Anhinga

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Little blue heron

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Northern Jacaranda

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Russet Naped Woodrail

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

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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.

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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.