Our main reason for coming to the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary was to take a guided boat-tour of the various waterways for a good look at some of the many species of wildlife to be found here. We were up at 5:30 AM on our first morning to grab a light breakfast of fruit slices, juice and coffee before we sauntered over to the boats shown here. As it turned out, the only other people who signed up for the tour were an American couple from South Dakota that we had sat with for dinner the evening before. Since the tour costs US$80 (shared between 1-4 passengers) or $20 per person ( for 5-8 passengers), we ended up paying $40 for this 3 hour session - and it was well worth it! No one seemed in a rush to get into the boat, so Sue and I sat right up front for this almost 'personal' tour!
We were on the water before 6:30 AM and it was a great day, already warming up and with very few clouds or wind. Our driver Leny (second photo) did a great job as he took us along the shore toward the causeway, pointing out all sorts of birds and creatures sitting or hiding in the trees or along the edge of the lagoon. One of the most interesting things along here were the Green Iguanas, trying to warm up in the morning sunshine (third photo). Known locally as "bamboo chicken", it is the largest lizard in Belize and one of the largest in the world. A full grown male can reach nearly 7 feet, most of it being tail. Since they often perch on a branch overhanging water, when threatened they will plunge into the water for safety. The Green Iguana diet changes with age, with juveniles often foraging on the forest floor, as they search for invertebrates such as insects, grubs, worms and snails. The adult is mainly a plant eater, feeding on berries, leaves and fruit. Occassionally it will catch and eat small mammals and nestling birds.
After a lagoon-side look at some of the houses and Logwood trees (see my 'Local Customs' tips) in Crooked Tree village, we swung around and headed back along the shore toward the far end of the lagoon.
We had seen quite a few birds on the first part of our voyage, near the civilized part of the lagoon beside Crooked Tree Village, but we really enjoyed the trip down to the far end of the lagoon and then onward into Spanish Creek. Leny continued to impress us with his knowledge and keen eyes in picking out things that we would never have seen as we puttered along. However, we passengers helped him out by spotting a few ourselves as he steered the boat (it was tricky trying to watch for flying birds, ones sitting in tree tops, others hiding among the branches, some swimming and others on nests). So many things were popping up that I began to keep a list of our sightings: Caspian Tern, Vermillion Flycatcher (bright red), Jacana (really big feet), Limpken, Turkey Vulture, Baltimore Oriole, Groove-billed Ani, Pie-Coloured Heron, Great Blue Heron, Killdeer, Mangrove Swallow, Pied-billed Grebe, Black Vulture, Osprey (diving and grabbing a Tilapia fish), Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Green Heron, Tropical Cormorant, Cattle Egret, Snowy Egret, Great Egret, Black-Collared Hawk, Great Black Hawk, Snail Hawk, Roadside Hawk, Jesus Christ Lizard (runs so fast it can 'walk' on water), Common Tody Flycatcher, Cardinal, Boat-billed Heron, Squirrel Cuckoo, Trogon, Bare-Throated Tiger Heron and Sun Grebe! The best bird watching trip I ever took!! We also surprised the odd crocodile too as we made our way slowly up the winding creek.
Finally, we turned back for the lodge and it was fantastic sitting up front as we roared around the bends in the warm sunshine! Sue and I just looked at each other and laughed - life was good!
After returning from our boating excursion, Sue and I had a proper breakfast and then sat out again at our little Palapa recounting our adventures and enjoying the peace once more. While there, two of the local ladies turned up at the Lodge looking for donations from the owners to help with a bake sale they were running in the Village. Shirley Guest and Antoinette Hope came over just to talk to us and we had a great conversation about many things (Shirley's husband had been in the British Army and they had been posted to various places like Hong Kong and London). Taking them up on their offer to join them in Crooked Tree Village, we struck out later in the afternoon (second photo) to have a closer look at the village.
It was a pleasant walk, since we were in no hurry, but we soon noticed the different heat effect of the afternoon sunshine once we were away from the cooling influence of the lagoon! There were hadly any people about, but it was nice to just take in the sights of the quaint houses dotted among the many small pastures (third photo). One of the ponds we passed had a crocodile laying as still as a log while on the other side of a wire fence passing through the pond was a herd of pigs! We finally made it all the way back to where the causeway arrives on the island and saw the ladies again, just as things were winding down. It was a nice way to put in our final afternoon, before heading off for San Iganacio area on the Guatemala border the next day.
There was a large group of professional bird watchers at the Lodge when we arrived in Crooked Tree, and I'm not surprised given that this is an amazing Sanctuary. Just before it was time for dinner, as the sun was thinking of setting, they arrived back from a walking tour of the island. The chap in the photograph with the long white telephoto lens hanging off his shoulder was the leader of the group and makes a living conducting these types of tours all over the world, from Uganda to Australia and anywhere else you can think of. Just by coincidence, six days later we ran into the same bunch during a one night stopover we made at a hotel in Guatemala's Tikal National Park.
We drifted over by the fence along the road leading into the lodge and listened in on some of his commentary. He could spout off all the details and habits of every one of the birds just like he was reading straight out of a book and it was very helpful to us, especially when he spotted a nice Anhinga perched on a fence off in the distance. Due to the pre-arranged seating for meals, we never really got a chance to talk with any of this group, and when they were not eating, they were off on more expeditions. Of course, if you wish, the Lodge can arrange these types of tours for individual visitors or in small groups (their 'Nature walks' are US$5 per person/hour). We did our own walk the next day, after we had taken the guided morning boat tour instead.
It may seem simple, but just sitting at this little picnic table affair under a palapa on the Bird's Eye View Lodge waterside was one of the most relaxing things we did in our entire 3 weeks in Belize. We had spent the morning driving back north from our 'Hopkins' coastal excursion and, by mid-afternoon, were ready to just sit around a bit to enjoy our new surroundings.
It was a typically beautiful Belize day, a blue sky with the hot sun beaming down. However, a brisk wind off the cool waters surrounding Crooked Tree island made the temperatures just about perfect. We were immediately amazed by the number of birds inhabiting the place, they wandered up and down the shoreline, like the big-footed Jacana in the second photo that normally walks from lily pad to lily pad. Among other things, there were Herons and Egrets wading a bit further out and small bright red Vermillion Flycatchers fliting about the palapa.
What made this spot really nice was the 'Africa feel' it gave us. Most of the trees were broad leafy types, rather than the beach palms we had encountered on the northern Cayes and in the Hopkins area. This vegetation and the comfortable temperatures really made us feel as if we were sitting beside Lake Kariba in the Central African plateaus of Zambia or Zimbabwe! It was great to sit there simply talking, reading, sipping on a glass or two of wine we had brought with us from Belmopan or just watching the wildlife!
Although most of the buildings in Crooked Tree village were rather weather-beaten, they also had a rustic look that made them quite appealing to look at. We were amused by this Police station, located very close to where the causeway from the mainland arrives on the island. As we strolled past in both directions on our mid-afternoon walk along the village's single dusty road, we never saw any sign of life in the building. Back in Canada, one of my sons-in-law is a Mountie looking for a new posting, so I thought I had better bring this one to his attention! Perhaps he would like to apply for the the position of police chief in Crooked Tree!
We did see 2 or 3 residential buildings that were a cut above the rest. Made of solid material instead of old clapboards, satellite dishes attached and with fences or walls around their extensive grounds, these places looked like they had some money behind them. However, since all were completely deserted, we assumed they must be owned by people living elsewhere who maybe use them for a getaway spot beside the lake.
Crooked Tree is a popular place with birdwatchers because it is in the middle of a lagoon and wildlife sanctuary. Even if you aren't a birdwatcher, spending a day or two in the village and canoeing or otherwise touring the lagoon is a great way to spend some time.