Cruise Ship Birding Made Simple

A few months ago, I did a series targeted to the budget birder on birding from a cruise ship and how to put together your own birding cruise.  Although this way does save you money and you can choose any ship you prefer, there is also an option for those who prefer an organized group birding cruise.  Carefree Birding offers a variety of itineraries mostly around the Caribbean.  You basically book the cruise component through their travel agency and then book a birding package for those who wish to go on the birding shore excursions (non-birding family members don’t have to book the excursions).  This offers a nice option if you are short of time to do your own legwork in booking private birding shore excursions such as I did.  Since you have to use their travel agency you do lose out on airline miles for booking through a frequent flyer mile portal such as United Cruises or bargaining for the cruise fare on Cruise Compete, but for many people time = money so they prefer to have everything organized for them.

James Currie of Birding Adventures did a cruise on the Celebrity Equinox (ship details here) and you can see what a typical birding cruise is like on his videos.

Costa Rica, Belize & Cozumel – it was nice to see their visit to Crooked Tree in Belize.  I did this as a land trip and had a different experience because I was targeting parrots and didn’t do the water excursion.

Panama, Grand Cayman & Cartegena, Colombia – I wish I had known about the botanical gardens in Grand Cayman as we went to a different place back in 2008.  I like their option better!

Gartered Trogon (Trogon caligatus)

The Gartered Trogon (Trogon caligatus), also known as the northern violaceous trogon, is a near passerine bird in the trogon family, Trogonidae. It is found in forests in east-central Mexico, south through Central America, to north-western South America (west or north of the Andes in Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela).  It was formerly treated as a subspecies of the otherwise exclusively South American violaceous trogon (T. violaceus).

When I saw this bird during the shore excursion on my cruise in 2011, it was still being called a Violaceous Trogon.  The split came sometime in 2012 and field guides published before then will use the old name.  It gets confusing as I remember my guide calling it a Violaceous Trogon in Selva Verde in 2013!

My photo is blurry so I added shots of a male (1st pic) and female from Wikipedia to show the bird’s beautiful colours to advantage.

g trogon1 g trogon2IMG_5616Their range extends from Mexico through most of Central America to the tip of South America in Colombia.  I have seen them during a shore excursion in Puntarenas and in Selva Verde, Costa Rica.



Birdlife (has not separated the Gartered and Violaceous Trogons)

Cornell Lab

Beauty of Birds




Turquoise-browed Motmot (Eumomota superciliosa)

The Turquoise-browed Motmot (Eumomota superciliosa) is a colourful, medium-sized bird of the motmot family, Momotidae. It inhabits Central America from south-east Mexico (mostly the Yucatán Peninsula), to Costa Rica, where it is common and not considered threatened. It lives in fairly open habitats such as forest edge, gallery forest and scrubland. It is more conspicuous than other motmots, often perching in the open on wires and fences. From these perches it scans for prey, such as insects and small reptiles.

My photos of this stunning little bird were backlit so didn’t do justice to it’s beauty.  Looks like I have to rely on Wikipedia for close-up shots.

motmotcr1 motmotcr2

IMG_5589aThey have a fairly large range throughout Central America from Belize to Costa Rica.  We saw them in Nicaragua around the Granada area and in Costa Rica while enroute to the Manantial Sanctuary.





Cornell Lab


Sometimes it just blows me away when I see how beautiful a bird really is after I saw one in bad light (usually backlit by the sun) and see photos and videos posted by others who were lucky enough to see the bird in good light.  Check out these videos!


Parrot Lover’s Cruise – Belize Bird Rescue Excursion‏

This email came in a couple weeks ago but I was traveling with very limited access to the internet so I am just getting around to blogging about it.  I must say, it makes me very happy to see Belize Bird Rescue offering visits to cruise ship passengers!  The dedicated volunteers are so caring about birds and deserving of more attention……not to mention funds to carry on their work!  This shore excursion provides you with an excellent opportunity to see the rescued wild parrots up close and personal as many of the released parrots hang around the grounds, so you can be assured of great photo ops as well!

I was lucky enough to visit this very worthy conservation-minded organization last year, it was an amazing experience!

I have more details about the Parrot Lover’s Cruise here.

Remember to book your cruise with the official organizer:

Carol’s Travel Time

Parrot Lover's Cruise 2014

Have you booked your ticket yet for the Parrot Lover’s Cruise?

If not, we’ve another exciting shore excursion to tempt you with!

We are excited to announce the opportunity to visit the wondrous Belize Bird Rescue, a non-profit Avian Rehabilitation Centre and Sanctuary owned by Belizean residents Jerry Larder and Nikki Buxton.

While there you’ll have the exclusive opportunity to meet the Yellow-headed Amazon (A.o. belizensis), a subspecies unique to Belize and the focus of conservation at the sanctuary. Parrots are a particular concern for Belize Bird Rescue, as the local pet trade and ever-increasing human encroachment on nesting sites reduces population numbers of several of Belize’s parrot species to potentially unsustainable levels.

Along with a buffet luncheon served on site and time to stroll the amazing grounds of the facility, guests will have the opportunity for some shopping at the Art Box, a venue for local artists to show and sell their works.

A fun-filled day awaits – book your excursion today!

2014 Parrot Cruise: Western Caribbean

The annual Parrot Lovers Cruise is back with an exciting new itinerary!  It will be leaving from Galveston which makes it very easy to get there using miles as Americans will only require a domestic award.  Early bird rates are available until 7 Feb so don’t miss out!

Read my series of posts about Belize to get an idea of what you can see on this cruise.

Here is the itinerary which includes several ports where you can see wild parrots:


 Please note:

  • Prices are valid while availability lasts. Please contact Carol for current rates.
  • Prices are per person based on double occupancy. Single or 3rd/4th person occupancy is available, contact Carol for pricing.
  • Prices quoted include a donation to the World Parrot Trust and conference expenses (on-board seminars and activities).
  • Bookings must be made through Carol’s Travel Time in order for passengers to be able to participate in Parrot Lover’s Cruise seminars and acitivities.
  • Cost of transfers are $32 per person one way. Must arrive before 12:30PM and depart after 12 noon.

– See more at:

My Top Twenty-Five Bird Sightings Of 2013

Following on from last year’s post in which I highlighted only parrot sightings, this year I have expanded to all bird species.  There were just so many birds who made a major impression on me!  I have also increased the number to 25 since we did 3 birding trips this year.  I didn’t always get good shots so I will put my own photo when I got one.  Some of them were pretty quick!  They are being presented in chronological order.

1.  Palm Cockatoo (Probosciger aterrimus) – seen at Nimbokrang & Waigeo, Indonesia; March 2013

Palm Cockatoo2.  Lesser Bird-of-paradise, (Paradisaea minor) – seen at Nimbokrang, Indonesia; March 2013

I couldn’t get a photo as he stayed in the trees so here’s one taken in Jurong Bird park, Singapore.



3.  Victoria Crowned Pigeon (Goura victoria) – seen at Nimbokrang, Indonesia; March 2013

Victoria Crowned Pigeons, Nimbokrang

Victoria Crowned Pigeons, Nimbokrang

4.  Western or Arfak Parotia (Parotia sefilata) – seen at Siyoubring, Indonesia, March 2013  I’ll never forget this feathered Lord of the Dance trying so hard to woo 3 aloof females!

One female Western Parotia comes in for a closer look while the male shows his best moves.  There were a couple other females higher up in the branches.

One female Western Parotia comes in for a closer look while the male shows his best moves. There were a couple other females higher up in the branches.

5.  Vogelkop Bowerbird (Amblyornis inornata) – seen at Siyoubring, Indonesia, March 2013

OK lady Bowerbirds, come and check out my awesome bower!

OK lady Bowerbirds, come and check out my awesome bower!

6.  Eclectus Parrot (Eclectus roratus) – seen near Nimbokrang and on Waigeo Island, Indonesia, March 2013

IMG_78677.  Wilson’s Bird-of-paradise, (Cicinnurus respublica) – seen on Waigeo Island, Indonesia in March 2013.   This little guy played hard-to-get with the camera.
Wilson's Bird-of-paradise, Cicinnurus respublica

Wilson’s Bird-of-paradise, Cicinnurus respublica

8.  Red Bird-of-paradise (Paradisaea rubra) – seen on Waigeo Island, Indonesia , March 2013.

Red Bird of Paradise (Paradisaea rubra), Waigeo- dancing in the trees

Red Bird of Paradise (Paradisaea rubra), Waigeo- dancing in the trees

9.  Red-lored Parrot (Amazona autumnalis) – seen at Crooked Tree, Belize, Tikal, Laguna del Lagarto, Carara, Soberania, August 2013.  This was the first parrot we saw after arriving in Central America so I chose him to represent all the Amazon species seen all over Central America.

Red-lored Amazon or Red-lored Parrot (Amazona autumnalis)

Red-lored Amazon or Red-lored Parrot (Amazona autumnalis)

10.  Keel-billed Toucan (Ramphastos sulfuratus) – seen at Crooked Tree, Belize, Tikal, Selva Verde, Laguna del Lagarto, Soberania, August 2013


11.  Great Green Macaw (Ara ambiguus) – seen at Selva Verde & Laguna del Lagarto, Costa Rica, August 2013

IMG_951112. Golden-hooded Tanager (Tangara larvata) – seen at Laguna del Lagarto, Costa Rica, August 2013.


13.  Brown-hooded Parrot (Pyrilia haematotis)  – seen at Laguna del Lagarto, Costa Rica, August 2013.


14.  Collared Araçari (Pteroglossus torquatus) – seen at Selva Verde, Laguna del Lagarto, Costa Rica, Soberania.  August 2013.

IMG_982415.  Hummingbirds (all of them) – seen at Laguna del Lagarto, Monteverde, Savegre, Soberania.  There is no way I can single out one species, they are all spectacular!


IMG_1486 IMG_1483 IMG_149616.  Chestnut-coloured Woodpecker (Celeus castaneus) – seen at Laguna del Lagarto, Costa Rica, August 2013

IMG_969917.  Resplendent Quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno) – seen at Monteverde (Curi Cancha) & Savegre.  I will never forget both sightings of this stunning bird!  The first one because I found him by myself and the 2nd one because there were several of them and they hung around a while so I could watch them.


IMG_1092a18.  Sulphur-winged Parakeet (Pyrrhura hoffmanni) – seen at Savegre, Costa Rica, August 2013


I haven’t started the India & Sri Lanka series yet, we only got back a few weeks ago and I have been playing catch-up.  These birds will be covered first thing in the New Year.  The photos are a sneak-peek!

19. Malabar Parakeet (Psittacula columboides) – seen in Coorg, India; Nov. 2013.  This time there were only fleeting glimpses of a flock flying overhead so the photo is one I took in 2011 in Kerala.

Malabar Parakeet A20.  White-throated Kingfisher (Halcyon smyrnensis) – seen at Kithulgala, Sri Lanka. Dec 2013.


21.  Layard’s Parakeet (Psittacula calthropae) – seen at Kithulgala & Sinharaja, Sri Lanka. Dec 2013.  They were swift flyers and refused to perch & pose.


22.  Sri Lanka Hanging Parrot (Loriculus beryllinus) – seen at Kithulgala, Sri Lanka. Dec 2013.  At least he posed, albeit with the sun behind him!



23.  Alexandrine Parakeet – (Psittacula eupatria) – seen at Kithulgala & Sinharaja, Sri Lanka. Dec 2013.


24.  Malabar Trogon (Harpactes fasciatus) – seen at Sinharaja, Sri Lanka. Dec 2013.  He only let me get one shot before turning his back.


25.  Sri Lanka Blue Magpie or Ceylon Magpie (Urocissa ornata) – seen at Sinharaja, Sri Lanka. Dec 2013.

I didn’t get a photo of them since they stayed in the trees so here’s one from Wikipedia.




Blue-grey Tanager (Thraupis episcopus)

The Blue-grey Tanager (Thraupis episcopus) is a medium-sized South American songbird of the Tanager family, Thraupidae. Its range is from Mexico south to northeast Bolivia and northern Brazil, all of the Amazon Basin, except the very south. It has been introduced to Lima (Peru). On Trinidad and Tobago, this bird is called Blue Jean.

IMG_9784 IMG_9854This delicately hued little beauty has a wide range throughout Central and South America (easily reached with airline miles) and can be easily seen in most of the national parks.  I saw them in Crooked Tree, Belize; Tikal, Laguna del Lagarto & Savegre, Costa Rica; and Soberania in Panama.


The breeding habitat is open woodland, cultivated areas and gardens. The Blue-grey Tanager lives mainly on fruit, but will also take some nectar and insects.  This is a common, restless, noisy and confiding species, usually found in pairs, but sometimes small groups. It thrives around human habitation, and will take some cultivated fruit like papayas (Carica papaya).  Many eco-lodges put bananas out to attract them closer.  I have no problem with this since bananas are part of their normal diet.  Breeding season is from March to July. During this time, the female lays one to three mottled eggs, which she incubates for 12 to 14 days. Once hatched, both parents feed their chicks.

Adult blue-gray tanagers are preyed upon by felines, snakes, birds of prey and crocodilians. Other predators, such as raccoons, eat young birds and eggs. Habitat destruction due to deforestation is the primary threat to this species.




Rainforest Alliance


This one is long but watch for a few minutes to see the bird’s feeding habits and sound.


White-fronted Parrot (Amazona albifrons)

The White-fronted Amazon (Amazona albifrons) also known as the White-fronted Parrot, or adopted slang term Spectacled Amazon is found throughout most of Central America.


We saw them in Belize at Belize Bird Rescue, Tikal National Park and Laguna del Lagarto in Costa Rica.

IMG_9335 IMG_9189The White-fronted Amazon, at about 25 cm (10 in) long, is the smallest of the Amazon parrots. This species is named for the bright white patch of feathers on their foreheads, although the amount of white varies from individual to individual. They have mostly green plumage with some blue colouring on their outspread wings. They have bright red coloring around their eyes (in some individuals almost like spectacles) and blue coloring behind the patch of white on their foreheads.

They can be found in a variety of wooded areas and open country with trees such as moist, seasonal semi-evergreen and deciduous forest, pine woodlands, gallery forest, ranchland with stands of open woodland, savanna and arid tropical scrub with cacti. Up to 1850m (6068 ft).



World Parrot Trust



I had a hard time finding footage of this bird in the wild, this one is short but you can hear what they sound like.

Land Crossing From Belize To Guatemala

Few people who visit Belize can resist the temptation to visit the wonderful archeological ruins of Tikal.  Some people go on a very long day trip and return to their San Ignacio hotel at night.  Others will be planning a longer stay in Guatemala and moving on to other places in Central America.  Crossing at the land border is very easy whether you take a group shuttle or do it in segments.

If you want to leave first thing in the morning, the same companies that operate the Tikal day trips also offer shuttle service to Tikal.  Here are a few to check out.

Pacz Tours

San Ignacio Belize Tours

Mayan Heart World

If you don’t want to leave first thing in the morning (birders probably won’t want to as they will be birding in the morning), you can either have your hotel book you a private transfer or take a Belizean taxi to the border, do the formalities on both sides and get a Guatelmalan minibus or taxi on the other side yourself.  Since Parrot Nest is a fair ways out of town, we opted for the convenience of door to door service.  The lodge arranged it and it was around $80USD to be picked up, have the driver wait while we did the formalities, then hand us over to a Guatemalan driver who took us direct to Tikal Inn.  I don’t think you really save all that much by breaking it down as this guy on Trip Advisor paid $60 from the border to Tikal so make it easy for yourself!

Be prepared with cash as you won’t be able to use credit cards for the transport, the exit/entry fees and the entrance fees to Tikal.  You will need to pay the departure fee of $37.50 BZD ($19 USD)  per person after which you will stamp out at the Belize immigration desk, from there you driver will accompany you to the Guatemala area where you will then stamp in and pay a $6.00 BZD ($3 USD) entry fee. After you have completed this, hop in your waiting Guatemalan vehicle and head direct to Tikal.

You will have to pay the park entry fee before continuing the last 15 km or so to the lodges in Tikal.  There are no ATMs or banks at Tikal so you will need to take along extra change to pay the entrance fee to the park which is 23 USD or 150 Quetzals.  You should also change some extra money into Quetzals for extra park fees if you do a sunrise or sunset tour, meals outside your hotel, guide fees and souvenirs.  Tikal Inn takes credit cards and we had breakfast & dinner there but lunch in the small market mearby.  Some souvenir sellers take credit cards but charge extra for doing so.

These photos show what to expect from a border crossing from San Ignacio to Tikal.


IMG_9231 IMG_9232 IMG_9233 IMG_9234


IMG_9235 IMG_9236






IMG_9239 IMG_9240


IMG_9241 IMG_9242 IMG_9243 IMG_9244 IMG_9245 IMG_9246


IMG_9247 IMG_9248


Lodge Review: Parrot Nest, Belize – Sleep In A Tree-house!

Everyone should spend the night in a tree-house at least once in their life!  The Parrot Nest Lodge located in Bullet Tree Falls near San Ignacio, Belize gives you the chance to do exactly that at a very reasonable cost.


Any bus traveling between Belize City or Belmopan (location of Belize Bird Rescue) and either San Ignacio or the border town of Benque Viejo Del Carmen will get you to the San Ignacio bus stop.  From there you will need a taxi to Bullet Tree Falls and you will probably have to bargain for it.  They will quote $15 or even $20 if they think they can get away with it but you can usually get them down to $8-10.  Or you can use their private shuttle from the airport and stop at Belize Zoo if you like-highly recommended!

They aren’t on any of the hotel aggregators such as Expedia,, Pointshound so you need to book by email.  The other thing is they will ask for a credit card to secure the booking.  I wasn’t comfortable having my credit card number being on record with me traveling in remote places where I can’t get online so I asked them to “pencil me in” and I would pay on arrival.  Luckily we were there in August, low season so there was no problem with this and we got our tree house!

We arrived at dusk so we didn’t get to see the grounds that evening but the tree house was small but very cute!  It kind of reminded me of a tree house I had as a kid only in a much nicer location and with a better view!

IMG_9195 IMG_9196 IMG_9197 IMG_9198 First thing, we went downstairs to the shared shower facilities to freshen up, then went to the dining room for dinner.

IMG_9212Soft drinks were very cheap, around $1 US or 2 Belize so we drank our fill.  I can’t remember what we had for dinner, it was good though as I don’t remember having any complaints!

IMG_9201We did get a good night sleep and there were no mosquitoes!  The next morning, I was eager to look out the window from up in the tree and be eye to eye with some birds.  We could hear them all around us but not see them.

IMG_9202 IMG_9203 IMG_9205Now we could finally see the other treehouses, the grounds and the river.

IMG_9204 IMG_9207 IMG_9210 IMG_9211 IMG_9213 IMG_9228 IMG_9229We strolled around the grounds and down to the river hoping to see birds.  No parrots but there were a few birds around, not as many as I would have hoped for but we only stayed the one night.

IMG_9219 IMG_9221 IMG_9222 IMG_9224 IMG_9225We had breakfast in the dining room, now we could see it a lot better.  The drinks in the fridge are on an honor system where you write down what you take and pay it when you leave.

IMG_9214 IMG_9215 IMG_9216 IMG_9217 IMG_9218I’ve been a backpacker my whole life and am very comfortable in places like this, especially when it has such a beautiful setting!  If you are used to Hyatts, Hiltons and Intercontinentals, this may not be the right choice for you unless you have a spirit of adventure.  Tours can be organized here to the popular ATM – Actun Tunichil Mucnal, Caracol and for river rafting.  We didn’t do any tours as we aren’t really into caves and wanted to see birds!  You really can’t beat the prices and the staff were all very helpful and friendly.  I loved it and would come back in a flash if we ever return to Belize.