Far Afield: Birding in Belize

by Laura Kammermeier

After cutting across the steep slope, my bird-watching guide paused and pointed at the base of a nearby tree. I leaned against the tree behind me and steadied my binoculars on a northern barred woodcreeper – my first ever!

I admired its barred, tawny plumage and its stiff, rufous tail while my guide whistled to bring it closer. The woodcreeper didn't budge. Instead, I felt fluttering vibrations purr inside my chest. I lowered my binoculars and saw a small hummingbird buzzing away from me.

What was a hummingbird doing near this dark forest floor when all the flowering heliconia and bougainvillea were way up on the hill?

"Stripe-throated hermit," whispered my guide, George, by way of explanation. The stripe-throated hermit is a woodland species that tends to forage at fairly low elevations in the rainforest.

George began making an unusual, high-pitched squeaking sound. When the bird responded by squeaking and flying back toward us, George reached out his hand, as if offering it a place to land. The hummer stopped and looked, but in a mad dash it retreated behind a nearby tree.

George continued this odd squeak, and the hummer came back. This time, for a brief but powerful instant the bird hovered near George's index finger, just inches from my sternum. Resisting the urge to reach out and touch this little male, I marveled at its small, green body and how its tiny dark eyes were directed squarely at my guide. I watched it tilt its head down to examine George's finger, as if wondering whether he should land and rest!

In a flash the moment was over, and after buzzing us one more time, the bird flew back uphill toward the radiant and lush gardens around the eco-lodge. I walked away wide-eyed and amazed, wondering, "How did he do that?"

See the author's footage of the red-capped manakin's bizarre "moonwalk" in Belize.

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