Last week it was time to make our yearly trip to Belize City for medical tests at Belize Medical Associates.Â Whenever we fly to the mainland, if possible, we try to take a side trip to another area of Belize.Â Fortunately, on this trip we were able to hook up with a friend who has a car on the mainland.Â He suggested that we head up to Crooked Tree Lodge for the night.Â Our friend has known the lodge owner, Mick Webb, for a while.Â And I had mentioned IÂd love to check out a place that has a lot of birds on site.
Crooked Tree - An Island - but on the Mainland
In all honesty, I had no idea that Crooked Tree is such an exceptional bird and wildlife habitat.Â IÂve since learned that in 1984 this inland island region was designated a protected area for both local and migrating birds.Â The Audubon Society and several other organizations funded and founded the reserve.Â The Audubon Society continues to play a key role in managing the park.
The neat thing about living on Ambergris Caye is that itÂs so easy to travel to a completely different part of the country within a few hours.Â Crooked Tree Sanctuary is only 33 miles northeast from Belize City.Â It took us about an hour to drive from Belize City to the lodge.Â Supposedly there is also a local bus, from Belize City, that will take you within 3 miles of the lodge.Â (The lodge can pick you up at the bus stop.) Â This would be the cheapest way to travel.
This is the dry season, so I didnÂt initially understand that the Crooked Tree area is an island much of the year.Â There is a one mile long causeway road that leads to Crooked Tree island.Â During the rainy season the water rises in the inland lagoons.Â At that time the causeway is the only way to reach the island by vehicle.Â At that time of year, people mostly come and go by boat.Â The lodge we visited is surrounded by water much of the year.
Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary consists of a series of interconnected lagoons. Â The village of Crooked Tree is also on this island.Â This small village is the cashew capital of Belize.Â Needless to say, be bought as many bags of the tasty dried cashews as we could.Â At $10 US/quart, how could we pass them up?
Nature - Up Close and Personal - at Crooked Tree Lodge
Mick and Angie Webb own and manage Crooked Tree Lodge.Â ItÂs clear that this is their home, and they are committed to helping their visitors enjoy their time spent in the spectacular surroundings. Â Like many Brits before him, Mick was in the British Defense Forces, stationed in Belize.Â There is always a British military presence in Belize, as the special forces conduct their jungle training here.Â Although an independent country, Belize still has strong ties to the UK.
Mick met and married a Belizean gal (Angie) Â so decided to stay and make their home here.Â They have owned this property for a few years.Â But they clearly have a vision of where their business is going.Â Each year they add something new to the property.Â Mick has expanded the lodge and deck.Â There are a number of clean, simple casitas, with porches.Â He has also added bird watching decks, at the lodge and over the lagoon.Â Â The price is very reasonable for the environment and offerings.
The location is perfect for bird watchers and fishermen.Â The water level was unusually low when we visited.Â This was actually lucky for us.Â It meant that more of the water birds were foraging for food in the nearby mud flats.Â I couldnÂt believe the flocks of birds that were digging for little clams and snails along the waterÂs edge.
A Â Perfect Place to Learn About Birds
IÂm not an experienced birder, but IÂve wanted to learn more about birds ever since we moved here.Â IÂm delighted that each morning I wake to the sweet songs of birds, right outside my bedroom window.Â It makes my day when a bright red oriole or tanager decides to park itself on a branch outside one of our windowsÂ Usually they stay for a good while, so I can get a good look at them while still sitting inside our house.
I do recognize some of the best known birds of Belize.Â We had brought our binoculars with us, so that we could spot some of the many birds known to frequent the area. Â Â I was shocked to see at least twenty large, stately Jabirus, hanging out in the mudflats in late afternoon. Â Mick informed me that most times of the year they would be much further outÂ
He noted that during the dry season there are many varieties of birds, on the migratory path back north.Â In the wet season there are fewer birds.Â But they are more rare and unique.
The next morning we headed out with Robert, the knowledgeable Belizean bird guide, to learn a few things about the birds of the area. Â He brought his stable telescope and knew exactly where to look to find each type of bird.Â In about an hour, we had sighted at least 30 kinds of birds.Â It was a challenge to keep up!Â My favorites were the tiny, bright red vermilion fly catcher, the acorn woodpecker Â with its red crown and white encircled beady eye, and the stately Jabiru Â with its long black beak and coral neck collar.Â Robert found a small VermilionÂs next, with eggs, planted on a fenceÂ
The environment at Crooked Tree Lodge is laid back and relaxing.Â We spent much of the afternoon sitting on the deck, liquid refreshment in hand, enjoying the view and conversation with our friends.Â We then watched as Mick and his friend cleaned cashews, in preparation for making cashew wine.Â Before dinner, we were treated to a stunning full orange moon, hanging over the lagoon.Â What a spectacular sight!
We shared a tasty and filling group dinner in the dining room.Â Our cabana was simple, but clean.Â There was no air conditioner, but the fans were adequate for ventilation.Â Even though the day was hot, there was a comfortable breeze at night.
Whether youÂre a beginning or serious birder, Crooked Tree Lodge and Sanctuary are places Â worth visiting.Â ItÂs also a great spot for freshwater fishing when the water level rises.Â You can reach Mick and Angie Webb through their website, at http://www.crookedtreelodgebelize.com/.Â Or send them an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
YouÂll find plenty of fantastic bird and other wildlife pictures on their website. Â And, if you check on Trip Advisor, youÂll find that the lodge has received outstanding reviews to date.