Devil Fish

Back to Belize: Red-footed Boobies
by Emma Kelley -- October 17th, 2014

As the assignments pile up and deadlines appear on the not-so-distant horizon, I’ve caught myself daydreaming about my adventures this past summer in Belize. One fantastic experience I have yet to share is a short trip to the Half-Moon Caye National Monument.

After diving the Belize Blue Hole in Lighthouse Atoll, my tour group stopped at Half-Moon Caye for lunch. The Atoll itself is one of only four in the Western Hemisphere and the furthest from the Belize mainland.  Atolls are enormous lagoons enclosed by ring-shaped coral reefs formed around extinct volcanoes or seamounts. They make spectacular dive spots – some of the best in the world. While diving in the area, we saw many Nassau groupers, a rare species to see elsewhere in the Caribbean. We also saw large sharks and spotted eagle rays cruising along the perimeter of the reef. Within Lighthouse Atoll is Half-Moon Caye, a small island famous for a colony of Red-footed Boobies.

Soaking and still in our wetsuits, we hopped off our small boat and onto the wooden dock sticking out from the beach. The sand in front of us gave way to small buildings and the famous lighthouse on the right, and a dense rainforest on the left.

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Looking down the beach from the rainforest towards the dock                     and the few buildings on Half Moon Caye.                    Photo credit: Emma Kelley

Our guides gave us one hour on the island, so after gobbling down a sandwich, I scurried down the path through the rainforest, following signs for the bird colony. I almost stepped on the many hermit crabs also travelling along the path, until I ran into one bigger than my fist. Iguanas were also keeping a curious eye on me as I stopped to read the informational signs along the path.

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“Red-footed Booby Bird Colony” Photo credit: Emma Kelley

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The largest hermit crab I have ever seen. He                  (she?) was bigger than my fist.               Photo credit: Emma Kelley

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An iguana on Half Moon Caye.  Photo credit: Emma Kelley

At the end of the path (and after getting lost, finding another diver, getting lost again, then finding the right path) was a raised platform taking us above the tree canopy.  From this raised platform, we could see the colony: hundred, actually thousands, of Red-footed Booby birds. I was immediately reminded of all the Blue Planet scenes of enormous seabird colonies. Boobies are large, colorful seabirds, but the Red-footed species is the smallest of their kind. I had never seen these birds before and was fascinated to watch them come and go from their nests, squawking at each other. Also in the mix were Frigate birds, known as the true pirates of the Caribbean for their kleptomaniac tendencies to steal the Boobies’ food.

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The Red-footed Booby Bird Colony on Half Moon Caye.  Photo credit: Emma Kelley

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Red-footed Booby Bird Colony on Half Moon Caye.  Photo credit: Emma Kelley

After a short time watching the Boobies, we had to start back to the boat.  We still had one more dive for the day and the weather was not on our side, but that’s a story for another blog….

1 Comment

  1. Maureen Coffey
    Oct 31, 2014

    Belize seems a rather weird place we seldom hear anything about (only when the Prime Minister faces up to Obama and Kerry). Amazingly we always seem to note only a few species, often with spectacular features. But for each such bird there are a hundred and one species we never set our eyes on and probably another set roaming the night, including then bats who take over the air from their avian “brothers” until dawn.

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