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Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary
Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary Review
Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary is one of Belize's top birding spots. The 16,400-acre sanctuary includes more than 3,000 acres of lagoons, swamp, and marsh, surrounding what is essentially an inland island. Traveling by canoe, you're likely to see iguanas, crocodiles, coatis, and turtles. The sanctuary's most prestigious visitors, however, are the jabiru storks, which usually visit between November and May. With a wingspan up to 12 feet, the jabiru is the largest flying bird in the Americas. For birders the best time to come is in the dry season, roughly from February to late May, when lowered water levels cause birds to group together to find water and food, making them easy to spot. Birding is good year-round, however, and the area is more scenic when the lagoons are full. Snowy egrets, snail kites, ospreys, and black-collared hawks, as well as two types of duck—Muscovy and black-bellied whistling—and all five species of kingfishers native to Belize can be spotted. Even on a short, one- to three-hour tour, you're likely to see 20 to 40 species of birds. South of Crooked Tree, on Sapodilla Lagoon and accessible by boat, is a small Mayan site, Chau Hiix.
At the Crooked Tree Visitor Center at the end of the causeway where you pay the sanctuary admission fee, you can arrange a guided tour of the sanctuary or rent a canoe (around BZ$10 per person per hour) for a do-it-yourself trip. The sanctuary is managed by the Belize Audubon Society. You can also walk through the village and hike birding trails around the area. If you'd prefer to go by horseback, you'll pay around BZ$30 an hour. The visitor center has a free village and trail map. If you're staying overnight, hotels in Crooked Tree village such as and can arrange canoe or bike rentals and set up tours and trips. A typical tour takes about three hours and costs around BZ$160-BZ$200 for up to four persons. Although tours can run at any time, the best time is early in the morning, when birds are most active.
One of Belize's oldest inland villages, established some 300 years ago, Crooked Tree is at the reserve's center. With a population of about 900, most of Creole origin, the community has a church, school, and one of the surest signs of a former British territory: a cricket pitch. There are many large cashew trees around the village, the serpentine growth pattern of which gave the village its name. The cashews are highly fragrant when in bloom in January and February, and when the cashew fruit ripen to a golden yellow color in May and June, they taste something like mango and smell like sweet grapes. The cashew nuts require roasting to make them edible. Villagers make and sell cashew wine. A Cashew Festival is held annually in early May.
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