Bird Banding with FUNDAECO

14 February – 11 March 2017

The Foundation for Ecodevelopment and Conservation (FUNDAECO) in Guatemala runs the longest continuous bird banding and monitoring program in Latin America. For nearly two decades, Guatemalan biologists have been banding birds in the Izabel province. Thanks to FUNDAECO’s banding crew, I join local field researchers for nearly a month. Most days consist of ten hours of banding in mature forests, camping in remote locations, swimming in pristine rivers, laughing together, and snacking on corn tortillas with hot sauce.

Thank you Alexis, Miguel, Obdulio, Antonio, Yaquelin, and Thelma for a truly remarkable and memorable experience!

White-whiskered Puffbird (Malacoptila panamensis). These elusive birds inhabit Central American rainforests and consume all sorts of interesting prey including spiders, frogs, and snakes.
Red-capped Manakin (Ceratopipra mentalis), on of the most abundant birds at the field sites.
Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher (Terenotriccus erythrurus), a flycatcher smaller than a kinglet (8 cm).

A Tawny-winged Woodcreeper (Dendrocincla anabatina) that was banded a previous season.

Ruddy Woodcreeper (Dendrocincla homochroa)
Ivory-billed Woodcreeper (Xiphorhynchus flavigaster), one of the largest woodcreepers (23 cm).
Wedge-billed Woodcreeper (Glyphorynchus spirurus), one of the smallest woodcreepers (15 cm).


Crowned Woodnymph (Thalurania colombica) and Long-billed Hermit (Phaethornis longirostris)

Orange-billed Sparrow (Arremon aurantiirostris)
Blue-black Grosbeak (Cyanoloxia cyanoides)
Female Dot-winged Antwren (Microrhopias quixensis)
Ochre-bellied Flycatcher (Mionectes oleagineus)
Collared Aracari (Pteroglossus torquatus)

Royal Flycatcher (Onychorhynchus coronatus)

Lousiana Waterthrush (Parkesia motacilla)
Worm-eating Warbler (Helmitheros vermivorum), one of the most abundant North American migrants captured.
Swainson’s Warbler (Limnothlypis swainsonii), an incredibly rare North American migrant.
Sunset on the Guatemala/Belize border.
Hooded Warbler (Setophaga citrina)
Plain Xenops (Xenops minutus)
White-breasted Wood-Wren (Henicorhina leucosticta)
Bright-rumped Attila (Attila spadiceus)
Northern Schiffornis (Schiffornis veraepacis)
The FUNDAECO Banding Crew in Action
We used waterways and boats to access our field sites near the Belize border.


Los Tarrales Reserve, Volcán Atitlán

7-10 February 2017

On the slopes of Volcán Atitlán, Los Tarrales Reserve ranges in altitude from 750 to 3,500 meters (2,300 – 11,500 feet). This provides fabulous altitudinal birding across a variety of habitats, including coffee and ornamental flower plantations, humid broadleaf forest, and cloud forest. The reserve protects the watershed for a number of communities. It also provides work and income for the community, which includes the excellent birding guides and brothers, Josué, Léster, and Aaron de León Lux. Following are some favorite images from my time at Los Tarrales.

Lesson’s Motmot (Momotus lessonii)
Cinnamon Hummingbird (Amazilia rutile) with a crown of yellow flower pollen.
Harvest Moon Over Los Tarrales
White Hawk (Pseudastur albicollis)
White Hawk (Pseudastur albicollis)
White-throated Magpie-Jay (Calocitta formosa)
Crested Guan (Penelope purpurascens)
Golden-fronted Woodpecker (Melanerpes aurifrons)
Masked Tityra (Tityra semifasciata)
Crimson-patched Longwing (Heliconius erato petiverana)
Long-tailed Manakin (Chiroxiphia linearis)
Fan-tailed Warbler (Basileuterus lachrymosus)


Quest for the Horned Guan – Cerro Paquisis, Santiago, Guatemala.

IMG_73156 February 2017

In my trek to see the legendary Horned Guan, my dreams of seeing the amazing creature appears to end in smoke and ruins. After a long and steep hike up the mountain, we are confronted by a raging wildfire at our exact Horned Guan destination. However, not all hope is lost. Adjacent to the pillaring smoke and sweltering flames, the guan appears. This endangered bird is one of the top target species of Guatemala, and I am privileged to get great views and capture a unique flight photo. Thanks to local guide, Cruz Chikibal, for a successful day!

The awe-inspiring Horned Guan (Oreophasis derbianus) takes flight from the upper canopy of the cloud forest. Though the Horned Guan resembles other guans, it is not a true guan. It is actually the only surviving member of an ancient lineage of cracids.
Horned Guan (Oreophasis derbianus)
The view while hiking back down Cerro Paquisis.
Our three-guan day included this Crested Guan (Penelope purpurascens) and the Highland Guan (Penelopina nigra).
Cruz Chikibal and I after a successful search for the Resplendent Quetzal the following day.

Sierra de los Cuchumatanes

4-5 February 2017

Several of my Guatemalan friends jokingly forbid me to leave the country without seeing Goldman’s and Pink-headed Warblers. Both regional endemics, Goldman’s and Pink-headed Warblers can be found in the Sierra de los Cuchumatanes, the highest non-volcanic mountain range in Central America. Enjoying our birding adventures (click here), Pablo Chumil and I decide to rent a car and make the long trip west in a quest to see these coveted birds. After driving all night, we arrive at Todos Santos where local guide, Esteban Matias, drives us on rough roads through a stunning landscape of grassland, rock outcroppings, and islands of pine trees and junipers.

The Land of the Goldman’s Warbler.

Once in appropriate habitat, we hike through the hills and immediately find several  Goldman’s Warblers singing and foraging in the pine trees. While we spend a few hours observing the Goldman’s, we also see a variety of other highland species, many of which remind me of my home in Colorado. These birds include Broad-tailed Hummingbirds, Brown Creepers, Golden-crowned Kinglets, Rufous-collared Robins, Red Crossbills, Olive Warblers, Yellow-eyed Juncos, and Spotted Towhees.

Adult male Goldman’s Warbler
Young male Goldman’s Warbler
As the fog rolls in, we move on to a different location for the Pink-headed Warbler. 


A very cooperative Pink-headed Warbler puts on a spectacular show.

Pablo, Esteban, and me after a successful Pink-headed Warbler photoshoot.

Me (left) and Pablo (right) photographing Goldman’s Warblers. Sometimes you need to climb a tree to get the desired vantage point.

Pablo and I end our birding adventures at Fuentes Georginas near Quetzaltenango. At this hot spring/birding hotspot, we find Wine-throated Hummingbirds, Mountain Trogons, Blue-throated Motmots, Northern Emerald-Toucanets, Unicolored Jays, Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercers, and a Chestnut-capped Brushfinch. 

Lago de Atitlán – Panajachel y Santiago

23-25 January 2017

After several days in Tzununa, I take a lancha (public boat) east to Panajachel to connect with my friend, Pablo Chumil. A Guatemalan bird guide from the Lake Atitlán region, I first met Pablo at the Petén and Cobán Christmas Bird Counts. Now, we meet up to do some birding on his home turf, an area rich with regional endemic species. For our first birding adventure, we visit Finca Santa Victoria just outside of town. Here, we search for the rare and elusive Belted Flycatcher on the dry forested slopes. With a small and limited range on the Pacific slope of southern Mexico, Guatemala, and northwestern El Salvador, there are only a few reliable locations to see this species. After the bird’s fifteen-year absence around Panajachel, Pablo recently rediscovered a population at Finca Santa Victoria. Beyond successfully finding the Belted Flycatcher, we also see our other target species, Sparkling-tailed Hummingbird and Slender Sheartail.

Black Thrush (Turdus infuscatus)
Azure-rumped Tanager (Tangara cabanisi)

For our second birding adventure, Pablo and I take a lancha to the south shore for some cloud forest birding. From the dock, we take a tuk-tuk to the Continental Divide high above Santiago Atitlán. With a 360-degree view, we overlook the spectacular volcano-ringed caldera lake to the east and an expansive vista towards the Pacific Ocean. Our day’s main target species include Black Thrush and Azure-rumped Tanager, both uncommon birds with restricted ranges. With Pablo’s keen familiarity of the area and its regional endemics, the Black Thrushes are promptly located gorging on the white berries of a fruiting tree with Northern Emerald-Toucanets. After a steep hike plunging into the humid forest to the west in search of other birds, we eventually return to the exact same white-berried tree. Pablo explains that the Azure-rumped Tanager often shows up to feed at ten o’clock. Sure enough, as the clock strikes ten, the Azure-rumped Tanager appears.

Northern Emerald-Toucanet (Aulacorhynchus prasinus)
Blomfild’s Beauty (Smyrna blomfildia) feeding on the sap wells of a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.

The Subtropical Humid Forest of the Pacific Slope

Lago de Atitlán – Tzununa

19-23 January 2017

The long, winding descent to San Marcos La Laguna on Lake Atitlán was a harrowing ride. Accompanying the amazing views were sheer death defying drop offs, treacherous curves, and a blown engine. With the lingering screams of a half dozen fellow travelers ringing in my ears, I settle in the small and friendly village of Tzununa on the northwest side of the lake. Here, I decompress for a few days while I hike the surrounding hills, meet locals, and of course, go birding.

Summer Tanager (Piranga rubra)
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)
White-winged Dove (Zenaida asiatica)
White-faced Ground-Sparrow (Melozone biarcuata)
Townsend’s Warbler (Setophaga townsendi)
Fisherman at Dawn
The Liquid Gold Waters of a Lake Atitlán Sunset 


Finca El Pilar

4 January and 7 January 2017

As I find myself stationed in Antigua for two weeks of intensive Spanish classes, I visit the nearby birding hotspot, Finca El Pilar. At elevations ranging from 1,600 to 2,400 meters (5,250 to 7,870 feet), this private nature reserve protects 470 acres of forest. The finca’s habitats include dry shrub forest, humid broadleaf forest, as well as pine-oak and cloud forest. A long trail system through these respective habitats allows for some amazing altitudinal birding.

From the Spanish Baroque influenced city of Antigua, I ride a tuk-tuk to the finca’s entrance and hop off ready for a morning of solo adventuring. As I walk the road towards the trailhead, a familiar voice calls my name from a passing vehicle. It is Daniel Aldana Schumann, one of the finest birders and guides of Guatemala. I first met Daniel at the American Birding Expo in Columbus, Ohio last September while working for Black Swamp Bird Observatory. Since my arrival in Guatemala, I have had the privilege of birding with Daniel at both the Petén and Cobán Christmas Bird Counts. Unexpectedly, I get to bird with Daniel once again.

Blue-throated Motmot (Aspatha gularis)

On a scouting mission with Dušan Brinkhuizen for a future Rockjumper birding tour, they invite me to join their morning excursion. With hopes of seeing Rufous Sabrewings, Blue-throated Motmots, and White-eared Ground-Sparrows, we hike up the nature trail. Over the course of the morning, we see our target species along with many other great birds, including Yellowish Flycatcher, Crescent-chested Warbler, Red-faced Warbler, and White-winged Tanager. As well, we hear the crazy flight display of the Highland Guan (click here for an audio recording) and the tooting of a Guatemalan Pygmy-Owl. After scouring the lower three kilometer loop for birds, we bid farewell yet again. I suspect our paths will cross again, either here in Guatemala or someplace else.

Azure-crowned Hummingbird (Amazilia cyanocephala)

Three days later, I return to Finca El Pilar in a quest to reach the cloud forest at the top end of the reserve. While I see many of the same birds along the way, I pick up a few new ones including Singing Quails and a Berylline Hummingbird. I even see my first ever Highland Guans scurrying through the underbrush. While the Highland Guan is very common and frequently heard vocalizing, they are extremely difficult to see.

In the process of reaching the cloud forest, I am blown away by the diversity found across the altitudinal zones. For an ebird list of the day’s 20 kilometer hike, click here.

Black-headed Siskin (Spinus notata)
White-eared Hummingbird (Basilinna leucotis)
Inca Dove (Columbina inca)
Crescent-chested Warbler (Oreothlypis superciliosa)
Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis)

Various Landscapes of Finca El Pilar