31 March – 2 April, 2017 As I near the end of my five months in Central America, I visit Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary, a lagoon in Belize famous for harboring multitudes of birds in… More
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!
A Tawny-winged Woodcreeper (Dendrocincla anabatina) that was banded a previous season.
Crowned Woodnymph (Thalurania colombica) and Long-billed Hermit (Phaethornis longirostris)
Royal Flycatcher (Onychorhynchus coronatus)
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.
6 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!
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.
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.
A very cooperative Pink-headed Warbler puts on a spectacular show.
Me (left) and Pablo (right) photographing Goldman’s Warblers. Sometimes you need to climb a tree to get the desired vantage point.
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.
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.
The Subtropical Humid Forest of the Pacific Slope
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.
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.
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.
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.
Various Landscapes of Finca El Pilar