The year 2019 was yet another year chocked full of action-packed adventures and amazing experiences. I spent half the year in the incredibly beautiful and diverse country of Colombia guiding at Parque Nacional Natural Tatamá (Montezuma Rainforest) and continuing my explorations of other regions. As well, a few weeks were spent in Panama where I had the privilege of visiting two of the country’s premier eco-lodges, Mount Totumas Cloud Forest in the highlands and Tranquilo Bay Eco Adventure Lodge in the Caribbean. As a second-year limited-residency student at Prescott College, I also had the opportunity to participate in amazing and rewarding field classes, Community-Based Conservation in Costa Rica, and a suite of Marine Studies courses at the Prescott College Kino Bay Center in the Gulf of California, Mexico. Though my time at home in Colorado was very limited this year, I had the honor of assisting with American Birding Associations’ Camp Colorado for young birders, guiding for Colorado Birding Adventures, and birding around my hometown of Lyons. Thanks to everyone who helped make 2019 unforgettable!
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
20 December 2016 – 2 January 2017
After the Conteo Navideño de Aves – Estación Biológica Las Guacamayas, I am off to another Guatemalan Christmas Bird Count. From the lowlands of Petén, we travel to the misty mountain town of Cobán in the Central Highlands of Guatemala. It almost always rains in Cobán, but despite the wet and cold weather, the area is a birder’s paradise.
Hosting Cobán’s Conteo Navideño de Aves, Finca Rubel Chaim serves as base for the Christmas Bird Count. Managed by Rob and Tara Cahill of Community Cloud Forest Conservation, Finca Rubel Chaim boasts a pristine creek, caves, cloud forest, and associated fauna (including Ocellated Quail, Guatemalan Pygmy-Owl, Blue-throated Motmot, and Blue-crowned Chlorophonia). With many of the same participants from the previous count, we divide into groups for yet another day of intensive birding. While one group stays behind to bird the finca, the others venture further afield to their assigned count areas in the Cobán vicinity.
While the 2016 Cobán Christmas Bird Count comes to an end, my time at Finca Rubel Chaim is not over. With no definitive plan in place for my next move, the Cahills offer a housesitting position at the finca while they embark on a family vacation. Through the remainder of the year, I work alongside the local caretakers and continue to explore the amazing property.
During the Christmas Bird Count, another group found a mega-rarity Spotted Rail (Pardirallus maculatus) skulking on the shores of Laguna Chichoj in San Cristobal Verapaz. The day after the count, I joined a group of birders poised to relocate the bird. We were successful!
The Yellow-backed Oriole (Icterus mesomelas) is a common species found along the creek of Finca Rubel Chaim.
While I wasn’t home for Christmas, I enjoyed my time working and conversing with the local caretakers. Every night we sat around the dinner table teaching each other our respective languages (English, Spanish and their Mayan language, Q’eqchi). Making new friends and being immersed in a different culture was a truly remarkable experience.
Thank you Rob and Tara for giving me this amazing opportunity! It was a pleasure getting to know you, John, Peter, and Ruth.