Christmas at Finca Rubel Chaim

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. 

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I join Luis Gonzalez, Erdozain López, Marlo Garcia, and Luke Seitz to tackle an area. Despite the unrelenting rain, we had a great time and saw some amazing birds.  
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It was a pleasure to meet and get to know the fabulous Christmas Bird Count participants. (Left to right): Luis Gonzalez, Oliver Komar, Daniel Aldana Schumann, Kim Score, Joel Such, Luke Seitz, and Jesse Fagan. If you ever go birding in northern Central America, make sure to take along a copy of Jesse and Oliver’s “Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Northern Central America.”

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.

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Cloud Forest
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Black-throated Green Warbler (Setophaga virens). While this species is by far the most common warbler, there is also the similar looking Golden-cheeked Warbler wintering on the finca.
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Limpkin (Aramus guarauna)

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! 

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Elegant Euphonia (Euphonia elegantissima)
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Green-Throated Mountain-Gem (Lampornis viridipallens)
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Paltry Tyrannulet (Zimmerius vilissimus)

The Yellow-backed Oriole (Icterus mesomelas) is a common species found along the creek of Finca Rubel Chaim.

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Mushrooms
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Rusty Sparrow (Aimophila rufescens)
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Great-tailed Grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus)

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The architecturally stunning headquarters of Community Cloud Forest Conservation (CCFC) at Finca Ruble Chaim demonstrates an eco-friendly and sustainable design. CCFC’s mission is to “protect cloud forests, and natural areas in general, through education, reforestation, community development and advocacy.”

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.

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Thank you Rob and Tara for giving me this amazing opportunity! It was a pleasure getting to know you, John, Peter, and Ruth.

Conteo Navideño de Aves – Estación Biológica Las Guacamayas  

17-19 December 2016

For the past eight years, I have participated in a myriad of Christmas Bird Counts in my home state of Colorado. Birding from dawn to dusk, we brave frigid temperatures as we scour rugged terrain for mountain birds and wade through icy waters counting American Dippers. This Christmas season, however, I find myself dripping with sweat in the humid broadleaf forests of Petén, Guatemala.

While I happen to be out of the country this winter, that doesn’t stop me from participating in Christmas Bird Counts. Shortly after departing Belize, I join the Christmas Bird Count at Estación Biológica Las Guacamayas (EBG). Stationed 45 minutes up the Río San Pedro by boat, EBG is an ecotourism lodge and research station surrounded by the vast forests and wetlands of Laguna del Tigre National Park. With a six year count history, the EBG Christmas Bird Count has rapidly grown in popularity within the Guatemala birding community. This year’s count doubles as a book launch for the Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Northern Central America with authors Oliver Komar and Jesse Fagan.

After an evening of socializing and looking for Northern Potoos along the river, we divide into groups to conquer tomorrow’s count day. I join a group poised for a long day of hiking. After a boat ride to our starting point, we begin trekking through the jungle in the early morning darkness. Twelve hours, eighteen kilometers, and 160 species later, my group completes the 2016 Estación Biológica Las Guacamayas Conteo Navideño de Aves. Many incredible birds were seen and it was the perfect introduction to the Guatemala birding community.

For the day’s ebird list, check out http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S33275875

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Early morning vista of Parque Nacional Laguna del Tigre
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Queen (Danaus gilippus)
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Dark morph Short-tailed Hawk (Buteo brachyurus)
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White-bellied Emerald (Amazilia candida)
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Red-capped Manakin (Ceratopipra mentalis)
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My fearless count companions included Cornelio Chablé (EBG tourism manager and wildlife guide), Luke Seitz (guide for Wings Birding Tours), and Daniel Aldana Schumann (guide for Quetzal Birding Tours). Photo courtesy Cornelio Chablé.