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 – 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 


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. 

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.  
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.

Cloud Forest
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.
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! 

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

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

Rusty Sparrow (Aimophila rufescens)
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.


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