Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary, Belize

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 early spring. Most of these birds are North American migrants staging for their migration back north. Just like the migrants, I am staging for my flight back north as well.

For three days, I intensively bird the sanctuary by canoe and foot. In the process, I meet friendly local birders and even an enthusiastic young birder. Two of the birders (Francis Canto and Ernaldo Bustamante), are kind enough to show me the elusive Pinnated Bittern. Below is a selection of my favorite images.

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Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks (Dendrocygna autumnalis)
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Jabiru (Jabiru mycteria)
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Jabiru (Jabiru mycteria)

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Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes)
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Pinnated Bittern (Botaurus pinnatus)
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Black-necked Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus)
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Bare-throated Tiger Heron (Tigrisoma mexicanum)
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Wood Storks (Mycteria americana)
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Fledgling and adult female Vermilion Flycatcher (Pyrocephalus obscurus)
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Fledgling Vermilion Flycatcher
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Great Egrets, White Ibis, and Roseate Spoonbills congregating on the lagoon.
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Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea)

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Snail Kite (Rostrhamus sociabilis) hunting for snails.
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Tropical Kingbird (Tyrannus melancholicus)

Parque Nacional Tikal

29 March 2017

Before leaving the wonderful country of Guatemala, I visit Tikal National Park in Petén. Harboring ancient Mayan Ruins, Tikal is also home to an incredible array of birds. Following is a selection of my favorite images . . .

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Morelet’s crocodile (Crocodylus moreletii)
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Boat-billed Heron (Cochlearius cochlearius)
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Rose-throated Becard (Pachyramphus aglaiae)
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Black-throated Shrike-Tanager (Lanio aurantius)
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Black Catbird (Melanoptila glabrirostris)
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White-nosed Coati (Nasua narica)
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Brown Jay (Psilorhinus morio)
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Yellow-olive Flycatcher (Tolmomyias sulphurescens)
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Lineated Woodpecker (Dryocopus lineatus)

Estación Biológica Las Guacamayas

13-24 March 2017

As my time in Guatemala comes to an end, I return to Petén and travel back up the Río San Pedro to the Estación Biológica Las Guacamayas (EBG) in Laguna del Tigre National Park. Last December, I participated in a Christmas Bird Count at this same biological station (click here for the blog post). Situated on the edge of the river within the vast Mayan Biosphere Reserve, EBG is the hub of important conservation work, including biological research, community development, and environmentally and socially responsible tourism. Thanks to Cornelio Chablé, Jeovany Tut Rodríguez, and the rest of EBG’s staff, I have the privilege of photographing birds for the station’s database. Following are a selection of my favorite photographs . . .

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Red-capped Manakin (Ceratopipra mentalis)

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Long-billed Hermit (Phaethornis longirostris)
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American Pygmy Kingfisher (Chloroceryle aenea)
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Green-backed Sparrow (Arremonops chloronotus)
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Agami Heron (Agamia agami)

Green-breasted Mango (Anthracothorax prevostii)

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Gartered Trogon (Trogon caligatus)

Black-headed Trogon (Trogon melanocephalus)

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Collared Aracari (Pteroglossus torquatus)

Left to right, top to bottom: Scaly-breasted Hummingbird (Phaeochroa cuvierii), White-bellied Emerald (Amazilia candida), Rufous-tailed Hummingbird (Amazilia tzacatl), and Wedge-tailed Sabrewing (Campylopterus curvipennis).

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Spider monkey silhouetted in the canopy.
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White-eyed Vireo (Vireo griseus)

Yellow-throated Euphonia (Euphonia hirundinacea)

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Ringed Kingfisher (Megaceryle torquata)
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Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis)
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A small bat clings to an overhanging snag above the river.
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Rufous-tailed Jacamar (Galbula ruficauda)
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Bare-throated Tiger-Heron (Tigrisoma mexicanum)
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Tropical Kingbird (Tyrannus melancholicus)
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Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga)
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Crimson-collared Tanager (Ramphocelus sanguinolentus)
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View of Estación Biológica las Guacamayas from the Río San Pedro
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The local Morelet’s crocodile (Crocodylus moreletii) named Bobby.
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The wonderful EBG staff and a few local students.

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.

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

 

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

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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!

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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.
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Horned Guan (Oreophasis derbianus)
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The view while hiking back down Cerro Paquisis.
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Our three-guan day included this Crested Guan (Penelope purpurascens) and the Highland Guan (Penelopina nigra).
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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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

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