Monday, July 27, 2015

Things to come? San Cristobal de las Casas, July 13, 2015

This day I was scheduled to go to San Cristobal de las Casas, a beautiful town about an hour from Tuxtla. We started out an hour later later than the day before, so I was more rested.This trip promised one of my most wanted birds, Pink-headed Warbler. When I got on the van I discovered an old Facebook friend, so that made the trip even better.  All in all things looked great.

We drove through the city to the spot for the warbler. The property was originally owned by a wealthy man who did not live in the area. Somehow it went from private property to being owned by the Zapotec community. (There is some very interesting political history in this area with the Zapotecs.) One of our guides for the day, Alberto is from San Cristobal and has built relationships in this community, encouraging the use of this land for birding instead of logging or making charcoal. He always requests permission and for a couple of local people to act as guides. We waited for the two men to arrive and scanned the nearby trees. We quickly found Hutton's Vireos and a couple of Steller's Jays, which are a bit different than the Steller's found in the states.

One of the men arrived and said the other would join us shortly, so we started into the woods. The day before the Pink-headed Warblers had been seen very near where we were parked, but there was no sign that morning. We headed to an area known as a territory for Garnet-throated Hummingbird, also one of my big targets for the day. We quickly located a male sitting on a branch, guarding his home turf. It is a big spectacularly colored hummingbird, but unfortunately, the light wasn't good, so I didn't get a photo. We walked through the woods, listening for Scaled Ant-pitta, with no luck.

We then went to a power line cut, which can be good for the warbler. Sure enough, a small mixed flock was on the edge of the woods, including four Pink-headed Warblers. Just as we saw the first one well, I heard a sound behind us of someone being very sick. I felt a deep sympathy for the victim. It is so easy to get "tourista" in Mexico. I was very glad it wasn't me. I really admired him, though, as he rejoined the group and was very upbeat and not asking for any sympathy. We teased him a bit that it was all too much excitement. We moved on to another area of the woods and another participant grabbed the toilet paper and ran into the woods. This was not boding well.

We got back to the van and we headed up to a high elevation point, where Guatemalan Pygmy-owl had been seen by another group. We drove a steep road up to about 9,000 ft. It was misty and pretty chilly. On the way up we spotted a beautiful Unicolored Jay sitting on a fence. It was a much better look than I had the day before. When we parked some Common Chlorospingus were working the bushes. There was no sign of the pygmy-owl, despite Alberto's whistling. Our other guide, Michael Hilchey, of BRANT tours, spotted a number of birds in the low trees along the road. We were high enough up that the trees were stunted, almost like elfin forest. We heard a Highland Guan calling across the field, but had no visual on the bird.

We added more high altitude birds like Cinnamon Flower-piercer, Rufous-collared Robin, Yellow-eyed Junco and a subspecies of Northern Flicker, that may be split in the future. Walking down the road we found several Black-throated Jays. Again, the looks I got were much better than the day before. Unfortunately, I heard the sounds of sickness again. The mood was still very good, though. We got in the van and started out for our lunch spot where there was the promise of a hummingbird feeder and a bathroom!

We arrived at a small reserve on the road to Ocasingo. Sure enough, there was a picnic table with a hummingbird feeder right next to it! There was a lovely little farm on the other side of the fence with some black sheep, whose wool I coveted for knitting a sweater. We ate our lunch watching Amethyst-throated and Magnificent Hummingbirds battling it out over the feeder. After finishing Alberto suggested a hike up one of the trails to try for Blue-throated Motmot. A couple of people who had been fine earlier in the day decided to stay back and rest. I was feeling fine, so I started up.

The trail was a little bit steep, but not bad. We had a group of Band-backed Wrens clattering away at us. There were Slate-throated Redstarts, Golden-browed Warblers, Crescent-chested Warblers and Rufous-collared Robins passing through. We got to the top and had to climb over a fallen tree. I was a little tired and I knew I would be slow going down hill, so I started back. There were several people napping on the picnic table and the hummingbirds were still battling. The rest of the group got down right after I did. We started gathering things together to leave, when Alberto spotted a Gray Silky-flycatcher in a tree by the road. It flew across the road to a field and perched up nicely. We also spotted a Tropical Mockingbird in the same area.

We returned to the hotel, where Martin was waiting for  me. His trip had returned a few minutes
prior. He asked me how our group had done and I told him a couple of people had been ill. He looked concerned and said several people in his group were also not well, including one man who had to be helped to his room. Of course, we were both feeling fine, so we thought they must have forgotten and brushed their teeth with tap water, or ate something they shouldn't have. Little did I know. (Cue the dramatic music.)
Photos for the day (very few)
Species List:
 Cracidae        Highland Guan                   
Columbidae      White-tipped Dove               
Trochilidae     Magnificent Hummingbird         
Trochilidae     Amethyst-throated Hummingbird   
Trochilidae     Garnet-throated Hummingbird     
Trochilidae     White-eared Hummingbird         
Picidae         Northern Flicker                
Furnariidae     Scaly-throated Foliage-gleaner  
Tyrannidae      Tufted Flycatcher               
Tyrannidae      Yellowish Flycatcher            
Vireonidae      Hutton's Vireo                  
Corvidae        Black-throated Jay              
Corvidae        Steller's Jay                   
Corvidae        Unicolored Jay                  
Troglodytidae   Rufous-browed Wren              
Troglodytidae   Band-backed Wren                
Turdidae        Brown-backed Solitaire          
Turdidae        Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush 
Turdidae        Rufous-collared Robin           
Mimidae         Blue-and-white Mockingbird      
Mimidae         Tropical Mockingbird            
Ptilogonatidae  Gray Silky-flycatcher           
Parulidae       Crescent-chested Warbler        
Parulidae       Golden-browed Warbler           
Parulidae       Pink-headed Warbler             
Parulidae       Slate-throated Redstart         
Thraupidae      Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer  
Emberizidae     White-naped Brush-Finch         
Emberizidae     Spotted Towhee                  
Emberizidae     Rufous-collared Sparrow         
Emberizidae     Yellow-eyed Junco               
Emberizidae     Common Chlorospingus            
Icteridae       Great-tailed Grackle           

Sunday, July 26, 2015

What time are we leaving? Tapalapa, July 12, 2015

I am usually pretty game to get up early to go birding, but getting out of bed at 3:45 AM was stretching it. The van was leaving at 4:15AM to go to Tapalapa, a high altitude spot about 70 miles from Tuxtla Guttierrez. This 70 mile drive takes about three hours due to numerous speed bumps, pot holes and bad road conditions. Our group piled in and took off. In my mind I could hear Betty Davis saying "Fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy night", well, actually early morning.

We arrived at our first birding spot at dawn. We had gained a lot of altitude and I was really happy to have a jacket with me. We had a great guide, Eric Antonio Martinez, who is from the Oaxaca area. He has a great ear and eye, and seemed truly happy to be guiding us. He immediately started calling out the birds which were singing nearby. If I recall correctly, a Mountain Trogon was the first bird we actually saw. We could hear White-faced Quail Doves and a couple of species of nightingale-thrushes. Black Thrushes showed well.

Just a few minutes after we got off the van, Eric spotted a very special bird, a Mountain Elaenia. Just a few days previously, Rich Hoyer, one of the top bird guides in the United States, discovered elaenias at this location. It was the first record for Mexico! The bird normally is found in Guatemala and points south. He found not just one, but several. We ended up seeing seven! This area is not birded often, so there is no telling how long this population had been present. It was very exciting to get a bird that isn't even on my listing software for Mexico. I was able to take one of my worst photos ever of one of them. 

It started warming up and butterflies began flying. Most were Mexican Silverspots but I was thrilled to find a Guatemala Hairstreak. A few Black-capped Swallows flew over head, a new bird for me. Eric spotted a tiny Wine-throated Hummingbird feeding, which was not on my list of expected birds. Then a large green bird flew over, quickly followed by another which sported a very long train fluttering behind it, Resplendent Quetzals! I briefly saw the male perching, but was unable to get anyone else on it before it flew. Even though the looks were fleeting, we all were really excited. None of the other groups, nor the scouting party had been able to find them. We hung around that area for quite a while and never saw them again.

We moved further down the road, where we had a large flock of the Black-capped Swallows perched on utility wires. Brown-backed Solitaires were singing their "waterfall of broken glass" song. Eric heard a Blue-throated Motmot, one of the target birds. Unfortunately, it was on the other side of a small patch of woods and never came in. I would have loved to have seen it, but I count heard birds, so that took the sting away a little bit. Common Chlorospingus, formally known as Common Bush Tanagers. The name is much more impressive than the bird. We also spotted a pair of Blue-crowned Chlorophonia fly over head. Their flashiness more than matches their name.

We moved down slope to a new location with a trail through the forest. Eric found another Wine-throated Hummingbird and a Green-throated Mountain Gem, another new hummingbird for me. We then heard Azure-hooded Jays calling. Again, it ended up being a heard only bird for me, but we did see two other species of jays, Black-throated and Unicolored. We had looked for Unicolored in Honduras in November, but had no luck. I felt badly that Martin wasn't with us, as he really wanted this species. I photographed a few more butterflies, Mexican Dart-white, Teal Beamer and Anna's Eighty-eight among them.

The ride back was just as bumpy, though we could at least see where we were. There is a huge reservoir that I only had a vague sense of in the dark. It was very impressive by the light of day. We drove over the dam and we could see some egrets below in the river, but stopping is absolutely forbidden. We arrived back at the hotel to flocks of Green Parakeets screeching over head. It was a very long day, but very productive.

Photos for the day:

List of birds:
 Cathartidae    Black Vulture                    
Cathartidae    Turkey Vulture                   
Columbidae     Band-tailed Pigeon               
Columbidae     White-faced Quail-Dove           
Trochilidae    Magnificent Hummingbird          
Trochilidae    Green-throated Mountain-Gem      
Trochilidae    Wine-throated Hummingbird        
Trogonidae     Resplendent Quetzal              
Momotidae      Blue-throated Motmot             
Picidae        Acorn Woodpecker                 
Picidae        Hairy Woodpecker                 
Furnariidae    Scaly-throated Foliage-gleaner   
Tyrannidae     Mountain Elaenia                 
Tyrannidae     Eye-ringed Flatbill              
Tyrannidae     Pine Flycatcher                  
Tyrannidae     Yellowish Flycatcher             
Vireonidae     Brown-capped Vireo               
Corvidae       Black-throated Jay               
Corvidae       Azure-hooded Jay                 
Corvidae       Unicolored Jay                   
Hirundinidae   Black-capped Swallow             
Troglodytidae  Spot-breasted Wren               
Troglodytidae  Gray-breasted Wood-Wren          
Turdidae       Brown-backed Solitaire           
Turdidae       Slate-colored Solitaire          
Turdidae       Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush 
Turdidae       Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush  
Turdidae       Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush  
Turdidae       Spotted Nightingale-Thrush       
Turdidae       Black Thrush                     
Turdidae       White-throated Thrush            
Mimidae        Blue-and-white Mockingbird       
Parulidae      Golden-browed Warbler            
Emberizidae    Common Chlorospingus             
Cardinalidae   Flame-colored Tanager            
Fringillidae   Blue-crowned Chlorophonia        

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Birding in the Lands of Mole and Maya: Day 1 Sumidero Canyon July 11, 2015

I rarely feel the need to explain why we are on a particular trip, but the circumstances of this one are rather unusual. The Gay Birders of North America, aka GBNA, was founded several years ago to provide a welcoming environment for LGBT birders and straight allies. Martin and I led field trips in Beaumont TX during their biennial meeting several years ago. We have been vocal supporters of LGBT rights for years and are friends with many of the members. We skipped their last meeting at Half Moon Bay, but when we found out this year's event was in Chiapas Mexico, we started looking at participating. Our dear friend, Michael Retter, invited us to join a few friends of his after the meeting to bird in Oaxaca. That was the clincher! Unfortunately, I could not get the time off to do the full GBNA meeting and the Oaxaca trip. We were allowed to do part of the meeting, missing the first two days.

We arrived late morning on July 11 at Tuxtla Gutierrez. Our first birding destination was Sumidero Canyon, which is quite near the city and breathtakingly beautiful. We hired a cab, dropped our bags at the hotel and headed to the canyon. Michael R. was leading a trip there and we hoped to find the group, to bird for part of the day. We stopped at the entry gate of the park and were stunned by the huge numbers of butterflies in the parking, mostly Crimson Patches, Guatemalan Patches and Simple Patches. I also found a Black-patched Cracker, a gorgeous blue bug. Just past the entrance we had Yellow-green Vireos singing and a Plain-capped Starthroat.

We drove up the canyon and spotted a large van parked at a trail head to a mirador, (overlook). There was a small store, so we stopped and asked if the van belonged to birders. The answer was yes, so we told the cab driver to wait and headed down the trail. We ran into Michael and the group walking back. They had seen some amazing birds, including one of Martin's most wanted birds, Blue Seedeater. They also had Belted and Flammulated Flycatchers, targets for the canyon. Michael pointed out where they had the birds and we told them we would catch up after we birded.

Unfortunately, the seedeater did not cooperate. It had been singing on a branch over the trail for fifteen minutes earlier, but it had shut up by the time we arrived. We looked for the Belted Flycatcher and missed that, too. Fortunately, we did see the Flammulated Flycatcher, my first life bird of the trip. It was lunch time and getting very quiet. We did manage to see a pair of Yellow-throated Euphonias building a nest, along with a Squirrel Cuckoo, Collared Trogon, Lesser Greenlet and Olivaceous Woodcreeper. We could hear a Barred Antshrike in the distance, one of my favorite sounds in the tropics.

We got back to the cab and headed up higher, where we found the group eating lunch. We bid our driver goodbye and ate some banana leaf wrapped tamales. We wandered around the picnic area, which had an amazing view of the canyon. It was very quiet bird wise, but we were surprised to have a flock of Brown Pelicans flying down the canyon over the river. We were a long way from the sea, over fifty miles. Michael said that he usually sees them on the river. The butterflies were still thick.

We headed back down towards town, stopping to walk a trail, where Bar-winged Orioles are seen. Unfortunately, they weren't seen by us. We did see Varied Buntings and  Fan-tailed Warbler, along with a few other birds. The prize of the day was out on the road when we returned to the van. One of the group noticed an odd butterfly and pointed it out to Michael, who shouted "RHETUS!" It was a Sword-tailed Beautymark, Rhetus arcius, a spectacular bug. We ran up and I probably took 100 pictures. I felt very badly for Matt Hale, Michael's partner, as he had told me how badly he wanted to see this butterfly and he was leading a different field trip.

We drove back to the hotel for dinner, where we reconnected with some old acquaintances from Beaumont. We discussed with Michael and Laurie Foss, who was one of the organizers, which field trips we could squeeze in on. Martin and I decided to go on different trips, since we had different goal birds. My trip in the morning was leaving at 415AM, so we made it an early night.
Bird list-
FAMILY          NAME                          
Cracidae        Plain Chachalaca              
Pelecanidae     Brown Pelican                 
Ardeidae        Great Egret                   
Cathartidae     Black Vulture                 
Cathartidae     Turkey Vulture                
Columbidae      Rock Pigeon                   
Columbidae      Mourning Dove                 
Columbidae      Inca Dove                     
Cuculidae       Squirrel Cuckoo               
Trochilidae     Plain-capped Starthroat       
Trochilidae     Canivet's Emerald             
Trogonidae      Collared Trogon               
Momotidae       Russet-crowned Motmot         
Psittacidae     Green Parakeet                
Psittacidae     White-fronted Parrot          
Thamnophilidae  Barred Antshrike              
Furnariidae     Olivaceous Woodcreeper        
Tyrannidae      Greenish Elaenia              
Tyrannidae      Yellow-olive Flycatcher       
Tyrannidae      Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher     
Tyrannidae      Flammulated Flycatcher        
Tyrannidae      Boat-billed Flycatcher        
Tyrannidae      Social Flycatcher             
Tyrannidae      Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher    
Tyrannidae      Tropical Kingbird             
Vireonidae      Yellow-green Vireo            
Vireonidae      Lesser Greenlet               
Vireonidae      Rufous-browed Peppershrike    
Corvidae        White-throated Magpie-Jay     
Corvidae        Green Jay                     
Hirundinidae    Northern Rough-winged Swallow 
Troglodytidae   Banded Wren                   
Polioptilidae   White-lored Gnatcatcher       
Turdidae        Clay-colored Thrush           
Parulidae       Fan-tailed Warbler            
Emberizidae     Olive Sparrow                 
Cardinalidae    Varied Bunting                
Icteridae       Great-tailed Grackle          
Icteridae       Bronzed Cowbird               
Icteridae       Streak-backed Oriole          
Fringillidae    Yellow-throated Euphonia      

Monday, December 22, 2014

Honduras, Day 8, Dec. 12, 2014 Mystery Solved and a Fond Farewell

This was to be our final day. We had scheduled the van at 2:00 PM for our transfer back to San Pedro Sula. We wanted to get a bit more birding in before we left. We had arranged to meet Esdras for one last time at 6:30 AM. We had pretty much gotten our packing done the night before. I had very mixed feelings. I was happy to go home, but I was really going to miss Pico Bonito.

We got up and dressed and started out the door. There on the path were the two tinamous, adult and youngster, we had seen the day before. This time they were more cooperative. We got very good looks and could see by the size they were not Little Tinamous at all, but Greats. They were not intimidated by us in the least. I snapped a few photos in the dark, not sure if I was getting anything at all. The pictures are pretty bad, but they do show enough to get the idea of what they area. We walked down to the path, and they just strolled along in front of us. I was afraid to breathe! Finally, they hopped over the edging of the path and slipped into the woods. It was a great way to start our last morning!

We were a bit early, so I ran down to the moth light to check out what might be there. The lodge had a white sheet with a light set up at night for moths. I was hoping for some big silk moths, but all of the bugs were fairly small. A few were really lovely. One white moth had a silver sheen and looked kind of furry. I took a few photos, then headed back to the lodge, where we met Esdras. We decided to do a walk before breakfast.

We found a number of birds we had already seen, like Red-capped Manakin and Chestnut-collared Woodpecker. We walked down to the tower and said goodbye to the Lovely Cotingas. We were very excited to find a Slate-colored Solitaire. They are normally found at a higher elevation, but were moving down slope for the winter. Esdras found a young roosting Great Potoo, probably "Ginger", a  young bird that was rescued, and then released by the lodge. We went back and ate breakfast with Esdras. I had the pecan encrusted french toast one last time. Seriously, if you go there, order this! It is amazing!

We finished breakfast and went back out to look for Vermiculated Screech-Owl. We worked the low forest in front of the lodge, with no success. They are fairly common there, but difficult to see when roosting. None responded to Esdras' tape. We did get one more life bird for me, Yellow-winged Tanager. We should have had this bird long before our last day; they are really common, but they had eluded us. Finally, Esdras spotted a couple in a tree by the parking lot. They aren't fancy looking birds at all, mostly blue gray with a little yellow flash on the wing, but I was still happy to see them. We had a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl near the parking lot, too.

It was getting close to time to leave, so we bid Esdras goodbye and went and finished packing. Esdras was a really good guide and I recommend him highly. We went up to the lodge and I did a bit of last minute shopping. Our bags were brought up and the van was out front. I settled up our bill and the desk agent gave me a gift from Alex Alverado, one of the guides, who I am friends with on Facebook. It was a lovely hand embroidered tote bag his wife had made for us. I was really touched!

Just as we were about to get on the van, Alex and another guide came up and asked us if we wanted to see a Vermiculated Screech-Owl. It would only take about ten minutes and the van driver was happy to wait. Of course we did! We followed them through the woods where we had looked earlier. I have no idea how they spotted it, but tucked up in the leaves was a little round ball of an owl. Alex took my phone and digiscoped the bird for me. I am horrible at digiscoping, but he did a great job! It was a wonderful bird to end our time at Pico Bonito.

We got in the van and got on our way. The driver made several stops, where we saw more Yellow-winged Tanagers, Solitary Sandpiper, Blue-gray Tanagers and a very interesting swift that Martin is still working on. We finally arrived at the Metrotel, where we began our trip. We arranged for a cab to pick us up at the unbearably early time of 3:30 AM for our 6:30 AM flight. Part of me felt like we should have just gone to the airport.

I have one more quick story to relate. Our flight to Miami when without a hitch. We went through immigration and went to re-check our bag. When they X-rayed the bag they saw a small jar of mango marmalade that I had forgotten about. They pulled the bag to check it more carefully. The agent opened the suitcase and pulled out a burlap bag of organic cocoa I had bought. I said, "Oh, that is just a bag of organic coca." Martin said "NO! COCOA! Not coca!" The agent laughed, but still did a little test to make sure. He then reached in and pulled out a paper wrapped small pottery bowl I had bought. I said "Oh, that is just a little pot!" He and Martin doubled over laughing. I must have turned five shades of red! He said "Lady, you made my week." I am so lucky I am not in jail! Thank goodness I got a TSA agent with a sense of humor.

Honduras was great. I think it would be a great introduction to tropical birding. Pico Bonito is beautiful, more than comfortable and the food is great. I will be very happy to answer any questions and put you in touch with the right people. Thanks for reading along.

Photos for the day:

Bird list for the day:
Tinamidae      Great Tinamou               
Cracidae       Plain Chachalaca            
Ardeidae       Cattle Egret                
Cathartidae    Black Vulture               
Cathartidae    Turkey Vulture              
Accipitridae   Roadside Hawk               
Scolopacidae   Solitary Sandpiper          
Columbidae     Red-billed Pigeon           
Columbidae     Gray-headed Dove            
Cuculidae      Squirrel Cuckoo             
Cuculidae      Groove-billed Ani           
Strigidae      Vermiculated Screech-Owl    
Strigidae      Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl       
Nyctibiidae    Great Potoo                 
Apodidae       White-collared Swift        
Apodidae       Vaux's Swift                
Trochilidae    Long-billed Hermit          
Trochilidae    Stripe-throated Hermit      
Trochilidae    Purple-crowned Fairy        
Trochilidae    Violet Sabrewing            
Trochilidae    Crowned Woodnymph           
Trochilidae    Stripe-tailed Hummingbird   
Trochilidae    Rufous-tailed Hummingbird   
Trogonidae     Black-headed Trogon         
Momotidae      Blue-crowned Motmot         
Alcedinidae    Amazon Kingfisher           
Ramphastidae   Collared Aracari            
Ramphastidae   Keel-billed Toucan          
Picidae        Black-cheeked Woodpecker    
Picidae        Golden-fronted Woodpecker   
Picidae        Chestnut-colored Woodpecker 
Psittacidae    Olive-throated Parakeet     
Psittacidae    White-crowned Parrot        
Furnariidae    Wedge-billed Woodcreeper    
Furnariidae    Ivory-billed Woodcreeper    
Tyrannidae     Bright-rumped Attila        
Tyrannidae     Great Kiskadee              
Tyrannidae     Boat-billed Flycatcher      
Tyrannidae     Social Flycatcher           
Cotingidae     Lovely Cotinga              
Pipridae       Red-capped Manakin          
Tityridae      Rose-throated Becard        
Vireonidae     Tawny-crowned Greenlet      
Corvidae       Brown Jay                   
Troglodytidae  Spot-breasted Wren          
Troglodytidae  White-breasted Wood-Wren    
Turdidae       Slate-colored Solitaire     
Turdidae       Swainson's Thrush           
Turdidae       Wood Thrush                 
Turdidae       Clay-colored Thrush         
Mimidae        Gray Catbird                
Parulidae      Ovenbird                    
Parulidae      Hooded Warbler              
Thraupidae     Blue-gray Tanager           
Thraupidae     Yellow-winged Tanager       
Thraupidae     Green Honeycreeper          
Cardinalidae   Summer Tanager              
Cardinalidae   Red-throated Ant-Tanager    
Cardinalidae   Black-faced Grosbeak        
Cardinalidae   Rose-breasted Grosbeak      
Icteridae      Melodious Blackbird         
Icteridae      Great-tailed Grackle        
Icteridae      Orchard Oriole              
Icteridae      Montezuma Oropendola        
Fringillidae   Scrub Euphonia              
Fringillidae   Yellow-throated Euphonia    

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Honduras, Day 7, We get to go in a boat! Dec. 11, 2014

 Our trip for this day was fairly close, so we didn't have to depart until 6:30 AM. We got up and left the cabin while still fairly dark. As we walked onto the porch, there was a lot of movement. Bats where flying back and forth, a few birds flushed from the side yard, and most interestingly, we saw two birds walking down the path towards the lodge. In the dark it was difficult to determine their exact size, but it was obvious one was quite a bit smaller, a youngster. We got them in our binoculars just in time to see they were tinamous, a secretive type of bird, very difficult to see normally. We had been hearing the eerie calls of Little Tinamou in the early morning, so our first thought was that species, but we weren't sure. We talked about just how big the birds were, and ending up settling that they were Littles. We told Esdras, when we arrived at the lodge, and he said that was most likely.

Cuero y Salad Wildlife Refuge is located about 30 kilometers east of La Ceiba. It is one of the oldest protected areas in Honduras, established in 1986 on a former coconut plantation. There are no roads to this area. Tourists and residents use a little narrow gage railroad, left over from the plantation days, when it was used to transport workers. The refuge is at the confluence of 15 different rivers and  watersheds. It is bordered on the north by the Caribbean Sea. Local boatmen take birders and other nature watchers out. There are a number of birds seen there occasionally, Jabiru and Agami Heron, which interested me greatly. Unfortunately, the Jabiru, a type of large stork, had left the area several weeks earlier. Agami Herons are rare there, but we were going to give it a try. But for me, the most interesting thing found there is Caribbean Manatee. I had wanted to see a manatee for as long as I can remember and never had. I was pretty jazzed!

We got on the little train and started off. We ran dogs and chickens off the tracks, along with an occasional bicyclist. When ever we saw something interesting we would call to the conductor and he would stop. There were flooded fields with wading birds; this is where the Jabiru, my nemesis, had been. There were small houses along the way. It was raining a bit, which was discouraging. We finally arrived at the headquarters and Esdras made the arrangements with a boatman. As we were getting ready to board the little motorized flat bottomed "john boat", I asked Esdras about manatees. He said we wouldn't see any. The river was too muddy from all of the rain. I am sure I let out a deep sigh.

We took off down the river. The rain had stopped and occasionally the clouds parted. The boatman had seen an Agami Heron a few weeks prior, so we made that a priority. We puttered up and down some narrow channels with heavy mangrove roots and hanging vegetation. Agamis are not going to be out in the open. We had a nice surprise when a Sun Grebe swam right by us, across the river in clear view. They are not usually so cooperative. A Gray-necked Woodrail peaked out, giving fairly good looks, but not great photo opportunities. Several Bare-throated Tiger-Herons watched us go by. It was a very pleasant morning. We spotted a White-faced Capuchin, the only monkey of the trip.

The Agami was not to be, but I really didn't expect to get it, so I wasn't too bummed. We saw a couple of big American Crocodiles, which was very cool. A large iguana was on the shore, so we went over for a closer look. Martin found several dragonflies, so we spent a little time there. As we pulled away the boatman said something in Spanish to Esdras that I didn't understand. Esdras said "He just saw a manatee!" We took the boat out a little way and he stopped the motor. We sat silently for a few minutes, when suddenly the water broke and a mother and young manatee stuck their heads out. The mother snorted, a fabulous sound, and they dove very quickly. It was fast, but so exciting!

We went back to shore and hopped on the train to go back. It started to rain a bit again. We spotted a Laughing Falcon on a tree and stopped for a few photos. There was a mother with a young boy of about three or four on the train. I sat next to him and we talked a little. I showed him some photos on my camera. I was really happy he understood what little Spanish I know. In the past when I had tried to talk to kids, they would just look at me like I was speaking Martian.  Maybe I am making a little progress.

Martin and I had talked about how we had not seen any ibis, which was surprising, considering the habitat. We stopped at the flooded fields we had seen on the way out, and sure enough, there was a nice sized group of White Ibis, both adults and immatures, and one dark plegadis ibis, which would either be a White-faced or Glossy. We assumed it was a Glossy, as it was on the Caribbean coast. Martin said to Esdras, "There is a dark ibis." Esdras thought he meant a young White Ibis, which are brown. We had no idea how rare a plegadis ibis was in Honduras and didn't bother to take any photos. When we got back to the lodge, we discovered there was only one previous record for Glossy Ibis and no records for White-faced for Honduras. We were sick that we hadn't tried to get photos. As a side note, the next day, another birding group went out there, but didn't see it. There were only a couple of White Ibis, not the big flock from the day before.

We had a leisurely lunch, watching Variable Crackers, a butterfly, chasing each other across the lawn, sounding like frying bacon. There are a number of species of crackers. They are called crackers because males have the ability to make noise with their wings. The noise seems to be a territorial display. I have never heard it when only one is present. After lunch we admired a snake that James had brought out, a young Mussurana. James said it was probably about a year old. It was really attractive, red and white, with a black head. James said that it would grow to be very large black snake. They are not venomous.  James also said it appeared to be getting ready to shed its skin. It then started moving through his fingers and the skin slid off. It was really cool!

During the afternoon we birded a little bit around the lodge. I hung back on my own and had a nice Kentucky Warbler. We were getting a pretty nice collection of our home warblers. We headed back to the cabin to pack for our departure the next day. Martin and I were still mulling over the tinamous, not quite sure what they were. We ate our final dinner at the lodge that evening, and bid our waiter, Howard, goodbye. My final dessert was Key Lime Pie. If you go, do not miss it!

Here are my photos from the day:

Here is the bird list:
 Tinamidae          Great Tinamou             
Anatidae           Blue-winged Teal          
Pelecanidae        Brown Pelican             
Ardeidae           Bare-throated Tiger-Heron 
Ardeidae           Great Egret               
Ardeidae           Snowy Egret               
Ardeidae           Little Blue Heron         
Ardeidae           Tricolored Heron          
Ardeidae           Cattle Egret              
Ardeidae           Green Heron               
Ardeidae           Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
Ardeidae           Boat-billed Heron         
Threskiornithidae  White Ibis                
Cathartidae        Black Vulture             
Cathartidae        Turkey Vulture            
Pandionidae        Osprey                    
Accipitridae       Common Black-Hawk         
Accipitridae       Gray Hawk                 
Rallidae           Gray-necked Wood-Rail     
Heliornithidae     Sungrebe                  
Jacanidae          Northern Jacana           
Scolopacidae       Solitary Sandpiper        
Scolopacidae       Least Sandpiper           
Laridae            Caspian Tern              
Laridae            Sandwich Tern             
Columbidae         Ruddy Ground-Dove         
Cuculidae          Groove-billed Ani         
Caprimulgidae      Common Nighthawk          
Trogonidae         Black-headed Trogon       
Momotidae          Blue-crowned Motmot       
Alcedinidae        Belted Kingfisher         
Falconidae         Laughing Falcon           
Falconidae         Bat Falcon                
Psittacidae        White-crowned Parrot      
Psittacidae        Red-lored Parrot          
Tyrannidae         Great Crested Flycatcher  
Tyrannidae         Great Kiskadee            
Tyrannidae         Boat-billed Flycatcher    
Tyrannidae         Social Flycatcher         
Tyrannidae         Tropical Kingbird         
Corvidae           Brown Jay                 
Mimidae            Gray Catbird              
Parulidae          Worm-eating Warbler       
Parulidae          Louisiana Waterthrush     
Parulidae          Northern Waterthrush      
Parulidae          Kentucky Warbler          
Parulidae          Magnolia Warbler          
Thraupidae         White-collared Seedeater  
Cardinalidae       Indigo Bunting            
Icteridae          Melodious Blackbird       
Icteridae          Great-tailed Grackle      
Icteridae          Montezuma Oropendola       

Friday, December 19, 2014

Honduras, Day 6. You won't believe what is happening in the men's room!

Best title for one of my blogs ever! We will get to that part shortly. We got up a bit later than the day before, hearing Little Tinamou, again, right outside the windown. We had a arranged a morning trip to a nearby hotel, Rio Santiago River Resort. This is an amazing place for hummingbirds, with over 220 feeders. Our friend Paul and his guide Jose, were accompanying us again. It was not too far from Pico Bonito, so we didn't have to leave quite so early. The weather looked a bit threatening, but we were hopeful.

We arrived at the resort and parked. It is quite a nice place, owned by an American who is a former gold miner. The cabins looked great and they were working on some smaller rooms. The main house has a raised covered deck, and there is a palapa with a bar behind the house. A short way up the hill is the aforementioned men's room. We could see hummingbirds shooting by everywhere, but we knew they would still be around later, so we decided to try a trail first and then come back.

The trail was a little steep, but not bad at all. Our first bird was a gaudy Keel-billed Toucan. We came across a beautiful little waterfall. White-breasted Woodwrens were singing loudly. We dropped down a small hill and were excited to see a Royal Flycatcher. Unfortunately, Paul and Jose were behind us and it flew before they got there. We worked up another small hill and had both Gray-headed and Gray-chested Doves on the path. Both were new for me. There were a few warblers around. Then it started to sprinkle. No problem! We had rain gear, so we moved on.  We were very happy to find a White-throated Thrush, normally a highland species. In winter some of the high elevation birds will move down slope. Then the rain got a bit heavier. Then it really opened up. We decided it might be better to sit under the covered palapa or the deck, so we turned back. I started having bad cramps in my legs, I think from dehydration, so the walk back was not fun at all.

We went up to the palapa and there were hummingbird feeders hanging along the edge. One of my most wanted hummingbirds was Band-tailed Barbthroat. Almost immediately, one flew in. Some of the hummingbird species we had been seeing at Pico Bonito were very common, like Crowned Woodnymph, Rufous-tailed and Violet Sabrewing. A Stripe-tailed, which we had seen briefly at the tower, flew into one of the feeders, giving close up and personal looks.  I drank some water and was feeling much better!

We went up to the covered deck to see some of the other hummingbirds that use the feeders in the trees. We talked to the owner and he said they found that they did much better using very small tube feeders, instead of the larger ones. They go through 25 lbs of sugar a day! The swarms of birds were very impressive. We added a couple of new species for the trip,Scaly-breasted Hummingbird,  and White-necked Jacobin. It was still pouring rain, but we didn't care. This was a true spectacle. We all took a ton of photos, some of the best hummingbird photos I have ever taken.

Esdras excused himself and disappeared for a few minutes. I was too distracted by the birds to even notice. He came back up to the deck, holding up his camera and said "You won't believe what is happening in the men's room!" We all fell apart laughing. It turns out what was happening was a bat was sleeping right by the light fixture, not quite what our initial thoughts were. We trooped up the hill and looked in. There was a small bat hanging there, trying to sleep. We took a few photos and left him be. We told the owner to be sure to leave the door open so he could get out later. James Adams, at Pico Bonito, identified the bat as a Chestnut Short-tailed Bat, a fairly uncommon species. We teased Esdras mercilessly about what he said. It will remain for me, one of my all time favorite statements while birding.

We packed up and went back to Pico Bonito for lunch. (I had the wasabi blue cheese steak sandwich, fabulous!) It was still raining, so we took our time and watched the birds from the porch. Someone pointed to a small tree across the lawn that looked like it had an oddly dark branch. It wasn't a branch, but a very young Boa Constrictor. It had been in that tree for several days, picking off unsuspecting hummingbirds that landed nearby. I had not noticed it at all. I braved the rain and went over a took a few photos, none very good. The rain slowed down, so we birded around the lodge some. It was kind of nice to have a slower paced afternoon.

Photos from the day:

 Bird list for the day:
 Tinamidae          Little Tinamou             
Phalacrocoracidae  Neotropic Cormorant        
Ardeidae           Great Egret                
Ardeidae           Cattle Egret               
Cathartidae        Black Vulture              
Accipitridae       Common Black-Hawk          
Accipitridae       Broad-winged Hawk          
Scolopacidae       Spotted Sandpiper          
Columbidae         Red-billed Pigeon          
Columbidae         Inca Dove                  
Columbidae         Gray-headed Dove           
Columbidae         Gray-chested Dove          
Apodidae           White-collared Swift       
Trochilidae        White-necked Jacobin       
Trochilidae        Band-tailed Barbthroat     
Trochilidae        Long-billed Hermit         
Trochilidae        Stripe-throated Hermit     
Trochilidae        Violet-headed Hummingbird  
Trochilidae        Scaly-breasted Hummingbird 
Trochilidae        Violet Sabrewing           
Trochilidae        Crowned Woodnymph          
Trochilidae        Stripe-tailed Hummingbird  
Trochilidae        Rufous-tailed Hummingbird  
Trogonidae         Black-headed Trogon        
Momotidae          Blue-crowned Motmot        
Alcedinidae        Amazon Kingfisher          
Ramphastidae       Collared Aracari           
Ramphastidae       Keel-billed Toucan         
Picidae            Black-cheeked Woodpecker   
Picidae            Golden-fronted Woodpecker  
Picidae            Yellow-bellied Sapsucker   
Picidae            Chestnut-colored Woodpecker
Picidae            Pale-billed Woodpecker     
Psittacidae        Olive-throated Parakeet    
Psittacidae        White-crowned Parrot       
Psittacidae        White-fronted Parrot       
Tyrannidae         Royal Flycatcher           
Tyrannidae         Yellow-bellied Flycatcher  
Tyrannidae         Great Crested Flycatcher   
Tyrannidae         Great Kiskadee             
Tyrannidae         Boat-billed Flycatcher     
Tyrannidae         Social Flycatcher          
Pipridae           Red-capped Manakin         
Tityridae          Black-crowned Tityra       
Tityridae          Masked Tityra              
Vireonidae         Yellow-throated Vireo      
Corvidae           Brown Jay                  
Troglodytidae      White-breasted Wood-Wren   
Polioptilidae      Tropical Gnatcatcher       
Turdidae           Swainson's Thrush          
Turdidae           Wood Thrush                
Turdidae           Clay-colored Thrush        
Turdidae           White-throated Thrush      
Mimidae            Gray Catbird               
Parulidae          Black-and-white Warbler    
Parulidae          Hooded Warbler             
Parulidae          American Redstart          
Parulidae          Magnolia Warbler           
Parulidae          Yellow Warbler             
Parulidae          Chestnut-sided Warbler     
Thraupidae         Green Honeycreeper         
Thraupidae         White-collared Seedeater   
Thraupidae         Yellow-faced Grassquit     
Thraupidae         Buff-throated Saltator     
Cardinalidae       Summer Tanager             
Icteridae          Melodious Blackbird        
Icteridae          Great-tailed Grackle       
Icteridae          Baltimore Oriole           
Icteridae          Chestnut-headed Oropendola 
Icteridae          Montezuma Oropendola       
Fringillidae       Olive-backed Euphonia      

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Day 5, December 9, The Second Star Bird

There is only one true endemic bird found in Honduras, the Honduran Emerald. This hummingbird is an endangered species found only in the dry forest of Honduras. It is one of the most wanted species for birders coming to Honduras. There is a reserve across the mountains from Pico Bonito. As the crow flies it is only about 12 miles, but, to drive there takes a bit longer. This is not a bad thing, as the lack of roads across the mountains is a protection for the many birds, mammals and reptiles found there.

Because the drive is so long, we had to depart at 4:00 AM. We dragged ourselves out of bed at 3:30 AM, got dressed and staggered up to the van. Besides the driver and our guide Esdras, we were joined by another birder, Paul and his guide, Jose. We had met Paul briefly on our first day. He was a lot of fun, very funny. His guide, Jose, is a total hoot, so we didn't mind a bit. We all snoozed on the van, except the drive, thank goodness. At about 8:00 AM we stopped on the road at a gas station that had picnic tables for breakfast and a bathroom break. Breakfast consisted of baleadas, a Honduran breakfast taco, with eggs, beans, cheese and some type of meat. They are really good, and very filling!

After breakfast we took off, making several stops before reaching the Honduran Emerald reserve. On our first stop we checked some fields and a small road that ran perpendicular to the highway. There were a lot of White-collared Seedeaters, Blue-black Grassquits and at least one Indigo Bunting. Esdras was very excited to see a Tri-colored Munia, an Asian exotic that has become established in Honduras. He said it was a new bird for him. I teased him a little by saying "Haven't you ever been in a pet shop?" He laughed, but I know he was excited to see it. A pair of Red-lored Parrots perched in the top of a tree and preened each other. We found a fairly rare bird for the area, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo. Unfortunately, we did not see our target bird, Double-striped Thick-knee.

We made a couple of other stops and finally found one a couple of our targets. White-lored Gnatcatcher had eluded me in the Yucatan. We found a pair in some scrub by the side the road. We also found Spot-breasted Orioles, another new bird.  We stopped and played the call of Lesser Roadrunner in a likely looking place and were very happy when one answered. It sounded like it was getting closer. Martin spotted it sitting in a distant tree. We got great scope views.

We arrived at the reserve at about 10:00AM. We pulled into a small farm with a house. The family was sitting on the porch, the father, holding a rifle, the mother nursing a toddler, and several older children. The father pointed up in the tree by the house, and there was a Honduran Emerald. That was the easiest bird of the trip! We gathered our stuff up and took a hike into the reserve. We climbed through a narrow spot in a barbed wire fence, and Martin and I got a few tears in our shirts. I wore sneakers instead of boots, because it was dry forest, right? Big mistake. There were horses and donkeys in the field and quite a few puddles. The combination was not great for sneakers. Those shoes are still in Honduras.

Esdras pointed out the plant that the emeralds feed on. It is a succulent, similar to pencil cactus, with a tiny flower scattered here and there. I have no idea how these birds make a living on it. We found several more emeralds fairly easily. Cinnamon Hummingbirds were rather aggressive, chasing them off almost every time I tried to take photos. We tried for Lesser Ground Cuckoo, with no success. I asked Esdras if they ever miss the emerald there and he said no. I told him I was way too superstitious to ask him that question before we saw it.

After we left the reserve, we stopped for lunch. Instead of a restaurant we ate at a private home, where the woman of the house prepares traditional food for guests of the lodge who go the reserve. It was really nice to eat true Honduran food in a home. We had fried chicken, pork, some home made cheese, beans and tortillas. It was really good! While we ate, I sneaked tiny pieces of chicken and pork to their cat, a half grown calico. I know I was misbehaving, but the cat was really cute. After lunch I wandered around a bit and photographed some butterflies, including a Blue-eyed Sailor and a Gray Cracker. We looked for the Double-striped Thick-knee on the ride back, but had no luck. 

Photos for the day:

Birds seen:
Anatidae        Black-bellied Whistling-Duck  
Anatidae        Blue-winged Teal              
Odontophoridae  Crested Bobwhite              
Ardeidae        Great Egret                   
Ardeidae        Cattle Egret                  
Cathartidae     Black Vulture                 
Cathartidae     Turkey Vulture                
Cathartidae     King Vulture                  
Accipitridae    Gray Hawk                     
Scolopacidae    Spotted Sandpiper             
Scolopacidae    Least Sandpiper               
Columbidae      Rock Pigeon                   
Columbidae      Inca Dove                     
Columbidae      Common Ground-Dove            
Columbidae      Ruddy Ground-Dove             
Columbidae      White-tipped Dove             
Cuculidae       Yellow-billed Cuckoo          
Cuculidae       Lesser Roadrunner             
Cuculidae       Groove-billed Ani             
Strigidae       Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl         
Caprimulgidae   Common Pauraque               
Trochilidae     Honduran Emerald              
Trochilidae     Cinnamon Hummingbird          
Alcedinidae     Amazon Kingfisher             
Picidae         Golden-fronted Woodpecker     
Picidae         Lineated Woodpecker           
Falconidae      Crested Caracara              
Falconidae      American Kestrel              
Psittacidae     Olive-throated Parakeet       
Psittacidae     White-crowned Parrot          
Psittacidae     Red-lored Parrot              
Psittacidae     White-fronted Parrot          
Tyrannidae      Brown-crested Flycatcher      
Tyrannidae      Great Kiskadee                
Tyrannidae      Social Flycatcher             
Tyrannidae      Tropical Kingbird             
Tyrannidae      Fork-tailed Flycatcher        
Corvidae        Brown Jay                     
Hirundinidae    Northern Rough-winged Swallow 
Hirundinidae    Mangrove Swallow              
Hirundinidae    Barn Swallow                  
Troglodytidae   White-bellied Wren            
Polioptilidae   White-lored Gnatcatcher       
Turdidae        Clay-colored Thrush           
Mimidae         Gray Catbird                  
Mimidae         Tropical Mockingbird          
Parulidae       Gray-crowned Yellowthroat     
Parulidae       Common Yellowthroat           
Parulidae       Yellow Warbler                
Parulidae       Black-throated Green Warbler  
Thraupidae      Blue-gray Tanager             
Thraupidae      Blue-black Grassquit          
Thraupidae      White-collared Seedeater      
Thraupidae      Yellow-faced Grassquit        
Cardinalidae    Indigo Bunting                
Icteridae       Eastern Meadowlark            
Icteridae       Melodious Blackbird           
Icteridae       Great-tailed Grackle          
Icteridae       Orchard Oriole                
Icteridae       Spot-breasted Oriole          
Icteridae       Altamira Oriole               
Icteridae       Baltimore Oriole              
Fringillidae    Yellow-throated Euphonia