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      

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Day 4. December 8, The Star of the Show!

We got up to the sounds of a calling Little Tinamou and a Black-and-white Owl outside of the cabin. We walked out of the cabin, when a good size bird shot by, lighting in a tree next to the cabin across the path. It was one of my most wanted birds, a Keel-billed Motmot. We were very lucky, as it was the only one we saw on the entire trip. We walked up to the lodge, where we met Esdras for a cup of coffee before we started on the trails. Breakfast would wait for a bit. The weather was threatening, but still dry. The hummingbirds were already speeding around. Red-billed Pigeons flew from tree to tree, along with raucous Brown Jays. A pair of Collared Aracaris were eating fruit nearby.

Our first stop was the tower near the lodge. We were looking for the star bird at Pico Bonito, Lovely Cotinga. Pico is probably the best place in the world to see this fabulous bird. The male cotinga is electric sky blue with a huge dark purple heart on its breast. How crazy is that? We climbed to the third level and started to scan. Esdras almost immediately spotted a pair of males perched on a tree top off in the distance. We got them in the scope. They were every bit as beautiful as I expected. We ended up seeing several more, all quite distant, but fine through the scope. My very heavily cropped photos are horrible, but they do show the color. A lovely Purple-crowned Fairy hummingbird perched near the tower. A Stripe-tailed Hummingbird was feeding in some purple flowers beneath the tower. The sky started to clear. Martin spotted swifts overhead. We had both Vaux's and White-collared. I actually got a photo of a swift in flight, which was a first for me.

We went up and had breakfast. When you go to Pico Bonito, be sure to get the pecan encrusted french toast. It is mind blowing. We watched the hummingbirds feeding. Montezuma and Chestnut-headed Oropendalas gave their crazy calls, both of them of the new birds for me. James Adams, one of the lodge managers, came out and joined us. We had a great talk about the lodge and the wildlife there. James asked us if we would like to see a snake, and I said "Of course!" He brought out a bag tied at the top. The form of the snake was visible in the bottom. He got Esdras to come over and help him, as he very carefully untied the bag. He took a snake stick, reached in, and pulled out the most beautiful Coral Snake I have ever seen! The colors were so rich. He had found the snake at Rio Santiago Resort and wanted to photograph it before releasing it in a safe place. James told us how he had been bit by a Coral Snake a few years back and almost died, so he was VERY careful. It was one of the big highlights of my day. (I really, really like snakes!)

We walked around the grounds some more and found another new bird for me, one that was also very wanted, Chestnut-colored Woodpecker. This is a fairly big crested woodpecker, chestnut brown. The male has red cheeks. We found a number of "our" birds around the grounds, including Philadelphia and White-eyed Vireos, Hooded, Chestnut-sided and Magnolia Warblers, Yellow-bellied and Olive-sided Flycatchers and a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. I told them I would see them in a few months. It was getting close to lunch, so we went back to the cabin, tidied up and went down for lunch, which was also really good!

After lunch we decided to hike up hill to the second tower. I realized I had somehow lost my walking stick in the transfer the day before. I said I would be ok without one, but Esdras said, "No, take one from the lodge." We started up a set of stone steps. It had started to sprinkle again, but it wasn't bad. The steps were on the tall side and my knees complained all the way up. I had not done my normal preparation for hiking before the trip, and I was paying for it. The birds were pretty quiet, but we Esdras did find some White-collared Manakins. We went further up, and further up. Finally, we got to the turn for the second down. The path descended sharply, a long way down. I looked down and realized I would have to come back up that hill. I said "I am going to stay here and wait for you to come back. I am quite happy to sit here and watch for birds to come by." Martin objected, but I told him I really was happy to stay there, and I was.

He and Esdras started off. Not long after they left I heard some birds calling. I moved around a bit and spotted an Orange-billed Sparrow in the under story. I then saw the only antbird of the trip, a Dot-winged Antwren. A female Green Honeycreeper landed right above me. I didn't wait too long, when Martin and Esdras returned. They had not seen much. Martin was really hoping for a couple of higher altitude birds, Gray-headed Piprittes and Nightingale Wren. It was not to be. We went down the stairs, which didn't make my knees any happier. We ran into another group of birders who had arrived at the lodge near the first tower. They were looking at a couple of Lovely Cotingas, so we had a look, too. How could we not? We went up to dinner and retired very early, as we were leaving at 4:00AM for the Honduran Emerald Reserve.

Photos for the day:
Bird list for the day:
Tinamidae       Little Tinamou              
Cathartidae     Black Vulture               
Cathartidae     Turkey Vulture              
Accipitridae    Gray Hawk                   
Columbidae      Red-billed Pigeon           
Strigidae       Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl       
Strigidae       Black-and-white Owl         
Apodidae        White-collared Swift        
Apodidae        Vaux's Swift                
Trochilidae     Long-tailed Hermit          
Trochilidae     Stripe-throated Hermit      
Trochilidae     Purple-crowned Fairy        
Trochilidae     Violet-headed Hummingbird   
Trochilidae     Violet Sabrewing            
Trochilidae     Crowned Woodnymph           
Trochilidae     Stripe-tailed Hummingbird   
Trochilidae     Rufous-tailed Hummingbird   
Trogonidae      Black-headed Trogon         
Trogonidae      Gartered Trogon             
Momotidae       Keel-billed Motmot          
Ramphastidae    Collared Aracari            
Ramphastidae    Keel-billed Toucan          
Picidae         Black-cheeked Woodpecker    
Picidae         Golden-fronted Woodpecker   
Picidae         Yellow-bellied Sapsucker    
Picidae         Chestnut-colored Woodpecker 
Psittacidae     Olive-throated Parakeet     
Psittacidae     Brown-hooded Parrot         
Psittacidae     White-crowned Parrot        
Thamnophilidae  Dot-winged Antwren          
Furnariidae     Streak-headed Woodcreeper   
Tyrannidae      Paltry Tyrannulet           
Tyrannidae      Olive-sided Flycatcher      
Tyrannidae      Yellow-bellied Flycatcher   
Tyrannidae      Bright-rumped Attila        
Tyrannidae      Ash-throated Flycatcher     
Tyrannidae      Great Kiskadee              
Tyrannidae      Social Flycatcher           
Cotingidae      Lovely Cotinga              
Pipridae        Red-capped Manakin          
Pipridae        White-collared Manakin      
Tityridae       Black-crowned Tityra        
Tityridae       Masked Tityra               
Vireonidae      White-eyed Vireo            
Vireonidae      Philadelphia Vireo          
Corvidae        Brown Jay                   
Troglodytidae   Spot-breasted Wren          
Troglodytidae   White-bellied Wren          
Turdidae        Wood Thrush                 
Turdidae        Clay-colored Thrush         
Parulidae       Hooded Warbler              
Parulidae       Magnolia Warbler            
Parulidae       Chestnut-sided Warbler      
Thraupidae      Green Honeycreeper          
Emberizidae     Orange-billed Sparrow       
Cardinalidae    Summer Tanager              
Icteridae       Baltimore Oriole            
Icteridae       Chestnut-headed Oropendola  
Icteridae       Montezuma Oropendola        
Fringillidae    Olive-backed Euphonia       

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Day 3, December 7, Traveling to Paradise

We got up and had some breakfast outside at Las Gloriales. The weather was a bit foggy, but there was no rain. We had a pretty long drive ahead of us to Pico Bonito, but we could squeeze a bit of birding in on the way. We had to be in San Pedro Sula to transfer to a new van by 1:30PM. That gave us a couple of hours if we left early. After a quick stop near the hotel, without seeing much, we got on our way. Tegucigalpa was challenging again. There isn't a straight street in that city!

We made a quick stop along the road in the dry scrub forest,  where we found a couple of Streak-backed Orioles.  Martin spotted a pair of Western Tanagers. One bird that Martin really wanted to get some photos of was White-throated Flycatcher. It is one of the empidonax flycatchers, which all look alike. Identifying them is a huge challenge. White-throated occurs very close to the Texas border and could possibly occur there in the future. It likes wet marshy areas. Esdras knew a good spot at a hotel on Lake Yojoa, which was on our way. We could also grab an early lunch there.

We arrived at the hotel, called Finca Las Glorias. The grounds looked great. We spotted a couple of Rufous-naped Wrens chasing each other in a large tree. We stopped at the hotel restaurant to check on lunch and told them we would be birding around the grounds. We headed down to the lake side, where a large foot bridge crossed a small inlet. A young Snail Kite was perched on a light pole. Esdras started playing the call of the flycatcher and almost immediately one responded. We were able to get some photos and study the bird and its call, which is very different than any of the North American empidonax flycatchers. We scoped some ducks out on the lake to pad our Honduras list.

There was a stable between the lake and the hotel. Some guys rolled out a marimba and got out a few rhythm instruments and started playing. A man on a white horse came out of the stable, with the horse "dancing" to the music. They were followed by a young colt, who looked like he was imitating the dancing gate. I was impressed, but that isn't difficult. We walked around a bit more, looking for butterflies and other birds. It was time for lunch and we partook of the really nice buffet.

We hustled to our meeting point to change vans. Omar, our driver, had to return to Tegucigalpa. We arrived and moved our things to the Pico Bonito van. It was still a couple of hours to the lodge, so we took off. We were seeing a lot of Honduras! We passed huge plantations of African Palms, which are grown for oil. A lot of habitat has been lost to this crop.  Despite this, the countryside was beautiful, with lots of small mountains. We noted a lot of very clear looking rocky rivers, though there were few birds on them.

Finally, we arrived at La Ceiba, and took the turn for Pico Bonito. After a couple of kilometers, we reached the gate. The Lodge at Pico Bonito is one of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World. It is a far cry from some of the places Martin and I have stayed at in the tropics. It retains the adventurous feel of the tropics, but adds a great deal of luxury! The lodge sits on the edge of Pico Bonito National Park. There is over 400 acres of tropical forest. There are miles of trails and over 450 species of birds in the park. The game cameras routinely capture video of wild cats, including Jaguars.

We walked into the lobby and were met by a waiter with virgin juice drinks in hollowed out coconuts. The waiter asked if I would like rum and I replied, "Uh, yeah!" We checked in, and our luggage was taken to our cabin. We walked out on to the veranda where I got two life birds in 10 seconds, a Long-billed Hermit and the spectacular Violet Sabrewing. How can anyone not love a huge purple hummingbird with a snowy white tail? Crowned Woodnymphs and Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds swarmed all around. A little Stripe-throated Hermit fed on some pink flowering shrubs. We could see the beautiful pool across the lawn.

Our cabin was a short distance away, so we walked up the path into the woods. When we reached it, Esdras pointed out a group of warblers up in a trees over the roof.  He left us and we got settled in. The cabin was beautiful, with heavy wooden shutters over the windows, a high vaulted ceiling with fans over both beds. The bedding was crisp and white. We unpacked, as we were going to be staying for five days. We stepped outside, where we heard and saw a Northern Bentbill. A Pale-billed Woodpecker was hammering away on a tree trunk above our heads. We went back inside to get ready for dinner and a Little Tinamou started calling right outside the window. This was going to be good!

We walked up to the restaurant for the first of a series of great meals. Martin had rack of lamb and I had sea bass cooked in garlic. The creme brulee. Our waiter, Howard, was awesome. We talked about how this was an experience even a non-birder would love. We went back to the cabin and fell asleep to the sounds of the jungle. There was no need for the air conditioning, as it was cool enough for a blanket. Here is a link to the lodge's web site.

Here are my photos for the day:

Bird list for the day:

Collared Aracari                
 Northern Bentbill               
Melodious Blackbird             
American Coot                   
Ring-necked Duck                 
Great Egret                      
Cattle Egret                     
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher       
White-throated Flycatcher       
Social Flycatcher               
Common Gallinule                
Great-tailed Grackle            
Roadside Hawk             
Long-billed Hermit              
Stripe-throated Hermit       
Tricolored Heron                 
Rufous-tailed Hummingbird       
Northern Jacana                 
Brown Jay                       
American Kestrel                
Tropical Kingbird               
Western Kingbird                
Great Kiskadee                  
Streak-backed Oriole            
Baltimore Oriole                
Montezuma Oropendola            
 Green Parakeet                   
Tropical Parula                 
Black Phoebe                    
American Redstart               
Violet Sabrewing                
White-collared Seedeater        
Northern Rough-winged Swallow 
Barn Swallow                   
Western Tanager                 
Blue-winged Teal                 
Wood Thrush                     
Little Tinamou                 
Black Vulture                    
Turkey Vulture                   
Blue-winged Warbler             
Magnolia Warbler                
Yellow Warbler                  
Chestnut-sided Warbler          
Crowned Woodnymph               
Black-cheeked Woodpecker      
Golden-fronted Woodpecker     
Pale-billed Woodpecker       

Monday, December 15, 2014

Day 2 Dec. 6, Here Comes the Rain

Our second day was very important, as we only had one day to bird La Tigra National Park. Martin did not have many target birds for this trip; most of them were there. We both have a passion for hummingbirds. Martin wanted to see a Green-breasted Mountain Gem very badly. It would be the last member of the lanpornis family for him, and also a new bird for me. I wanted to see a Sparkling-tailed Hummingbird, and Martin wanted better looks, as he had only seen one briefly in Mexico years before. Besides the hummingbirds, there were a number of high elevation species we hoped to pick up, like Uniform Jay and several other hummingbirds for me. The hike was not going to be easy, but we were excited.

We left Las Gloriales early and started up towards the park. It was pleasantly cool, but the people we passed were bundled up like it was about to snow! We were in shirt sleeves and were fine. We stopped and Esdras started doing a Ferruginous Pygmy-owl whistle. Very quickly, we heard an answer. A very stern looking pygmy-owl glared at him. A pair of Band-backed Wrens, a new bird for me, fussed at both of them.  The first of many Wilson's Warblers flitted around. A gorgeous Blue-and-White Mockingbird gave me a really good look. It was a great start.

We moved up a bit further, to a spot that normally has the Sparkling Tailed Hummingbird. None were around, but a lot of other birds were. A Cinnamon-bellied Flower-piercer worked through the vines and bushes. We spotted a Hammond's Flycatcher. A Slate-throated Redstart joined in. I spotted an Olive Warbler. Then Martin got his target bird. Even though the Sparkling-tailed wasn't present, I was excited to get the mountain gem. Some of the pressure was off. Then it started sprinkling. It wasn't heavy and we pressed on.

We moved up further, checking places for my target hummingbird, but had no luck. We stopped in a pine forested area and heard an unearthly, beautiful song, a Slate-colored Solitaire. Tropical solitaires songs send shivers down my spine. We pushed up the hill, listening to the bird calling. Finally, we spotted the bird tucked in a pine. Esdras got the bird in the spotting scope very quickly and we enjoyed both hearing and seeing it. We also found another new bird for me, a Mountain Trogon. The sprinkling continued on and off. We made a few more stops, seeing lots of birds, but not the Sparkling-tail.

We reached the park entrance, had some late breakfast, while birding around the picnic area. The rain picked up slightly, but we didn't have any problems with it. We started up the trail. There was a pretty good incline, and I was slow, as usual. The further we got, the heavier the rain became. We were not hearing any birds at all. We kept going. The rain got even heavier. We stopped to re-evaluate our situation. The birds were totally silent. I was getting winded. We laid out our options and decided to cut our losses and head down slope. We wouldn't have minded getting wet, or tired, but not if we weren't going to see birds. We headed back down. I stopped in the headquarters, where I saw this marvelous mural.
Esdras said we could concentrate on the Sparkling-tailed Hummingbird, which was always around. Yeah, right. We made several stops, with no luck. We did see more of the mountain gems and some Azure-crowned Hummingbirds, Wilson's Warblers were driving us crazy. Who knew they could flit around like hummingbirds? The rain had slowed to a sprinkle again, making conditions more pleasant. We toyed with going back up to the park, but the last bit of the road was difficult before the heavy rains. Our vehicle was only two wheel drive, so we thought better of it. We took our time and arrived back at the hotel and had a late lunch. Martin was not feeling well, so I birded around the grounds, while he rested. It was a bit disappointing to miss the high altitude birds, and for me, the Sparkling-tailed Hummingbird, but I was still really enjoying it.

Photos from the day:

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Honduras, a New Notch on the Passport and Some Fabulous Birds

Martin and I had thought we wouldn't do a trip this year, but when I saw I had seven days of vacation time to use, we started thinking about what to do with it. After looking at airfares and possible birds, Honduras looked very promising. Martin would not get many life birds, but a couple were important to him. I have not had nearly the experience in Central America as Martin, so I had a lot more to gain. We put out some feelers and got an offer we couldn't refuse from James Adams from the Lodge at Pico Bonito. James put together a great package, visiting several locations, but allowing a nice long stay at the lodge, which is amazing! More on that later.

We were able to book mileage tickets on American. We flew from Houston to Miami, then to San Pedro Sula. The best part of the flight was sitting in the plane looking at Cuba below us, while eating Cuban sandwiches we picked up at the Miami airport. We landed at San Pedro Sula around 8PM. We met a driver sent by the hotel, Metrotel Express, and had no issues at all getting to the hotel. The hotel was great. They have good security, which is important, if you know anything about San Pedro Sula. Even in the dark, the gardens looked very promising.

Our guide wasn't scheduled to arrive until about 11:00 AM, so we took full advantage of the hotel garden. The first bird we ticked was Clay-colored Thrush, a bird we see in Texas. We heard Tropical Kingbirds, another bird we see in Texas. Then Great-tailed Grackles flew over. Guess where we see them? It continued with a number of birds we see in the Rio Grande Valley, Groove-billed Anis, White-collared Seedeaters, Great Kiskadee. Finally, I found a Blue-crowned Motmot, which does not occur in Texas. It is a great looking bird with long "raquets" on the end of its tail. They swing their tails like a pendulum on a clock. We picked up a number of other birds, though nothing new for us. Despite that it was great to be birding in the tropics and were enjoying our first morning. Common Basilisk lizards ran by on their hind legs. A few butterflies were flying. We looked for the resident iguana, but had no luck.

Our guide, Esdras Mejia and our drive Omar, arrived and we got on our way. We were driving to Tegucigalpa, the capital city, to stay near La Tigra National Park. Esdras had a couple of stops planned for us. The first was a restaurant on Lake Yojoa for a quick lunch and some water birding. The food was great and the lake beautiful. I was surprised to find Tilapia just pulled out of the lake is actually good! A Snail Kite hunted over the reeds. We had a few Northern Jacanas, American Wigeons, Blue-winged Teal, and I misidentified a Common Tody-flycatcher, something I didn't think possible.

Our next stop was some dry forest habitat, where I got my first life bird of the trip, White-throated Magpie-Jay. What a stunner! With a crazy dealy-bopper crest and an overly long tail, it looks like a Blue Jay that met up with Sargent Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. A couple of orange orioles, darted out of sight, before we could ID them. I was hoping for a Spot-breasted, but we didn't see enough to rule out Altamira.

We drove through Tegucigalpa, which made me really happy that we had not tried to rent a car. It was insane! The streets are winding and random, and road construction was going on everywhere. We finally got through and started heading up a steep road into pine forest. Many wealthy Hondurans have homes up in this area above the city. It made the division of poor and rich very obvious. Esdras heard some bird calls and we stopped and jumped out. Bushy-crested Jays were calling in the trees above us. Unfortunately, they didn't allow for any decent photos. There were Band-backed Wrens calling in the trees lower down the hill.

We pushed on further up to our hotel, Las Gloriales Inn. This hotel has great grounds, with birds all around. Across the road, we walked past a small house to a ridge, where we picked up Azure-crowned Hummingbird, and Blue-and-white Mockingbird, a real stunner! I practiced my very poor Spanish with a little boy named Marlo, who lived in the house. The sunset over the mountains was spectacular. We walked back to a very nice dinner. After I recovered from the shock of finding out there was no WIFI, we went walking around looking for a Fulvous Owl in vain. I collapsed into bed at about 8PM.

Link to my photos for the day: