Monday, May 2, 2016

Exploring Guatemala: Part 3 - Lake Atitlan and the Horned Guan

(Rob is recapping his March trip to Guatemala in a multi-part series. To read Part 1, click here. For Part 2, click here)

We arrived at our hotel, Pasada de Santiago, in the late afternoon and just did a bit of birding around the property, followed by drinks at their bar overlooking beautiful Lake Atitlan.

We witnessed a beautiful sunrise over Lake Atitlan
We had a very early start the next morning to start our quest for the Horned Guan. After a quick breakfast, we caught a boat across the lake, then loaded into the back of a pickup truck for the ride to the trailhead. Instead of going to where most birders have gone for Horned Guan, we visited a newer site called Cerro Paquisis. We had been prepared for a three hour hike up the mountain, but our group took just over 1.5 hours!

The forest along the lower part of the trail at Cerro Paquisis.
Unfortunately for us, the hike up was the only "quick" part of the day. The guans decided they wanted to make us wait! Although there were some birds around, one of my favorites being Black-throated Jay, we mostly just slowly walked around waiting and hoping to hear or see a guan.

Our local guides put in a huge amount of effort covering the mountainside trying to find us our big target for the day. Just when we had mostly lost hope, Aarón heard a guan in the distance! He and Cruz Chikibal headed back off trail to see if they could find the bird for us. After almost 30 minutes, Cruz came running back to us with great news - they had found the guans!

We all quickly followed him down the mountainside, slipping and tripping over things all the way. When we finally got to Aarón, we were relieved that he still had eyes on the birds! Although they were high up in the trees, we got very nice views. It was a difficult climb back to the trail since we had dropped about 100 meters in elevation to get to the guans, but we were all so excited that we didn't really care.

Once we got back down towards the trailhead, we stopped to try for another target bird that we had missed on the way up, Belted Flycatcher. We started to lose hope again after awhile, but Aarón saved the day and found the bird!

After over seven hours on the mountain, we figured our adventure for the day was done. But as it turned out, there was still some adventure to be had. On our drive back, the pickup truck started to have some trouble and finally something broke and brought us to a quick stop, almost knocking several of us in the back over. Since the truck was not going to be fixed quickly, we decided to walk the last bit to the dock to catch our boat. Just as we go to the dock, it started to rain, and we initially were relieved to be undercover on the boat. But mother nature had another plan, and soon there was nothing to keep the rain from coming into the boat. By the time were were back at Posada de Santiago, we were all completely soaked.

We were all exhausted from the day, but it was worth it for the incredible birds that we saw!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Exploring Guatemala: Part 2 - Los Tarrales and Quetzaltenango

(If you haven't read Part 1 of my trip to Guatemala, click here.)

We arrived at Los Tarrales in time for a late lunch and a short rest before hitting the trails. Throughout our trip, a guide in training, Aarón, joined us. He is a great birder and is going to be a great guide very soon! While at Los Tarrales, we learned that two of his brothers are also guides and they work locally at the lodge. Throughout our stay here, it was really fun to bird with the three brothers. Be sure to also hire Lester and Josue when you are at Los Tarrales! Not only is it good for the local economy, they know where all of the birds you want to see are. It was hot when we started out that day, but the birds didn't seem to mind. Just a short way down the path, we heard a Striped Cuckoo, but even though it sounded very close, we couldn't hunt it down. A bit later we had wonderful views of a Blue-throated Goldentail.

As we approached part of the trail that is good for Long-tailed Manakin, a much larger creature caught our attention - a Tayra! The Tayra is a large weasel. We spotted it high in a tree, and after a short time it ran straight down the trunk and out of sight. It was a life mammal for me!

This Tayra was one of the highlights of the trip. Thanks to Maynor Ovando for the photo!
Just after seeing the Tayra, we got fantastic views of the Long-tailed Manakin that we were searching for then headed back to the lodge to get some rest.

We rose early the following morning and loaded into 4x4 vehicles to make the trek up the mountain to look for the highlight bird of Los Tarrales, Azure-rumped Tanager. It was a beautiful drive through coffee plantations with the plants in full bloom and wonderful forest. Although our views of the tanager were from a distance, we did get to watch them build a nest! In addition the the tanager, other highlights included  Buffy-crowned Wood-Partridge, White Hawk, and Prevost's Ground-Sparrow.

Our 4x4 ride up the mountian.
The Azure-rumped Tanager one of the best birds at Los Tarrales.
We spent the afternoon and the following morning exploring more of the property and adding many species to our growing list. By the time we packed up and started for Quetzaltenango, we had seen 125 species at Los Tarrales.

This Collared Trogon posed nicely for me.
Two Mottled Owls were roosting in the bamboo.
Until this trip, I had never been able to get good photos of a White-winged Tanager.
It took the entire afternoon to travel to our next hotel, so we didn't get much birding in. Our day started early again as we moved to our next birding spot, Fuentes Georginas. This area is situated up in a valley and is a popular hot springs with fantastic birding!

Unicolored Jays are extremely common at Fuentes Georginas.
As with many higher elevation areas, the number of species isn't high, but the quality of each bird is! Highlights for the morning included Amethyst-throated Hummingbird, Pine Flycatcher, Unicolored Jay, and Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer. Once we were done with our morning birding, we packed up and made our way towards Posada de Santiago on Lake Atitlan where we would making a very difficult hike in search of Horned Guans.

Check back in a couple days to hear about our adventurous day in search of the guans!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Exploring Guatemala: Part 1 - Antigua to Los Tarrales

Last month, I visited Guatemala on a tour sponsored by the Guatemalan Tourism Board and led by Maynor Ovando from Birding Expeditions. I had never visited the country before, and I really wasn't quite sure what to expect. But I'm so glad that I went, because Guatemala was nothing like what many people had told me!

After a very late arrival in Guatemala City and a transfer to our hotel in Antigua, I was ready to get some rest before an early morning of birding the next day. Since it was dark when we arrived, we didn't see much of the town but it was clear the next morning that this was a special place. As we walked a few blocks to our van, we were in awe of the wonderful architecture in the old town.

Walking along the streets of Antigua.
Our first morning of birding took us to the hills above Antigua. Not only was there wonderful birding, but the view of the town was incredible as well. I saw my first of many lifers while birding the hills, Gray Silky-flycatcher.

This Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl was very active in the area we birded on the first morning.
You can't come to Guatemala and not spend some time exploring Antigua, so we spent the afternoon on a city tour. That would have been a neat experience itself, but we were treated to an incredible Holy Week parade with thousands of people in attendance. We spent a couple hours just enjoying the event!

Iglesia La Merced had amazingly intricate designs on the building.

These works of art are made from flowers and will then be walked over by the parade.

This huge "float" was carried by dozens of people though the streets.
We departed early the next morning for Reserva Natural Privada Los Tarrales with a stop along the way for a very special bird. After a very nice breakfast at Restaurante Rincón Suizo, we hit the trails around the restaurant. These trails led us through a beautiful pine forest which is home to the incredible Pink-headed Warbler. This was one of the main birds I wanted to see on the trip, and they did not disappoint! Other highlights here included Blue-throated Motmot, Chestnut-sided Shrike-Vireo, Golden-browed Warbler, and Hooded Grosbeak.

Pink-headed Warbler
Chestnut-sided Shrike-Vireo
Check back soon to hear about the next part of my Guatemalan adventure!

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Book Review: Offshore Sea Life ID Guide: East Coast

The Offshore Sea Life ID Guide: East Coast is a must have for anyone that is participating in whale watching or pelagic birding trip into the Atlantic. This guide is a wonderful reference for all of the wildlife that you may encounter while on one of these trips. There is information about many of the various birds, mammals, fish, turtles, seaweeds, and more that you might encounter. Even though the book is compact, the composite images allow you to see each species from a variety of angles and in different plumages. This allows the book to remain small while still providing wonderful information for the reader.

There is also a West Coast edition available for those of you taking trips into the Pacific.

Title: Offshore Sea Life ID Guide: East Coast
Author: Steve N.G. Howell and Brian L. Small
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication Date: January 6, 2016

We received a copy of this book from the publisher to review on The links are to our Amazon Affiliate account.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Back to Blogging

Rob writes: The last few months have been extremely busy and unfortunately, I've let my blogging slip. I am planning on keeping up a bit better with all of the fun and exciting birding that I've been doing and will be doing over the next few months.

Since my last post in January, I've traveled to Honduras, Mexico, and Guatemala. On my January tour to Honduras, our participants had a great time and one of them found over 100 lifers! Here are a few photo highlights from the trip.

Black-headed Trogon
Collared Plover
Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl
Green Heron
Olive-backed Euphonia
Owl Butterfly
Red-billed Pigeon
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
Although my trip to Mexico was mostly a family vacation, I managed to sneak out for a day of birding with my friends Gabor and Andrea from Hungary. They live in the Yucatan for half of the year and run tours all over the world. They know the Yucatan well and helped me find some great birds like Rose-throated Tanager and Orange Oriole!

Look for another post or two soon about my incredible trip to Guatemala!

Monday, January 11, 2016

Book Review: Birds Of South America Passerines

It's hard to image how you can even fit 1,952 species in a single book but Birds of South America manages to cover all of them in a book that is still a manageable size.

What I Like -

  • Family Description Section - This section does a great job of summarizing each family of passerine that is covered by the book.
  • Having all passerines from South America in one book. It's really nice to be able to compare all of them even if they occur in different countries.
What Could Be Better - 
  • I feel that much of the artwork lacks detail. While the drawings are beautiful, I don't think they would be extremely helpful when trying to identify a bird.
  • I know space is an issue when covering this many species but the range maps are tiny. When covering a whole continent, the range maps have to be bigger in order to really see where the species occurs.
Overall, I feel putting together a book with all these species covered is quite an accomplishment. It's not a book I would use in the field but it is nice to flip through and get a feel for the passerines of South America.

Title: Birds Of South America Passerines
Author: Ber van Perlo
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication Date: September 23, 2015

We received a copy of this book from the publisher to review on The links are to our Amazon Affiliate account.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Birding with Leica in Honduras

Anyone that reads this blog frequently knows that I love birding in Honduras. It was the first country in Central America that I visited for birding and I've now been a total of four times over the last 2 years. The last trip was one of the most fun birding trips that I've ever been a part of. A group of nine writers and bloggers was invited to join Leica Sport Optic's Jeff Bouton at The Lodge at Pico Bonito to test out the brand new Leica Trinovid HD binoculars.

We were all pretty serious birders and I've never spent so much time in the field while in Honduras. We didn't just spend the daylight hours in search of birds, we spent hours at night searching for owls, insects, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals! With all this effort, we put together an incredible list of species for just 6 days of birding.
This young Spectacled Owl spent
a long time posed for us at Rio Santiago Nature Resort!
For me, there were a couple of highlights during the trip. The first was learning a lot more about digiscoping. Jeff had brought along a PhoneSkope adaptor for me to use with my phone and the Leica scope that I was using which made digiscoping easier than ever! Not only could I take photos but I could shoot video as well! Look for a lot more digiscoping from me because I'll have all the parts I need to use it with my scope for my next tour.

Keel-bill Motmot
I was amazed at how well my video turned out of this Keel-billed Motmot.

This was one of our best mammal
finds, a Mexican Tree Porcupine
 The other highlight for me was our hike to Unbelievable Fall in Pico Bonito National Park. It's certainly the hardest hike I've ever done and it wasn't any easier the second time (read about my first trip to the falls in this previous post). We left early and spent nearly exhausting 8 hours out on the trail. The birding was absolutely incredible and I got my only three lifers of the trip on that hike, Azure-hooded Jay, Gray-headed Piprites, and Rufous Piha. We also enjoyed incredible views of Yellow-eared Toucanets along the way! Not only was the hike difficult this time, crossing the river at Unbelievable Falls was quite the challenge with the very high water. What an adventure!

Thanks to Jeff Bouton of Leica Sport Optics for putting together such a fantastic group of people for this amazing trip. It was a pleasure to travel with this group. Also thanks to all of my friends at The Lodge at Pico Bonito for showing us all such a great time!