Thursday, December 5, 2013

Honduras Part 2: Two of My Favorite Places

Rob writes: While preparing for my trip earlier in the Fall, there were two birding locations that always jumped out at me as places that I would love to visit. As it turns out, we ended up being able to visit both of those places on the second day of the trip!

The first stop of the day was a nearby nature resort called Rio Santiago. Since it's so close to The Lodge at Pico Bonito, we didn't have to get started quite as early as we would later in the week. Rio Santiago is known as the Hummingbird Capital of Honduras, and it doesn't take long once you arrive to see why. The owner of the lodge, ..., has set up about 180 small hummingbird feeders, and he has hundreds of individuals spanning almost 20 species visiting his feeders! It is an absolutely incredible sight.

Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds were the most common species that we saw while at Rio Santiago.
While Brian got set-up to photograph the hummingbirds, Greg and I went with our guide Elmer to check out some of the trails around the property. Although Rio Santiago is close to The Lodge, the mix of birds does change quite a bit. One species that is easier to find here than at the lodge is Keel-billed Motmot. We heard this bird long before we found it but once found, it put on quite a show.

Motmots are beautiful but can be extremely difficult to find.
This Keel-billed Motmot perched in the open for several minutes which allowed for great views and photos!
We found so many awesome birds on the rest of the hike, but my absolute favorite was a White Hawk that appeared when we were almost done with the hike. Once back to the Lodge, we ordered some lunch as we settled in to watch the hummingbirds off the deck of the restaurant. After a little while, our friend James arrived to help release a rescued tamandua (an anteater species) and asked if we wanted to come along for the release. Of course we were thrilled to tag along and take some photos!

Hopefully this tamandua can live a long life in the forests around Rio Santiago.
After a delicious lunch of fresh caught tilapia from the fish ponds on the property, we were off to our next birding spot! Cuero y Salado Wildlife Refuge is a large 32,700 acre refuge right on the Caribbean. The birding here is done by boat as you explore the mangroves to find a whole different group of birds than anywhere else in the region. While the birding is amazing, the trip to the refuge is really incredible. In order to get to the visitor's center where you get in a boat to cruise around the refuge, you must take a tiny train from the town of La Union. Riding on the train is like taking a step back in history. These narrow gauge tracks were originally used to transport bananas, but they have been turned into a tourist attraction thanks to the help of several organizations.

I found the ride to be quite the unique experience, as I had not expected that there would also be locals that would ride the train with us. I was unaware that there were small villages along the tracks and the only way for those that live in the area to get to the town is by taking the train. There are several stops along the way, and it is fascinating to see how people live in those areas.

Greg and Elmer relaxing on our train right to Cuero y Salado Wildlife Refuge.
Once on the boat, the new birds came fast! Our local guide and boat captain didn't speak much English but had a sharp eye and was great at pointing out the birds he spotted. First up was a beautiful adult Bare-throated Tiger-Heron.

This Bare-throated Tiger-Heron was well hidden!
A little farther along, we found a group of Boat-billed Herons roosting for the day. I have wanted to see this species for a really long time and was very excited to see so many at once!

Look how big the bill and eye are on this Boat-billed Heron!
Our next great bird was actually the best species we had all day! An American Pygmy Kingfisher flew right past the boat and disappeared into the mangroves. We circled back around but unfortunately could not hunt it down. We spent the next several hours exploring the mangroves and taking tons of photos.

We found a large group of White-faced Capuchins that were very curious about us.
The number of Northern Jacanas at Cuero y Salado was incredible. This was one of several young birds that we saw.
The young jacana above was following this adult around.
Although the adult Bare-throated Tiger-Heron above was well hidden, this young bird stood right out in the open.
This was our view as we approached the dock at the end of our trip. It was a spectacular sight to end our day with.
While we waited for the train to travel back up into town, Brian sat down to take a look at the photos on his camera. A small group of locals took quite an interest in what he was doing and loved looking at all of his amazing photographs. What was really amazing was there there were three generations of locals gathered around.

It was incredibly special to ride the train back to town as the sun set. We rode the train right alongside locals again and felt quite immersed in the Honduran culture. The experience was one of the most special that we had during the whole trip.

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