Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Honduras Part 3: Aguan Valley and the Endemic Honduran Emerald

Rob writes: Our third day of birding in Honduras started extremely early, 4:30am, so that we could make the drive to the Aguan Valley on the other side of the mountain range. What would be 15 minute helicopter ride over the mountains is a three hour drive around them instead. To be honest, a helicopter ride through the mountains would be great, but the drive is absolutely beautiful and I wouldn't trade it for a quicker route! While everyone else was sleeping on the drive, I was taking in as much of the experience as I could. Though it was still extremely dark for the first hour and a half of the drive, it amazed me to see how many people were up and heading to work at such a crazy hour.

As the sun started to rise, I began to see that we were driving through a valley between mountains where there were some very small farming communities. After about 2.5 hours in the van, we made a stop at a gas station in Olanchito to use the restroom and get some breakfast. It turns out that Olanchito is the gateway to the Aguan Valley, and they are very excited that they can claim the Honduran Emerald as their own!

After our brief stop, we birded along the road on our way to the Honduran Emerald Reserve. Shortly down the road, we finally came across one of the birds that I had been really hoping to find on this trip, Fork-tailed Flycatcher. There were a total of nine individuals with six of them being in the same bush!

A group of Fork-tailed Flycatchers with one Tropical Kingbird.
Not too much further down the road is El Carril Bridge, and the amount of bird life around it is pretty amazing! In just 45 minutes, we found 34 species. Some of our favorites were Mangrove Swallow, Common Tody-Flycatcher, Painted Bunting, Gray-crowned Yellowthroat, and a very cooperative Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl.

We continued on to the reserve with several stops along the way but only added a few species to our list. When we first pulled up to the reserve, it was hard to believe that this was where the Honduran Emerald lived. The vegetation is rather sparse and at first glance, there were very few flowers for the birds to feed on. We set off on a short hike and found two Honduran Emeralds within about 10 minutes! It turns out that the flowers that the Emerald feeds on are tiny and I just hadn't been paying close enough attention to find them.

One of 18 Honduran Emeralds that we saw during our time in the Aguan Valley.
We spent the next couple hours hiking and birding around the area, adding several other species to our trip list and taking lots of photos.

This White-bellied Wren was singing loudly and finally came out into the open for just a second.
The only place that you can find White-lored Gnatcatchers while birding in Honduras is in the Aguan Valley.
This is also the most southern location that you can find this species.
After finishing up our birding, we headed tp lunch. Our dining spot turned out to be one of the most memorable parts of the entire trip. Since there are no cities really close to the reserve, The Lodge at Pico Bonito has arranged for their clients to have lunch at a local home not too far from the Honduran Emerald Reserve. It was absolutely incredible to be welcomed into someone's home for lunch. The food was incredible and relaxing out on their patio after lunch was wonderful!

Brian, Elmer and I sitting down to eat. (Thanks Greg for the photo).

Greg taking a siesta after lunch.
Many people feel that the trip to the Aguan Valley is just about seeing the Honduran Emerald, but I would say that there is so much more to the trip than that. From the stunning scenery to the wonderful lunch, it was a simply amazing day.


Unknown said...

Hi Rob,

Awesome post. The birds you saw look incredible. Quick question- were you on the BSBO pelagic last weekend (Sat. 12/7) in Cleveland? I was on it and was hoping to meet you, but I didn't find you. Good birding.

Rob Ripma said...

Hi Cole, I ended up not making the trip to Cleveland for the trip last weekend. Hope you had a great time! I heard there were some good birds on found on the trip.