Sunday, March 27, 2016

Honduras Wrap-Up: Nemesis No More!

As stated in earlier posts, the Bird Nerds have been to Central America a few times in the past. Each visit yielded many, many birds but not the most beautiful bird in the Nerd's opinion. The bird is so magnificent that it's name is "Resplendent" Quetzal. If ornithologists call a bird "Resplendent" it must be pretty awesome. The Nerds haven't seen the bird ever but it seems as though every non-birder who goes to Central America comes back with tales and photos of seeing the bird. They all say - "oh, you MUST have seen this one" or "we pulled into the parking lot and there it was" or "look at this photo that I took with my iPhone". I hate them all.

Here is my friend James showing off his cell phone photo of the RQ. I modified the photo because I didn't get his permission to post to the blog.

RQ Show Off
This trip, I told everyone that I wasn't leaving Honduras until I saw a Resplendent Quetzal. Our guide obliged by taking us to the cloud forest at La Tigra National Park and also to another location El Jilguero which also has RQs. We managed to see a few females at La Tigra.

Resplendent Quetzal - female
You can see what type of habitat they like. This is deep cloud forest that has almost constant mist that allows bromiliads to grow on almost every tree branch and trunk. Here is one in bloom.

This tree trunk is literally covered in other plants that thrive in the misty forest.

At El Jilguero gave us great looks at both male and females. The trouble with both interactions is that the birds are in dark forests so photos are not that great. Here is another female. She makes a racket when she flies in - calling the whole time. She has a gray head, wonderful green/blue back and pretty long tail.

Resplendent Quetzal - female
The male RQ is the piece de resistance with his shimmering green head, bright red breast and 2 foot long tail streamers.

Resplendent Quetzal - male
You can barely see the tail streamers in this photo. Take a good look. I cropped the photo to give you a better view.

Resplendent Quetzal - male
The experience was awesome. Seeing the RQ brought Connie to tears! It is an awesome bird. Quetzals are part of the Trogon family. We saw a few other Trogons on our trip. Here is male Slaty-tailed Trogon.

Slaty-tailed Trogon - male
 Here is a female Slaty-tailed Trogon chomping on a berry. This pair was right outside of our cabin at Pico Bonito.
Slaty-tailed Trogon - female
Here is Gartered Trogon, also from outside of our cabin. Trogons and Quetzals are pretty showy birds but I think they capture my attention by their behavior. They perch and turn their heads very slowly, looking around as if they can only see out of one eye at a time. They look up, down and side to side in deliberate motions almost as if they were robots. Most Trogons have an eye ring which accentuates the odd motion.

Gartered Trogon

Friday, March 25, 2016


Central America is home to many hummingbirds which can be easily viewed at lodges that put out feeders, along roadsides that have blooming flowers, in the mountains and even in the desert. We saw hummers in each of these settings during our trip to Honduras. At Pico Bonito Lodge, we were met by dozens of hummingbirds including this White-necked Jacobin. Beautiful blue and green.

White-necked Jacobin
Another stunner at Pico Bonito Lodge was this Violet-crowned Woodnymph. The green breast was only brilliant when sunlight hit it just so. I was lucky that this guy posed for me one afternoon.

Violet-crowned Woodnymph
Here is another Woodnymph sticking his tongue out after getting a big drink of sugar water from the feeder.

The other crowd pleaser at Pico Bonito Lodge was this Violet Saberwing. This is a "big" hummer with long wings. As with the Woodnymph, the brilliant purple breast was only visible in sunlight otherwise, it just looked dull black.

Violet Saberwing
Other hummers at the lodge are extraordinary but not because of their color, but because of their bill.

Long-tailed Hermit
A few other notable hummingbirds are not much to look at but are very desirable to birders. Here is Green-throated Mountain Gem which is only found at high elevations.

Green-throated Mountain Gem
And here is the most desirable hummingbird of all - Honduran Emerald. This little bird was the reason for our trip to the Aguan Desert. The bird is only found there. We found this bird pretty easily in the scrubby bushes.

Honduran Emerald
We are all glad that we made the trip for this bird since there are very few of them in the world.

Saturday, March 19, 2016


When preparing for a trip to a new place such as Honduras, the first thing that I do is buy a field guide for that area. When the book arrives in the mail, I flip through the pages and wonder how many of these birds we will actually see on the trip. When I get to the owl section, I get kind of bummed out because there are so many cool owls in Central America and I know that we will probably not see them. On our other trips to Belize and Costa Rica, we saw exactly one owl - Ferruginous Pygmy Owl which is cute, but certainly not the most exotic owl on the planet.

This trip was different. On the bus ride from the airport to Pico Bonito, our guide Alex asked each person to tell him what bird(s) they would most like to see on the trip. When it came my turn, I said Resplendent Quetzal, Potoo and any owl possible. He wrote each person's targets down in a little book. On the way back to the airport, he read each person's list and didn't miss any - including my owls.

We spotted our old friend the Ferruginous Pygmy Owl flying around the gardens at Pico Bonito Lodge at breakfast on our first morning. Honestly, we couldn't miss it. He perched in a tree hooting.

Ferruginous Pygmy Owl
He flew to another tree and we could see that he had something in his talons. A unlucky frog for breakfast. You can see the frog legs dangling here.
Ferruginous Pygmy Owl with frog
We subsequently saw 3 or 4 other Pygmy Owls including this one in the desert.

Ferruginous Pygmy Owl
We headed to another resort called Rio Santiago one morning. The attraction here are hundreds of hummingbirds, however the resort had another surprise waiting for us along the trail - Spectacled Owl. This is one of the owls that I dreamed about while flipping through the field guide. The owl was skittish, so we had to be very quiet and move slowly along the trail. Alex set up the scope and called us one by one to see the owl.

Spectacled Owl
We walked the trail again after lunch and the owl was still there. He was calmer and didn't seem to mind us peering at him through the scope and camera lenses.

Spectacled Owl
You can see why they call this owl Spectacled.

Spectacled Owl
I would have been a happy camper if we didn't see another owl the rest of the trip. That wasn't the case though. We walked the trails back at Pico Bonito Lodge and found 2 Guatemalan Screech Owls roosting under a palm tree. Can you see the ear tufts?

Guatemalan Screech Owl
Here is his mate hanging out in vines a few feet away from the palm tree.

Guatemalan Screech Owl
The Lodge has more owls on the property including Mottled Owl. We heard this owl calling on our first night and went out with Alex to find it another night. This was the only owl that we did not see during the day because it roosts in deep bamboo stands. Alex found it and used a flashlight to illuminate the owl. He didn't seem to mind as he went about his business of hooting and looking around while we took a quick look. I snapped this photo while the flashlight was on the bird.

Mottled Owl
We headed into town one day after a bird hike for lunch. Alex took us to a local garden to seek Black and White Owls but we couldn't find them. The lady who runs the place said that she thinks the local kids chased them away.

Not to be deterred, Alex knew of one more species that we could see back at the lodge - Crested Owl. Seeing these owls required an arduous hike up a pretty steep mountain path. We called it the "Death March". It was really steep and I thought I wouldn't make it the whole way. We hiked and hiked and came to a place where the trail seemed to end at a rocky ravine. Alex told us to wait there while he scrambled up the steep rocky trail. He said that he would whistle if he found the owl. We waited. He whistled. We scrambled. We were rewarded with a pair of Crested Owls sitting quietly above the trail.

Crested Owl pair
Alex climbed the embankment of the trail to get a better view in the scope. I followed. That's us sitting on the steep slope tangled with vines. Todd called us snipers on the high perch.  I won't tell you about the deadly snake that was there a few minutes before . . .

Linda and Alex - snipers
Check out the Crested Owl looking right at us. You can see that he is standing on one foot and has the other curled up.
Crested Owl
Spending time with these owls was amazing. I worry that we are bothering them but then they closed their eyes and went to sleep while we quietly slid back down the steep trail and took one last look.

Death March Survivors - Crested Owl
Five owl species was honestly 4 more than I expected on the trip but Alex wasn't done yet. Due to a change in plans later in the trip (which I will tell you about later), we ended up high in the mountains at a place called El Jilguero. Alex knew that Fulvous Owls lived here and proceeded to call to them. He scrambled down an embankment and found the owls. We all (well most of us) headed down to get a view. The owl sat on a large limb with just enough sunlight peeking through the forest to light him up.
Fulvous Owl
I said that most of us made the trip down the embankment to see the owl however, the path was too steep for Anita. She waited for us at the top but I knew that she was disappointed not to see the owl. On the way back to the top, I looked over my shoulder and saw the owl from a spot close to the top. I asked Alex to set up his scope. Todd and Paul guided Anita down the path and viola, she got to see the owl. It was an emotional moment for everyone. Here is her husband Paul handing her his hanky while she looks at the owl through tears of joy.

Anita, Paul, Todd, Alex - Fulvous Owl
That's what made the trip so memorable. It isn't the birds, it's sharing the experience with friends both old and new. Getting to see their reaction when they finally see target species. Reminiscing about the tolerance of the owls over drinks and dinner. Laughing about how steep the climb was or how blasted hot it was on the trail. That's what we'll remember.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Let's Play A Game - Find the Bird

Many birds are very colorful and noisy and showy. I think that is what makes people enjoy watching them. And then, there are a few birds that use camouflage to disguise their presence. Most of these birds are nocturnal hunters and sleep during the day so they need to hide. So, let's play - find the bird.

Our guide and a few of the group members have keen eyes and spotted the birds. Here are photos. Try your luck. We'll start with an easy one. Can you find the Lesser Nighthawk?

How about now?

Lesser Nighthawks and other nightjars roost on tree branches where they sit lengthwise along the branch. You can see the white wing patch on this guy. Ana spotted it from the boat.

How about this bird. Another nightjar called Common Pauraque. These birds roost on the ground rather than a branch. Our group accidentally spooked this bird while trying to take a shortcut to the bathroom at the Botanical Garden. It flew a bit and then settled back down in the grass. Can you see it?

Common Pauraque
How about now? Can you see the bird?

Common Pauraque
Hint: The bird is in the middle of the photo. Look for the light reflection on his eye.
Common Pauraque
This bird would normally be sleeping and not showing his eye but he was being bothered by a Hooded Warbler that kept bouncing around right near him. Can you see the warbler on the rock in this photo?
Common Pauraque - Hooded Warbler
One of the birds that I most wanted to see on the trip was a Potoo. There are a few types of Potoo in Honduras. We came across this Great Potoo on our first field trip at Pico Bonito Lodge. Can you see the bird?

Great Potoo
Seeing one Potoo was a dream but when we stumbled on another along the mangroves, I couldn't believe our luck. Our guide Alex spotted the bird, stopped the boat and played this game with us - find the bird. Nobody could find the bird. Here is Northern Potoo. Can you see the bird?

Northern Potoo
Potoos take the shape of a broken branch. They stretch their necks out and sit very still all day long. I never thought I would see one let alone get a great photo like this. Zoom in so that you can really get a good look at all of the subtleties that go into the camouflage. Amazing.

Northern Potoo
More flashy, shiny, showy, brilliant, noisy, resplendent, colorful birds to come.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Banana Train and Boat Ride

This is the nerds first time in a large group like this which had many up sides like not having to worry about details like where to go, what birds would be there, how to get there etc. The group consisted of 16 birders, 1 bird field guide (Alex) and our driver (Gustavo or Gus). Gus took care of logistics and driving. Alex took care of finding the birds, getting everyone to see the birds, coordinating the meals and lodging etc. All we had to do was follow the group. We ate each meal as a group. Alex took time at dinner to review our bird list for the day and tell us where and when to meet for the next day's adventure.

Our first big outing and tour in Honduras was to a place called RVS Cuero y Salado which is a mangrove estuary. Alex told us to be at breakfast by 6:00 and on the bus by 6:30. The bus trip only took 20 minutes where we would board the "Banana Train" at 7:00. Banana Train?

Bird Nerds on Banana Train
Banana - we thought was due to the train being yellow but turns out that the train used to carry banana pickers out to the fields in the old days.
Train - well, it was on tracks. The engine consisted of an engine mounted right next to the driver who had a lever and a brake pedal. That's it. 2 cars were attached to carry all of our group plus the regular passengers such as school children.

The track was one long straight line that took us through really poor rural housing, fields that used to be banana plantations and swamps.

Linda - Banana Train
Military guards ride the train to protect the passengers. Not sure what could happen but we didn't ask.

Connie and friend

Di and Barbara ride the train
The train dropped us at the end of the line where little boats awaited to take us up into the mangrove estuary. We couldn't have asked for better weather.

Mangrove Estuary

Birders in boats
Our guides took us to the places where we could see the specialty birds that make the estuary home. The first bird that we saw was Boat-billed Heron. This is an impressive bird with a wide bill and cool floppy feathers on his head. 3 of them were in the mangroves along the water's edge. Our boat driver pulled right up so that we could get a good look.

Another resident along the banks were Northern Jacana. Here is a baby following the parent through the reeds and lily pads.

Kingfishers are abundant in Central America. Unlike our area where we only have one type (Belted), Honduras has 6 types that can be seen. We found 3 of them along the estuary.  Here is Ringed Kingfisher which looks the most like our Belted except it has a rufous belly.

Ringed Kingfisher
This one is Green Kingfisher. This gal hung around under the mangroves and allowed the boat to get pretty close.

Green Kingfisher
The most uncommon kingfisher is Pygmy. It is also the hardest to see due to it's small size and habit of hiding in the mangrove roots. Can you see it?

Pygmy Kingfisher
We saw lots of other birds plus some other animals like this huge Crocodile lazing in the sun.

And these bats hanging onto the trunk of a tree.

Here is a close-up of one of them. Furry little fellow huh?

The crowd pleaser had to be the howler monkeys. We heard them roaring in the distance and also stumbled upon a family right along the bank. Here is Dad keeping a watchful eye.

Male Howler Monkey
Here is Junior figuring things out for himself. He was curious about the boat.

Juvenile Howler Monkey

How cute is this?
What a great day in Honduras. And this is only the beginning. Way more to come as I process photos.