HONDURAS & GUATEMALA SPECIALITIES BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Honduras & Guatemala: Day 1 The Honduras section of our tour begins this afternoon at San Pedro Sula airport, from where we drive to Gracias for a two nights stay.
Honduras & Guatemala: Day 2 Our reason for coming to the small town of Gracias is to use it as a base to visit some surviving areas of dry woodland and cacti amongst the pastures that hold the rare and endangered Honduran Emerald. This mega target, which is the country’s sole endemic, is straightforward to find in this area. Other species in this unusual and rapidly declining habitat (which is being progressively cleared for ranching) include Lesser Roadrunner and, with luck, the shy Lesser Ground Cuckoo.
Along a river valley near Gracias itself, where there is a mix of pine-oak woodlands and clearings, we are likely to see Red-throated Parakeet, a near-endemic speciality that is not seen during Guatemala birding tours as it barely occurs in the country. Another important target is the restricted-range Spot-bellied Bobwhite. We shall also be looking out for Common Black Hawk, Black Phoebe, Painted Redstart and Chestnut-headed Oropendola. Many other birds typical of this habitat will be found.
Honduras & Guatemala: Day 3 After some early morning birding around Gracias, we will head eastwards to Zambrano for an overnight stay.
In the Zambrano area, we will visit an area of cloudforest in the mountains. Our prime target will be another regionally endemic species, the Green-breasted Mountaingem. This near-endemic hummingbird is only found in parts of Honduras and northwestern Nicaragua.
Restricted-range specialities of only slightly wider distribution include Blue-diademed Motmot and Slate-colored Solitaire. Other cloudforest birds will also be seen for the first time.
Honduras & Guatemala: Day 4 After some final Honduran birding we will return to San Pedro Sula airport and catch a flight to Guatemala City. From there we have a short drive to Antigua Guatemala, the old capital, where we will spend two nights.
Honduras & Guatemala: Day 5 Antigua Guatemala is a historic city in the central highlands of the country. Built 700 years ago, the city is known for its preserved Spanish Baroque-influenced architecture as well as a number of ruins of colonial churches.
Today we will visit Finca el Pilar, a private reserve on the outskirts of Antigua Guatemala. This rich reserve protected as a conservation area mostly covered by some typical Central American mixed pine-oak forest provides a great introduction to the highland specialities we will encounter during the tour.
Some attractive hummingbird feeders located in the lower part of the reserve will provide a good chance to see two very important species here; the near-endemic Green-throated Mountaingem (a species which we do not see in Southern Mexico) and the handsome Rufous Sabrewing (a bird restricted to the Pacific slope in Mexico’s Chiapas, Guatemala and El Salvador). The restricted-range Azure-crowned and Berylline Hummingbirds, the spectacular Violet Sabrewing and Rivoli’s and White-eared Hummingbirds are also regular visitors.
Other regional endemics should include groups of bold Bushy-crested Jays playing hide-and-seek in the canopy, the inconspicuous Highland Guan, the lovely Blue-throated Motmot, the vocal Pacific Parakeet and the smart Hooded Grosbeak.
We will stay until after dark as the area is good for our major nightbird target, the splendid Fulvous Owl, which typically inhabits montane pine-oak forest in its small range in southern Mexico and northern Central America. We should also find Mexican Whip-poor-will.
We will also keep an eye out for the local subspecies of the Northern Flicker, a good candidate for a split. We should also have our first chances to see some regional endemics with a slightly wider distribution such as the uncommon White-faced Quail-Dove, the scarce Chestnut-sided Shrike-Vireo and the more common Grey Silky-flycatcher, while mixed flocks may well include Golden-olive and Hairy Woodpeckers, Rose-throated Becard, Band-backed Wren, White-naped Brushfinch and Rufous-capped Warbler. With a bit of luck, even the elusive White-breasted Hawk will appear overhead.
Other birds we may well find at Finca El Pilar include Red-tailed Hawk, Squirrel Cuckoo, Band-tailed Pigeon, Inca Dove, Turkey and Black Vultures, Emerald Toucanet, Acorn and Velasquez’s Woodpeckers, Spot-crowned Woodcreeper, Greater Pewee, Buff-breasted, Social and Dusky-capped Flycatchers, Blue-headed Vireo, Grey-breasted Wood Wren, Eastern Bluebird, Brown-backed Solitaire, Black and Rufous-collared Thrushes, Black-headed Siskin, Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, Great-tailed Grackle, Black-and-white, Townsend’s, Wilson’s and Tennessee Warblers, Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer, Summer, Western and White-winged Tanagers, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak.
Honduras & Guatemala: Day 6 Today we will have a long drive to the western part of the country. Our destination is Huehuetenango Chiabal, where we will stay for three nights at the lovely Unicornio Azul lodge.
We will break the journey to explore some nice forest patches at Mirador del Rey Tepepul, located on the southeast flanks of Volcán Atitlan. This location remains one of the best places to find the marvellous Resplendent Quetzal, and with some patience, we should find this magical bird in the area. We will also examine mixed feeding flocks in the hope of finding the attractive, near-endemic Cabanis’s (or Azure-rumped) Tanager.
Honduras & Guatemala: Days 7-8 Here at Huehuetenango Chiabal we are at a relatively high altitude and the habitat is mostly pine-forested slopes, although there is some spectacular open savanna in the highest areas.
Broad-tailed Hummingbird, American Bushtit, Grace’s and Audubon’s Warblers, Yellow-eyed Junco and Spotted Towhee can all be found close to the lodge. At night, we will go out and look for the tiny Flammulated Owl, a primarily North American species which breeds here at the southernmost limit of its distribution. We will also have a chance for the elusive Unspotted Saw-whet Owl, one of the most sought-after owls of the Americas.
During our stay in the area, we will explore the famous Todos Santos National Park, situated in one of the highest mountain ranges in all Central America, where we will travel by road up to an impressive elevation of 3800 meters (12,468 feet).
Starting from our lodge, we should quickly reach an area of high-altitude grassland covered with sparse pine-oak-juniper woodlands, the typical habitat where three of the most important Guatemalan specialities occur; the stunning and near-endemic Goldman’s Warbler, the near-endemic Black-capped Siskin and the superb, regionally-endemic Ocellated Quail.
Formerly considered conspecific with Yellow-rumped Warbler, the beautiful Goldman’s Warbler is nowadays treated as a distinct species restricted to the highlands of western Guatemala and some adjacent (but very hard to access) areas in the Mexican state of Chiapas. The species is fairly common in this highly specific habitat and we should enjoy multiple sightings.
The superb Ocellated Quail is one of the least known and certainly also one of the most rarely seen of all Neotropical birds, but here there is a good chance of finding this elusive ‘grailbird’ of Mesoamerica.
The other major target here is the near-endemic Black-capped Siskin, a species that is only shared with Chiapas and which is much harder to find there.
While searching for these three ‘megas’, we should see some other birds typical of high-altitude Guatemala, including Golden-crowned Kinglet, Brown Creeper, Red Crossbill, Pine Siskin and even Northern Raven, which is a really rare species in Central America. Most of these species are at the southernmost limit of their distributions and look distinctive compared to the other subspecies further to the north. We will also search here for the local form of the Savanna Sparrow, a species previously thought to be only a migrant visitor to Guatemala. A small breeding population has been recently located in the area and could well be a future split.
We will also explore the temperate cloud forest at Puerta del Cielo. The area holds a number of highland specialities, including the stunning, near-endemic Green-throated Mountaingem and the sometimes tricky Garnet-throated Hummingbird. We should also encounter a great number of resident and migratory wood-warblers including Black-throated Green Warbler, Hermit, MacGillivray’s and Red-faced Warblers and the lovely Pink-headed Warbler.
Honduras & Guatemala: Day 9 Today we shall return to Guatemala City airport, where our tour ends this afternoon.
HORNED GUAN EXTENSION
Horned Guan: Day 1 Today we head for the town of Sibinal, located on the slope of the famous Volcán Tacaná, where we will stay for two nights. At 4060m (13,321ft), the volcano is the second highest peak in Central America and is shared between Guatemala and Mexico.
We should arrive at Sibinal in the early afternoon, enabling us to visit the surrounding reserve of La Union Reforma where we hope to get a few good birds before dark. We may encounter the regionally endemic Guatemalan Pygmy Owl and the near-endemic Black-throated Jay.
We will also have an opportunity to see such highland specialities as Amethyst-throated and Garnet-throated Hummingbirds and the restricted-range Singing Quail. Other likely species include Vaux’s Swift, Red-billed Pigeon, Tufted and Pine Flycatchers, Eastern Wood Pewee, Yellow-backed Oriole and Yellow Grosbeak.
Horned Guan: Days 2-3 The main reason we have travelled so far to reach Sibinal is to see the incredible Horned Guan, undoubtedly one of the most charismatic and spectacular birds in the world! This stunning bird could almost be considered the unicorn of the bird world. It only occurs from west-central Guatemala to the Sierra Madre de Chiapas of Mexico and needs extensive areas of untouched cloud forest, a habitat that is now rapidly vanishing. The surviving population consists of only about 2000 to 2500 individuals. The most unusual feature of this endangered and retiring species is its well-developed red ‘horn’ of bare skin that projects from the top of its head. The guan usually betrays its presence by its very low-pitched booming call or by its snorts, clicking and bill-clacking.
This very exciting day will start with an early transfer of about 45 minutes from our hotel to Vega del Volcano in 4×4 vehicles. There we will meet up with our local guide, who will know exactly where to look for the guans. Luckily, only a relatively short hike of about two kilometres (1.2 miles) is needed to reach the spot, making it surely the most accessible and easiest place to see this splendid ghost-bird of the mountains!
While looking for the Horned Guan, we will be deep among a particular type of high-altitude cloud forest that has some northern temperate zone influence. Wherever there are openings in the forest, we will keep a lookout overheard as this is a good area for the regionally endemic Black-capped Swallow. The local subspecies of the Paltry Tyrannulet (sometimes split as ‘Guatemalan Tyrannulet’) should also be found in the area, while we may well find other good birds like Barred Parakeet, Mountain and Black Thrushes, Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush, Elegant Euphonia, Yellow-eyed (Guatemalan) Junco and Slaty Finch.
We will keep our fingers crossed today, as the rare and highly desired Maroon-chested Ground Dove occurs in the area and is sometimes seen here. This very secretive species remains one of the most special Neotropical birds that only a few birders have ever observed!
Our meals will be served at our local guide’s house, where we will enjoy some traditional Guatemalan Mayan food, nicely cooked by his wife.
After dark, we will try for the once near-mythical Unspotted Saw-whet Owl, which is certainly one of the most difficult Neotropical owl species to see. We will then return to our hotel in Sibinal.
Our second full day will be our ‘back-up’ day just in case we missed the guan the previous day, owing to bad luck or unfavourable weather. If all went well it will be back to birding at La Union Reforma.
Horned Guan: Day 4 Today we shall return to Guatemala City airport, where our tour ends this afternoon.