HONDURAS BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Honduras: Day 1 Our tour begins this morning at Tegucigalpa. The flight into Tegucigalpa provides a spectacular introduction to the capital city, which almost completely fills a wide basin surrounded by mountains. From there we will head northeastwards to the small town of La Union in the Olancho region for an overnight stay. The journey takes us through beautiful mountain country with tall pine forests and clear rivers.
We will make a short stop en route at some roadside fishponds, both to break the journey and in the hope of picking up a few species that are less likely during the rest of the tour, such as Lesser Scaup, Wood Stork, Black-crowned Night Heron, White-tailed Kite and Belted Kingfisher.
Of all the special endemics of Northern Central America, it is the beautiful Ocellated Quail that is the least known and most rarely seen by birders. Indeed, very few birders have ever seen this ‘grailbird’ of Mesoamerica.
The species occurs from extreme southeastern Mexico to eastern Honduras, inhabiting highland habitats yet seemingly rare everywhere but Honduras. In this little-birded country, reports from country people suggest it is both widespread and not uncommon. During our time in the La Union region we will visit some suitable and proven habitat for the species where we have a good chance of seeing this special bird. We cannot promise that the views will definitely be good, as a lot depends on what the birds do when flushed. Sometimes they run first and then fly, or they land in view and show themselves, but at other times they fly immediately and land in cover. All we can say is that we will keep on trying for decent views.
There are plenty of widespread Honduran birds in the La Union area, and we are going to see a good number of species that we will encounter again later in the tour, but we will be giving priority to finding the quail.
Honduras: Day 2 After some final birding in the Olancho, we will head southwards to the city of Choluteca, situated in the Pacific coastal lowlands of Honduras, for a two nights stay. During the last part of the journey we descend through the Pacific slope mountains to the lowlands on a winding but spectacular highway. Gradually the cool landscapes of the highlands give way to the hot Pacific lowlands with their dry forest and cacti.
Honduras: Day 3 This morning we will visit the Cerro Guanacuare reserve, which protects one of the largest remaining tracts of dry deciduous forest in the Pacific lowlands and foothills of Honduras. The key bird here is Blue-tailed Hummingbird, a Northern Central American (NCA) endemic with a very restricted range on the Pacific slope, which we have a very good chance of seeing. We should also encounter such NCA near-endemics as Hoffmann’s Woodpecker and the stunning Long-tailed Manakin, as well as the striking, restricted-range White-throated Magpie-Jay.
More widespread species likely here, or in more open habitats nearby, include Turkey and Black Vultures, Zone-tailed Hawk, Red-billed Pigeon, Orange-chinned Parakeet, Groove-billed Ani, Green-breasted Mango, Cinnamon Hummingbird, Common Tody-Flycatcher, Yellow-olive Flatbill, Tropical Pewee, Social Flycatcher, Dusky-capped, Ash-throated and Great Crested Flycatchers, Warbling Vireo, Lesser Greenlet, Clay-colored Thrush, Yellow-throated Euphonia, Tennessee Warbler, American Redstart, American Yellow Warbler, Orchard Oriole, Great-tailed Grackle and Western Tanager. Less usual are Blue-throated Sapphire and Berylline Hummingbird.
Later in the day we can explore mangrove, fishpond and saltpan habitats in search of more widespread species such as American White Ibis, Green, Great Blue and Tricolored Herons, Western Cattle, American Great and Snowy Egrets, Black-necked Stilt, Semipalmated and Wilson’s Plovers, Short-billed Dowitcher, Greater Yellowlegs, Willet, Spotted, Semipalmated, Western and Least Sandpipers.
Honduras: Day 4 Early this morning we will visit another area of Pacific deciduous woodland where the restricted-range White-bellied Chachalaca can reliably be found. This is also a good area for the restricted-range Yellow-naped Amazon, a species that has declined not only because of forest clearance but because it is highly prized in the cagebird trade, as well as Velasquez’s Woodpecker, an NCA endemic. Other restricted-range species include Orange-fronted Parakeet, Banded Wren, White-lored Gnatcatcher and Streak-backed Oriole.
Widespread birds here include Hook-billed Kite, White-winged and White-tipped Doves, Common Ground-Dove, Canivet’s Emerald, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Lineated Woodpecker, Northern Beardless Tyrannulet, Least, Boat-billed and Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, Great Kiskadee, Tropical Kingbird, Rose-throated Becard, Swainson’s Thrush, Scrub Euphonia, Black-and-white Warbler, Baltimore Oriole, Summer Tanager, Greyish Saltator and the superb Painted Bunting.
After it starts to warm up we will head for the hills, quite literally, as we climb back up to the Tegucigalpa area for a two nights stay. This afternoon we will make a first visit to La Tigre National Park, a superb tract of cloudforest that protects part of the mountainous watershed that towers high above the city.
Honduras: Day 5 The contrast, as we explore the magnificent cloudforest in La Tigre National Park with its tall evergreen trees covered in bromeliads, with the dry Pacific woodlands will be extreme. Here the avifauna is totally different!
A star attraction of La Tigre is the magnificent Resplendent Quetzal and we are likely to see the first of these amazing birds today. The ‘tail’ plumes of the Honduran males are some of the longest of all, making for encounters that are even more spectacular and ‘other-worldly’ than in Costa Rica or elsewhere.
While the quetzals are amazing, there are many other great birds that attract visiting birders to the highlands of Honduras. Here we will be wanting to see such Northern Central American endemics as Rufous-browed Wren and in particular Green-breasted Mountaingem, the stunning little Wine-throated Hummingbird and the bold Bushy-crested Jay.
Restricted-range specialities of only slightly wider distribution include Buffy-crowned Wood-Partridge, White-faced Quail-Dove, Mountain Trogon, Blue-diademed Motmot, Emerald Toucanet, Yellowish Flycatcher, Plain Wren, Slate-colored Solitaire, Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush, Black Thrush, the handsome Blue-and-white Mockingbird and the strange Olive Warbler (the sole member of its family).
More widespread birds we are likely to find include Swallow-tailed Kite, Green Violetear, White-eared Hummingbird, Pale-billed Woodpecker, Spot-crowned Woodcreeper, Mountain Elaenia, Blue-headed Vireo, Band-backed and House Wrens, Grey-breasted Wood-Wren, Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush, Golden-winged, Hermit, Black-throated Green and Wilson’s Warblers, Slate-throated Whitestart, Chestnut-capped and White-naped Brush-Finches, Common Bush-Tanager and Flame-colored Tanagers.
Honduras: Day 6 After spending the early morning at La Tigre we will head northwards and westwards to the small town of Marcala for a two nights stay. We could well see our first Northern Crested Caracara and American Kestrel during the journey.
The grounds of our pleasant hotel offer some good birding amongst the plantations, ponds and pine woodlands, and here we are likely to see our first Red-throated Parakeets, a major Honduran and NCA speciality. Another Northern Central American endemic that we are likely to encounter here is Spot-breasted Oriole.
We shall also be looking out for Muscovy Duck, Purple Gallinule, Common Black-Hawk, Inca Dove, the restricted-range Azure-crowned Hummingbird, Green Kingfisher, Acorn and Golden-olive Woodpeckers, Northern Flicker, Black Phoebe, Greater Pewee, Common Yellowthroat, Grace’s Warbler, Painted Redstart, Chestnut-headed Oropendola, the restricted-range Black-vented Oriole, Yellow-backed and Altamira Orioles, Melodious Blackbird, Rusty Sparrow, Yellow-faced Grassquit and the hulking Black-headed Saltator.
We could also encounter some of the less common birds of the area, which include the restricted-range Spot-bellied Bobwhite, Whiskered Screech-Owl, Buff-breasted Flycatcher Grey-crowned Yellowthroat and the restricted-range Black-headed Siskin.
Honduras: Day 7 Today we will explore the Opatoro-Guajiquiro area, one of the few areas in Honduras where one can drive to over 2,000m (6562ft). Some extensive tracts of cloudforest remain in this beautiful area, which consists of a mosaic of forest, pastures and shade coffee plantations. Many Amerindian people still inhabit the area, although these days only their faces give away their ethnicity as traditional clothing has been banished to feast days and other celebrations.
We will be concentrating on a suite of Northern Central American endemics, including White-breasted Hawk, Blue-throated Motmot, Black-throated Jay, Black-capped Swallow, Rufous-collared Thrush and Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer, and in particular on two major specialities, Fulvous Owl and Green-throated Mountaingem. We have a good chance of seeing all of these, although the hawk and the jay can be tricky. Mountain Thrush and Golden-browed Warbler are two other restricted-range species that we should also encounter during our visit.
This is a lovely, very scenic and easy area for birding, and more widespread species we should find include Band-tailed Pigeon, Hammond’s Flycatcher, Steller’s Jay, Gray Catbird, Townsend’s and Rufous-capped Warblers, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Hepatic Tanager and Indigo Bunting.
We should also come across two or more of the rarer birds of the area, which include Highland Guan (an NCA endemic), Barred Forest-Falcon, the restricted-range Amethyst-throated Mountaingem, the stunning Sparkling-tailed Woodstar (watching this restricted-range little gem feeding while seeming to move effortlessly both backwards and forwards is quite something) and Brown-capped Vireo.
Honduras: Day 8 After some early morning birding in the hotel grounds we will travel through central Honduras, enjoying yet more attractive mountain scenery, until we reach beautiful Lago Yojoa (known to Hondurans simply as ‘El Lago’, ‘The Lake’), where we will stay for three nights at the beautifully-situated lodge at the PANACAM sanctuary. This afternoon we will begin our exploration of the area.
Honduras: Days 9-10 PANACAM is the acronym for Parque Nacional Cerro Azul-Meámbar, which protects a huge, 79,000 acres (31,984 hectares) tract of montane forest on the slopes of Cerro Azul and surrounding mountains.
The lodge is situated near the park entrance at about 1700ft (750m) and the feeders here attract the spectacular Violet Sabrewing, as well as Rufous-tailed Hummingbird and the restricted-range White-bellied Emerald.
The pleasant grounds of the lodge attract many birds and the nearby trails on the mountain slopes also provide great birding. Here we will be concentrating on finding the restricted-range Keel-billed Motmot (this is surely the best place for finding this often elusive bird), as well as such similarly restricted-range species as Ivory-billed Woodcreeper and Northern Bentbill. Harder-to-find restricted-range specialities include the marvellous little Black-crested Coquette, the skulking Stub-tailed Spadebill and the superb Blue-crowned Chlorophonia.
More widespread species include Crested Guan, the stunning White Hawk, Gray, Broad-winged and Short-tailed Hawks, Short-billed Pigeon, Long-billed Hermit, Mottled Owl, Pauraque, Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner, Northern Barred Woodcreeper, Sepia-capped Flycatcher, Philadelphia Vireo, Tawny-crowned Greenlet, Golden-crowned Warbler, Red-crowned Ant Tanager and Blue-black Grosbeak. Less usual are Garnet-throated Hummingbird, Long-billed Starthroat, Eye-ringed Flatbill, Worm-eating Warbler and White-winged Tanager.
Outside the park, we will explore areas of woodland and agriculture, as well as a small lake, in search of the NCA-endemic Prevost’s Ground-Sparrow and the restricted-range White-fronted Amazon, Green-backed Sparrow and Passerini’s Tanager.
Other birds in these habitats are Plain Chachalaca, Bat Falcon, the strange Sungrebe, the restricted-range Ruddy Crake (often hard to see as opposed to hear), Solitary Sandpiper, Red-lored Amazon, Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, Dusky Antbird, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, the wonderful Long-billed Gnatwren and Montezuma Oropendola.
With a bit of luck we will also see Slaty-headed Tody-Flycatcher and Yellow-billed Cacique. There are also some excellent places in the Lago Yojoa region for Resplendent Quetzal should we need better views.
We will also visit the shores of Lagoa Yojoa itself, where we are likely to find Fulvous Whistling Duck, American Wigeon, Blue-winged Teal, Least and Pied-billed Grebes, the impressive Bare-throated Tiger Heron, Little Blue Heron, Western Osprey, Snail Kite, Common Gallinule, Limpkin, Northern Jacana and Red-winged Blackbird. We may hear Spotted Rail or Gray-breasted Crake calling from the dense vegetation, but we would be very lucky to see either.
Around the lake margins, or in the pleasantly wooded, marshy grounds of the Los Naranjos archaeological site, we will be looking for restricted-range specialities such as Turquoise-browed Motmot, Rufous-breasted Spinetail, Rufous-backed Wren and Crimson-collared and Yellow-winged Tanagers.
More widespread species include Pale-vented Pigeon, Ruddy Ground Dove, Squirrel Cuckoo, Collared Aracari, Olivaceous Piculet, Streak-headed Woodcreeper, Yellow-bellied Tyrannulet, Yellow-throated Vireo, Brown Jay, Tree and Northern Rough-winged Swallows, Spot-breasted and Rufous-and-white Wrens, Wood Thrush, Hooded, Magnolia and Chestnut-sided Warblers, Northern Waterthrush, Blue-grey Tanager, the stunning Golden-hooded Tanager, Green Honeycreeper, White-collared Seedeater and Buff-throated Saltator.
Honduras: Day 11 Today we will head northwards and eastwards until we reach the Caribbean coast at the town of Tela. There is a long sandy beach here (this is a small but popular resort town) where we could well encounter Brown Pelican, Magnificent Frigatebird, Neotropic Cormorant, Laughing Gull and Royal Tern.
We will break our journey at the extensive Lancetilla Botanical Gardens, which surround the old headquarters area of the United Fruit Company, a powerful organization once dominated the Honduran banana trade. This pleasant area of forest will provide a great introduction to Caribbean coastal birding, with likely additions to the list including the restricted-range Black-headed Trogon and Chestnut-colored Woodpecker.
Other species here are likely to include Roadside Hawk, Vaux’s Swift, Stripe-throated Hermit, Smoky Woodpecker, Great and Barred Antshrikes, Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, Flammulated Attila, Masked and Black-crowned Tityras, the handsome White-collared Manakin, White-eyed Vireo, Tropical Gnatcatcher, Blue-winged Warbler, Black-striped (and possibly Orange-billed) Sparrow and Variable Seedeater.
After our visit to the gardens we will head further eastwards to the Pico Bonito area, where we will spend four nights. We will arrive in time for some initial exploration.
Honduras: Days 12-14 Our lodge in the Pico Bonito foothills is a pleasant place to spend time. The bungalows are spread out amongst the forest. Central American Agoutis scamper across the lawns or munch on fallen fruit, largely ignoring visitors, and the feeders and garden flowers attract Band-tailed Barbthroat, Scaly-breasted Hummingbird, White-necked Jacobin, Brown Violetear and Crowned Woodnymph.
A trail network extends around the lodge and as we explore the trails we should come across the marvellous Lovely Cotinga (a tricky bird to see elsewhere in its restricted range) and the restricted-range Middle American Screech Owl. We also have good second chances for Keel-billed Motmot and Black-crested Coquette.
We should also encounter one or two of the less frequently observed specialities, which include the restricted-range Slaty-breasted Tinamou, Tody Motmot, the strange Northern Royal Flycatcher, Green Shrike-Vireo, the restricted-range Black-throated Shrike-Tanager and Black-faced Grosbeak.
More widespread birds we may well come across are Great Tinamou, Grey-chested Dove, Olive-throated Parakeet, Brown-hooded and White-crowned Parrots, Great Potoo, White-collared Swift, Violet-headed Hummingbird, Purple-crowned Fairy, Amazon Kingfisher, Slaty-tailed, Gartered and Collared Trogons, Keel-billed Toucan, Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Wedge-billed and Cocoa Woodcreepers, Mistletoe Tyrannulet, Red-capped Manakin, White-breasted Wood Wren, White-throated Thrush, Olive-backed Euphonia, Kentucky Warbler, Giant Cowbird, Red-throated Ant Tanager and Rose-breasted Grosbeak.
Less often seen are Little Tinamou, Black-and-white Owl, Stripe-tailed Hummingbird, Plain Xenops, Tawny-winged and Olivaceous Woodcreepers, and Slaty Antwren.
On one morning we will set off very early and drive over to the Aguan Valley, where surviving areas of dry woodland and cacti amongst the pastures hold the rare and endangered endemic Honduran Emerald. This mega target can still be found here in good numbers.
Other species in this unusual and rapidly declining habitat (which is being progressively cleared for ranching) include Lesser Roadrunner, Brown-crested Flycatcher, the restricted-range White-bellied Wren, Tropical Mockingbird and, with luck, the shy Lesser Ground Cuckoo.
If we do well with the target species, we will have time to make a boat trip through the channels amongst the tall mangroves at the Cuero y Salado reserve near the Caribbean coast. Getting to the reserve is unusual in itself, in that a short ride on a miniscule train is involved (the railway is said to be the oldest in Central America). Likely species during the journey and the boat ride include the goggle-eyed Boat-billed Heron, Yellow-crowned NightHeron, Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, Ringed Kingfisher and Black-crowned Antshrike. There is also a fair chance of seeing American Pygmy Kingfisher.
Mantled Howler Monkeys are regularly observed and we should see the strange Proboscis Bat, which relies on a kind of collective camouflage at its daytime roosts, the bats forming a creeper-like line formation on a tree trunk.
Honduras: Day 15 After some final birding this morning, our Honduras birding tour ends this afternoon at San Pedro Sula airport.