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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative


The Hidden Gem of Central America

2023 Narrative

IN BRIEF: From bromeliad-laden highland cloud forests with Resplendent Quetzals to dry interior scrub with White-lored Gnatcatchers, and from a lunchtime viewing swarms of feeding hummingbirds and honeycreepers to a delightful boat ride with reclusive pygmy kingfishers and Sungrebes, this exciting tour sampled the avian riches of a little-known country. Highlights were many, including the tiny Wine-throated Hummingbird; the endemic Honduran Emerald; the always-popular motmot quartet (Turquoise-browed, Keel-billed, Lesson’s, and Tody); very obliging Double-toothed Kite and Laughing Falcons; an abundance of migrant warblers; and snappy White-collared Manakins, along with some rarely recorded species such as White-crowned Pigeon and Slate-colored Seedeater. This year’s weather was decidedly hot and dry and sunny, a pleasant change from our home regions, and everywhere we went we found friendly and welcoming people and delicious food.

IN DETAIL: All arrived on time at the new airport and, after a short transfer to the hotel and time for some rest, we had our introductory meeting followed by some relaxed late afternoon birding and dinner before a good sleep. An early start the first morning found us at a remnant patch of dry tropical forest, where the trees were dripping with orioles (of five species!), along with other species ranging from Limpkin to Red-throated Parakeet. A short walk produced a nice selection of migrants (most notably Cedar Waxwings, plus Yellow-throated Vireo and Magnolia Warbler) and residents (including Turquoise-browed Motmot and Rufous-browed Peppershrike). We readied to leave as the heat kicked in, but not before appreciating a pair of soaring Great Black Hawks and a stunning adult White-tailed Hawk rising on the first thermals. The drive to and through Tegucigalpa gave us a better sense of the country before arriving at our rooms in delightfully clear mountain air for lunch and a siesta. Late afternoon birding around our lodging produced a nice selection of interior highland species, including Bushy-crested Jays, Yellow-backed Orioles, Guatemalan Flicker, a very obliging pair of Slate-throated Whitestarts (aka redstarts), and a perched-up Rusty Sparrow, followed by a relaxing cold beer and delicious dinner.

The next day we spent in and around La Tigra National Park, where almost the first birds we saw were a pair of courting Resplendent Quetzals, both perched and in spectacular, plume-flowing flight overhead—wow! Next we watched a Slate-colored Solitaire pouring forth his ethereal fluty song before we started to really work for birds in the gusting strong winds. A male Mountain Trogon took some effort, and then the mixed-species flocks produced handsome Crescent-chested Warblers among the Common Bush-tanagers (aka chlorospingus). A singing male Flame-colored Tanager and very confiding Yellowish Flycatchers in the parking lot preceded our walk through fabulous, bromeliad-laden and tree-fern-dotted cloud forest to a shrubby clearing where, with patience, we finally located a male Wine-throated Hummingbird.

Other highlights of the morning included the very localized Green-breasted Mountain-gem and elegant Swallow-tailed Kites sweeping overhead in the wind. It was also great to see many friendly locals out enjoying the forest. After lunch, with delicious mora juice, we headed back for an afternoon break before venturing out to ‘warbler alley’—a quiet track through brushy woods loaded with warblers, including Golden-winged, Nashville (a local rarity), and numerous Tennessee Warblers with red-stained foreheads, along with good views of Chestnut-capped Brushfinch and Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush. Another fine dinner with great local fruit juice prepped us for sleep before our longest travel day.

After a ‘late’ breakfast we started with some birding in open pine woods, where highlights included simply stunning Turquoise-browed Motmots, White-naped aka Yellow-throated Brushfinch, a lone Steller’s Jay, and a nice pair of Olive Warblers. A late morning stop in recently burned, ‘apocalyptic’  thorn forest proved surprisingly productive, with perky White-lored Gnatcatchers, a Banded Wren, and four taxa of Myiarchus flycatcher, including both flavidior (‘Salvadoran’) and nominate nuttingi (‘Nicoya’) flycatchers—other than looking and sounding different they occur together, pretty good evidence that they are separate species! After a roadside buffet lunch (with our only House Sparrows of the trip!) and a gas station stop (with excellent views of nesting Montezuma Oropendolas, along with their nest-parasite Giant Cowbirds), we made a short stop on the Panacam Road, which produced numerous warblers, Golden-hooded and male Summer Tanagers, and Great Crested and Dusky-capped Flycatchers, completing our sweep of all six Honduran Myiarchus flycatchers in one day! Also notable was a vocally and visually puzzling trogon that was presumably a hybrid Collared x Gartered! After settling in to our wonderful rooms we wandered around the grounds and enjoyed Violet Sabrewings at the feeders, plus both hermits, and walk-away scope views of a Double-toothed Kite devouring its large insect prey. Not bad for a travel day!

Our first birding day based at Panacam we visited the delightful Finca Luna del Puente, starting with dizzying numbers of birds, many of them bathing in wet leaves—from brilliant Painted Buntings to handsome Yellow-breasted Chats, along with tiger-herons and the local endemic taxon of Rufous-naped (‘Honduran’) Wren. Birding the finca trails produced numerous warblers (including male Hooded, and then Worm-eating side-by-side with Grace’s—a bit of a biogeographic mindtrip), plus walk-away Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl and Tody Motmot. Shade coffee and chocolate are products of the finca and we enjoyed sampling both. After lunch it was on to a subtly drier habitat where, with some work, we found the endemic and range-restricted Honduran Emerald, along with a couple of majestic adult King Vultures and a surprise pair of Dusky Antbirds.

A full morning at Lake Yojoa was indeed full, with about 100 species and lots of birds. Notable were large numbers of Fulvous Whistling-Ducks, plus Least Grebes, Northern Jacanas, Snail Kites (vocalizing!), and an almost paralyzing keel-billed procession of birds for the first two hours, including parrots, oropendolas, trogons, Collared Aracaris, both tityras, flycatchers, and some 14 species of warblers, headlined by Kentucky, Golden-winged, and Yellow-throated. After lunch we took a well-earned siesta before birding around the lodge, where highlights included the understated Mistletoe (née Paltry) Tyrannulet, very obliging Short-billed Pigeons, kick-ass male Violet Sabrewings, and the Panacam signature bird, Keel-billed Motmot.

The next morning dawned sunny (again!) and we enjoyed a leisurely couple of hours birding around the lodge, including a dawn chorus of four motmot species, along with great views of Yellow-winged Tanagers and a male Red-throated Ant-tanager. Birding along the road out to the highway produced several other species, including the dapper Chestnut-capped Warbler, stunning views of both oropendola species and a flock of Aztec Parakeets feeding in a sunlit tree, and an elegant Swallow-tailed Kite flapping past. We arrived in Tela with good time to check-in at our hotel before a late afternoon stroll on the grounds, where a low-flying Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture showed well, and a fly-by White-crowned Pigeon was a surprise rarity.

The next morning found us birding at Lancetilla, where the high diversity of species meant we never knew what might appear: highlights included a pair of show-off Laughing Falcons, a male White-collared Manakin, the understated Black-striped Sparrow and overstated male Scarlet-rumped Tanager, a surprise Mangrove Cuckoo, elusive Great Antshrikes, and of course that singing Slate-colored Seedeater! From Lancetilla we headed to a hot (in more ways than one!) lunch at Rio Santiago, where the hummingbird show featured repeated, close-up views of nine species, plus dazzling Green and Shining Honeycreepers. Back at the hotel there was time for some to enjoy a wave-splashed dip in the warm Caribbean waters before another delicious dinner and good sleep in preparation for our earliest start of the trip.

Our earliest morning start was well worth it, with a wonderful boat trip at the Cuero y Salado wildlife refuge, where birds featured kingfishers ranging from the huge Ringed to the tiny American Pygmy, great views of Sungrebe, a roosting Northern Potoo, sleepy Boat-billed Herons, and a passing male Magnificent Frigatebird, followed by a delicious lunch under shady trees and a decidedly different rail car ride back to the bus! The unrelenting sun and cloudless blue skies decided against any late afternoon birding so we appreciated a relaxing time at our the lodge before a fine last dinner and preparations for homeward flights the next day. It was an amazing adventure to some beautiful places, and with a stunning selection of birds. Thanks to all for coming and making it such a wonderful trip.

                                                                                                                                                                                  -  Steve Howell

Created: 08 March 2023