Honduras: The Lodge at Pico Bonito Mar 04—11, 2017

Posted by Brian Gibbons

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Brian Gibbons

Brian Gibbons grew up in suburban Dallas where he began exploring the wild world in local creeks and parks. Chasing butterflies and any animal that was unfortunate enough t...

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Mottled Owls hooting, the Great Potoo screeching, and finally, the raucous Brown Jays announce dawn—this is waking up at The Lodge at Pico Bonito. Every morning, and sometimes the middle of the night, is filled with bird song. The lush garden surrounding the lodge is filled with birds each day, and we struggled to get onto the trails to discover the wilder tropical rainforest surrounding the lodge. From our first welcome drink to our final farewell, the staff at the lodge took care of us, especially our hunger and thirst. Excellent dining, a soothing pool, and comfortable rooms made our birding experiences richer, as did the parrots, toucans, aracaris, oropendolas, tanagers, euphonias, and myriad flycatchers always visible in the garden. A personal highlight for me was the fluffball fledgling Spectacled Owl and its ever-watchful parent nearby, my first sighting of this species since my initial foray into the Neotropics in 1988 as a fledgling myself.

Spectacled Owl

Spectacled Owl— Photo: Brian Gibbons

 

On our first morning we were afoot in the forest and orchards that surround the lodge. From the tower overlooking the Rio Coloradito we found our first glowing turquoise Lovely Cotinga. It was distant, but in the scope it gleamed on the tip top of an emergent tree for everyone to see. Black-throated and several Black-headed trogons lit up the scopes too on our overwhelming introduction to Honduras. Elmer’s secret weapon worked best that first morning; the Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl tape with fussing birds lured a variety of birds to us, including a few canopy denizens that are challenging to see well otherwise. Yellow-bellied and Paltry tyrannulets, Green and Shining honeycreepers, Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, a variety of North American warblers, and even a Summer Tanager came in to see what the fuss was all about. The newly christened Lesson’s Motmot (split from Blue-crowned) pair was excavating a nest cavity along the entrance road and was often present for our admiring eyes. As we worked down the entrance road, a screaming pair of White Hawks appeared overhead in courtship flight. After a full morning we enjoyed lunch on the veranda, admiring the nesting Social Flycatchers and Great Kiskadees. Hummingbirds were ever-present around the feeders too; Crowned Woodnymph, White-necked Jacobin, Long-billed Hermit, and Violet Sabrewings all made regular appearances. In the afternoon we explored the trails into the forest, adding a few new sightings including a handsome pair of Vermiculated Screech-Owls, one gray morph and the other rufous.

Northern Jacana with young

Northern Jacana with young— Photo: Brian Gibbons

 

 

 

 

A completely different experience on our second morning had us cruising down an old narrow-gauge railroad toward Cuero y Salado Refuge. Herons and egrets were common in the flooded fields, and we even enjoyed a Purple Gallinule that had clambered to the tip top of some cattails to have a look. Once on the lagoon we cruised the forested edges, looking for birds and monkeys! Succeeding with both, we spied White-throated Capuchins and three troops of Mantled Howler Monkeys. Bare-throated Tiger-Heron, White-necked Puffbird, Northern Schiffornis, Plumbeous Kite, and five species of kingfishers made for a great outing on the lagoon. The Northern Jacana with four fuzzy chicks and their out-sized feet was the icing on the cake. Later we explored the trails into Pico Bonito National Park, finding Long-billed Gnatwren, Tropical Gnatcatchers, and Plain Xenops, but no Keel-billed Motmot.

Green Honeycreeper

Green Honeycreeper— Photo: Brian Gibbons

 

Lancetilla Botanical Garden preserves large tracts of forest and is great for birding; our first stop produced the stunning tanager pair of Crimson-collared and Passerini’s, alongside many warblers and hummingbirds. Along the entrance road a massive emergent tree hosts a large colony of Montezuma Oropendolas that were busy refurbishing their nests under the watchful eyes of several Giant Cowbirds, an obligate brood parasite. Elmer had us standing in the baking sun along a stream; thankfully the birding was great, if a touch hot. A Pair of Barred Antshrikes had lured us in and put on a great show. Then a stunning male Golden-winged Warbler made a brief appearance, but Hooded Warbler, tanagers, vireos, and flycatchers kept us entertained while we baked! That afternoon we took in the hundred-plus feeder array at Rio Santiago Nature Resort. More than ten species of hummers swarmed the place, and we added Scaly-breasted, Band-tailed Barbthroat, Green-breasted Mango, and Stripe-throated Hermit amongst the swarm. Hiking into the woods we heard the highly-sought Keel-billed Motmot, and soon we were huffing and puffing up the steepening hill. Finally, the Keel-billeds were overhead, sitting serenely as we wheezed and wiped our brows, thankful they had stayed put for us. It was getting late, and every attempt to move on was waylaid by another great sighting: White-shouldered Tanager, Red-throated Ant-Tanager, Common Pauraque, and Gartered Trogon to name a few.

Lovely Cotinga

Lovely Cotinga— Photo: Brian Gibbons

 

The following day some folks headed for the arid Aguan Valley in search of the endemic Honduran Emerald, while others headed offshore for snorkeling at Cayos Cochinos. Everyone had a great day. The Lesser Roadrunner in the Aguan Valley was our first big score, and seeing a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl entering its nest hole was a nice find too. As we were cruising west towards the Honduran Emerald Preserve, we noticed the landscape drying before our eyes. Before long the lush green landscape had transformed into an arid thorn forest replete with 15-foot tall cacti, shriveled grasses, and thorny acacia shrubs. White-fronted Parrots were nesting in a telephone pole that towered over the scrub. Finally, at the reserve we found Cinnamon Hummingbirds feeding at the favored Euphorbia flowers of the Emerald. Before long we had good looks at Cavinet’s Emerald (Salvin’s race) and the endemic target of the day, the Honduran Emerald. White-bellied Wrens—also detected in the bush—were devilishly hard to see; the White-lored Gnatcatchers were much more obliging. We even got more looks at a pair of Lesser Roadrunners and heard the Lesser Ground-Cuckoo while the Roadside Hawks circled overhead. An excellent lunch at a local woman’s house fortified us for the long journey back to the green side, just 22 miles away, but a three-hour drive since we had to drive around a mountain range. In La Ceiba we were treated to a roosting Black-and-white Owl, one of the handsomest owls of Honduras no doubt. Meanwhile at Cayos Cochinos, folks enjoyed fine snorkeling, a great fish lunch, and even added a few birds, the most exciting being the Yucatan Vireo. Another great sighting was the Pink Boa, a form endemic to the Bay Islands.

Keel-billed Motmot

Keel-billed Motmot— Photo: Brian Gibbons

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the previous long days, we stuck around the Lodge for a relaxing birding day; a major target was better looks at the lodge logo bird, the Lovely Cotinga. Working our way down the entrance road to a grove of Aguacatillo trees was challenging as birds constantly delayed us. Finally, there again we noticed the trees were buzzing with Clay-colored Thrushes and Gray Catbirds, and the ripening fruits were a magnet for frugivores. Then a female cotinga popped up briefly; we knew the males would be about. Then a male zipped in and perched for a moment on a bare Cecropia branch before disappearing into the trees. Disappointed that we didn’t have a long look, we stuck around. Elmer walked into the woods, and up popped a gleaming male cotinga; perched in the shade, he was digesting his Aguacatillo meal, and we knew he would stick around for a while. Both scopes were trained on the iridescent blue, plum, and purple beauty. Eventually, he relieved us and disappeared into the woods! Over the course of the week we visited the Serpentarium, an Ophidiophobes nightmare, replete with Fer-de-lance, rattlesnakes, and vipers of every stripe, and the butterfly house, which was far less daunting.

Rio Santiago was worth another visit, and it immediately paid dividends. From the parking lot, we scoped a male Slaty-tailed Trogon, and then the rare Rufous-winged Woodpecker was discovered excavating a hole. Northern Barred-Woodcreeper, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Royal Flycatcher, Short-tailed Hawk, King Vulture, Black-crowned Tityra, and Keel-billed Toucans all put in appearances throughout the morning. Back at the bar we enjoyed Santiaga, a rescued Margay that is in the process of rewilding herself. The hummingbird feeders were still buzzing with ten species, from the largest Violet Sabrewings to the tiniest Stripe-throated Hermits. Another great lunch at the Lodge preceded a relaxing afternoon, as we were driven inside by the only downpour of the trip. The Lodge at Pico Bonito is truly an excellent place to explore the diverse Honduran avifauna. Thank you for traveling with VENT. I look forward to our next birding adventure.