Thursday, April 13, 2017

Post #100 - Guatemala, Part 2 (of 4) - Petén birding: Tikal

OK, let's continue with the recap of my recent Belize and Guatemala birding extravaganza! As a quick backdrop, Post #99 treats my 3 days in Belize and Post #100 describes my time birding at the ancient Mayan site of Yaxha. To get the full run-up to this post and at least a bit of background on Guatemala's Petén region, I suggest you give those a look if you haven't already. Now, on with the show!

Collared Aracari at Tikal

Departing Yaxha, we drove less than two hours to reach Tikal, the most famous and recognizable Mayan site in Guatemala and possibly in all of Central America. Tikal thrived from 500 BC to 1000 AD, roughly in-line with the appreciated timetable for Yaxha. Tikal was, however, almost twice as large with an estimated population of nearly 90,000 at its peak. The jungle generally kept an abandoned Tikal largely off-radar until the first explorers visited around 1850, and it wasn't until the 1950's that any sort of formal excavation began. The site was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, and the excavation process today continues as funds become available. Below you can see a motorcycle being used to power a ramshackle pulley system to deliver restoration materials to the top of one of the temples. So yeah, money is in short supply.

We stayed at the wonderful Jungle Lodge right in Tikal National Park. The lodge is well-equipped and suitable for all sorts of travelers. A late afternoon bird walk initiated from the lodge yielded Black-headed Trogon, Masked Tityra, Ocellated Turkey, Red-capped Manakin, Plain Xenops, and Smoky-brown Woodpecker (full eBird checklist). Some folks heard a distant Pheasant Cuckoo, but we never got a glimpse of it. The cuckoo and Black Catbird are apparently fairly reliable at the old, long-since grown-over airstrip not far from the lodge. So, serious listers keep that mind!
Jungle Lodge

Jungle Lodge

Jungle Lodge dining area

Black-headed Trogon

The following morning, we visited the archeological site. It was magnificent, an engineering and building marvel on par with the Egyptians Pyramids. It would be easy to spend an entire day exploring the site. We stuck mainly to the largest structures due to a tight morning timetable, but I am already wondering when I can make it back to Guatemala to explore the rest of the site!

Temple 1

Plaza between Temples 1 and 2

Temple 3 (I think) through the trees

Temples 1, 2, and 3 from Temple 4

Fans of Star War might recognize this scene
from the original movie, "Episode IV: Star Wars".
Millennium Falcon flying over Temple 3!

The scenery at Tikal was equalled only by the birdlife. Bare-throated Tiger-heron, Slaty-tailed Trogon, Emerald Toucanet, Collared Aracari, Ruddy Woodcreeper, Tawny-winged Woodcreeper, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Golden-winged Warbler, Gray-headed Tanager, and Olive-backed Euphonia lead an eBird checklist that tallied 61 species. The bird of the morning though was Orange-breasted Falcon, a known breeder that nests right on the temples. Lighting conditions were terrible, but I did manage to squeeze out a few shots of the magnificent raptor in addition to some of the other birds mentioned above. 

Orange-breasted Falcon - Falco deiroleucus
Canon 400mm f/4 IS DO II + 1.4x III on EOS 1D Mark IV
1/400 at f/5.6, ISO 400, handheld
**This is a very heavy crop warranted only
by the rarity of this particular species**

Bare-throated Tiger-heron - Tigrisoma mexicanum
Canon 400mm f/4 IS DO II + 1.4x III on EOS 1D Mark IV
1/1000 at f/5.6, ISO 800, handheld

Ocellated Turkey 

Slaty-tailed Trogon

Wow, I have a lot more to say about Guatemala than I thought. What I originally thought would be 2 posts is now going to take 4. In the next post, the third in the that series, we'll venture super-duper into the Petén Jungle, so deep that we'll need to take a river boat to reach our next birding destination. It's so awesome and top secret that you'll have to wait for that next installment for the big reveal!

Oh wait! I almost forget this guy - Señor (or maybe Señorita!) Coati - patrolling the Tikal grounds!

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