Monday, July 9, 2018

Post #139 - Birding Honduras, part 2: Let's go birding!

OK, let's continue with Honduras! Last time I gave you a overview of the country and some general travel tips, and in this entry I am going to dive right into the birding sites and the species one can expect to find at each. However, I am going to do something that I haven't done before. Beyond my first-hand accounts of those sites that I visited on my recent trip, I am going to point you towards some other areas that should be on your radar. I am doing this because my recent trip was mostly focused on exploring new birding areas, and I think that several the tried-and-true spots warrant inclusion so as to provide the best picture of the Honduran birding landscape.

Selected Honduran Birding sites.
**Locations are approximate**

I visited the following sites on my recent trip:
Lake Yojoa
Celaque National Park
Reserva Natural Privada El Consejero
Zamorano University

I will also briefly mention these other well-known sites:
The Lodge and Spa at Pico Bonito
Rio Santiago Nature Resort
Copán Mayan Ruins
La Tigra National Park

Stock photo of Copán

Lake Yojoa
Lake Yojoa is an up-and-coming outdoor destination, sort of like a little brother to Arenal in Costa Rica or Mindo in Ecuador. As I just wrote a comprehensive article on Lake Yojoa for the Nature Travel Network, I'm going to directly link that article instead of rehashing Yojoa a second time. It's an easy read and includes all sorts of helpful information. I didn't include links to eBird hotspots in that more formal article, so here are a few you should find helpful.

Parque National Azul Meámbar - Panacam Lodge
Eco Finca Luna del Puente
El Rancho Hotel and Restuarant
Lago Yojoa - Sector Honduyate
Quetzal Trail/Sendero, Santa Barbara

Celaque National Park (main/central eBird Hotspot)
Located in the southwestern part of the country, Celaque is a great destination for those that like to mix hiking with birding. The rugged and undeveloped track has miles of trails, and the most adventurous can make an attempt at Cerro Las Minas (9416'), Honduras's highest peak. Elevations in the park range from 3,200 to 9,400 feet, the lower reaches being mostly pine forest while the upper throes are cloud forest. Nearly 230 species have been eBirded from the main Celaque hotspot (linked above), but many more have been observed when one sums up the more specific eBird hotspots within the park. Highlights of my visit were Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush (heard), Spotted Nightingale-Thrush (heard), Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush (heard), Black-banded Woodcreeper, Unicolored Jay, Violet Saberwing, Green-throated Mountain-Gem, Collared and Mountain Trogons, and Golden-browed Warbler. We didn't reach as high as the cloud forest, but there is an entirely different complement of birds at those elevations. 

Lesson's Motmot at Celaque

In full disclosure, bird numbers at Celaque were low, and we had to work really hard to grind-out mostly single representatives of the listed birds. It's also worth noting that the walking was very challenging, the main trail gaining over 2000 vertical feet in just a few miles. The half mile beyond the nice observation tower will be manageable for virtually everyone birders, but once the trail turns skyward only those in good physical condition should continue.  The paved 2 kilometers from the Gracias entrance to the Visitor's Center are good birding, so those deterred by the prospect of mountain climbing should concentrate on birding that entrance road. Reaching all the way to the cloud forest is a hell of hike, once that will take effectively all day and be managed only by those in very good physical shape. 

Me struggling up the trail at Celaque

If you head to Celaque, I suggest the Hotel Casa Celaque. It's a beautiful property, and it's only 5-10 minutes from the entrance to the national park. The adjacent town of Gracias is quite fun, so keep that in mind for non-birding activities.

Reserva Natural Privada El Consejero (eBird Hotspot)
This place is nothing more than a private residence in Yamaranguila (outside Esperanca) with a whole bunch of hummingbird feeders, but don't let that fool you. It is fantastic! It was nonstop activity for the hour that we spent watching the array, and I could have spent a whole day trying to get that one perfect shot. White-eared and Azure-crowned hummingbirds dominated, but a few Rivoli's came in as did a single Berylline. Don Julio runs the place and is a very friendly guy. He charges $3/person, but I wouldn't feel comfortable leaving less than $5 (as I do at feeder arrays in AZ, for example). The reserve has a Facebook page, so be sure to give that a look if you are interested. All the relevant contact information can be found there. These are the sorts of views you can expect!

Azure-crowned Hummingbird - Amazilia cyanocephala
Canon 400mm f/4 IS DO II on EOS 7D Mark II
1/320 at f/5.6, ISO 800

Zamorano University (eBird Hotspot)
Zamorano University is a private, 1200-student institution about 45 minutes south of Tegucigalpa. Specializing in agricultural and outdoor pursuits, the expansive campus is very beautiful and loaded with birds. Our group spent a full day birding the campus with resident professor and field guide author Oliver Komar and found upwards of 70 species. Highlights included Crested Bobwhite, Ruddy Crake (3!), Northern Jacana, Striped Cuckoo, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, Turquoise-browed Motmot, Barred Antshrike, Nutting's Flycatcher, Black-headed Saltator, Yellow-billed Cacique, and Streak-backed Oriole. The students have even created a special trail - The EcoSendero - to facilitate birding on campus. There is also a biological research station at Uyuca (eBird Hotspot) which is worth a visit. Located at a higher elevation than campus, we found a completely different complement of birds including Mountain Elaenia, Slate-colored Solitaire, Crescent-chested Warbler, Mountain Thrush, and Black-vented Oriole. Most notable were Green-breasted Mountain-gem, Rufous-browed Wren, and Rufous-Collared Robin, three particularly prized "highland endemics" as discussed in my previous Honduras post. As Uyuca is a biological research station, the institution requires that visitors eBird what species that observe at the reserve. Please honor this request as they are willing to extend access as long as visitors comply (more on access below).

Zamorano campus center

Skeptical Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl at Zamorano

View of campus agricultural fields and associated cows

View from EcoSendero at Zamorano

The one big caveat with Zamorano (And Uyuca) is that the campus is restricted access, so you'll have to be accompanied by a local guide to bird Zamorano. I spent some time with guide Maryury ('Marjorie') Gomez and would highly suggest contacting her if you're in interested in visiting Zamorano ( She's got a good grip on the local birds, knows her way around, and is very friendly. Her English is coming along, but please do remember it's her second language! As for lodging, the Central Kellogg Hotel is great. It's administered by the university and is directly across the street from campus.

Bug Ugly and Maryury at Zamorano

Central Kellogg Hotel at Zamorano

In addition to those four sites that I visited on my recent trip, I want to say just a few things about the following tried-and-true Honduran birding sites.

The Lodge and Spa at Pico Bonito (eBird Hotspot)
Pico Bonito is a full-service and high-end ecolodge on Honduras's Caribbean slope. I have never been but have heard only great things from many people who have. It's very popular with both tour groups and photographers, so there's a bit of something for everyone. The property is supposed to be stunning, and I think it is the sort of place non-birders would enjoy just relaxing.

Rio Santiago Nature Resort (eBird Hotspot)
Rio Santiago is another full-service ecolodge, albeit at a much lower price point than Pico Bonito. Rio Santiago is also on the Caribbean slope and not that far from Pico Bonito. Both are a few hours drive east from San Pedro Sula and so could be visited together for variety. Again, I have not been to Rio, but several people said the resort has feeders and is a good place for photography.

Copán Mayan Ruins (eBird Hotspot)
If you're into history, archeology, and culture, then a trip to Copan might be perfect for you. I have not birded Copan but have birded Tulum in Mexico and Tikal and Yaxha in Guatemala. If my experiences at those Mayan sites are indicative of what to expect at Copan, you'll have a blast. There are few experiences as cool as wandering through ancient Mayan ruins while looking at trogons and motmots. If you're thinking about visiting Copan, Yobani Peraza ( of Xukpi ('zhuk-pee', its a Mayan Word, appropriately!) Tours is your man! He knows the birds very well, has special access to restricted areas within the archeological site, and speaks English well. After spending a week with Yobani, I know I wanted to return to Honduras and visit Copán! Yobani is also available to guide anywhere in Honduras, so if you want to put together a longer, week-long private tour/itinerary he can make that happen too.

Me with guide Yobani Peraza and driver Yoni

La Tigra National Park (eBird Hotspot)
This is another spot I haven't visited but know something about. Located less than an hour from Tegucigalpa, La Tigra is best know for hosting the incredible Resplendent Quetzal. It's a popular birding spot and could easily be coupled to Zamorano (and maybe Yojoa) since both are so close to Tegucigalpa.

Whew, that's a lot of information! Coupled to my previous Honduras post and the linked Lake Yojoa article, I hope I've given you enough reason and information to add Honduras to your list of birding destinations. I had a blast on my too-short trip, and I can't wait to return sometime in the future. Maybe by bike.........

No comments:

Post a Comment