Monday, December 31, 2012

Screech-Owls on my mind...

I've been home briefly over Christmas, and every morning I've been checking the usual snag for my resident backyard Eastern Screech-Owl that has showed up in previous years.  Last night, I even had a dream that I saw two screech-owls, I think I have screech-owls on my mind...  I still have not seen this backyard friend this season yet, but hopefully he or she is still around!  Here's a photo taken back in November 2011. 

Eastern Screech-Owl
Eastern Screech-Owl, Megascops asio
Happy winter birding and Happy New Year!

~ Jenn

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Honduras photos

Here are a few more of my favourite photos from Honduras this past November.  Enjoy!  
~ Jenn
White-crowned Parrot
White-crowned Parrot, Pionus senilis
Cabin Pico Bonito
Cabin at The Lodge at Pico Bonito
Collared Aracari
Collared Aracari, Pteroglossus torquatus
Helmeted Iguana
Helmeted Iguana, Corytophanes cristatus
Northern Jacana
Northern Jacana, Jacana spinosa
Long-nosed Bat
Long-nosed Bats, Rhynchonycteris naso
Cuero y Salado Wildlife Refuge
Cuero y Salado Wildlife Refuge
Oropendola nests
Oropendola nests, Lancetilla Botanical Gardens

More highlights from Honduras

In addition to birding around the lodge grounds at The Lodge at Pico Bonito, we visited some other places in Honduras that are great birding and wildlife watching locations: 

Rio Santiago
James at The Lodge at Pico Bonito told us about this great place not far from the lodge.  This is a new place that offers cabins and a restaurant, and is about ready to open to the public.  Its a beautiful property that extends through various elevations and forests and has some nice trails.  Here we found our Keel-billed Motmot and Rufous-tailed Jacamar, as well as Blue-crowned Motmot, White-collared Manakin, Spot-breasted Wren, White-breasted Wood-Wren, Rufous Mourner, Long-billed Gnatwren, Great Tinamou, Olive-backed Euphonia, Golden-crowned Warbler, Red-crowned Ant-Tanager, Passerini's Tanager, Chestnut-headed Oropendola, Black-faced Grosbeak & Worm-eating Warbler.  The owner (who is Canadian) has also manufactured over 100 hummingbird feeders that attract huge numbers of Violet-crowned Woodnymphs, Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds, White-necked Jacobins, Violet Sabrewings, Long-billed Hermits, and even a Band-tailed Barbthroat.
Keel-billed Motmot
Keel-billed Motmot, Electron carinatum
Cuero y Salado Wildlife Refuge
This wildlife refuge sits along the Caribbean coast and is a matrix of rivers and waterways that supports extensive mangrove ecosystems.  To get here, we took a narrow-gauge rail train from the town of La Union for 9 km into the refuge, and then hopped into a motorboat to head out into the rivers.  From here we spotted an abundance of waterbird life, including several species of herons, anhingas, kingfishers, some raptors including Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture and Bat Falcon, and Sungrebes!  A very enjoyable afternoon.  
Mantled Howler
Mantled Howler, Alouatta palliata

Rio Aguan Honduran Emerald Preserve

Honduras has one endemic species of bird - the critically endangered Honduran Emerald hummingbird.  The preserve is located directly south of Pico Bonito National Park and is a dry forest habitat.  Our day started out very early (4:00 am!) but it was well worth it.  Once we got to the preserve a short walk into the protected area turned up several Honduran Emeralds, which feed on the tiny cactus flowers in the area.  Other highlights included Lesser Nighthawk, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, Brown-crested Flycatcher and Turquoise-browed Motmot in the preserve, and Altamira Oriole, Painted Bunting, White-fronted Parrot and a very cute pair of White-lored Gnatcatchers en route to the preserve.  Well worth the long trip!

Honduran Emerald
Honduran Emerald, Amazilia luciae
Lancetilla Botanical Gardens
One of the largest botanical gardens in Central America, Lancetilla Botanical Gardens is a nice greenspace in north central Honduras.  We started out walking this short trail off to the right just past the entrance into the gardens, which was abundant with bird life.  Raptors were a common sight overhead, including Short-tailed Hawk, Gray Hawk, Roadside Hawk, Common Black-Hawk, Cooper's Hawk, and in the forest we spotted a Laughing Falcon and Black Hawk-Eagle.  We had a quick glimpse of a Ruddy Crake as it darted across the path.  Other highlights included Yellow-bellied Tyrannulet, Black-headed Trogon, Smoky-brown Woodpecker and Yellow-winged Tanager.  
Keel-billed Toucan
Keel-billed Toucan, Ramphastos sulfuratus
We got a nice taste of Honduras and its wildlife during our time there.  I already look forward to going back, visiting the areas we have been to again and exploring new areas - Copan Mayan ruins and the cloud forests in western Honduras, as well as the islands.  Check out Natura Tours for information on tours to Honduras and other destinations!

~ Jenn 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Highlights from Pico Bonito

I think it goes unsaid that I love to travel, especially in Latin America.  I recently had the opportunity to visit Honduras, a spectacular and rather under-traveled country in Central America.  Honduras has a lot to offer - beautiful island paradise off a biologically and culturally diverse mainland that is bordered by Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and the Caribbean Sea.  So in late November, Kristen Martyn and I headed down for a short visit and we could not wait to set foot and start exploring.

Our "home" for our stay in Honduras was at The Lodge at Pico Bonito - this ultra-luxurious eco-lodge sits at the base of the impressive Nombre de Dios mountain range in Pico Bonito National Park. This area is home to a great diversity of wildlife, including cats (there has been a Margay spotted at the lodge in recent weeks as well as Puma and Jaguar in camera traps along the trails) and great bird life. 

Lovely Cotinga
Lovely Cotinga (Cotinga amabilis)
On our first full day of birding, our fantastic guide, Elmer, took us around the lower property of the lodge.  We walked to the toucan tower with a beautiful vista of the Coloradito River, only minutes away from the lodge.  Within seconds it seemed he had the scope on a stunning Lovely Cotinga in the distance - spectacular!  I'm sure the sight of any cotinga, let alone this one, would awe even the least enthused individual.  The Lodge at Pico Bonito is the best place to see this species.  We had quite the cotinga day, with the mistletoe fruits just turning ripe, we saw close to 2 dozen of them!  In addition to the cotingas, we also were delighted to see Gray Hawk, Red-billed Pigeon, White-crowned Parrot, Violet-crowned Woodnymph, Purple-crowned Fairy, Collared Aracari, Keel-billed Toucan, Black-cheeked & Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, Pale-billed Woodpecker, Ivory-billed Woodcreeper, Sepia-capped Flycatcher, Yellow-olive Flycatcher, Masked Tityra, White-eyed Vireo, Brown Jay (the "bush policemen" as they are called by the locals), Melodious Blackbird and a plethora of migratory warblers.  We were also thrilled to see a Royal Flycatcher, a rather uncommon and exciting bird!

Great Potoo
Great Potoo (Nyctibius grandis)
Another highlight for us was a roosting Great Potoo.  The Great Potoo is a relative of the nightjars & nighthawks that is best known for its outrageous bellowing call.  They are fairly common and quite widespread throughout central and south America, but its that call and its impressive size that keep people in awe.  I have heard and seen this species in other countries, but they never cease to impress me.  It was roosting in a large-branched tree so we could see it clear as day.  This one in particular seemed quite rufous compared to others I have seen.  

The Lodge at Pico Bonito does a wonderful job at keeping the local hummingbirds happy.  In addition to beautiful gardens full of tropical heliconia flowers (among others) perfect for hummers, the lodge has a dozen feeders that attract them close.  At night, when the hummingbirds retreated to their roosts, nectar-feeding bats buzzed around and fed from the hummingbird feeders.  Kristen got some great video!  Twice we spotted a Mottled Owl on the beam at the conference centre when the bats were feeding, I can only imagine that owl has a taste for bats!

Vermiculated Screech-Owl
Vermiculated Screech-Owl (Megascops guatemalae)
On our last night, Elmer took us out on a night walk to find some owls.  From the first night on, we had heard both Mottled and Black-and-white Owls around our cabins.  The Mottled Owl made regular appearances, but it was the Black-and-white Owl that I really wanted to see.  Almost every night I woke to the call of the owl, and looked around outside my cabin without luck.  Even on our night walk, which turned up nice views of a Pauraque & Vermiculated Screech-Owl, we were teased by the Black-and-White Owl as it called and flew around us but never gave us a view.  That night, around 4:40 am, I woke up and heard it calling outside the cabins again.  I got up and stepped outside to find Kristen searching for it as well.  After about half an hour we finally got a good look at this beautiful owl.  A nice treat before saying goodbye to Honduras! 

More to come from Honduras...

~ Jenn 

Hummingbird Heaven at Guango Lodge

My time in Ecuador this fall was closing in, and I managed to squeeze in one more day of birding before my flight back to Canada.  There are some great places to visit within a couple hours of Quito, but some present a challenge in how to get there if you are using public transportation.  I also wanted to visit somewhere I hadn't been to yet.  So I decided to visit Guango Lodge for a day.  This beautiful little lodge is located approximately 2 hours east of Quito, along the main eastern route that heads towards Baeza & Tena, just beyond the town of Papallacta.  On November 16, I grabbed a bus from central Quito and arrived at the lodge in good time.  

Sword-billed Hummingbird
Sword-billed Hummingbird (Ensifera ensifera)
Guango Lodge is nestled high in the eastern slope of the Andes at about 2700 metres.  The property has some trails and has a nice riverfront location (great place for Torrent Ducks and White-capped Dippers).  However the main attraction at Guango Lodge is the hummingbirds.  It is one of the best places for the magnificent Sword-billed Hummingbird, which is a regular visitor at the feeders.  As soon as I stepped off the bus, I was greeted by a flurry of activity at the feeders in front of the lodge.  This is the best place to see Chestnut-breasted Coronet, Long-tailed Sylph & Tourmaline Sunangel, which were all plentiful among other high-elevation species.  I was met by the friendly staff, who gave me a bird list and a trail map, and I was set for the day.  

Long-tailed Sylph
Long-tailed Sylph (Aglaiocercus kingi)
 After acquainting myself with the hummers, I headed out along the Torrent Duck Trail that follows the river beside the lodge, in hopes to find the ducks, but with no luck (always a good reason to go back!).  However, I got a great view of a White-capped Dipper along the rocks, among other birds along the trail, including Andean Guan, Black-headed Hemispingus, Gray-hooded Bush-Tanager, Northern Mountain-Cacique and Mountain Wren.  I spent my day birding the trails near the lodge and enjoying the hummingbird feeders.  

While spending time at the lodge with the hummers, I met a lovely group of birders/photographers from Spain and after some nice conversation, we realized that our travel paths have been quite similar - through northwestern and eastern Ecuador, Panama, and even in Canada.  I enjoyed a delicious lunch with them at the lodge and swapped stories.  They also got some fantastic photos that day, quite impressive.

Turquoise Jay
Turquoise Jay (Cyanolyca turcosa)
Before catching the bus back to Quito in the afternoon, I found a group of Turquoise Jays along the trail.  These beautiful, curious birds provided great views but did a good job at shying away from the camera, always managing to hide behind a stick or a leaf! 

I'm already looking forward to my next visit, and next time I'll plan to stay at the lodge or closer at least so I can catch some of the early morning birds.  But this trip did not disappoint with 12 species of hummingbirds and 10 lifers I was a happy birder!  

~ Jenn