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 

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