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WINGS Birding Tours – Itinerary

Guatemala

Saturday 1 April to Wednesday 12 April 2023
Tikal Extension to Sunday 16 April
with Luke Seitz and Roland Rumm as leaders
A Horned Guan vocalizes from the canopy on San Pedro Volcano. Photo: Luke SietzA Horned Guan vocalizes from the canopy on San Pedro Volcano. Photo: Luke Sietz
  • A Horned Guan vocalizes from the canopy on San Pedro Volcano.

    A Horned Guan vocalizes from the canopy on San Pedro Volcano. Photo: Luke Sietz

  • Turquoise-browed Motmot is one of several motmots possible on the tour.

    Turquoise-browed Motmot is one of several motmots possible on the tour. Photo: Luke Seitz

  • The stunning colors of Ocellated Turkey in this close-up

    The stunning colors of Ocellated Turkey in this close-up Photo: Luke Seitz

  • The striking and unique Pink-headed Warbler is surely a highlight of this tour.

    The striking and unique Pink-headed Warbler is surely a highlight of this tour. Photo: Luke Seitz

  • Goldman's Warbler, a distinctive relative of Yellow-rumped Warber, is found only in Guatemala.

    Goldman's Warbler, a distinctive relative of Yellow-rumped Warber, is found only in Guatemala.

Just a three-hour flight from the US, the highlands of Guatemala’s Pacific slope are famous worldwide for holding a host of regional endemics. The improbable-looking Pink-headed Warbler might top the list, but it’s hardly outdone by other gems like Blue-throated Motmot, Blue-and-white Mockingbird, and Chestnut-sided Shrike-Vireo. With an expected split happening soon, one more species will soon be added to the list of specialties: the only true Guatemalan endemic, the incomparable Goldman’s Warbler. Less well known are the astonishing concentrations of boreal migrants—especially wood warblers—that share these cool montane forests with the vast selection of Central American specialties. Though our tour specifically targets the resident endemics, we’ll also take time to enjoy fully the diversity of the region’s birdlife.

Our Tikal Extension takes us even further back in time and into tropical lowland habitats with a completely new suite of birds. Watching Ocellated Turkeys, parrots, and perhaps even the local pair of Orange-breasted Falcons among the ruins of one of the greatest cities ever built in the New World is a treasured experience.

Day 1: Participants will be met on arrival in Guatemala City for transfer to our hotel in Antigua, often described as the most beautiful city in all of Central America. Our first introductory meeting will be at dinner at our hotel, followed by a night in Antigua.

Day 2: We’ll load up early and make the hour-long drive to Finca El Zapote, on the south slopes of Volcán de Fuego. Here, we’ll have a wonderful breakfast in the garden with our first Guatemalan birds surrounding us: Orange-fronted and Pacific Parakeets might be zipping around, Rufous-naped Wrens should be bouncing conspicuously through the trees, Turquoise-browed Motmot could perch conspicuously, and flocks of migrant warblers will mingle with Yellow-winged Tanagers and Red-legged Honeycreepers. We’ll have the full morning to explore the finca, paying special attention to the understory for Tody Motmot, Bushy-crested Jay, and whatever else might catch our eye. After lunch, we’ll continue driving towards Los Tarrales, our exiting birding destination for the next few days.

Days 3-4: We’ll have two full days to explore Los Tarrales, a private nature reserve that encompasses a wide elevation range and lots of special birds. We’ll try to cover as much habitat as possible, exploring the trails around the lodge for lower-elevation species like White-bellied Chachalaca, Turquoise-browed Motmot, Orange-fronted, Orange-chinned, and Pacific Parakeets, Long-billed Starthroat, Barred Antshrike, Yellow-olive Flycatcher, Masked Tityra, Long-tailed Manakin, and White-winged Tanager. Tody Motmot is a distinct possibility, although it’s gotten more difficult to see here in recent years. The higher elevations of Los Tarrales are often productive for some of the hardest specialties of the region, including Azure-rumped Tanager, Bar-winged Oriole, and Emerald-chinned Hummingbird. Nights at Los Tarrales.

Day 5: We’ll make an early departure from Los Tarrales and drive to the edge of Lake Atitlan, where we’ll have a full morning to look for various specialties. One of our targets may be the unusual Slender Sheartail at one of the local gardens. We’ll also likely visit Mirador Rey Tepepul, which can sometimes host Azure-rumped Tanager and Resplendent Quetzal if the right trees are fruiting. We might take hike on a narrow forest trail that has produced goodies like Gray-collared Becard and Blue-crowned Chlorophonia in the past. We’ll have lunch at a lakeside hotel in the town of Santiago, before a three-hour drive to the town of Zunil. If the weather cooperates, we’ll try some optional owling after dinner. Night at Las Cumbres, Zunil.

Day 6: Our birding destination this morning is an area known as Fuentes Georginas, which offers us some excellent montane birding. We’ll depart early so we can arrive in time to enjoy the dawn chorus of Highland Guans, Blue-throated Motmots, and Singing Quail echoing through the valley. This is a popular hot spring, so many species are quite accustomed to people: Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrushes and Chestnut-capped Brushfinches hop around the parking lots, Unicolored Jays parade around in noisy flocks, and roadside flowers could hold Amethyst-throated and Garnet-throated Hummingbirds. After several hours of birding, we’ll make the two-hour drive to the town of San Marcos for lunch and an early check-in to our hotel. Just outside the town of San Marcos is some excellent cloud forest, which will give us the first chance at Resplendent Quetzal and perhaps some hummingbird feeders with Rufous Sabrewing and Blue-tailed Hummingbird. Night in San Marcos.

Day 7: Our morning will be spent near San Marcos, searching for one of the jewels of the birding world: Resplendent Quetzal. With some luck, we hope to catch a glimpse of the extraordinary male with his elongated uppertail coverts. The northern populations are vocally, visually, and genetically distinct from the birds in Costa Rica and Panama, a potential split that adds intrigue to an already intriguing bird! Even without quetzals, we’re sure to have a fun morning of birding, with possibilities including Azure-rumped Tanager, Yellow-throated Nightingale-Thrush, Rufous and Violet Sabrewings, Green-throated Mountain-gem, Northern Emerald-Toucanet, Brown-capped Vireo, and maybe even Hooded Grosbeak. After lunch in San Marcos, we’ll head towards Sibinal. This drive should take only two to three hours, and we’ll try to arrive in time for some rest before dinner in preparation for the following morning. Night in Sibinal.

Day 8: We’ll have an early breakfast (04:30) and head to a trail on the slopes of Volcán Tacaná. Our primary target today is the enigmatic Horned Guan, which is usually but not always present – depending on recent weather conditions, we may or may not encounter the fruiting trees favored by the guan. This is a very steep hike, and we’ll be at around 9,000 feet in elevation, but it’s much shorter and easier than the other available options for Horned Guan. We’ll take it slow, birding on the way. The forest here is beautiful, full of Pink-headed Warblers, Amethyst-throated Hummingbirds, and Blue-throated Motmots. Other enticing possibilities include Yellow Grosbeak (the ultra-saturated Guatemalan (sub)species) and maybe even Black-capped Siskin. We’ll spend a full morning on the trail, followed by lunch at the house of our local guide. Our afternoon plan will depend on what birds we see in the morning. We’ll be back in Sibinal for a relatively early dinner and much-needed sleep!

Day 9: Our second morning around Sibinal will be spent birding some nearby roadsides, which are thick with Pink-headed Warblers and could harbor Chestnut-sided Shrike-Vireo. We’ll try to clean up some of the highland species we’re still missing, perhaps including the uncommon and shy Black-throated Jay or the skulky Rufous-browed Wren. Black-capped Siskin is another target in this area. We’ll have an early lunch at a local village, and then load up for another long drive. This time, we’re heading for the town of Huehuetenango, a drive that will likely take around five hours. Night at Fuente Real, Huehuetenango.

Day 10: Our morning will begin with bundling in all our layers, as this will surely be the chilliest day of the tour. We’ll drive to Todos Santos Cuchumatan, the best spot in the world to see the stunning Goldman’s Warbler. Once considered a subspecies of Yellow-rumped Warbler, this bird has recently been shown to have substantially different genetics. To the birder, it’s different in just about every other way too: appearance, voice, size, shape, and range! The Goldman’s is found only in Guatemala, and even here it is restricted to high-elevation areas with junipers and pines. Surely seeing this beauty will be one of the highlights of the tour. We have a full day to explore this incredible plateau, with lunch at a cozy local restaurant. Other interesting possibilities up here include Ocellated and Singing Quails, Garnet-throated Hummingbird, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Brown Creeper, Olive Warbler, Pink-headed Warbler, siskins (the strange perplexus subspecies of Pine Siskin occurs here, as well as the rarer Black-capped), and the Guatemalan subspecies of Yellow-eyed Junco and Northern Flicker (both probable splits).

Day 11: Today is mostly a travel day. We’ll have a short internal flight, from Huehuetenango and back to Guatemala City. Depending on flight times, we might be able to head out for some birding around Huehue in the morning or we might wait until we’re back in Guatemala City. We’ll have the flexibility to try to find some species we haven’t seen thus far. In the late afternoon, we’ll end up at the Hotel Tikal Gran Futura in Guatemala City for a luxurious farewell dinner.

Day 12: The main tour ends with transfers to the airport for flights home.

Tikal Extension

Day 12: We’ll take an early flight north from Guatemala City across impressive stretches of forest to Flores, a charming town on beautiful Lake Petén Itzá. On arriving in Flores, we’ll grab some snacks and cold drinks before making the short drive to Santa Ana, an area of open savannah and scrub. Before the heat sets in, we’ll make a special effort to find Black Catbird, a Yucatán specialty. The supporting cast might include Vermilion Flycatcher, Black-throated Bobwhite, Olive Sparrow, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Botteri’s Sparrow, and Gray-crowned Yellowthroat. Depending on the weather, we’ll also probably spend some time at a local reserve called Ixpanpajul, which harbors a good mix of forest species (often including Keel-billed Toucan, Black-headed Trogon, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, White-breasted Wood-Wren, and Blue Bunting).

We’ll check in to our hotel and have some time to rest in the mid-afternoon before heading back out again. We’ll probably check some nearby marshes that can be loaded with Purple Gallinules, Northern Jacanas, Neotropic Cormorants, and perhaps even Least or Pinnated Bitterns.

Day 13: An early morning will see us driving to Yaxha, a short distance southeast of Tikal. Named for its proximity to the sparkling turquoise waters of the nearby lagoons, Yaxha (“Yax” = green, “Ha” = water) was occupied for some 1500 years up to about the year 900. The impressive ruins of the Maya city are aligned along an arrow-straight axis nearly a mile long and culminate in the monumental buildings of the Eastern Acropolis. The fine forest surrounding the site abounds with tropical birds, including the dramatic Pale-billed Woodpecker and a variety of colorful parrots, trogons, toucans, hummingbirds, and tanagers. We’ll keep an eye out overhead for King Vulture, and the resident Bat Falcon is likely to greet us too. We’ll have lunch near Yaxha and head to Tikal in the early afternoon to check into our hotel. We’ll have an optional evening outing bird around the hotel grounds and parking lot of Tikal, which is often loaded with parrots, Russet-naped Wood-Rail, Ocellated Turkey, and more! Night at Tikal.

Day 14: Guatemala’s first national park, Tikal, is, simply put, one of a kind; a combination of nature and culture without parallel. Orange-breasted Falcons nest on breathtaking pyramids, and Ocellated Turkeys wander around unconcernedly just as they likely did in the days of the classical Maya. We also have a good chance of seeing Crested Guan and another of the prizes among the cracids, Great Curassow, which is relatively confiding (but still uncommon) under the protected conditions of the national park.

We’ll make the most of our full day here, departing at 4:30am and walking into the park to experience sunrise atop one of the pyramids. This can be a great way to listen to the forest come alive at dawn, with parrots (White-crowned, White-fronted, Red-lored, and Mealy) flying around, Keel-billed Toucans and Brown Jays in the canopy, Ridgway’s Rough-winged Swallow and Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift overhead, raptors in the distance, and usually a surprise or two! Among the many other possibilities are Russet-naped Wood-Rail, White-bellied Emerald, Slaty-tailed, Gartered, and Black-headed Trogons, Tody Motmot, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Keel-billed Toucan, several species of woodcreeper including Tawny-winged, Ruddy, and Northern Barred, Northern Bentbill, Stub-tailed Spadebill, Eye-ringed Flatbill, Royal Flycatcher, White-bellied and Spot-breasted Wrens, White-collared Manakin, Black-throated Shrike-Tanager, Olive-backed Euphonia, and Montezuma Oropendola. We’ll probably see well over 100 species in total! Night in Tikal.

Day 15: We’ll spend another morning around Tikal, perhaps focusing on some secondary forest nearby for more localized specialties like Gray-throated Chat, Yucatan Flycatcher, Mangrove Vireo, and Rose-throated Tanager. Depending on flight schedules, we’ll head back to Flores at some point in the afternoon, stopping for lunch and birding along the way. We’ll fly back to Guatemala City in the afternoon or evening and enjoy a scrumptious farewell dinner before our departures home. Night in Guatemala City.

Day 16: The extension ends with transfers to the airport for flights home.

Created: 10 May 2022

Prices

  • 2023 Tour Price : $5,290
  • Single Occupancy Supplement : $210
  • Tikal Extension : $2,150
  • Extension Single Occupancy Supplment : $190

Notes

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Questions? Tour Manager: Stephanie Schaefer. Call 1-866-547-9868 (US or Canada) or (01) 520-320-9868 or click here to email.

* Tour invoices paid by check carry a 4% discount. Details here.

Maximum group size 8 with one WINGS leader and a local guide.

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