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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative


The Hidden Gem of Central America

2022 Narrative

IN BRIEF: From bromeliad-laden highland cloud forests with Mountain Trogons, to dry interior scrub with White-lored Gnatcatchers, and from a lunchtime viewing swarms of feeding hummingbirds and honeycreepers, to a delightful boat ride with reclusive pygmy kingfishers and wood-rails, this exciting tour sampled the avian riches of a little-known country. Avian highlights were many, including the tiny Wine-throated Hummingbird, the endemic Honduran Emerald, Keel-billed and Tody Motmots, an obliging Blue-and-white Mockingbird, migrant Golden-cheeked Warblers, and snappy White-collared Manakins, along with some rarely recorded species such as Uniform Crake and Black-banded Woodcreeper. There were also some great mammals such as Mantled Howler Monkey and Northern Tamandua, plus many friendly and welcoming people wherever we went.

IN DETAIL: All arrived more or less on time, even with a brand-new airport and an entertaining drive through bustling Tegucigalpa, which made the tranquility of our hotel in the highland pine forests even more appreciated. After settling in, a short birding walk and beer at the end of day felt good, along with some Bushy-crested Jays, a handsome Golden-olive Woodpecker, and our first motmot, a Lesson’s née Blue-crowned. The first full day we spent in La Tigra National Park amid the ethereal songs of Slate-colored Solitaires in bromeliad-laden cloud forest. Early birding allowed for a good introduction to the commoner birds, such as bush-tanagers aka chlorospingus (chlorospingi?), Slate-throated Whitestarts aka Redstarts, and Yellowish Flycatchers not aka anything, at least for now! Also notable was a pit viper that took some research to identify, our only snake of the trip. Other bird species included Emerald Toucanet, Mountain Trogon, the very localized Green-breasted Mountain-gem (including a juvenile being fed), the very scarce and poorly known local form of Black-banded Woodcreeper, a striking White-breasted Hawk (Sharp-shinned Hawk to some), and even a male Golden-cheeked Warbler. By mid-morning the sunny weather made for a quiet forest, but our hike to see displaying male Wine-throated Hummingbirds was well worth the effort, and it was great to see many friendly locals out enjoying the forest. After a lunch with delicious mora juice, we rested a little before venturing out again into the expectedly quiet afternoon forest. Highlights included good visuals of Slate-collared Solitaire, the impressive Strong-billed Woodcreeper, and (finally!) a stunning Blue-and-white Mockingbird.

The next day was essentially a travel day, starting with some morning birding in open pine woods (distant Ocellated Quail heard), followed by a blustery hour in very dry forest (White-lored Gnatcatcher) before a buffet lunch (House Sparrows!).  A gas station stop produced excellent views of nest-building Montezuma Oropendolas along with their nest-parasite Giant Cowbirds, and we arrived at Panacam with good time to settle in. Overcast skies and blustery wind made birding challenging, although our first Keel-billed Toucan was appreciated. Rain started as we drifted off to sleep, and it rained all night and, on and off, all through the next day—which actually helped keep birds active. Our morning at El Cajon produced excellent views of the very local and endemic Honduran Emerald at the ‘secret spot’ of local birder Alex, and other species included Gartered, Black-headed, and Elegant Trogons, Squirrel Cuckoo, and numerus migrants, headlined by superb views of Golden-winged Warbler. After a fine lunch and close-up views of the Central American form of Berylline Hummingbird we headed to the Finca Luna del Puente—although it took four attempts for our driver Francisco to make it up one muddy and rain-slick hill! The effort was well worth it, though, and the morning’s tiresome rain had mostly lightened to a misting. The coffee and cacao finca was very birdy, and a break for hot coffee and hot chocolate was most welcome. Birds were almost too many to keep up with, as our short walk with resident birder Damian showed how important this habitat is for wintering migrants, not to mention a selection of residents that included Tody Motmot, Rufous-breasted Spinetail, Crimson-collared Tanager, Olivaceous Piculet, and Green Jay.

A full morning at Lake Yojoa was indeed full, with over 100 species and lots of birds. Notable were large numbers of waterfowl (including wild Muscovy Ducks), numerous Limpkins and Snail Kites, almost paralyzing numbers of northern migrants (including 16 species of warblers, headlined by Kentucky, Blue-winged, Golden-winged, and Yellow-throated), the handsome Rufous-and-white Wren, and a Stripe-throated Hermit gathering nesting material. After lunch we took a well-earned siesta before birding near and around the lodge, where highlights included kick-ass male Violet Sabrewings, Sepia-capped Flycatcher, Chestnut-capped Warbler, Green-backed Sparrow, and the Panacam signature bird, Keel-billed Motmot. Not too bad for an undercast and drizzly day!

The next morning dawned sunny, although it started clouding over again by mid-morning. Highlights of our birding in the Panacam area included a cracking male White-collared Manakin, Swallow-tailed Kites, the understated Northern Bentbill, the overstated male Scarlet-rumped Tanager, and absolutely stunning, walk-away views of Keel-billed Motmot and an eye-level Gartered Trogon at the tower. Stops on the way out produced Rufous-naped Wrens, the local Prevost’s Ground-Sparrow, and our only seen Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl. We arrived in Tela with good time to check in at our hotel and the sound of gentle waves on the beach.

The next morning found us birding at Lancetilla, where the high diversity of species meant we never knew what might appear: highlights included confiding Slaty-tailed Trogons, a dashing Merlin, a very close (but unseen!) Uniform Crake, handsome White-winged Becards, a great comparison of male Thick-billed Seedfinch and Variable Seedeater, and stunning views of a singing Great Antshrike. From Lancetilla we headed to a drizzling lunch at Rio Santiago, where the hummingbird show was dizzying, not to mention the dazzling Green and Shining Honeycreepers. A jack-knifed truck blocking the highway stymied our afternoon plan A, but a plan B walk up a stream by the highway produced a perched Laughing Falcon and our only Olive-sided Flycatcher.

Our earliest morning start was well worth it, with a wonderful boat trip at the Cuero y Salado wildlife refuge, where great looks at a Tamandua and Mantled Howler Monkeys, plus an impressive American Crocodile, vied with the birds, which featured five species of kingfisher, a couple of Sungrebes, a roosting Northern Potoo, low Chestnut-collared Swifts (with chestnut collars!), sleepy Boat-billed Herons—and don’t forget those Russet-naped (née Gray-necked) Wood-Rails! The afternoon thankfully ended on a negative note—as we all ‘passed’ (or failed?) our Covid tests! And then a last dinner, farewells, and preparing for flights homeward. It was an amazing adventure to some beautiful places, and with a stunning selection of birds. Thanks to all for coming and making it such a wonderful trip.

                                                                                                                                                                    -   Steve Howell

Created: 18 March 2022