Saturday 14 March 2015

Central American Birding

Having been to Central America on a couple of occasions, namely Costa Rica and Panama, the Duchess and myself decided we would like to go there again. We liked the look of a birding trip to Honduras, staying at the 'eco lodge' Pico Bonito in the Pico Bonito National Park - a 400 acre reserve at the Northern (Caribbean) coast of Honduras - so, on Feb 17th, we departed London Heathrow for Houston Texas, where we would stay over night in order to catch a flight the next morning for San Pedro Sula, Honduras. Having had two uneventful flights, we had a short wait for the rest of the group to arrive from Miami before our two and a half hour transfer to the lodge. The birds on the way were mainly Cattle Egret, Great White Egret, Tropical Kingbird and white-winged Doves. By the time we arrived at the lodge, we had time for a wash and brush up before meeting up with our party again for dinner. The following morning, we woke to the sounds of lots of new birds singing and calling; the veranda on the restaurant had a few hummingbird feeders, and it was great to watch these flying jewels feeding whilst having your breakfast!  Rufous tailed Hummingbird, White-necked Jacobin, sripe-throated Hermit, Violet crowned Woodnymph  to name just a few.

White-necked Jacobin
Violet Sabrewing

After breakfast, our two guides Jose and Ezra took us for a walk around the some of the trails in the grounds of the lodge. Birds of note were Hooded Warbler, Wood thrush, lots of Clay Colored Thrush with Chestnut-headed and Montezuma's Oropendola, along with Brown Jays making their presence heard; Wedge-billed Woodcreeper and Red-throated Ant-tanager were also noted. We then went to one of the three tower hides that look out over the forest. From here, we saw Purple-crowned Fairy and the stunning Lovely Cotinga - What a bird! - lots of White-collared Swift were overhead, Blue-crowned Motmot was a good find but the find of the morning was a Great Potoo at the top of a dead tree in its' cryptic pose - unbelievable camouflage! Other garden birds of note over our stay were Black-cheeked and Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Boat-billed and Social Flycatcher, Keel-billed Toucan and Collared Aracari.  Our bird watching was cut short though by torrential rain, so we returned to the Lodge for lunch and continued birding from the verandah, as the rain never eased up for the rest of the day. Below are some images of the birds in the hotel garden.

                                                     Collared Aracari
This was an Iguana that was on the drive when we returned to the lodge one afternoon

This was one of our target birds - the Keel-billed Motmot

Keel-billed Toucan

                     Social Flycatcher.......How does it perch here without hurting it's feet?

                                                                  Summer Tanager

White Hawk

On our third day, the guides decided to change the itinerary as the weather was not going to improve locally. It was agreed that we would travel to the other side of the mountains, to the Rio Aguan Valley, on the southern side of the reserve. We stopped en route at several sites - the first being a small pool, where we saw Great Blue Heron, Crested Caracara, Eastern Meadowlark, White-necked Seedeater, and lots of American Kestrel perched on the overhead roadside wires.
Our next stop was on a river bridge where we saw Ringed and Amazon Kingfisher, Mangrove Swallow and Spotted Sandpiper. A little further along the same road, another small pool produced American Coot, Lesser Scaup, Yellow Warbler, Baltimore and Orchard Oriole, and a nice little flock of Blue-winged Teal. In the grass verge, Ezra, our guide, flushed a Grasshopper Sparrow, and told us to have a good look, as that was the best view we would get of it! - but just 10 minutes later, the Duchess found it perched in a bush, where it sat for a good 10 minutes, allowing all of the group the opportunity of really good views. Ezra said it is very rare to see one perched in a bush! 
Once we had entered the tropical dry forest, the birding did slow down - but we did see the endemic Honduras Emerald and the Salvins Emerald, along with Inca Dove and Purple Martin.
On our way back to our bus, there was a really small pool with only one bird on it - the aptly named Solitary Sandpiper! As we journeyed on to our lunch destination in the nearby ranching town of Olanchito, Grove-billed Ani, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and Wood Stork were seen, along with quite a few Black Vultures scavenging on a dead horse. After a simple but delicious lunch, we continued back to the lodge for a rest before meeting for dinner.

                                                                    Honduras Emerald

                                                           American Kestrel

                                                                    Black Vultures

Eastern Meadowlark
Grasshopper Sparrow
Solitary Sandpiper

Amazon Kingfisher

Day four dawned bright and sunny, and we were off to the mangroves of The Cuero Y Salado Wildlife Refuge -less than 30 minutes away. The refuge comprises of over 35,000 acres of rivers, lagoons, mangroves and forest areas, and is reached by a quirky little train that takes you by some wet plains. If anything of interest is seen, the train stops to allow the bird watchers to get good views, which was great for us......but not sure the locals appreciate it! The train ride started well with Spot-breasted Oriole. We stopped several times to view the wetlands, where we saw Bare-throated Tiger Heron, White Ibis, Northern Jacana, Red-winged Blackbird, Black and White Warbler and Northern Parula. On arriving at our destination, Belted Kingfisher and Neotropic Cormorant could be seen. We were then given life jackets to wear, split into two groups and put into small skiffs, with a guide in each one, to explore the mangroves. The first birds of note were Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, Black Hawk and Osprey. As we got into the mangroves we saw Black-headed Trogon, Pale-vented Pigeon and Green Kingfisher. Our guide then pointed out a Northern Potoo - again in the cryptic pose; a Yellow-crowned Night Heron flew over the lagoon, and overhead, an Aningha circled. A pair of American Pygmy Kingfisher were observed mating, and we had really good views of the strange looking Boat-billed Heron. All too soon, we were heading back to the jetty, ready to get the returning train - but not before a Magnolia Warbler was spotted, along with a Chestnut-collared Woodpecker! 
The train ride back was much the same as the outward journey, with us stopping for Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Tri-colored Heron, White-tailed Kite and lots of Great, Snowy and Cattle Egret.
We returned to the Lodge for lunch after a very enjoyable morning!
The afternoon was spent walking the gardens again, where birds of note were Yellow-winged Tanager, Turquoise-browed Motmot, Green Honeycreeper, Yellow-olive and Great-crested Flycatcher.

American Pygmy Kingfisher

Boat-billed Heron

Green Heron

Neotropic Cormorant

Northern Potoo

Magnolia Warbler

Our next excursion was to the Lancetilla  Botanical Gardens, which are in a coastal valley area, and were originally a commercial project where fruit trees were grown and studied. Almost as soon as we entered the grounds, we exited the bus and walked along a short ride, which was very productive! Spot-breasted Wren, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Lesser Greenlet and Squirrel Cuckoo were quickly ticked off, closely followed by a beautiful male White-collared Manakin;  Passerina Tanager, Dusky-capped Flycatcher and Black-headed Saltater were also noted, and a Ruddy Crake was heard by our guides, but, despite their best attempts to find it for us, it disappeared! We then moved off a short distance in the bus to the visitors centre, where we alighted again. Streaked Woodcreeper, American Redstart and Slate-headed Tody Flycatcher were added to the list, as were Short-tailed and Zone-tailed Hawk. We left the botanical gardens and set off to Tela, a coastal town, where we went to a beach side taverna for lunch, and from here, Brown Pelican, Royal Tern and Laughing Gull were added.

The following day we stayed around the lodge, but the group were given the option of going up into the mountains or staying around the gardens to do some birding.....I chose the latter, so, with Jose as our guide, four of us had a gentle stroll to see what we could see! We were not disappointed - Yellow-throated Euphonia and Ferruginous Pygmy Owl were seen not far from reception, along with Gartered Trogon, Crimson-colored Tanager and the stunning Barred Antshrike. There was a cocoa plantation in the grounds, and Jose said he had heard an owl in the vicinity a couple of days earlier. To our amazement, it wasn't long before he found it - a Vermiculated Screech Owl! Walking back towards the cabins, Rufous Mourner and White Hawk were seen, and a Roadside Hawk flew overhead.
Roadside Hawk

Ferruginous Pygmy Owl

Gartered Trogon

Our last day! 
Today we went to the River Santiago Nature Resort where there is a hummingbird feeding station. Again, after leaving the bus, the first birds of note were Ivory-billed Woodcreeper, Brown-rumped Attilia and Brown-crested Flycatcher, then it was on to the feeding station.
The area was alive with hummingbirds whizzing about - you didn't know where to look first! - Scaly-breasted and Stripe-tailed Hummingbird along with White-bellied Emerald, Green-breasted Mango - and the one we had all hoped to see - the Band-tailed Bar-throat! I could have just sat there for hours watching these little gems coming and going, but we had to move on! On our return journey, we decided to get out and walk, as there was a river alongside the road. We walked for about a mile and our stroll was rather fruitful as we saw Yellow-faced Grassquit, Buff-throated Saltator, Worm-eating, Tennessee and Townsend warblers along with White-eyed Vireo and Black Hawk-eagle. After a lovely last day, it was back to the lodge to pack ready to go home.
All in all, another good trip! 

Ivory-billed Woodcreeper
Buff-throated Saltator

I hope you have enjoyed sharing my trip to Honduras, and, as always, thanks for stopping by.

Friday 6 March 2015

Tern Raft Update

The other two Tern rafts we had built were launched today at Hicks Lodge, a former coal mining site now owned by the Forestry Commission in the NW of Leicestershire,  on quite a large lake where Terns have previously bred, although only one pair were successful in fledging at least one chick last year. There is an island in the middle of the lake which has just been cleared by the Forestry Commission rangers and LROS (Leicestershire and Rutland Ornithological Society) volunteers, with a membrane having been put down to suppress the vegetation and then totally graveled over. Along with the two Tern rafts, we now have our fingers crossed that this will be the start of a new Tern colony at Hicks Lodge. Below are a few images on our the operation of the day. 
 With the raft in the water, the lads put on about 2" [50mm] of gravel for the Terns to nest on
 All the gravel on. Scott, one of the forestry rangers, brings the rib in ready to tow the raft out into position
 Andy Smith and Pete Williams taking the raft out, to anchor it into position
 Anchoring into its final position..... Andy and Pete risking life and limb.............................not!!
 This is one of the anchors we use to secure the raft into position. Two anchors are used on opposite corners.
The rafts in their final positions, just waiting for the return of the Common Terns. I will keep you up to date with their progress, and hopefully be able to post some images of the Terns nesting on them.
As always thanks for stopping by.