We made a short trip around several birding sites in Honduras, starting in the west at Copan, then to Panacam in the center, on to La Tigra National Park in the south, and ending at Pico Bonito in the northeast. June is not peak birding time in Honduras, but we still had success especially at La Tigra. January – March is the peak time - then, the resident birds are joined by many Neotropical migrants which have yet to depart to the north, and the resident birds are starting to breed and are responsive to tapes. We were primarily interested in the resident specialties, so the lack of Neotropical migrants was not an issue for us. But it was difficult to find birds, and some were reclusive as they were nesting. Although technically it was rainy season, we had no weather problems. We ended up seeing 40 of the possible 55 lifers on our target list.
For the first part of the trip, we contacted Alex Alvarado (email@example.com, www.honduranbirds.com). He was not able to guide us for Copan so he had a friend, Yobani, guide us there. Yobani was good, but Alex was exceptional. Alex guided us in Panacam and La Tigra. He knew where the birds were, and heard and identified them from ungodly distances. We gave him our target list and he was totally focused on that list. I separately arranged for six nights at The Lodge at Pico Bonito, in the northeast near La Ceiba, specifically because I noticed that the VENT birding company was also going there in June. We were assigned a local guide, Santos, who was OK but was clearly not equal to Alex. In fact, the reason Alex could not guide us at Pico Bonito is that he was already guiding a larger group that was spending only two nights at Pico Bonito, and while there they saw more than we did in our six nights. I cannot say for sure we would have seen everything we wanted to with Alex as our guide. But we probably would have seen the birds we saw more quickly and then had time to go on the side trips we had already paid for and ended up forfeiting due to the need to keep birding at Pico Bonito.
My recommendation is to go to Honduras in January – March to maximize sightings of both Neotropical migrants and the residents. Copan in the west; Panacam in the central mountains; La Tigra in the southern cloud forest; and Pico Bonito in the northeast all have different species present and I suggest going to them all if possible. Copan has the added lure of excellent Mayan ruins. If you go in the June time frame, you can expect to see a good number of residents but will have to work hard and will miss some. And I suggest hiring Alex to be your full time guide at all sites as he really is the best. And enjoy the excellent coffee.
The location of the birding sites was not easy to understand so let me discuss that first. The Lodge at Pico Bonito is about 15 minutes from La Ceiba, which has daily flights from San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa. It sounded reasonable to take the AA flight that arrives in San Pedro Sula at 1:05PM local time and connect to the 3PM flight from San Pedro Sula to La Ceiba, but because of Alex’s schedule we went to Copan first instead. That was good, because the delays were so long at the San Pedro Sula immigration and Customs that we would not have made that connection. That was why we happened to meet the VENT guides at the airport – they picked up their clients rather than have them try to make that flight. The drive from San Pedro Sula to Pico Bonito takes about three hours, and the lodge charges over $200 for the trip – coincidentally, just about what the flight costs (for two). So if you fly into San Pedro Sula and go directly to Pico Bonito, look forward to a 3-hour, expensive, ride. The ride to Copan from San Pedro Sula is also about three hours, and leads right to the western edge of the country. The ride from Copan to Panacam, which sits between San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa on an excellent road, takes about 4 hours as you drive right back to San Pedro Sula before heading south on the highway to Panacam. Panacam to Tegucigalpa is only about an hour’s drive, but to get to the La Tigra National Park you have to traverse all of Tegucigalpa and go back north about an hour. We flew from Tegucigalpa to La Ceiba on Aerolineas Sosa (e-tickets available on-line) and were picked up there by Pico Bonito staff for the short ride. The only side trip we made from Pico Bonito was farther east and south about 3 hours to the dry desert country. From Pico Bonito we had a van take us to San Pedro where we departed; the other option, to fly from La Ceiba back to San Pedro Sula, does not connect with any outgoing flights. Count on every domestic flight being late.
Honduras is easy for Americans – the US dollar is accepted nearly everywhere – at convenience stores, hotels, etc. We converted $100 into local currency (approx. 20 lempira per dollar) and used only a small portion of that on snacks, drinks, and tips because meals and lodging were included in the fees we paid to the guides and Pico Bonito. English is widely spoken. The electric outlets are the standard US 3-prong plugs with 110V, same as US. No visas or special immunizations are required, though malaria is present so we took Malarone. Even with much use of DEET, we both ended up with lots of chigger-like bites that persisted for a long time. Don’t forget the sunscreen. Self-driving is possible but not recommended – if you hire a guide, he will be driving. In addition to impenetrable local customs about “yielding”, signage is limited. There were numerous Army checkpoints, where we were simply waved through, especially in the west – apparently a large percentage of the cocaine headed to the USA goes through this area. We did not venture out at night in either Copan (the hotel was not in town) nor in Tegucigalpa, but in Copan in particular we were told even locals stay inside after dark because of the pervasive criminal element. Everyone we met, from store cashiers to locals we would pass when birding, we invariably friendly and smiling. Seafood is great throughout the country, with beef and chicken dishes common. Standard Honduran fare is typically tortillas/rice with meat/fish and veggies/salad. Delicious and potent local coffee, tea, and soft drinks and beer are widely available, though low-calorie / diet drinks were found only in the cities. The meals at Pico Bonito were excellent and we ended up gaining weight during the trip despite lots of exercise – we simply found it impossible to resist the desserts. Many service stations had convenience stores to rival those in the US with a wide range of snacks, drinks, and other items as well.
In Copan and Panacam, temperatures were pleasant, with 80s in the daytime; at La Tigra, higher up, it was a bit cooler. At Pico Bonito, it was decidedly warmer, in the low 90s every day. Humidity was very high, and it was impossible not to be soaking wet with perspiration if walking up the loop trail even at 7AM. Of course, Pico Bonito also had air-conditioning in the rooms, even though the fans made the rooms very comfortable. One morning in Copan we had some drizzle, one evening in Pico Bonito there was heavy rain, and on two afternoons we had some light drizzle as well. We used our rain jackets for the drizzle in Copan but did not really need them, and the drizzle at Pico Bonito was actually refreshing.
Only some key birds are listed in the itinerary; the bird list at the end of the report is complete. More detail about each birding location is given in the Lodging / Birding Sites section.
Tuesday, June 17. Our trip to Honduras began with a flight to Miami that connected to San Pedro Sula. Although the airport in Miami has recently been upgraded, it is still weak on dining options. There is a Skytrain that connects various terminals and gates, but luckily our American Airlines flight left only a few gates from our arrival gate. The airport in San Pedro Sula is medium-sized, with several restaurants, shops, ATMs, and two banks. The immigration process was slow, and then another line to process all bags (even carry-ons) through Customs added another 30 minutes. Eventually, we got through and were promptly met by Yobani Peraza, our birding guide / driver for the next 3 days. Interestingly, the guide from the VENT tour company, who was leading a tour to Pico Bonito Lodge, was also there so we took the opportunity to say hello. VENT's tour will be ending the day we arrive at Pico Bonito so we hope we can learn about some bird sightings, and also that the local guides there may have picked up some good info from them. The drive to our destination for 3 nights, Copan Ruinas, took about 3 hours, but typically is probably more as we had perfect driving weather and little traffic. The roads were good, except for the last hour or so; during this stretch, we started heading up and the road became very winding. In several spots, landslides and erosion reduced the road to rough gravel. Because of all the curves, passing was difficult and on several occasions we found ourselves looking at a vehicle in our lane coming at us, passing a truck or bus.
We arrived at our hotel, The Clarion, at about 5PM local time. Since Honduras is 2 hours behind Florida at this time of year, it was 7PM our time and we were hungry after only having a snack in Miami. Good for us that the restaurant is open all day, so we enjoyed a fine dinner even though we were the only patrons. As always, travel is tiring so we had an early night. A dip in the pool will have to wait.
Wednesday June 18. A 5:30AM departure sounded early but it was already very light. Our guide Yobani met us along with his uncle, Jorge, who also was a birding guide before moving to the USA. We quickly found Yellow-winged Tanager, Streak-backed Oriole, White-collared Seedeater, plus other common birds on the hotel grounds. We then drove to the southern highlands of Copan. As we passed through agricultural fields, we had nice views of Rusty Sparrow, Yellow-crowned Euphonia, Altamira Oriole, Greyish Saltator, and an unexpected Bat Falcon. Marlene somehow spotted a pair of Spot-breasted Bobwhite. As we entered the pine forests, we had our breakfast and saw Plush-crested Jay, White-throated Magpie-Jay, Black-faced Saltator, and Blue-crowned Motmot. We eventually caught up with a party of Yellow-backed Orioles before proceeding above the pine forest and close to the Guatemalan border. As lunch approached, we located a calling Brown-backed Solitaire, Azure-crowned Hummingbird, and an untickable glimpse of White-eared Hummingbird. We enjoyed a nice Honduran-style lunch back in Copan Ruinas.
Following a short siesta, we went to see the Mayan ruins at Copan. The area is very well maintained, with many large structures, arenas, temples, and engraved stone pillars called stelas. A highlight is the many carvings and hieroglyphics that provide a history of the Copan complex from the 5th to 9th century AD. It is certainly on par with other areas such as Chichen Itza, Calakmul, Tulum, etc, and anyone coming here for birding really needs to set aside time to visit. In addition to the ruins, there were plenty of birds, too. There is a flock of Scarlet Macaws that roost here but roam widely in the area, so seeing them come in at 5 PM was very dramatic. Also, Blue-crowned and Turquoise-browed Motmots, Montezuma Oropendola, Scrub Euphonia, Yellow-winged Tanager, and many others. Since the ruins are built quite high, one is at canopy level at the top and it is nice to look down on treetop specialists such as the euphonias.
Back at the hotel, we found out we were the only guests! However, they did keep the restaurant open. I counted at least 8 staff members who essentially were there only for us. We ended the day with 9 life birds, a nice start. We were also pleased we had perfect weather all day.
Thursday June 19. We started again at 5:30, and the day turned out as poor as yesterday was good. We saw no new life birds, and only a few new trip birds, despite going to a different area with different habitats. We headed north from town, into some highland areas. Our first stop was at some pine woods where we again saw Plush-crested Jays but little else despite spending more than an hour there. We birded along the road until 8AM when we broke for breakfast, where we saw a noisy family of Ruddy Crakes in a ditch near the road. Our final stop was at a coffee plantation where we walked some trails and a dirt road for 3 hours. During this time we had some light drizzle but it quickly broke into bright sunshine so we thought we would enjoy a lot of bird activity. But the only new birds seen were a Paltry Tyrannulet, a distant soaring White Hawk, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Yellow-backed Oriole, and Yellowish Flycatcher. We heard a Little Tinamou. Even though we were still in the Copan area, our guide had indicated we could expect quite a few new birds heading north so today was a disappointment. After lunch at a local chicken restaurant, we stopped at the Mayan Sculpture Museum, which holds the originals of many of the stone items we had seen yesterday as replicas. The logic is sound, as many of the stone sculptures had been buried until being excavated and moving them indoors is a way to preserve them. Based on our poor birding in the morning, and nowhere else to go that suggested better results, we gave up on our Copan birding. Upon returning to the hotel for a shower and to wash clothes, and to take a quick dip in the heated Jacuzzi pool, we found we had no hot water as the hotel only turns on the hot water at 6PM (recall we were the only guests). Late afternoon brought some brief thunderstorms so that would have cut short any birding anyway. Time for a change of venue.
Friday June 20. We opened the restaurant for breakfast at 6:30 and were met by our new guide, Alex Alvarado, at 7AM. We made the drive to Panacam via San Pedro Sula, which was uneventful except for being stopped by a local policeman who claimed Alex was speeding but who really wanted a bribe. When Alex insisted on getting a ticket issued and not paying on the spot, we were waved through. The road from San Pedro to Panacam is an excellent highway. We arrived at Panacam at 11:30 and had lunch. We saw a Keel-billed Motmot from the lodge parking lot before starting the long, steep hike up the Sinai Trail. The target here is Green-throated Mountain-Gem, but after walking several km and climbing over 500m in the next 2 hours, we came up empty. All we saw along the way was Stripe-throated Hermit, White-breasted Wood Wren, and heard Tody Motmot. We returned to the lodge by about 4PM, had a short rest and a cold drink, then took a short drive to some fields where we saw glimpses of Slaty-headed Tody-Flycatcher, Passerini’s and Blue-Gray Tanager, and a few others before we came upon our main target, Prevost’s Ground-Sparrow. It eventually perched for a moment on a wire fence, giving a great view before again diving into scrub. We returned to the lodge for a nice shower and a delicious supper. 3 life birds today.
Saturday June 21. Our original plan was to bird around Panacam and then head to La Tigra National Park in the afternoon, but after reviewing our target bird list we decided it would be better to simply head directly to La Tigra. So we left Panacam at 5:30 and promptly saw a Gray-headed Dove on the access road. A quick stop at the same field as yesterday gave much better views of Slaty-headed Tody-Flycatcher before we drove on to La Tigra National Park near Tegucigalpa with a nice buffet breakfast stop en route. The total drive time was about 3 hours, again on the excellent San Pedro Sula – Tegucigalpa highway. The access road to La Tigra requires driving through Tegucigalpa, so we dropped off our bags at our hotel and picked up a chicken lunch before going to the park. A stop one km before the park was a birding windfall, with White-eared Hummingbird, Slate-colored Solitaire, Black Thrush, Mountain Thrush, a female Mountain Trogon, brief views of Rufous-browed Wren, and Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer, all within an hour. Arriving at the park, we took a short trail and came upon noisy but skulking Singing Quail, a White-fronted Quail-dove, a confiding Rusty-capped Nightingale-thrush, and Spot-crowned Woodcreeper. While enjoying our lunch we had a nice male Green-breasted Mountain-Gem, which is a near-endemic. We then hiked the 2 km road (every step uphill) to the site for Wine-throated Hummingbird, but sadly had no luck. We took the La Esperanza trail down, and came upon two groups of Resplendent Quetzal, a male Mountain Trogon, a great view of Rufous-browed Wren, and an unexpected Black-throated Jay. A few stops on the way back to the hotel did not turn up anything new, so we still had a few targets left for tomorrow. Wow, 13 lifers today.
Sunday June 22. Another 5:30 start with bright sunshine as we drove again up towards La Tigra. En route we made some stops and saw some skulking Blue and White Mockingbirds, Azure-crowned and White-eared Hummingbirds, Plain-capped Starthroat, and a White-throated Flycatcher well above its normal altitude. Driving into La Tigra we had light mist that soon cleared. We stopped for Singing Quail again, seeing a covey of about 8 scurrying in the brush. On a side trail Alex eventually came upon a Crescent-chested Warbler, luckily only about 20 feet up instead of at its normal treetop level. 4 more lifers at la Tigra. We made a stop at Picacho Park just outside Tegucigalpa to try for a few more birds but lots of Sunday picnickers made that a bit too challenging, so we headed to a delicious steak lunch while watching the World Cup and then to the airport for our 3PM Sosa Airlines flight to La Ceiba. There is an airport departure fee of about US 2 per person, which requires paying the fee, getting the passports reviewed, and then doing it all again at the gate. I guess it keeps a bunch of people working. The flight was an hour late, and of course no one was around to tell us what was going on. So the total of 12 passengers just stood around and eventually they opened a door and we walked to the plane. If it was not for the locals being as confused as us, I would have been sure we missed the flight. Anyway, it was a smooth flight around big storm clouds, and we were met at the airport by a rep from Pico Bonito. There are lots of guys intercepting you in the baggage claim area asking “Pico Bonito?” as if they are with the lodge, because they see the lodge rep is there, but they just want a tip to carry your bag the ten feet out the door. The drive to the lodge only took 15 minutes, and within one minute of our arrival a big storm came in. We made it to our room nice and dry thanks to a super-sized lodge umbrella, and later enjoyed a great dinner on this, our 18th wedding anniversary.
Monday June 23. The rain had stopped around midnight and the day was bright, clear, with no wind. After breakfast we went off with our guide, Santos, looking forward to great birding. But it was not to be. Although spending five hours on the loop trail, where Santos (and our previous guide, Alex) said we should find many of our target birds, by noon we had found exactly zero. The only birds seen were common species. The highlight was hearing the call of one of our target birds, and tracking it down only to find it was the tape of another guide! This was a great disappointment because we have no “plan B”, all we can do is try the same trail again, and hope we get different results. After lunch and a short break, we went to a staked-out Vermiculated Screech-owl family and later got views of a noisy Little Tinamou, both lifers. Both the owl and tinamou are common here, and ones we expected to see, but after our unproductive morning we were pleased to at least see them today. We spoke to the guides from VENT, and also some of their tour participants, but they had not even gone up the loop trail and so could not help us with what we might find there.
Tuesday June 24. After breakfast we again went with Santos on the loop trail, this time more or less heading straight to the top. It was only when we passed the level we reached yesterday that we found a small group of Eye-ringed Flatbills. Almost at the top we heard a calling Tody Motmot, and after quite a runaround we eventually got great views of this mini-gem. Reaching the top, we heard a Central American Screech-owl, which Santos eventually found – even when he pointed it out, we almost could not see this tiny bird, smaller than all of the surrounding leaves. We then proceeded beyond the top of the loop trail onto the “Tangle Trail”, which is not part of the formal trail network. We still had several targets that only live at the top to see, so we spent another hour here before heading back at noon without seeing anything new. It looks as if yet another trip to the top of the loop trail may be in the cards. In the late afternoon we made a return trip to the lower parts of the loop trail, but saw nothing of note. We picked up 3 lifers at Pico Bonito today.
Wednesday June 25. We left the lodge at 4AM to make the 3-hour drive southeast near the city of Olanchito, where there is a small remnant of dry forest / scrub desert. Along the way we stopped at some fields and scoped a Double-striped Thick-knee. After a quick breakfast stop, we arrived at the area at about 7:30. Within five minutes, Marlene had spotted a perched Honduran Emerald, the key target bird and Honduras’ only endemic. We eventually had multiple views of the hummer, living among the cactus. We also had nice views of Nutting’s Flycatcher and White-lored Gnatcatcher. By 9AM it was already quite warm, and having seen all target birds we opted to return to the lodge for lunch. At 2PM we headed out to the loop trail again, but as before did not see anything of note. However, at dinner, the guide of another group, Michael Carmody, was nice enough to give us some specific info on where he had seen some of our target birds, so we are optimistic our luck on the loop trail will change. 4 lifers today on the morning driving trip.
Thursday June 26. The aforementioned optimism proved unfounded. After looking again unsuccessfully for Lovely Cotinga at dawn, we had our breakfast and picked up a packed lunch to make a full day on the loop trail. After hearing and searching without luck for Slaty-breasted Tinamou, another guide (Alex, from our previous trip to LaTigra) passed us and mentioned they had seen two of them just back down the path. And our guide did not believe that the other group had repeatedly seen Scaly-throated Leaftosser, suggesting maybe they saw a foliage-gleaner instead! We insisted he look anyway. Despite our repeated efforts to search for the leaftosser where the other group saw it, we were not successful, but it did not appear he was convinced either. This took all morning. Just before lunch, we did see a male Black-throated Shrike-Tanager, our only lifer for the day. The guide also made what I felt was a half-hearted effort for Tawny-faced Quail, another bird seen by the other group. While trying again for the leaftosser, the guide’s iPod ran out of power! So we ate our lunch and sat for two hours while the guide ran down, charged the iPod, and came back. He had left us his backup iPod (which only had limited calls) but it too ran out of power within ten minutes so we had little to do than sit around, not exactly what we envisioned when we took our lunch to maximize our birding time on the trail. He got back about 3PM, so we tried for the leaftosser using a new recording on the recharged iPod and this time we got a response but did not get looks. On the way back down we also heard tinamous again but no sightings. All in all, a very discouraging day – we have now spent 3.5 days on the loop trail and have only seen 4 of our target forest birds, while the other group came in for 1.5 days and saw 10 of them. Our package here includes two side trips that we have cancelled today in order to keep trying – as noted earlier, this is the only trail – but the forecast is for rain tomorrow all day. Despite this being a wonderful lodge, we are here for birding and on that account it has been a bust so far.
Friday June 27. Good news- no rain. Bad news – no birds, and another equipment malfunction. A pre-breakfast trip to the viewing tower gave a very long-distance view of Lovely Cotinga that perched for about 30 seconds and then disappeared. The turquoise color made the ID possible, though it was so far away that, with bins, it was not possible to even tell if we were seeing the front or the back of the bird. After breakfast we again headed up the loop trail, where we again heard but did not see Slaty-breasted Tinamou. As we decided to head farther up to try for the Scaly-fronted Leaftosser, Santos told us the iPod with that call was frozen, so he had to go back to the lodge to get a replacement. So once again we sat for an hour doing nothing but hoping a tinamou would wander by (it didn’t). But the iPod fiasco may not have been critical because when Santos returned and we went to the previous day’s leaftosser location, we got no response. We checked several other likely spots but again nothing. Odd how, 2 days previously, the birds were reacting strongly to the other group’s tapes but today we had nothing. On the way back down we again heard the calls of tinamous but no sightings. And we saw nothing at all today that had not been seen on other days, so we told Santos we were done with his services and bid him “Adios”. In the late afternoon, we made a brief trip back up to the tinamou and leaftosser spots with the same result – no leaftosser response, and lots of calls of tinamous (some quite close) without seeing any.
Saturday June 28. This was our last day at Pico Bonito, so we had the morning to try yet again on the loop trail for our remaining target birds. First stop was the viewing tower to try for a closer view of cotingas, no luck there; then back to the place where the tinamou were calling the previous afternoon. We heard some distant calls but could not get any to approach. After an hour or so we moved farther up to explore dry gullies where the leaftosser might be. At the very first stop, we played the call and a bird shot out and perched briefly, but long enough for us to clearly ID it as a Scaly-throated Leaftosser! Finally. We then spent another couple of hours trying to get a view of tinamou but none were close at all. After lunch, we left for San Pedro Sula where we would stay overnight before catching our flight early the next morning. The staff at Pico Bonito said they knew where we were staying – I had not recalled telling them, but figured I must have. Wrong assumption, as the driver took us to the wrong hotel. We then spent two hours as he tried to find our correct hotel – despite having the name, address, and phone number, he insisted on simply stopping and asking people if they knew of it. Not surprisingly, we got some wrong info before I finally went into a hotel and asked them to tell our driver where our hotel was. That worked, we arrived at the Clarion Suites Meditteraneo at 7PM. The scene there was like Fawlty Towers. Although we had a pre-paid reservation, the desk staff had no clue. They riffed through stacks of paper (no computers?), looked at our confirmation, passports, etc., endlessly, and finally sent us to a room. But that room had not been cleaned. So off to another room. Then to the restaurant where it was only us, the waitress, and the dead flies on the window sill. This is rated the #1 hotel in San Pedro Sula on TripAdvisor and if I was not sure I was at the right hotel, I’d say we surely were at a wrong place based on our experience.
Sunday June 29. Off to the airport at 4AM. Although the desk staff said they’d have a car ready for us, of course neither the same desk staff nor the car was there in the morning. But we did get one quickly, arrived at the airport by 5AM. There is a separate international departure tax of $ 39.72 per person, even though if you pay $40 you get no change. This again involves much paperwork, stapling, reviewing, etc. Then you fill out a Customs form you give to a guy who does not even look at it. The Dunkin’ Donuts, the only place open in the check-in area, does a booming business but did not open until 6AM. The flight went without problems. On arrival in Miami, we faced a new and promising development. They have self-serve kiosks where you scan your passport, they take your photo and ask some questions (not surprisingly, they already know the flight you came in on), and you get a receipt. Apparently some get a free pass, while others are either randomly checked or may have some problem, because mine was fine but Marlene had to go through the passport line. That was quick and cursory. But the time saved gets used up waiting for the luggage, and then there was a long line for the Customs check. So the long passport line had simply been replaced by the long Customs line. For the first time ever, we were waved through an express security line without having to take our computer out, and they even allowed Marlene to carry a bottle of water (the agent said to simply say “to take pills”). So the TSA staff does seem to be exploring ways to process the passengers a bit more sensibly. The temperature upon arrival in Miami was 97 F, warmer than any time in Honduras! Off to our final connection and we were home.
Lodging / Birding Sites.
The Clarion Hotel in Copan is very nice and highly recommended. Although for two of the three nights we were the only guests, they had full staff and kept the restaurant open. Only two minor points. The first night, we had a noisy family right next to us and the rooms have zero sound-proofing. So, try to avoid that. Second, they normally do not turn on the hot water until 6PM, so if you get back before then you may need to ask them to turn it on for you. The main ruins are about a mile away, and there are smaller ruins right at the hotel location. We had some nice birds right in the hotel garden. www.clarionhotel.com/hotel-copan_ruinas-honduras-HN007
In Copan, we first went to the south, through fields and up into mountains, seeing different birds along the way. In this direction we quickly left behind houses and only had a few farms and small coffee –growing areas around. The second day we went north, never really leaving civilization. Our main birding site was a coffee plantation but we saw little this day. Altogether, in two days, we saw 9 life birds, all the first day. Several of these we only saw here, so the trip was worthwhile.
Note that the town of Copan Ruinas is in the state of Copan, and the Copan ruins are outside of the town. So a reference to “Copan” can be ambiguous. The town of Copan Ruinas is nice, with a typical town square, but it is also the area where a high percentage of cocaine intended for the USA passes through. We were told even the locals do not venture out after dark. There is only one main road in, from San Pedro Sula, and the last 50 km or so is very winding and can be dangerous because drivers pass anywhere. We encountered military checkpoints every 10 or so miles, but we were mostly waved through without delay. To get to our next stop, Panacam, we basically retraced our route back to San Pedro Sula and then south on the main road.
In Panacam, we stayed at the park lodge. Panacam is an acronym for the park name, which we were told is run by the army and there are soldiers everywhere. There is one main trail which is a 5-mile loop, but it is the first 1.5 miles that holds the main target, the Green-throated Mountain-gem (which we did not see). This part of the trail is almost all uphill with endless stairs and steps. We also did some birding around the lodge and in nearby fields. The rooms are in multi-unit cabins. Ours was the farthest from the main building and did not have Wi-Fi though the main building did. At 9PM we had a family move in right next door – there must be 50 rooms here, and they are put next door to us! Go figure. We only birdied here one afternoon and briefly the next morning but the 3 lifers we saw here we did not see elsewhere so again this was a useful stop. Most people stay here at least two nights because the nearby lake is a bonanza of water birds and shore birds, plus raptors. But most of those we can see right at home in Florida so we moved on. www.panacamlodge.com/?lang=en
In Tegucigalpa, we stayed at the Picacho Suites for a night while visiting La Tigra National Park. The hotel is a bit run-down and needs maintenance. The Picacho Suites was until recently the Copantl Hotel, hence: www.copantl.com/picacho. We saw great birds at La Tigra and I can honestly say we would have missed almost all of them except for Alex’s sharp ears and eyes. Several times he pointed out birds to us that we could not hear even when we were very close to them. There is a small visitor center and the foreigner admission fee is, I believe, $15 per person. There is a main road that used to be access to the silver mines that were active here until the 1950s. The top of the road is where some high-altitude hummers, in particular the Wine-throated, can be seen. We did not see any on our trip, however. There are several side trails as well, and along these we saw lots of nice birds plus there are some resident confiding Resplendent Quetzals. We ended up seeing 17 lifers here, and since this was our only cloud forest location it is not surprising that most of the lifers were only seen here.
The Lodge at Pico Bonito. This is a luxury lodge, with very nice rooms, gorgeous grounds, gourmet food, and outrageous prices. Here are some specific birding-related comments. There is one main trail here, called the Loop Trail, with a few side trails. The Loop Trail goes to the highest point in the trail system, and several of the specialties can only be seen at the highest part. An informal extension of the Loop Trail, called the Tangle Trail, was poorly maintained and we only stayed on it for about 100 meters. There are lots of steps on the Loop Trail, but the trail is nice with the exception of dozens of rotted steps with pieces of metal rebar sticking up. It would take no effort at all to fix them, and I was surprised they were not fixed considering this is the only main trail and another guest told us she had tripped badly over one. There are hummingbird feeders, but only 4 or 5 common species were coming in. A few nest boxes have been placed around the lodge and trails, in an effort to get toucans and aracaris to nest. According to the resident naturalist, James Adams, he has been trying to get photos and videos of nesting toucans and hopes that these boxes will give him that opportunity. During our visit, one Keel-billed Toucan family was nesting in a box (a toucan chick is just too cute for words)and Masked Tityras were bringing nesting material into another. Aracaris were nesting in a natural cavity on the grounds. There is a bird list on-line, but it lists birds seen “or likely to be seen” not only at the lodge but also in the adjacent park, and also on the side trips. So it is not clear what can be seen where – for example, seeing Honduran Emerald is a 8-hour side trip. Many of the specialties are sea-sonal – for example Blue-crowned Chlorophonia – but are still marked as “common” even though they are long-gone in June. Others, notably their signature bird, Lovely Cotinga, become much more difficult to see after March, as they tend to move about singly. We struggled to see one. I had sent an e-mail to James Adams, who let me know which birds we were likely to see during our visit, but that proved optimistic. During our 5-days of birding, we did not see several of the resident birds listed as “fairly common”. So the on-line bird list is in my opinion not very helpful. The peak season here is Jan-Mar when seasonal birds are here and others are apparently more visible. Although June is “rainy season”, we did not have much rain at all during our visit so that was not a big factor. We signed up on a package deal that included some side trips we ended up cancelling in order to try to see the birds we were missing on the property itself. We had been told that if we did not go on one or more trips, we could apply that to other charges. But on the last day, we were told those trips were non-refundable. As compensation, they gave us a free lunch and later offered us a free night’s stay on a future trip (which we will not be taking). Big deal, we ended up losing a couple hundred dollars on that exchange, which is pretty typical of the “nickel-and-dime” approach they take here.
I cannot say June is a bad birding time at Pico Bonito, because while we were there another group came in for 1.5 days. They had two outside guides and saw almost all of the target birds we were trying for. We birded the trails for 4.5 days and saw only 8 of them. So our decision to rely on the resident guide was maybe not the best idea. Our guide had the tapes, the equipment (which twice broke down), and knew the calls, but we did not see the expected birds which is the bottom line. The food service was notoriously slow, a real frustration. We pre-ordered our breakfast the night before, but it still took 30 minutes to arrive (for basic American breakfast). The breakfast opened at 6, which meant food at 6:30, finish at 6:45 (includes waiting for the bill) and dawn was at 5:15, so that was a lot of lost prime birding time. The evening meal could take 2 hours, and we heard guests simply cancel their orders after a long wait. Despite several miles of long, hot hikes each day, we still managed to gain weight due to the wonderful food. Overall, despite luxuriant surroundings, we were disappointed in The Lodge at Pico Bonito. We spent six nights here, and saw only 8 lifers on the Pico Bonito grounds and 4 on the Honduran Emerald side trip. Pico Bonito is best considered a luxury eco-lodge where one can do some birding, than it is a birding lodge.
For independent reviews of all lodging, I suggest referring to TripAdvisor, www.tripadvisor.com.
Most of the birds listed are those we saw, with a few marked as “only heard” so a reader will know they can potentially be seen. Birds are listed as being at specific locations. “Pico Bonito” means on the loop trail unless otherwise noted. As we were looking for specific birds, we did not go to sites where shore and lake birds were common and certainly walked past quite a few birds that went unidentified. “Common” means seen several times on different days.
Great Tinamou (Tinamus major) – only heard, several times, at Pico Bonito.
Little Tinamou (Crypturellus soui) – near the butterfly museum at Pico Bonito.
Slaty-breasted Tinamou (Crypturellus boucardi) – only heard, nearly every day and often close, at Pico Bonito. Maddeningly, groups walking in front of us and behind us saw the birds.
Muscovy Duck (Cairina moschata) – common around Panacam.
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) - common
Plain Chachalaca (Ortalis vetula) – at Copan
Crested Guan (Penelope purpurascens) – at Panacam.
Black-throated Bobwhite (Colinus nigrogularis) – a pair spotted in a field by Marlene at Copan. The male and female are quite different, fortunately the male has a white breast that makes it easier to spot.
Singing Quail (Dactylortyx thoracicus) – a covey of 8 or so at La Tigra; responded noisily to tape but stayed well-hidden. According to Alex, in Feb-Mar they can be lured right onto the trail.
Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus) - common
Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura) - common
Swallow-tailed Kite (Elanoides forficatus) – at Copan
Roadside Hawk (Rupornis magnirostris) - common
White Hawk (Pseudastur albicollis) – at Copan and Pico Bonito
Ruddy Crake (Laterallus ruber) – a family in reeds along the road in Copan while we had breakfast
Double-striped Thick-knee (Burhinus bistriatus) – one scoped in a grassy field near the Honduran Emerald site. A very cool-looking bird.
Rock Pigeon (Columba livia) - common
White-crowned Pigeon (Patagioenas leucocephala) - in the west
Red-billed Pigeon (Patagioenas flavirostris) - common
Band-tailed Pigeon (Patagioenas fasciata) - common
Short-billed Pigeon (Patagioenas nigrirostris) – common at Pico Bonito
White-winged Dove (Zenaida asiatica) - common
Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) - common
Common Ground-Dove (Columbina passerina) - common
Ruddy Ground-Dove (Columbina talpacoti) – one at Pico Bonito
White-tipped Dove (Leptotila verreauxi) - common
Gray-headed Dove (Leptotila plumbeiceps) – at Panacam and Pico Bonito
Gray-chested Dove (Leptotila cassini) – at Pico Bonito and La Tigra
White-faced Quail-Dove (Geotrygon albifacies) – a lucky quick look at a scurrying bird while watch-ing the Singing Quail at La Tigra
Squirrel Cuckoo (Piaya cayana) - common
Lesser Roadrunner (Geococcyx velox) – one alongside the road near the Honduran Emerald site
Groove-billed Ani (Crotophaga sulcirostris) - common
Vermiculated Screech-Owl (Megascops guatemalae) – two adults and a chick at Pico Bonito. The guides knew the birds were around but had not seen them for a week, so we were lucky they were re-located.
Central American Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium griseiceps) – at the very top of the loop trail at Pico Boni-to. The call is just like the Ferruginous Pygmy-owl’s, but only 10-12 notes. The Ferruginous call is an endless series of hoots and is easily whistled to try to attract birds. This bird is even smaller than the tiny Ferruginous.
Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium brasilianum) - common
Mottled Owl (Ciccaba virgata) – one perched at Pico Bonito, always on the same tree
Black-and-white Owl (Ciccaba nigrolineata) – heard nightly at Pico Bonito
Great Potoo (Nyctibius grandis) – another one with a consistent perch at Pico Bonito
White-chinned Swift (Cypseloides cryptus) – we saw a large flock at La Tigra at mid-day; another group saw two at Pico Bonito at dusk.
Chestnut-collared Swift (Streptoprocne rutila) – at Pico Bonito
White-collared Swift (Streptoprocne zonaris) - common
White-necked Jacobin (Florisuga mellivora) – at Pico Bonito
Long-billed Hermit (Phaethornis longirostris) – common, at feeders at Pico Bonito
Stripe-throated Hermit (Phaethornis striigularis) - common
Brown Violetear (Colibri delphinae) – at feeders at Pico Bonito
Purple-crowned Fairy (Heliothryx barroti) – at Pico Bonito
Magnificent Hummingbird (Eugenes fulgens) – at La Tigra
Plain-capped Starthroat (Heliomaster constantii) – at La Tigra
Green-breasted Mountain-gem (Lampornis sybillae) – at La Tigra
Violet Sabrewing (Campylopterus hemileucurus) – at feeders at La Tigra and Panacam
Crowned Woodnymph (Thalurania colombica) – at feeders at La Tigra
White-bellied Emerald (Amazilia candida) – at Panacam
Honduran Emerald (Amazilia luciae) – common at Honduran Emerald site
Azure-crowned Hummingbird (Amazilia cyanocephala) – at Copan and La Tigra
Rufous-tailed Hummingbird (Amazilia tzacatl) – at Panacam
Cinnamon Hummingbird (Amazilia rutila) – at Copan
White-eared Hummingbird (Hylocharis leucotis) – at Copan and La Tigra
Resplendent Quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno) – at La Tigra on the La Esperanza trail. There are even wooden viewing benches there so they must be reliable.
Slaty-tailed Trogon (Trogon massena) – at Pico Bonito
Mountain Trogon (Trogon mexicanus) – at La Tigra
Tody Motmot (Hylomanes momotula) – at Pico Bonito. We often heard its call but only once did it decide to investigate. Always on the move and preferring brush, it was hard to get a good look.
Blue-crowned Motmot (Momotus coeruliceps) – at Copan and La Tigra
Keel-billed Motmot (Electron carinatum) – at Panacam, viewed right from the deck
Turquoise-browed Motmot (Eumomota superciliosa) - common
Collared Aracari (Pteroglossus torquatus) – common; nesting at Pico Bonito
Keel-billed Toucan (Ramphastos sulfuratus) – common; nesting at Pico Bonito
Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus) – common, nesting at Picacho Park
Golden-fronted Woodpecker (Melanerpes aurifrons) - common
Smoky-brown Woodpecker (Picoides fumigatus) - common
Golden-olive Woodpecker (Colaptes rubiginosus) - common
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) – ssp mexicanoides, known as Guatemalan Flicker, at La Tigra
Chestnut-colored Woodpecker (Celeus castaneus) – at Pico Bonito
Lineated Woodpecker (Dryocopus lineatus) – at Copan and la Tigra
Pale-billed Woodpecker (Campephilus guatemalensis) – at La Tigra
Laughing Falcon (Herpetotheres cachinnans) - common
Bat Falcon (Falco rufigularis) – at Copan and Pico Bonito
Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao) – at Copan
Brown-hooded Parrot (Pyrilia haematotis) - common
White-fronted Parrot (Amazona albifrons) - common
Great Antshrike (Taraba major) - common
Black-faced Antthrush (Formicarius analis) – at Pico Bonito
Tawny-throated Leaftosser (Sclerurus mexicanus) – at La Tigra
Scaly-throated Leaftosser (Sclerurus guatemalensis) – at Pico Bonito; appeared to prefer dry gullies, responded to the song but not to the contact calls. Looks quite a bit like a foliage-gleaner.
Wedge-billed Woodcreeper (Glyphorynchus spirurus) - common
Strong-billed Woodcreeper (Xiphocolaptes promeropirhynchus) – at La Tigra
Ivory-billed Woodcreeper (Xiphorhynchus flavigaster) – commonest forest sound at Pico Bonito
Spot-crowned Woodcreeper (Lepidocolaptes affinis) – at La Tigra
Tawny-winged Woodcreeper (Dendrocincla anabatina) – we only heard this at Pico Bonito; the bird seemed to have no interest at all in the taped call. It is listed as “fairly common” so we had high hopes.
Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner (Automolus ochrolaemus) – at La Tigra
Mountain Elaenia (Elaenia frantzii) – at La Tigra
Ochre-bellied Flycatcher (Mionectes oleagineus) – common at Pico Bonito
Paltry Tyrannulet (Zimmerius vilissimus) – at Copan
Slate-headed Tody-Flycatcher (Poecilotriccus sylvia) – this skulker gave us quite a runaround at Panacam. We eventually got fleeting views but after 15 seconds the bird lost interest in the tape.
Eye-ringed Flatbill (Rhynchocyclus brevirostris) – a small flock at Pico Bonito
Yellow-olive Flycatcher (Tolmomyias sulphurescens) – at Pico Bonito
White-throated Flycatcher (Empidonax albigularis) – one seen at La Tigra; Alex noted it was the first time he had seen one at such a high altitude.
Nutting's Flycatcher (Myiarchus nuttingi) – a couple seen at the Honduran Emerald site.
Great Crested Flycatcher (Myiarchus crinitus) - common
Brown-crested Flycatcher (Myiarchus tyrannulus) - common
Great Kiskadee (Pitangus sulphuratus) - common
Boat-billed Flycatcher (Megarynchus pitangua) - common
Social Flycatcher (Myiozetetes similis) - common
Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher (Myiodynastes luteiventris) - common
Piratic Flycatcher (Legatus leucophaius) – at Pico Bonito
Tropical Kingbird (Tyrannus melancholicus) - common
Lovely Cotinga (Cotinga amabilis) – this is the signature bird of Pico Bonito, on its logo; but it is only present in numbers in Jan-Mar, when apparently it is readily seen. At other times, the birds are in singles and tend to hide in distant trees. We had a couple of views, both so distant the ID was not certain without a scope, even though the bird is bright turquoise.
Red-capped Manakin (Ceratopipra mentalis) – both this and the following manakin were loudly calling and displaying at Pico Bonito; the clicking and wing-snapping were fun to hear and the birds themselves were brilliant.
White-collared Manakin (Manacus candei) – see above
Masked Tityra (Tityra semifasciata) – common, nesting at Pico Bonito
Tawny-crowned Greenlet (Hylophilus ochraceiceps) – at Pico Bonito
Rufous-browed Peppershrike (Cyclarhis gujanensis) - common
Black-throated Jay (Cyanolyca pumilo) – a rare sighting at La Tigra, where we initially thought it was a Bushy-crested Jay.
White-throated Magpie-Jay (Calocitta formosa) – at Copan
Brown Jay (Psilorhinus morio) – at Pico Bonito
Bushy-crested Jay (Cyanocorax melanocyaneus) - common
Gray-breasted Martin (Progne chalybea) - common
House Wren (Troglodytes aedon) - common
Rufous-browed Wren (Troglodytes rufociliatus) – we initially had only a skulking view but eventually one was seen well on the side of a tree, at La Tigra
Band-backed Wren (Campylorhynchus zonatus) – at La Tigra
Spot-breasted Wren (Thyrothorus maculipectus) – at Copan
Rufous-and-white Wren (Thryophilus rufalbus) – at Copan
Plain Wren (Cantorchilus modestus) - common
White-bellied Wren (Uropsila leucogastra) – at Pico Bonito
White-breasted Wood-Wren (Henicorhina leucosticta) - common
Long-billed Gnatwren (Ramphocaenus melanurus) - common
White-lored Gnatcatcher (Polioptila albiloris) – common at Honduran Emerald site
Brown-backed Solitaire (Myadestes occidentalis) – at Copan
Slate-colored Solitaire (Myadestes unicolor) – at La Tigra
Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush (Catharus frantzii) – a lucky find as it hopped on the trail at La Tigra
Black Thrush (Turdus infuscatus) – at La Tigra
Mountain Thrush (Turdus plebejus) – at La Tigra
Clay-colored Thrush (Turdus grayi) – at La Tigra
Blue-and-white Mockingbird (Melanotis hypoleucus) – a surprisingly skulking bird, seen in fir trees at La Tigra
Crescent-chested Warbler (Oreothlypis superciliosa) – brilliantly located by its call by Alex at La Tigra
Grace's Warbler (Setophaga graciae) – common at Panacam and La Tigra
Rufous-capped Warbler (Basileuterus rufifrons) – at Copan
Slate-throated Redstart (Myioborus miniatus) – at La Tigra
Black-throated Shrike-Tanager (Lanio aurantius) – at Pico Bonito; often a flock bird
Crimson-collared Tanager (Ramphocelus sanguinolentus) – from the deck at Panacam
Passerini's Tanager (Ramphocelus passerinii) – at Panacam
Blue-gray Tanager (Thraupis episcopus) - common
Yellow-winged Tanager (Thraupis abbas) - common
Palm Tanager (Thraupis palmarum) - common
Golden-hooded Tanager (Tangara larvata) – at Copan
Red-legged Honeycreeper (Cyanerpes cyaneus) – common
Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer (Diglossa baritula) – at La Tigra
Blue-black Grassquit (Volatinia jacarina) - common
Variable Seedeater (Sporophila corvina) - common
White-collared Seedeater (Sporophila torqueola) - common
Yellow-faced Grassquit (Tiaris olivaceus) - common
Grayish Saltator (Saltator coerulescens) – at Copan and Panacam
Buff-throated Saltator (Saltator maximus) – at Copan
Black-headed Saltator (Saltator atriceps) – at Copan
Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch (Arremon brunneinucha) – at La Tigra
White-naped Brush-Finch (Atlapetes albinucha) – at La Tigra
Rusty Sparrow (Aimophila rufescens) - common
Prevost's Ground-Sparrow (Melozone biarcuata) – one at Panacam; a beautiful sparrow, likes fields with 2-3 feet of scrub
Rufous-collared Sparrow (Zonotrichia capensis) - common
Hepatic Tanager (Piranga flava) – at Panacam – at Panacam
Flame-colored Tanager (Piranga bidentata) – at La Tigra
White-winged Tanager (Piranga leucoptera) – at Pico Bonito
Red-crowned Ant-Tanager (Habia rubica) – at Pico Bonito
Red-throated Ant-Tanager (Habia fuscicauda) – at Pico Bonito
Blue-black Grosbeak (Cyanocompsa cyanoides) – at Pico Bonito
Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna) – near Honduran Emerald site
Melodious Blackbird (Dives dives) - common
Great-tailed Grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus) - common
Bronzed Cowbird (Molothrus aeneus) - common
Yellow-backed Oriole (Icterus chrysater) – at Copan, seemed to prefer the high pine forest
Streak-backed Oriole (Icterus pustulatus) – at Copan
Spot-breasted Oriole (Icterus pectoralis) - common
Altamira Oriole (Icterus gularis) - common
Yellow-billed Cacique (Amblycercus holosericeus) – at Copan
Chestnut-headed Oropendola (Psarocolius wagleri) - common
Montezuma Oropendola (Psarocolius montezuma) - common
Scrub Euphonia (Euphonia affinis) – at Copan
Yellow-crowned Euphonia (Euphonia luteicapilla) – at Copan
Yellow-throated Euphonia (Euphonia hirundinacea) – at La Tigra
Olive-backed Euphonia (Euphonia gouldi) – at Pico Bonito
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) - common
There were also a few other birds we expected / hoped to see, but did not. In Copan, Buffy-crowned Wood-partridge is common at the coffee plantation we visited on our second day there, but we did not even hear any. Also in Copan, Black-headed Siskin and Highland Guan are found in pine forests, and we visited several, to no avail. One bird we tried for and missed at La Tigra, and later at Picacho Park, was Black-vented Oriole. At Pico Bonito, another group saw Tawny-faced Quail but we never had any reply to the tapes. Others we tried for there but never heard were Pheasant Cuckoo (our guide said he thought he may have heard one once), Yellow-eared Toucanet, Gray-headed Piprites, and Stub-tailed Spadebill.