Honduras: Pico Bonito Lodge Feb 14—21, 2010

Posted by David Wolf

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David Wolf

David Wolf is a senior member of the VENT staff and one of our most experienced tour leaders. After birding the U.S. and Mexico for over a decade, an interest in the wildli...

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There couldn't be a more fitting symbol for The Lodge at Pico Bonito than the Lovely Cotinga. As the name implies, this bird is extreme in its beauty. The adult male is iridescent turquoise-blue, complemented with violet-purple patches on the chin and abdomen, a color scheme that flashes brightly from a mile away. Yet for all of its brilliance it can be hard to detect, spending much of the day sitting quietly inside the forest, occasionally foraging for fruit in the canopy. Its distribution is limited to northern Central America, and even here it is localized and typically uncommon. The Lodge is much the same—uncommonly beautiful, yet quietly tucked away at the edge of the rainforest of scenic Pico Bonito National Park. It is elegant in its simplicity, yet has all of the amenities one could hope for, including excellent food. This was our headquarters for a productive week of birding Honduras, and near-daily sightings of the cotinga confirmed that the two are much alike—simply spectacular!

Our first day here dawned sunny and warm and we decided to "go for it." That is, head to the nearby observation tower right away to watch for the mythical cotinga. We were not to be disappointed, as within the hour the first males showed up on the hillside opposite us, sitting on top of the canopy in a blaze of color before moving down the valley to forage, while a female-plumaged bird perched next to the tower to eye us before moving on. Such would be the pattern throughout the week, as we had near-daily sightings of the birds, sometimes on our walks down the road or right above the cabins, and once even disrupting our lunch when a male appeared at the back of the garden.

Throughout all of this cotinga-watching we found ourselves entertained by other interesting tropical birds around the grounds, from the large parrots, toucans, aracaris, and oropendolas to hummingbirds, look-alike flycatchers, wintering wood warblers, and several species of orioles. After such luck with the cotinga, that first afternoon the hikers in the group climbed "the hill" to seek the other extreme specialty of the region. It proved to be a slog up-slope through a quiet forest, but as we sat and rested at the top of the climb, it wasn't long before we heard the distant nasal honk of the fabled Keel-billed Motmot. Like magic, we soon had a pair sitting side by side, as we peered into the forest and positioned the scopes for better viewing through the layers of leaves. And then, as if to say "you've worked hard, now look at me more closely," one of the birds flew right towards us and landed in the open not 25 feet away. Incredible!

Our luck shifted the next day, as a "norther" moved into the region, bringing heavy rain. Between showers we watched a fruiting fig tree that was attracting a parade of tanagers and other birds, and we studied woodcreepers and flycatchers from the shelter of the Lancetilla Visitor's Center, but by that evening we had all had enough rain. So, the next day we made our excursion to "the dry side," in the rainshadow of the mountains in the Aguan Valley. Here the gray skies worked to our advantage, keeping temperatures cool in this semiarid zone. An impromptu roadside stop produced so many birds, including Turquoise-browed Motmot, several kingfishers, and a swarm of small flycatchers and warblers, that we didn't reach the thorn-forest until mid-morning. This unique habitat is the home of the only bird endemic to Honduras, the Honduran Emerald, and with a little persistence we all had great looks at this unique hummingbird, known from only a few sites. After this the weather began to moderate, as we explored the coastal wetlands at the Cuero y Salado Reserve (wasn't the little train trip fun?), found soaring raptors and swarms of Neotropical migrants in the Rio Bonito area, and tracked down more of the forest birds around the lodge, including such goodies as four species of trogons, Chestnut-colored and Pale-billed woodpeckers, Red-capped Manakin, and last, but certainly not least, a brilliant pair of Blue-crowned Chlorophonias feeding in the mistletoe amidst three species of euphonias. All too soon it was time to leave this tropical paradise.