Honduras: Pico Bonito Lodge Feb 12—19, 2011

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 uncommon. The Lodge is much the same—uncommonly beautiful, 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 week of birding Honduras, and multiple sightings of the cotinga confirmed that the two are much alike—simply spectacular!

For the second year in a row, the weather this week was not what we expected, as a cool front ("friaje") moved into the region, bringing cloudy skies and considerable rain and mist our first two days, and generally cool temperatures. This worked to our advantage, however, keeping the birds active and conspicuous. Some of our most productive birding was right around the Lodge garden, where strategically placed piles of oil-palm nuts attracted a daily parade of visitors, from oropendolas, Black-headed Saltators, Black-cowled Orioles, and subtly-beautiful Yellow-winged Tanagers to abundant wintering migrants such as Wood Thrush, Gray Catbird, Magnolia Warbler, and Summer Tanager. Nearby, in the taller trees, we regularly spotted colorful larger species like White-crowned Parrots, Olive-throated Parakeets, Keel-billed Toucans, and Collared Aracaris, while the hummingbird feeders were continually abuzz with the activity of up to six species of these sprites. Perhaps most surprising were 4 or more incredibly tame Emerald Toucanets that came around daily to pick at the fruits of the Bactris palms, giving us prolonged close studies as they lethargically eyed us.

Excursions further afield took us to a variety of different habitats. After two days with rain we made a long day's trip to "the dry side," in the rainshadow of the mountains in the middle Aguan Valley. Here the gray skies worked to our advantage, keeping temperatures relatively cool for this semiarid zone. Impromptu roadside stops produced so many birds—including perched White-fronted Parrots, several kingfishers, and a swarm of small flycatchers and warblers—that we didn't reach the thorn forest until late morning. This unique habitat is the home of the only bird endemic to Honduras, the Honduran Emerald, and with considerable persistence we finally had great looks at this threatened hummingbird, known from only a very few sites in this one little country. The coastal wetlands at the Cuero y Salado Reserve yielded sightings like a ridiculous Boat-billed Heron, a perched Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture in direct comparison with a Turkey Vulture, an unexpected White-necked Puffbird teed-up in the swamp forest, multiple Bare-throated Tiger-Herons, and a family group of Spot-breasted Orioles, while our final morning produced soaring White Hawks, a pair of Slaty-tailed Trogons plucking fruit from a shrub at the forest edge, and swarms of Neotropical migrants in the Rio Bonito area.

On our last afternoon, the hard-hikers in the group climbed "the hill" to seek the other extreme specialty of the region. It proved to be a wet 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. With patience, a pair of birds magically appeared right in front of us at eye level, yielding scope studies of their every detail for over 15 minutes, an incredible finale to a great trip. All too soon it was time to leave this tropical paradise.