Honduras: The Lodge at Pico Bonito Feb 11—18, 2012

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 its 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. The Lodge is much the same—uncommonly beautiful and 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. This was our headquarters for a productive week of birding, and regular sightings of the cotinga confirmed that the two are much alike—simply spectacular!

Our first day here dawned cloudy and warm and we awoke to a parade of interesting tropical birds right outside the lodge restaurant, from large toucans and oropendolas to woodpeckers, flycatchers, orioles, and tanagers. After an active hour 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 a few minutes a male was spotted on the hillside opposite us, sitting on top of the canopy in a blaze of color before moving down the valley to forage. Such would be the pattern throughout the week.

Our luck shifted by late morning, as a persistent rain moved into the area, so we decided to make our excursion to "the dry side," in the rainshadow of the mountains, the next day. Here the gray skies worked to our advantage, keeping temperatures cool in this strange semiarid region of dry thornscrub and tall cacti. This unique habitat is the home of the only bird endemic to Honduras, a medium-sized blue and green hummingbird known as the Honduran Emerald. After a five-minute walk into prime habitat, and a few toots imitating the call of the Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, a male emerald popped up next to us. It took some time before we all had good looks at this active bird, but the birds kept coming in over and over, and in the end we saw them a dozen times or more. Finally, as we threatened to leave, one perched for great views in the scope. By now a pygmy-owl was calling loudly nearby, and we soon had it spotted in a window through the dense scrub. Cute? Fierce? Whichever, this was the first of many sightings of the owl on the trip, and they proved to be a real favorite, often sitting out in full view and attracting numerous other birds to mob them.

Other excursions afield took us to a variety of different habitats. The quaint train and boat trip at Cuero y Salado Refuge produced a long study of an adult Bare-throated Tiger-Heron, with its intricate patterning, but even more exciting was a male Boat-billed Heron guarding a female from intruders by raising his wild crest, jumping at the other birds, and uttering his bizarre calls. Lancetilla produced a sparkling Rufous-tailed Jacamar for all to enjoy, our first trogons, and a chance to watch an active nesting colony of oropendolas. Back at The Lodge, a pair of stunning Chestnut-colored Woodpeckers showed up regularly, Turquoise-browed Motmots were a favorite, we found several Great Potoos at their day roosts, and clown-like Barred Antshrikes provided comic relief while we sorted through swarms of wintering warblers (finding a rare Cape May amongst others). All too soon our week was over and it was time to leave this tropical paradise.