Honduras: The Lodge at Pico Bonito Feb 20—27, 2013

Posted by Kevin Zimmer

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Kevin Zimmer

Kevin Zimmer has authored three books and numerous papers dealing with field identification and bird-finding in North America. His book, Birding in the American West: A Han...

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If one were forced to name a “signature bird” to identify with The Lodge at Pico Bonito, it would come down to a toss-up between the stunningly beautiful Lovely Cotinga and the enigmatic Keel-billed Motmot. Both of these iconic species are among the most sought-after specialties of Central America, and in a short period of time, Pico Bonito has become synonymous with each. But that is not to say that either species is necessarily easy, at least not in all seasons. The cotinga is much easier when its preferred food trees are fruiting near the Lodge. Such was the case this trip, when we saw Lovely Cotingas on each of the three days that we devoted to birding the Lodge property. Our first panic-inducing male was spotted from atop Tower #1, and offered only distant scope views. But before leaving the tower, we were treated to close studies of two different males that came in and perched briefly, allowing more soul-satisfying views. Before that first morning was out, we had seen 3 more males, for a total of 6. But that paled in comparison to the 15 seen a couple of days later at a fruiting aguacatillo tree just off the entrance road, and to the 6 males and 2 females in view simultaneously in that same tree on our last day!

 
Lovely Cotinga, The Lodge at Pico Bonito, Honduras, February 2013

Lovely Cotinga, The Lodge at Pico Bonito, Honduras, February 2013— Photo: Kevin Zimmer

The motmot is a horse of a different color. It seems to prefer primary forest, leaving the second-growth and edge, in this region at least, to its cousins the Blue-crowned and Turquoise-browed motmots. In this part of Honduras, getting into primary forest generally means a climb, because most of the remaining forest is in the Pico Bonito National Park, whose jagged peaks rise steeply from the abutting lowlands. On previous trips we had worked hard for the motmot, always succeeding in finding one or two, but never without a tough climb, and sometimes not without at least two attempts. This time, acting on tips from the Lodge staff, we tried an off-site location on our second afternoon, and struck paydirt on our first attempt, netting walk-off, scope-filling views of a most cooperative individual less than 15 minutes into our search!

With both the cotinga and the motmot comfortably in tow, we could sit back, relax, and take the other birds as they came for the rest of the tour. As usual, we were treated to first-rate accommodations, excellent food, and an attentive lodge staff. We also enjoyed the usual nice cross section of lowland Central American birds and Neotropical migrants (although numbers of the latter were seemingly much lower compared to previous years), all while experiencing nearly perfect weather.

 
Keel-billed Motmot, Rio Santiago Reserve, Honduras, February 2013

Keel-billed Motmot, Rio Santiago Reserve, Honduras, February 2013— Photo: Kevin Zimmer

Much of our birding was done right around the Lodge grounds, or along the entrance road. Hummingbird feeders off the back deck treated us to point-blank views of White-necked Jacobin, Violet-crowned Woodnymph, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, and Long-billed and Stripe-throated hermits. Noisy pairs of Great Kiskadees and Social Flycatchers constructed nests in plain view from the deck, and Black-cheeked Woodpeckers alternated with Yellow-winged Tanagers at the fruit feeders. Three Vermiculated Screech-Owls (two of them lovely rufous morphs) on daytime roosts were among the prizes on our first afternoon, while two different day-roosting Great Potoos gave us yet another night bird that didn’t require going out at night to see. A wild-crested Chestnut-colored Woodpecker near the butterfly garden on Day 3 (and another along the entrance road on Day 6) was a treat, as were the Collared Aracaries, Keel-billed Toucans, and noisy Brown Jays and Montezuma Oropendolas that seemed to be everywhere on the property. Rare scope views of a perched Bicolored Hawk along the entrance road on Day 6 were a true highlight, although the breathtakingly elegant pair of White Hawks that soared right over us that same morning was probably the bigger crowd-pleaser.

In between birding the Lodge grounds, we made a number of excursions to a variety of off-site locations, each with its own special set of birds. The entrance road to the Lancetilla Botanical Gardens produced lots of treats, from Rufous-tailed Jacamars and no fewer than 20 Black-headed Trogons to Cocoa Woodcreepers and scarlet-rumped Passerini’s Tanagers. An all-day excursion to the arid, rain-shadow thorn-forest of the Aguan Valley eventually produced the requisite good views of the Honduran Emerald, the only bird species endemic to Honduras, but not without subjecting your leader to at least low-level anxiety. Salvin’s (= Canivet’s) Emeralds were actually more common and conspicuous than usual, and we were treated to a number of other species typical of the dry forest, including White-fronted Parrot, Cinnamon Hummingbird, White-bellied Wren and White-lored Gnatcatcher. We particularly enjoyed our two afternoon visits to Rio Santiago, where we thrilled to a non-stop hummingbird show at the many feeders. There, we saw an amazing total of 10 species of hummingbirds (and hundreds of individuals), among them loads of spectacular Violet Sabrewings and Violet-crowned Woodnymphs, not to mention a sprinkling of species such as Band-tailed Barbthroat, Scaly-breasted Hummingbird, and Brown Violetear, that are much less frequently seen at feeding stations.

Vermiculated Screech-Owl (rufous morph), The Lodge at Pico Bonito, Honduras, February 2013

Vermiculated Screech-Owl (rufous morph), The Lodge at Pico Bonito, Honduras, February 2013— Photo: Kevin Zimmer

 

A morning at Cuero y Salado refuge allowed us the rare opportunity to bird off a train that would actually stop for such treats as Turquoise-browed Motmot, Spot-breasted Oriole, and Bare-throated Tiger-Heron, as well as a fascinating boat trip through some of the most beautiful mangrove forest I have ever seen, the latter replete with all five possible species of kingfishers, including a pair of American Pygmy Kingfishers. Other highlights from the boat trip included a Bat Falcon, a Sungrebe, a day-roosting Northern Potoo and Lesser Nighthawk, and another Bare-throated Tiger-Heron, as well as Proboscis Bats, Mantled Howler Monkey, and White-faced Capuchin Monkey to add taxonomic balance. That afternoon, we returned to Rio Santiago for some more fabulous hummingbird watching, and capped things off with a post-dinner owling excursion around the Lodge grounds. The owls were not in a particularly cooperative mood in the beginning, but those who hung in there ended up with nice views of both Mottled and Black-and-white owls.

All in all, it was a most enjoyable week of Central American birding, with a nice mix of typical tropical birds such as parrots, motmots, toucans, tanagers, hummingbirds, and oropendolas, along with an excellent assortment of wintering and migrant species that would soon be on their way north to breed in the U.S. and Canada. Along the way, we had close encounters with Honduras’ only endemic bird, as well as two of the most iconic and sought-after of Central American birds, in the form of the Lovely Cotinga and the Keel-billed Motmot. You all were a lot of fun, and I hope to see you again on future trips.