I can still remember the delicious taste of dinner on our first night at The Lodge at Pico Bonito way back at the beginning of March. I ordered the cacao-and-coffee-encrusted steak medallions and the combination of flavors was divine, though that dinner, like most of the meals I ate on my trip to Honduras, disappeared into my belly almost before it was put on the table. If one spends all day every day birding one builds up quite an appetite! And The Lodge at Pico Bonito, which is on the border of Pico Bonito National Park and in the middle of rain forest, is quite a place to both build up an appetite while birding and to sate said appetite once one is done birding. Or, one can always do what I did a couple of times while at Pico Bonito, which was birding while eating, the best of both worlds (though maybe a bit rude to one’s companions…good thing for me I was there with a bunch of birders!).
After the delicious dinner (and dessert) several of us went on a search for what everyone was calling a Guatemalan Screech Owl that I was a bit too embarrassed to admit my ignorance about and ask why it wasn’t in my field guide. Eventually, I figured out that the owl we were looking for has another common name, Vermiculated Screech Owl (and I was once again reminded to look at scientific names because if I had it would not have taken too much of a deductive leap to determine that Otus guatemalae is the Guatemalan Screech Owl).
Whatever the owl was called it was elusive at first. We were trying to use a tape to call the owl in, hoping to determine its location and get a light on the bird so we could all enjoy seeing it as well as hearing it. I was armed with my binoculars, as was pretty much everyone else, because we figured that even if the owl came in we would still need our optics for the kind of look we wanted. No one brought a camera because there is no way that an owl is going to come close enough to allow a decent shot with just a spotlight and flash.
So, of course, the owl came very close. In fact, it flew so close to Robert, who was holding the tape player over his head, that he felt the air from the owls’ wings on his face! But we still couldn’t find the owl. Eventually, after some folks had given up and went to bed to prepare for the next morning’s early start, the owl finally cooperated. And when I say cooperated, well, it perched at eye level about two meters away and sat there letting us admire its gorgeous and cryptic plumage. With my swaros I could see individual feather detail by the light of the spotlight, and could tell that this bird was due for a molt as the feather wear was quite extensive. That’s the way to get a life owl! And me without me camera…
Once the owl hunt was done Byron and I went back to the luxurious cabin (there are no other kinds of cabins at Pico Bonito) we were sharing and I don’t think either of us lasted more than five minutes before we were unconscious…but we both awoke in the wee hours of the morning when what sounded like all of the water in the world started falling on the roof. It was a heck of a downpour and it hadn’t let up by the time the alarm went off. This was somewhat worrisome because we had a trip to the mangrove swamps at Cuero y Salado Wildlife Refuge planned and neither of us thought a boat ride in a downpour would be much fun. Byron, more experienced in neotropical birding and weather than I, wisely stayed in bed while I headed for breakfast, rather dry under the umbrella that the lodge’s staff had placed outside of our cabin door sometime in the predawn hours. Of course, the ridiculous downpour put the kibosh on our day’s planned outing, but there was no way I was going to be left without birds.
Fortunately, just sitting on the porch of any of The Lodge at Pico Bonito’s buildings will allow one to appreciate at least some birds. And even very rainy days have occasional periods of less rain that allows for some exploration. So for the entire morning whenever it was raining hard I was on the porch watching birds (usually with a cup of delicious shade-grown coffee) and whenever it was raining less hard I was out wandering around looking for birds with one person or another. And, sometimes, the birds came to us:
Above is a Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, captured by Julie after it wandered indoors. It was a struggling, wiggling, tough little bird, but she managed to hold it long enough for a shot or two before letting it go.
Of course, when I went inside to briefly check my email and was paid a visit by a Long-tailed Hermit that was bouncing off the window screen no one had a camera to capture an image of my capture. So there I was, with an awesome hummingbird in my hand and no one to show it to, though, as I went to release it, a couple other birders came along and got a look. My only regret is that my clumsy capture led to the hummingbird losing one of its namesake tail feathers, though this did make identifying the individual bird possible (I saw it a couple more times during our stay and it seemed fine so apparently losing a tail feather isn’t that traumatic).
But, of course, there were many birds around besides the ones we captured. The rainy weather made photography difficult, but when a bird as shockingly gorgeous as the Red-headed Manakin wanders by, well, it is impossible not to take a few shots, the best of which is below.
What I wouldn’t have given for some sunlight! The sheer volume of species we saw wandering around the grounds of the lodge that day was absurd, and if we had sunlight I would have had some great images. Bat Falcon, White-crowned Parrot, Groove-billed Ani, Black-headed Trogon, Collared Aracari, Keel-billed Toucan, Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Masked Tityra, Lovely Cotinga, Bananaquit and Montezuma’s Oropendula are just a sample of some of the great birds we saw. And you don’t even want to get me started on the neotropical migrants we spotted! There were wood-warblers and flycatchers and vireos galore!
Anyway, by lunch time I had completely burned off breakfast and was excited to hear that because the rain had let up a bit we were going to mount a bit of an expedition uphill into the rainforest in search of such great birds as Tody and Keel-billed Motmots and a day roost of Crested Owls. The path we chose went up the back of a ridge that separated two rushing rainforest rivers, which meant that we had views into the canopy on both sides of the trail, a key advantage in a rain forest, especially on such a drizzly and dark day.
And the walk was absolutely great. Though there were long gaps without many birds these gaps were more than made up for by the brief, incredibly exciting flurries of action when a foraging flock would move past and life birds, good life birds, amazingly gorgeous life birds, would be all around us. What birds am I talking about? Well, an incomplete list includes such great species as Tufted Flycatcher (cool little flycatcher and unexpected so low), Chestnut-colored Woodpecker (I would kill for a longer look), Cocoa Woodcreeper (really, a bird named for the main ingredient in chocolate), Tropical Gnatcatcher (the first of two life gnatcatchers for the trip), Rufous-winged Tanager (should be called Multihued or Rainbow Tanager: awesome looking bird), Black-faced Grosbeak (my last life grosbeak of the trip), and so many more that it is ridiculous. Oh, we also got the motmots, both my second Keel-billed Motmot and my life Tody Motmot, though I failed miserably at getting a picture of either in the dark and difficult conditions. I did, however, get manage to get horrible shots of a Black-faced Grosbeak and a White-winged Tanager, both below.
And to make up for those horrible shots here are some great pictures that Robert Gallardo kindly shared of both a Tody Motmot and a Keel-billed Motmot…I wish I had only had more time in Honduras so I could have tried more for shots like these.
Though we never found the Crested Owls the hike itself was worth it, and the birds we did find were amazing (and that night, after dinner, my life Black-and-white Owl took away the sting of dipping on the cresteds). I highly recommend a visit to The Lodge at Pico Bonito if you are ever in Honduras (and this goes beyond the fact that the lodge is advertising with 10,000 Birds: it truly is an amazing place with great birds, wonderful accommodations, and a staff that bends over backward to ensure you have a worry-free visit).
So when I got to back to the cabin that night and tallied the day’s birds I counted up 59 species, which, considering the rain had kept us almost raptor free and severely limited the bird song and our mobility, was a pretty amazing total. Just as amazing was the fact that even after already having spent over a week in Honduras by that point I still managed to get 19 lifers, almost a third of the total species seen. I can’t even imagine what a nice day at Pico Bonito would be like, but I can’t wait to go back someday and find out!