Trip Report and Trip List

Birding the Highlands of Guatemala September 1-7, 2008.
by Eva Casey, who is soley responsible for any inaccuracies.

Participants: Eva Casey and her husband Herman D'Entremont, guided by Claudia Avendaño and, at Los Tarrales, also by Josué de León Lux.

Monday September 1, 2008 was spent flying from Boston to Guatemala City via Miami. Guatemala City is 1500m above sea level, and we never birded below 700 m, so we did not take Malaria prophylactics for this trip. We were met at the airport by Claudia Avendaño of Cayaya Birding Tours. It was after 4 pm when we got to our small, charming and comfortable Hotel San Carlos in Guatemala City. We relaxed in the inner courtyard where a hummingbird was buzzing around, and black vultures (trip birds) crossed the sky above. We dined in the hotel's award-winning restaurant. During this travel day I looked over the Annotated Checklist of the Birds of Guatemala by Knut Eisermann & Claudia Avendaño. It's got lots of footnotes and references, many of which cite "O.Komar." Herman went to Ollie Komar's wedding in El Salvador in 1998, but has not been in touch recently. The next day Claudia told us that Oliver Komar is Science Director at SalvaNATURA. She mentioned his little daughter, and that in fact she'd be seeing Oliver at a conference later in September. Another familiar name all over Knut and Claudia's book is Ludlow Griscom, who, in 1932, published a survey of the birds of Guatemala. This was news to me. I know Griscom as a legendary figure in Massachusetts birding history whose grave I was thrilled to come upon one day in Mt. Auburn Cemetery. Griscom died in the 1950's. When I came to Boston in 1979 I remember seeing a slide of Griscom birding a Massachusetts beach near a vintage car fast being overtaken by tide. It was shown at a birding party. That slide touched off stories from birders who had known Ludlow.

Tuesday Our boxed breakfasts were waiting at the hotel desk when Claudia and our driver, Lionel, picked us up at 6 am. We drove to Cerro Alux, pine-oak forest at elevation 2200m near Guatemala City. We birded for a few hours while Lionel stayed with the van. (I hope he had a good book.) We saw Stellers's Jay, Acorn Woodpeckers, Gray Silky-Flycatchers, etc., and heard the Rufous-browed Peppershrike (Too bad I didn't see it. I liked its picture). We also had a rabbit. We then drove a couple of hours to Los Tarrales where we lunched and spent the next two nights. Los Tarrales is a nature reserve and a working plantation (coffee and ornamental plants) with several rooms with private bath for eco-tourists. We took an afternoon walk. Though the trail had benches every so often we did not do the full circuit because of Herman's bad back (and incidentally being 10 years into Parkinson's Disease). At one of the benches that punctuated the trail Herman said, "We can just stay here, the birding's so good in this one spot." Indeed we had Long-tailed Manakins and Yellow-winged Tanagers, and a Black-and-white Warbler there. It was dark by suppertime, and raining so hard that we got into our full rain gear (the only time we wore it on the trip) just to walk across the yard to the very good family-style dinner. All the food was wonderful on this trip.

Wednesday After breakfast about dawn, Josué drove us in a Jeep 2.5 miles up a steep rough road to Vesubio where 20 families live who tend to shaded coffee growing up there. Some birders who take this tour (Cayaya's Highland Endemic Tour) use this day to try for the grandest endemic (to Chiapas and Guatemala) of them all, the Horned Guan. But that entails hiking up the volcano in the dark in order to arrive in the Guan's habitat at dawn. Very fit birders describe the hike as strenuous. We walked the beginning of that trail, which is where we got the Emerald Toucanet (thanks to Josué) and other things, like Masked Tityra, then repaired to the porch of an abandoned house overlooking the valley to bird in comfort. Josué thoughtfully brought along a canvas chair for Herman. It was here that we got the endemic Azure-rumped Tanager, which nests here. Best of all, we got a knockout look through the scope at a perched Ornate Hawk-Eagle, after first watching a pair call and fly over the valley. After lunch at Los Tarrales Josué gave us a tour of the coffee operation. A lot of people only know their part of the local industry. It was nice to get the whole picture. The mechanisms basically wash, dry, sort, and convey coffee beans. Plates on the various machines identify them as having been made in Ohio, Germany, and England 80 or 100 years ago. It's all in good working order. I learned that birds do not eat coffee beans. They are not nourishing, apparently. During our tour a Black Phoebe appeared in the drying yard (some coffee is spread in the sun to dry, but there's not enough room, so some is dried by machinery), adding to our trip list. We could have done a lot more birding in the afternoon, but it rained a bit and Herman preferred to take it easy. Claudia gave me the tour of the Ornamental Plant operation. Knut Eisermann, the other half of Cayaya Birding Tours, and his friend just arrived from Germany, Karsten, dined with us at Los Tarrales that night.

Thursday After breakfast we walked to the pond where we picked up another endemic, the White-bellied Chacalaca and other nice species such as the White-throated Magpie-Jay. It was market day in Santiago on Lake Atitlan, our next stop. I sampled several varieties of bananas. I had heard on NPR that only the Cavendish banana is grown for export, but people in banana-growing regions enjoy other varieties. In the market Claudia remarked, "I can see Herman's a shopper." We lunched at a nice restaurant on the shore of the lake. Unfortunately some years ago Lake Atitlan was stocked with large fish (for sportsmen?). The large fish ate all the small fish and ruined the ecology of the lake. Claudia recognized Rob Fergus of Philadelphia Audubon out the window of the restaurant, so we met him. It took several hours to drive to Antigua Guatemala where we were installed in Hotel Posada San Pedro II, another charming small hotel with a courtyard and private bath. We stayed there for two nights. During the drive we learned that before she was tied up with leading tours, Claudia had been in a choir. They tended to do Latin songs. I mentioned Regina Coeli, and my favorite, Panis Angelicus.

Friday We drove to Cerro Tecpán where we got the target birds there, the endemic Blue-throated Motmot and Pink-headed Warbler. I also liked the Spot-crowned Woodcreeper we got there. We were happy afterwards to warm up at the Swiss (!) restaurant for a delicious lunch and hot chocolate. In the late afternoon we took a walking tour around Antigua Guatemala and dined at a pleasant restaurant.

Saturday Claudia took us to Finca El Pilar, a private reserve quite near Antigua which had a beautiful trail and very active hummingbird feeders. We picked up the Louisiana Waterthrush and regional endemic Bushy-crested Jay. On the way back to Guatemala City we stopped for lunch at another Swiss restaurant, with more hummingbird feeders. Planning this trip I had thought that when we flew home on Sunday we might pick up Mass in the airport chapel during our layover in Dallas. But Herman told Claudia he'd like to get back to Guatemala City for Mass Saturday afternoon. Claudia accommodated. Herman and I took a cab to the church and told the cab driver to come back for us in an hour. Would you believe they had a choir and an organ and they sang all the Latin songs I had reminisced about with Claudia, including Regina Coeli and Panis Angelicus! The priest was in a wheelchair. At 7 pm Claudia met us at our hotel and walked us to a fancy restaurant (thatched!) that had a menu of Guatemalan specialties. Three men with guitars came around and Herman requested a serenade for our table, Marie Elena. They knew it.

Sunday, September 7, 2008, we flew home to Boston. I did not notice any action in the Dallas interdenominational airport chapel when we happened to pass it.

Trip List

P” means identifiably photographed. “H” means heard only.

  1. P White-bellied Chacalaca

  2. H Crested Guan

  3. P Snowy Egret

  4. Cattle Egret

  5. P Green Heron

  6. P Black Vulture

  7. P Turkey Vulture

  8. Short-tailed Hawk

  9. Ornate Hawk-Eagle

  10. P Rock Pigeon

  11. Red-billed Pigeon

  12. Band-tailed Pigeon

  13. P Inca Dove

  14. White-tipped Dove

  15. H Ruddy Quail-Dove

  16. P Pacific Parakeet

  17. P Orange-chinned Parakeet

  18. Yellow-naped Parrot

  19. P Squirrel Cuckoo

  20. H Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl

  21. H Mottled Owl

  22. Vaux's Swift

  23. P Rufous Saberwing

  24. P Violet Saberwing

  25. P Green Violet-ear

  26. Emerald-chinned Hummingbird

  27. P White-eared Hummingbird

  28. P Azure-crowned Hummingbird

  29. P Blue-tailed Hummingbird

  30. P Cinnamon Hummingbird

  31. Green-throated Mountain Gem

  32. H Amethyst-throated Hummingbird

  33. P Magnificent Hummingbird

  34. Long-billed Starthroat

  35. H Broad-tailed Hummingbird

  36. H Violaceous Trogan

  37. H Mountain Trogon

  38. Collared Trogan

  39. Blue-throated Motmot

  40. P Blue-crowned Motmot

  41. P Emerald Toucanet

  42. P Collared Aracari

  43. P Acorn Woodpecker

  44. P Golden-fronted Woodpecker

  45. H Golden-olive Woodpecker

  46. P Lineated Woodpecker

  47. Spot-crowned Woodcreeper

  48. Barred Antshrike

  49. H Greenish Elaenia

  50. Ochre-bellied Flycatcher

  51. Paltry Tyrannulet

  52. Common Tody-Flycatcher

  53. Yellow-olive Flycatcher

  54. H Greater Pewee

  55. Tropical Pewee

  56. Black Phoebe

  57. Dusky-capped Flycatcher

  58. Boat-billed Flycatcher

  59. Eastern Kingbird

  60. Masked Tityra

  61. Long-tailed Manakin

  62. Brown-capped Vireo

  63. Lesser Greenlet

  64. H Rufous-browed Peppershrike

  65. P Steller's Jay

  66. White-throated Magpie-Jay

  67. P Bushy-crested Jay

  68. P Black-capped Swallow

  69. Northern Rough-winged Swallow

  70. Band-backed Wren

  71. Rufous-naped Wren

  72. H Spot-breasted Wren

  73. H Rufous-and-white Wren

  74. H Banded Wren

  75. Rufous-browed Wren

  76. P Eastern Bluebird

  77. H Brown-backed Solitaire

  78. H Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush

  79. P Clay-colored Robin

  80. P Rufous-collared Robin

  81. P Tropical Mockingbird

  82. H Blue-and-white Mockingbird

  83. P Gray Silky-flycatcher

  84. H Crescent-chested Warbler

  85. Yellow-rumped Warbler

  86. Black-and-white Warbler

  87. Louisiana Waterthrush

  88. Canada Warbler

  89. Pink-headed Warbler

  90. Slate-throated Redstart

  91. H Golden-crowned Warbler

  92. Rufous-capped Warbler

  93. Golden-browed Warbler

  94. P Blue-gray Tanager

  95. Yellow-winged Tanager

  96. P Azure-rumped Tanager

  97. White-collared Seedeater

  98. H White-naped Brush-Finch

  99. H White-eared Ground-Sparrow

  100. P Rufous-collared Sparrow

  101. H Melodious Blackbird

  102. P Great-tailed Grackle

  103. P Bronzed Cowbird

  104. P Orchard Oriole

  105. P Lesser Goldfinch

  106. Hooded Grossbeak

  107. House Sparrow

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This page has been accessed access odometer display times since November 8, 2008

Last revised: November 11, 2008