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March 2006


The Pinnated Bittern during this tour,
in a marsh along the Pacific coast,
was a wonderful find. 


List of Birds during our Guatemala Tour - March '06

A Cumulative List of Birds during FONT tours in Guatemala

Upcoming FONT Birding & Nature Tours in Guatemala

The following account written by Armas Hill, leader of the tours:

During our March 7-19, 2006, birding & nature tour in the highlands & lowlands of Guatemala, 326 species of birds were seen.

One of the most interesting aspects of the tour was how many of those bird species were seen from boats. In all, we did a record-setting 6 boat-trips during the tour.
Notable among them were those we took in an area of mangroves and marshes along the Pacific coast. During one of those trips, on a small boat without a motor, going from the mangroves to the marsh early in the morning, we were treated to quite a surprise, a Pinnated Bittern, by reeds at the water's edge. At first, from a distance, we expected the bird to be an immature Bare-throated Tiger-Heron. But it was not, as we could see when we got closer to it, as, in its frozen posture, it pointed it bill toward the sky.
The Pinnated Bittern was unexpected as, according to Steve Howell's "Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America", there had only been 1 previous Guatemalan record, and that was on the Caribbean side of the country. There is a population in northern Belize and the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, isolated from where the species mostly occurs, in South America.

That bird was actually just one of the nice ones we saw that beautiful morning in the Guatemalan marsh. We had just seen, in the mangroves, Boat-billed Herons (always nice to see), and an attractive adult Gray-headed Kite flying by close to us at eye-level. The morning sunlight and being on the small silent boat, paddled by our young boatman, added to the sightings.               

We went initially on the boat into the marsh hoping to see a Jabiru, a huge stork that's rare in Guatemala. We didn't, so went back, in the afternoon, further into the marsh, on a slightly larger boat with a motor. There were thousands of birds. Among them, there were a few hundred American White Pelicans and Wood Storks. These were in addition to many egrets and herons, thousands. Lesser Yellow-headed Vultures were common, gliding in their distinctive way low over the marsh. The groups of large White Pelicans and Wood Storks drifted higher into the clear sky. There was no Jabiru among them, but that was fine. Going there, looking for it, got us to a place where it was wonderful to be.

In all, we were to take 3 boat-trips in that "birdy" area. The last was on a small ferry (only large enough to hold our vehicle), winding its way in channels, going from the town on the barrier coastal island where we had stayed a couple days and nights, and toward the mainland. We continued to look in the sky for the Jabiru.   

Birds that we had seen in the large area of mangrove and marsh, however, in addition to the already-mentioned Pinnated Bittern, Boat-billed Herons, White Pelicans, Wood Storks, Lesser Yellow-headed Vultures, and Gray-headed Kite, included these:
Least Grebe, Brown Pelican, Anhinga, Great Blue Heron, Little Blue Heron, Tricolored Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Green Herons (more than could be imagined), Black-crowned Night-Heron and Bare-throated Tiger-Heron, White Ibis, Blue-winged Teal, Osprey, Mangrove Black Hawk, Moorhens, Purple Gallinules, Northern Jacanas, Spotted Sandpipers, Laughing Gull, an assortment of Terns including Caspian and Gull-billed, White-fronted and Yellow-naped Parrots, Violaceous Trogon, Great Kiskadee, Mangrove Swallow, Mangrove Vireo, Prothonotary Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, and White-collared Seedeaters.     
Those boat-rides were certainly worth doing!

We did another, on the other side of the country, in a remote region of part of Guatemala called the Peten. It was along a river, called the Rio de la Pasion. We've traveled by boat along that river a number of times during our previous tours in Guatemala. We've seen many birds there in the past, but during our March '06 tour, we saw there for the first time, on a mudbank along the river's edge, an Agami Heron. It was slowly stalking, with its long bill ready to make a catch.  
We spent a night at a lodge by that river, about 3 hours from where our boat-ride began, so we had a second trip by boat the next day as we traveled back.
Birds that we saw along the Rio de la Pasion, in addition to the Agami, included:
Neotropic Cormorant, Anhinga, Great Blue and Little Blue Herons, Great and Snowy Egrets, Green Heron, Boat-billed Heron, Plumbeous Kite, Short-tailed Hawk, Bat Falcon, Limpkin, Gray-necked Wood-Rail (many), Sungrebe, Spotted Sandpiper, Aztec Parakeet, Short-tailed Nighthawk, and all 5 of the species of Kingfishers that occur in Guatemala: Ringed, Belted, Amazon, Green, and American Pygmy.
Again, these were boat-rides worth doing!

To look for a species that we did not encounter along the Rio de la Pasion, we took yet another boat-trip in the Peten region. It was in a small boat along little rivers that flowed into a big lake known as Lago de Peten Itza. It was the first time that we did such a boat-ride, and it enabled us to find the bird we were aiming for, the Ruddy Crake. Those two small rivers were each with clear water filled with small fish. First, in the morning mist, and then in the early day's sunlight, it was for us yet another wonderful experience. Along the edges of the small rivers, in addition to the crake in the grass, there were, in the foliage, jacanas and gallinules. In the nearby trees, that morning, the passerine birds were active. Among those that were colorful were Orioles including Black-cowled and Yellow-tailed.  

Of course, a premier place to visit in the Peten region for birding, and for its own right, is Tikal. In a national park, it's the site of a Mayan city that flourished over a thousand years ago. Among the structures of the place that remain, and in the nearby forest, Neotropical birding is superb.
Again, in March '06, as during previous FONT tours, we saw an Orange-breasted Falcon by one of the Tikal temples.  Seeing that bird, even though we have during 5 recent tours, is not something to be taken for granted. The species has a wide range in the American tropics but it not readily seen at many places.

We had another sighting at Tikal that was quite special, when we saw a Pheasant Cuckoo near us, on the ground, doing a display, with its wing, and making a buzz. We've seen and heard that display before, but, as always, it was good to see it again.

Years ago, there was a runway at Tikal for small planes. Now, it's been overtaken by foliage, brush and trees that continue to grow. But the middle of the runway is still a trail that can be walked and should be birded. We did, in the morning, and late in the day. At dusk, it was great there to see and hear the Yucatan Poorwills and Pauraques as they flew about and called. The Guatemalan, or Vermiculated, Screech-Owl also called in the background, as did a pair of Laughing Falcons dueting at the day's end - a day during which we had seen the fine assortment of Tikal birds, such as toucans, parrots, trogons, oropendolas, aracaris, antbirds, manakins, woodcreepers, flycatchers, tanagers, and warblers. Among the last of these we saw some that spend their non-breeding months at Tikal, and, when there, they are especially nice to see in numbers. These Warblers included Hooded, Kentucky, Worm-eating, Blue-winged, Golden-winged, and Magnolia.

A number of the birds at Tikal are larger than warblers. Obvious among them are the colorful Ocellated Turkeys that walk about, as well as Great Curassows, Crested Guans, and Plain Chachalacas.   

In the forest at Tikal, it was fun to find mixed flocks as they moved about. In them, there were birds such as the Black-throated Shrike-Tanager and the Royal Flycatcher. There were others too, of course. Buntings included the Painted, that visits the area, and the bright Blue Bunting that stays. And there was a warbler, not yet mentioned, that also stays. Its the Gray-throated Chat, and we saw it well.

In the Guatemalan mountains, where the Mayans of today live, there's another cast of Warblers. Again, some come from North America where they nest. Those in that group that we saw included: Townsend's, Black-throated Green, Hermit, Nashville and Tennessee, and the Red-faced. These were in addition to the those that are resident. The "top attraction" among them is the Pink-headed Warbler, but there's also the Crescent-chested, the Golden-browed and the Rufous-capped, and the Slate-throated Redstart.                               

Other birds that we saw in the Guatemalan highlands included the Rufous-collared Robin, the Blue-and-white Mockingbird, the Elegant (or Blue-hooded) Euphonia, the Gray Silky-Flycatcher, Brown-backed Solitaire, and the Hooded Grosbeak.
And, of course, there were the hummingbirds. In Guatemala, there are some nice ones to be seen. Those we saw included: the Rufous Sabrewing (a large one), the Emerald-chinned (a tiny one), the Sparkling-tailed Woodstar, and the White-eared, Berylline, Azure-crowned, and Blue-tailed, just to name a few of the 20 species of hummingbirds we saw during the tour.

And with, that we've mentioned a few of the birds that we saw during our March 2006 tour in Guatemala. But still there were others that were notable, such as the Scissor-tailed and Fork-tailed Flycatchers, the Gray-collared and the Rose-throated Becards, and the many orioles, including the Spot-breasted, Altamira, and Black-vented, in addition to the Baltimore and Orchards that were so common. And certainly added to the mix would be the Blue-crowned Motmot, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, and White-whiskered Puffbird, as each of these is always a pleasure to see. 
And there was the Pale-billed Woodpecker and the Ivory-billed Woodcreeper (yes, that nomenclature is right, although the Pale-billed Woodpecker is related to the "infamous one").

Also, during the tour, along with the birds, there were the places that were great to visit, both in the highlands and the lowlands, including, as mentioned, Tikal, and the rivers and marshes through which we took the boat-rides. We end this narrative, now, however, in a truly wonderful forest that we visited on the Pacific Slope. As we walked the trails through the green woods in the afternoon, we were surrounded with the sounds of the calling manakins. The  bird, nice to hear, was also nice to see. It was the beautiful red, black, and bright blue Long-tailed Manakin. As they called, they displayed. We watched them perform that afternoon, and their antics were among the many avian acts during our March 2006 Guatemala Tour that we would nicely remember.  


Two of the five species of kingfishers that we saw 
during a boat-ride along a river
during our March '06 Guatemala Tour.
The Pygmy Kingfisher
and the Green Kingfisher

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