Sunday, June 21, 2015

Honduras Birding: Day 1, Part 1

The time had finally arrived to go on our belated honeymoon to Honduras about a year and a half after our wedding! It just seemed like a distant planned trip with plenty of time to prepare, and then suddenly it was here. After studying here and there for months, and then cramming on the birds (and mammals) of Honduras using our field guide and a Pinterest board Nick created, we were as ready as we were going to be (Nick much more so than I, by the way, as he is a much better crammer). After a very anxiety-driven start to our travel with a delayed first leg of our flight that put us in jeopardy of missing our next flight that only had a 45 minute (!!!) layover, we lucked out with a delay on the second flight and gladly made it to Honduras.
Aerial view of Honduras from the plane

Therinia transversaria - One of the first Leps to greet us at the Lodge

Our friendly welcome party, our tour guide for the trip, German (pronounced Herman), and our driver greeted us and drove us 2.5 hours from the airport in San Pedro Sula to La Ceiba to the Lodge at Pico Bonito. As there was still daylight when we arrived, we immediately got out our binoculars as soon as we stepped out of the airport doors, and we picked up our first lifer of the trip – a Grey-breasted Martin! Even as we drove out of the airport, we quickly saw a few new birds including Groove-billed Ani and Great Kiskadee and/or Social Flycatcher. Eager to get better looks, German eased our minds that we’d be seeing plenty of them later at the lodge.

Our tasty welcome drink waiting for us upon our arrival at the Lodge
Sulphur butterfly on a hibiscus

White-banded Satyr

Wide-eyed with excitement, we couldn’t help notice all of the new birds along the drive, like Tropical Kingbird and Turquoise-Browed Motmot. There were even some familiar birds like Great-Tailed Grackle and Crested Caracara. We took in the beautiful scenery of rolling green mountains in the background and plantations of bananas, pineapple, and red palm (not a great crop – in fact, a bad one), with fruit stands dotting the roadsides.

View of the reception/lobby of the Lodge at Pico Bonito

Geared up and ready to bird!

One of the manicured, flat trails of the Lodge - not too many of those.

After hitting a bit of rain, we arrived at the beautiful lodge in the evening. It was dark, so we couldn’t see just how lovely it is until the morning. We had some dinner, looked around at some of the night critters, and then off to bed to rise up early for our first full day of birding around the lodge. We were awoken by the rainforest’s morning chorus, which was unlike anything we’d heard before. We later found out that it was the Clay-colored Thrush that was dominating with its lovely song. And there was a strange gurgling sound high in the trees that we came to identify as the calls of Montezuma Oropendolas! These are such amazingly beautiful birds, and to hear them call was already amazing, and then we saw them display. Jaws dropped. As Nick so poetically put it, and what I was also thinking, “That’s some bird of paradise sh*t right there!” The male sat on a branch and allowed himself to fall forward just a bit as he cocked his tail and flapped his wings and made that bodacious call.

Clay-colored Thrush - a prettier singer than his looks put on

Montezuma Oropendola

Montezuma Oropendola

As we kept walking towards where we’d have our first quick breakfast of delicious, fresh tropical fruits and coffee, we were greeted by our first new mammal of the trip – Central American Agouti! These house-cat sized rodents timidly roamed the grounds of the lodge, and they would be our neighbors for the next 8 days.

We were then hit by swirls of blue, green, and violet as we came closer to the lobby and restaurant that were lined with beautiful tropical flowers and hummingbird feeders. Every which way we turned, something buzzed by us as we squealed with glee. The most common hummers seen zooming to and fro were the White-necked Jacobins, Northern Violet-crowned Woodnymphs (a subgroup of Crowned Woodnymph), Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds, and the big boys, Violet Sabrewings, which are more than twice as large as most of the other hummers. This moment of being the first time that either of us was surrounded by numerous hummingbirds was truly magical. It’s what you see on TV on nature programs and hear about in articles, but it became real life for us just then. These would also be our frequently-seen neighbors for the rest of our trip.

Northern Violet-Crowned Woodnymph on a heliconias flower

Northern Violet-Crowned Woodnymph showing off his iridescent green gorget

Northern Violet-Crowned Woodnymph

Rufous-tailed Hummingbird

We had our favorite spot to sit out on the porch of the lodge restaurant (which always had super delicious food, by the way) where we could each have a view of a hummingbird feeder. This was an absolute delight to see the sharing and the squabbling over space at the feeders.

Violet Sabrewing

Violet Sabrewing

White-necked Jacobin

White-necked Jacobin

When we sat to have our daytime meals, we couldn’t sit still long before picking up our binoculars and/or camera. A pair of Great Kiskadees, with their boisterous personalities, hung out right in front of us calling out to each other (Kis-ka-DEE, Kis-ka-DEE!) as they gathered nesting material to build their cozy home nestled and fortified within the cactus arms. German was right to say we’d see a bunch of these guys!

He was also right to say we’d see a lot of Groove-billed Anis! They were EVERYWHERE, which was great. We always felt unsatisfied after never seeing a Smooth-billed Ani in South Florida when we lived there. So these guys definitely made us feel better about our ani-less-ness. They are so suave with their long tails, groovy, chunky bills and fashionably tousled head and throat feathers. There’s something kind of prehistoric-looking about them.

Also a common sight would be a critter of the reptilian variety, the Brown Basilisk Lizard. These large lizards are also nicknamed “Jesus Lizards” as they can run across water in short bursts on their hind legs. We’ve seen some previously in South Florida at a Japanese garden, and they’re hysterical to watch run – flailing their long back legs as they run away from you. Here is a young one that doesn’t quite have a big crest of an adult yet.

We were also treated to views of the stunning Long-billed hermit zipping around the feeders and the beautiful, bright pink ginger flowers. What it lacked in bright colors, it made up for it with its large size and impressive long, slender-tipped tail. It looked like a little bandit with its dark eye line. We also occasionally saw its much smaller cousin, the Stripe-throated Hermit, but we could never quite sneak a pic of him.

Long-billed Hermit feeding on a ginger flower

Long-billed hermit in perfect iron cross formation

One other hummer that was not really expected around the area as it is more of a mountain species this time of year is the seemingly subdued Brown Violetear. It’s definitely understated in overall color, but in the right light, you can catch a glimpse of its shimmering violet ear patch and the touch of green and violet on its throat.

Brown Violetear

Northern Violet-Crowned Woodnymph feeding on a ginger flower

Dirce Beauty

There was so much buzzing around us, it made our heads spin! These birds in this post are just the ones we saw everyday commonly around our bungalow and the reception and restaurant area. If you want to see what other great things we saw, you’ll just have to wait and come back for more!

A typical morning of Clay-colored Thrushes singing and the Hummingbirds zipping at the feeders


  1. Holy Quetzalcoatl! Those Hummingbirds and the shots you captured of them are out of this world and from some Hondurian Galaxy.

    Geez, please say this is the end (no, don't).

    1. Haha! Well, you're in luck, Laurence - this is just the beginning! We have lots more amazing birds to come =) Thanks for the compliments!

  2. So crushy...we had poor looks at jacobins in Costa Rica and missed Brown Violetear entirely, jealous. Looking forward to the next post!

    1. Thanks, Seagull Steve! We were very lucky to have such close encounters with such lovely hummers.