Saturday, August 22, 2015

Honduras Birding, Day 4: Honduran Emerald

Our fourth full day in Honduras was also our earliest start, loading into the van at 4:30a with our gear slung over our backs and our pillows tucked under our arms. We were heading south to the dry forests, all the way on the other side of Pico Bonito National Park from where we were staying. The drive took several hours, giving us time to catch up on sleep before stopping to breakfast in Olanchito.

Roadside Hawk

Amazon Kingfisher

The inspiration for the long drive was the chance of seeing the country's only endemic bird species, the Honduran Emerald. Even though it doesn't occur anywhere outside of Honduras, this hummingbird made headlines in recent weeks after U.S. Fish and Wildlife listed it under the Endangered Species Act. As much as we were looking forward to hanging out some dry forest, we would have been content had we just traveled the road there and back. We met some old friends, like Eastern Meadowlarks, Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Crested Caracaras, and Great-tailed Grackles. But we also picked up lifers that closely resembled old friends: Mangrove Swallow, Tropical Mockingbird, Brown-crested Flycatcher, and Altamira Oriole.

Mangrove Swallow

Brown-crested Flycatcher

On this same stretch of highway, we picked up our first Fork-tailed Flycatcher (after dipping hard in south Florida). We also had the one and only heard-only bird we felt comfortable enough to count during the entire trip. Our guide German was unquestionably a local expert, and knew every species by sight, sound, and quite possibly by smell. We were happy to defer to him on all questions of ID, but I won't list anything unless I can confirm it for myself. We studied our asses off before heading to the Neotropics, but our lessons didn't include songs or calls, unfortunately. There was no mistaking a covey of Crested Bobwhite, though, no matter how secretive they were, so obviously Bobwhite-y were they. One other ridiculous roadside addition was a trio of Double-striped Thick-knees, a bizarre-looking shorebird species not closely related to any others in North America.

Fork-tailed Flycatcher

When we got to the sanctuary I made special note of the sign, so I could submit an eBird checklist later on: "Refugio de Vida Silvestre". Ignorant gringo that I am, all that translates to is "wildlife refuge", so it was only later on, thanks to Google Maps and my vast powers of deductive reasoning that I zeroed in on the most likely spot: RVS Colibrí Esmeralda Hondureño (Honduran Emerald Wildlife Refuge - duh). We actually wouldn't have any trouble finding the hummingbird, but first we would struggle for decent looks at a couple of other target dry forest residents: White-bellied Wren and White-lored Gnatcatcher. Both were acting secretively, and with the temperature rising quickly and no clouds in sight (this was definitely not the rainforest anymore), I wish I could have disappeared into the undergrowth just as easily.

White-bellied Wren

White-lored Gnatcatcher

The Honduran Emerald was one of two new emerald species we picked up at the refuge, and we sometimes had Honduran and Salvin's buzzing past us at the same time. There were fewer Salvin's than Hondurans, and they were much less cooperative, which is a shame, because they were a brilliant, shimmering green that more than lived up to the emerald moniker. Sometimes treated as a full species, eBird/Clements currently recognizes Salvin's as only a subspecies of Canivet's Emerald - a lifer for us either way, so I won't quibble.

Honduran Emerald

Canivet's (Salvin's) Emerald

The dry forest was also a butterfly bonanza, with such awesome species as Guatemalan Cracker, and Variable Banner. A Painted Wood Turtle proved mighty amiable, coming within just a foot or two on its way to crossing a dried up stream bed. The day was far from over (in fact, it wasn't quite 11am yet), but let's stop here and catch our breath first.

Guatemalan Cracker (Hamadryas guatemalena)

Malachite (Siproeta stelenes)

Variable Banner (Bolboneura sylphis)

Cloudless Sulphur

Painted Wood Turtle

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