Friday, October 9, 2015

Honduras, Day 5: A Bounteous Botanical Garden

The destination for our fifth full day in Honduras was the Jardín Botánico Lancetilla, one of the largest botanical gardens in the world, where the sheer variety of plants concentrated along every path draws some interesting birds not easily found elsewhere in the area. We started our field trip along an access road, where we started off with a pair of Bat Falcons side-by-side on a utility pole. The lighting was awful, but it was it still a great feeling to pick up a target bird first thing in the morning. I'm certain I saw one mixed in with a swarm of White-throated Swifts the night before, but it was out of sight as soon as I spotted it, and gone before I could point it out to Maureen. Redemption!

Black-cheeked Woodpecker at its breakfast buffet - a sight we were treated to while also breakfasting at the lodge

Bat Falcons

Variable Seedeater

We spent about an hour exploring a short dirt road, careful to check every nook in the forest edge, and not to spread out too far from one another. It was here that we finally met up with a nemesis of sorts, the Long-billed Gnatwren, which German had been trying to call up for us over the past several days. This was also spot where I made one of the best field ID's of my life, calling out a Plain Xenops and proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that all my studying had paid off.

Plain Xenops

Variegated Squirrel

Leaf-footed Bug

Before we drove the rest of the way up to the garden, we stopped at an active Montezuma Oropendola colony, where pendulous nests dripped from nearly every spot along every branch. This was the second colony we'd visited in as many days, but the first one seemed to have been abandoned. Not only did this colony give us a chance to see so many oropendolas together in one place, it also allowed us our best looks at Giant Cowbirds -- brood parasites waiting for the moment when they could steal into one of those nests and deposit an egg of their own.

Montezuma Oropendola colony

Giant Cowbird awaits its opportunity

Giant Cowbird

At the visitor's center, a Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher was making its nest in the broken streetlight out front. A handful of Blue Ground-doves were also around to help welcome us to gardens. Starting out along the paved path, we didn't get far before we spotted a glimpse of something that stopped us in our tracks to stake it out from the shade: a Crimson-collared Tanager. While we waited we were also treated to some decent looks at a Tawny-winged Woodcreeper who seemed have had a nest somewhere nearby.

Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher

Blue Ground-dove

All the exotic plants didn't attract birds alone, and we turned up some pretty interesting-looking lizards as well. Brown Basilisks (aka, Jesus lizards) were super common on a good number of our hikes, and especially prominent on the short path from our lodge to the lobby. Even so, the botanical garden was the only place where we would find a baby Basilisk. A tiny lizard on a tiny pineapple. Nearby was also the most beautiful lizard we saw in Honduras, or are likely to see just about anywhere: the aptly named Rainbow Ameiva (Ameiva undulate). The Ameiva had a stunning assortment of colors blending in to each other on it's back, with cyan barring down its flanks. I was so intent on looking for birds that I don't know that I realized how awesome-looking it was until we were reviewing Maureen's photos at home. I regret not paying it more attention!

Brown Basilisk (Basiliscus vittatus)

Rainbow Ameiva (Ameiva undulata)

And there must also have been a fair number of flying insects, since the gardens contained a good variety of flycatchers. Besides the Sulphur-bellied, we had Social, Boat-billed, Yellow-olive, and Dusky-capped Flycatchers, Great Kiskadee, and Rose-throated Becard (formerly, though no longer, considered a tyrant flycatcher). German was able to ID a nearby nest as being a Yellow-olive Flycatcher's, even without the bird observed anywhere nearby, which is definitely the kind of expertise you hope for from a guide, and which he delivered on time and time again.

Dusky-capped Flycatcher

Rose-throated Becard

Yellow-olive Flycatcher

Yellow-olive Flycatcher nest

As incredible as it seems, we'd grown accustomed to seeing Keel-billed Toucans around, which were a fairly common sight around the lodge. Even so, I think the botanical garden was the one time we actually got to hear one perform its song, kind of a high croaking sound. Then German turned up an (apparently) impressive bird: a Northern Schiffornis. The schiffornis was a drab, skulking bird with a bill full of grubs. It gave every indication that it was trying to trying to transport said grubs to a nest without drawing our attention, so we were careful not to disturb it more than necessary. Truly, it was a very cool sighting, but I had to say "apparently" impressive because we were on a trip where EVERYTHING was new to us, so we had no real appreciation for whether a bird was unusual or not. I hope we were impressed enough for politeness' sake.

Keel-billed Toucan (digiscoped)

Northern Schiffornis playing peek-a-boo

Northern Schiffornis

One last experience worth sharing from the botanical garden was a crowded avenue of leafcutter ants. Leafcutter ants are one of the most impressive animals on the plant, developing agriculture long before we did. Their harvesting was ever-present throughout much of the rainforest, and the leaves are collected to use as a growth-medium for a particular kind of fungus. The ants and fungus rely on one another for their life cycles, and if one disappeared from the planet, the other would disappear along with it. I'm not sure exactly which species of ant this was, but they sure seemed to be taking their job seriously.

Leafcutter ant

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