Guatemala 2011

...with Steve Duffield

December 6th-18th

This was the first organised trip by Birdwatching Breaks to Guatemala. Our local guide, Melvin and driver, Rene was very welcoming and their warm nature and insight into the country made our tour all the more memorable. The scenery was stunning with towering volcanoes (some of which are still active) dominating the skyline in the southern uplands and providing a dramatic backdrop to some excellent birding. Highlights included prolonged and excellent views of Azure-rumped Tanager at Los Andes whilst at Los Torrales Long-tailed Manakin, White Hawk and King Vulture was impressive. In the north the scenery were very different with meandering rivers and low-lying forest punctuated by the remains of the ancient Mayan civilisation. Birding amongst the ruins at Aguateca was brilliant and provided at least a few on the tour with their bird of the trip when an adult Ornate Hawk Eagle perched in full view allowing us an excellent opportunity to study this super raptor. Tikal was also incredible and we added many new species to our list here whilst the views of the extensive jungle from Temple IV were second to none; not to mention the stunning views of a pair of Orange-breasted Falcons using the temple as a perch.

December 6th: London Heathrow - Guatemala City / Cabana Suiza.

Our flight with Iberia from London to Guatemala City, via Madrid ran smoothly if slightly late due to the delayed arrival of a couple of passengers. We had a warm reception from our guide, Melvin and driver, Rene on arrival at the airport in Guatemala City before experiencing rush-hour traffic in the city centre. Rene deftly avoided some of the worst traffic before stopping at a local restaurant for a light dinner. We arrived at Cabana Suiza after dark and left early the following morning so that we could make the most of the early morning bird activity.

December 7th: Rincon Suiza – Corazon del Bosque – Santiago Atitlan.

Weather: A cool start to the day although soon became pleasant in the sunshine. Temperature reached around 20c during the day

Melvin and Rene picked us up at Cabana Suiza at 6 am for the hour long drive to Rincon Suiza where we enjoyed a traditional breakfast in the popular café here. The surrounding oak woodland held a good variety of local and migrant species. Before leaving the car park we had added Yellow-eyed Junco, White-eared Hummingbird, Black and White Warbler and Acorn Woodpecker to our list. We explored a couple of trails through the forest during the next three hours including a more open area where we found many warblers feeding in the early morning sun. These included migrant Townsends Warbler, Wilson’s Warbler, Brown Creeper, Hutton’s Vireo, Yellow-throated Vireo, Rose-breasted Grosbeak and the local Crescent-chested Warbler, Slate-throated Redstart, Bush-tit, Blue-headed Euphonia and Olive Warbler. A narrow path leading up through the woodland produced close views of Amethyst-throated Hummingbird and rather distant views of two Pink-headed Warblers. Unfortunately the latter species remained elusive although further exploration produced great views of Blue-throated Motmot and Collared Trogon as well as a skulking Blue and White Mockingbird. Moving on from this site we pulled in at Corazon del Bosque for lunch and a second bight at Pink-headed Warbler. Again the warbler remained elusive although there was plenty of bird activity with a feeding flock in the lower wooded hillside consisting of a group of Band-backed Wrens, Olive Warbler, Hermit Warbler, Townsends Warbler, Crescent-chested Warbler and Blue-headed Vireo amongst others. The more open areas and surrounding fields held Greater Peewee, Green Violet-ear, Black Phoebe and Violet-green Swallow. Heading up the hill we found a few Rufous-collared Robins, a showy pair of Mountain Trogons and heard the enchanting sound of a Rufous-backed Solitaire singing. Heading back to the bus we spotted a small group of Steller’s Jays and a Rufous-browed Wren put in a brief appearance before we had to leave for our hotel. Many of the normal routes were still closed after tropical storm Agatha in late May had caused widespread devastation and disruption from torrential rain. For us this meant taking a more unconventional route to Lake Atitlan which delayed our arrival so that our taxi boat across the lake to hotel Tiosh Abaj was undertaken after dark.

December 8th: Santiago Atitlan – San Pedro – Los Torrales.

Weather: The early morning was cool but temperatures soon soared to around 24c in the sunny conditions. Rather cool and partly cloudy on the volcano summit

Breakfast was at 5.30 am and our taxi boat met us at 6 am for the trip across Lake Atitlan to San Pedro La Laguna. En route we spotted good numbers of American Coots and Lesser Scaup which took flight as we skimmed through the early morning mist hanging over the surface of the lake. From San Pedro La Laguna we took a couple of taxis up the narrow, steep, cobbled streets to the main road and the visitor centre at the San Pedro Volcano. We birded the first hour from the entrance which was very productive with a great selection of birds including Townsends, Wilson’s, Tennessee and Black and White Warblers. Rufous-collared Sparrows and Rusty Sparrows appeared in the nearby low bushes whilst Prevost’s Ground Sparrow skulked under the coffee bushes. The trees were full of colour as stunning Baltimore Orioles, Black-vented Orioles and Western Tanagers flicked through the canopy. Other birds in this area included Warbling Vireo, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Red-billed Pigeon, Band-backed Wren, Clay-coloured Robin, Greyish Saltator, Lesser Goldfinch, Indigo Bunting and Least Flycatcher. Steve left for the summit with a local guide in an attempt to secure Horned Guan for the group. Unfortunately this was not to be although Golden-browed Warbler, Green Violet-ear, Blue and White Mockingbird, Chestnut-capped Brushfinch and Yellow-rumped Warblers were all seen heading back from the summit. Lower down the group had more success with good views of Brown-backed Solitaire, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, White-throated Swift, Azure-crowned Hummingbird and Blue-headed Vireo amongst others. In the early afternoon we returned to La Laguna and took a boat back to Tiosh Abaj where we had left our bags. From the boat we spotted hordes of American Coots as well as a number of Lesser Scaup, a Great Blue Heron and Swallows. A Green Heron flew up from the lake side as we arrived back at the hotel whilst the garden had Social Flycatcher, Bronzed Cowbird and Clay-coloured Robin. An evangelical event in Santiago prevented our bus from getting to the hotel but in minutes, Melvin had organised a tuk tuk to take the bags through the pious masses followed by ourselves. We were quickly on our way once again until road works slowed our progress. This turned out to be a fortuitous stop as we spotted Grey Silky Flycatchers, White-winged Tanagers and an American Kestrel during this brief hold up. Not long after this we arrived at Los Torrales. The fields leading to the finca were alive with birds so we walked the last couple of hundred yards whilst the bus and bags went on ahead to our accommodation. The birding was virtually none stop with good numbers of Clay-coloured Robins feeding in an open field along with Indigo Buntings, Blue-black Grassquit and a stunning male Painted Bunting. A small group of the impressive White-throated Magpie Jays appeared in the distance whilst good numbers of Northern Rough-winged Swallows skimmed low over the grass. Other birds we saw here included Boat-billed Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Summer Tanager, Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, House Wren, Tropical Kingbird, Common Tody-flycatcher and our only Lincoln’s Sparrow. We had a hearty meal and met our local guide, Joshua before retiring to our rooms with the promise of a good day ahead.

December 9th: Los Tarrales.

Weather: Hot and sunny throughout the day.

A Mottled Owl started the day off calling from behind the accommodation before dawn. We picked up our boxed breakfast as the sun was rising and enjoyed an early morning coffee before heading for the Rinconada Trail which took us around 6 hours to complete. At the start of the trail in the village, large numbers of Orange-fronted Parakeets and a few Pacific Parakeets gathered in a flowering tree whilst the odd Yellow-naped Parrot buzzed overhead. A Laughing Flacon was seen perched on a tree top in a more open area whilst Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Golden-olive and Lineated Woodpeckers were soon added to the daily total. A Blue-crowned Motmot gave good views along the track and various hummingbirds put in an appearance during the morning including Violet Sabrewing, Blue-throated Golden-tail, White-bellied Emerald, Blue-tailed, Cinnamon, Ruby-throated and the Large-billed Starthroat. As we left the last of the cultivated areas a Rufous-browed Spinetail, normally a difficult species to see showed very well after being tempted out by a recording of its call. An array of migrant passerines from North America enhanced the number of local species seen along the trail; these included Tennessee, Magnolia, Black-throated Green, Wilson’s and Black and White Warblers along with Rose-breasted Grosbeak and a couple of Swainson’s Thrushes. Both Rufous-naped and Spot-breasted Wrens were seen well during the morning walk although the skulking Plain Wren remained hidden in the lush undergrowth. Looking higher in the trees the colourful Yellow-throated and Blue-crowned Euphonias were joined by Altamira, Baltimore and Orchard Orioles whilst White-winged, Blue-grey and Yellow-winged Tanagers kept us busy along with the hordes of Red-legged Honeycreepers. Both Violaceous and Collared Trogons were spotted as were a couple of Collared Aracaris adding to the diversity of species this morning. In the forest a pair of Barred Antshrikes performed a duet and showed well; the male displaying his striking humbug plumage to the rather plain, brown female. Slightly further along the trail we paused by a stand of tall, dense bamboo and waited silently as Joshua tried to tempt out the diminutive Tody Motmot with a recording of its call. Something suddenly darted out, almost clipping one member of the group as it hurtled into dense cover. The responding calls revealed it to be our quarry although it decided to remain hidden. We moved on in search of our main goal, the Long-tailed Manakin which had so far eluded us despite hearing it on several occasions. Recordings of its call were played in an attempt to lure it into view at several locations but all in vain. Finally on the top of a small ridge we came across a large fruiting tree alive with birds. In the midst of the melee suddenly there it was; after all the effort and patience, a splendid adult male Long-tailed Manakin was showing well on the outer branches of this expansive tree. There followed a lot of gesticulating and scuffling on the narrow path as various birds such as White-throated Thrush and Clay-coloured Robin vied for attention as they fed in the canopy, but before long we all had this superb, male manakin in our sights. There was in fact around 7 Long-tailed Manakins in the same tree although our first was the best and only adult male present. From here at the peak of the trail we headed down through the forest back to the village for our well-earned lunch. We had lunch and then retired for a break during the heat of the day until mid-afternoon when we took another walk, this time along the Lagoon Trail. As we gathered, a Crested Caracara and Peregrine Falcon were seen soaring over the village. Part way along the trail a Swainson’s Thrush was found feeding in a small compound and fortuitously led to the discovery of a cracking Turquoise-browed Motmot perched on a low branch. This proved to be the only one for the whole trip but gave all present, superb views through the scope. Nearby a Squirrel Cuckoo appeared high in the tree tops whilst at least 4 White-bellied Chachalacas exploded from denser cover before showing well in a bare tree. The tree-lined track was busy with birds and we spotted a good variety of species including Ivory-billed Woodcreeper, Blue-crowned Motmot, Yellow-naped Parrot, Violet Sabrewing, Cinnamon Sabrewing, Masked Tityra, Least Flycatcher and Altamira Oriole. Once at the small lagoon we spotted both Snowy Egret and Green Heron along with a Green Kingfisher strategically perched on an old stump. A Northern Waterthrush showed well as it froze motionless on a branch where it gave great scope views before darting off into the undergrowth. Following on from this bird activity began to drop off in the early evening so we returned to the village where we were greeted by a squadron of around 20 Lesser Nighthawks hawking the forest edge, well before dark. We had another great meal at the finca before retiring after a very rewarding day.

December 10th: Los Torrales – Los Andes.

Weather: Sunny and hot; around 24c although becoming more cloudy and cooler in the evening once reaching Los Andes.

Our final morning at Los Tarrales saw us take a walk through the ornamental growing area followed by another look at the Lagoon trail. The early morning stroll turned up a good few new species as well as allowing some to catch up on one or two of the birds they had missed before. New species seen included Smoky Brown Woodpecker at its nest hole; Orange-chinned Parakeet, Black Swift, Orange-breasted Mango and a Short-tailed Hawk which showed incredibly well circling overhead. Both Lineated Woodpecker and Collared Aracari performed well allowing us to study the intricacies of their markings as each bird perched on their own respective tree tops giving excellent scope views. Other species seen during the early morning included Ruddy Ground Dove, Orange-fronted Parakeet and Pacific Parakeet. Masses of Vaux’s Swifts were seen overhead whilst hummingbirds included Violet Sabrewing, Beryline, Blue-tailed, Ruby-throated and Cinnamon. The migrant Acadian Flycatcher was identified along with the widespread Least Flycatchers plus an array of warblers and vireos including Yellow-throated Vireo, Yellow, Black-throated Green, Wilson’s and Black and White Warblers. We returned to enjoy a fine breakfast and plenty of coffee after the early morning sortie. Once we had refuelled we arranged to meet in the garden by the restaurant which proved very productive. Spot-breasted Oriole, Rose-throated Becard and Olive-green Woodpecker were found high in the trees whilst low down an array of fruit-eating birds such as Baltimore Oriole, Yellow-throated Euphonia and Golden-fronted Woodpecker fed on bananas left on the suspended bird tables. Looking out from here we also spotted the very distinctive and striking White Hawk gliding over the forest in the distance. After we had all enjoyed scope views of this stunning hawk we began our short walk along the Lagoon Trail in earnest. We hadn’t gone far when Yellow-billed Cacique was heard calling. A recording of Ferruginous Pygmy Owl was played in an attempt to lure out the calling caciques but instead another owl responded. Before long this superb, little owl was perched in the bamboo almost overhead giving us excellent views as it peered at us with its piercing yellow eyes. The Ferruginous Pygmy Owl returned to the shady confines of the bamboo so we moved on but were soon stopped once again when two raptors nearby turned out to be a Roadside Hawk and a Grey Hawk engaged in a dispute. White-bellied Chachalacas lumbered in the tree tops as we neared the lagoon although activity here proved very quiet apart from a lone Snowy Egret. On the far side of the river a couple of Western Kingbirds; the only ones of the trip, were catching insects from the fence posts and Northern Rough-winged Swallows were hawking over the fields. A Turkey Vulture was taking a rest in the shade by the lagoon and a couple more were circling overhead when the huge bulk of a juvenile King Vulture was spotted gliding over the tree tops. This massive bird gave great views before drifting away once again, providing an excellent end to our time at Los Torrales. After a large bowl of Spaghetti Bolognese we said our goodbyes and headed for the hillside finca at Los Andes. Although not far from our last site, Los Andes involved some interesting roads which had suffered from the torrential rains of tropical storm Agatha. Even without the storm the undulating cobbled track leading for the last couple of miles to the accommodation was a little too much for our bus in places so we proceeded on foot over a short distance to allow our vehicle to manoeuvre the rough ground. The views and surrounding habitat were well worth the effort with the promise of some great birding right around the hotel.

December 11th: Los Andes.

Weather: Cool in the early morning at around 15c although as the sun came out the temperature quickly rose to around 23c. It was sunny throughout most of the day with cloud gathering over the summit of the volcano in the evening.

Breakfast was provided at 5.45 am before our 6.15 departure with our transport along a rough track to the start of the forest trail. En route through the coffee plantations a Sharp-shinned Hawk flew ahead of the vehicle, alighting briefly on a dead snag before disappearing. Once in the forest, birding was initially quiet although before long we encountered a group of noisy Crested Guans in the tree tops. These were shortly followed by an excellent feeding flock that included Golden-olive Woodpecker, Yellow-winged and Blue-grey Tanager as well as a variety of North American warblers. The frenetic activity of birds and birders soon took on a new level of excitement when the rare and elusive Azure-rumped Tanager was spotted in the flock. At least two of these enigmatic birds were seen well through the scope as they fed and rested in the tree tops that lay opposite our position on the trail. Melvin, our Guatemalan guide had only seen this species twice before although the pristine forest at Los Andes is probably one of the best places for catching up with this rare bird. Following this was going to be difficult but we continued to make slow progress along the forest trail picking up Collared Trogon whilst a band of White-lipped Coatimundis provided us with a good display of their tree climbing skills. The understory also held activity and skulking White-breasted Wood-Wrens and a Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch kept us busy. More Crested Guans showed well in the tall trees and we obtained excellent scope views of Emerald Toucanet in a fruiting tree. A second, larger feeding flock appeared in the tree tops where we were transfixed for the next 30 minutes or so as we all peered into the canopy to admire the brightly coloured avian delights. Migrant warblers included Worm-eating Warbler and Black-throated Green Warbler whilst some stunning Blue-crowned Chlorophonias played hide and seek in the upper branches for a while. We also spotted a good range of new birds for the trip in this exciting forest such as Spectacled Foliage-gleaner, Spot-crowned Woodcreeper, Brown-capped Vireo and Common Bush-tanager as well as further sightings of Black-headed Saltator, Bushy-crested Jay and Brown-backed Solitaire. As we headed back down the hill to the base we stopped to scope two Bat Falcons that were perched on an exposed snag at the top of a tree. Suddenly one took flight, returning a short while later with a Blue-grey Tanager which it passed to its partner that deftly dispatched with the unfortunate bird. An excellent lunch at the finca was followed by an evening walk in the surrounding habitat which was a mix of forest, coffee plantation and gardens. Pacific Parakeets raced overhead whilst the grounds of the hotel held Rufous Sabrewing, Violet Sabrewing, Blue-tailed and Beryline Hummingbirds as well as a variety of New World warblers and flycatchers. Both Orchard Oriole and Baltimore Orioles were common in the area and added to the colourful scene. The nearby trail led into a small patch of forest past a small pool that held a solitary Green Kingfisher. Once in the forest the dense undergrowth held Wilson’s Warbler while in the more open areas we spotted Black and White Warblers and Blue-tailed Hummingbird. As we turned to return those at the front of the group were lucky enough to spot a very jumpy White-eared Ground Sparrow that flushed from the narrow path. It did return to the trail a couple more times but on each occasion only provided fleeting glimpses. We headed home to the hotel and as the last rays of the sun disappeared around the hillside 3 or 4 Common Paraques began calling as they emerged from their daytime roosts to feed. Their day had just begun whilst ours was drawing to an end although not until we enjoyed a very satisfying evening meal provided by the staff at the finca.

December 12th: Los Andes – Monterrico via Escuintla.
Weather: Sunny and hot (25c) in the morning with clouds gathering after lunch; warm in the evening along the coast.

This morning we explored the habitat below the hotel grounds as well as around the accommodation before and after a sumptuous breakfast. We had a good variety of birds this morning with additions including 2 Black Hawk Eagles showing very well; a brief Long-billed Gnatwren and excellent views of a MacGillivray’s Warbler back in the village. A trio of wrens were seen with Plain Wren, spotted for the first time despite being heard many times before; plus Rufous and White Wren and House Wren. A distant Laughing Falcon was seen perched on a tree top whilst a Short-tailed Hawk showed much better back at base. A juvenile Grey Hawk also near the hotel had us guessing for a while although distinct streaking to the breast on other-wise white under parts revealed its true identity. The grounds of the hotel provided us with great birding with good views of Painted Bunting, Indigo Bunting, Prevost’s Ground Sparrow and Greyish Saltator. North American migrants seen included Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Yellow-breasted Chat, Ovenbird, Swainson’s Thrush, Tennessee, Magnolia, Black-throated Green, Townsends and Wilson’s Warblers. Leaving in the early afternoon we headed for the coast with a stop off in the city of Escuintla for a little medical assistance after one participant had an unusual reaction to some insect bites. Re-assured and now carrying anti-biotic cream we were soon on our way once again. As we drove along the coastal strip we passed a number of salt pans, some of which held a mixed flock of gulls, terns and waders. Unfortunately the journey took slightly longer than anticipated so we didn’t have the opportunity to stop and study the birds as the light was fading fast. Just before dark we did spot a flock of American White Pelicans flying in formation parallel with the road, presumably heading for their evening roost. Not long after this we reached our hotel, Utz-Tzaba where we got cleaned up before heading the couple of miles to the beach front restaurant, the Golden Fish in Monterrico where we had a lovely evening meal.

December 13th: Monterrico – Guatemala City.

Weather: Hot and sunny with temperatures around 27 C.

After early morning coffee we drove the short distance from our hotel to meet our boat in Monterrico. We set off at 5.45 am just as the first signs of light allowed us to see large numbers of Lesser Nighthawks as well as numerous Night Herons and Boat-billed Herons returning to their daytime roosts after a busy nights hunting. Heading the other way, on the day shift vast numbers of herons and egrets provided us with a spectacle as they dispersed around the mangroves. Numerous Great Egrets flew into the more open areas to feed along with Great Blue Heron, Little Blue Heron, Tricoloured Heron and Snowy Egrets. A small flock of White Ibis flew overhead whilst a lone White-faced Ibis probed the shallows. Green Herons appeared to be under almost every overhang whilst Amazon, Ringed, Belted and Green Kingfishers added to the spectacle. A couple of Lesser Yellowlegs fed in a shallow pool whilst four Least Sandpipers appeared to be going to land on our boat until they realised that we weren’t actually an island. The early morning activity also included fly-by Neotropic Cormorants, Anhinga, Elegant Terns and Caspian Terns. The more open areas were also alive with Northern Jacanas whilst the odd Blue-winged Teal erupted from the emergent vegetation to find somewhere quieter to feed. Heading further into the mangroves three Sungrebes were seen swimming across an open channel for the cover of the overhanging bushes where they disappeared into the tangle of branches and roots. Lesser Yellow-headed Vultures posed well for us and although perhaps not the most beautiful birds in the world did somehow appear more elegant and attractive than the ubiquitous Turkey and Black Vultures. Crested Caracara flew over in the early morning whilst good numbers of Ospreys patrolled the obviously rich waters. We also spotted an excellent variety of passerines including the splendid Scissor-tailed Flycatcher perched atop the mangroves. We had superb views of around three or four Mangrove Warblers as well as American Redstart, Prothonatory Warbler, Northern Parula, Common Yellowthroat, Magnolia and Black and White Warblers. Numerous swallows hawked low over the waters with Mangrove Swallow, Violet-green Swallow and Northern Rough-winged Swallow all showing well. After an excellent couple of hours birding from the boat we returned to the hotel Utz-Tzaba for breakfast. The activity didn’t stop there though with small groups of Brown Pelicans soaring along the shoreline and a distant Magnificent Frigatebird adding to the pleasant although increasingly hot atmosphere. After our leisurely breakfast we headed to Guatemala City, stopping for lunch at a restaurant on the edge of the capital where we admired the scene of several volcanoes including the smoking cone of Feugo. We arrived at our hotel, the Biltmore Express in the early afternoon, relaxed and enjoyed a great evening meal.

December 14th: Guatemala City – Flores - Chiminos.

Weather: Early morning mist in Flores soon cleared to give us a hot (26 C) and sunny day.

We had a continental breakfast at the Biltmore Express before catching the 6.30 am flight to Flores. Here we were met on arrival at the airport and driven to Casona del Lago for a delicious breakfast. The views across the lake from the hotel were excellent and pretty good for birds too. American Coots and Pied-billed Grebes bobbed on the lake whilst a fine adult male Common Yellowthroat fed in the lakeside vegetation. A closer look in the grasses on the lake edge revealed a pair of normally elusive Ruddy Crakes nest building whilst a Purple Gallinule, Northern Jacanas and a Common Moorhen skulked along the margins. Laughing Gulls and Caspian Terns patrolled over the lake whilst Green Heron, Snowy Egret and Great Egret were watched fishing the waters; an excellent start to our day. After leaving the hotel we had a couple of roadside stops en route to the River Pasion. The first of these produced a fine Laughing Falcon showing well plus Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Grey Catbird and Brown Jay amongst others. Our next stop at a small seasonal wetland provided us with Spotted Sandpiper, 2 White-tailed Hawks chasing off a Grey Hawk; plus Blue-black Grassquit, White-collared Seedeater, Grey-crowned Yellowthroat and a handful of Vermillion Flycatchers shimmering along distant fence lines in their unfeasibly red plumage. A little further on, we stopped at another pool where we found 5 Blue-winged Teal, a Muscovy Duck, Solitary Sandpiper and juvenile Short-tailed Hawk. Finally we reached the River Pasion where we joined our boat. The boat trip along a tributary of the River Pasion was fairly quiet although we did get superb views of a perched Grey-headed Kite as well as Bat Falcon, Roadside Hawks and Ospreys. Both Belted and Ringed Kingfishers were regularly seen as well as Great Blue Heron, Little Blue Heron, Green Heron, Snowy and Great Egrets. Yellow Warblers, American Redstarts, White-eyed Vireos and White-headed Parrots were also picked up en route. We had a late lunch at Chiminos on arrival before a short evening walk along the forested trails. The lodges here are set among the trees with many affording superb views across the river but all surrounded by lush jungle and lots of birds. Our birding here was accompanied by the amazing sound of Howler Monkeys proclaiming their territories in the tree tops. Although we didn’t have long to explore before dark we still managed some great birds including Black-faced Ant-thrush, Ruddy and Ivory-billed Woodcreepers, Smoky Brown Woodpecker, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Wood Thrush, Blue-grey Gnatcatcher, Hooded Warbler and American Redstart.

December 15th: Chiminos – Aguateca – Tikal.

Weather: Early morning mist along the river cleared to give a hot (26 C) and sunny day.

Whilst enjoying our breakfast at Chiminos we were joined by a Kentucky Warbler and briefly by a Little Hermit which fed at the red, heliconia flowers on the edge of our dining area before it zipped off into the forest. After a slight detour taking us the wrong way in the mist we found the channel we needed to be on and headed for Aguateca. The usual herons and kingfishers were seen along this narrow stretch of water along with Bat Falcon, Ospreys, White-fronted Parrots and Green Kingfisher although pride of place goes to the flock of Black-faced Grosbeaks that flew across the river in front of us just before we docked. As we reached the site the sun had already burnt off the mist and we clambered off the boat and up an initially steep incline. Straight away we started seeing or at least hearing good birds with a Thrush-like Mourner calling from the slope and appearing briefly at mid-canopy level behind us. A short walk to the visitor centre produced a variety of warblers and vireos plus the only Bananaquit of the trip. Once through the centre we reached a shallow, shaded valley that was rich in bird activity with many good birds seen here including Scaly-throated Leaftosser, Dot-winged Antwren, Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher; plus a pair of White-collared Manakins that whirred overhead with the male landing briefly in view before scooting off in pursuit of the female. White-breasted Wren and Kentucky Warbler skulked in the lush undergrowth whilst the more open areas had a multitude of warblers and provided us with good views of Buff-throated Saltator and Lesser Greenlet. A little further on, we reached a level plateau and a more open area where many of the archaeological remains had been recovered from the jungle. This was also an excellent area for birds with Spot-breasted Wren, Slaty-tailed Trogon, Tawny-winged and Ivory-billed Woodcreepers; Rufous Mourner, Chestnut-coloured Woodpecker and excellent views of a Pale-billed Woodpecker hammering great chunks out of a tree. We also saw our first Chestnut-sided Warbler and Red-throated Ant-tanager in the same area. Moving on we entered another open area where the main palace lay; this also proved very productive and gave us excellent views of a perched Ornate Hawk Eagle as well as Black-headed Trogon and a brief view of a pair of Blue Ground Doves. Other birds seen in the area included Bat Falcon, Short-tailed Hawk, Red-lored Parrot, White-fronted Parrot, Squirrel Cuckoo, Plain Antvireo, Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, Great Crested Flycatcher, Blue-grey Gnatcatcher as well as a variety of North American warblers. After an excellent mornings birding we headed back to Chiminos for a fine lunch. We packed our bags and got back on the boat for the journey back to the main road and onto Tikal. Whilst on the river a single Sungrebe was spotted along with a couple of Pied-billed Grebes. Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Great Blue Heron and Green Heron were all seen well as we journeyed back to the River Pasion; this time with the current. Other birds seen included a Spotted Sandpiper, Belted Kingfisher and Ringed Kingfisher, whilst a couple of large, tree-climbing iguanas, a crocodile and a 2 terrapins provided further entertainment on our return journey. Once back on shore we quickly loaded up the bus for the two hour journey to Tikal. Not far down the road we paused as a male Vermillion Flycatcher performed on the roadside fence providing us with some excellent photo opportunities. Close to the boundary of Tikal we spied a couple of Brown Pelicans and Laughing Gulls looking like they were about to roost on a wooden jetty by a large lake. It was dark by the time we reached the entrance gate to Tikal although, inspired by the hope of seeing a large animal such as a Jaguar or Tapir, all stayed alert staring along the tar road. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly no large animals were seen although we did spot a Common Paraque that flushed from the roadside en route to the Jaguar Inn.

December 16th: Tikal.

Weather: The early morning mist persisted until around 9 am and kept things cool. Once this had burnt off the temperature rose quickly to around 25 C and the remainder of the day was sunny

We rose early for coffee at 5.45 am before we headed off along a trail leading into the swamp area. A Green Honeycreeper fed outside the restaurant whilst a group of Montezuma Oropendolas flew out from their roost site adding their calls to the exotic dawn chorus. A group of Ocellated Turkeys roamed around the car park area and a Yellow-rumped Warbler fed on the open grass. The first of 3 Keel-billed Toucans flew overhead whilst a variety of warblers including Northern Parula, Black and White Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Magnolia Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler and Ovenbird fed along the forest edge. Wood Thrush and White-eyed Vireos appeared particularly common here and gave good views in the more open ground whilst Plain Chachalacas, Pale-billed Woodpecker and Collared Trogon also showed well before we reached the swamp. Once in the scrub of the swamp we added more new species, including good numbers of Red-capped Manakins which whirred around perching for short periods to reveal all as female or immature birds. Other new birds included the distinctive, fork-tailed Canivets Emerald, White-bellied Wren and Mangrove Warbler whilst our second Long-billed Gnatwren showed off its disproportionate bill. A group of Crested Guans clambered through the trees followed by views of two more hummingbirds, Rufous-tailed and White-bellied Emerald. On the way back for breakfast the slower part of the group spotted a small flock of Yellow-billed Caciques feeding in the leaf litter. After a fine breakfast we took a walk into the main archaeological site although even outside the restaurant we began adding birds to our list with Blue Bunting and Green-backed Sparrow feeding on the forest edge. On the park edge we found an almost tame Crested Guan as well as Wood Thrush, Swainson’s Thrush, Yellow Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, American Redstarts, Summer Tanager, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Ivory-billed Woodcreeper and Great Crested Flycatcher. Once in the forest we got good views of White-bellied Wren, Spot-breasted Wren, Eye-ringed Flatbill, Stub-tailed Spadebill and a roosting Mottled Owl. Birding amongst the ruins was very atmospheric and although things had quietened down in the heat of the day we still spotted Grey-headed Dove, Rose-throated Becard, Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, Yellow-throated Vireo and had excellent views of Collared Aracari. We enjoyed a late lunch in a café surrounded by the forest before getting a lift out to Temple IV. A Blue-crowned Motmot greeted us on arrival. The climb up the temple was fairly steep but well worth the effort with fantastic views over miles and miles of unbroken forest with the occasional top of a Mayan temple rising above the canopy. The view from the top was further enhanced with the fantastic site of a pair of Orange-breasted Falcons perched on the scaffolding and nearby trees. Heading back in the early evening we spotted a Bat Falcon but also added Couch’s Kingbird and Strong-billed Woodcreeper to our ever growing bird list.

December 17th: Tikal – Flores – Guatemala City.

Weather: The early morning mist soon cleared to leave a hot and sunny day.

This morning we headed straight for the park entrance although even before we reached the forest we spotted Red-lored Parrot, Wedge-tailed Sabrewing, Blue-winged Warbler, Olivaceous Woodcreeper and Grey-headed Dove. On the forest edge we encountered a good range of species with White-bellied Emerald and Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds, Aztec Parakeet, Masked Tityra, Yellow-olive Flycatcher, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Blue Bunting, Brown-headed Parrot, White-fronted Parrot and Red-crowned Ant-tanager as well as an array of warblers and vireos. Overhead large numbers of swifts were hawking including the very distinctive and striking Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift. In the park we had views of a Plain Xenops and Lesser Greenlets along with Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher, Chestnut-coloured Woodpecker and Olive-green Woodpecker. Both Hooded Warbler and Worm-eating Warblers showed well as did another Pale-billed Woodpecker. A Rufous-tailed Jacamar was heard calling and seen perched briefly before shooting off through the tangle of trees out of sight. Nearby a group of Plain Chachalacas showed very well as they advertised their presence with loud, raucous calls. Heading back for breakfast we skirted the edge of a small pool where a Common Yellowthroat showed well in the emergent vegetation whilst a Grey-necked Wood-Rail fed on the grass in full view and provided us with excellent photo opportunities. Breakfast was back at the Jaguar Inn where a couple of male Black-vented Orioles put on a good show right outside the windows of the restaurant. Post breakfast as we were leaving the Jaguar Inn a Bright-rumped Attila appeared within a few yards of the front door for a short while providing us with excellent, if brief views. Once back in the forest we came across a very active and exciting feeding flock led by a male Black-throated Shrike-Tanager. Both Red-crowned and Red-throated Ant-Tanagers were in the feeding party along with a group of Olive-backed Euphonias, Yellow-bellied Tyrannulet, Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, Eye-ringed Flatbill, Violaceous Trogon, Pale-billed Woodpecker, Great Crested Flycatcher as well as Worm-eating Warbler and Black-throated Green Warbler amongst others. Nearby we spotted an Ovenbird and Stub-tailed Spadebill skulking low down. A Yellow-throated Warbler was seen a little further along the track and a Louisiana Waterthrush showed well in the open for a while. A Tawny-crowned Greenlet was the next addition to the list and a Long-tailed Hermit put in a brief appearance at some flowers overhanging the track. Before heading for lunch we came across a flock of Ochre-bellied Flycatchers and a couple of Collared Aracaris showing very well. Two hummingbird species also made an appearance with good views of a Wedge-tailed Sabrewing and a superb male Purple-crowned Fairy that showed well before zipping off once again. Birding didn’t really stop for lunch either as an Ocellated Turkey fed outside the café although excitement levels increased dramatically when a juvenile Royal Flycatcher performed a number of fly sallies within yards of the café. New species just kept coming and on our way back to the bus we had superb views of a White-necked Puffbird perched on a bare snag and showing exceedingly well. Finally and all too soon we had to leave this excellent area. We met up with our driver and returned to Flores and our flight back to Guatemala City. Our final evening meal was an excellent buffet in the Biltmore Express

December 18th: Cayala, Guatemala City - Antigua.

Final species total: 308.

Weather: The early morning was cool (15 C) but soon became hot (24 C) in the sunshine

Our scheduled flight wasn’t until the late afternoon so we had an early breakfast at the Biltmore Express before taking our bus to Cayala Park within Guatemala City. Although the park covers a fairly small area it was alive with birds in the early morning and we hadn’t gone far before we came across an excellent mixed, feeding flock with many warblers including Nashville, Black-throated Green, Townsends and Black and White Warbler. Warbling, Yellow-throated and Blue-headed Vireos were also there along with Acorn Woodpecker and Olive-green Woodpecker. As all this was going on our attention was drawn to the undergrowth where a group of around 4 game birds were scattering through the dense tangle of vegetation. Although seeing these birds was quite difficult, enough was pieced together to reveal them as Buffy-crowned Partridge; a very good bird to see, especially within the confines of Guatemala City! A little further up the slope a group of Bushy-crested Jays moved through whilst a fruiting bush attracted Greyish Saltator which gave good views through the scope. As we were enjoying these birds a Blue and White Mockingbird hopped into the same fruiting bush providing us with our best views of the trip of this range restricted species. An Azure-crowned Hummingbird added to the activity as did the ubiquitous Golden-fronted Woodpecker. The couple of hours at Cayala proved an excellent end to our birding in Guatemala. As a final farewell we were taken to the colonial city of Antigua where we took lunch in an excellent and very atmospheric local restaurant. This was followed by a short tour of the central plaza of this very attractive city before returning to Guatemala City in the afternoon to catch our early evening flight home via El Salvador and Madrid.

For details of the full species list or to request further information about the next time we will be offering this trip. Contact us at

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