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25 February - 4 March 2006

by David Klauber

This is not a thorough trip report for Guatemala but rather a document that hopefully has some useful information for birders visiting Guatemala, especially those with limited time. I was in Guatemala from Feb 24 through March 4 with a non-birding girlfriend, so the birding was generally casual. I have been to Guatemala several times previously, mostly weekends birding while working there, and most of my remaining target species require some work and effort. I only visited two locations this time, El Biotopo del Quetzal, a bit south of Coban, northeast of Guatemala City, and the town of Panajachel on Lake Atitlan. I have been to Tikal and Fuentes Georginas on previous trips, and these places are good birding spots. I did not find many useful trip reports about Guatemala on the birding websites.


The Rough Guide to Guatemala, 3rd Edition, Jan 2006 – lodging, food, logistics, etc

A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America – Steve Howell and Sophie Webb

Where to Watch Birds in Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean – Nigel Wheatley and David Brewer. As with most of Wheatley’s books, a good overview of various sites is given, mostly useful for planning a general itinerary rather than detailed information. I photocopied the relevant pages.


I rented from Hertz, arranged in the USA before arrival. Arranging car rentals in your country of origin is recommended, as you can often get better deals and unlimited mileage. I paid about $240 dollars for a mid-size automatic weekly rental with unlimited mileage, excluding insurance, which is covered under my credit card. The main roads were surprisingly quite good, with no major potholes or defects. Guatemalan drivers generally have a take-no-prisoners approach, especially the bus drivers, passing on blind curves and generally driving the old American school buses like racing tanks.


The Quetzal is the currency, and the rate was about 7.5 to the U.S. dollar. The bank gave a slightly better rate for travelers checks than cash. Credit cards are accepted in many of the mid-range hotels and restaurants, and American cash is also accepted in quite a few places.



I saw about 100 species, with 1 lifer and 6 new for Central America. The focus was generally not on hard-core birding but rather what I could do near the chosen vacation spots. Birds I expected to see but missed were Bar-winged Oriole, Greater Swallow-tailed Swift, and Highland Guan.

Inquiries will gladly be answered at:


February 24, Friday – Fly to Guatemala from New York

Travel day. I flew from NY La Guardia to Guatemala City through Houston, arriving after 10 PM. Customs was quick and easy, but the airport bank was closed. I had booked the Biltmore Express through (in Spanish) for $65 a night plus tax, and they provided a free shuttle to the hotel. Weather was cool, probably in the upper sixties.

February 25, Saturday – Guatemala City, no birding

The banks are open until 1 on Saturday. We changed money and visited the Popol Vuh archaeological museum, well worth a visit if you’re interested in Mayan archaeology. I confirmed the car rental with Hertz, conveniently located in the hotel.

February 26, Sunday – drive to El Biotopo del Quetzal

We left around 9:30 and wasted a bit of time getting out of Guatemala City, a very confusing place to navigate, as many streets are without signs, and many streets have the same numbering system for each zone, for example a calle 3 in zona 3 and another calle 3 in zona 7. Once on the Atlantic Highway we made good time, arriving a little after 1, with a birding stop en route. After Guatemala City it gets drier and hotter, cooling off later as the altitude increases. After Salama the road goes through some good pine forests all the way to the Biotopo, and I made a stop for one good warbler flock en route about 20 km before the hotel – Olive, Hermit, Townsend’s, Yellow-throated, probable Golden-cheeked Warblers, and Painted Redstart. We stayed in the Posada de Montana del Quetzal at km 156.5 . There are rooms, small and large cabins, and we had a large cabin for the small cabin price, 348 quetzales a night. Rooms are a bit cheaper at 269 quetzales but were booked out on our second night. The cabins are very nice with a fireplace and there is fairly good birding around the hotel. I saw more birds on their grounds than at the Biotopo. This cloud forest reserve was listed in Wheatley, also known as Mario Dary Rivera Reserve. There is a large section of cloud forest in the area, but the reserve consists of just two trails, 2km and 4 km respectively, that pass through good habitat, located at km 161. Admission is 20 quetzals per day, and it’s open from 6:30 or 7 to 4. We spent 2 hours walking the lower trail of the reserve the first afternoon, seeing very little. The weather was cloudy and pleasantly cool, between 65 – 70 degrees F. I did some birding on the hotel grounds in late afternoon seeing a nice variety of birds. We had dinner at the hotel. I tried the Fulvous Owl tape with no response, and shortly after it rained most of the night.

February 27, Monday – El Biotopo del Quetzal

We walked the upper trail slowly from about 7:30 to 12:15. The weather wasn’t bad, alternating between some sun and clouds and staying generally cool. Other than Common Bush-Tanagers, there were not many birds. The best were probably Ochre-browed Wren and a Golden-browed Warbler. I tried tapes for Spotted Nightingale-Thrush, Scaled Antpitta, and Highland Guan with no luck. No quetzals, either. A nice enough walk, but very disappointing bird-wise. We had lunch at a place between the Biotopo and our hotel and they had a flock of Black-headed Siskins and Lesser Goldfinches on their grounds. In the afternoon I birded our hotel grounds. We were told there is a trail to a waterfall that takes about 40 minutes, but didn’t find out until late afternoon. There were a good variety of migrants and local birds here, including Brown-backed Solitaire, Blue-and-White Mockingbird, Eastern Bluebird and some warblers – Townsend’s, Wilson’s, and Louisiana Waterthrush. I caught a brief view of flyby parakeets that could have been Barred Parakeets, based on the pointy wings, but I couldn’t be sure. There was a big group staying that night and it also started raining in the early evening, so I didn’t try any owling.

February 28, Tuesday – Drive to Panajachel

It was raining in the morning so the morning hike to the waterfall never happened. We had breakfast and set off for the drive to Panajachel at 10:30, getting turned around in Guatemala City, but finally arriving at 4:30. We stayed the first night at the Hotel Utz-Jay for $25 a night in a cabin-like room. It was a nice place with a garden but the rooms were very stuffy at night, so we changed hotels the next day. I did see a flyover parrot / parakeet here, but I don’t know what it was. A walk along the lakefront revealed many Tennessee Warblers, which were everywhere during our stay here. Panajachel apparently was an alternate / hippie hangout years ago and there is still that element to the place, although it’s been incorporated into the town. There were many young travelers, surprisingly more Europeans than Americans, and many shops with a fair amount of tourist hustle. That said, it’s a nice place in a scenic location on Lake Atitlan.


March 1 - 4, Wednesday – Saturday morning, Panajachel

We changed hotels for the much more expensive but very nice Hotel Regis (425Q including taxes), a lovely colonial style building with gardens that had a few birds, including Azure-crowned Hummingbird. For the next few days, we combined birding with being “tourists”. I had read on a website that the Villa Santa Catarina Hotel, 4 km east, had Bar-winged Oriole on the grounds. The grounds are mostly lawn with a few trees and nothing of note was there. A good spot that is easily accessible is west of town towards the Hotel Atitlan. Just after the gas station, where the road goes uphill, there is a dirt road to the left that leads to what looks like a hotel and an open area where people were staying in trailers. Just past the entrance gate there is scrub to the left where I had Prevost’s Ground-Sparrow and Greater Pewee. A little further there is a large red flowering tree to the right on the grounds of what I think is a hotel. Hummingbirds feeding on the flowers were Magnificent, Azure-crowned, and what I think was a Rufous Sabrewing, although it seemed a bit smaller and paler than one we saw later, as well as Black-vented Orioles.

Another day was spent on a lake tour that visited 3 towns along the lake. There were Lesser Scaup, American Coot, and American Widgeon near San Pedro La Laguna. The tour boat ride is $10 per person for a 7 hour trip with stops. Enterprising birders could probably charter their own boat for the day for about $60-70 and explore a lot more. I didn’t see any grebes.

Probably the best spot and a surprise was the Reserva Natural Atitlan, 2 km west of town past the Hotel Atitlan. This is a private reserve with a $5 entrance fee that goes up the mountain through some good habitat. They have monkeys and Coatimundis that are very tame – maybe introduced? The highest bridge by a waterfall was particularly birdy, with Yellowish Flycatcher, Rufous Sabrewing, MacGillivray’s Warbler, displaying Brown-backed Solitaire and others. I saw what looked like a Becard nest on the lower trail, but no becards. There is also a path that goes to the beach, a green area that is pleasant next to wooded hillside, but watch out for the biting gnats. Nearby are Botanical gardens with a 40 Q entrance fee that we didn’t visit.

One area I did not bird but that looked promising was the lake shore just east of the river in Panajachel. From the boat it looked like an area with lots of trees and greenery.


March 4, Saturday – Drive from Panajachel to Guatemala City

I birded the road to the Hotel Atitlan for a couple of hours. Traffic wasn’t too bad returning to Guatemala City and we arrived at the Biltmore in 3 hours and 15 minutes.


March 5, Sunday – Fly home




L is lifer (1 species)

CA is new for Central America (6 species)

Cattle Egret – flybys both locations

American Widgeon (CA) – a few with other ducks outside San Pedro de Laguna

Lesser Scaup (CA) – outside San Pedro, a few small flocks

Blue-winged Teal – 2 pairs on Lake Atitlan

Turkey Vulture

Black Vulture

Raptor sp – probably a small Buteo on the outskirts of Panajachel seen briefly; very pale underparts

American Kestrel – one seen along the Atlantic Highway east of Guatemala City

American Coot – with ducks in various places along Lake Atitlan

Spotted Sandpiper – 2 separate birds on the shore of Lake Atitlan

Laughing Gull – a few on the lake

Rock Dove

White-winged Dove – common, Panajachel

Inca Dove – common, Panajachel

Ruddy Ground-Dove – 1 flyby Atlantic highway

White-tipped Dove – 1 at the Biotopo, another at the nature reserve near Panajachel

Barred Parakeet? – A small silent flock of pointy-winged birds on the Posada Montana de Quetzal may have been these birds – the wing shape was distinctive, but I only saw them for 2 or 3 seconds


Parrot / parakeet sp – On 2 occasions a single bird flew over the Hotel Utz-jay grounds in Pana. It seemed large enough to have been White-fronted, but it wasn’t seen well

Vaux’s Swift – a couple flying over the lake one afternoon with the swallows

RUFOUS SABREWING (L) – Finally a lifer. One bird seen nicely by the waterfall bridge at the nature reserve outside Panajachel. Another bird seen at the flowering tree outside town was probably this species, but it was noticeably paler on the belly and seemed a bit smaller than the nature reserve bird

Azure-crowned Hummingbird – fairly common at Panajachel


White-eared Hummingbird – both locations, a couple of each

Magnificent Hummingbird – one at the flowering tree outside Panajachel

Green-throated Mountain Gem – a couple at the Biotopo and hotel grounds, females

Garnet-throated Hummingbird – one female at the Biotopo

Ruby-throated Hummingbird? – one female at the boat dock in San Pedro could have been this species

Mountain Trogon? – one male at the hotel near Biotopo; I never saw the undertail pattern, though. One of the locals called it a quetzal, so beware quetzal sightings by non-birders

Acorn Woodpecker – some at and near the nature reserve near Pana

Golden-fronted Woodpecker – common both locations – the “non golden-fronted” dubius subspecies

Golden-Olive Woodpecker – a couple at the nature reserve near Pana

Northern (Guatemalan) Flicker – one at the hotel near Biotopo, another small flock en route to nature reserve outside Pana, interacting noisily

Scaly-throated Foliage-Gleaner – one at the Biotopo – the only furnarid this trip

Yellow-bellied Elaenia – Fairly common Pana

Greater Pewee – outskirts of Pana

Empidonax sp – one near a flock of warblers en route to Biotopo, not a Pine, but unknown; others seen at the nature reserve, rather pale and “Least” looking. 2 different species at least, but identity unknown

Yellowish Flycatcher – one at the nature reserve near Pana

Dusky-capped Flycatcher? – several Myiarchus seen near Pana were probably this species

Social Flycatcher – both locations

Tropical Kingbird – surprisingly only a couple

Violet-green Swallow – large flocks flying over the lake every morning and evening

Black-capped Swallow – large flocks flying over the hotel near Biotopo every evening

Northern Rough-winged Swallow – common at Pana


Barn Swallow – a few around Pana

Band-backed Wren – common at Pana

(Southern) House Wren – common both locations

Rufous-browed Wren – one or two at the Biotopo

Gray-breasted Wood-Wren – heard and briefly seen at the Biotopo

Gray Catbird – 1 on hotel grounds near Biotopo

Tropical Mockingbird – both locations. One odd bird outside Pana by the flowering tree had a black necklace very reminiscent of Scrub Jay – is this an aberrant juvenile plumage? The throat seemed yellowish

Blue-and-white Mockingbird – 1 seen on hotel grounds near Biotopo, another near the nature reserve outside Pana. I could not any blue on either bird; they both looked slate-gray to my eyes.

Eastern Bluebird (CA) – a couple at the hotel grounds near Biotopo

Brown-backed Solitaire – singing at both locations; flight display at nature reserve

Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush – nature reserve outside Pana

Swainson’s Thrush – one bird by the reserve headquarters outside Pana looked very much like Gray-cheeked, as it wasn’t very buffy, but the bold eye-ring favored Swainson’s

Wood Thrush – a couple on the hotel grounds near Biotopo

Clay-colored Thrush / Robin – both locations, common

Bushtit (CA) – a couple around Pana

Bushy-crested Jay – both locations in several small groups

Unicolored Jay – a small flock at the Biotopo

House Sparrow - Pana

Plumbeous Vireo – one at the nature reserve near Pana

Warbling Vireo – one in Pana

Brown-capped Vireo – one near Biotopo

Rufous-browed Peppershrike – a few near Pana

Black-headed Siskin – a few in a mixed flock at the hotel/restaurant near Biotopo at lunchtime

Lesser Goldfinch – both locations

Olive Warbler – one or two in mixed flock in pines about 20km before Biotopo

Tennessee Warbler – very common at Pana

Nashville Warbler (CA) – one near HQ at reserve near Pana; possibly ridgwayi as it was a tail wagger and had a large whitish belly separating yellow underparts

Yellow Warbler – a few at Pana

Golden-cheeked Warbler (CA) – one near nature reserve near Pana; probably another in mixed flocks near Biotopo and along roadside

Black-throated Green Warbler – several in mixed flocks with Townsend’s and Hermit Warblers

Townsend’s Warbler – fairly common both locations

Hermit Warbler – at least one seen in mixed flock in Biotopo area, probably more

Yellow-throated Warbler – one or two in mixed flock along road 20 km from Biotopo

Black-and-White Warbler – a few both locations

Louisiana Waterthrush – one at Biotopo, another on hotel grounds near Biotopo

MacGillivray’s Warbler – a couple at nature reserve near Pana

Wilson’s Warbler – common everywhere

Painted Redstart – one cooperative bird along roadside 20km from Biotopo

Slate-throated Redstart – a few both locations

Rufous-capped Warbler – 2 or 3 at nature reserve near Pana and surrounding area

Golden-browed Warbler – one at Biotopo

Common Bush-Tanager– very common at Biotopo and hotel grounds

Summer Tanager – one male at hotel grounds Pana

Western Tanager – common Pana area

Flame-colored Tanager – one hotel grounds near Biotopo

Blue-Gray Tanager – a few every day Pana area

Yellow-winged Tanager – fairly common regional endemic, Pana area

Elegant (Blue-hooded) Euphonia – two separate pairs seen nature reserve area outside Pana

White Collared Seedeater – a few seen daily Pana area

Yellow-faced Grassquit – one immature Pana

Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer – a couple seen both locations

White-naped (Yellow-throated) Brush-Finch – 2 seen from waterfall bridge, nature reserve near Pana

Prevost’s Ground-Sparrow – this handsome sparrow was seen daily just outside Pana and in the nature reserve near Pana. If they split Cabani’s in Costa Rica, this will be a lifer

Rusty Sparrow – one or two at the nature reserve near Pana

Rufous-collared Sparrow – both locations

Black-headed Saltator – one singing bird in fields on San Pedro

Rose-breasted Grosbeak – several at Pana and vicinity


Indigo Bunting – a pair by the nature reserve near Pana on the beach road

Great-tailed Grackle – common everywhere

Bronzed Cowbird – a few seen Pana area

Baltimore Oriole – very common both locations

Orchard Oriole – one or two seen most days Pana, including a male on the hotel grounds

Black-vented Oriole – 1 seen flowering tree outskirts Pana; another seen from the waterfall bridge in the nature reserve. Both times Baltimore Orioles were also present

David Klauber

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