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14 - 24 September 1996

by Mark Oberle

This report covers the highlights of birding locations that I visited in between some work I did in Tegucigalpa.  My wife, Mardie, and my 5-year old son, William, came so they could get a sense of life in a developing country as we considered a career change for 1997.  So the birding was less intense than if I had been on my own.

Saturday, Sept.  14:

We arrived at the Tegucigalpa airport and were told that we did not need tourist cards or a visa, as the guide books had suggested.  It was a $6 taxi ride to the Avis office near the Hotel Honduras Maya (it turns out there are several rental car offices at the airport, but the cab ride saved our getting lost in the maze of streets).  Since Avis did not have the cheap car we had reserved, they gave us a high clearance 4WD, which was a big help the next day despite the usual internal malfunctions.  We dropped off our gear at a friend's house, and then drove east on Avenida de Paz past the US Embassy to Valle de Angeles, about a half hour away.  We stayed at the Posada del Angel (tel 762233), which had no record of our reservations.  Since we were still on Eastern time, we got to bed early, but were awakened by hammering on the metal door below.  Just as I got up to let the person in, they stopped and drove around the corner to the other entrance which is open much of the night.

Sunday, Sept.  15:

We left at 5:25AM for La Tigra National Park, a ridge north of the Tegucigalpa area that protects a forested watershed.  Since it is a good idea to get there early, here are directions which hopefully will obviate the need that we had to stop for directions: From the main entrance to Hotel Posada del Angel, continue North toward San Juancito (away from Tegucigalpa).  In a couple of blocks, bear left at a fork in the road.  At 1.6 miles (all distances from the Hotel Posada del Angel) the pavement ends.  At 2.5 miles, bear left at a fork with a big sign labeled "FHIS".  At 6.4 miles turn left off the highway at a small sign pointing to La Tigra National Park.  I had a White-breasted Hawk in the pine woodlands between Valle de Angeles and the turn for San Juancito.  At 7.2 miles, bear right at an intersection in the town of San Juancito.  At 7.8 miles, bear right and cross a small bridge in the center of San Juancito.  After crossing the bridge, turn right and then at 7.9 miles, take a hard left just outside town.  The going then gets rough.  George Ledec said he made it up this stretch in a passenger car despite heavy rains in August, but it is a rough, rutted road, and some people may not feel comfortable without high clearance.  At 9.3 miles the road takes a sharp right at a small restaurant which has a sign for the national park.  At 9.4 miles at a cluster of deteriorating buildings, with national park and World Wildlife Fund signs, you have to park (only owners of park inholdings are allowed to drive beyond this point).  There is bus service to San Juancito.  Non-resident foreigners have to pay the equivalent of US$10 as an entry fee, which will be collected when you exit if nobody is there early in the morning.  You then continue on foot straight ahead on the road.  Shortly there is a sharp turn to the left and then a fork (take the more well-traveled fork to the right even though it goes downhill initially).

There is then about a 30-60 minute walk through farm inholdings, pine, coffee, and second growth before you get to primary cloud forest.  The walking is easy with a gain of 500 feet to about 5600 feet elevation at the marked trailheads (a small watertank and covered shelter are at the trailhead).  We took the trail to the Cascadas where an old sawmill operation and tunnel at 5800 feet made a nice place to picnic.  The best birding was in the tangle of flowers just before the trailhead signs, where we had Green- breasted Mountain-Gem, a species endemic to Honduras and adjacent Nicaragua.  At marker 5 on the Cascadas trail in a smaller clearing, I heard a lively, soft song, coming from a Wine- throated Hummingbird.  In the primary forest, there were occasional bursts of bird activity including Slate-colored Solitaire, Common Bush Tanager and Yellowish Flycatcher, despite the racket that my son made while exploring the trail.  Judging from reports of two other groups to visit here, you could spend several mornings and see different species each time, including Crested Guan.  We only stayed until 11AM, since a cool wind and fog were starting to roll in.

According to the park guard, some people arrange to stay in some of the buildings around the entrance.  It is possible to camp in the park, but that requires a permit obtainable only in Tegucigalpa.  Another park entrance road is also accessible from Tegucigalpa past the US Ambassador's residence and up the El Picacho road through El Hatillo and Jutiapa.

September 16-18:

In Tegucigalpa, we stayed at the Hotel Honduras Maya in the "motel" which is a low series of motel rooms near the swimming pool (as opposed to the pricey tower rooms).  I had seen Vermiculated Screech Owl from the porch there years ago, but buildings and an air conditioner outlet have now encroached on the vegetation.  However, the porch is a nice place to sit and work and watch birds.  I had Ferruginous Pygmy Owl at dawn, as well as several oriole, swift, and migrant species from the balcony.

September 19:

On short notice we tried to go to Guanaja in the Bay Islands (chiefly because the population of Yellow-naped Parrots was larger there than on Roatan), but the prices were prohibitive.  Instead we went to Roatan.  Some tourists later said that the sand flies are worse there and on Utila Island than on Roatan.

We wound up staying at the Buccaneer Hotel in the poor town of French Harbour.  The hotel was overpriced and had no beach, but was undergoing a major overhaul with new management.  They arranged a dive trip with Ben's Dive shop (45-1916) in the tiny Garifuna village of Punta Gorda.  Ben actually has some cabins and offers room, board and multiple scuba dives for $500 a week.  But you have to like a simple, quiet experience.  I talked to a number of people who had seen Yellow-naped Parrots in the dry ridges between French Harbour and Punta Gorda.  A cook told me she had seen them in the hills just east of the popular tourist beach at West Bay.  I didn't have time to check them out.  Jorge Barraza (see below) and some islanders also reported the parrot from the road between French Harbour and Punta Gorda.  Some other sites on Roatan that sounded intriguing were an iguana farm near French Harbour and gardens with lots of hummingbirds on the grounds of a jelly bottling operation on the eastern end of the island.

September 20:

We snorkeled the reef at Fantasy Island resort before heading to the airport.  Roatan (pronounced Row-tan) is undergoing a real estate feeding frenzy, so Roatan's charm may not last long.  We flew to San Pedro Sula via La Ceiba on Islenna Airlines and picked up a Budget Rental Car.  When we arrived in Tela east of San Pedro, one of the auto's electric windows had frozen open.  This prevented us from getting out of the compound at the Hotel Villas Telamar (48-2196), the nicest hotel in town.  So we swam and explored the gardens and beach.

September 21:

Lancetilla gardens and reserve open at 8 (sign on the main highway just west of the turn into downtown Tela), but when we arrived at the headquarters, the rangers said that they only allowed people in the forest reserve section if they went with a guide who could fend off the fer-de-lance snakes.  The guides don't work on weekends (I later heard that due to budget cuts, they were having trouble hiring guides).  Some howler monkeys called from the forest in the distance to remind us of what we were missing.  So we walked in the formal gardens.  The garden maps were a little out of date, but the best trails for birds were the marginal ones at stream crossings and where the trails had become overgrown.  It was noon by the time we birded the road between the entrance pay station on the highway and the garden headquarters.  If you can't get into the forest reserve, the best habitat for birding at the hour the park is open is along that entrance road, so I wish we had taken our time there earlier.  Directly across the highway from the Lancetilla entrance station is a dirt road that goes directly to Tela.  It looked like a good place for potoo, but with our car window locked open, I didn't risk driving at night with impending rain storMs. We went shopping, and I got my worst exchange rate (2 lempiras for a US quarter for a kid's ride vs US$1.00 = 12.00-12.92L elsewhere on the trip).  BTW: the kid's ride was outside a bakery whose owner had been kidnapped two days before.

September 22:

We had tried to arrange with the Fundacion Prolansote for a boat tour of the Lago de Quemada Los Micos, a mangrove lagoon system in Punta Sal National Park west of Tela.  But their offices were closed on Saturday, contrary to many assurances.  So we signed up with Garifuna Tours near the central square in Tela (tel 48- 2904).  I had considered just driving the rental car to Tornabe or the hamlet of Miami and negotiating locally for a boat, but it turns out that the hotel clerk was wrong and the road he would have sent us down was washed out.  So I am glad we went with the tour boat.  Carlos Reyes, a Miami-based Honduran college student, picked us up at the hotel in a pick up truck and drove to the main highway.  About 0.2 miles west of the Texaco gas station (2.5 miles west of the Lancetilla entrance) was a well-marked turn for Punta Sal National Park ( a corruption of Punta Salida).  The park is also labelled "Jeannette Kawas National Park".  Kawas was a local champion of the national park and supposedly was assassinated by local large landowners who did not want their lands expropriated for the ecosystem preserve.  The road ends in a village where boats can be hired, but Carlos had a boat stored already.  Carlos led us around the mangroves for a few hours.

We missed the Boat-billed Herons and howler monkeys that are often seen there, but had a quick look at white-faced monkeys and an immature Rufescent Tiger Heron, which is at the extreme of its range here, plus lots of other egrets, herons, Common Black Hawk, etc.  The commonest bird was Prothonotary Warbler---as abundant as in the Okefenokee in March.  This coast must be an important staging area for the species' migration, if not a winter ground.  We had lunch in the poor Garifuna village of Miami, a coconut-palm shaded village on a sandspit facing the sea-----picturesque and friendly, but poverty stricken.  Black and Caspian Terns drifted off shore and a lone Whimbrel patrolled the beach.  As we walked to the boat, some vultures in the palms let go a white barrage onto William's and my hats: the highlight of the trip for a five-year old.

We left Tela, hoping the rains would not hit the stuck window, and traded cars at the San Pedro Sula airport.  I was getting anxious about time since we did not want to drive to Copan at night.  Various delays ensued and half way to Copan, nightfall and a drizzle arrived.  Big frogs strolled on the macadam in the rain.  At one point I passed a bus and came face to face with another bus without headlights approaching in the opposite direction.  Most of the road to Copan Ruinas is paved, but there is one stretch that won't be finished until December, 1996.  I was glad when we reached our hotel: Hacienda El Jaral (52-4457) in Santa Rita de Copan, 11 kilometers before the ruins themselves.  The Hacienda is not cheap but is in the country, so there is good rural birding within walking distance of the hotel.  They have a lake and are near the Copan River.  My son watched farmers milk cows next door.  We had tried to stay in cheaper lodging in the town of Copan Ruinas itself at La Casa de Cafe B&B (Apdo Postal 3753, San Pedro Sula; tel 52-72-74; fax 52-05-23) but initially had the wrong phone number.

September 23:

We woke to the roosters' crowing at 4:20AM, and then the Ferruginous Pygmy Owl sang (locals call it "aurora" which means dawn).  We walked to the river and lake behind the hotel and then explored the Copan ruins.  There is a lot less forest near Copan than at Tikal, but we did hear another Pygmy Owl.  Most of the valley near the ruins is under cultivation, especially tobacco for cigars.  After lunch in the picnic area we toured the brand new archaeology museum adjacent to the ruins----a very impressive museum built with USAID funds and assistance from a variety of universities including Harvard's Peabody Museum.  We then walked around the nearby ruins of Las Sepulturas.  Although we had good views of motmots, saltators and other brush birds, we did not find the Slaty Finch that had been reported in August on the trail to the river on the south side of the ruins.  At night I reached via radio phone Jorge Barraza, a local school teacher who is starting a nature tour business (Xukpi Tours) and arranged to celebrate my birthday with a half-day hike.

September 24:

Jorge met me at 6AM and drove about 45 minutes to the north of the town of Copan Ruinas where we walked up a muddy road past a coffee mill and then still farther up through coffee plantations to a trail along a water pipeline.  We could see White- crowned parrots in the distance and several small mixed-species flocks.  We hiked an hour or so through cloud forest at a slow pace up to the end of the trail at a 25-year old water tank and then slowly retraced our steps.  The diverse forest and waterfall was a spectacular trip in itself, but Jorge was apologetic that we had not seen more bird species that day for reasons that we could not discern.  However, the bird variety was outstanding, with several Violet Sabrewings, Plain Antvireo, and lots of migrants including Kentucky Warbler.  Barraza can be reached at 98-3435 days and 98- 3503 nights or c/o the Casa de Cafe mailing address or fax.  His English is excellent, although we spoke mostly in Spanish, and he has taught himself an amazing amount without tapes and many books.  I gave him two tapes I happened to have with me to help him out.  We drove back to San Pedro Sula in about 3 hours, this time by daylight.  But I almost ditched the car to avoid an oncoming bus that was passing a truck on a blind curve.  In the green valleys, kids were spreading corn to dry on the highway shoulder.  The Copan cloudforest seemed far away as I went back to work in Tegucigalpa the next day.


If we had more time I would have liked to go to Olanchito for the endemic Honduran Emerald Hummingbird (see Craig Faanes' 1991 trip report available from ABA Sales); explore Lago de Yohoa closer to Tegus (see report posted Sept 8, 1996 on Birdchat by James Barton), or spend some time in the Moskitia coast.  A good friend and herpetologist, Dr Andrew Kahl of Houston, recommended Moskitia Ecoaventuras (210404; fax 210408).  We talked to them in Tegus, and they seemed accommodating, but we could not fit in the time since I had to get back to work.

See also: Bird Watchers' Digest, Nov/Dec 1996, p120-128: Christmas in Honduras, by Marcia Bonta.


Little Tinamou                        Crypturellus soui
Least Grebe                           Tachybaptus dominicus
Magnificent Frigatebird               Fregata magnificens
Brown Pelican                         Pelecanus occidentalis
Tricolored Heron                      Egretta tricolor
Little Blue Heron                     Egretta caerulea
Snowy Egret                           Egretta thula
Great Egret                           Ardea alba
Cattle Egret                          Bubulcus ibis
Green Heron                           Butorides virescens
Rufescent Tiger-Heron                 Tigrisoma lineatum
Wood Stork                            Mycteria americana
Black Vulture                         Coragyps atratus
Turkey Vulture                        Cathartes aura
Osprey                                Pandion haliaetus
White-breasted Hawk                   Accipiter chionogaster
Common Black-Hawk                     Buteogallus anthracinus
American Kestrel                      Falco sparverius
Plain Chachalaca                      Ortalis vetula
Whimbrel                              Numenius phaeopus
Spotted Sandpiper                     Tringa macularia
Ruddy Turnstone                       Arenaria interpres
Black-bellied Plover                  Pluvialis squatarola
Wilson's Plover                       Charadrius wilsonia
Black Tern                            Chlidonias niger
Caspian Tern                          Sterna caspia
Rock Dove                             Columba livia
White-crowned Pigeon                  Columba leucocephala
Band-tailed Pigeon                    Columba fasciata
Red-billed Pigeon                     Columba flavirostris
White-winged Dove                     Zenaida asiatica
Inca Dove                             Columbina inca
Common Ground-Dove                    Columbina passerina
White-tipped Dove                     Leptotila verreauxi
Olive-throated Parakeet               Aratinga nana
White-crowned Parrot                  Pionus senilis
Smooth-billed Ani                     Crotophaga ani
Groove-billed Ani                     Crotophaga sulcirostris
Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl                 Glaucidium brasilianum
Chestnut-collared Swift               Streptoprocne rutila
White-collared Swift                  Streptoprocne zonaris
Chimney Swift                         Chaetura pelagica
Vaux's Swift                          Chaetura vauxi
Great Swallow-tailed Swift            Panyptila sanctihieronymi
Long-tailed Hermit                    Phaethornis superciliosus
Violet Sabrewing                      Campylopterus hemileucurus
Canivet's Emerald                     Chlorostilbon canivetii
White-eared Hummingbird               Hylocharis leucotis
Cinnamon Hummingbird                  Amazilia rutila
Green-breasted Mountain-gem           Lampornis sybillae
Wine-throated Hummingbird             Atthis ellioti
Violaceous Trogon                     Trogon violaceus
Belted Kingfisher                     Ceryle alcyon
Turquoise-browed Motmot               Eumomota superciliosa
Blue-crowned Motmot                   Momotus momota
Rufous-tailed Jacamar                 Galbula ruficauda
Collared Aracari                      Pteroglossus torquatus
Keel-billed Toucan                    Ramphastos sulfuratus
Ladder-backed Woodpecker              Picoides scalaris
Golden-olive Woodpecker               Piculus rubiginosus
Lineated Woodpecker                   Dryocopus lineatus
Olivaceous Woodcreeper                Sittasomus griseicapillus
Plain Antvireo                        Dysithamnus mentalis
Greenish Elaenia                      Myiopagis viridicata
Western Wood-Pewee                    Contopus sordidulus
Least Flycatcher (+lots of Empid sp.) Empidonax mimimus
Yellowish Flycatcher                  Empidonax flavescens
Black Phoebe                          Sayornis nigricans
Bright-rumped Attila                  Attila spadiceus
Tropical Kingbird                     Tyrannus melancholicus
Boat-billed Flycatcher                Megarynchus pitangua
Social Flycatcher                     Myiozetetes similis
Great Kiskadee                        Pitangus sulphuratus
Masked Tityra                         Tityra semifasciata
Bushy-crested Jay                     Cyanocorax melanocyaneus
Brown Jay                             Psilorhinus morio
Red-eyed Vireo                        Vireo olivaceus
Yucatan Vireo                         Vireo magister
Lesser Greenlet                       Hylophilus decurtatus
Brown-backed Solitaire                Myadestes occidentalis
Slate-colored Solitaire               Myadestes unicolor
Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush      Catharus aurantiirostris
Clay-colored Robin                    Turdus grayi
Spot-breasted Wren                    Thryothorus maculipectus
Plain Wren                            Thryothorus modestus
White-breasted Wood-Wren              Henicorhina leucosticta
Gray-breasted Wood-Wren               Henicorhina leucophrys
Gray-breasted Martin                  Progne chalybea
Barn Swallow                          Hirundo rustica
House Sparrow                         Passer domesticus
Black-and-white Warbler               Mniotilta varia
Prothonotary Warbler                  Protonotaria citrea
Northern Waterthrush                  Seiurus noveboracensis
Kentucky Warbler                      Oporornis formosus
Gray-crowned Yellowthroat             Geothlypis poliocephala
Wilson's Warbler                      Wilsonia pusilla
Slate-throated Redstart               Myioborus miniatus
Golden-crowned Warbler                Basileuterus culicivorus
Rufous-capped Warbler                 Basileuterus rufifrons
Rusty Sparrow                         Aimophila rufescens
Yellow-throated Brush-Finch           Atlapetes gutturalis
Common Bush-Tanager                   Chlorospingus ophthalmicus
Red-crowned Ant-Tanager               Habia rubica
Red-throated Ant-Tanager              Habia fuscicauda
Crimson-collared Tanager              Ramphocelus sanguinolentus
Blue-gray Tanager                     Thraupis episcopus
Yellow-throated Euphonia              Euphonia hirundinacea
Blue-black Grassquit                  Volatinia jacarina
White-collared Seedeater              Sporophila torqueola
Lesser Seed-Finch                     Oryzoborus angolensis
Yellow-faced Grassquit                Tiaris olivacea
Cinnamon-bellied Flower-piercer       Diglossa baritula
Black-headed Saltator                 Saltator atriceps
Grayish Saltator                      Saltator coerulescens
Chestnut-headed Oropendola            Psarocolius wagleri
Montezuma Oropendola                  Gymnostinops montezuma
Yellow-backed Oriole                  Icterus chrysater
Altamira Oriole                       Icterus gularis
Baltimore Oriole                      Icterus galbula
Melodius Blackbird                    Dives dives
Great-tailed Grackle                  Quiscalus mexicanus


Mark Oberle
2690 Briarlake Woods Way
Atlanta, GA 30345

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