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18 -21 October 2007

by Dave Klauber

This was a long weekend to northern Honduras primarily to search for the Honduran Emerald and possibly a few other birds. Unfortunately I never got definitive looks at it. The primary reason for this report is to provide updated information and to encourage others to obtain updated information, if any can be found.


For a bird guide I used Steve Howell’s A Bird-Finding Guide to Mexico, and found it to be very good as always. I used a May 1996 trip report from Ron and Marcia Braun, found on Blake Maybank’s Birding the Americas website. I also consulted Nigel Wheatley’s Where to Watch Birds in Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean from 2001. Both gave the same information for the emerald, which was not completely accurate, causing me much lost time. I found very little information available regarding Honduras, especially the northern coast. Honduras has suffered two major hurricanes since the mid-nineties, and I didn’t (and don’t) know how they affected directions and conditions. In addition, from my experience in other Central American countries, there have been infrastructure changes in the last decade, generally for the better, especially regarding road conditions.

For accommodation I used the Lonely Planet Honduras and the Bay Islands, 1st edition, January 2007. Although it’s a recent book a couple of places were not operating. I used the International Travel maps of Central America, which was adequate for the major routes. I had arranged a car rental from Hertz but wound up using Service Rent a Car, two booths down from Hertz. Note that insurance is mandatory, even when your credit card covers LDW. The Hertz rate was $108 for 3 days for a mid-size automatic (excluding insurance), which was not available when I arrived. The Service rate was about $137 including insurance for an automatic. This was the rainy season, and I encountered some rain, but it did not adversely affect me. It was very hot during the day, although some breezes provided occasional relief.


The bank at the airport was closed when I arrived around 5:30 PM, but there was an ATM available. Credit cards, when accepted, can involve an extra charge of about 4%-10% from what I’ve read, although I wasn’t charged the two times I used mine. When using an ATM be careful of multiples of 500, since you will only receive 500 bills, which can be difficult to change in smaller locations. Add or subtract a couple of hundred from the nearest 500, like 1200 or 800 rather than 500 or 1000, to guarantee that you will receive at least a few 100 notes. The exchange rate was somewhere around 18 or 19 lempiras to the dollar.

Gas is more expensive than in the US. I’m not sure of the exact conversion rate, but I believe it averaged about $3.50 - $4 a gallon, and I used a tank and a half of gas driving about 900 kilometers. The roads were in surprisingly good condition, with very few potholes. I stayed in moderate to low budget hotels. Room prices ranged from $15-$40. The main inspiration for the trip was a special airfare of $278 round trip from New York to San Pedro Sula on American Airlines.


I saw 102 species and heard one more. No doubt the total would have been higher if I had not spent most of two out of the three days in the same habitat, but I was not after a big trip list. Inquiries about specific species will gladly be answered at:


October 18, Thursdayflight to San Pedro Sula and drive to La Ceiba

My flight from Miami to San Pedro Sula was delayed an hour due to non-arrival of a passenger and an hour’s search to remove her luggage, so it finally arrived around 5:30 PM, an hour later than scheduled. Note there is another flight that arrives around noon from Miami which would be better, but I couldn’t get that flight with the special fare. My automatic rental from Hertz was not available (I don’t drive a stick, sad but true) and they found an automatic from Service Rent A Car and Tour Operator, two booths down. The car was fine, with some dings (preferred, as any new ones wouldn’t show easily!) but otherwise in good condition.

By the time I set off it was just after 6:30 and dark. It’s almost exactly 200 kilometers to La Ceiba on good highway. Fortunately the airport is 15 km east of the city, on the way towards Tela. The first town reached is El Progreso, about 15 km away. You can get gas and meals here if desired. I filled up the tank and continued, stopping at a roadside restaurant outside Tela, and arriving at La Ceiba just after 9 PM. I stayed at the Hotel Monserratte a bit east of the Parque Central. They let me pay in US dollars, $37, and the room was pretty good, although the water pressure in the shower was dismal. They have a secure car park with a guard.

October 19, FridayOlanchito area all day

I left the hotel just after 5 AM, driving the 76 km to Saba (or Sava), then the 40 km to Olanchito in about 90 minutes. The road was surfaced and in very good condition, so you can drive 100 km per hour or more. It got light around 5:30. Here is where the confusion started. As mentioned in Wheatley and the Braun’s report, there is a Texaco station outside Olanchito, where you continue straight, rather than turn right to Olanchito (which I never did visit). This road is now paved until it ends at about 2.6 kilometers with a gas station on the right. This is where you turn, at the end of the road. I probably read the distances too literally. The Brauns mention a road at about 2 km, and Wheatley refers to an inverted Y junction at about 2km. Dennis Rogers, who had studied the bird in the nineties, had advised me to look for whatever thorn forest I could find, and that the emerald should be relatively common in the rainy season.

So I figured any back road into thorn forest should be OK. I turned left on a dirt road at 2 km which passed some houses and ended at a fence at about 1km, then ended at a small river to the left shortly afterwards. The habitat looked alright, as there were some trees and some scrub. I did not see any hummingbirds, only a Crane Hawk and some Baltimore Orioles. I decided to return and re-trace my steps. There is an inverted Y of sorts at 2.3 km, and I took this dirt road, which returned me to the same location. I figured a river would have been mentioned in the reports, but that maybe this was a change due to the hurricanes. I took off my boots and crossed the river, and wasted the rest of the morning walking along a dirt road that passed through pasture with some minor thorn scrub but no cactus.

After an hour I saw two double fence paths to the north as described in the trip report, about .1 km apart. I walked through 12 foot grass to a fence that bordered very dense thorn forest, virtually impenetrable. I walked along the fence bordering the scrub seeing a few warblers including Gray-crowned Yellowthroat, then decided to return. Earlier there had been a breeze but that had died and it was very hot.

It was now nearly 11AM. Not far from the river I asked a rancher in a pickup for a lift across the river. He was somewhat knowledgeable, as he told me the name of the bird in Spanish (Esmeralda de Honduras?) and also mentioned an endemic lizard that could be found 35 km up the road at a place called Poligano de Tiro near the village of San Geronimo. Apparently it was a reserve of some kind. He also told me the hummingbird requires cactus and pointed out a favored type of shrub. I drove back to the road past the Texaco station, to its end at a major dirt road with a gas station on the right. There was also a small store just before this where you could get a cold drink and basic snacks. I decided this was where I should have been, but could not find two double fence lines as described in the report at 4.9km, just a path with the name of a ranch. I walked in and it ended at a private house after a few minutes.

At 4 km there were two double fences, about 1 km apart, so I tried the second one per Wheatley and the Brauns. This passes a private house, goes through a small muddy corral, then continues into thorn forest, probably the intended place. I spent 2 hours in this area from roughly 12 to 2. There were a couple of gates, and the forest / path ended at a fence and open pasture, so the area is not that extensive. There were some tall trees here and I did see some North American migrants, mostly warblers. There is a larger road going south that I visited, but this also ended at a river after a short distance, and I didn’t see much of note there. I decided to try and find the Poligano de Tiro, as the dirt road seemed to be OK. After about 10-15 kilometers I ran into some road construction after which the rocks in the road seemed more frequent and the ride got rougher, so I decided to return and explore side roads for thorn forest. Two hummingbirds flew over the road while I was driving but disappeared.

There were several sections with extensive scrub along the road, but with minimal access. I parked by several roads that went north and walked up a ways, with no luck regarding hummingbirds. It was also quite hot, although some clouds blew in providing some cover. One of these paths opened into a main road, probably the alternate road to La Ceiba near San Jose, but it didn’t have thorn forest, at least not the first 4 km that I drove. About 4:45 I decided to give up and drive to Saba, where Lonely Planet had recommended a budget hotel and where I could access Internet. In retrospect I should have checked out hotels in Olanchito – I saw two advertised along the road. I stayed at the M&S Hotel and supermarket, just off the main road for about 270 lempiras (~$15), with A/C and better hot water and pressure than the Monserrate. They also have a secure parking area. The local restaurant mentioned in Lonely Planet was closed and I ate at a local eatery at the intersection with the main road, decent and cheap. The internet place was open but couldn’t get on line.

October 20, Saturday – Olancito

Rematch. Feeling more confident I left Saba at 5;15, arriving around 6AM and drove to the second double fence at km 4, which now had its gate locked. I decided to explore and found a promising road to the north about 2km further, just before a tan building with blue trim on the left, with a tall red and white radio tower visible ahead. I parked and walked in. The preceding kilometer or so had good thorn scrub on the north, with occasional tall cactus, although few trees. On the left was mostly pasture but good scrub was on the right. The paths forked after a couple of minutes, and I bore right along the scrub.

After about 10 minutes there was a fence running perpendicular to the right, with a small path going into the bushes. I spent about 45 minutes in this scrub, hearing but not seeing Spotted / Crested Bobwhites, some birds and a Box Turtle. White-lored Gnatcatcher was fairly common in most places. I walked back near to where the fork was, and saw a flock of buntings and seedeaters. A hummer flew over headed west, but disappeared. I waited about 45 minutes but it never reappeared.

I returned to the km 4 location and the gate was unlocked. I parked along the road and the friendly owner suggested I park in 100 feet in a nice shady spot to avoid any cattle that might pass by on the main road. I think his name was Rolando, and he said it was fine to bird on his property. I returned to the same area, spending a while in the taller forest, again seeing migrants. I returned part way back and noticed a path in an unfenced area off to the east (to the right as you walk in) just past a deep ravine in the road. This went into decent scrub and forest, and was bordered on the south by a fence.

I finally saw a perched hummer briefly in the scrub just past the fence, but it was a Cinnamon Hummingbird. I also saw a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl catch a lizard over my head. I spent a couple of hours in this area but did not see any other hummingbirds. I decided to try and explore other side roads off the main road with no luck. Just before noon I returned to the path where I had seen the flyover hummer (appox. km 6). I saw the bunting / seedeater flock again just past the fork. A hummingbird flew to a nearby tall cactus with pre-emergent flowers but unfortunately disappeared instantly. Given the habitat it was probably the emerald but it was gone before I could get a decent look.

I waited an hour here but never saw another hummingbird. I couldn’t find any flowering cactus, which was generally scarce. It was nearly 1 PM and looked like rain, so I finally gave up and drove back to La Ceiba. It rained off and on while I was driving back. I arrived in La Ceiba sometime before 4, found an internet café along the highway, and was directed to a nearby shopping mall that had an ATM.

I decided to try my luck scouting the Pico Bonito park, supposedly accessed at El Pino, 19 km west of La Ceiba. Lonely Planet mentioned a good cheap hotel, Posada del Pastor, but nobody was home and it looked closed. I decided to go to The Lodge at Pico Bonito, a very expensive eco-resort, for information. The guards phoned reception and the friendly manager let me in and showed me around the extremely luxurious grounds and gave me a DVD, but said I could not bird there in the morning, as it was for guests only. He did tell me about an access to the park. It was now dark so I gave up and drove back the 19km to La Ceiba, this time staying at the Hotel Ceiba for 493 lempiras, about $26. This was nice and centrally located, a better deal than the Monserrate, also with secure parking.  I had dinner at Ricardo’s, supposedly the best restaurant in town. It was nice but not that great – decent sangria.

October 21, Sunday 10 –Pico Bonito Rio Zacate trail

I was told the park did not open until 8, so I slept in and didn’t arrive until just after 7 AM. The Cascada Zacate trail turnoff is about 3 km west of El Pino, in the middle of a pineapple field. There is a sign on the highway that says Cascada or Rio Zacate, but with no arrow that I could see indicating you should turn. Turn left or south and drive about 2 km along this dirt road through the pineapples until you reach a gate. A family lives here so I think you could arrive earlier and get in. The entry is $6 or 120 lempiras. There is a waterfall a couple of hundred meters in that I didn’t visit, and a trail off to the left that goes uphill for 3 km to a higher waterfall at about 400 meters elevation. This trail goes through nice (very) humid forest, and supposedly changes to cloud forest higher up.

I saw a Tody Motmot a bit past the first mirador, where the trail turns sharply to the left, uphill on the left. Otherwise some different birds and a few new warblers, like Buff-rumped and Kentucky. Two female manakins had me puzzled, as they had red legs and were entirely olive above and below. If they were White-collared they should have had a yellow belly.

Although there were many kids at the lower falls when I returned around noon there was nobody on the upper trail, even though it was Sunday, and I had it to myself. I drove back towards Tela, stopping there for lunch.  It’s a pleasant somewhat rundown beach town that looked like a good place to unwind. I set off for the airport about 2:30. It rained off and on most of the way from Pico Bonito to the airport, although not in Tela. The car rental place was closed when I arrived at 3:45, so I left the keys with Hertz and a note on their counter. I took a cab for $12 to the Hotel Ejecutivo where I had made a reservation previously. The base rate was 661, 767 lempiras with tax, about $41. It was a nice business hotel with a very noisy air conditioner.

October 22 – flight home

Taxi to the airport and flight home. Taxi price is between $12 and $15 and takes about 20 minutes.

Some notes on thorn forest and habitat –

There seem to be several different types of thorn habitat past Olanchito. The most degraded was pastureland with many trees (acacia?) with yellow flowers and occasional scrub along the edges. Next was scrub habitat that had thorny shrubs but no visible cactus. Better was denser scrub with several tall cactus stands but few tall trees. Lastly, and much scarcer and harder to access was the scrub with cactus and taller trees other than acacias that had some bromeliads, the only easily accessible location which I found only at km 4. I would guess the last two would be the preferred habitat.

Hopefully this report will provide some pointers for others, specifically what NOT to do. The bulldozers were destroying habitat near kilometer 4 and this will surely get worse over time, so further exploration will probably be required. Any information on the Poligano de Tiro would be welcome, as this sounded like a nice place. The locals I spoke to in the small towns past Olanchito had heard of it but had no detailed information, other than it had “lots of birds and hummingbirds”. 


Brown Pelican – 2 flying from beach at Tela

Neotropic Cormorant – 1 flyover outside Tela

Great Egret – seen daily

Little Blue Heron – 1 seen roadside pond outside Olanchito

Cattle Egret – roadside last day

Bare-throated Tiger-Heron – 1 in ditch near Pico Bonito entrance

Wood Stork – 1 flyover at SP Sula airport

Roseate Spoonbill – 1 seen roadside pond outside Olanchito

Black Vulture – seen every day

Turkey Vulture – seen every day

White-tailed Kite? – 1 possible flyby near La Ceiba, not counted

Crane Hawk – near Olanchito by river crossing

Gray Hawk – outside Olanchito

Roadside Hawk – outside Olanchito in scrub, several both days

Short-tailed Hawk – km 6 outside Olanchito soaring high, light morph

Crested Caracara – en route to Olanchito

American Kestrel – en route to Olanchito and la Ceiba

Bat Falcon – 1 en route to Olanchito Oct 19

Crested / Spot-bellied Bobwhite – a few heard only at km 6 outside Olanchito

Greater Yellowlegs – 1 seen roadside pond outside Olanchito

Spotted Sandpiper – river crossing and roadside ponds outside Olanchito

Peep sp – one at roadside pond outside Olanchito, probably Semipalmated

Rock Dove – common in urban areas

Pale-vented Pigeon – common between Tela & SP Sula airport

White-winged Dove – common outside Olanchito

Common Ground-Dove – fairly common

Ruddy Ground-Dove – fairly common

Inca Dove – outside Olanchito

Olive-throated(Aztec) Parakeet – 2 or 3 small groups outside Olanchito Oct 19

Red-lored Parrot – 2 or 3 small groups outside Olanchito both days

Groove-billed Ani – common

Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl – one at km 4 – caught a lizard over my head, very rufous

White-collared Swift – flying from 1st waterfall at Pico Bonito

Chaetura sp. (Chimney / Vaux’s Swift?) – flying over scrub, not counted

Blue-throated Goldentail – a hummer with a bright yellow flash viewed from rear at Pico Bonito was probably this bird

Cinnamon Hummingbird – one seen briefly perched in forest scrub at km 4

HONDURAN EMERALD?? – probable brief flybys, not counted Gr-r-r-r-r-r

Black-headed Trogon – 1 seen in denser forest at km 4 Friday

Green Kingfisher – 1 by river outside Olanchito, another at Pico Bonito

Tody Motmot – 1 seen well past Mirador at Pico Bonito, the best bird of the trip

Turquoise-browed Motmot – 1 in forest at km 4

Collared Aracari – two separate birds at Pico Bonito

Golden-fronted Woodpecker – common in dry habitat

Lineated Woodpecker – 1 or 2 along road in taller trees outside Olanchito

Buff-throated Foliage-Gleaner – 1 or 2 at Pico Bonito

Slaty Antwren – 1 female at Pico Bonito

White-collared Manakin – 2 or 3 female types with all-olive underparts. Should have yellow belly

Greenish Elaenia – outside Olanchito in trees and scrub

Yellow-Olive Flycatcher – outside Olanchito in trees and scrub

Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher – 1 at Pico Bonito

Empidonax sp. – several in the scrub, silent, not counted

Eastern Wood Pewee – outside Olanchito in trees and scrub, heard and seen

Black Phoebe – Pico Bonito river

Great Crested Flycatcher – outside Olanchito in trees and scrub, 1 definite, others probable. Other different Myiarchus seen but unsure of ID

Great Kiskadee – common

Tropical Kingbird – common

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher – 1 outside Olanchito about 10 km along road near stream, out of range according to Howell & Webb

Fork-tailed Flycatcher – 1 outside Olanchito along road

Rose-throated Becard – a few outside Olanchito, no rose on throat, males & females

Mangrove Swallow – a few en route to SP Sula at stream crossing Oct 21

Barn Swallow – common outside Olanchito

Spot-breasted Wren – 1 seen outside Olanchito, others heard

Plain Wren – a few outside Olanchito

White-breasted Wood-Wren – Pico Bonito

Gray Catbird – outside Olanchito

Tropical Mockingbird – fairly common outside Olanchito

Swainson’s Thrush – Pico Bonito, 2 or 3

Wood Thrush – 1 on trail at Pico Bonito

Clay-colored Robin / Thrush – a few outside Olanchito

Long-billed Gnatwren – Pico Bonito

White-lored Gnatcatcher – common in scrub outside Olanchito, a Central America bird for me

Brown Jay – common and noisy in scrub with tall trees outside Olanchito

White-eyed Vireo – one at km 4 outside Olanchito, my other Central America bird

Red-eyed Vireo – Pico Bonito, a couple

Lesser Greenlet – Pico Bonito

Blue-winged Warbler – one at km 4 outside Olanchito

Tennessee Warbler – fairly common outside Olanchito

Northern Parula Warbler – one at km 4 outside Olanchito

Yellow Warbler – common all 3 days

Chestnut-sided Warbler – 1 outside Olanchito and 1 at Pico Bonito

Magnolia Warbler – a few outside Olanchito at km 4

Bay-breasted Warbler – 1 at Pico Bonito

Black-and-white Warbler – 1 or 2 each day both locations

American Redstart – outside Olanchito and Pico Bonito

Ovenbird – 1 at Pico Bonito on trail

Northern Waterthrush – 1 outside Olanchito

Louisiana Waterthrush – 1 at Pico Bonito by river

Kentucky Warbler – 1 at Pico Bonito

Gray-crowned Yellowthroat – one outside Olanchito

Hooded Warbler – one female at km 4 outside Olanchito

Buff-rumped Warbler – one at Pico Bonito at waterfall, singing

Scarlet Tanager – Pico Bonito parking lot

Summer Tanager – 1 at Pico Bonito

Blue-gray Tanager – outside Olanchito Oct 19

Scrub Euphonia – outside Olanchito

Yellow-throated Euphonia – outside Olanchito

Golden-hooded Tanager – 1 at Pico Bonito

Blue-black Grassquit – open areas outside Olanchito

Variable Seedeater – 1 or 2 km 6 outside Olanchito

White-collared Seedeater – common at km 6 outside Olanchito

Yellow-faced Grassquit – a few outside Olanchito

Rose-breasted Grosbeak – a few outside Olanchito

Blue Grosbeak – a female km 6 outside Olanchito

Indigo Bunting – a few km 6 outside Olanchito

Great-tailed Grackle – everywhere

Bronzed Cowbird – a pair outside Olanchito

Altamira Oriole – a few seen both days outside Olanchito

Baltimore Oriole – a few seen both days outside Olanchito, also Pico Bonito



Box Turtle – km 6 outside Olanchito

Several large lizards in Pico Bonito forest

Gray squirrels (Yucatan? Deppe’s?)

Dave Klauber

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