Trip Report for Venture to
Pico Bonito Lodge, Honduras
February 15 - 22, 2013
The flights to San Pedro Sula were uneventful (as they should be!) and our pick-up was waiting for us outside baggage claim- always a good sign. It's about 3 hours to the lodge along pretty good roads through farmland and small roadside towns; all the while the ridge of coastal mountains was to our right. The road up to the lodge was gravel and wound through an abandoned cocoa plantation which by the look of things was rapidly returning back to nature. The lodge is very natural and tucked into the trees and looked like the perfect place to spend a week – or two! The afternoon birding is always slow, but we still managed the typical local birds, such as Keel-billed Toucan, Collared Aracari and a pair of Vermiculated Screech-Owls, the latter tucked up against some dead leaves in some short trees. Elmer, our local guide, knew just where to find many of the local birds and was a fount of information about the area and the birds at Pico Bonito Lodge. We spent the whole of the next day exploring the grounds finding many of the same species as the previous day, but adding spectacular views of one of the local specialties, the Lovely Cotinga.
We had rainy conditions both the first and second afternoons upon our arrival and this resulted in a very wet boat trip our third morning on the Cuero y Salado boat trip.
Our "train" trip through the marshes and pastures was wonderful with Lesser Yellow-headed Vultures soaring over the fields, small flocks of Variable and White-collared Seedeaters being flushed ahead of the train and Tricolored, Little Blue and Green Herons wading in the shallow pools. Despite the impending rain, the boat trip was most enjoyable and our local boatman found roosting Lesser Nighthawk and Boat-billed Heron as well a single Mantled Howler Monkey sheltering from the wet weather. Unfortunately the next belt of heavy rain swept through ending our boat trip as we tried to prevent ourselves being soaked to the skin! Luckily a local lady brewed us all some hot coffee, which along with some fresh fruit, warmed us a little. Another one of the popular outings from Pico Bonito Lodge is the full day trip to Olanchito and the Aguan Valley. This is the stronghold for the endangered Honduran Emerald; the only bird endemic to Honduras and a dry thorn forest inhabitant. It's a long drive but well worth it and thankfully the overcast conditions kept the temperatures down a little. Yes, we did see the Honduran Emerald, a bright blue and green hummer with a purplish gorget and upper chest, and also the brilliant Salvin's Emerald plus a couple of wintering Ruby-throats, probably fueling up in order to start their northbound journey within the next few weeks. Other local birds in the thornscrub included a pair of White-lored Gnatcatchers, several Brown-crested Flycatchers and brief views of a Lesser Roadrunner (by just a couple of folks).
For many people, a visit to the Tropics means a lot of hummingbirds and there's nowhere better in the local area than the nearby lodge at Rio Santiago. Here there were over 100 hummingbird feeders with about 10 species coming and going in all directions. The common hummers were Violet-crowned Woodnymph, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird and White-necked Jacobin, while the specialties included Green-breasted Mango, Brown Violet-ear and the uncommon Band-tailed Barbthroat. A hike up the mountain alas did not produce the hoped-for Keel-billed Motmot (this would have to wait for another day!)
Another great birding spot is Lancetilla Botanical Gardens in the city of Tela about 1 hour west of La Ceiba. At over 2000 hectares, this is one of the largest botanical gardens in Latin America. Needless to say we has another early start to enjoy the birding before the heat kicked in. Lancetilla is renowned for being an excellent place for overwintering Neotropical migrants and we saw a great selection that morning, including Yellow-throated and White-eyed Vireos, Magnolia, Black-and-white and Golden-winged Warblers and lots of Gray Catbirds. We could never coax the Ruddy Crake out of his thick wet grass home and the Great Antshrike made a very brief appearance. A pair of Smoky-brown Woodpeckers showed fairly well and a beautiful pair of Blue Ground-Doves sat for an instance before they flew back into the forest. Three Crimson-collared Tanagers fed on some philodendron fruits allowing us for some great scope views and a flock of 50+ Baltimore and Orchard Orioles fed in the top of a Gumbo-limbo tree in the more managed area of the gardens.
Lunch was at a little restaurant on the Caribbean where a sea breeze kept us cool in the shade of the coconut palms. Delicious fried shrimp and rice and beans was washed down with a cold beer while we kept our eyes out for seabirds.
It was a little quiet and the only birds we had were a few Brown Pelicans, 1 Magnificent Frigatebird and a handful of Royal Terns. Our next day was a "free day" so several of us decided to hike the Loop Trail back at the lodge, especially as we had not yet seen one of Pico Bonito's star birds, the Keel-billed Motmot. It's a steep climb up the mountainside, although the trails were very well maintained with steps cut into the earth allowing for a slow and steady walk towards the top. We rested on Platform 3 where several chartreuse-colored Green Honeycreepers chased each other around a fruiting tree and watched 2 immaculate White Hawks soaring over the far ridge.
Elmer played the recording of our quarry up near the top of the trail and I scanned every branch looking for the responding bird. Luckily I found it in a relatively close tree and all of us had scope views of this most uncommon bird. It was a moderate hike back to the lodge for lunch and a quiet afternoon. Meanwhile Mike and some of the others, with some recent arrivals, explored the grounds of the lodge, having great views of Turquoise-browed Motmot and many of the local toucans, aracaris and other lodge birds.
This was our first visit to this very comfortable jungle birding lodge and it certainly won't be our last. All of the staff were wonderfully attentive and friendly and the food was certainly better than at many other places we have stayed. And one more thing, our group was paid a very nice compliment – we were cohesive, had energy and seemed to enjoying ourselves all of the time. Very nice too!