I’ve recently returned from Honduras where I was leading the first Avian Adventures tour in what is still a relatively unvisited country as far as European birders are concerned. Several UK companies now offer tours there but these are mostly short, one-centre trips based at The Lodge at Pico Bonito. During our tour we spent six nights at Pico Bonito but also travelled south to the country’s capital, Tegucigalpa for two nights and then had two nights at Panacam Lodge in the Cerro Azul Meamber National Park.
Honduras covers an area of 112,492 square kilometres; it’s a bit bigger than Portugal and a bit smaller than England. Its bird list has about 730 species, about the same as neighbouring Guatemala but fewer than the better known Costa Rica and Panama to the south.
Having enjoyed 15 previous birding tours in Central America and seen around 670 species, I wasn’t expecting to see many new birds; my guess was that there would be no more than ten or a dozen ‘lifers’ for me on this trip. I was more than a little surprised therefore to find that after the first full day birding close to Tegucigalpa, mostly along the entrance road to La Tigra National Park, I had already seen six species that I hadn’t seen before! These included Green-breasted Mountain-gem, Red-throated Parakeet, Blue-and-white Mockingbird and Sparkling-tailed Hummingbird.
Of course it couldn’t continue at that rate and in the end my original estimate was about right (I finished up with 13 lifers in total) but it was interesting that this area near the capital, which most tours don’t visit, was where I saw around half of the birds that were new to me.
The second area we went to was the Cerro Azul Meambar National Park, which lies just to the east of Lake Yojoa, roughly midway between Tegucigalpa and the country’s second largest city, San Pedro Sula. Panacam Lodge proved to be an excellent place to spend a couple of nights and we saw lots of birds here, including what for me was probably the ‘bird of the trip’, a Ruddy Crake. Amongst the other birds seen at the lodge were Black-crested Coquette, Keel-billed Motmot, Mottled Owl, Collared Forest-Falcon, White-bellied Emerald and more Blue-diademed Motmots than I have ever seen anywhere. Down at the lake, Snail Kites and White-throated Flycatcher were the main attractions among a nice selection of wetland species.
The rest of the tour was spent at the very nice Lodge at Pico Bonito, located near La Ceiba on the Caribbean coast. The lodge is situated between the Corinto and Coloradito rivers at the edge of Pico Bonito National Park and has extensive grounds with forest trails and observation towers that could have kept us occupied for several days without going elsewhere. Toucans, tanagers, euphonias, hummingbirds, cotingas, woodcreepers, woodpeckers and more - there was always something to see and it wasn't only birds, there were Coatis and Agoutis and several different lizards. However, like most birders who come here, we also went out on excursions to Cuero y Salado Wildlife Refuge, the Rio Aguan Valley, Rio Santiago Nature Resort and the Lancetilla Botanical Gardens.
Anole Lizard (Norops sp.)
Cuero y Salado was a fun morning involving a short train ride to get to the refuge and then a boat trip through mangrove forest. The train was a rather old, narrow-gauge affair with just two open carriages. It was the first time I had been on a train when the driver was not only looking for birds but actually stopped the train so that passengers could see them better. At one point he even put the train into reverse for a better view of a Bare-throated Tiger-Heron! From the boat we saw the expected kingfishers and herons but also a Northern Potoo and two White-necked Puffbirds.
One of the highlights of the whole tour was the long day out to the Rio Aguan Valley, which required departure from the lodge at 4.00am. Honduras has only one endemic species, the Honduran Emerald, and this was our only opportunity to see it. Although it has only a small population and a very restricted range it proved quite easy to find but it was rather eclipsed by the much more interesting Lesser Roadrunner that we found along the same trail! The day was also memorable for two burst tyres on the Toyota Coaster that we travelled in. Fortunately, the second one that resulted in us being stranded and having to wait two hours for a rescue vehicle was on the way back and didn’t affect the birding!
Rio Santiago Nature Resort is best known for the dozens of feeders in the gardens which attract a wonderful variety of hummingbird species. We saw only nine species in the short time we were there but twice that number have been recorded. There are also trails by the nearby river where we managed a brief glimpse of Sunbitterns.
On the morning of our last day we went to Lancetilla Botanical Gardens about an hour away from Pico Bonito. We spent only about three hours birding here and barely scratched the surface but it was easy to see its potential and it would have been good to spend more time. Great Antshrikes, Smoky-brown Woodpecker, Rufous-tailed Jacamars and a Yellow-bellied Tyrannulet were just a few of the birds seen. For lunch we went to the nearby seaside resort of Tela where Royal Terns and a Magnificent Frigatebird were seen while we were eating.
The beach at Tela
As we travelled around Honduras of course we saw extensive cultivation of sugar cane, palm oil, coffee, bananas and pineapples but agriculture is restricted by the fact that so much of the country is mountainous and this is undoubtedly a country with great biological diversity with much more to see than we could manage during our short tour.
It’s worth mentioning that it might easily be possible to be put off visiting Honduras by looking at the advice provide by the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office, which majors on the high levels of crime. I can honestly say that at no time did I feel nervous, uncomfortable or unsafe and I will have no hesitation in returning there if and when the opportunity arises. After all there is more to travel and to birding than just ticking off new species - I certainly won’t be expecting many next time.
Thanks are due to James Adams at The Lodge at Pico Bonito and to guides, Alex Alvarado and Santos Calderon for all their help with the tour.