Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Idaho Birders Visit Guatemala with Alvaro Jaramillo

Guest Post from Jay Carlisle of the Idaho Bird Observatory

I've taken a variety of winter-season trips to Latin America - primarily in search of birds but more recently with a second goal of continually improving my Spanish. For some years now, a few SW Idaho birders have encouraged me to put together a trip designed for Idaho birders to see "our" breeding birds on the wintering grounds mixing in with the exotic resident birds. Perfect idea, right? But, as the Research Director of the primarily soft-money-funded Idaho Bird Observatory (at Boise State University - "IBO"), one thing I don't have is a lot of free time for organizing and researching trip details. Thus, I hadn't been able to make it happen.

Last March, reknowned birder and author, Alvaro Jaramillo, came to Boise as the keynote speaker for the Golden Eagle Audubon Society's (GEAS) annual banquet. When GEAS president Bruce Ackerman asked me if I'd be willing to take Alvaro birding during the day before the banquet, I said, "twist my arm". After all, I'm one of a few passionate Larophiles ("gull lovers") in Idaho and, among other things, Alvaro is well known for his expertise on gull identification. Thus, after a great morning of birding up in Idaho City (White-headed Woodpeckers and multiple finch species), it wasn't hard to convince Alvaro (and Heidi Ware - a "Birding is Fun!" blogger) that a trip to the Canyon County landfill was in order ;-)

Soon, I learned that Alvaro had just started his own business, Alvaro's Adventures, so we started discussing the idea of a trip to southern Mexico or northern Central America - somewhere in the heart of the winter range for western migrants that also has a great variety of resident birds. Alvaro had some experience working with the Guatemalan government to increase eco-tourism there and had previously led a few trips there. Thus, before long we'd settled on Guatemala and Alvaro pulled together a great-looking itinerary! After that, it didn't take too long to fill the trip and we were off.
We had originally designed the trip for GEAS members, partially as a fundraiser for Idaho Bird Observatory. Happily, we ended up with a mixed group consisting of 6 folks from SW Idaho and 4 folks from the Moscow/Viola area. We had a great time traveling various areas in the highlands of central and western Guatemala. We covered 9 birding destinations, including several operating coffee fincas where we enjoyed great coffee and an informative tour of the coffee process, including a tasting test.

In 9+ days of birding, we enjoyed a wide variety of resident and migratory birds - including 248 species observed by the group as a whole. For Facebook users, check out a few pics in Alvaro's "Guatemala 2012" album. 

  • Resplendant Quetzal
  • 3 trogon species
  • 4 motmot species (great looks at Tody, Blue-throated, Blue-crowned, and Turquoise-browed)
  • 19 raptor species including ideal looks at several tropical specialties: Black and Ornate Hawk-eagles, Collared Forest-falcon, & Bat Falcon (we watched one chase a hummingbird!)
  • 20 hummingbird species, including: Sparkling-tailed, Wine-throated, and Emerald-chinned hummingbirds
  • 5 owl species: Mountain (aka Guatemalan) and Ferruginous Pygmy-owls, as well as Fulvous, Mottled, and Black-and-white
  • Long-tailed Mannakin
  • 29 warblers including Pink-headed Warbler and my first ever view of a Golden-cheeked (and a stud male at that)!!
  • the elusive Blue Seedeater (a bamboo specialist that was a lifer for everyone)
  • 6 oriole species including Spot-breasted
  • Elegant Euphonia and Blue-crowned Chlorophonia
Also, Alvaro took several folks on a 3-day extension to bird the Mayan ruins of Tikal and the surrounding area. Highlights there included Great Curassow, Orange-breasted Falcon, and many other awesome birds.

And, finally, we enjoyed an abundance of wintering migrants everywhere we went - including a healthy mix of "eastern" and "western" breeding species. In places it seemed as if every other small bird we saw was a Townsend's, Wilson's, or Tennessee Warbler! We also saw good numbers of Hammond's and Least Flycatchers, Northern Rough-winged and Violet-green Swallows, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting (a few Painteds too), Western Tanagers, Vaux's Swift, Warbling Vireo, and many more. 

Some of us have already begun talking about potential future trips, possibly including Chile, Panama, Trinidad and Tobago, and more ;-)

Feel free to contact myself and/or Alvaro if interested in learning more.

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