Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Discovering Antigua

There is nothing quite like the thrill of birding a new place.  During the first night anywhere, it's always difficult for me to sleep because of the excitement.  We arrived in Antigua, Guatemala at night.  As I walked the muddy steps to our cabin under the dripping tree canopy, I let my mind wander.  Which bird would I see first?

Band-backed Wrens
At dawn, I would awaken to what sounded like loud coin filled aluminum cans being shaken outside our window.  I jumped quickly out of my bed and ran to the window.  My first Guatemalan bird would be the Band-backed Wren.  So I eagerly got out of my bed and walked outside into the dark and noisy forest.  On the ground, I discover.....

White-eared Ground-sparrow
....a White-eared Ground-sparrow.  WOW!  Would all of these birds have long winded names?  Yes:)  I proceeded to take my outside shower and who should be watching me from the dark shadows?

Blue-throated Motmot
A Blue-throated Motmot.  Every morning, he perched on this wooden rail and caught bugs while I brushed my teeth.  And it kept going on and on like this during our trek into and around Antigua.  Almost every bird seen was brand new for me.  My morning breakfasts were always interrupted by a new bird popping in for a visit! Like this Azure-crowned Hummingbird.  Or.....

Azure-crowned Hummingbird
....this Blue-gray Tanager. I was eating my eggs near this peach tree and caught the sound of this bird in mid-bite.

Blue-gray Tanager
 Working the camera in a tropical setting is VERY difficult.  There is so much shade under the canopy. Let's not even talk about the humidity factor.  Oh and the leaves!  There were lots of great hiding places for birds.  Quite a challenge for a desert dweller who is used to having too much light!

Rufous-collared Sparrow
Antigua is a fairly safe city to bird. English is widely spoken. When we arrived into Guatemala City, there were taxis awaiting us to take us to nearby Antigua.  It's an old colonial town full of charm and history.  So many people come to this city and study Spanish.  Or just hang out and relax.  In fact, Antigua has all of the modern conveniences at your fingertips. There's great dining, 5 star hotel accomodations(if you need it:), and.......birding! 

So while my friend did yoga, I spied upon Squirrel Cuckoos and Bronzed Cowbirds!

Bronzed Cowbird.  Apparently there is another cowbird similar to this one known as the GIANT COWBIRD.  Define Giant:)
We stayed at an ecolodge outside of the city inside of a patch of rain forest. It was there that I met another birder and together we explored several of the hotspots around town. My plan of attack anywhere I go is to stay for several days and observe bird routines during the morning, afternoon and evening. Our first stop was the nearby Finca Pilar. 

Justin gets up close to the hummingbird feeders
 This is a great place to pick up hummingbirds.  The complex or neighborhood association maintains a hummingbird station where birders can view Magnificent Hummingbirds and larger Neotropical hummingbirds known as Sabrewings!  They make the Magnificent Hummingbird look tiny!  We had Violet and Rufous Sabrewings at this location. 

Rufous Sabrewing
There was a 5 dollar entrance fee which allowed us access to a well maintained trail inside this protected stretch of rain forest.  The best part of all was that this finca was within walking distance from the center of Antigua.  As a general rule, if you have an expensive camera, pack it away into a backpack until you reach your destination.  Once inside the gates, I took my gear out and felt extremely safe hiking along the trail to the top. Remember to bring plenty of water. 

Green-throated mountaingem
 Keep your eyes out for the Bushy-crested Jay.  They were surprisingly very shy around me.  That was a first.  I'm used to Jays coming right up and looking for peanuts.  However, I've discovered that there are several Jays that aren't so forthcoming:)  Keep your eyes open for Emerald Toucanets!  I'll feature that one in our upcoming visit to Tikal. 

Bushy-crested Jay
 Once you reach the top of the trail, there are some amazing views overlooking Finca Pilar. 

View from the top of Finca Pilar
 The Violet Sabrewing is quite the sight in sunlight! Unfortunately, I could only get a recognizable pic of it in the shade. Watch for that amethyst dazzle!  The color was so incredible that it blurred my flight shots!

Violet Sabrewing
  We began our journeys in Antigua.  But we also ended them there as well for a bit of rest. This is a great place to take the family.  As a birder, we are responsible for keeping our spouses or friends occupied while searching for those lifebirds!  Sometimes birders luck out and find one another.  That's an easy vacation plan!  But for most of us, we have to keep our non-birding company occupied.  They want monkeys.  We want birds!  Well...I like monkeys too:) Antigua offers lots of great places to explore while still keeping everyone entertained.  

For example, while my friend watches a street show, I'm spying upon a ........

....a White-eared Hummingbird!  They were very common around town.  

White-eared Hummingbird
  But let's get back to the birds!  Another wonderful place to visit with the crew is an outdoor park known as El Tenedor Del Cerro. An incredible museum/hotel known as Casa Santo Domingo sits at the bottom of the hill.  It is there you can get a free ride to the top and visit the works of aspiring Guatemalan artists.  The heart of the park is centered around the work of Efrain Recinos.  He passed away in 2011, but his work still inspires many people.  And there are birds here as well that visit the gardens!

While we were there, we saw plenty of Inca Doves, White-eared Hummingbirds and of course, the very common Clay-colored Thrush. 

Clay-colored Thrush
Antigua was a great place for me to get my bearings. For soon, we'd leave the comforts of Antigua behind and head towards isolated locales in cramped vans. 

El Tenedor Del Cerro-the Fork of the Hill
There were things that lurked in the dark forests that we had to find like Trogons and Quetzals. 

Black-headed Trogon
 So we enjoyed the comforts of Antigua while we could.  Antigua and the surrounding foothills are great places to explore.  

The Scarlet Macaws of Casa Santo Domingo
 So pack your binoculars, dust off your long lens and fill your camel pack.  On our next visit, we'll visit the ancient Mayan pyramids of Tikal.  It's a trek you don't want to miss!

So off we go in our Tuc Tuc on another Birding is Fun adventure!
For more about birds from around the world, check out Wild Bird Wednesday!


  1. Such a beautiful place ! Viewing your pictures of birds is a great joy !

  2. What beautiful scenery and a wonderful adventure you had and photographed. I have never seen any of the birds before so it was lovely seeing them in your post today. Thanks for sharing

  3. Such intriguing and colorful birds! Great shots!

  4. Wow, that looks and sounds like you had a great time, so many birds and challenging situations. Great shots

  5. You saw so much in such a short amount of time!! ...and in spite of all and tropical some great shots.... thanks for a lovely little holiday!

  6. A joy to read this wonderful post, Chris! Sounds like your trip to Antigua was filled with quite a variety of beautiful birds. Isn't it fun to see so many life birds in one place? You really should write blogs for travel companies! I wish I could leave for Antigua tomorrow. I truly enjoyed viewing all the terrific photographs of the gorgeous exotic birds. The hummingbirds are especially stunning. Looking forward to reading about your next adventure!