Saturday, 6 February 2010

Dawn in the Neotropics


From top: Black-and-white Owl, Grey Hawk, Violaceous Trogon, Painted Bunting and Orchard Oriole.

Yesterday seems like a long time ago. Two flights, more than 14 hours in the air and the most appalling in-flight food in a long time have been forgotten. Well, almost. Laurens Steijn, Bill Oddie and I arrived late in the afternoon in Guatemala City - later than planned, thanks to the airline, so our first attempt at birding in Central America amounted to no more than watching Great-tailed Grackles go to roost and lucking in on two Lesser Nighthawks hunting insects over the lights at a roadside petrol station.

This morning was different. Something else entirely, in fact. I was up early at 4 am, running on a mixture of adrenaline, anticipation and jetlag, and finally we met for coffee at 6 am as the sun set the sky above the Guatemalan highlands dimly aglow. Waking up in the tropics is a fantastic feeling, and within minutes of going outside birds were on the move. Swelled in numbers by other members of the international brigade attending the country's sixth 'birdwatching encounter', we headed into the private forest reserve at Los Tarrales.

Over the course of the next few hours neck-ache set in as we got to grips with everything from Collared Aracari, Lineated Woodpecker and Yellow-winged Tanager to a wealth of wintering warblers, vireos and flycatchers. There were too many highlights to list here, though a fabulous Black-and-white Owl in broad daylight takes some beating as bird of the day. It retained the title for a whole four hours, until arriving at tonight's hotel, on the shores of Lake Atitlan, when we found a Prevost's Ground Sparrow just outside the restaurant. If you don't know why that wins, punch it in to Google images and see for yourself.

I haven't finished the day list yet, but it's likely to be more than 100 species, all largely in the same upland forest and forest edge habitat - amazing diversity for such a small area. Tomorrow will see another dawn start as we ascent Atitlan Volcano on foot for a chance of that true Neotropic enigma, Horned Guan. Wish us luck.

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