Monday, 8 February 2010

In the clouds


From top: Squirrel Cuckoo, Slate-throated Redstart, Elegant Euphonia and Blue-crowned Chlorophonia.

Las Nubes means 'the clouds', and with half of this huge coffee plantation in the Guatemalan highlands still covered in forest, some of it at high altitude, the name is suitably evocative. Having felt rather out of it yesterday I hadn't quite got a grip on exactly where we were - particularly as the journey from the entrance gate to the accommodation took 50 minutes - but with dawn threatening to break and Pauraques flying off the track as our 1959 Land Rover ground its way uphill, that didn't really matter now. All I knew was that we were in birding country.

Our first target was Resplendent Quetzal and, soon after sun up, we struck it lucky with a female overhead and distant but impressive views of a perched, very long-tailed male on the forest edge. There was much else to see along the trails here, too, with Squirrel Cuckoo, Ruddy Foliage-Gleaner, Yellowish Flycatcher, Spot-crowned Woodcreeper, Slate-throated Redstart and a wealth of wood-warblers moving through the canopy in hyperactive feeding flocks.

After breakfast, we drove up higher still and then walked the undriveable far end of the trail, to an audio backdrop of quetzals and Highland Guans. Rumour has it that Horned Guan occurs much further on up this trail, but that was too far for us to go today so instead we happily made do with the likes of Yellow-throated Brush-Finch, Green-throated Mountain-Gem, Common Bush-Tanager, Chestnut-sided Shrike-Vireo, Elegant Euphonia and, pick of the bunch, Blue-crowned Chlorophonia.

The birdiness of this area, combined with the fact that my phone fell out of the Land Rover as we bumped our way downhill and I had to walk back up to find it, meant that we didn't return for lunch until mid-afternoon. With that and the rain setting in (I thought this was the dry season?), the rest of the day was a bit of a washout.

Over dinner, we learned from Mario that the bulk of his finca's coffee production ends up in a Starbucks' branches. Starbucks often comes in for stick for its business operations, as do many global corporations, but here its coffee-buying practices support a finca which gives over half of its property to forest and wildlife, an undeniably good thing.

From left: Frank, Bill, Mario and Bitty.

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