Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Pink-headed Warbler or bust

Today's highlights included (from top) Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush and Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer at (below) Fuentes Georginas.

There was an unhappy sense of déjá vu as the alarm went off at an unfeasibly early hour again this morning. Our senses were jolted awake with a hefty dose of neat Guatemalan coffee and a mouthful of pan a todos, and the bus began its 50-minute rumble down the plantation approach road in pitch black. Our venue for the morning's birding, Fuentes Georginas, was quite close to yesterday's destination, but we were having to make the long commute to and from Las Nubes - much as we've all taken to Mario's place, it would have made more sense to spend the night a lot closer to where we needed to be.

And we needed to be there for Pink-headed Warbler. This was my most-wanted of Guatemalan birds, an outrageously plumaged passerine of legendary reputation. I was not going home without it.

With few distractions en route we arrived in good time at Georginas, and full of expectation. Looking down into the forested 'bowl' between volcanoes, there were birds everywhere - Black-capped Swallows, Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercers and Chestnut-capped Brush-Finches alongside rank-and-file Western Tanagers and Wilson's and Tennessee Warblers. The backing track was performed admirably, but invisibly, by Highland Guans, Brown-backed Solitaires and a single Mountain Trogon.

We birded the car park environs, but with no luck for our target bird, so began walking back down the approach road. As the minutes ticked away the only new warbler for the trip emerged in the form of Crescent-chested, a welcome addition but not the real deal. Even recordings of Pink-headed failed to elicit a response.

Our spirits lifted briefly by a cracking Unicoloured Jay along the roadside, we headed back to the car park to begin the search all over again. Shrewd move. After a few minutes, pandemonium broke out as the shout "PINK-HEADED WARBLER!" went up. I think it was Bill who got onto it first. Panic continued until we'd all finally set eyes on this superb bird - job done, and then some.

Sated with excellent views, we went on to enjoy two Pink-headed Warblers at very close quarters indeed, and Laurens managed to get far better photos than I did. With Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush and White-winged Tanager among the supporting cast, we left Georginas elated with the morning's result.

Lunch came later than expected, but there was a surprise in store - our birding friends and colleagues from the beginning of the trip were there at the restaurant to greet us. We exchanged news and stories with Keith from Rockjumper, Birding magazine's Ted Floyd and Bryan Bland from Sunbird, among others, before saying our farewells once more and birding the adjacent woods. Here, no fewer than an amazing four more Pink-headed Warblers were keeping company with Olive, Red-faced, Cresent-chested and Hermit Warblers and a single Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Along with Slate-throated Redstart, Hairy and Acorn Woodpeckers, Brown Creeper, Band-tailed Pigeon, Rufous-collared Thrush and Rose-throated Becard, the mix of North and Middle American birds was the perfect end to an excellent day.

Bird of the day, and indeed the trip: Pink-headed Warbler.

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