Monday, 28 December 2015

Honduras 1: first impressions

Trogons are a birding highlight of any visit to the Neotropics; this is a Slaty-tailed, photographed in the lodge grounds.
Earlier this month I was one of an international group of birders and ornithologists invited by Leica Sports Optics to cover the launch of the company’s new Trinovid binocular range. Nine of us – mostly but not exclusively journalists and bloggers – were assembled for the task, with two from Europe, one from Israel and the remaining seven from the US.

Why Honduras? Exotic locations are the exception not the norm for such launches, but Leica clearly wanted to showcase its new product in a strong birding environment, and actually this Central American destination was a relatively short flight for most participants. In the event it proved an excellent choice, with our short stay in the country based at The Lodge at Pico Bonito, near the Caribbean coast just outside La Ceiba. My coverage of the product launch itself and the new binocular range (right) will appear shortly on BirdGuides and also in the February 2016 issue of Birdwatch (published January), but in the next few posts here I’ll share some personal impressions of the birding experience in the country, as few birders from Britain visit Honduras.
The Lodge at Pico Bonito - an excellent base for birding in Honduras.
It was my first time in the country, though I have birded neighbouring Guatemala (2010), as well as Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula to the north (2007 and 2011) and Panama to the south (2006 and 2007). Of the seven countries in Central America, Honduras – the second largest – boasts some 779 species, ranking it third in avifaunal terms after Panama (995 species) and Costa Rica (992 species). This is based on IOC taxonomy; Clements - generally the preferred taxonomy in North America - puts the Honduran total at 772 species, while Gallardo (2014) cites 770. The country boasts a single endemic bird species, the delightful Honduran Emerald.

Honduran Emerald: the country's sole endemic bird species is a top priority for any first-time visiting birder.
Another hummer worth watching out for: Brown Violetear.
Our visit was a binocular launch and not a bird tour, so we had serious working priorities to factor in as far as the itinerary was concerned. Nonetheless, the overall number of bird species recorded by the group was still 268, a very respectable total for only five full days in the field. In an under-visited country such as Honduras much is still to be learned about species distribution, and any visiting birder(s) can help improve local knowledge by submitting their records; ours were entered daily into eBird by stalwart recorders Nate Swick and Drew Weber.

The amazing Black-and-white Owl - one of three we watched at a roost near Pico Bonito.
A good range of woodpeckers included the beautiful Chestnut-coloured.
The comical-looking but very desirable Boat-billed Heron.
A good number of the species were familiar to me from previous visits to Middle America, but there were also some new experiences to savour. In addition to the above endemic hummingbird, other highlights included Rufescent Tiger Heron, Boat-billed Heron, King Vulture, Rufous-necked Wood Rail, Lesser Roadrunner, Middle American Screech Owl, Mottled, Black-and-white and Spectacled Owls, Great Potoo, Band-tailed Barbthroat, Brown Violetear, Canivet’s Emerald, Slaty-tailed Trogon, American Pygmy Kingfisher, Keel-billed Motmot, Yellow-eared Toucanet, Black-cheeked, Velasquez’s and Chestnut-coloured Woodpeckers, Bat Falcon, Red-lored Amazon, Scaly-throated Leaftosser, Great Antshrike, Northern Bentbill, Lovely Cotinga, Azure-hooded Jay, White-bellied Wren, White-vented Euphonia, Slate-throated Whitestart, Black-cowled Oriole, Red-crowned and Red-throated Ant Tanagers, and Blue-black Grosbeak.

Next up: some of the specialities and 'splits' in more detail.

Lesser Roadrunner can be found in dry thorn scrub habitat in the same area as Honduran Emerald.
I visited Honduras courtesy of Leica Sports Optics to attend the world launch of its new Trinovid binocular range. Many thanks to Jeff Bouton of Leica, and to fellow participants Nina Cheney (Eagle Optics), Ed Hutchings, Laura Kammermeier (Nature Travel Network), David La Puma (Cape May Bird Observatory), Jonathan Meyrav (Champions of the Flyway/IOC Tourism), Rob Ripma (Sabrewing Nature Tours), Nate Swick (American Birding Association) and Drew Weber (Nemesis Bird). Thanks also to all at The Lodge at Pico Bonito, especially James Adams and our guide Elmer Escoto, for supporting this visit.

Gallardo, R J. 2014. A Guide to the Birds of Honduras. Privately published.

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