Guatemala - January 2020
Guatamala – 15-25 January 2020
My good friend Jan from Amsterdam and I went on a self-organized 11-day birding trip to Guatemala.
Hereunder you will find our program and the places we visited: Guatemala City, Finca El Pilar, Antigua, Los Tarrales NP, Lake Atitlán, Flores, Las Guacamayas Biological Station and Tikal.
15 Jan: Ams – Gua: 10:35 – 20:50 (with KLM; stop in Panama CIty)
19 Jan: Gua – Flores: 17:30 – 18:30
24 Jan: Flores – Gua: 18:20 – 19:20
25 Jan: Gua – Ams: 14:21 – 10:50 (+1)
Wed 15-01: Arrival Guatamala City at 20:50h; pick-up rental car; night at Mariana's Petit Hotel, Guatamala City;
Thu 16-01: Selfdrive to Los Tarrales NP (on the way: visit to Finca El Pilar & lunch in Antigua); night at Los Tarrales Lodge;
Fri 17-01: Birding Los Tarrales; Night bird tour (2h); night at Los Tarrales Lodge;
Sat 18-01: All day guided bird tour Los Tarrales (10h); night at Los Tarrales Lodge;
Sun 19-01: Selfdrive to Guatemala City; 17:30h flight to Flores; Visit Flores; night at Hotel del Patio, Flores;
Mon 20-01: 05:30 early birding Flores; 08:00 Pick-up at hotel and drive to Estacion Ecologica las Guacamayas; night at Biological Station;
Tue 21-01: 3-day program Estacion Ecologica las Guacamayas; night at Biological Station;
Wed 22-01: Drive to Tikal; afternoon birding Tikal; night at Tikal Jungle Lodge Hostal;
Thu 23-01: 04:30 Sunrise Maya ruins tour; All day birding Tikal; night at Tikal Jungle Lodge Hostal;
Fri 24-01: Morning birding Tikal; 4 pm. shuttle to Flores; 18:20h flight from Flores to Guatamala City: night at Hotel Barcélo;
Sat 25-01: Morning exploring Guatamala City: Hotel shuttle to airport; afternoon 14:30 flight to Amsterdam.
Guatamala City: Mariana's Petit Hotel (Euro 41 per room); 1 km from airport (airport shuttle).
Los Tarrales Lodge: (USD 86 per room). Breakfast $13, Lunch $15, Dinner $15.
Flores: Hotel del Patio (Euro 55).
Estacion Ecologica las Guacamayas: (special discount: Euro 375 p.p. for 2 nights, all included).
Tikal: Tikal Jungle Lodge Hostal: (Euro 54 (shared bathroom)).
Guatamala City: Hotel Barceló Guatemala City (Euro 88 per room), airport shuttle.
Places of interest
Finca El Pilar (Antigua)
At elevations ranging from 1,600 to 2,400 meters, this private nature reserve protects 470 acres of forest. You pay a small fee: 50Q = USD 6. The finca’s habitats include dry shrub forest, humid broadleaf forest, as well as pine-oak and cloud forest. A long trail system (10 miles round trip) through these respective habitats allows for some amazing altitudinal birding.
They have hummingbird feeders but these are not placed ideally to take pictures of the birds visiting them. Supposed to see possibly 7 species of hummers: Rufous Sabrewings, Violet Sabrewing, Green-throated Mountaingem, Azure-crowned Hummingbird, Berylline Hummingbird, Rivoli’s Hummingbird and White-eared Hummingbird but when we visited we saw hardly one. We followed the trail and walked a little up the mountain but didn’t get to the top because we had little time. We saw here Bushy-crested Jays, one Wilsons Warbler and one White-faced Quail-dove, the only ones of the trip, and Band-tailed Pigeons, White-winged Tanager, Plumbeous Vireo, Rose -throated Becards, Northern Flicker, Townsend Warbler and Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Finca El Pilar is a nice place to visit in the immediate area of Antigua and you will see birds here that you not find anywhere during your trip in Guatemala. When we visited we were the only ones.
Los Tarrales Natural Reserve
To get there
The reserve can be reached in 2-3 hours by car from Guatemala City or Antigua via the coastal highway CA2. From Guatamala City, take the CA9 to Escuintla (south) and then the CA2 (west) to Cocales. At Cocales, take the Route National 11 (north).
Los Tarrales is a birder's paradise located on the southeastern slope of Atitlán volcano in southern Guatemala. More than 350 bird species have been recorded in this private protected area, which preserves primary rain and cloud forest, and runs coffee and exotic flower plantations.
Fruit feeders at the Los Tarrales Lodge are visited by Yellow-throated Euphonias and Scrub Euphonias, Yellow-winged Tanagers and Blue-gray Tanagers, Spot-breasted Orioles, Altimira Orioles, Baltimore Orioles, Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, Rufous-naped Wrens and Black-headed Saltators. Surrounding trees had Summer Tanagers, Red-legged Honeycreepers, White-throated Magpie-Jays, Clay-colored Thrushes, White-bellied Chachalacas, Lesson Motmot's, Melodious Blackbirds and others.
What a great place and absolutely a must visit!
You need to book tours in advance: https://www.tarralesreserve.com/birdwatching. We booked a night tour (2 hours) and the next day a full day guided tour, both with the very knowledgable Evi.
La Rinconada trail is a 1200 m long loop through shade coffee plantation at about 800 m elevation. This is a productive birding trail; 100 bird species on a good day. The trail offers views over the canopy of Inga trees, which are visited by foraging tanagers (White-winged, Western, Yellow-winged), and several nectar feeding birds like Baltimore Orioles, Red-legged Honeycreeper, and several hummingbirds like Blue-tailed Hummingbird and Ruby-throated Hummingbird, White-bellied Emerald and Blue-throated Goldentail. Dense patches of secondary growth scrub are the habitat of White-eared Ground-Sparrow, Rufous-(Chestnut)-capped Warbler, and Plain Wren. Long-tailed Manakins can be seen year-round.
To access the cloud forest on the upper volcano slope you may reserve a hike with the reserve's own 4-wheel-drive vehicle, which will bring you to an elevation of 1400 m, where the Azure-rumped Tanager can be seen. From there you will ascend with your guide the steep slope of the volcano to search for Horned Guans, Green-throated Mountain-gems, Black-throated Jays, and other cloud forest birds. This is a very tough hike for which it is recommended to stay in the Tarrales Lodge the night before, to be able to start early in the morning. Reservation in advance is required to access the cloud forest, since the number of visitors is limited. Due to time restraints, we didn’t take this trip.
Atitlan Nature Reserve
Reserva Atitlán is a private nature reserve west of Panajachel on the northern shore of Lake Atitlán in the southern highlands Guatemala (behind the beautiful hotel Atitlán). The area protects dry pine-oak forest, which is home to a number of birds restricted to the highlands of northern Central America and Mexico.
The loop trail traverses the reserve from 1500 to 1800 m elevation. The lower part is more humid and gardened with flowering plants, which Rufous Sabrewing, White-eared and sometimes Garnet-throated Hummingbird and Sparkling-tailed Hummingbird visit. Scrub and adjacent open spaces are home to Yellow-throated Brush-Finch and Prevost's Ground-Sparrow.
In the oak forest forage mixed warbler flocks during the northern winter, including migratory Black-throated Green, Townsend's, Golden-cheeked, Nashville, and Wilson's warbler, and resident Slate-throated Redstart. Flocks are often joined by Rufous-browed Peppershrike and Chestnut-sided Shrike-Vireo. Flocks of Bushy-crested Jays roam through the open forest canopy. On flowering canopy trees, such as Grevillea robusta (introduced from Australia) in a small coffee plantation in the lower part, different orioles can be seen, including the resident Yellow-backed, Black-vented, and Bar-winged Oriole.
It has a Butterfly reserve, herb gardens, suspension bridges, spider monkeys wild in the trees, a wonderful visitor center and an exciting new Zip-Line. You have to go early to avoid visitors.
When we visited this area it didn’t look very appealing and actually a little run down. We decided not to visit it but instead have a great lunch at the neighboring Hotel Atitlán.
Located at the border of lake Atitlan, this hotel offers great lunch and dinner opportunities in a beautiful kept garden. This was the only place we saw House Sparrows! A short walk from the hotel is the Atitlan Nature Reserve.
Las Guacamayas - Las Guacamayas Biological Station
At 08:00 in the morning of 20 January 2020 Jan and I were picked up by Cornelio, the manager of Las Guacamayas Biological Station for our 120km (3 hours but longer while birding) drive in his pick-up truck to the Biological Station.
This was a wonderful and very bird-rich drive through all kinds of landscape. We started by stopping shortly near the island of Flores on the shore of Lake Petén Itzá where we hoped to see Pinneated Bittern which we didn’t. After that a lovely stop on a bridge with a lake on both sides (Puente Sacpuy, San Benito, Petén) where we saw quite a bunch of good birds including a Ringed Kingfisher, some Northern Jacanas and a Wood Stork.
Right after the bridge we turned left into a dirt road through the meadows. What a beautiful scenery we were about to enjoy! And a lot of birds, including a Crane Hawk in the trees, a beautifully perched Laughing Falcon, White-tailed Kite, Aztek Parakeet, Grey-crowned Yellowthroat and many more.
Around 15:00 we arrived at the banks of the Sacluc River where a boat was waiting to bring us to the lodge in the jungle. On the way we saw a few incredible Morelet’s Crocodiles and Mangrove Swallows were everywhere.
Around 15:30 we arrived at the lodge. What a paradise near the river in dense jungle! We immediately loved it here, and we were the only guests! We got the beautiful Lorelet suite. Electricity is provided by a generator in the early morning, during lunch and in the evening.
Right outside of the main building they have hummingbird feeders which attract Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, White-bellied Emerald, Wedge-tailed Sabrewing, White-necked Jacobin, Scaly-breasted Hummingbird, Green-breasted Mango and on our last day even a Purple-crowned Fairy. They have put chairs around them for easy admiring. It couldn’t be better!
The surrounding trees and scrub have all kinds of birds: Green-backed Sparrow, Red-capped Manakin, Red-throated Ant-Tanager, Gartered Trogon, Black-faced (Mayan) Antthrush, Thick-billed Seed-finch etc.
A travel along the scenic Sacluc River produced Agami Heron (3!!), Green Kingfisher, Bat Falcon, Barred Ant-Shrike and Yellow-tailed Oriole along its forested banks. The night boat excursion delivered us great looks on a Black-and-White Owl calling from the top of a tree.
On the afternoon of 22 January, we walked up the trail to the Mirador and near the look-out tower we found Lineated Woodpecker, Long-billed Gnatwren, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Red-billed Pigeon, White-necked Puffbird, Brown-crested Flycatcher and many others. We climbed the tower and had lovely views of the river.
We visited the Waka' Perú Archaeological Site, sitting atop an escarpment in El Tigre National Park. This site was once the capital of a Maya city-state and a major trading center between 500 and 800 AD. Today, the area hosts an important population of Scarlet Macaw. A relatively flat trail goes through Maya rainforest.
Check out the Las Guacamayas Biological Station website: https://www.lasguacamayas.org/portal/index.php/us/tourism/97-bird-watching
While walking through the forest, you can visit the different archaeological groups with plazas, pyramids, and palaces. You will see Guatemalan Black Howlers (or Yucatan Black Howler, Alouatta pigra) and Geoffroy's Spider Monkeys (or Black-handed Spider Monkey, Ateles geoffroyi).
Along the roads near Tikal you will be surprised to see Ocellated Turkeys everywhere!
We stayed at the Hotel Jungle Lodge which is absolutely the best option since it is the most comfortable accommodation here and the one closest to the Tikal entrance. The garden of the hotel has a lot of birds including many noisy Brown Jays and White-crowned Parrots. Near the swimming pool I found one Bright-rumped Attila.
Just past the visitor center is an open area that was once an airstrip. On the morning of 24 January we took a right here passing the other lodges following a trail into the scrub. Here we found Scaled Pigeon, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Red-throated Ant-Tanager, Plain Xenops, Ivory-billed Woodcreeper, Grey-breasted Woodwren, Ovenbird, Northern Waterthrush and Yucatan Flycatcher.
Behind the visitor center, a small wetland/pond with dense aquatic vegetation supports a diverse bird community. Each time we found here Russet-naped Woodrail, Northern Jacana, Golden-fronted Woodpecker and Social Flycatcher and Melodious Blackbird.
Raptors like Bat Falcon are common in Tikal, together with Bicolored Hawk, Plumbeous Kite, Swallow-tailed Kite, and Ornate Hawk-Eagle, Roadside Hawk, King Vulture, Turkey and Black Vulture and sometimes Orange-breasted Falcon (which we saw on the early Tikal Sunrise Tour flying over the pyramids).
A large tree at the great Plaza had several nests with Montezuma Oropendola’s and a small group of Collared Aracari’s. We had wonderful views from the top of one of the pyramids on some Crested Guans walking through the tall trees. Northern Rough-winged Swallows were nesting on some of the pyramids.
Beginning in October and extending until April, you might see as many as 35 wood-warblers in the Tikal region. They include Tennessee, Yellow, Magnolia, Blue-winged, Chestnut-sided, Yellow-rumped, and Black-and-white Warblers. Other relatively common migrants and winter visitors include Wood Thrush, Gray Catbird, Indigo and Painted Buntings, and Summer Tanager. At any season, look for the resident Gray-crowned Yellowthroat and Golden-crowned Warbler.
The forest floor is home to White-nosed Coati (Coatimundi), Agoutis and Pacas, rodents about the size of large rabbits. Also present but less frequently seen are White-tailed Deer and Gray Fox along with several mostly nocturnal and elusive cats, including Margay, Ocelot, Jaguarondi, and Jaguar.
Check Tikal’s checklist: https://www.inaturalist.org/check_lists/155166-Tikal-National-Park-Check-List
Check a nice informative video about Tikal: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0qXbCVEjqRA