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A Report from

Guatemala's Natural Private Reserves, 11- 26th Nov2006,

Beth & Bill Clark

Our trip focused on some of the outstanding Natural Private Reserves in Guatemala.  While mainly a birding trip, some time was spent sight-seeing and shopping.  The group was a mixture of family and friends. We were joined by Beth’s sister and her husband, Bucka Jim and Carol James from Boise, Idaho, another sister, Nancy aka “Natalie” Simmons, from Alta Loma, California and friends, Cindy and Bob “Motmot” or M² Clement from Detroit, Michigan.  This was the first trip to Central America for Jim, Carol, Nancy, and Cindy.  Bob had visited Costa Rica and Panama, while we had traveled extensively in Central America including 2 previous trips to Guatemala. Rooms and travel logistics were handled by Bitty Ramirez-Portilla, owner, La Via Maya travel agency,  We recommend her with complete confidence. Claire Dallies De Masaya,, also helped with our trip planning and is an excellent guide.  Claire’s book, Guatemala Bird Checklist by Ecosystems, was recently published and is a valuable resource. She has worked closely with many of the fincas doing bird surveys and training guides.

Everyone flew to Houston on Friday and we met for dinner that night.  Our 9:30 AM flight on Continental Airlines left on time and we arrived in Guatemala City less than 3 hours later.  We were greeted by a representative of La Via Maya and were introduced to our van driver, César. We all piled into the van and were off to our first stop, the ancient city of Antigua.  Less than an hour later we checked into the Hotel Las Farolas,,  and then met Leonel Azurdia,, for an excellent guided tour of the fascinating city. 

Our first full day in Guatemala started with an early morning drive to Finca Filadelfia,, located just outside the city.  We were met by Claire and Bitty and spent 3 hours birding the finca’s property.   Our visit produced over 35 species including Black-headed Siskin, Black-capped Swallow, Gray Silky-flycatcher (100+), Bushy-crested Jay and Flame-colored Tanager. Besides preserving natural vegetation, the finca is developing a first-class resort.  After an excellent breakfast, we left for our next destination.

Finca Patrocinio,, is located near Retalhuleu about a 5-hour drive from Guatemala City.  The finca is located in subtropical forest and is a Natural Private Reserve. Owner Mario Aguilar,, and his wife Lorena joined us for the afternoon and spent a couple of hours before dinner talking about the history of the finca and their plans for the future.  These plans include additional rooms for guests as well as facilities for environmental education programs.  A canopy observation tower is nearly completed, and they have already started hosting school groups. The finca currently has a three-bedroom house with shared facilities, and can accommodate up to 10 guests.  Meals can be arranged, or you can bring your own food and use the kitchen.  Early morning birding with local guide, Paulino, added to our list with a total of almost 50 species seen, including our only Rufous-browed Peppershrike.  We heard the regional endemic White-bellied Chachalaca but were unable locate it.  We also had our first look at White-throated Magpie-Jay, a real crowd pleaser.  One of Mario’s employees has hung three feeders and keeps them filled with fruit.  We were told he feeds 50 bananas a day and all three feeders were full of birds and provided excellent viewing opportunities.

Mid-morning we took a short drive to Takalik Maya Lodge,  We birded the coffee plantation and its surrounding forest in the afternoon and visited the Takalik Abaj Archeological Site the next morning.  Rooms with private bathrooms are available, but we stayed in three older rooms by the old coffee mill.  These rooms are in need of repair.  Bathroom facilities with cold water are located in two out-buildings.  Access after dark is precarious. Meals are served in an outdoor restaurant surrounded by tropical gardens and forest.  Many birds were seen during our meals and peacocks foraged around the table for scraps. We had our only sighting of Collared Aracari, Keel-billed Motmot, and Barred Antshrike there.

After visiting the archeological site, we transferred to Los Tarrales Natural Private Reserve,, for a 2-night stay.  Los Tarrales is owned by Andy Burge,, and is located on the southeast slope of Atitlán Volcano and protects stands of subtropical humid forest and montain forest.  The altitude in the reserve ranges from 750 to 3,000 meters.  Over 60 families live and work on the reserve in coffee production and ornamental plant cultivation.  We stayed in a comfortable private house and had family-style meals in a dining room in the main ranch house. We were accompanied by local guide, Josué, on all our birding walks. At twenty years of age, Josué is an outstanding guide with excellent English skills.  We tallied 5 species of parrots, 8 species of hummingbirds, our only King Vultures (4 adults), and Strong-billed Woodcreeper.

We then moved to Los Andes,, which is about 15k away as the King Vulture flies, but due to the 2005 hurricane and recent heavy rain, the trip took four hours.  Afterwards, some of us wished we’d walked instead.  En route we picked up Hugo Enriquez,, one of Guatemala’s best bird guides.  We had met him the year before and were surprised and thrilled to have him join us again.  Los Andes is owned by the Hazard family and we were fortunate to spend time with Jim and his daughter Olga, The Hazards grow mainly coffee and tea on this stunning high-altitude finca.  We stayed in private rooms in the central ranch house and joined Jim and Olga for wonderful meals in the dining room.  The birding highlight for most of the group was the sighting of two male Resplendent Quetzals the second morning at the same time we were watching six Cabanis’ (Azure-rumped)Tanagers from another trail.  The local guide, Sus, short for Jesus, had seen the quetzal but was having trouble giving directions.  Minutes before it was time to return to the finca, Natalie noticed a bluish-looking streamer hanging down from a branch.  She followed it up and found the rest of a Resplendent Quetzal.  She was so excited her directions weren’t much of an improvement but finally everyone saw the bird.  Both males eventually gave full frontal views from fairly close range.  Setting up a scope no one had ever used before for closer looks is another story.  The raptor sightings at Los Andes were equally impressive as we saw 12 species including 3 Hawk-Eagles (Black-and-white, Black, and Ornate), Solitary Eagle, and Laughing Falcon.     

Our final night was spent at Hotel Bambú,, on the shore of spectacular Lake Atitlán.  On the beautiful hotel grounds we saw 13 species we hadn’t encountered at the other locations including Azure-crowned Hummingbird, Slender Sheartail, Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush, Black-vented Oriole, Pine Flycatcher, and Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer. Breakfast on the deck overlooking the lake was a highlight of the stay.  We experienced the shopping frenzy at the nearby village of Santiago Atitlán, a Tzutujil Maya speaking community and found some wonderful souvenirs before taking a boat across the lake to Panajachel for our van pick-up and the return trip to Guatemala City.

This Natural Private Reserve tour is appealing for birdwatchers as well as for non-birding participants.  Surrounded by towering volcanoes, 4 of which are still active, tropical rainforest, and a variety of ecosystems, these reserves greatly enhance the birdwatching experience.  It was such a pleasure to stay in the comfortable homes of these admirable land owners and spend time learning about their past history and future plans.  The owners of these fincas are to be commended for their past accomplishments and future plans for the land and the people who work and live there.  They are concentrating on educating the young people who will eventually be the fincas’ caretakers.  Spending time with these people felt like coming home after a long absence.  Their friendliness and desire to share their world made us feel welcome and comfortable.  As we sit here enjoying the delicious finca coffee we brought home, we encourage you to visit them and experience the true Guatemala.  If you do, we’re sure that you’ll understand why the Guatemalan Tourist Commission calls Guatemala “The Soul of the Earth.”


From 11/19/2006 to 11/26/2006 ~ in Guatemala ~ 

 155 seen & 12 heard only

 * Regional Endemic according to Guatemala Bird Checklist by Ecosystems

Location Key:
1.        Finca Filadelfia
2.        Finca Patrocinio
3.        Takalik Maya Lodge and archeological site
4.        Los Tarrales
5.        Los Andes
6.        Hotel Bambu and Lake Atitlán

Great Egret   2 4 5 6              
Cattle Egret   2 3 4   
Green Heron   6

Black Vulture   1 2 3 4 6
Turkey Vulture   1 2 3 4 5 6
King Vulture   4

Osprey   5  

Cooper's Hawk   1 4
Solitary Eagle  5
Common Black-Hawk  2
Gray Hawk   2 4 5
Roadside Hawk   3 5
Short-tailed Hawk   5
Swainson's Hawk   2
Red-tailed Hawk   5
Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle   5
Black Hawk-Eagle   5
Ornate Hawk-Eagle   5

Crested Caracara   3 4
Laughing Falcon   2 5
Collared Forest-Falcon   4 5 
American Kestrel   2 5

White-bellied Chachalaca*   2 3
Crested Guan   5
Highland Guan*   5

Buffy-crowned Wood-Partridge*   5
Spotted Wood-Quail*   5  

American Coot   6

Rock Dove   1 4
Band-tailed Pigeon   1
Red-billed Pigeon*   4 5
White-winged Dove   1 6
Ruddy Ground-Dove   4
Inca Dove   3 6
White-tipped Dove   3 4 5

Pacific Parakeet*   4 5
Orange-fronted Parakeet*   4
Orange-chinned Parakeet   4
White-fronted Parrot*   2 3 4
Yellow-naped Parrot*   2 3 4

Squirrel Cuckoo   2 3 4 5
Groove-billed Ani   2 3 5  

Whiskered Screech-Owl   2

Pauraque   5

White-collared Swift   1 3 5
Vaux's Swift   1 3 4

Rufous Sabrewing*   5
Violet Sabrewing*   2 4 5
Green-breasted Mango   4
Emerald-chinned Hummingbird   5
Blue-throated Goldentail   4
White-eared Hummingbird*   1
Cinnamon Hummingbird*   2 3 4 5
White-bellied Emerald   4
Azure-crowned Hummingbird*   6
Blue-tailed Hummingbird*   4 5
Green-throated Mountain-gem*   5
Magnificent Hummingbird   2
Long-billed Starthroat   4
Slender Sheartail*   6
Ruby-throated Hummingbird   4 5

Violaceous Trogon   3
Collared Trogon   5
Resplendent Quetzal*   5

Blue-crowned Motmot   4
Keel-billed Motmot   3

Emerald Toucanet   5
Collared Aracari   3

Acorn Woodpecker   1
Golden-fronted Woodpecker   1 2 3 4 5 6
Golden-olive Woodpecker   4 5
Northern Flicker   1
Lineated Woodpecker   3 4
Pale-billed Woodpecker*   5

Scaly-throated Foliage-gleaner   5
Ruddy Foliage-gleaner   3 5

Strong-billed Woodcreeper   4
Ivory-billed Woodcreeper*   3 4
Spotted Woodcreeper   5

Barred Antshrike   3 4

Scaled Antpitta   5

Paltry Tyrannulet   2 5
Common Tody-Flycatcher   4 5
Stub-tailed Spadebill*  3
Greater Pewee   1 
Tropical Pewee   4
Pine Flycatcher*   6
Black Phoebe   4 6
Dusky-capped Flycatcher   4 6
Boat-billed Flycatcher   4 5
Social Flycatcher   2 3 4 5 6
Tropical Kingbird   2 3 4 5
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher   5
Rose-throated Becard   3 4 5
Masked Tityra   2 3 4

Violet-green Swallow   4
Black-capped Swallow*   1 5
Northern Rough-winged Swallow   4 5

Gray Silky-flycatcher*   1 6 

Band-backed Wren   1
Rufous-naped Wren*   2 3 4
Spot-breasted Wren*   4
Rufous-and-white Wren   5
Plain Wren*   4
House Wren   4
Gray-breasted Wood-Wren   5

Tropical Mockingbird   6

Eastern Bluebird   1 5
Brown-backed Solitaire*   1 5
Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush*   6
Swainson's Thrush   4
Clay-colored Robin   1 3 4 5 6
Rufous-collared Robin*   1

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher   3

Bushtit   6

Steller's Jay   1
White-throated Magpie-Jay*   2 3 4 5
Bushy-crested Jay*   1 5

Yellow-throated Vireo   4
Blue-headed Vireo   5
Hutton's Vireo   1 2
Rufous-browed Peppershrike  3

Tennessee Warbler   3 5 6
Yellow Warbler   2 3 4 6
Magnolia Warbler   2 3 4
Yellow-rumped Warbler   2
Black-and-white Warbler  2 3 4 5
Worm-eating Warbler  5
Townsend's Warbler   1 5 6
Ovenbird   2
Kentucky Warbler  5
Wilson’s Warbler  2 3 4 5 6
Slate-throated Redstart  1 2 5
Common Yellowthroat   6
Golden-crowned Warbler   5
Rufous-capped Warbler*   5
Yellow-breasted Chat   4

Common Bush-Tanager   5
Summer Tanager   1 2 3 4
Western Tanager   1 5
Flame-colored Tanager*   1
White-winged Tanager   1 2 4
Blue-gray Tanager   2 4 5 6
Yellow-winged Tanager*   2 3 4 5
Scrub Euphonia*   2 4
Yellow-throated Euphonia*   2 4 5
Cabanis’ (Azure-rumped) Tanager*   5
Red-legged Honeycreeper  2 3 4 5 6 

White-collared Seedeater*   4 6
Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer*   6

Prevost's Ground-Sparrow*   3  
Rufous-collared Sparrow   6

Black-headed Saltator*   4 5
Rose-breasted Grosbeak   1 2

Red-winged Blackbird   6
Melodious Blackbird   1 2 3 4 5
Great-tailed Grackle   1 2 3 4 5 6
Spot-breasted Oriole   4
Altamira Oriole    2 3 4 6
Baltimore Oriole   2 3 4 5 6  
Orchard Oriole   2 4 5 6
Black-vented Oriole*   6
Yellow-billed Cacique   4
Yellow-winged Cacique*   2

Black-headed Siskin*   1
Lesser Goldfinch   1 2 5 6

House Sparrow   6


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