The Lodge at Pico Bonito
20–30 June 2017
This superb lodge with air-conditioned cabins, extensive grounds and a swimming pool is situated within the 270,000-acre Pico Bonito N.P. With over 420 species recorded within 20 minutes of the lodge, it is also a world-class birding destination! The tour includes excursions to a variety of habitats and targets the only endemic: the critically-endangered Honduran Emerald.
Day 1 Today begins with a morning flight from London to Houston, after which we will take a courtesy bus transfer for an overnight stay at a hotel close to the airport.
Day 2 We will return to the airport for a morning flight to San Pedro Sula, arriving around midday, followed by a two-and-a-half-hour transfer to The Lodge at Pico Bonito. There will be some time for birding in the grounds after checking into our cabins.
Day 3 Our first full day at The Lodge at Pico Bonito will begin with an early breakfast/orientation on the spacious front deck of The Lodge’s Itzama Restaurant. For the next several hours we will be guided through the grounds and gardens, spotting numerous bird species that are common in the early hours. A climb to the top of the “Toucan Tower” observation platform offers a bird’s eye view of the forest canopy, which can give heart-stopping views of the coveted Lovely Cotinga. During the course of the morning we will bird the lower areas of The Lodge’s 400 acres, consisting of tropical, secondary and gallery forest and plantation areas along the Rio Coloradito. After lunch and a light siesta we will bird The Lodge’s main garden area. Along both routes, diversity is the rule and examples of sightings include Tawny-faced Quail, Grey-chested and Grey-headed Doves, Olive-throated (Aztec) Parakeet, Masked and Black-crowned Tityras, Rufous Mourner, Blue-crowned Motmot, Keel-billed Toucan, Black-cheeked Woodpecker and Golden-fronted Woodpeckers of the santacruzi race known as Velasquez’s Woodpecker, Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner, Ferruginous Pygmy-owl, Black-cowled Oriole, Chestnut-headed and Montezuma Oropendolas, Black-headed, Gartered and Collared Trogons, Green, Shining and Red-Legged Honeycreepers, Great Potoo and Vermiculated (Guatemalan) Screech-owl both at daytime roosts, Yellow-billed Cacique, 20+ species of hummingbird including Crowned Woodnymph, Blue-throated Goldentail, Violet Sabrewing, White-bellied Emerald, Purple-crowned Fairy, Rufous-tailed and Violet-headed Hummingbirds, Long-billed and Stripe-throated Hermits, Mexican Violetear and White-necked Jacobin, Stub-tailed Spadebill, Social Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee, Tawny-crowned Greenlet, Scrub, White-vented, Olive-backed and Yellow-throated Euphonias, Blue-crowned Chlorophonia, Red-throated Ant-tanager, Tawny-winged and Wedge-billed Woodcreepers, Paltry Tyrannulet, Yellow-throated and Red-eyed Vireos, Lesser Greenlet, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Black-and-white, Tennessee, Kentucky, Magnolia, Chestnut-sided and Black-throated Green Warblers, Common Yellowthroat, American Redstart, Tropical Parula and Black-faced Grosbeak.
Day 4 The Cuero y Salado Wildlife Refuge is named for the Cuero and Salado Rivers that meet the ocean here. The refuge comprises over 35,000 acres of rivers, lagoons, mangroves and forests, which are home to a diverse collection of wildlife including West Indian Manatees, American Crocodiles, Mantled Howler and White-faced Capuchin Monkeys, Lesser Anteaters and in excess of 350 bird species. We’ll meet early for breakfast and depart for the refuge by 06:30. Access to this wilderness is via a small, motorised train, which takes us along a century-old track through bird-rich ranch lands, marshlands and plantation areas, ultimately arriving at the mouth of the Salado River and the refuge itself. Birding from the train is always exciting, as even the conductor is eager to stop and point out species of interest along the way. Depending on the season, a variety of raptors, wading birds and edge-habitat species abound along the railway. Blue-winged Teal, Wood Stork, Great, Cattle and Snowy Egrets, White and Glossy Ibises, Roseate Spoonbill, Purple Gallinule, Ruddy Ground-dove, Groove-billed Ani, Common Tody-flycatcher, White-eyed Vireo, Variable Seedeater, Red-winged Blackbird, Bronzed Cowbird and Blue-winged and Yellow Warblers have all been seen on previous tours. Once at the refuge, we will explore the various aquatic and forest habitats from a small, motorised skiff. Our guides and boat handlers are superbly trained spotters and, when needed, prefer to silence the boat’s motor and quietly paddle in for a better look. Neotropic Cormorant, Ringed, Green and Belted Kingfishers, Black-crowned Antshrike, Northern Jacana, Osprey, Short-tailed and Zone-tailed Hawks, Agami and Boat-billed Herons, Bare-throated Tiger-heron, Yellow-crowned Night-heron, Tricoloured Heron, Jabiru, American Pygmy Kingfisher, Russet-naped Wood-rail, Bat and Laughing Falcons, Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, Northern Potoo and Sungrebe are but a few potential highlights of a visit to Cuero y Salado. After lunch at The Lodge, we will have the afternoon to relax, visit The Lodge’s butterfly farm or do some additional birding from The Lodge’s decks or gardens. A feature of the grounds is the large number of very tame Agoutis whilst even Coatis are regular, although much shyer. Sometimes Boa Constrictors can be found in the trees around the feeders waiting for unwary birds. After dinner, we’ll be guided around The Lodge’s gardens and plantation areas where Mottled Owls are regularly heard but are a lot more difficult to see! A stop at The Lodge’s frog pond nearly always turns up several Red-eyed Treefrogs and other tropical amphibians and there is always the chance of a rarer mammal, with even Jaguars having been recorded.
Day 5 Rio Santiago Nature Resort is a 150-acre private preserve located 30 kilometres west of The Lodge at Pico Bonito. Its secluded rainforest location and impressive numbers of hummingbird feeders have earned it the title “hummingbird capital of Honduras”. Throughout most of the year, Santiago’s trails and main garden areas abound with large numbers of some of Honduras’s best-known hummingbird species, some of which are not regularly found at Pico Bonito, including Cinnamon, Scaly-breasted and Stripe-tailed Hummingbirds, Brown Violetear, Band-tailed Barbthroat and Green-breasted Mango. You can sit in the shade with a soft drink or beer enjoying the spectacle! In addition, the spectacular Slaty-tailed Trogon, Rose-throated Becard, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, House Wren, Grey Catbird, Yellow-breasted Chat, Turquoise-browed Motmot, Amazon Kingfisher, Rufous-tailed Jacamar and Sunbittern are frequently seen along Santiago’s trail system, along with many species of American warbler. We will return to The Lodge at Pico Bonito for lunch and for a further walk around the grounds in the late afternoon.
Day 6 Today we’ll have an early breakfast and depart for the one-hour drive to Lancetilla Botanical Gardens by 06:30. Set amidst a coastal valley flanked by low, forested hills, The United Fruit Company founded Lancetilla as a station where tropical fruit and wood trees were studied for commercial value. The Gardens were founded in 1925, and some of that work continues. However, this diverse tropical treasure, composed of a mosaic of forest and edge habitats, is today best known for its superb birding. Honduras’s annual Christmas Bird Count is held at Lancetilla and every December birdwatchers flock to confirm and add to the Gardens’ growing list of colourful tropical species. The current bird list reads like a Who’s Who of tropical birds and includes motmots, manakins, woodcreepers, warblers, woodpeckers, toucans, tanagers and scores of other birds. A typical day of birding here could yield, in addition to species already seen, Plain Chachalaca, Grey Hawk, Common Black Hawk, Ornate Hawk-eagle, Ruddy Crake, Red-lored and White-fronted Parrots, Squirrel Cuckoo, Cocoa, Streak-headed and Ivory-billed Woodcreepers, Chestnut-coloured and Pale-billed Woodpeckers, Plain Xenops, Acadian and Royal Flycatchers, Northern Bentbill, Passerini’s Tanager, Dusky Antbird, Barred and Great Antshrikes, Long-billed Gnatwren, Yellow-bellied Tyrannulet, Slate-headed Tody-flycatcher, Louisiana Waterthrush, Ovenbird, Buff-throated Saltator, Giant Cowbird, Black-striped Sparrow, Blue–black and Crimson-collared Grosbeaks, Thick-billed Seed-finch and a host of other resident and migrant species. We’ll complete our morning at Lancetilla with lunch in the beachside town of Tela, where Magnificent Frigatebirds drift along the coast together with Brown Pelicans, and Royal and Sandwich Terns sit out on the pier and buoys. We will return to The Lodge in time to relax and freshen up for dinner.
Day 7 Early this morning we’ll ascend The Lodge’s loop trail system in the Pico Bonito National Park in search of the primary forest interior birds that this rainforest paradise has to offer. In addition to the Toucan Tower at the trail’s beginning, this route offers an elevated ridge platform, which overlooks the Rio Coloradito and surrounding forested slopes. We’ll also visit Canopy Tower #4 along the way, set amidst an area of bird-rich secondary tropical forest and overgrown plantation. Red-capped and White-collared Manakin leks occur at various locations here and Grey-headed Piprites may also be seen. Both Keel-billed and Tody Motmot are sometimes encountered along this route. At the top, a small trail leads to a regular roosting site for Crested Owl, but this section of the trail is optional as it is quite a tough walk. Other species here include Little and Slaty-breasted Tinamous, Great Curassow, Crested Guan, Smoky-brown Woodpecker, Emerald and Yellow-eared Toucanets, Collared Aracari, Central American Pygmy-owl, Scaly-throated Leaftosser, Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, Spot-breasted Wren, White-breasted Wood-wren, Black-headed Saltator, Common Chlorospingus and many of the trogon, woodcreeper, tanager and oriole species on The Lodge’s 420+ bird list. In addition to superb viewing from The Lodge’s towers, this route passes several overlooks along the Rio Coloradito and sightings of many raptor species including White Hawk, Black Hawk-eagle and King Vulture can be made here. Flocks of swifts can be seen swirling overhead and in amongst the common White-collared and Vaux’s Swifts we may find the highly localised White-chinned Swift.
Day 8 We’ll begin this full day of birding Honduras’s unique dry forest habitat with an early breakfast at The Lodge to enable us to depart by 04:30. The target of our search, the beautiful but critically endangered Honduran Emerald, survives only in the remaining pockets of tropical dry forest to the south of Pico Bonito National Park. Descending the “rain shadow”, or southern side of the park, cloud-forested peaks and pine-studded slopes give way to an arid, almost desert-like, plain, once dominated by tropical thorn or dry forest. Although rare and endangered, the Honduran Emerald is considered common within its habitat. As such, regardless of season, our chances of seeing the bird are very good. Our ride into “Emerald country” can be equally exciting, as a surprising number of bird species inhabit dry forest. Along the way, we’ll also visit localised wet areas within this arid region. These sites can be magnets for wading birds and other species including Killdeer, Least and Solitary Sandpipers, Lesser Goldfinch and Indigo Bunting. Raptors may include Roadside Hawk and Crested Caracara. Grey-breasted Martins and Mangrove Swallows can be found around the bridges and Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Tropical Mockingbird, Blue–black and Yellow-faced Grassquits, the ubiquitous White-collared Seedeater, Altamira Oriole and Western Meadowlark are common roadside birds. We will also make a special stop to look for Lesser Roadrunner. Other possible birds include Crested Bobwhite, Limpkin, Double-striped Thick-knee, Pale-vented Pigeon, White-throated Magpie-jay and Stripe-headed Sparrow, although all of these are difficult. On arrival at the reserve we will head along the fence line (access to the actual reserve is not allowed and there is a fence to prevent cattle incursions). Honduran Emerald is relatively easy to see in the slightly degraded habitat outside the reserve but they don’t sit still long! Additionally, we may see Canivet’s (Salvin’s) Emerald but this is not really a confusion species. Other birds to be found in this habitat include Banded and White-bellied Wrens, White-lored Gnatcatcher and Northern Beardless-tyrannulet, but we will need to be very lucky to see Lesser Ground-cuckoo. We’ll enjoy lunch in the nearby ranching town of Olanchito, returning to The Lodge by 16:00.
Day 9 This day is left open so that we have a chance to relax, do some more photography, bird The Lodge’s grounds or perhaps take an optional day trip for some light birding and snorkelling on Honduras’s Cayos Cochinos archipelago at a cost of around $140 per person.
Day 10 After breakfast at The Lodge, we will reluctantly have to head to San Pedro Sula International Airport for our flight back to the UK via Houston, arriving in London on Day 11.
General Information Honduras can be hot and humid, with rain likely at any time. The tour pace is moderate, with generally easy walking, although at altitude some extra effort is needed. The upper trail at The Lodge can be more strenuous. There are some health requirements which should be referred to your GP. Insects can be a problem at times and repellents are recommended. Visas are not required for EU citizens although you will need an ESTA to transit the US.
Group size Minimum number for tour to go ahead: 4; maximum group size: 10 with 1 leader.