Finca El Pilar Birding In Guatemala

Don't forget, there's still time to vote for your favorite guest blog entry! So, what the heck was I doing in Central America? I was part of the Fifth International Birdwatching Encounter in Guatemala. It was group that included bird guides and bloggers from Japan, Denmark, the US, and even Ecuador. One of the participants was Rick Wright of WINGS Birding Tours and I felt like I got some kind of great deal because he's a walking field guide. What a treat to have his bird knowledge along. He really is a birder's birder, we were talking popular culture and he didn't know what a Cosmo Quiz was. You want to be out in the field with a guy who has his head filled with the finer nuances of empidonax flycatchers as opposed to "What Kind Of Sexy Are You?"

Where do I begin with my Guatemala adventure? I think with volcanoes. This was the first time I had ever been to a place so chock full of volcanoes. Let's face it, this was the first time I'd been out of the country (at least to the point where a passport was required). The whole time, I kept looking around and asking myself, "How the heck did I get here?"

Our first day of birding was at Finca El Pilar, a private shade grown coffee farm being converted into a nature reserve. We went above the coffee farm to get some of the local specialties and incredible views of the surrounding volcanoes. We birded a few days here so I'll have lots to tell you.

Some of the volcanoes that we encountered during our visit, like Fuego are active and you can see little puffs of smoke coming off the top all day long. I digiscoped some of Fuego's smoke above. How can you not feel like you're not on an adventure if you're surrounded by active volcanoes?

I was expecting a complete and total sensory overload when it came to the birds, but was incredibly surprised by the number of familiar faces down there, like this eastern bluebird. It had a bit of a different accent than the eastern bluebirds I hear up in Minnesota and one of the guides mentioned that it was a more local variety, down to having a duller look than the bluebirds I'm used to. Still, the first few days, their calls really tripped me up.

When I wasn't seeing species I could see at home, I was at least seeing species similar to what I can see at home. There were all kinds of crazy looking thrushes, check out this pair of rufous-collared robins (be prepared for rufous to show up a lot in species names, whoever named the birds in Central America really liked that in their names). It's a highland thrush and looks similar to robins we see in the US.

Another somewhat familiar bird was the black-headed siskin, here's a pair above. While the siskin irruption still rages in the US, I was still able to see some siskins at El Pilar.

Check out this rufous-collared sparrow (there's that rufous again). It's a great looking bird, reminiscent of a white-throated sparrow. These birds were seen all over. Speaking sparrows we did see some introduced species like house sparrows and rock pigeons, but this was the first birding trip that I ever been on where I did not encounter one single starling. No starlings here...can you imagine? Ten days and not seeing a starling--crazy!

While we were doing all this birding, I at one point could have sworn I heard several bees buzzing. I looked and could not see any hives nearby. I started to wonder if elevation sickness was closing in or if my tinnitus had switched from its usual high pitched ring to buzzing. Then I noticed a small water basin and took a peak...

There they were, a small swarm of honeybees gathering water for the hive. You sometimes can get honeybees coming to birdbaths or ponds when it's try, water is necessary for comb construction. I asked the owner of El Pilar and he said that he did not keep bees, but perhaps they were his neighbor's bees. Or they very well could have been from a wild hive. It was fun to hear that familiar buzzing.

We found a camper while above the coffee farm and I got a giggle at the Ron Paul sticker on the back. I didn't know anyone in Guatemala would be pro Ron Paul?

And now it is time for me to head into the Park Service. More on Finca El Pilar and Guatemala later.

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