I'm trying to do the posts about Guatemala in order, but I may have to switch around. I really want to write about the horned guan experience, but that was later in our trip. I think when I finish up the El Pilar part, I'm gonna dive right into the guan. Writing is kind of like dieting. If you deprive yourself writing on a topic you are craving, you can't stop thinking about it and start to cheat on the project you think you should work on. Even though I have not blogged the guan here, I have "cheated" and talked about in the radio (I love that I got a radio station to post a horned guan photo on their site) and I've created a Facebook group dedicated to it. But we need to finish Finca El Pilar, a great place to visit if you are staying in Antigua. Needless to say, more on the guan is coming.
But back to Finca El Pilar, the shade-grown coffee farm that is being converted into a private nature reserve. It was exciting for me on many levels--I love coffee, I appreciate shade-grown coffee because of the habitat benefits to birds, and El Pilar was chock full of familiar birds like Wilson's warbler and the unfamiliar birds like bushy-crested jay.
Which, let's take a side not to the name bushy-crested jay. For the most part, the birds in Guatemala had fairly accurate names like ruddy foliage-gleaner. The bird was ruddy and appeared to glean foliage for insects (what kind of strange world is this where birds resemble their names?). I was beginning to think that would not be the case with the bushy-crested jay, it looked like a grackle with blue wings to me. However, I was informed that when excited, they do have a bushy crest and do live up to their name.
Part of the reason we were in Guatemala was part of a conference on tourism to the area. It was hosted at Finca El Pilar and they set up a gorgeous welcome breakfast for us on a wooden deck with canopy. In front of it was another smaller wooden deck with canopy that housed about a dozen hummingbird feeders that buzzed with crazy looking birds!
For me, this was a refreshing site since I come from the land of mono-hummer. All we really get in Minnesota is the ruby-throated hummingbird. Not that a ruby-throat is a shlub of a bird. It's cool, but what a treat to see a hummingbird suddenly flash a purple cap and green gorget! That's a magnificent hummingbird, living up to it's hyped name.
Let's a get a closer look. For a hummingbird, it's rather beefy. According to Sibley, a ruby-throated averages 3.75" and a magnificent averages 5.25". It's a species that does occur north of the Mexico border into the US, it's possible to see it in southern Arizona and Nevada.
Even though there were tons of feeders to go around, the birds would continuously fight. There would be periods of absolute silence, but then all of a sudden one would appear and dozens more would come out of the trees to jockey for position at a particular feeder.
One could easily spend the day planted at the hummingbird feeding station waiting for the light to strike their feathers at just the right moment to get the great flashes of color. While there, we also saw many other species like the golden-olive woodpecker and heard my new favorite bird call: the brown-back solitaire. I have to give Non Birding Bill some props--he put the solitaire on as my new ring tone. He may not be a birder, but he sure knows how to make one happy.
El Pilar also has a newly installed stair way down into the coffee farms. We had some of our guides drive us up and drop us off so we could take the stairs all the way down. I figured it would be a piece of cake, going down is way easier than going up. However, this Midwestern girl is used to a flatter landscape and I found my legs felt like they were make of Jell-O by the time we reached the bottom. It was well worth it, we had emerald toucanets, spot-crowned woodcreeper, yellowish flycatcher, and a whole host of warblers, including a personal favorite--black-throated green warbler and Townsend's warbler. If ever I saw a benefit of shade-grown coffee to birds who nest in my home country, it was in Guatemala.
Everything about the forest surrounding the coffee farm was interesting to me. I couldn't help but check out the erosion along the soil walls on the way down. We visited during a dry season, but past rain had left its mark.
When not birding the crap out of El Pilar, we listened to some great speakers about local wildlife and tour operators and sampled some of the coffee. We learned that ever since the certification program to designate a coffee farm as a "shade-grown" farm had been put into place, 98% off the coffee grown in Guatemala was shade-grown. Another incentive for me too make sure that label is on my coffee. I did notice that some farms were shady than others, but it beats no trees whatsoever.