Naturalist Journeys, LLC - Small Group Birding and Natural History Tours

Honduras: Birding Tour of Mountains and Cloudforests
Birding and Nature Tours with Naturalist Journeys
March 22-29, 2013*

 

Male Ocellated Quail -© photo by R. GallardoMost people know Honduras for its majestic Mayan Ruins of Copan and its white-sand coral beaches on Roatan or the other Bay Islands.  But what about the rest of the country?  Honduras is a stunningly beautiful country with complex geography – mountains upon mountains separated by wide open valleys.  These mountains hold some of the country´s most incredible biodiversity and stunning rainforests.  Join Robert Gallardo for a chance to sample the diverse landscapes, culture and foods of the Other Honduras.

During this second week (following our Copan tour March 16-23) we will explore two mountainous areas that have more affinities to northern and eastern Honduras.  The first will be La Tigra National Park, which sits high above Tegucigalpa and is Honduras´ oldest reserve.  This lush cloud forest has orchid, cacti, fern and bromeliad-laden trees.  Here we will have the option to hike the 3.2 miles up and over the mountain from one visitor center to another to be able enjoy its flora and fauna.  This park is home to the gorgeous Resplendent Quetzal, Singing Quail, Rufous-browed Wren and many other cloud forest birds.  Those not up for the hike can bird at each area in the lower elevations and they will be driven around with our bus and driver.

The Department of Olancho holds some of the best bird watching in Honduras, but is almost never visited by tourists.  Join us in being some of the first to explore it for birding.  Robert Gallardo, our expert guide, says one can literally drive right up to birds like Lovely Cotinga, Keel-billed Motmot, Pheasant Cuckoo, Nightingale Wren and many Vaccinium flowers that attract hummingbirds - ©photo by R. Gallardomore within the lush mid-elevation forests of La Muralla Wildlife Reserve.  The Nature Conservancy has an active partnership here with government and private organizations, in recognition of the area’s premier significance as a protected area. Mantled Howler Monkeys find a home in this 21,000 acre reserve, where over 100 endemic plants, vertebrates and insects occur. March is breeding season for Resplendent Quetzals which we have an excellent chance to see. While there we will also visit the Ocellated Quail Conservation Area which is actually still in the making. The Ocellated Quail is considered by many one of the top 10 birds of Central America and this may be the only site within its whole range where it is still common.  We will be amongst the very few and privileged to visit this site where we should see the quail.

*Dates include a one-night overlap with the group at Lago Yojoa from Week One; you will be met at the airport for a group transfer on arrival, with that evening spent at Lago Yojoa to prepare for departure the next day.

 

ITINERARY

Sat., March 23 Travel to Tegucigalpa / El Hatillo
After some morning bird watching at Lake Yojoa we will depart for new terrain.  From Lago Yojoa, we drive southward up and over two large mountain ranges to reach Tegucigalpa. Along the way, we pass through diverse pine-oak forests and drier intermountain valleys that lie between them.  Once we reach Tegucigalpa (Teguc.as they say in Honduras) we will skirt the city and make our way up the hill to our hotel in the suburb of El Hatillo.

Hotel Las Gloriales is a mountain retreat that sits on a large wooded property with much of it covered by gardens and a shade coffee plantation. The grounds themselves are often quite birdy as there are fruiting and flowering trees that attract a nice variety of species. There often Spot-breasted and Yellow-backed Orioles, Band-backed Wrens and Bushy-crested Jays. Migrant wood-warblers and hummingbirds are usually seen flitting about. Flying above one can often spot some of the prized Greater Swallow-tailed Swifts, with this site being one of the best in the country to observe it. On the lower grounds we may even see the colorful Blue-and-white Mockingbird. Mexican Whip-poor-will, now a full species, often calls from the coffee plantation and we can search for it.
Accommodations at the Hotel Las Gloriales (B,L,D)                                                 

Back side of La Tigra N.P. - ©photo by R. GallardoSun., March 24 La Tigra National Park
Today we rise early to drive up to La Tigra National Park.  This is the country’s´ oldest national park where historically nearly the entire mountain was mined for gold and silver.  Over time, the forest came back and so did the wildlife that now thrives there. One can hardly even see any signs from the mining days, except some old access tunnels and the old road that winds up the hill.  We will enter the park through the Jutiapa visitor center and walk up an old road, birding at a leisurely pace, through the rich cloud forest until we reach the pass.  Walking in the cloud forest, with its lush cover of mosses, bromeliads and other ephiphytes, is magical. We will gain about 1,100ft. in elevation before dropping down some 1,500 ft. to the El Rosario visitor center where we will have lunch.  After lunch we will walk downhill again to a small village where we will be picked up by our bus and drive back to the hotel.  Those not up for the hike can do a small part of it, and travel around to the pick-up point with the bus.

Along the walk we will keep our eyes out for myriad birds, and for blooming epiphytic orchids and cacti.  Flowering bushes such as Vaccinium and Mountain Fuchsia often attract a nice array of highland hummingbirds such as Wine-throated, Garnet-throated, Amethyst-throated, White-eared and the near endemic Green-breasted Mountain-Gem.

We will also be on the lookout for the lovely Resplendent Quetzal who finds refuge on this entire mountain.  Other great Mesoamerican endemics found here include Rufous-browed Wren, Black-throated and Bushy-crested Jays and Mountain Thrush.  Anywhere along the trail we could also find the Singing Quail and White-faced Quail-Dove. 

After lunch at El Rosario we will drop down into a much drier microhabitat and will keep our eyes peeled for the charming Sparkling-tailed Woodstar which feeds on a wide variety of flowers.  Although the female is alluring it is the male with his long checkered tail feathers and blue throat that is a sight to see. 
Accommodations at the Hotel Las Gloriales (B,L,D)      

Mon., March 25 Travel to La Union, Olancho
This morning we will do some birding along part of the entrance road to La Tigra to see what else we can find.  There is a mixed pine-oak-broadleaf forest that often has a wide variety of highland bird species.  There are usually many migrant wood-warblers in the pines, and they are often accompanied by Olive Warbler, Painted Redstart and Rufous-Female Ocellated Quailcapped Warblers in the bushes below. We will also look out for the colorful White-naped Brush-Finch, White-breasted Hawk, Strong-billed Woodcreeper and Flame-colored Tanager.

After birding we will pack up and check out to continue on to Olancho.  We will descend the hill and make our way to the highway leading to Olancho.  The landscape will turn quite barren as we leave Tegucigalpa with Acacias and cacti dominating the landscape for a while.  Farther into Olancho we will return to pine-oak dominated forests.   

Our dirt road turn-off puts us back into some good birding areas.  We will stop here and there in search for some open area species such as White-tailed Hawk and Aplomado Falcon.  A certain stretch of pasturelands almost always has some Double-striped Thick-Knees in view.  After finally reaching our destination of La Union we will settle in to our hotel for the day. Often toward dusk a variety of swifts, swallow and martins come flying over town and we will see what species are present.
Accommodations Hotel La Muralla at La Union (B,L,D)

Male Ocellated QuailTues., March 26 The Ocellated Quail Conservation Area
This morning we rise early and drive the fifteen miles to reach the village of Vallecito, the site of the Ocellated Quail Conservation Area.  This project is currently being worked on by the Honduran Ornithological Association after Robert had discovered a large population of these quail there in 2010.  This prized Mesoamerican endemic is extremely difficult to find within its limited range and Robert is the only guide who currently offers to see it.  The area is comprised of 2,500 acres of mostly pine-oak woodland with pockets of broadleaf interspersed.  
There are certain areas within the reserve where the quail is most common and that is where we will concentrate our efforts. Here you can see the first ever photo of a living female and the best photo ever taken of a wild, living male.                                                                                     
The area also has many other bird species and we will keep our eyes out for ones such as Buff-breasted Flycatcher, Sedge Wren, White-breasted Hawk, Mountain Trogon and Red-throated Parakeet.   Every once in a while some Red-throated Caracaras go through.
Accommodations Hotel La Muralla at La Union (B,L,D) 

Lush mid-elevation rainforest at La Muralla - © photo by R. GallardoWed., March 27 La Muralla Wildlife Reserve
This morning we will travel a shorter distance to a nearby reserve which contains a lush mid-elevation rain forest that stretches up higher into montane forest. This wildlife refuge is in Robert´s opinion the best birding site in all of Honduras, outside of the massive La Mosquitia region.  This is the only place in Honduras where lowland, mid-elevation and highland species all mix together, in one site that we can readily drive to.  One can literally be looking at Keel-billed Motmot along the road and at the same time listening to a Tawny-throated Leaftosser and this is but one of many examples on this site’s biodiversity.

Blue-crowned Chlorophonia-a common sighting at La Muralla - ©photo by R. GallardoWe will make sure we leave early enough to arrive at a lookout point where we see the Lovely Cotinga in a valley.   There is often a pair or two of Pheasant Cuckoo nearby and sometimes a Gray-collared Becard.  In some years a pair of Ornate Hawk-Eagle nests right alongside the road.

We will spend the entire day around the visitor center area walking along the road and parts of the trail system.  Just about anything could turn up such as Highland Guan, Black-crested Coquette, Emerald-chinned Hummingbird, King Vulture, Great Tinamou, five species of woodcreepers, Blue-crowned Chlorophonia, large flocks of Red-throated Parakeet, Spotted Wood-Quail...and the list goes on!  More than likely the group will decide to return there the next morning before heading back to Tegucigalpa. 
Accommodations Hotel La Muralla at La Union (B,L,D) 

White-fronted Parrots (below) ©photo by Robert GallardoThurs., March 28 La Muralla / Return to Tegucigalpa
We return to La Muralla for some birding and exploring this morning before making the drive back to Tegucigalpa.  Such wonderful sites are becoming more difficult to come by nowadays and we must not only enjoy them during the present, but find better ways to preserve them for the future.  Learn more about research and conservation efforts in Honduras from Robert as we drive. 

We return to the hotel for checkout and an early lunch before packing up and returning to Tegucigalpa, where we overnight ahead of next day departures. Enjoy a farewell dinner.
Accommodations at Tegucigalpa (B,L,D)

Fri., March 29 Departures / Stay on to explore the City at your leisure
After breakfast you will be taken to the airport for International departures.  Or, stay on to explore this lovely city at your leisure, with parks, natural history and anthropology museums, the National Gallery of Art, excellent restaurants, historic churches, and more. If there is interest from the group, we can arrange a city tour for you.

Honduras map

A colorful, tropical salamander ©photo by Robert Gallardo

A highland butterfly of the monarch family

PLAN AHEAD!
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COST OF THE JOURNEY
Cost of the 7-day journey, $1945.00 per person from San Pedro Sula, is based on double occupancy and includes: all accommodations, all meals as specified in the itinerary, group airport transfers, transportation in Honduras, park and preserve entrance fees, professional guides, and miscellaneous program costs. Single supplement is $135.00. 

Combine this trip with our Honduras: Copan and Lago Yojoa trip and save $200.00.

This cost is based on a minimum of 6 persons; if there are fewer than 6, a small group surcharge (typically $200-400) may apply. It does not include items of a personal nature such as beverages from the bar, porterage, laundry, phone calls, or gift items. We also recommend a gratuity for our local drivers and guides; the amount is left to your discretion.

TRAVEL ARRANGEMENTS
Honduras is served by a number of major airlines, including American Airlines, Continental, COPA, TACA, AeroCaribe, and Iberia. Gateway cities include, but are not limited to, Miami, Houston, New Orleans, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.  The two main arrival International airports in Honduras are San Pedro Sula and Tegulcigalpa.  Participants on Week Two of our itinerary, or those doing both Week One and Two should arrive at San Pedro Sula and depart from Tegucigalpa.

Naturalist Journeys, LLC is an equal opportunity service provider and committed to the goal of ensuring equal opportunity for all in employment and program delivery.

PHOTO CREDITS:
Male Ocellated Quail (2 photos), Vaccinium flowers, Back side of La Tigra N.P., Female Ocellated Quail, Lush mid-elevation rainforest at La Muralla, Blue-crowned Chlorophonia, Colorful tropical salamander, and Highland butterfly of the monarch family, ©photos by R. Gallardo.

Naturalist Journeys LLC, a top birding and nature tour company, offers specialty small group travel to many of the best nature destinations worldwide. Naturalist Journeys’ expert guides have decades of experience leading guided nature and birding tours as well as travel photography tours, all with a focus on responsible travel and eco-tourism. Naturalist Journeys also offer Utah hiking adventure tours and adventure travel in national parks and wildlife reserves ranging from in-depth Alaska wildlife tours to guided Texas and Florida birding tours. Costa Rica nature and birding tours are among our top-rated as are our Panama nature tours and African wildlife safari tours. Our many repeat clients enjoy dependable and diverse holidays on Galapagos nature tours, Arctic and Antarctica nature cruises, and birding and wildlife tours from Arizona to the Amazon and beyond.