Saturday, January 17, 2009

Tikal yer fancy?

Yes, I know, ages betwen updates again. I'll be keeping them fairly brief and hopefully will write full trip reprts for some of the more interesting sites that we've visited once I get back home.

Ok, Tikal.

What a fantastic place, infinitely better than Palenque. Its a much bigger site, with temples and pyramids spread over several kilometres, and all covered in prime rainforest. We arrived in the afternoon and first off took a walk down the track towards the old airstrip. Despite looking fairly ordinary scrubby stuff we saw a stunning male White-collared Manakin, Blue-crowned Motmot and a skulky White-browed Wren. Walking back to the campsite, we came across the bizarre sight of a group of Ocellated Turkeys strutting around the car park. We bought our tickets for the Archaelogical Site itself after 4pm, allowing us a quick evening visit before closing time at 6pm but also giving us entry for the following day. Whizzing around as much as possible we caught up with several groups of Crested Guan and a Ruddy Woodcreeper. Getting back to the campsite at dusk, a pair of Paraques were hanging around the edges of the reservoit near the entrance booth.
Dawn the next morning saw us back at the reservoir, where we picked up the hoped for Bare-throated Tiger Heron. The woods around the ruins were vrey productive for woodcreeprs, with SPot-crowned, Tawny-winged, Barred and Ocellated all giving good views. Undoubted bird(s) of the day were 3 Orange-breasted Falcons, a pair and a young bird hanging around the magnificent Templo IV, where they appeared to have nested. On our last full day at Tikal we again went down the Airstrip track, where we scored superbly, with a showy Pheasant Cuckoo feeding right next to the track, making a crazy sound as it shook its body, apparently in some kind of display as it fed. This isnt written in any of the books we have but the noise it was making is really difficult to describe, like an uneven static hiss, it was damn wierd. A thicket Tinamou also gave us excellent views before creeping off back into the scrub. To end the day, a pair of Grey-necked Wood Rails were feeding around one of the crocodile pools at the end of the track.

The next day saw us catching a bus down to Rio Dulce in south Guatemala, where after staying a night we got on a fast boat to take us to the town of Livingstone, on the Carribean coast, seeing several Fork-tailed Flycatchers on the way. From Livingstone we caught another boat across the bay to Puerto Barrios, from where we took a bus to the Honduras border, crossing that nice and quickly and staying the night in the beachside village of Omoa. Next day we took a bus SOuth to Lago Yojoa, slap bang in the middle of Honduras, where we camped at the excellent D&D Microbrewery, set up by an Oregonian Brewmaster. What a great idea, set just off the edge of the lake, with several good walking trails close by, this place offers good cheap accomodation (even cheaper when your camping!) and allowed us to tasts some real beer, for the first time since, ironically enough, we visited some brewpubs in Portland Oregon. The porter and Amber ales were really very good, and the Raspberry and Apricot Ales were very interesting, and much nicer than they might sound, similar ot Badger Breweries peach flavoured Golden Glory. We were very disappointed that the Mango Ale was not available though. From the brewery, we went up into the Santa Barbara National Preseve for a few days, and stayed at the small village of San Luis Planes, right on the edge of the cloud forest. Birding around the village was excellent, seeing the regional endemic Bushy-crested Jays, the 'white-faced' race of Prevosts Ground Sparrow ( a cracking bird with cool sideburns) and Rusty Sparrow. The cloud forest was as tropical forests generally are, mostly birdless but with a few hidden Gems. What was one of most exciting moments of the trip came when we picked out a stunning male Resplendant Quetzal sitting on an exposed perch above the canopy, with wispy cloud drifting past, it peformed several little flight off the perch revealing just how long its incredible tail streamers are. Some of the regional field guides claim that this is the most beautiful birds on the world, i'm not quite sure about that, but its certainly right up there with the best of them. Other good birds up there included Black-banded Woodcrepper, Violet Sabrewing and Green-throated Mountain Gem.

After Lago Yojoa, we continued South, crossing the border into Nicaragua, and stopping at the Nicaraguan coffee capital of Matagalpa. Feeling the need for more cloud forest, we took a bus up to the swanky Selva Negra lodge to use their trails for the day. We forst got the feeling that this wa a good site as we walked down the access track from the road, seeing Ornage-billed Nightingale Thrush and Rufous-browed Wren. The lodge has an excellent network of trails covering a good variety of habitats and it felt criminal to only spend one day there, seeing such excellent birds as Grey-collared Becard, White-faced Quail Dove, Emerald Toucanet, Green-breasted Mountain Gem, White-ruffed Manakin, White-winged Tanager and Slaty Antshrike.

From Matagalpa, we took a bus down to the fascinating town of Granada, where we are now, on the shores of Lago Nicaragua, a huge inland waterbody. The town is full of great old colonial buildings ad feels totally different to anywhere we've been so far on the trip. Walking around the square yesterday evening we were more than slightly surprised to see flocks of Scissor-tailed Flycatchers flying low over the rooftops, presumably on their way to roost nearby.

We have a few more days here, then the plan is to catch a ferry across the lake to the town of San Carlos, where we will explore a very underwatched and potentially very interesting area, before crossing over into Costa Rica.

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