Sunday, March 28, 2010

Guatemala: people, places, and things

Whew! It's nice to have a day of (sort of) rest today; the first in weeks. Following ten days in Guatemala, it was off to the races immediately upon return, with back to back lectures at the Ohio Botanical Symposium (Friday) and the Shreve Migration Sensation (yesterday). Kudos to the organizers of those events; I believe both set attendance records (430+ and 1,000 +-, respectively).

I've got reams of cool photos from the Guatemala trip, which went exceptionally well. Our group tallied 315 species of birds, in addition to numerous mammals, reptiles, amphibians, insects, and flora. I've got photos of much of this stuff, and hope to share a bit more of it before being carried off in the tide of spring in Ohio and vicinity.

Following are some shots of places we visited, and the people who were involved.

Our group birds a finca (farm) in the mountains above Antigua. That's Jen Sauter on the far right; she did a superb organizational job on the Ohio end, making for a worry-free trip for the rest of us. The rest of our crowd - all from Ohio - included Judy Hendrick, Julie Davis, Barbara and Chuck Vellios, Chip and Sue Metheny, Deanne and Dave Helm, Dan Hadley and Mary Elizabeth Huey, and your narrator. Great bunch of people, and some exceptionally sharp sets of eyes.

From the finca in the first photo, we had a clear view of Fuego Volcano, one of the world's most active. Several times we were treated to enormous volcanic belches and plumes of ash spewed skyward.

Our guide, the incomparable Hugo Haroldo Enriquez Toledo. Hugo knows the birds of Guatemala extremely well, and it was thanks to his talents that we managed to record so many species. His talents are much broader in scope, though - here he attempts to wrestle a large boa constrictor from its burrow. Hugo works with the tour company Operador Latino, and if you want to assemble a fascinating and productive Guatemalan trip, I highly recommend contacting them. Irene Rodriguez founded and runs the company, and they do an outstanding job.

Our group seeks the easy to hear, hard to see Blue-throated Motmot. We found several on this trip, but they were mostly unwilling to show themselves.

Our mode of transportation for reaching the highlands above Los Andes. After the truck could go no further, we struck out on foot and found nesting Resplendent Quetzal. A large fig in full fruit lured Azure-rumped Tanagers, Blue-crowned Chlorophonia, and many other species. Shortly upon our return to the truck, a pair of Solitary Eagles soared overhead.

This idyllic glen produced many wonderful birds, including Blue-and-white Mockingbird, Golden-browed Warbler, and Tufted Flycatcher.

We met up with Miguel Marin (center) at Tikal. Probably no one knows the birds of this iconic locale like he does. Miguel's ability to locate the most secretive species by a chip or distant note was impressive, and because of him we recorded a large number of species at Tikal, including the rare (for here) Dot-winged Antwren. We also found a Fork-tailed Flycatcher, probably a first for this heavily birded area.

On vigil for the sensational Long-tailed Manakin at Los Torrales. The males had a lek in the dense growth to the left of the group, and we had wonderful views of displaying birds.

We had several nighttime excursions, and while at Los Torrales a young lady named Andrea led us around. She is infatuated and incredibly knowledgeable about insects, and set up a light trap - above - one evening. She also took us to a small limestone cave to see Vampire Bats.

A great variety of insects came into Andrea's illuminated sheet, including many species of leaf and plant hoppers. These two were exceptionally showy.

While enroute between spots, Hugo spotted a Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher on a tree top. We shut down, jumped out, and found that the adjacent fields were full of White-collared Seedeaters, Yellow-faced Grassquits, and some Blue-black Grassquits. A pair of Prevost's Ground-sparrows lurked nearby, as did a pair of Blue Grosbeaks.

Chip and Sue Metheny high up on the slopes of San Pedro Volcano, heading towards the summit. We were making the trek primarily to seek the Horned Guan, one of the world's rarest birds. It occurs only in this part of Guetamala and adjacent Mexico, and perhaps as few as 1,000 birds survive. We missed it, in spite of thorough searches. There are no guarantees with birds! The trek was still fun and included many interesting observations.

The view from the halfway point of the San Pedro trek. Lake Atitlan sits in the bowl at the bottom.

We took a boat across Lake Atitlan to reach the village of San Pedro La Laguna, the jumping off point for those of us that hiked the volcano. On the return trip, the boat sputtered to a stop in the middle of the lake - out of gas! No worries, th pilot had an extra can and the delay allowed me an opportunity to scan for birds. Many American Coots and Lesser Scaup can be found, and this was the spot for the now extinct Atitlan Grebe. It was last seen in 1989, and its demise can be directly linked to the introduction of Smallmouth Bass, which decimated the grebes' food sources and ate the chicks.

Lake Atitlan was created by volcanic activity, and is ringed by volcanos. A garagantuan eruption over 80,000 years ago created the caldera in which the lake now sits. There is no outflow - the water seeps into the bedrock - and the maximum depth is estimated to be about 1,100 feet.

Some of us took a fascinating tour of Antigua, one of the country's most interesting cities. That's Jane, our guide, second from left. It was founded in 1524, and the city is full of fascinating cultural history.

An open air market in Antigua. I brought back many goodies from this trip. The vendors were quite friendly, and it was amazing how every one of them had a special bargain just for me!

A woman looms a blanket, creating an exceptionally ornate and colorful swatch.

A man paints a scene before our eyes; no doubt that this artwork didn't come from China!

If you are of an adventurous bent and like to see new and interesting places, consider a trip to Guatemala.


Anonymous said...

Hello, just to communicate a bad new... Hugo Haroldo Enriquez Toledo passed away today. He was involved in a car accident and unfortunatly, died.

Jim McCormac said...

Very, very sorry to hear about this - a tragic loss. Hugo will be greatly missed. Thanks for letting us know.