Birding Despite Disability

Obsessions Don't Care About Limitations

Guatemala, November 2019

Our extended Thanksgiving weekend of birding in Guatemala looked to start out in a less than optimal manner: the first big, ugly snowstorm of the year lined up perfectly with our planned flight out of Minneapolis. Happily, the airline allowed us to fly out a day early to Atlanta in order to avoid the likely delay or cancellation of the first leg. So, needing no birds in northern Georgia, we spent our extra day studying up on our Central American targets and planning where we would bird during a free afternoon in Antigua, Guatemala, that we would have when we arrived at 1:00 pm the next day.

Black-headed Saltator at Los Tarrales Reserve

We worked with Martsam Travel to set up our trip and guiding. Even though it was not part of the tour, they sent me an email while we were in Atlanta, offering to take us to a couple of local spots near Guatemala City and Antigua right after our arrival the next day. Everything seemed to be lining up perfectly. Too perfectly, that is….

The following day, we flew direct, Atlanta to Guatemala City … er, no we didn’t. About an hour before the anticipated landing, the pilot informed the happy passengers that we would not be going to Guatemala City, but to San Salvador instead. Why? Because there was a hole in the runway of our intended airport. No planes were departing or arriving at GUA. One imagined some massive sinkhole or bomb crater had wiped out the tarmac. Well, no…

The monstrous hole that shut down GUA for four hours

So, we landed in San Salvador, taxied to a holding position beyond the airport, and were told to shut the windows to avoid the mid-day sun from making the plane too miserable, and to wait for news. We sat there for over two and half hours. Here is the lovely view that was presented when one dared to slide the window-shade up:

Where not to go birding in El Salvador

Once we finally learned that the hole had been filled, the plane headed back out, and we tried to see something, anything, in the dry grassy areas around the tarmac or on the buildings, but saw only unidentifiable swallows and other various passerines. Not even one Rock Pigeon. But I submitted our findings to eBird anyway – it has to be the most pathetic eBird list imaginable, and I think, the first ever, for the San Salvadore airport – X swallow sp., X passerine sp.

A hotspot, it is not.

Needless to say, that first afternoon of birding around Antigua didn’t happen at all. By the time we landed, it was already sunset.

Once we finally got to bird, we picked up a few nice specialties,  such as Pink-headed Warbler and the absolutely tiny Wine-throated Hummingbird:

Wine-throated Hummingbird

We dipped on our two Motmot targets (Blue-throated and Tody), but saw plenty of Lesson’s:

Lesson’s Motmot

A long-time nemesis-bird, the Tropical Pewee, finally gave itself up. We’d never seen this species even though we’ve had at least half a dozen trips in its range.

Tropical Pewee

Similar to the Evening Grosbeak, the lovely Hooded Grosbeak was challenging to find, but our guides eventually put us right on one:

Immature Hooded Grosbeak

We also got two of our three tanager targets, including Yellow-winged Tanager:

Yellow-winged Tanager

… and another long-time nemesis-bird, the White-winged Tanager, which we had dipped on at least four times:

White-winged Tanager

Our last day involved a climb up the San Pedro volcano near Lake Atitlan – probably the most grueling, ankle-twisting hike we have ever done on any birding trip – all for a chance at Horned Guans. But they didn’t get the memo that they were supposed show up, though it would have required considerably less effort on their part. However, we lucked out by getting a view of four Singing Quail, as well as a Chestnut-sided Shrike-Vireo and the stunning Garnet-throated Hummingbird:

Garnet-throated Hummingbird

So, a mixed bag of a trip, to be sure, given the short length. Overall, the location I’d like to visit again the most would have to be Los Tarrales Natural Reserve. We didn’t have nearly enough time to explore it. The guides, drivers, and support from Martsam were all good, and they worked very hard for us.

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