Five Days in Guatemala, 102 Species

View of Lake Atitlan

Last week, I returned from a Guatemalan birding extravaganza, the likes of which I’ve never before experienced, with four solid days—5 a.m. starts, sporadic meals, hours of fantastic bird watching—in a country smaller than the state of Tennessee. I personally saw 102 different species, 83 I’d never encountered, and at least a dozen I’d never even heard of.

But to be honest, that was nothing. My spotting paled in comparison to that of my companions, some of the most-skilled birders I’ve ever been out with; several broke the century mark for species spotted in one day.

We spent the entire trip—put on by the Guatemala Tourism

Lake Atitlan

Board, INGUAT, and several first-rate tour operators—in the southwestern part of this country of 13 million that, in addition to Spanish, boasts 23 officially recognized Mayan languages. Lake Atitlan, a four(ish)-hour, windy drive from Guatemala City marked our birding starting line. From there, we hiked the ridiculously steep San Pedro Volcano in search of the Horned Guan and the gentler-yet-still-worthwhile trails of Laguna Lodge (across the lake) to find the Belted Flycatcher.

During the trip’s latter half, we split into two lively groups, each on identical missions: to see birds, of course! As luck would have it, mine included the managing editor of the British magazine Birdwatch, director of a Dutch bird watching and nature tours company, a British nature-TV star, and the head of a nature center in Connecticut. Amazing.

We lived, hiked, and birded for two days on Las Nubes coffee plantation—500 acres of coffee, 450 acres of forest—spotting blue-crowned Chlorophonia, quetzal, countless flycatchers and hummingbirds and magpie-jays, and even an elegant Euphonia. Our last stop was Takalik Abaj, a Mayan ruin exploding with extraordinary history and wildlife (though we didn’t really see much of the latter). In such a short amount of time, I’ve never felt so obsessed with, excited over and intimidated by birds.

Stay tuned over the coming weeks for more tales of this Central American adventure.

[Photos by Michele Wilson]

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