ZEISS supports the Honduras Birding for Conservation Tour

The inaugural Honduras Birding for Conservation Tour took place in northwestern Honduras from November 4 to 12, 2016. Five teams of ten birders, and two guides birded during proscribed hours each day, rotating between some of Honduras’ most famous birding hotspots, including Santa Barbara, Pico Bonito, and Meambar Blue Mountain national parks as well as Lake Yojoa, the Lancetilla Botanical Gardens, and the Mayan ruins at Copán.

The purpose of the tour was to raise awareness of the birding opportunities in Honduras, to encourage more eco- and avitourism there, and to raise money and awareness for conservation of Honduran birds and habitat. Everyone – from tour organizers to guides to participants to the Honduran government and the national media outlets – seemed to agree that the inaugural Honduras Birding for Conservation Tour (HBCT) was a grand success.

Carl Zeiss Sports Optics was a major sponsor of the tour.

Each HBCT team was led by an experienced Honduran birder and a well-known birding guide from the international community.
Each team chose a team name, which resulted in some interesting monikers:
1. The Honduran Roadrunners (Adam Riley + Alex Alvarado)
2. The Warped Warblers (Richard Crossley + Jose Santos Calderon)
3. The Ant Swarm (Jeffrey Gordon + Esdras Lopez)
4. Team Tanager (Tim Appleton + William Orellana)
5. The Velveteen Cotingas (Bill Thompson III + Elmer Escoto)

The fifty individuals constituting the team members came from far and wide – the United States, England, South Africa, Canada, and elsewhere. For many of them it was their first visit to Honduras, and for some, their first experience in the tropics.
The tour began at the San Pedro Sula airport where we birded the brushy periphery finding, as we would throughout the event, a lovely mixture of familiar North American species along with many species of the tropics. Yellow-breasted Chats and Yellow Warblers flitted in the same trees with Blue-gray Tanagers, while Blue-black Grassquits and Tricolored Munias bobbed on the grassy margins.

I was honored to be one of those international guides, along with my friends Tim Appleton, Richard Crossley, Adam Riley, and Jeffrey Gordon. Our amazing and talented Honduran guides were Alex Alvarado, Jose Santos Calderon, Elmer Escoto, Esdras Lopez, and William Orellana.

After all the attendees were collected, we boarded our team mini-buses and hurtled off to our respective first birding destinations, where we’d start the competition the following morning. The Velveteen Cotingas, headed to Copán and arrived in time for a late dinner. We were up super early the following day and headed to a coffee plantation, Finca Welchez, about an hour away. We stepped out of the mini-bus into a light rain, still groggy from the travel.

We scored Streaked-back, Yellow-backed, Orchard, and Baltimore Orioles as quickly as we could focus our optics on the nearby fruiting trees.
As the rain picked up and we hiked up the muddy trail to the higher elevations, we’d run into small pockets of birds feeding in mixed flocks, followed by long periods of quiet. This was to be a recurring theme of the tour for the Cotingas: rain, mud, good birding, lull, sun, rain, mud, lull, good birding…

More than 420 species were tallied by the five HBCT teams during the event. The Honduran Roadrunners saw or heard and amazing total of 352 species! Our team had 298 species and finished fifth out of five teams, missing fourth place by just a few species in the final tally. The final standings and species tallied are available on eBird as well as on the Facebook link below.

All the teams experienced weather challenges, but that’s birding in the tropics. Among the most-often sighted (and familiar) species for our team: Yellow, Chestnut-sided, and Magnolia warblers, Baltimore Oriole, Summer Tanager, and Golden-fronted Woodpecker. Black vultures peppered the skies. In fact, we started off the tour by saying that when looking at a soaring raptor, start off by asking: “Why is this NOT a black vulture?”

The oft-seen tropical birds included Great Kiskadee, Tropical Kingbird, Montezuma’s Oropendula, Keel-billed Toucan, Lesson’s Motmot, and White-collared Seedeater, among hundreds of others.

The birding and landscape were wonderfully engaging. And the Honduran people were universally friendly to us everywhere we went.

The Velveteen Cotingas claimed to be the team had the most fun and the best (read: worst) jokes. We were lucky to have Elmer Escoto as our Honduran guide. There’s never been a more patient, good-humored, and talented guide in all my years of birding.

I want to extend a special hug of gratitude to my Velveteen Cotingas teammates for their unwavering good humor, birding-spotting skills, and stamina, and for making this such a wonderful experience for me. Thanks, Zeiss, for your support of the Honduras Birding for Conservation Tour! According to HBCT organizer James Adams, the conservation impact of this event will continue to be felt well into the future. That’s something we can all feel good about.

You can learn more about the Honduras Birding for Conservation Tour on its website or on the HBCT’s Facebook page.

Everyone participating was grateful to Carl Zeiss Sports Optics for its significant support of the HBCT. Zeiss not only donated the handy knapsacks we all used to tote around our field guides and other items, but also gave everyone reusable water bottles, and optics cleaning kits. Most importantly, Zeiss donated $5,000 as one of the conservation prizes.

Bill Thompson III

He is a lifelong birder, the co-publisher of Bird Watcher’s Digest (BWD) magazine, founder of the American Birding Expo, and the author of many books on birds and nature.