Tuesday, 29 October 2019

Guatemala, Las Guacamayas...

The journey from Flores to Las Guacamayas Biological Station seemed a long one. It's around 3-4 hours with a stop, which isn't too bad, but a long part of the road is un-tarmacked, extremely bumpy, road. I can't describe one of these journeys, you have to experience it. For over two hours you are constantly jostled around and having to brace yourself to avoid rocking into someone else or, worse still, into the equipment. By the time you get out of the 4 x 4, you are physically tired and aching not to mention just a little queasy! The main bird of note was this stunning Vermilion Flycatcher, which provided a much welcome break to the journey.

Vermilion Flycatcher
Vermilion Flycatcher

The second part of the journey is a half-hour river boat trip to the Station. We complete this in darkness and arrive just ahead of a torrential thunder storm that had been brewing on the horizon for the last hour. Once again we were warmly welcomed, shown to our rooms and then provided with a lovely dinner where we met Renee's parents, Francois and Nini. They are lovely people who will do anything to make our stay as comfortable and successful as possible. We also meet up with a talented young herpetologist called Andres Novalis who is joining us for most of the trip.

The next morning after breakfast we get to see the Lodge and its surroundings properly for the first time in the daylight and it's a great location. Dense forests rise steeply behind the main buildings whilst the other side is bordered by the river that we arrived on last night.

The view from the tower lookout at Las Guacamayas

The accommodation at the Station

The place is alive with birds. Scaly-breasted Hummingbirds and Wedge-tailed Saberwings buzz around the feeding stations. Collard Aracaris and Bat Falcons draw my attention overhead. Down near the landing jetty I get my first views of the locally common Morelet's Crocodile, Crocodylus moreletii. These fantastic reptiles can reach lengths of around 10 ft and the one in front of me must be close to that. They are only found in the Atlantic region of Mexico, Belize and Guatemala.

Morelet's Crocodile, Crocodylus moreletii

Look at those eyes...looking at me

Mike Hutchinson filming the croc

There were some neat birds too.

Black-headed Trogon, male

Collared Aracari

Scaly-breasted Humminbird

Variegated Squirrel

White-breasted Emerald

Wedge-tailed Saberwing

That evening Rowland, Andres, Renee and myself do a spot of herping to see what's on offer.

Small-headed Tree Frog, Dendropsophus microcephalus

Interestingly the Red-eyed Treefrogs, Agalychnis callidryas have a much toned-down colouration on their sides than those further south in Costa Rica. They're still attractive little frogs though.

Red-eyed Treefrogs in amplexus

Centruroides margaritatus - very common around the station

Centruroides margaritatus...with a Katydid

Another Centruroides margaritatus
They really are everywhere.

Mexican red-rumped Tarantula

My find of the night was this beautiful Imantodes cenchoa. I love these little snakes, they are so graceful and elegant and no thicker than a bootlace in places.

Blunt-headed Treesnake, Imantodes cenchoa

Blunt-headed Treesnake, Imantodes cenchoa

Blunt-headed Treesnake, Imantodes cenchoa

In Renee's hand to show how delicate they are.

Another day over it was time to prepare for the following day and our trip to El Mirador.

Saturday, 26 October 2019


Guatemala isn't a country that was on my bucket list to visit. To be honest, like most people I thought it was dangerous and I didn't really know anything about it other than the fact it had a long drawn-out civil war from the 1950's to the 1990's that I could remember as a kid when I was growing up.

When I found out I would be filming there, I was a little apprehensive at first. Then, having to spoken to colleagues in the travel industry...I was VERY apprehensive! Tales of gunshots ringing out all night in Guatemala City, stories of armed robbery on the highways at night. I wasn't sure I was looking forward to this leg of the trip.  But how wrong could I be...

Guatemala - sandwiched in between Mexico, Belize, San Salvador,
Honduras and the Pacific Ocean!

We took an mid-morning flight out of San José to Guatemala City and arrived to meet our wonderful guides and travelling companions from Anywhere Guatemala Nature that Nigel and I had met at the Birdfair earlier in the summer. Joining us were owner of the company Bitty Ramirez-Potilla, Central American herping expert, Rowland Griffin from Indigo Expeditions, Andrew Reoyo Jones of Surreal Films and Renee Berger, an avid female herper who's family own Las Guacamayas Biological Station.

We were scheduled to fly out of Guatemala City again at 4 pm so we checked-in all of our bags at the Avianca desk and headed for lunch at Clios where we were amazed to find a welcoming party of 20 guests made up of hosts, guides and tourism industry representatives who will be hosting us throughout the 18 days of filming here!

It's very surreal, I can't quite believe we'd been given such an incredible welcome and it's a very humbling experience.

After meeting the people who made it all happen, we finish lunch and head straight back to the airport to board our flight to Flores in the north of the country. The first five days will be spent up there exploring the hot and humid lowlands.

We arrive in Flores just after dark, board our mini coach and drive half-an-hour to our accommodation for the first night, the luxurious Las Lugunas Boutique Hotel. This is certainly NOT something we are use to on filming trips and we were really spoilt to stay here. It's probably one of the nicest hotels I've ever stayed in...another unexpected side of Guatemala.

Their stunning pool overlooking the lake

The accommodations sit on stilts over the lake.

One of the biggest beds I've ever seen with hot tub in the room beyond

Bathroom with a big window...so you can see the lake!

The view from my room at sunrise was incredible

Just to give it some perspective...

The hotel does boat trips around the lake too.

It's so beautiful, and there are plenty of birds here too.

Despite the comforts of the room I find I'm up early (hence the sunrise shots) and head out for a spot of birding before breakfast. It's already incredibly hot and humid and it's not even 7 am yet. The clouds of Mangrove Swallows never seem to settle for long but there are one or two gems out and about.

Green Heron

Little Blue Heron

Olive-throated Parakeet

After breakfast we prepare for our first shoot of the day and head out on the boat to see some of the local primates.

Central American Spider Monkey

Mangrove Swallow

I've already changed my mind about Guatemala. It's shown itself to be a very beautiful, colourful country with wonderfully generous and welcoming people. I find myself very much looking forward to the coming days and weeks.

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Untamed Central America...return to Tapirus...

Tapirus Lodge 15-17 September, 2019

We had deliberately scheduled a return visit to Tapirus Lodge. We knew we'd need the extra days to finish everything we had to film there, so on the 15th we left Laguna del Lagarto and headed south to Tapirus for our third and final time.

Glass Frog, Tapirus Lodge

Massive Ant lion sp.
Argyope sp.

Pygmy Grasshopper

Leaf mimicking Katydid

Tapier footprint showing the three splayed toes
designed to stop the animal getting
stuck in the mud.

Leaf mimicking praying mantis sp.
A magnificent male Green Iguana, Iguana iguana

Green Iguana, Iguana iguana

Green Iguana, Iguana iguana

Green Iguana, Iguana iguana
One of the main reasons to return to Tapirus was to try and film the stunning little Snowcap hummingbird. They are pretty scarce and it's always a prize bird for any location that attracts them. They don't visit feeders, only wild flowers, so getting good, close views is extremely tricky. Occasionally they settle where you can see them...

Snowcap, adult male having a wing stretch

Snowcap, adult male

Snowcap, juvenile male

Snowcap, juvenile male
They are stunning little birds!
Mission accomplished we ready the kit for flight. Next stop Guatemala...