Sunday, 29 December 2019

Guatemala - volcanoes and hummingbirds...

Our last two days in Guatemala are to be spent back at Antigua. Having cut short our previous visit due to weather we are returning to finish what we started. Finca el pilar is a privately owned nature reserve on the mountain slopes overlooking the city.

Our main reason for coming here is to see the restricted range Rufous Saberwing hummingbird, which visits the feeders in the garden along with many other species.

Rufous Saberwing

Rivoli's Hummingbird

Rivoli's Humminbird

Violet Saberwing
My personal favourite!

Another Violet Saberwing
Green-throated Mountain Gem

Our last remaining task is to climb Pacaya volcano later that night to try and film the lava flowing from its summit. We leave Antigua in the early hours to make the ascent and see our goal an hour later. At sunrise we are able to appreciate the surrounding view and it's breathtaking to say the least. Standing on a volcano, looking at three other volcanoes is a sight I will never forget.

View from Pacaya towards Agua, Acatenango and Fuego volcanoes

Our friendly mules that helped carry all the gear.

Pacaya blowing smoke rings!

Part of our support team - we couldn't
have reached the summit without them.
This seemed a very fitting way to finish our filming trip to Guatemala. I can't recommend this country enough, it's stunningly beautiful, it has an incredible array of birds and other wildlife, the people are just lovely and above all - it's safe!  As safe as any country I've ever visited and I would go back in a heartbeat.

To see the beauty of the volcano and make your own judgements about'll have to wait for the film to air in 2020!

Friday, 27 December 2019

Guatemala...Los Tarrales

It’s about a five-hour drive from the volcanoes of Sibinal to the lakeside town of Panajahel. We have to get there before the last passenger ferry boat of the day sails to Santiago Atitlan, so there’s little time to stop for breaks. As we drive we pass through any number of small towns and villages, all of whom seem to have their farmer’s market in full flow. The streets are lined with Maya faces, men and women in colourful traditional dress, it's a magical sight.

We arrive in Panajahel in good time, load the boat with equipment and head out onto the lake. Described as ‘the most beautiful lake in the world’, I cannot disagree...Lake Atitlan is stunningly beautiful and not somewhere I ever expected to see. Most famous for the now extinct Atitlan Grebe, Lake Atitlan is around 240 m deep and ringed by volcanoes. We stop for lunch at the Restaurante Bambu.

Lake Atitlan once held its own endemic grebebut sadly
no longer. The last Atitlan Grebe vanished in 1989
Santiago Atitlan
Lake Atitlan
We leave after lunch for the final leg of our journey to Los Tarrales Nature Reserve, stopping off only for a new hummer, the Slender Sheartail, before reaching our final destination of the day.

Early the next morning we are up and filming at Los Tarrales. This incredible 1300 hectare reserve is also a working coffee farm and the number of species found here is staggering. The garden and bird feeders are heaving with activity.

Baltimore Oriole, male

Baltimore Oriole, female

Black and White Owl

Golden-fronted Woodpecker

Lesson's Motmot

Melodious Blackbird

Orchard Oriole, immature male

Cinnamon Hummingbird

Spot-breasted Oriole

White-bellied Chachalaca

Yellow-throated Euphonia

Yellow-winged Tanager

It wasn't all about the birds though. Agoutis were running around the garden along with White-tailed deer and we found a Bull Snake and a beautiful Middle-American Indigo Snake, Drymarchon melanurus around the old farm buildings too. This is a very widespread species that will feed on rodents and other snakes, including the highly venomous Terciopelo!  It is completely immune to the venom.

Bull Snake, Pituophis catenenfer sayi

Bull Snake, Pituophis catenenfer sayi

Indigo Snake, Drymarchon melanurus

Having finished the filming here it was time to head back to our original schedule and retrace our steps back to Antigua for hummingbirds and volcanoes...

Friday, 20 December 2019


With rain putting our plans to film volcanoes on hold at Antigua, we head to Sibinal and the volcanic slopes of the Pacific coast. This is an incredibly beautiful area and our bird guide Daniel Schumann is very excited as there are some great species to be seen and filmed here. The first of those is found withing an hour of arriving and is the main bird I wanted to see on this trip, Pink-headed Warbler. Not the best photos as they never stop moving and (yes, it was raining!) but not bad for the bridge camera. I'm loving the Nikon P1000.

Pink-headed Warbler, Sibinal

Pink-headed Warbler

Sharpest photo but burnt out the pink head sadly.
These awesome little birds are something to behold. They are active and almost constantly calling or singing as they flit around the tree tops. By choosing a position up-slope we managed to get great eye-level views.

When the sun shone, the scenery was hard to beat.

View from the road towards Lake Atitlan
enroute to Sibinal

Pink-headed Warbler and Horned Guan country!

Vega del volcan - 3200 m  above sea level
I had early signs of altitude sickness here!

The son of our host out in the thunderstorm...not
sure the brolly's a good idea?

Cameraman Mike Hutchinson filming the sunset

The sunrise from the same view point
The volcano Tajumulco on the right of the photo
is the tallest point in Central America

There were Broad-tailed Hummingbirds on the bushes in front.

Nigel enjoying the view

Early dawn with Tajumulco on the left looking down
towards Chiapas, Mexico
Spotted Towhee

Townsend's Warbler

Yellow-eyed Junco

White-naped Brushfinch (formerly Yellow-throated...
not sure why they changed it?)

Black-headed Siskin
Much brighter than in the books!

Stella's Jay

Eastern Bluebird

Rufous-collared Sparrow

Rufous-collared Thrush

Stunning birds - same size as a European Blackbird

Summer Tanager

Summer Tanager
Unfortunately, after two days on site, I was worse-the-wear for altitude sickness and had to sit out the final push up the volcano to see the Horned Guan. I intend to go back and see it one day but Daniel has kindly allowed me to show one of his photos from a previous occasion to illustrate these bizarre, almost prehistoric looking birds.

Horned Guan, Daniel A. Schumann
It was time to continue to Lake Atitlan, former home to the now extinct Atitlan Grebe. After spending a last night in Sibinal, we left early the next morning on the four-hour journey to meet with our boat to cross the lake.