Guatemala with JB Journeys

By: Michael Jewell, Travis Audubon Master Birder

Janel Nye and I had the pleasure of joining a few other Travis Audubon members for 11 days and 10 nights of birding in Guatemala with JB Journeys. We were in the later group of two, with Eric Stager hosting the first group on January 3-13, and Jean and Bob Warneke hosting ours January 15-25.

Central America is so easy to get to– it takes exactly the same time to fly to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania as it does to fly to Guatemala City, Guatemala.

Bright-rumped Attila

Unicolored Jay

Sunrise at Lake Atitlan

Our local guides were Rob and John Cahill. Rob runs Community Cloud Forest Conservation (CCFC), and his son, John, is the top birder in Guatemala (see his story in Birder’s Guide, October 2014) and at age 23, he is part of the new generation of birders. John is a rock star in Central America birding circles; everywhere we went, he was called out, greeted and hugged by every bird guide we ran into. Growing up, John was Rob’s son– these days, Rob is referred to as John Cahill’s father.

CCFC focuses on agro-ecology, training local subsistence farmers in sustainable practices. They also run a leadership training program for girls at their campus near Cobán, where we stayed for three nights. The program trains girls and young women in sustainable farming, nutrition, cooking, health and family planning, and career and educational options, with the goal of helping them stay in school and continue their education. Rob Cahill will be presenting information concerning this important program at Travis Audubon on September 19, 2019.

It can be cool up in the Guatemala Highlands, and a couple of days we were there were in the 40’s all day, damp cold weather.

Birding was wonderful. We visited wintering grounds for Golden-cheeked, Wilson’s and Black-throated Green warblers, which were abundant along with Magnolia, Hooded and Yellow warblers. Two White “Snowy” Hawks put on a show against the blue skies one beautiful afternoon. A very, very rare Bicolored Hawk was spotted at Tikal. The hummingbirds were amazing– Rivoli’s, Green-throated Mountain-gem, Azure-crowned, Violet Sabrewing, Rufous-tailed and more. Azure-hooded Jays, Unicolored Jays and Bushy-crested Jays. We even spotted the elusive Great-tailed Grackle.

One of our favorite days was at Los Ranchitos where we arrived before sunrise to see Common Chlorospingus, Golden-browed Warbler, and others before an amazing family style breakfast. We had some of the best hot cakes I have ever had, I think we all had our share of hot cakes, honey, jam, grilled plantains and more, then someone mentioned apple pie. I was so full, I had to pass– when a Mid-west boy passes on apple pie, you know he’s full.

Kitchen Staff at Los Ranchitos

After breakfast, we ran up and down the mountain chasing the Resplendent Quetzal. Tikal, an ancient Mayan citadel, was awe-inspiring, truly a sight to behold, and the birding was spectacular also. One starlit night a few of us decided to call in some owls. John Cahill and our Tikal guide, Pablo, lead the way. As we were making our way through the dark, we realized we were looking at the same skies the Mayans looked at many centuries before. It was one of my favorite memories of hundreds on this trip.

OK, great birds, wonderfully funky places to stay and delicious food. We also met the nicest and warmest people during the trip, including Don Salvador at Cabana Suiza, Max at Reserva Natural Privada Chajbaoc (“the place where you wash your feet”), Don David of Casa de Don David, Jennifer at Jenna’s River Bed & Breakfast, and many others. Jean and Bob took very good care of us along the way. This was certainly one of our favorite trips.

The numbers: thirteen days with our extension of three days spent at Jenna’s River Bed & Breakfast on Lake Atitlan, four thousand plus photographs to wade through, over two hundred forty species of birds, ten new friends, and hundreds of memories.

Note: JB Journeys and Travis Audubon will offer this trip again in January 2020. Stay tuned for details!

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