Thursday, December 30, 2021

Guatemala - Sierra de las Minas

Pink-headed Warbler
December 7, 2021. After a long drive around Guatemala City, we had arrived on the rain-shadow side of the Sierra de las Minas mountains. Being desert rats ourselves, we could appreciate the thorn forest habitat on this side of the mountains. And we definitely appreciated all the special birds that went with it. Since it seemed to be the theme with this trip we were up very early for a drive into the foothills with arrival well before sunup. There was a new owl species to be seen! We heard Feruginous Pygmy-Owl in the distance, but more importantly the Middle American Screech-Owls responded instantly to a little playback. We were literally surrounded by at least 4 owls. 

Middle-American Screech-Owl

We spent the rest of the morning driving up slope in this dry forest, seeing many new birds. One of my most wanted for this trip was Lesser Roadrunner (the species we have here in the U.S. is Greater Roadrunner). As we were driving up the hill at one point John said, "This is a good spot for roadrunner, we could see one run across the road..." He didn't finish his sentence before one magically appeared in front of the slow moving car. We hopped out and managed a lot of really great photos of a very cooperative bird.

This road ended at a mining area and we turned around after a successful morning, heading back to town. Our afternoon would be a fun-filled adventure getting into the Sierra de las Minas properly!

eBird list upper Santa Rosalía Marmol middle section 

eBird list Santa Rosalía Marmol top section

Hepatic Tanager

Lesser Roadrunner

Lesser Roadrunner

Varied Bunting

After returning to the valley we took a different approach road into the Sierra de las Minas. This road would go all the way to the top. This mountain range runs east/west with the north side facing the tropical Caribbean and all the moisture that comes with it. The upper reaches of the mountains maintain an extensive cloud forest habitat, with a large amount protected as a UNESCO biosphere reserve. Getting to the top and our camp location for two days was not trivial. The road is good, but VERY steep with slick mud and rocks. Thankfully we met up with John and Sunshine's parents, Rob and Tara, so would have two vehicles. This worked out pretty well as John's Toyota 4X4 pickup ran out of traction with a couple of miles remaining to the summit, but Rob and Tara's Toyota Land Cruiser made short work of most of it (one hill did require a winch assist). But it all turned out well as we got us and our provisions and luggage to the top. Here we would spend the next day and a half doing some serious rainforest birding.

Orchids along the way

The top of the mountain is up there somewhere

Winching the Land Cruiser up a particularly nasty slope

Susan, John, and I birded our way up for a while

The heart of the biosphere reserve in Sierra de las Minas

Our accommodations for the two nights exceeded expectations considerably. These cabins had been built over 10 years ago, but due to local unrest had gone unused until very recently. They were basic, but considering we were atop a 8,500 foot elevation rainforest mountain in the middle of an untouched wilderness, it was pretty amazing.

December 8, 2021. On our full day atop the mountain we did a lot of hiking and birding. The weather more than cooperated as there was just one brief shower all day. This is a location where it can rain nonstop for days on end, so we were happy.

There were many great birds to be had, and I finally got my much desired photo of a Pink-headed Warbler. Yay!

Garnet-thoated Hummingbird

Pink-headed Warbler

Hooded Grosbeak (close relative of the North American Evening Grosbeak)

Unicolor Jay

Unicolor Jay

After lunch we started out for another trail walk, but that was quickly sidelined by a pair of Horned Guans not 100 meters along the trail from our cabins. We had talked to the full-time rangers and knew there were guans in the general area, but even the rangers rarely see them. To bump into them so close to camp, and then spend the next hour plus observing the pair - all I can say is WOW!

eBird list Sendero el Pavo

The trail we started out on is named for the Horned Guan, but we never expect to see them

Horned Guan

December 9, 2021. Another day in the cloud forest, another day with almost no rain. How could we be so lucky? A morning bird walk with the specific intention of finding the bamboo obligate Maroon-chested Ground Dove turned into a huge success. This is another tough one to find, and to see. They are serious skulkers rarely visible in the thick forest. And as they hang out around limited large stands of bamboo, there aren't many places to look for them. As always, John pulled out his magic wand and produced a pair for us to see. "See" is relative as we got a couple quick fly-by looks on the trail, and the female perched in a nearly impossible location that was just barely visible through a tiny hole in the forest with the scope. 

eBird list Sendero Pinalòn

Maroon-chested Ground Dove (digiscoped)

All too soon it was time to head back down the mountain. But on the way down we did manage to pick up another target species - Guatemalan Yellow Grosbeak.

eBird list for Ruta Albores

Sunshine, Susan, Bob, and John

Looking back up at Sierra de las Minas

Yellow Grosbeak

Next up, the Central Highlands!

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Gold Bottom Mine

We haven't let moss grow under our feet since we returned home from Guatemala. And yes, Bob is working on more Guatemala posts. We explored a new area in the Slate Range.  Our inspiration for this hike was a photo of initials and the date 1862.  Could it be real?  The letter style certainly looks appropriate for the era.

Turns out it is real.  JWS is John Searles and WD is Willet Dunn.  I haven't figured out who WM or DS are.  John Searles marked his mining claims by pecking his initials into a rock at the site he was claiming. This was one of his gold mine claims. Unfortunately, there is a bunch of modern graffiti marring this site, so it is hard to tell what is original, and what is later fakes.

The rest of the hike was a keeper as well.  We started out by exploring the mining holes.  They seemed to be everywhere.  On the way back, we dropped into a wash with a fun narrows section.  

As usual birds were in short supply, but we did score a white-throated swift.  Our ebird list is here.

Bob and BJ in a mine shaft.

Looking north.

Another hole in the ground.

Looking east.

BJ is heading down a wash.

The power of flowing water.

Trona in the distance.

Look, even more holes.

The wave.

Start of the narrows.

Bob does some fancy footwork.

BJ uses the traditional approach.

But wait, there are more holes.

Processing plant foundations.