December 10, 2021. By this morning we had moved up into the Central Highlands north of Guatemala City, in Baja Verapaz Department. A short morning visit to Los Ranchitos del Quetzal produced a nice assortment of new species.
After breakfast we headed out to the famed Pantin Road, an elevation gradient from cloud forest to thorn forest. The birding along this road was outstanding including the much sought after Belted Flycatcher and Slender Sheartail.
|Clamshell Orchid (Prosthechea cochleata)|
|Birding Pantin Road|
|Fire-star Orchid (Epidendrum radicans)|
|Oak forest along Pantin Road|
|Black-headed Nightingale Thrush|
In the late afternoon we went to a marsh to hunt for rails. A Ruddy Crake was very cooperative.
December 11, 2021. Today was the day we would finally get to see first-hand the efforts of John and Sunshine's parents at the Community Cloud Forest Conservation (CCFC). But not before checking out the Resplendent Quetzals feeding in a native avocado tree at our lodge.
|Some of the locals enjoy looking at the Quetzals through our scope|
|Male Resplendent Quetzal|
|A Mottled Owl put on a show next to our cabin as we packed up at dawn|
We arrived at CCFC in plenty of time for the grand tour before lunch. CCFC was founded a dozen years ago by Rob and Tara Cahill who moved to Guatemala at first to teach. Their mission statement reads, "Alleviating Poverty and Protecting Forests in the Highlands of Guatemala. Education, reforestation, sustainable development, leadership scholarships, and ecological improvements to agriculture." They do this by inviting and educating young people from villages all over Guatemala in a number of programs taught throughout the year. It is quite amazing work they do and I encourage you to visit the website for the Community Cloud Forest Conservation [link] where you can read much more than I have space for here. They really are making an impact in Guatemala.
|Arriving at Finca Rubel Chaim, the site of CCFC|
|Rob Cahill gives us the grand tour|
|Outside we walked to a nearby cave where the river is underground for over a kilometer|
|Vertical panorama of the cave|
|View out of the cave mouth|
|Heading back to the CCFC after our tour and a bit of birding|
We did some afternoon birding on the property which is surrounded by cloud forest.
|Black-throated Green Warbler|
December 12, 2021. Our luck finally ran out. After 10 perfect days with no rain, this day didn't want to cooperate. But we were in the cloud forest, so...
We did manage to sneak out in the drizzle early for a few minutes to get Scaled Antpitta and a few other goodies, so there's that.
But the rain just kept coming and got much harder, to the point where any birding was pretty much a lost cause. So, let's have some other fun!
There's always something going on around the CCFC and I got invited to watch hot chocolate made from scratch.
|Cocoa beans and a stick of cinnamon|
|Toasting the cocoa beans on the stovetop|
|The grinding process. The beans go through this grinder three times for drinkable chocolate|
|A little water is mixed in after the grinding|
|The ground cocoa and sugar, and then some hot water|
|Yes, it was outstanding|
But we weren't done yet! It's coffee roasting time!
|Locally grown unroasted coffee beans|
|Sunshine takes a turn on the roaster which has to be continuously turned over the wood stove|
|Getting a light/medium roast took about 30 minutes|
|The finished beans|
|A pedal powered grinder!|
|A little exercise for me and we had ground coffee!|
Yes, the coffee was amazingly good too. As the afternoon wore on and the birding day was abandoned, the Cahill family went out wild mushroom hunting. Their bountiful success was part of our delicious dinner thanks to Sunshine's culinary skills. A huge thanks to Rob and Tara for hosting our wonderful visit.
|Wild rainforest mushrooms|
|Our final dinner at CCFC|
December 13, 2021. We were up and moving early with one more highlands birding location to visit. We stopped in at Max's, a Cahill family friend. Max owns a large farm with an emphasis on cloud forest habitat protection. It was a lovely morning with lots of good birds.
It was all down hill from here as we headed north toward the Caribbean lowlands. Next up, Tikal !!