Birding Lake Yojoa

View from Panacam towards Lake Yojoa.
For two years, I have observed birds in the Lake Yojoa region. Before arriving in Honduras, I was an outdoor enthusiast, but had not begun to bird just yet. However, after seeing my first Turquoise-browed Mot-Mot, I began to more intentionally seek out the region’s birds. The region’s incredibly productive environment provided a rich training ground for this budding birder. The majority of this information will be informal, either based on my impressions or imperfect numbers that are in mind and pertain to the actual lake and the mountains that provide its basin.

The goal of this page is to provide a resource for birders that are visiting the Lake Yojoa area. I hope that this information is useful.  Although birding is certainly one of my favorite pastimes, my great life passion is the holistic, sustainable development of the poor communities in this region of Honduras. So, if you are interested in being a part of that effort, please take the time to view the rest of this website to see how you can get involved.



 
Birder´s Overview of the Region
Lake Yojoa (Lago de Yojoa) sits a little above 2000 feet in elevation and is bordered by the departments of Cortés and Santa Barbara. Luckily for us birders, it is also bordered by two outstanding national parks La Montaña de Santa Barbara and Parque Nacional Cerro Azúl Meambar. Both of these parks contain true rain forest and cloud forest. The lake itself is roughly 3 miles wide and 18 miles long and can be easily navigated by small boat. Much of the lake itself is surrounded by shallow marsh and wetlands. Out a little distance from the lake exists a fair amount of scrub and humid grassland, especially that cleared for cattle or agriculture. In the lake basin, very little oak and pine forest are available, but do exist in small patches. As far as I am aware, thorn forest is minimal to nonexistent. The majority of the lake basin´s environment is humid montane or evergreen, rain forest, or cloud forest.

An incredible number of bird species inhabit the basin. The official list tops 400 species with many putting that number closer to 450. Even with my limited skills, I have identified over 200 species in the area. Many of Honduras' most famous birds can be found here including the Resplendant Quetzal, Scarlet Macaw, all three toucans, many cloud forest specialists, various trogons, enormous numbers of migrators in season (especially waterbirds, waders, and warblers), and a dazzling number of hummingbirds.


According to my experience, the most common birds in the general Lake area are the Clay-colored Thrush, White-winged Dove, Common Ground Dove, White-collard Seedeater, Blue-black Seedeater, Montezuma and Chestnut-mandibled Oropendula, Keel-billed Toucan, Altamira Oriole, Great-tailed Grackle, Northern Jacana, Common Moorhen, Roadside Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk Snail Kite, Blue-crowned and Turquoise-browed Mot-Mot, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Masked Tityra, Social Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Blue-Grey Tanager, and the Fulvous Whistling Duck, Brown Jay. Rufous-naped Wrens are also abundant many areas.

Specific Birding Locales within the Lake Basin
 

 Parque Nacional Cerro Azúl Meambar (PANACAM)
Crested Guan on lower trails at PANACAM.
Keel-billed Mot-Mot on high trail of PANCAM.
Keel-billed Toucan near entrance of PANCAM.
Collared Trogon on lower trails of PANCAM.
This is perhaps the best-known and most easily accessible rain/cloud forest near the lake, if not in all of Honduras, although perhaps not the most pristine. However, I have personally birded this park more often than many others due to its ease of access, security, and outstanding trails. Even if you just come to hike, the park is stunning. If you’re really taking your time to observe, allow about 6-7 hours to fully enjoy the Sinai trail. If you’re in great shape, you can hike it hard and finish in 3-4 hours. Notice that you will make over 1000 ft of elevation gain on this trail.

In my experience, early morning birding here is exponentially more productive. As far as bird life is concerned, the most productive areas are the lower trails and the cabin areas close to the welcome center, cabins, and lower waterfall. The lower loops can be great pre-breakfast walks before taking the big hike up.

The hummingbird feeders at the welcome center host a good variety of hummingbirds, with Violet Sabrewings, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Little Hermit, and White-Bellied Emerald being the most common, although several others do occur here and in the surrounding forest.

In the lower trails, some of the more sought-after species that I have personally observed are the White-collared Manakin, Green Honeycreeper, Crested Guan, Tody Mot-mot, Ruddy Quail-Dove, and Scaled Antpitta. A walk higher up into the forest occasionally yields the Keel-billed Mot-mot and a couple of Trogon species. Resplendant Quetzals are not known to be in the park any longer. White-Collared Swifts are known to nest near the lower waterfall.

From my experience the more common birds that are not seen commonly elsewhere in the area are Red-Crowned Ant Tanager, Tawny-crowned Greenlet , Blue-black Grosbeak, Collared Aracari, the foliage-gleaners, Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, Strong-billed Woodcreeper, White-throated Thrush, and Black-crowned Tityra. If you’re going to visit PANACAM, I would recommend staying here at least one night to take advantage of the early-morning hikes.



Los Naranjos Eco-Archeological Park

Montezuma Oropendola.

Squirrel Cuckoo at Los Naranjos.
This park sits right on the edge of Lake Yojoa and provides outstanding walking trails to access the lake edge. Within 10 minutes of Peña Blanca, access is on paved roads and very easy. For the tired birder, this is a great place to take it easy. These are the flattest, best maintained trails in the Lake area, totaling around three miles if you take both loops, but still be ready to sweat. The archeological part is somewhat underwhelming, but still interesting as it contains some of the oldest pre-Mayan ruins in Honduras. Near the ruins there is a beautiful, tall observation tower looking into the surrounding canopy. One of the trailheads crosses a canal leaving the Lake. The majority of the walk is jungly, with a beautiful half-mile section of boardwalk. I am always surprised how many birds one can encounter here. An experienced birder should be able to easily identify 50 species in a good morning.
If you are in the area during the winter months or spring/fall migration, this is a must-visit location. The amount and diversity of colorful warblers are the main highlight for me; in one good morning you could easily expect to see Black and White, Black-throated Green, Blue-winged, Magnolia, Wilson’s, Hooded, Kentucky, Golden-winged, and Chestnut-sided Warblers, and American Redstarts in addition to Northern and Louisiana Waterthrushes. Orchard and Baltimore Orioles are also thick in the woods.

As far as Central American species are concerned, species that I often see here are Brown Jay, Rose-throated Becard, Spot-breasted and Rufous-naped Wren, Squirrel Cuckoo, Melodious Blackbird, both Oropendulas, Long-tailed and Little Hermits, Keel-billed Toucan, Cinnamon and Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds, Masked Tityra, Tropical Kingbird, Great Kiskadee, Social Flycatcher, Blue-Grey Tanager, Crimson-collared Tanager, Plain Chachalaca, Snail Kite, Roadside Hawk, Banded and Belted Kingfisher, and Turquoise-browed and Blue-crowned Mot-Mot.



Hotel Finca Las Glorias
Golden-Hooded Tanager.


The grounds of this hotel are a great place for a morning of birding. The grounds, although not enormous are fairly extensive and enough to keep a birder occupied for at least one entire morning. The hotel is right on the edge of the lake and has some outstanding views of some shallow-water flats right off shore. You also get some of the best views of Santa Barbara and Cerro Azúl from here. In addition to birds, you may get a look at some of the large iguana that live on the property or even the large Neotropical Otters that frequent the shores to the north of the footbridge.

Again, catching the Northern migrants are your best chance at really seeing a great variety here. The species you should see out or near the water are Black-necked Stilt, American Coot, Blue-winged Teal, Snail Kite, Fulvous Whistling Duck, Northern Jacana, Purple Gallinule, Common Moorhen, the Kingfishers, and several Swallows. You might find a Barred Antshrike, Common Yellowthroat, and some of the Seedeaters in the thorns to the North of the footbridge. To the West of the property, you might get several of the hummingbirds, including the Green-breasted Mango and a good look at a great variety of Flycatchers. There are no shortage of other waterbirds and waders in the weeds near the shore, the ones listed are just what I more commonly see.


Keep your eyes open around the property for some of the area’s pretty if not a little common species: Altamira and Spot-breasted Orioles, Blue-crowned and Turquoise-browed Mot-Mots, Euphonia species, and Rufous-naped Wren.



Rancho Bella Vista
Spot-breasted Oriole
This location is actually just a restaurant right along the main highway. This is a great place to not just to stop and eat some of the Lake’s famous tilapia and banana chips (and some ice cream on the hot days), but it has a great little dock that extends over the lake edge. This is definitely worth a stop, especially if you haven’t had any time along the Lake edge. This quick walk nearly always yields Northern Jacana, Common Moorhen, Snail Kite, Tropical Kingbird, Social Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Little Blue Heron, and Great Egret as well as a variety of other species that are inevitably around.


Santa Barbara Cloud Forest


Emerald-chinned Hummingbird in the Santa Barbara Forest.

Garnet-throated Hummingbird in Santa Barbara Forest.


This is my personal favorite location. Any birder passing through the area should try to spend at least one full day here, if not several. The second highest peak in Honduras at 9,000 feet, areas of this park are still pristine and wildlife is still fairly abundant. This is a large area that I would not enter without a guide (which are available for a very, very reasonable price). I have only visited twice, but have come away amazed both times. Depending on where you visit, you will pass through some of the best coffee fields in Honduras and high grass before entering the cloud forest. Should you be looking specifically for the Resplendent Quetzal, please call the guide beforehand to ask if they know where they are (they are down lower from Nov-Apr if I remember right). Should they know, you will have a very good chance at seeing them.

The more-desirable birds that I have personally seen are Resplendant Quetzal, Emerald Toucanet, Collared Aracari, Prevost’s Ground Sparrow, Blue and White Mockingbird, Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, Bushy-crested Jay, Ruddy Foliage-Gleaner, Green-throated Mountain Gem, Mexican Antthrush, Garnet-throated Hummingbird, White-faced Quail-Dove, Blue-crowned Chlorophonia, Green Violet-ear, Slate-colored Solitaire, Emerald-chinned Hummingbird, Yellow-throated Brushfinch, Chestnut-capped Brushfinch, and Slate-throated Redstart.

The Santa Barbara Cloud Forest actually has a small group of locals that advocate and guide in the park. They are known as Amigos del Bosque Nublado (Friends of the Cloud Forest). Both times I have visited, they have been more than helpful and made for a great day. They are located in El Dorado.


Where to Stay when you Visit:

These are just a few of the area's options. I've listed these because of the opportunity to do some birding on the property. There are plenty of other options, but they may be a little more off the beaten track or located in towns without much birding opportunity. That being said, there are sure to be others in the area that I am unaware of.

PANACAM Lodge:
http://www.panacamlodge.com/This is an outstanding place to spend a night or two to check out the mountain. Many people stay longer. Expect to spend around $50 per night on lodging plus food (available in a nice on-premises restaurant). Note: There has recently been some delinquent activity on the road leading to PANACAM. We have never had an issue, but only arrive to this destination in a vehicle with a trusted person. Supposedly the busito from La Guama to Santa Elena is also safe bet.
 

Hotel Finca Las Glorias: http://hotellasglorias.com
Right on the edge of the lake. Great morning birding that is mentioned earlier. Accomodations range from cabins to rooms and are very comfortable with hot water. Purified water is available. Very nice on-premises restaurant. Pool. Wi-Fi in sections. Expect to spend $50+ per night.

Honduyate Marina y Posada:
Right on the edge of the lake. Boats available for rent, including sailboats. They have a nice jetty and dock out over a piece of the lake as well. Some interesting birds do come through occasionally. The menu is a little more familiar to most visitors since the proprietor is a British ex-pat (I think). Not sure on the price. Literally on the edge of the Pan-American highway. Very accessible.

El Cortijo:
www.elcortijodellago.com
A cheaper option, expect to pay $40 and below. I actually really like El Cortijo, it provides some great birding opportunities in a very natural setting and has a nice little restaurant.

D & D Lodge:
http://www.ddbrewery.com/
My personal recommendation, with an excellent outdoor restaurant and microbrewery set among tropical gardens. D&D is kind of the hub for area eco-travelers and an excellent place to kick back after a long day of birding. You can actually catch quite a few good birds here as well just by sitting in the open areas. A good variety of hummingbirds do frequent their feeders. Some excellent birding is also within walking distance, including a coffee farm and Los Naranjos Eco-Archeological Park. Accommodations range from very simple to very comfortable, catering to both backpackers and those who like a real bed at night. Birding tours as well as other tours to the areas varied natural attractions originate here. $35 and below per night. Purified water available. Great website at http://www.ddbrewery.com/. D&D can also arrange for you to spend a night or two in the communities bordering the Santa Barbara Cloud Forest, El Dorado and San Luis del Planes and hire a local guide.


Map of Lake Yojoa locations mentioned above. 
Click on upper-right hand corner of map to enlarge.
 


Photo credits to Kaleb and Jacob Eldridge.

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