Central America: Fall 2016

Fall 2016: 1 Aug–30 Nov

John van Dort

Oliver Komar

Recommended citation:

van Dort, J. and O. Komar. 2021. Fall 2016: Central America. <https://wp.me/p8iY2g-9QM> North American Birds.

While most of Central America is now accessible to birders, there are still a few wilderness areas that require special efforts and logistics to explore. The Tacarcuna Mountains of eastern Panama, with no vehicular access, is such an area. An expedition there in September, specifically to Cerro Tacarcuna on the Panamanian–Colombian border, produced several records of birds endemic to these mountains and not seen or heard in North America since the 1960s. As is typical of the fall season, several of the region’s seven countries gained new species for their national lists. Panama added Sharp-tailed Sandpiper and Inca Dove this fall; the former, indeed, was new for all of Central America. Guatemala added Western Gull, Honduras added Tiny Hawk, and El Salvador added Northern Mockingbird to their national lists.


Ricardo Aguilar, Steven Albert, Daniel Aldana, George Angehr, David Rodríguez Arias, Sergio Arias, Alf Auerbach, John Cahill, Peter Cahill, Euclides Campos, Ernesto M. Carman, Yina Carter, Liliana Chavarría-Durieux, Enrique Choussy, Richard Crossley, Jan Cubilla, Bev Davenport, Matías Díaz, Katinka Domen, Sean Fitzgerald, Carlos Funes, Robert Gallardo, Kees Groenendijk, Alexis Guevara, Rafael Gutiérrez, Néstor Herrera, Adrian Hinkle, Lee Jones, Rolando Jordan, Roselvy Juárez, Zsombor Karolyi, Oliver Komar, Jason Lara, Jorge Zúñiga Lopez, Maria José Lou, Marcio Martínez (MMa), Mayron Mejía (MMe), Darién Montañez, Chico Muñoz, Max Noack, Gina Núñez, Patrick O’Donnell, Maynor Ovando, Celeste Paiva, Freddy Pineda, Sandra Pinto, Isaac Pizarro, Diego Quesada, Osvaldo Quintero, Moises Rodríguez, Roland Rumm, Alejandro Sagone, Isaias Soliz, Miguel Sui, Marco Umaña, John van Dort, Raúl Velásquez.

Ducks to hummingbirds

A single Gadwall represented a first department record for Alta Verapaz in Guatemala on 21 Nov (JC, PC). Three Ruddy Ducks were seen on 13 Nov in the Miraflor–Moropotente Natural Reserve, providing a first department record for Estelí in Nicaragua (CM). Black-throated Bobwhite is expanding its range westward along the George Price Highway corridor that connects Belize with Guatemala’s Péten District. The 2nd record for w. Cayo was established 23 Aug when 2 were seen in an agricultural field along the Macal R. resorts road (ph. OK, SA, FP). The first record for w. Cayo had come just nine weeks earlier on 16 Jun near Benque Viejo del Carman (SC). Not reported from Panama since its discovery in 1963, Tacarcuna Wood-Quail, an endemic and poorly known species restricted to the remote Cerro Tacarcuna (Darién) on the Panama–Colombia border, was an exciting find on a trip there on 29 Sep, when the first photo of a bird in the wild, as well as an audio recording, were obtained (EC, ph. and v. r. AG, IP).

Two Eurasian Collared-Doves were observed on 3 Nov at Playa Hermosa, Puntarenas, in Costa Rica (SF), and another two were reported from Puerto Quetzal in Escuintla, Guatemala on 27 Nov (MN), providing yet more indications of this species’s continued spread into Central America. New for Panama was an Inca Dove, photographed at Las Cumbres, Panamá, on 16 Oct (ph. GK). Since the observation was so close to the large urban center that is Panama City, its provenance seemed doubtful at the time. However, multiple subsequent records from the western Pacific slope leave open the possibility that this was a harbinger of a range expansion. Maroon-chested Ground-Dove, rare and local throughout the region, is a good bird almost anywhere. One was seen on the San Pedro Volcano in Sololá, Guatemala, on 6 Aug (ZK). Oilbird is rare and elusive anywhere in Central America. The best place for it in Costa Rica is undoubtedly Monteverde, Puntarenas, where a remarkable high count of four individuals was found on 3 Aug (DQ), and single individuals were seen throughout the fall season in that general area. The provenance of this wet season migrant to Costa Rica is yet to be discovered.

An unusual hummingbird, initially identified as a Buff-bellied Hummingbird but more likely a hybrid involving Rufous-tailed Hummingbird as one of the parent species, was found at the hummingbird feeders at the Río Santiago Nature Resort in La Masica, Atlántida, Honduras on 7 Nov (ph. RC). The bird was seen by many observers over the next two days and was last reported on 11 Dec (KD). Bronzy Hermit reaches the northern edge of its range in eastern Honduras, where it is scarce. Two individuals were observed near Montaña El Zapote at the western edge of the Río Plátano Biological Reserve (Gracias a Dios) on 22 Sep (AA, RG), and the following day another two individuals 5 km to the southwest near Pico Dama (AA, RG). Not seen in Costa Rica for 104 years, an immature male Rufous-crested Coquette at the porterweed flowers of Rancho Naturalista in Cartago on 30 Oct (BD) was a great find that drew many observers to tick this species. It remained until at least 27 Nov.

Rails to shorebirds

The status of Black Rail in the Honduran Moskitia is uncertain, although there appears to be a small resident population in the swampy savannas of eastern Honduras. One individual recorded on 20 Sep from the same location where the species was first documented in June 2013 (Mabita, Gracias a Dios) was the second record for Honduras (v.r. AA).

In recent years, American Avocets have become more regular in northern Central America but remain scarce in the southern part of the region. One was noteworthy on the Barra de Colorado in the Costa Rican province of Limón on 22 Oct (ph. JZL), especially as it was on the Atlantic rather than the Pacific coast. The march northward of Southern Lapwing continues with an individual observed on 2 Nov near Piedras Blancas (Izabal) in Guatemala (AS). Snowy Plover is now practically annual in Honduras; one individual was at Punta Ratón (Choluteca) on 17 Sep (ph. JvD) and on 25 Oct (ph. JvD). A Northern Jaçana at Portobelo National Park in the Panamanian province of Colón on 13 Aug (ph. MD, GN) and 12 Sep (ph. YC) was the easternmost known record for the species, which is not normally found east of Veraguas. Two Hudsonian Godwits were present at the Finca Bayano, near Chepo, about 30 km east of Panama City, Panamá, on 25 Oct (ph. EC). A first for Panama and all of Central America was a juvenile Sharp-tailed Sandpiper at the same location on 16 Oct (ph. JC, OQ). Dunlin is a scarce visitor along the Pacific coast of Central America; one photographed at the mouth of the Río Jiboa in the Salvadoran department of La Paz on 13 Nov (ph. EnC) was the fifth record for El Salvador. A Baird’s Sandpiper photographed near Todos Santos Cuchumatanes in Huehuetenango, Guatemala, on 16 Oct (DA, ph. MJL) was a first record for that department. Buff-breasted Sandpipers migrating through Central America are typically few and far between. An unusually large concentration of 64 individuals was observed in Costa Rican shorebird hotspot Chomes, Puntarenas on 24 Sep (PO, ph. DQ). A group of 27 Red-necked Phalaropes at La Berbería Reserve, a site 10 km inland in southern Honduras (Choluteca), was noteworthy on 28 Aug (ph. JvD); another was seen on Lake Atitlán, Sololá, Guatemala on 16 Sep (ph. IS). Wandering Tattler, rarely reported from Nicaragua and a first for Chinandega, was a great find on 2016’s World Shorebird Day (4 Sep) at Isla Juan Venado (AH).

Gulls and terns

Ring-billed Gull is not annual in Honduras, so an observation on 22 Nov on Guanaja (Islas de la Bahía) was noteworthy (AA, ph. RR). An adult Western Gull found on 15 Oct on the Guatemalan Pacific coast near Buena Vista (Santa Rosa) was a first country and a second regional record (ph. MO and others). California Gull has become regular in recent years in the Gulf of Fonseca; whether that is a product of increased observer coverage or a real trend remains to be seen. Most observations have been from coastal sites, but on 19 Nov one was present at El Jicarito Reserve in southern Honduras (Choluteca), about 20 km inland (ph. JvD). A large white-headed gull seen at the Barra de Santiago protected area in Ahuachapán, El Salvador on 6 Aug (ph. EnC) appeared to be the same individual seen earlier on 26 Jun at Playa Miramar, about 10 km away. This bird remained in El Salvador until April 2017 and was photographed many times. While superficially similar to Western Gull, the long bill and flat head seem off for that species, and the identification, after much discussion in online forums, eventually settled on “Chandeleur Gull” (i.e., a Herring x Kelp Gull hybrid). An Arctic Tern at sea off Santa Catalina, Veraguas 3 Sep (KG, ph. RJ, ph. CP) and another at Isla Coco in the Islas Secas Archipelago, Chiriquí 22 Oct (ph. JC, GA, EC) were the third and fourth reports for Panama, the first for their respective provinces, and the first documented with photos from the county. An emaciated White Tern found on 2 Sep on the ground at a hospital in Panama City represented the second record, and the first documented record, for Panama (SP). The bird was given care but was too weakened and died the following day. It was prepared as a specimen for the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRIBC7864).

Herons to owls

Nicaragua’s second American Bittern was observed at the Río Indio Lodge (Río San Juan) on 14 Nov (DQ, SA). An adult male Tiny Hawk, Honduras’s first, was photographed in the Río Plátano Biological Reserve (Gracias a Dios) on 7 Sep (ph. MMe, MMa), extending the species’s known range 100 km northward. The same trip also yielded Crested Eagle, rarely reported anywhere in northern Central America (ph. MMe). Unspotted Saw-whet Owl, rare and local throughout its limited range, is only known in Panama from Volcán Barú, Chiriquí. On 15 Oct, three individuals were found above 3000 m near the summit of that volcano, providing the first photo documentation of this species for Panama (RVe, RGu, ph. MS). The species was again observed in the same area on 26 Nov (RVe, ph. JC, JL, EC, DM). It was rediscovered here in 2013; before that, the only record for Panama was a specimen record from 1965 collected at 2100 m on the same volcano.

Falcons to gnatcatchers

In Costa Rica, where the species is not annual, an Aplomado Falcon was a great find at Finca Cristina in Cartago on 24 Oct (EMC); in southern Honduras, where the species is also rare, an immature was present near San José de la Landa in Choluteca 23–24 Nov (ph. CF). A Bat Falcon caught and ate Atlántida department’s first Three-wattled Bellbird, a female, on 18 Oct at the Lodge at Pico Bonito in Pico Bonito National Park (ph. JvD); this record extends the species’s known range 150 km northwestward. Endemic to the remote Cerro Tacarcuna on the Panamanian–Colombian border, Tacarcuna Tapaculo is rarely reported; the species was heard on a trip to the slopes of Cerro Tacarcuna on 26 Sep (EC). Tawny-breasted Flycatcher barely reaches into North America; single individuals were observed at two different localities on Cerro Tacarcuna above 1300 m on 27 and 28 Sep, indicating a resident population (ph. EC, AG, IP). The only previous records for Panama (and North America) were two specimens collected at this location in 1964. Cassin’s Kingbird barely reaches northern Central America and becomes rare and local south of Guatemala. The Miraflor-Moropotente Reserve (Estelí) is the only known place in Nicaragua where this species is more-or-less annual. Six individuals were seen there on 13 Nov (ph. CM).

A first for the department of Escuintla, and providing interesting record for the Pacific Slope of Guatemala, was a Green Shrike-Vireo at Finca El Zur on 7 Aug (DA). A Black-whiskered Vireo, rare almost anywhere on the Central American mainland, was reported from Santa Rita (Alajuela) in Costa Rica on 5 Oct (DRA), representing a second country record. Central American populations of Common Raven are scarce, local, and mostly restricted to the pine-oak ecoregion of northern Central America. In Nicaragua, this species reaches its southernmost distribution—not just in the Americas, but worldwide. Persecution of the species by farmers is a problem throughout the region, and populations in Nicaragua appear to be declining. One seen on the Telica Volcano in León on 6 Sep provided a new department record and was an encouraging sign that the species persists in Nicaragua (AH). South of central Honduras, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher becomes a rare winter visitor; one was seen and photographed in the El Robledal section of the Miraflor-Moropotente Natural Reserve in Estelí on 13 Nov (ph. CM).

Mockingbirds to warblers

Northern Mockingbird reaches the Isthmus of Tehuantepec but further south is replaced by a similar-looking population of Tropical Mockingbird. Occasionally, individuals showing clear white wing flashes, white primary coverts, and extensive white undertails are found in northern Central America. Such birds are rarely re-found, and we presume they represent vagrant/migratory Northern Mockingbirds. Three such individuals were present in an industrial area just north of San Salvador (San Salvador) on 18 Nov (ph. NH) and provided a first record for El Salvador. A Black-headed Brushfinch was seen, photographed, and sound-recorded on Cerro Tacarcuna, Darién on 28 Sep (ph. EC, AG, IP). The last record from this locality was a specimen collected in 1964. The subspecies tacarcunae is known only from this locality and from the Cerro Azul/Cerro Jefe foothills near Panama City, Panamá. However, the species seems to have disappeared from the latter area, with the last record dating back to Mar 2005.

In northern Central America, Prothonotary Warbler is rare on the Pacific Slope, so one at Finca Tamashan in Retalhuleu, Guatemala on 31 Oct (ph. MJL, MR) was noteworthy. The majority of Blackpoll Warblers migrate directly from North America’s eastern seaboard to South America, completely bypassing Central America. A Blackpoll Warbler photographed on Guanaja at Roland’s Garden Guesthouse (Islas de la Bahía) on 21 Nov (ph. RR) was only the second record for Honduras. Three weeks earlier, on 31 Oct, one was found in Sabalito, in the Costa Rican province of Puntarenas (ph. MU). Up to six Tacarcuna Warblers were seen, photographed, and sound-recorded on Cerro Tacarcuna, Darién 28–29 Sep (ph. EC, AG, IP), where it was last recorded in 1964, The species is also known from the Cerro Azul/Cerro Jefe (Panamá) and Nusagandi (Guna Yala) areas; however, it seems to have disappeared from these localities, with the last record dating to Feb 2007. There is a single record from the Colombian side of the Tacarcuna Range in 2007.

Report processed by Michael L. P. Retter, 10 Feb 2021

Photos–Central America: Fall 2016

Hover or click on each image to read the caption.