Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Totonicapan Forests: a Birdwatchers Paradise

More than 720 bird species live in Guatemala. Of the bird species breeding in the highlands, about 10% are endemic to the North Central American Highland. The range of some species is even restricted to Guatemala and Chiapas, Mexico.
The municipality of San Miguel Totonicapan, at an elevation of 2500m in the western Guatemalan highlands has not yet been discovered by international tourists. Birding near Totonicapan and around the town is extraordinary.
The whole area offers an impressive array of landscapes, from corn fields, to quaint villages and conifer forests with different pine species (Pinus spp.), cypress (Cupressus lucitanicus) and Guatemalan fir (Abies guatemalensis). 
In humid valleys the forest is mixed with broad-leaf trees (oak, alder). The area is home to several bird species endemic to the northern Central American highlands.
Soon after entering the forest the distinct "ch-lip" call reveals the presence of Pink-headed Warbler, an endemic of the highlands of Guatemala.
Even without being familiar with the calls, birders can detect this beautiful warbler quite easily, because it moves not just in the canopy, but also in the forest understory. 
The bird is locally quite common in the Guatemalan highlands and there is no need to climb steep volcanoes to observe this species.
In each mixed foraging flock one to three individuals moved together with Townsend's, Hermit, Wilson's, Olive, Golden-browed, and Crescent-chested Warblers, Hutton's Vireo, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Brown Creeper, and Spot-crowned Woodcreeper.
In addition to Pink-headed Warblers, there are several other endemic birds of the northern Central American highlands that can be watched in the Totonicapan conifer forest: Rufous-browed Wren, Rufous-collared Robin, Black-capped Swallow, and Ocellated Quail.
In the forest understory several Chestnut-capped Brushfinches, Yellow-eyed (Guatemalan) Juncos, Spotted Towhees, Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrushes and Singing Quail can be detected
Most common hummers in the area are Amethyst-throated and White-eared Hummingbird.
The Totonicapan forest covers an area of more than 16,000ha and is one of the largest tracts of high-elevation conifer forest in Guatemala. The main part of the forest is communal, and some adjacent sections are privately owned. For Birders, the best part is that the forest can be birded year round.
For a real birdwatching exploration I would highly recommend to hire at least the services of a certified local guide, keeping in mind that since Totonicapan is not a touristic place yet, accommodations can be quite rustic.
By visiting the forest of Totonicapan we can help to its conservation by establishing a sustainable forest use, an alternative to the extraction of timber and firewood.
If you want to learn about birds of Guatemala, let me recommend  this book, which is the most authoritative, detailed, and updated checklist of the 725 bird species recorded in Guatemala. 
Also includes information about status, habitats and endemic species, along with detailed distribution maps, information on species to watch for and species of special concern
Lista Comentada De Las Aves De Guatemala / Annotated Checklist of the Birds of Guatemala (English and Spanish Edition) by Knut Eisermann and Claudia Avendano.

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