Guatemala August 2009

Trip Report for Guatemala

Participants: Kim Garwood, Bill Berthet, Sherry Nelson, Deborah Galloway

Author: Kim Garwood

Details follow:

Guatemala August 3 — August 17, 2009

Monday Aug 3 – fly to Guatemala City, 1 night Posada Belen, www.posadabelen.com

Tuesday Aug 4 – drive to Rio Dulce w/Jose, 2 nights Hacienda Tijal, sea level Caribbean
www.tijax.com

Wednesday Aug 5 – at reserve al day

Thursday Aug 6 – drive to Los Tarrales, 5 nights, 750 – 1400 meters Atitlan Volcano
www.tarrales.com

Tuesday Aug 11 – drive to Los Andes, 5 nights www.andescloudforest.org

Sunday Aug 16 – drive back to Guatemala City, last night Posada Belen

Monday Aug 17 – fly back to Texas

Monday Aug 3 – flew into Guatemala City, spent the night at Posada Belen. A nice small place, seems more like staying in someone’s old home, lots of antique-y looking things and funky rooms around a small interior courtyard but enjoyable. You pay ahead of time online, $45 for a single w/breakfast, a little more for a double. They also serve a tasty dinner for $15/person.

Tuesday Aug 4 – Jose Monzon, dynastes@intelnett.com,
picked us up for a couple of days. He lives in Guatemala City and guides people looking for insects, mostly collectors, but he takes great photos as well. He’s mostly into moths and beetles, and has a generator with black lights and sheets, everything the collector needs, but I had met him a couple of times before so he graciously took us out for a few days before he started another larger group. He usually charges about $200/day plus expenses, and he’s lots of fun and very knowledgeable about many natural things in Guatemala, and speaks excellent english. We went to Rio Dulce on the Caribbean side, about 4-5 hours east and north of Guatemala City, over a big bridge where we stayed at Hacienda Tijax, deep in the swamp right on the river. The entrance is a very precarious looking sets of shakey bridges that sway and make you think you’re going to end up in the swamp, quite a challenge to navigate w/your luggage, but we managed. The little bungalows are fine, 2 beds and a bath w/air conditioning and mosquitoe nets, plus the even have wifi! Sort of, not quite working from the room, but it worked from the bar. The food was tasty, Bill had a grilled snook that was delicious, and they have several types of pasta w/a variety of sauces. Good thing we’re here for 2 nights, there’s lots that looks good on the menu. Plus they take credit cards and have nice hot water, so all the comforts of home. It cost about 350 quetzales for a single and 400 for a double with air conditioning, plus meals in the restaurant. Jose took us up to a private reserve, Montana Chiclera, where you had to call ahead and arrange to get the key to open the front gate, then you drive through several more gates and cattle until you get up to the edge of the forest. It’s preserved for the watershed for the town, and some very nice trails. It’s back about a 45 minutes – an hour from Rio Dulce, the turnoff is at a ranch called Rancho 3-S that sells bulls. We didn’t get there until mid afternoon, after our drive, and it started to pour just as we got up to the trailhead, so we waited a bit in the truck and fortunately it passed on, so we hit the trail. Not large numbers of species but some very interesting new ones for me. My favorite was a great skipper Bill got a killer shot of, Drephalys oria, a new genus for me and a beautiful bug. We also got very fresh Perophthalma lasus that actually perched on Bill’s long lens and let the rest of us shot away. Jose scored with a fresh female Nascus salon, which I hadn’t seen before. Seeing as it was late in the afternoon after a heavy rain, it was surprising we saw as much as we did. Tomorrow we spend the whole day there, so it should be good.

Wednesday Aug 5 – lots of rain during the night, and it’s still coming down heavy at breakfast, so we hang out a while until it starts to brighten up about 9:30am, then back to the reserve.  Unfortunately Sherry and Debbie’s lock on their door jammed and they couldn’t get into their room, (after Bill showed them how to lock it) so the guys had to take off the window to get in and open the door so they could get their cameras and stuff. But it was finally resolved and we made it to the reserve about when the sun came out.  We hiked into the devil’s pool, looking for bugs all the way. Most of what we saw was different than the day before. Lots of Dynamine Artemisia females, which I hadn’t seen before, and we got lots of shots. I was confused at first, because they acted more like metalmarks, and it seemed odd to see only females. We didn’t see a single male. Just a short way down the trail there was a large bush of the hotlips plant and several Heliconius sapho were all over it, every time we went by both days. Interesting, as further into the forest we found a single Heliconius cydno both days. I’ve been told that’s one way to separate these 2 similar species, one likes the edges and one is found more in the forest. I was surprised we didn’t see more satyrs, as the forest looked really good. We did see lots of Euptychia jesia and one really fresh Cepheuptychia glaucina with bright orange rings around the eyes, much brighter then the ones I see in NE Mexico. I thought it was another species, but that’s the only possibility here. On our way back out Jose found a perfect Morpho theseus female very recently dead, just lying in the trail, so we all took good shots of that hard to get Morpho, as it likes to fly high in the canopy most of the time. There were a couple of species of Parides chasing each other in some sunny patches, and a very fresh Parphorus decora that was most obliging for photos, so a good day was had by all. When we drove back to the last gate, about 5, the ranchers had locked us in, but Jose found another gate out through the cattle yard. A bit of a tight squeeze for his truck, good thing he doesn’t drive a big one.

Thursday Aug 6 – today was a travel day, back to Guatemala City then about 2 hours on to the west to Los Tarrales. We were caught in an accident, where a tanker truck spilled his load all over the road, but they had it under control and it didn’t hold us up too long. We made it to Tarrales just before the rain, so we could relax on the screened porch and watch cinnamon hummingbirds at the feeders.

Friday Aug 7 – walking the trails at Los Tarrales. I was here in May 2007, so I’m looking forward to comparing how the butterflies are from that time. Tarrales is a wonderful place, an old coffee finca and ornamental plant nursery, about US$60/person/night, including 3 meals. Tons of little trails all over, a great mix of habitats, the ornamental plants being grown in big patches, ginger and heliconians, then up through forest into coffee and futher up into tall forest. This is the place for the horned guan, if you’re up for the death march. None of us are going to do it, besides I think this isn’t the right time of the year. The guan like to eat a particular berry that fruits in Feb/March, so that’s the best chance to see them.  Today we just explore and I show the others around some. The best place for butterflies is one of the river crossings with sandbars of black volcanic sand and lots of butterflies. There are a couple of road crossings, all on their land, but the higher one is much better. We see lots of many species, some of the more common being Rusty-tipped Page which are everywhere at the river. I’ve never seen them so common and fresh. Both Anna’s and Astarte Eighty-eights as well, many posing beautifully. 3 species of clearwings, 2 Greta and 1 Ithomia, and many Mechanitis polymnia all over in the ornamental plantings.

Saturday Aug 8 – we get Jose the local bird guide to drive us up to Vesubius at 1400 meters and drop us off so we can walk back downhill. This is the higher small village of coffee pickers and the launch spot for the hike for the horned guan, but we just slowly walk back downhill. It’s 6 km, and the habitat changes as you come down. They grow coffee here and there, but there is a lot of forest. Jose is very familiar with all the birds of Tarrales and knows their calls and habits. He shows us some hummingbird feeders they’ve added up at Vesuius at an overlook right next to where he parks the car, and says they sometimes see the Azure-rumped Tanager from there as well. We watch Rufous and Violet Saberwings for a while before starting our return. It takes us all morning, we get back in time for our late lunch at 2pm. We get great photographs of Star Satyr, which likes the bamboo, and lots of Tithorea tarricina and Heliconius hortense. We surprise an anteater on our way up, and Jose says it is a lifer for him as well. The road is fairly steep with crumbly rocks, so you have to watch your footing, and we’re tired by the time we make it back, just before the rains.

Sunday Aug 9 – spent the day on the trails around the ornamental plantings and the river. There are 2 main river crossings, 1 straight down the road to the right from the dining area and 1 higher upstream. The higher one is the better one, more productive for butterflies, more sandbars and places for bugs to be by the water. It’s fascinating how the species at the river change in the last 2 days. The first day we had tons of Rusty-tipped Page and both species of 88’s, especially lots of Astala 88. I’ve never seen so many, and very fresh. But now, 2 days later, we see very few of either and now there are many Patches, especially Crimson Patch but also 2 new Patches, Gaudy and Guatemalan. My theory is when they first hatch out the males need minerals so they come to the river. After a day or so they have enough and can spend their time hunting females, while new species are hatching out and then they take their turn at the sandbars. It would be great to spent a month or 2 at a place like this, monitoring what shows up everyday and seeing how the species mix changes. In the afternoon I go looking for tigerwings, of which there are many here. There are more Mechanitis at Tarrales than almost any place I’ve been. The roads and trails are often lined with these very large tall plants with long droppy leaves, and we’re told they are a type of agave. The ithomiinae seem to like sitting on these leaves, hanging out over the roads and trails, and in some areas there appear to be clusters of them. I find some narrow trails where it’s darker, and it’s a good place to work on photographing the ithomiinae. Deb actually gets some shots the first day of the hair pencils being displayed by one of the Greta morgane. Most of the time I don’t see the hair pencils, but the bugs are sitting around on the leaves watching each other and the trail. I find 4 species of clearwings and quite a few species of tigerwings. 2 Mechanitis, lots of Lycorea halia, Tithorea harmonia, Melinaea lilis, and Heliconius ismenius. Deb gets a shot of another species as well, maybe Eueides isabella but it looks different then the normal isabella. A good place to work on separating out a confusing bunch.

Monday Aug 10 – today we head up to the Sendero del Pavos, but we’re going to try and find the bottom of it. It’s starts about half way up the mountain off the road to Vesubius, but I did it 2 years ago and it was steep and dark. Good for birds, we saw lots of mannakins, but this time I want to work the bottom part by the river. Well, it worked out great. We walked up the main farm road about a mile or so and took the truck road to the left which wound back down towards the river through coffee. We found 2 small stream crossings, and the 2nd one was fabulous. Consul electra, Marpesia zerynthia/Waiter Daggerwing, Pyrrhogyra edocla, Adelpha pithys, a different Anthanassa, lots to keep us busy all morning. Walking back for a late lunch about 1:30 we have a 5’ Central American rattlesnake almost fall at our feet. He’s trying to climb the steep wall they have running next to the truck road and was hiding from us but slipped down the slippery bamboo leaf covered wall. We stand back and let him struggle to find his way up the hill and get some nice shots. We’re worried some of the workers will come along, and they’ll chop him up immediately, but fortunately the snake makes it up the hill just before a couple of the guys come down the road. We then find a very fresh Heliconius hecalesia who’s resting on the wall and poses very nicely. Wonderful morning.

Tuesday Aug 11 – our last morning here at Tarrales, then our transfer comes after lunch to take us to Los Andes. 350 quetzales for the transfer, about US$45. This driver was arranged by Andy at Tarrales, and will also come back for us on the 16th to take us from Los Andes to Guatemala City for 850 quetzales.  Los Andes is another coffee finca, only located higher up the Atitlan volcano. Their land actually borders that of Tarrales, but you have to drive back out to the main highway and go west to another road heading back up the volcano. It takes about 1.5 – 2 hours. Once you get to Los Andes land, which took us a bit as we took a wrong turn, you drive on old cobblestone roads that are rough on a car but better than mud. They built all these roads by hand, hauling the rocks up from the river, an unimaginable amount of work. Los Andes is a beautiful old farm house w/a number of rooms, high ceilings and a gorgeous large garden, about 1200 meters. Very nice, they even have a pool.

Wednesday Aug 12 – We go out w/Jesus, the local guide who patiently shows us around some of the trails. We head down the ravine to their hydrological/electrical generating plant and see many clearwings and tigerwings. It clouds up by late morning and Jesus calls for a truck to haul us back up to the house for a late lunch. That afternoon we have a tremendous thunder and lightening storm, fabulous lightening strikes from the dining room table which looks down the valley.

Thursday Aug 13 – We go up to the quetzals home, about 1500 meters, by truck. On the way Jesus has us stop at a row of eucalyptus trees where he knows stygian owl roost, and he finds 2 of them! Great for photographs, the best look I’ve had at stygian owl. One opens his eyes and glares at us, a spectacular bird. Then we bounce our way on up to the forest and walk a large loop trail up past quetzal nesting boxes, but we don’t find any quetzals. Jesus tells us the best time is March/April, when they are calling. Now they are finished with nesting and are quiet. We see very few butterflies but a few new ones, including Oleria zea, a different clearwing. We climb about 250 meters, to 1750, then start down the other side. The truck comes to get us in a quinine plantation, which are flowering and smell wonderful. They cut the quinine trees every 10 years or so, and they regrow new shoots into good sized trees. More heavy rain in the afternoon.

Friday Aug 14 – Jesus takes us down to Santa Ana, a trail that runs along the side of the forested hills that looks very good. Not many butterflies, but great potential. We do find several leks of clearwings and get to sort out Ithomia patilla and I. Leila, plus watch them laying eggs. This has been a good trip for Ithomiinae/Clearwings, 7 species of clearwings and 8 species of tigerwings, plus 8 species of Heliconius. So we’ve had lots of opportunity to work on some of the puzzling and similar groups. On the trail to Santa Ana we walk downhill all morning, crossing a couple of great looking wet spots, in and out of coffee plantations and finally around a corner where the patient truck waits to haul us back uphill for lunch. Life is good.

Saturday Aug 15 – We go up the cobblestone road from the house, past the school and up to the nacimiento, or spring. Lots of weedy flowers all along the road, and we concentrate on the crescents. There are several species of Anthanassa here, some new ones for me, so we try to get dorsals and ventrals of everything. Not easy, but it helps having Deb and Bill’s long lenses. Bill catches a Battus ingenuus female by hand, so we get good shots of that one too. These are usually up in the canopy, so it’s one of the first I’ve even seen close enough to photograph. There are a number of Battus polydamas flying around, but they never give us a chance. This is the first cloudy morning, and the rains start before lunch, but the butterflies we see are slower moving, good for photos.

Sunday Aug 16 – our last morning, que lastima. Deb and Sherry have run their moth light the last 2 nights and have brought in some gorgeous big moths, which has been of great interest to the lodge owners who are here for the weekend. Hymie and Olga, and their 2 sons, are amazed to see some of the big silk moths that are in their garden. They have been very gracious and friendly to us, eating meals with us when they’re here, and their father, Jim, has told us many stories and patiently answered our many questions about running a farm here and his history. Very interesting, and a wonderful experience. Again, not like a lodge but more like visiting friends in their lovely country home. For our last morning we’re just going to hike down to the dam, not too far, and hopefully look for more crescents. I’m trying to sort out the differences between Anthanassa ptolyca/Black Crescent and Anthanassa dracaena/Notched Crescent, plus several other species. My first looks at Anthanassa nebulosa/Blurry Crescent, and we get males and females of these. One sits on Bill’s boot for great photos, then gets on Jesus’ hand which thrills him. All in all, it’s been a good trip. I’ll be back, maybe in November. It would be very interesting to compare the times of the year. I was at Tarrales in May, and it seemed a bit dry, at the end of the dry season before the rains had really come. This time July has also been very dry, but it’s better than it was in May. However, I suspect Oct/Nov may be a good time, after the rains. That’s the best time in northern Mexico and south Texas, so maybe it’s the same for here. We’ll have to come back and see.
Our driver comes at 1pm and we drive back to the city, stay the night at Posada Belen and fly out to Texas early Monday morning.