Honduras June 2010

Trip Report Honduras June 5 – 21, 2010:

Participants: Kim Garwood,Richard Lindstrom, Shirley Sekarajasingham

Author: Kim Garwood

The currency in Honduras is the lempira, and the current exchange rate is about 18.5 or 19 to 1$US. The places we stayed all took dollars, but if you go out in the boonies you need local money.

Sat June 5 – I flew in from Miami on AA to San Pedro Sula, then flew SOSA to La Ceiba, 7 nights at the Lodge at Pico Bonito.

Sun June 6 to June 12 – explore around Pico Bonito

Sat June 12 – visit Robert Lehman’s collection and go up Cangrejal valley, move to Villa de Soledad for 5 nights

Sun June 13 – hike across swinging bridge to Pico Bonito NP

Mon June 14 – hike trails at Omega Tours

Tue/Wed June 15/16 – back to Robert Lehman’s collection for the day

Thur June 17 – drive to Tela to Maya Vista for 2/3 nights, visit the botanical garden

Fri June 18 – changed our mind, transfer to airport hotel Metrotel Express for last 2 nights

Sat June 5 – Richard and Shirley flew to Houston on a redeye from Seattle, then to San Pedro Sula on Continental, so they landed about 10:30am. Then they took the 4 hour bus ride from SPS to La Ceiba, having to wait until 2:15 to depart and arriving about 6:30-7pm.

The Lodge at Pico Bonito includes free transfers from the airport at La Ceiba, but if you come on the bus they charge an additional $25/person to go get you in town. The flight cost $85, and the lodge can arrange it for you, so you just pay the extra money to them when you check out. I recommend the flight, as the bus costs about $25 + the extra pick up charge, so the flight is only about $35 more, and it’s much quicker and easier.  It was a bit of touch and go, however, as my flight from Miami was about 45 minutes late and I only had 1.5 hours between my scheduled arrival at 1pm and the La Ceiba flight at 2:30pm. But I got nice people in the customs line to let me jump to the front of the line, and I made it, but it was tight.

I’m going to spend a week at the McGuire Center in Gainesville, FL after this couple of weeks in Honduras, so I wanted to go back to Miami, otherwise I might have come straight from Houston. I find often the AA flights from Miami are cheaper than Continental through Houston to any destination in Latin America, because there is more competition w/Latin American airlines from Miami. But you never know, so it’s always a good idea to check.

I wandered around a bit late in the afternoon when I arrived, saw several Cattlehearts, mostly females but one green winged male, either Parides sesostris or childrenae. I’ll have to get a better look at one stopped sometime, I can separate them when they’re flying.  Later talking to the local guides they tell me childrenae is noticeably bigger and brighter than sesostris.

We had a fabulous dinner at the lodge restaurant, killer shrimp, delicious conch soup, perfect grouper, and key lime pie, all for $30 flat rate. I could learn to like this place. Lunch is $15 and dinner is $30.

Then when we went back to our rooms, I had a gorgeous riodinid on my screen door, coming to the light over my door, like a moth. It was Ancyluris jurgensenii, one I don’t have good shots of. Shirley and I messed with it for quite a while but couldn’t get it to hold the wings up for a good ventral, though I was happy w/the dorsals I got. You just never know what’s going to show up.

Sun June 6 – Went up the trail into the forest, after a killer breakfast of French toast. Yes, food is a big part of the experience here at Pico Bonito. The trail goes up the hill fairly steeply on large stone steps they have built to the ridge, then runs along on top. There is another trail off to the right to Las Pilas, down to the river on the right of the property. They have streams/rivers on both sides.

The woman at the desk had told me there were 162 steps to the river, which I thought was odd that she knew exactly how many steps. But when I got there and saw a substantial wooden stairway disappearing over the edge, I understood why. It’s a giant stairmaster to the water. I passed, and continued up the trail and took the route down to the 2nd water crossing, Mermaid Falls. This was also down to the river, but it meandered more and wasn’t as steep. Mermaid Falls is one of the more beautiful swimming holes I’ve seen, and I had to go in, clothes and all. I could have left my clothes on the bank, as I didn’t see a soul, but I was very sweaty and figured my clothes could use the wash as well as me.

It was delightful, a clear emerald green color and a perfect cool temperature. But no butterflies on the edges, though there were several flying by. I did have a big ruby-eye skipper along the trail that posed nicely for photos, and several riodinids who didn’t pose nicely. Shirley got nice shots of Juditha caucana and several good hairstreaks, including Iaspis castitas which I had chased and missed, so good thing she came along.

It’s always a good idea to check all the screens in the open air restaurant and hotel lobbies, as butterflies often get stuck inside. After lunch I went down another trail behind our cabins toward the other stream, it was on the shady side of the slope and out of the sun, and there were many things hiding out down there in the dark. Lots of Cattlehearts or Parides sitting on leaves resting, and I got a few shots, though most of them flushed away.

We’re meeting Robert Lehman here in La Ceiba, where he runs a museum and has a great butterfly collection. We’re going to see his collection, and he’s going to take us out a few days to some good spots.

Mon June 7 – Today we got a couple of guides to take us to the cemetery. James Adams, the director here at Pico Bonito, is into herps, and he’s also been a key figure in setting up the researcher cabins, where we’re staying. Robert Lehman, the guy w/the collection here at La Ceiba, introduced me to James, and James is the one who got us into the researcher cabins, so he’s a good man to know. He’s been extremely helpful and friendly, very supportive of what we’re doing w/the butterfly photography, and he offered to have one of his guides show us some good butterfly spots.

We took the trail in back of our cabins to the serpentarium (a project of James’) then on to the butterfly house and their larvae house, where they rear the caterpillars. Then through the fence and into the fields and away we went, past a great blooming tree covered in soldiers and big tigerwings. They caught Thyridia psidii melantho for me, when it was nectaring up high, so I could shoot it in the hand. This subspecies looks totally different from the South American Thyridia psidii, so I was really happy to get it.

The cemetery is maybe a mile or two away, but it took us a couple of hours to get there, as we were stopping and photographing everywhere. Then we took a different route on our way back, through palm tree orchards then peppercorn plantations, which were very interesting. I had never seen peppercorns grown in the New World before. They use tree stumps and the peppercorn plant wraps around the stump as a vine, w/clusters of peppercorns dangling all around, very pretty. Guess this is where the green peppercorns came from for my excellent steak last night. Plus we saw a number of new species on our jaunt. A different yellow Calospila and a fabulous black and yellow riodinid, Symmachia tricolor which Shirley and I got decent shots of.

There were lots of butterflies today, as we were more out in the open field and meadows. There’s an extensive mosaic of different habitats, some shaded some not, with little flowers everywhere. In the darker parts we had Purple-washed Eyemarks and some Ithomiinae.

We really needed a guide, especially the round about way we came back. I may try to retrace our steps tomorrow. I’m pretty sure I can find the cemetery, but coming back through the peppercorns might be a bit tricky. The 2 guides, Jose/Pliny and Santos were very friendly and helpful, they spoke very good English, and they also knew the birds, so it was 2 for 1.

Pliny is taking Shirley out tomorrow morning to look for a couple of her target birds. They were catching butterflies for their butterfly house, apparently the cemetery is the hot spot to go to when you want butterflies. So they would catch the big gaudy ones and ask questions about the little ones, which were more what we were after anyway, so it was lots of fun all around. They know which species are flying here, and can separate them easily on the wing, without binoculars, even the tigerwings which isn’t easy. Amazing what you learn by just doing it. I was impressed w/both of them.

Tue June 8 – Shirley is up and out at 5:30am w/Pliny looking for birds, while Richard and I have a more civilized breakfast at 6:30am. We had done breakfast at 7:30am the first morning, but moved it up to 6:30. It starts to get light quite early, before 5, and the bird song wakes us up every morning about 4:45am. Plus it gets very hot, so it’s better to be out early.

Today Richard and I backtrack our trail from yesterday, through the serpentarium, the butterfly house, past the blooming tree, through the fence, past the big tank, down the trail and turn right, into deeper woods, rather than left through cut over stuff to the cemetery. We make it back to the peppercorns and notice lots of small trails wandering off into the bush. It would be easy to get lost as there aren’t any signs, just tracks and trails through a variety of habitats. We find a number of different species that we had not yet seen.

Probably my favorites were some spectacular riodinids, the best being a very fresh Ancyluris inca which I chased for 10 minutes or more. It kept flitting under another leaf, usually quite low, and wouldn’t let me get a good shot, but I finally prevailed. This was after we had seen a worn one on the blooming tree and Richard had caught it, then it got away before we could shoot it. But the 2nd one was much fresher and beautiful, big orange stripes on the forewing and metallic blue on the hindwing. There was a fresh Perophthalma lasus inside the hotel lobby screens, and a lovely Anteros formosus, one of the small cream jewelmarks with red and silver markings.

Another trail I’ve gotten to like is the one from the serpentarium down to the river. This is good in the hot afternoons, in the dark shade and butterflies are resting down there. Yesterday I had a fresh Vettius marcus there, and today I chased a gorgeous red Rayed Longwing, or Laparus doris. I was able to get good ventrals, but he kept flying another 10’ down the trail, landing, opening and closing his wings just until I was on top of him and ready to shoot, then he would close up.

These come in different colors, and in South America they seem to be blue, at least that’s the usual color I find. The ones here appear to be red, and I would like a good dorsal shot, but so far they’ve eluded me.

Finally this afternoon we get a bit of rain. Every day it’s gotten dark with lots of clouds, but they dissipate and nothing happens. Today has been the darkest yet. We had a few sprinkles before lunch, then about 2pm it rains pretty good, just not long enough. It should be raining now, thunderstorms in the afternoon, but it’s been dry for over a week.

We haven’t seen many Crackers, just Gray Cracker, but today we find a weird mushroom, sort of a white stalk with orange lace all over the top, and both a Variable Cracker and a Blue-frosted Catone are eating on it, plus lots of flies. It’s growing from the bottom of a palm, and doesn’t look very appetizing, but the butterflies seem to like it.

Wed June 9 – We pay the lodge to take us up to CURLA (Centro Universidad de Litorio Atlantico), a university area for research that we have been told is good for butterflies. It’s $30/person for a driver and a guide. Herman the guide has a brother, and a large extended family, that all work at the CURLA area as park rangers and working on building a couple of houses up there. It’s in Pico Bonito National Park, and you take a gravel road right past the edge of the airport.

We drive to the brother’s house and walk in from there, up hill a couple of hundred meters in elevation and maybe a couple of kilometers long. It seems a lot longer on the way up, in the hot sun, but on the way back down it seems easy, plus we have cloud cover. You need 4 wheel drive to get in very far, and we just have a van. Herman tells me they usually do this trip early in the morning, leaving the lodge at 6am and getting to where you start to walk by 7, instead we leave at 8 and get there at 9. It might be better to plan this trip a day ahead, instead of asking about it after breakfast which is what we did.

They are building a campamento, or camping area, up on top, and we walk up to that. Eventually they plan to have cabins in the woods, toilet facilities, who knows what, but right now you can just camp. The road up, once we get past the goat pastures and mahogany plantation, is very pretty, and we see a number of new species.

At the edge of the park we get into good forest habitat. Several hairstreaks are hiding along the dark edges, and we get good shots of Calycopis trebula and Calycopis demonassa, one of my favorites. Several good bugs get away, unfortunately. We find my first Mottled Purplewing, or Eunica caelina, very fresh and dashing around us on the road, but it won’t stay still very long. There’s also our first, for this trip, Little Banner or Nica flavilla. We do get great shots of a fresh Paches loxus gloriosus, a brilliant blue skipper with 2 shades of blue on the wings. Probably the star of the day for me is the spectacular Morpho cypris aphrodite.

Several of these beauties sail overhead or over the treetops below us, so we can see the brilliant purple/blue and white dorsal, but no possibilities for a photo. I wonder how people have managed to collect these high flyers. Richard scores with a nice dorsal of the regular blue morpho, which comes and rest flat open next to him while he’s sitting quietly on a rock. Talk about luck. No, I’m sure it was skill on his part. Shirley gets a great shot of a strange red and black insect, very small, something with wings that Herman thinks is related to a cicada. It looks wild, but who knows what it is. The forest is full of wonderful things. We find an amazing peanut head bug as well up at the camping area.

Thur June 10 – we try to find a trail to cross the Coloradito river, the one on the west side of the property, to your right as you face the lobby. We go down the entrance road to the guard shack, where they keep a chain across the road, and down a bit further to a road to the left, as we’re going out from the lodge.

There’s a sign for a balneario, or swimming hole. It’s a short walk to the river, where someone has it set up for picnics and it looks like they sell food and beer, probably on the weekends. But there’s no one there now on a Thursday morning. You could probably find a way to rock hop your way across the stream here, there’s certainly lots of rocks. But we don’t see any sign of a trail on the other side. It looks like fairly dark forest down to the water’s edge, so we decide not to risk jumping our way over. Besides, Richard’s not much into rock hopping, it’s a real good way to break an ankle. Better to wear shoes you don’t mind getting wet.

I’m looking for purplewings down by the river, but all I see are dingy purplewings. We run into another Symmachia tricolor on theroad to the river, and I chase it both going down and find it again going up, but it’s very shy and won’t even give me a good look w/the binoculars. It always dives under a low leaf, so it’s impossible to get a good look at it. It’s extremely small, I don’t remember the earlier one being this tiny, so maybe it’s a moth. But from what I can see of the antennae it sure looks like a rio, too bad I couldn’t get a good shot.

We continue on down the main dirt road, chasing skippers on the small white flowers that line the road, and find several new species for the trip. Then suddenly we stumble on another big Eunica alcmena, the gorgeous purplewing I had at the pool the first morning. He’s also extremely shy and won’t let us get w/in 20’, but Richard gets a distant shot.

All of a sudden the skies open up and we get the first really good rain we’ve had. Of course, we a mile or so from the lodge, and I’m not carrying my umbrella, but I do have my ziplock baggie for my camera. So I walk quickly back towards the lodge and take the road signed to the serpentarium, not having gone this way before. The gate is closed, but there is an obvious walkway around to the side and over the barbed wire fence, so we make it back there, where there’s a porch to wait out the rain.

It pours a good 45 minutes, floods the paths, lots of standing water, so we finally dash back to our cabins. I’m soaked but it’s warm, high 80’s, and my camera is dry. I jump in the shower and when I get out, shortly before noon, it’s sunny and steaming. We decide to go to lunch, which turns out to be a mistake, as by the time we’re done w/lunch it’s clouding up again. That becomes the pattern for the day. It started out clear blue, not a cloud in the sky at 7am, then pouring by 10:30, clear by noon, pouring by 2pm, clear again then heavy rain and some intense thunder cracks at 4pm.

Richard and Shirley time a quick dash out to the trails after 2 to check their spitwads (they’ve covered the trails with ugly clumps of white tissue and salt water for skippers). They find a couple of new skippers for the trip, Synale cynaxa is probably the best, a big ruby-eye with black veins. The spitwads have been bringing in some skippers one by one. Not big numbers, but here and there we have been getting different species. It’s been so hot the spitwads dry out quickly, so they have to keep spraying them to keep them wet.

It would be interesting to really monitor a batch of spitwads, as we’re seeing some of them with brown deposits. This makes it looks like something is using them, we’re just not seeing much of what it is.

Fri June 11 – I go back down the entrance road and the gardens around the butterfly house, finding some different species that are willing to sit for photos. It clouded up early, by 9:30am, but didn’t rain until later that afternoon. A small tree by the pool, in front of the cashew tree, came into bloom and was attracting hairstreaks, so I spend some time there and got a few new ones for the trip.

More stuff is showing up on the spitwads, so Richard and Shirley keep checking them regularly. I think the rains are hatching new ones out daily.

The night before there was a big celebration in El Pino, the nearby town, and we could hear the pa system most of the night, so Richard and Shirley didn’t get much sleep. James graciously offers them one of the nicer cabins, which are on the other side of the restaurant and far from the potential noise, so we get to see how the upper half lives. Of course, tonight it’s quiet, and I’m glad I stayed where I was. The town is several miles away, and normally you don’t hear them at all, but James tells us there was some sort of fair. Amazing how far the noise carries on the quiet night.

James also shows me a nice hedge of what he calls jasmine, with small white flowers, right next to the lobby to the right. He says earlier this month and May it was covered with flowers, and the butterflies were all over it. We see a few bugs, but the flowers are mostly done. It could be well worth checking out on future trips.

Sat June 12 – Our last morning at Pico Bonito. Robert Lehman comes to pick us up and takes us to see his great collection in La Ceiba. Robert has lived here over 30 years, and has collected many insects. He has a very nice museum, and he graciously lets us photograph whatever we want.

Unfortunately after an hour or so the power goes out, so we decide to drive up the road and look for butterflies. It’s an overcast morning, the first one we’ve had on this trip, so we don’t see much, but Robert shows us several places he likes to do black lighting for moths at night. He takes us to our home for the next 5 nights, Villa de Soledad, run by his friend John Dupuis, who also writes Honduras Tips.

So John is a very knowledgeable guy about things Honduran. This is a small, new b&b up on a hill w/a killer view over the river Cangrejal, about 15 km out of La Ceiba. It’s nice and quiet, except for river noise. And their 3 dogs who like to bark a lot the first night, but we explain how that bothers our sleeping, and they lock up the dogs the rest of the nights.

We’re paying $60/night for my single and $70/night for R&S’s double, plus lunch and dinner. John charged $100 for the transfer to Tela at the end of our stay, and we got the 5th night free. The food ended up being about $75 for the 4-5 days, which was quite reasonable. It was like staying with your friends, the family was all very friendly and helpful, and worked hard to please us.

Sun June 13 – We walk a short distance back down the road towards La Ceiba, just a few hundred meters, and there is a visitor center for another entrance to Pico Bonito National Park. There is a large swinging bridge to cross the river, and a fee of 20 lempires, or about US$1. We cross the bridge, swinging and swaying, and hike up the trail to the left. They suggest we go that way, as it’s much steeper to the right, so we take sendero La Roca. They tell us it’s only 3.5 km to the cascadas, or waterfall, which we could see from the road on our way up yesterday, but we think they’re lying.

We spend all morning, from 8am to almost 2pm, on the loop trail, not going out to the waterfall, and are pretty tired when we make it back to our late lunch at the b&b. We only climb about 175 meters, but we do it repeatedly, up and down little ravines. It’s an interesting trail, crossing several creeks and wet spots, but we don’t see many butterflies. We do get great shots of one of the ghost skippers, Phanus vitreus, and some gorgeous Calycopis trebula. And we see our first Honduran white morpho sail by, like a huge Kleenex or dinner plate floating in the air. I didn’t expect to see them this low, we’re only about 250 meters. It rains heavily after we get back home, good timing on our part.

We sit on the open porch under the overhanging roof working on our computers and photos, and have to move in a bit to avoid the rain.  Since the rains have started it’s much more comfortable, you don’t actually sweat all the time, and the evenings are much more pleasant. Soledad, John’s wife, makes us a great lunch of steak and potatoes. It sounds simple but it’s delicious. It may help that we’re starved after our forced march up and down the mountain. The beef here in Honduras has been fabulous, some of the best I’ve had in a long time. Having good cooks probably helps.

Mon June 14 – Shirley and I walk up the road today, in the opposite direction from yesterday, to another rafting company/hotel/restaurant called Omega Tours. There are several rafting companies along the Cangrejal river, it’s become very popular, mostly run by Europeans who also have small hotels or b&b’s.

We ate lunch here the first day w/Robert Lehman, and went back for dinner, and they offered to let us explore their trails. They have 3, marked 1, 2, and 3, conveniently enough. 1 being the shortest and 3 the longest, so we take 3. They all go up hill through the horse pen, up through the orange and mango orchards and into the forest. #3 is very pretty but looks like it hasn’t been used much lately, as there are a number of downed trees and slippery rocky scrambles up and down.

Good thing Richard didn’t come today, as he wanted a day to rest his knees after our up and down hike yesterday. This trail is steeper than the one we were on yesterday, no switchbacks just straight up and down. Honduras is mostly mountains, and it appears they are steep mountains, at least the ones we’re on. We don’t find too many butterflies but always a few.

I like coming up through the open meadows surrounded by forest, these can be productive to explore. Shirley gets good shots of a new Astraptes, one of the Flashers, probably janeira. Very dark blue above, it hides under leaves and makes it tough to shoot.

Tues June 15 – Richard and I go into La Ceiba to work on Robert Lehman’s collection. John takes us in w/him, he goes in to work in the morning.

Wed June 16 – I go back for another day at the collection, while Richard and Shirley walk the trails.

Thur June 17 – John Dupuis, the owner of Villa de Soledad, drives us to Tela, about 2 hours back west towards San Pedro Sula, to the Maya Vista hotel where we plan to stay the next couple of nights and explore the huge botanical garden at Lancetilla, just outside Tela.

We get to the hotel by 9:30am, drop our bags, and John takes us out to the garden, only about 1 km outside town. We get senior discounts, so it’s 58 lempiras each, about $US3. We arrange with the hotel desk at Maya Vista for a taxi to come get us later that afternoon, as there aren’t any taxis out at the garden, 150 lempiras ($8). We wander around for hours, exploring the many paths, but don’t see many butterflies.

This is an old garden left over from the banana company days, and we don’t think it’s being too well maintained. We’re told it’s the 2nd largest tropical botanical garden in the world, the biggest being in Malayasia. There are mostly larger trees surrounded by grass, so we go to the weedy edges to find butterflies. We see just common, widespread open edge species, like banded and white peacocks, pasture skippers, a few scallopwings but not much we haven’t seen in many locations.

Shirley and I walk up the road quite a ways, into the more woodsy areas behind the garden, though we never know when we leave the garden. We get into other areas where people are living, with trucks and chickens and dogs and houses. This is better habitat, along a small river, but still not many butterflies. I wouldn’t recommend spending the time to come out here.

We get back to the Maya Vista late afternoon, which is an interesting little hotel more like a tree house, with 4 or 5 levels stacked up in the trees, up on top of a hill. It’s not an easy walk to the beach, which is fine as we’re not going there.

Tela is apparently a beach weekend town for folks from San Pedro Sula, another hour or two to the west, where the airport is for our international departures. Unfortunately it’s extremely noisy that night, and we have difficulty sleeping. Apparently this is the week in celebration of the local patron saint, and everybody gets the week off, no school, no work, just party party.

We do have small air conditioners in our rooms, we’re sharing a 2 bedroom suite for $85, but even with the windows shut and the a/c on, you still hear music and street noise rising up from below.

They have a great location for their restaurant with a wonderful view, but the camarones con ajo (shrimp with garlic) isn’t up to what we’re used to in Mexico. They do have great pina coladas, however, my favorite tropical drink. The breakfast was fun, as we watch spot-breasted orioles, yellow-shouldered tanagers, and a number of butterflies hilltopping on the tops of the trees from our table while eating good French style crepes, as the manager/owner is from Quebec.

But due to the noise and the lack of butterflies at the garden,  the next morning we decide to go ahead and move to the airport hotel in San Pedro Sula, as I have a 7am departure and was concerned about doing the drive at 4am. Hopefully the hotel there will be quieter and have better food. We get a shuttle for $60 for the 3 of us through the hotel.

Fri/Sat June 18/19 – after a leisurely morning at Maya Vista, enjoying the view and the pleasant breezes on the decks, we take their shuttle into the airport at San Pedro Sula and get dropped off at the Metrotel Express hotel, about 15 minutes past the airport toward town. It’s on the main highway in a quiet area, and has a nice green garden area in the back. This is a good spot to stay if you have early morning flights. A single is $60, a double $70, plus 16% tax. There is a decent restaurant right next door, Larson’s, where you can sign for your meals and have them included on your bill at the hotel.

We hit on the quesadillas, which are tasty. Their guacamole isn’t worth bothering with, however, too bland.  Shirley leaves the next morning with Robert Gallardo, a bird guide who lives here in Honduras and has a lodge at the Copan ruins. She’ll be doing more exploring for the next week or two, but Richard and I will fly back to the US the following morning.

Overall I’ve been a bit disappointed in the butterflies here in Honduras, but I think we were hurt by the late rains. The butterflies may be much better in July, at least this year. Robert Lehman tells me this is normally the best time. He said he waits all year for June and July. I will be interested to hear how Shirley’s additional part of the trip goes, as she is going up to more mountainous areas. The luxury lodge at Pico Bonito is very comfortable, and it will be interesting to hear from the groups at the McGuire Center, who have been running collecting trips down here quite a bit in the last year, how they’re doing. They have 2 trips in June and 2 in July this year.