Honduras Bird and Butterfly Guide Author Robert Gallardo Knows Beautiful Flying Things

He is your double expert guide for Texas Birds & Butterflies Nov. 1 – 9

To say that Robert Gallardo is doing something unprecedented on his little piece of bird-and-butterfly-guide paradise in Emerald Valley, Honduras would be to use the singular when the plural is what’s called for.

Crowning a series of recent triumphs, Robert expects sometime this year to publish with his partner Olivia The Butterflies of Honduras, a volume that represents many firsts in itself. Among those firsts are several new species Robert had a hand in identifying in the past few years, including one he named this year after his mother, Eleanor’s Emesis: a bright orange metalmark with merlot and iron spots.

  • Emesis Eleanorae
  • Bird and Butterfly guide Robert Gallardo named this specimen after his mother.

Robert said he suspected immediately that it was an undiscovered species, and is only one of a handful of people in Central America with enough knowledge to be that confident. He’s on the leading edge of a growing but still exclusive group of naturalists who can claim the title of ‘butterfly guide,’ which is just like being a bird guide, only much, MUCH harder!

Bird and Butterfly guide Robert Gallardo withpartner Olivia
Robert and Olivia Gallardo. The couple lives in Emerald Valley where they protect 50 acres of rich mid-elevation rainforest and are working to install a nature center with their Pro Nature Honduras Foundation.

Quietly fluttering anywhere from ground-hugging flowers to the sky-scraping canopy, butterflies can be quite tiny and hard to locate, which is the first step to identification.

“Once you get your eyes trained to see hummingbirds, the next step is butterflies,” he said. “When you can spot butterflies half an inch across from 100 feet away, then hummingbirds are easy.”

Our Texas Birds and Butterflies guests will enjoy his tips for finding and identifying both kinds of beautiful flying things! Co-guiding this trip is Bryan Calk, a Texas native and a splendid photographer. This is one of the most exciting and well-matched guide pairings all year long.

Texas Birds and Butterflies with guides Robert Gallardo & Bryan Calk

Texas Birds & Butterflies, Guides Robert Gallardo and Bryan Calk

Nov. 1 – 9 | $2,890 from Corpus Christi

Arrive early for Texas Butterfly Festival Oct. 29 – Nov. 1 or stay on for the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival Nov. 9 – 13!

“Butterflies are a lot harder than birds,” Robert said, noting that in Honduras there are twice as many butterflies as birds — and they don’t vocalize to help you narrow the identification down.

“It’s like trying to ID the Empidonax flycatchers, multiplied by ten, and only a tenth the size,” he said. “That’s why there are very few specialists in the entire region.”

Butterflying Etiquette

It is a good idea to scan butterflies as quickly as possible for identifying marks, partly because they may fly away, but there’s also a chance a bird or another insect will swoop in and turn it into lunch.

“We’ve seen birds, jumping spiders, and robber flies catch butterflies we are watching,” Robert said. “It’s fun, it’s part of the butterflying experience.”

There is more collecting of specimens in butterflying than there is in modern birding, Robert said, especially when they may be needed to help identify a new species.

The fact that Robert, Olivia and four of their own friends have in the past year discovered and named new butterflies has something to do with how fervent and devoted they are to wandering these wild forests, with a light net and a light heart.

But it also speaks to an environment of less investment in conservation and cataloging of species in Honduras than, say, Costa Rica, which is a darling of international funders who perceive its government as more stable and protective of its environment, Robert said. As a result, there haven’t been as many scientists looking here, so there are more discoveries left to find.

Our butterfly guide for Mexico Monarch Migration is Dave Mehlman

Go to: Mexico Butterflies & Birds w/guide Dave Mehlman Feb. 12 – 19

Born in California, Robert came to Honduras on a Peace Corps mission in 1993, bringing a freshly printed degree from Humboldt State in Natural Resources Planning. When his three-year Peace Corps tour ended, Robert decided to stay on and make his home there. Teaching himself the local flora and fauna, he has become Honduras’s most celebrated expert on both birds and butterflies.

Bird and Butterfly guide Robert Gallardo as a child
Robert’s California boyhood.

Continuing his long list of “firsts,” Robert and Olivia’s Butterflies of Honduras is the first butterfly guide to catalog the more-than-1250 species found there, and the first butterfly guide of its kind to use only images taken within the country rather than bringing in pictures from neighboring countries where they are also seen.

It is also an ambitious butterfly guide in that it is more than pictures and names – every species has a text description and notes. Contemporary butterfly guides written about Costa Rica, for example, only include some of the six butterfly families, omitting the tricky ‘hairstreaks’ and ‘skippers’, which live in the harder-to-observe canopy.

“There is nothing out there like this,” Robert said of his and Olivia’s butterfly guide. “It was quite an undertaking,” he added with a laugh.

butterfly guide and bird guide author Robert Gallardo has Honduras Covered!
His Birds of Honduras has been published in English and Spanish!

Their Foundation Pro-Nature Honduras is currently attempting to raise the $17,500 it will take to do a limited first printing, through the non-profit auspices of The Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation. The expectation is that it will be printed some time this year. Robert used the same fundraising model to produce the Birds of Honduras.

And the butterfly book isn’t even Robert and Olivia’s most ambitious iron in the fire. They are also in the process of developing a 50-acre property in Emerald Valley as a tourist-friendly research center that will double as a center of education and training for ecotourism operators.

Bird and Butterfly guide Robert Gallardo receiving an award
Robert at the Birds of Honduras book launch.

They will offer several butterfly photography tours this year, including one specializing in rare crepuscular (dusk and dawn) butterflies.

Annual Butterfly Festival Expands in 2023

Their Honduran Butterfly Conservation Tour (formerly the Emerald Valley Butterfly Festival) is another “first” as the only one of its kind in Latin America. The upcoming Jan. 5 – 11, 2023 festival will be the fourth annual, and it will be supercharged this year, with teams of international experts flying in to lead festival-goers in exploring Honduras’ Lake Yojoa region, home to some 1,000 butterfly species!

“Quite the big achievement taking into consideration that Costa Rica has not ever been able to pull one off,” Robert said.

One by one as funds are available, they are building upscale cabins that will comfortably house tourists, researchers and students. They’ve already brought enough power to the site to develop a small village.

“Our mission is to promote sustainable tourism and nature tourism, show the people how to sustainably use this finite resource we have been given,” Robert said. “We want to be an example.”

Creature Feature: 6 Butterfly Family Portraits

Learn below about the six butterfly families: The Swallowtails (Family Papilionidae); Brush-Footed Butterflies (Family Nymphalidae); Whites and Sulphurs (Family Pieridae); Gossamer-Winged Butterflies (Family Lycaenidae); and Skippers (Family Hesperiidae). Photos by Robert Gallardo; info gleaned from ThoughtCo.com, and quotes also attributed to ThoughtCo.com

butterfly guide shows this one as Anastrus meliboea
Anastrus meliboea. Photo Credit: Robert Gallardo


Named for their quick, skipping flight, Skippers are different than most butterfly species in that they have robust thoraxes, which make them resemble moths. Their antennae are also hooked at the end, rather than clubbed. Skippers tend toward drab browns or grays, with white or orange markings.

The butterfly guide says this one is a Anteros micon
Anteros micon. Photo Credit Robert Gallardo


A tropical butterfly, they are rare in the US, and are named for the metallic markings on their wings.

butterfly guide says this one is arcas cypria
Arcas cypria. Photo Credit: Robert Gallardo

Gossamer-winged Butterflies

Small, quick and tricky, this group includes the hairstreaks, blues, and coppers. Hairstreaks live mainly in the tropics, while blues and coppers can be found most often throughout the temperate zones. Small with sheer wings often colorfully streaked.

butterfly guide says this one is Catastica nimbice
Catastica nimbice. Photo Credit: Robert Gallardo

Whites and Sulphurs

Small to medium white and yellow butterflies, often with orange or black markings. They have three pairs of walking legs, unlike the brush-foots, which have shortened front legs. “Most whites and sulphurs have limited ranges, living only where legumes or cruciferous plants grow.”

butterfly guide says this one is Callicore texa
Callicore texa. Photo Credit: Robert Gallardo

Brush-Footed Butterflies

“The brush-footed butterflies comprise the largest family of butterflies, with some 6,000 species described worldwide and just over 200 species in North America. Many members of this family appear to have just two pairs of legs. Take a closer look, however, and you will see the first pair is there, but reduced in size. Brush-foots use these small legs to taste their food. Many of our most common butterflies belong to this group: monarchs and other milkweed butterflies, crescents, checkerspots, peacocks, commas, longwings, admirals, emperors, satyrs, morphos, and others.”

butterfly guide says this one is Neographium thyastes
Neographium thyastes. Photo Credit: Robert Gallardo


Medium to large butterflies with a large tail-like appendage make up this showy group. “Not all members of the family Papilionidae have this feature. Swallowtails also boast wing colors and patterns that make species identification fairly easy. Though about 600 Papilionidae species live worldwide, less than 40 inhabit North America.”

Naturalist Journeys Guide of the Year, 2022 – 2023 is Dave Mehlman

We are pleased to recognize the outstanding talents and above-and-beyond contributions to our company over the last year. David Mehlman has inspired clients on many wonderful outings! He reminds us of just why we work hard in the office — it’s FUN to empower great guides to do what they do best.

Through this most challenging pandemic year+ we are thrilled to help people connect with nature and discover the wonders of our world firsthand. In keeping with our focus on birding and wildlife, the award year runs from spring to spring.  

For this inaugural, annual award, Dave is the clear winner! He has received the first pick of tours for the next season, and a $2000 grant for continued learning and enrichment. Congratulations Dave. 

Dave (second from right) with guests on the Laguna Meadows Trail in Big Bend. Photo Credit: Naturalist Journeys Stock.

Meet Dave Mehlman

Dave is a naturalist with interests in birds, migration, ecosystems and natural disturbances, plants, and gardening. He holds a PhD from the University of New Mexico. Dave worked for The Nature Conservancy for 25+ years as Director of its Migratory Bird Program. He has published several dozen papers in scientific and popular journals.

How Do We Pick a Guide of the Year?

Fifteen criteria were used to select the Naturalist Journeys Guide of the Year. David was repeatedly strong in each area, from knowledge to demonstrated leadership skills under pressure (In addition to Covid affecting meals and various logistics, he coped with fires closing Big Bend National Park for two days and another fire closing half of the hiking trail at Isle Royale National Park, after rough lake winds delayed their ferry!)

Dave with an award from Partners in Flight, a conservation organization that advances full life-cycle conservation of landbirds in the Americas.

He topped the charts for preparedness, going over each detail with our office meticulously. He mentored new guides and is always timely on sending the office Trip Reports and Species Lists after each tour. He assisted our office with preparation of tour materials when staff numbers were low.

Dave Brought Back Columbia

David brought Colombia back into our calendar with three new routes in the coming year, helping us chart a partnership with a new operator.

He brought real joy to some of our favorite lodges in Belize with a private trip we did for the New Mexico Ornithological Society, and he revived a tour from our past, New Mexico Nature and Culture, adding his special southwestern expertise, as he is based in Albuquerque. Always willing to learn and explore, Dave pioneered time on the Apostle Islands on our Great Lakes series of tours. He posted great live-time social media from his tours. 

And he has many repeat clients! Two trips are coming right up and there is still space for YOU. 

Veracruz, Mexico: River of Raptors & More

Oct. 15 – 26, 2022 | $ 4290 with Dave Mehlman

Hawks a-plenty riding the thermals on their way to parts south hug the coastline of Mexico, and Veracruz has a LOT of coastline. Photo Credit: Dave Mehlman

Veracruz is the site of the largest hawk migration on the planet, with up to 1,000,000 hawks and other passerines riding the thermals in a “River of Raptors” on their way to parts south. We see a spectacular range of other birds here as well, thanks to the dramatic topography that rises from Gulf Coast beaches to rainforest and then cloud forest. We bird them all!

Our guests will enjoy several cultural experiences along with spectacular birding, exploring archeological and cultural areas like the Totonac sites of Cempoala and Quiahuiztlan and the ruins of Hernan Cortez’ first house in the new world, a tour of the renowned Museum of Anthropology in Xalapa, with its extensive collection of pre-colonial Mexican artifacts; and a visit to a shade-grown coffee plantation.

New Mexico Nature & Culture

Dec. 4 – 11, 2022 | $ 2690 with Dave Mehlman

Bosque del Apache with migrants. Photo Credit: Bryan Calk

New Mexico is an amazing place: for birds, for sunsets, for iconic Southwest landscapes, plants and animals, for vibrant Pueblo culture and the chance to find unique artistic gifts! That combination makes this New Mexico: Nature and Culture tour the perfect place to spend the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The winter solstice has great significance to Pueblo cultures, and our home bases in Albuquerque and Taos have special events to celebrate this festive time of year. This is also perhaps the best time of the year to avoid crowds eager to bird the varied habitats of Bandelier National Monument and Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. We stay at top-rate accommodations full of charm, visit outstanding geological and archeological sites, national monuments, historic trading posts, and modern galleries. Our feedback was fantastic from our inaugural trip last year, which Dave helped to design! You’ll love it.

Dave Mehlman’s “Top Choice” 2023 Trips


Colombia: Birding & Nature in the Central Andes, Los Colores & Balandu Jan. 23 – Feb. 3


Mexico Butterflies and Birds February 12-19

New Mexico Nature and Culture dates and price TBD


Guyana: Unspoiled Wilderness March 19-31


Western Panama: Tranquilo Bay April 9-16

Texas’ Big Bend Birding and Wildlife April 24 – May 1


Birding Canyon Country: Zion, Bryce Canyon & Grand Canyon National Parks, Southwest Parks May 7-15


Iceland June 13-22 

When the Guide of the Year picks a trip, that is a great inside travel tip! These are all fabulous trips.