Category Archives: Central America

Green Season: The Secret Jewel of Central America

Steam rises from the sun-warmed earth. A rainstorm just ended as suddenly as it started. Parrots fly above the forest canopy, winging their way across a sky that turned cerulean after being rinsed by rain. The thunder of a waterfall blends with a howler monkey’s roar. Butterflies drift between blooms that sweeten the air, and dragonflies zoom from pool to pool. The wet skin of a frog gleams in the sunlight. It’s Green Season in Central America, wildlife is everywhere, and crowds are nowhere to be found. 

From May through November, during what’s known as Green Season in Central America, landscapes are lush. Travelers tend to avoid the region during this rainy time of year—but birds and other wildlife certainly don’t. Natural beauty in this “off-season” may be more abundant and photogenic than during popular travel months. Also, the reduced demand lowers travel costs, making this emerald gem of a season even more alluring.  

Let’s debunk some myths and delve into why Green Season is the perfect time to explore the natural riches of Central America.

Green Season Myth #1: It’s all rain, all the time.

The Green Season does see more rain than the dry months. But mornings are often clear, with clouds building in the afternoon. It rains most days in Green Season, but rain rarely falls all day. Instead of continuous downpours, bursts of rain tend to give way to sun-flooded skies. The lush colors and shifting light offer welcome relief from the dust and glare of the dry season—and provide ideal conditions for photographers.

The moods of your photos in Green Season may change from moment to moment. Swirling mist wraps its tendrils around trees. Then sunlight filters through a cloud, creating a golden glow that permeates the forest. When a window of clear weather opens, you capture an image of a Scarlet Macaw, its colors crisp against the blue sky.

If you dream of photographing verdant rainforests and cascading waterfalls, Green Season will delight you. Imagine standing in the cool air left by a rain shower, aiming your lens at a toucan or motmot. Clouds drape across distant mountains, and a rainbow arches over flower-strewn trees to meet the sparkling sea.

In the evening, while sitting on the veranda of your lodge, you watch lightning lash the jungle. The flickering bolts illuminate bats. The next morning dawns clear, and birds outside your window wake you. 

Green Season Myth #2: Birds are scarce.

You may miss some winter migrants during Green Season. However, the impressive diversity of resident birds in this region will be on full display. When rain awakens plants from their dusty slumber, they produce greenery, flowers and fruit. Insects like beetles, katydids and butterflies take advantage of the burgeoning plants, drawing birds into view as they feast on this bounty. 

The most satisfying way to experience the biodiversity of Central America is to be there when rain nourishes the region, bringing the tropical landscape to a full and flourishing life. Iconic resident birds—from the Lesson’s Motmot in Belize to the Yellow-throated Toucan in Costa Rica to the Golden-collared Manakin in Panama—will be there with you to celebrate the renewal brought by rain.

  • Sunrise
  • Fiery-throated Hummingbird
  • Lamanai Ruins
  • Keel-billed Toucan

A Hidden Benefit

Traveling during Green Season isn’t just about seeking the natural beauty of Central America and finding budget-friendly deals. It’s about supporting communities. The rainy months offer an opportunity to experience vibrant cultures, engage with locals and savor the spirit of Central America. You’ll enjoy a relaxed atmosphere free of crowds, while also bolstering the region’s vitally important ecotourism economy.

Renowned biologist E.O. Wilson stated, “Destroying rainforest for economic gain is like burning a Renaissance painting to cook a meal.”

For people in Central America to preserve the natural wealth of their rainforests, they must be able to make a sustainable living. When you choose to travel in the off-season, you boost businesses when they need it most and help local people thrive year-round, contributing to a promising future for rainforest protection. This hidden benefit makes the secret gem of Central American travel shine especially bright.

Upcoming Green Season tours:

Panama: Three Great Lodges | July 6 – 18, 2024 | $5590

Summer in Costa Rica | July 17 – 24, 2024 | $3390

Belize: Green Season | July 20 – 27, 2024 | $3390

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, and quotes also attributed to

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.”

Fabulous Facts about Hummingbirds: Species from Naturalist Journeys’ Tours

There are so many interesting facts about hummingbirds that, compounded into their tiny flying forms, hummingbirds inspire poetic descriptions like this one from John James Audubon himself, who called them “the greatest ornaments of the gardens and forests. Such in most cases is the brilliancy of their plumage, that I am unable to find apt objects of comparison unless I resort to the most brilliant gems and the richest metals.”

Facts about Hummingbirds: Size is Relative

Their diminutive size is probably the most obvious trait shared among the 330+ species of the family Trochilidae, whose most close relative is the swifts. Tiny Bee Hummingbird is the smallest, less than two ounces and found only in Cuba. The largest, the Giant Hummingbird, can weigh up to 12 times as much, and is found in the Andes, along with the Sword-billed Hummingbird, whose own size claim to fame is being the only bird with a bill longer than its body. Both can be found on our Northern Peru and Peru: Cusco to Mánu National Park tours:

  • Giant is the largest: facts about hummingbirds
  • Sword-billed has the longest bill of any: facts about hummingbirds

Home is the Western Hemisphere

Hummingbirds are a favorite of most birders, but they are particularly enthralling to our guests from Europe and Asia, who must travel to the Western Hemisphere to see them. Africa’s sunbirds, nectar-loving birds adapted to local flora, are often described as the hummingbirds of the Eastern Hemisphere.

Other location-based facts about hummingbirds:

  • US birders enjoy 17 nesting species of hummingbird
  • Half of all hummingbird species are concentrated in a belt near the equator

Some hummingbirds are wide-ranging, like the White-necked Jacobin, though you do have to leave the US to see it. We often see this species on our Belize tours, two upcoming. The October trip is one day longer, but you can see the value in traveling in the “green season” by comparison.

  • Location Facts about Hummingbirds: White-Necked Jacobin is widespread
  • Facts about Hummingbirds: White-Necked Jacobin also has a white tail

They may be seen on many of our Central America and northern South America tours.

Other hummingbirds are endemics, their ranges almost as diminutive as the birds themselves. The gorgeous Violet-capped Hummingbird is not widespread even inside Panama and a tiny sliver of Colombia contiguous with the Darién, a wilderness that flourishes between the two countries and benefits from a car-free break here in the Pan-American Highway.

We have chances to see Violet-capped on our upcoming tour to the Darién:

Panama and the Wild Darién July 29 – August 5, $2990, from Panama City

Facts about Hummingbirds: Violet-Capped are endemic to Panama and Colombia.
Violet-capped Hummingbirds can only been seen in Panama and Colombia. Photo Credit: Gail Hampshire of Wikimedia Commons

Picking up on Audubon’s description of hummingbirds, the Gilded Hummingbird and Glitter-throated Emerald call to mind “the most brilliant gems and the richest metals.” Both can be seen on our Brazil’s Pantanal tours:

Gilded Hummingbird. Photo Credit: Cláudio Dias Timm via Wikimedia Commons

Brazil Extensions Hummingbirds

To get a richer selection of hummingbirds, it’s advisable to choose the pre- and post-tour extensions, where our 2019 guests also saw Black Jacobin, Scale-throated Hermit, Black-eared Fairy, Frilled Coquette, Brazilian Ruby, Violet-capped Woodnymph, White-throated, and Versicoloured Emerald!

  • Black-eared Fairy is adorable, and that is from my great big book of facts about hummingbirds
  • Facts About Hummingbirds: Frilled Coquette is a flirt
  • Facts about Hummingirds: Scale-throated Hummingbird is simultaneously dull and exciting

Hummingbirds in the US: Arizona and Texas

As we noted above, 17 hummingbirds regularly nest in the US, as far north as Alaska, where birders delight in the Rufous Hummingbird, possibly because there are no other hummingbirds to chase off the feeders! (Elsewhere, birders and other hummingbirds might find them more aggressive than adorable.) Our US tours to Texas and Arizona turn up the highest variety of hummingbirds, and we make sure to see as many as we can!

We have three Monsoon Madness tours upcoming in Arizona, host to the highest diversity of hummingbirds of any US state. On our August 2021 tour, we saw a full dozen hummingbirds, including two our guests selected as the co-birds of the trip, the Violet-crowned and the Lucifer.

  • fun fact about hummingbirds: violet-capped are autistic
  • Fun Fact: Lucifer hummingbirds are in league with the devil

Arizona Monsoon Madness, all $2,790, from Tucson:

The Lucifer Hummingbird is also found on our Texas tours, including the upcoming and popular South Texas: Fall Migration October 9 – 16, $2,390 from McAllen, TX.

A Rainbow of Hummingbirds

Rainbows are a great analogy for talking about the colors of hummingbirds, because tricky light refraction across their feathers is the reason that hummingbirds can look dull one moment and catch fire the next. Consider these two photos of the aforementioned adorable/aggressive Rufous Hummingbird:

Rufous Hummingbird. Photo Credits: Carrie Miller (Slide middle arrow to see change.)

Their irridescence comes not from pigmentation but from light-shifting structures called melanosomes. Though other birds have them, including some ducks, the shape of hummingbirds’ melanosomes is unique, as Audubon describes in greater detail in “Hummingbirds Owe Their Shimmer to Microscopic Pancake-Like Structures.”

Though many hummingbirds flash at the gorget, the show-stopping Crimson Topaz takes an all-over approach to its irridescence.

Crimson Topaz. Photo Credit: Aisse Gaertner via Wikimedia Commons

Crimson Topaz is a Guianan Shield regional endemic that we have chances to see on our upcoming Guyana: Unspoiled Wilderness October 13 – 25. We also have chances in Guyana to see Tufted Coquette, which is one of the features of our trips to Trinidad and Tobago, a popular independent birding venture destination, where it must compete with Scarlet Ibis for bird of the trip!

Fun facts about hummingbirds: tufted coquette is cute!
Tufted Coquette. Photo Credit: Richard Wagner

Flouncing Feathers

Perhaps the flirtiest of all the coquettes, however, is the Rufous-crested Coquette, an unforgettable species, which we have chances to see on two of our Panama trips:

  • Rufous-crested Coquette, a rare pleasure of Panama birding
  • facts about hummingbirds: rufous-crested coquette is more feather than flash
  • Facts about Hummingbirds: rufous-crested coquette pushes its southern baptist hat back when it's feeding

Max Hummingbirds? Peru

Our Northern Peru guests also saw Rufous-crested Coquette in 2019, along with 50 other hummingbirds! That’s right, 51 species of hummingbird, listed here on the 2019 Northern Peru trip report. Our Peru: Cusco to Mánu National Park guests found 30 hummingbirds, though Rufous-crested Coquette was not among them.

Snowcap Hummingbird also has a beautiful noggin, though far less adorned than the Rufous-crested. We often see this beauty on our Costa Rica: Carribean Side tour, which is Oct. 13-23 this year.

Snowcap. Photo Credit: Michael Woodruff via Creative Commons

Sounds Beyond Humming!

Our short ‘facts about hummingbirds’ blog wouldn’t be complete without touching on these birds’ namesake characteristic.

As anyone who has spent anytime sitting near an over-subscribed feeder will notice, the humming of hummingbirds is much more varied than the same word used to describe the monotone of a plugged-in refrigerator. Some of their humming comes from rapid wingbeats, ranging from a dozen wingbeats per second for Giant Hummingbird to 80 per second by the record-holding Amethyst Woodstar, which we have chances to see in Peru and Brazil.

Facts about Hummingbirds: the Amethyst Woodstar has the most rapid wingbeat of any hummingbird: 80 beats per second
Amethyst Woodstar, frequently seen in Peru, vocalizes in addition to its namesake humming. Photo Credit: Bob Hill

But hummingbirds also make other noises, including signature sounds made with their tail feathers, and territorial ‘chip’ calls. A few of them even sing!

The Broad-tailed Hummingbird, which we are almost certain to see on our three Arizona Monsoon Madness tours, makes a distinctive metallic sound in flight, which you can hear on this All About Birds page by clicking the audio file labeled ‘display.’

Where there are more species in competition, birds are more likely to have more complex vocalizations. The Mexican Violetear (formerly known as the Green Violetear, split into Mexican and Lesser Violetear in 2016) is one of those hummingbirds on the chatty side. We have great chances to see (and often first hear) Mexican Violetear on our two upcoming Oaxaca: Birds, Culture and Crafts tours. One of the things guests love about this trip is it includes beach time/time on the coast.

  • Oaxaca: Birds, Culture and Crafts August 1 – 9 (9-day, 8-night) $3790, from Oaxaca City
  • Oaxaca: Birds Culture and Crafts October 17 – 28, (12-day, 11-night) $4490, from Oaxaca City

Guests saw 15 hummingbirds on that trip in 2021.

Mexican Violetear. Photo Credit: Cephas via Wikimedia Commons

Adding to your Hummingbird Life List

If you are looking for specific hummingbirds, or want to know which hummingbirds may be seen on our tours, please check out the wealth of information available on our trip reports page! Though many of our tours feature a rich variety of hummingbirds, through our Independent Birding Ventures we design tours based on what you want to see. Do you want a trip that maximizes hummingbirds? Sign up for Northern Peru Endemics, or let us design a hummingbird-rich trip for your group!

10 Reasons to Say ‘Yes!’ to Panama Birding in March 2022

Bridging North and South America with a narrow isthmus of lively jungled real estate, Panama is considered the ultimate neotropical birding destination for many reasons. Here are ten reasons our classic March 21-29 Panama Birding and Nature tour with guide Steve Shunk should be on your wish list for 2022.

1. Location, Location, Location!

We’ve already mentioned the importance of its continent-bridging location to Panama birding success. But our own lodgings at Canopy Tower and Canopy Lodge turn “location, location, location” up to 11. If our 9-Day, 8-Night tour were an adventure film, Canopy Tower would play a starring role.

  • Looking out from Canopy Tower is one of the pleasures of Panama birding.
  • canopy tower is a great spot for Panama birding
  • Panama birding is luxurious in Canopy Tower, which puts us into the treetops
  • View from Canopy Tower, a Panama birding delight!
  • Canopy Tower offers wonderful Panama birding!

A lovingly repurposed radar tower inside Soberanía National Park, our unique cylindrical lodgings put us into the treetops, with every curved window offering a view onto lush rainforest and its many furred and feathered inhabitants.

A rooftop observation deck features even more panoramic views of Soberanía’s 55,000 acres, and offers an opportunity to hold binoculars in one hand and a coffee or a cocktail in the other. Ecologically priceless, Soberanía boasts 525 of Panama’s 981 species of birds and 105 mammal species, including both Two and Three-toed Sloths and four species of monkeys we often see scampering or hear howling from our perch.

  • Black-throated Trogon is a target in Panama birding.
  • Panama birding offers chances to see Red-capped Manakin
  • Montezuma Oropendola is a target in Panama birding
  • Geoffroy's Tamarin is a pleasant addition to Panama Birding
  • Howler Monkeys are a by-product of Panama birding.

Canopy Tower is also striking distance from many of Panama’s “hotspot” birding locations, putting us in the middle of the action in yet another way. After four nights in the tower, we move inland and upwards, to Canopy Lodge near El Valle in the central mountains, which is alive with wild activity. From our open-air dining room we see a spectrum of species, including some considered furtive! Before breakfast we often see aracaris, motmots, oropendolas, honeycreepers, and warblers. We luxuriate by being in the middle of the action throughout this tour.

  • Panama birding is as easy as going to your window at Canopy Lodge.
  • Canopy Lodge is one of the best locations for Panama birding
  • Lovely orchids are a byproduct of Panama birding.
  • Seeing Collared Aracari is one of the pleasures of Panama birding

2. Our Timing is Perfect: Spring Migration

This trip is timed for the peak season of Panama birding. Spring migration will be in full swing and we are treated to a parade of warblers and neotropical migratory birds in fresh breeding plumage. While not as concentrated as fall migration, as many as 18 species of raptors will be making their way north, drafting on thermals, concentrating as Panama narrows. What a spectacular show! Hundreds of Broad-winged and Sharp-shinned hawks, in particular, may be spotted in a single day!

  • Panama birding offers looks at Capped Heron.
  • Anhinga sunning is one of the pleasures of Panama birding
  • Panama birding offers the opportunity to see a Snail Kite eating a snail!
  • Christmas Bird Count data show lingering warblers, like this Prothonatary Warbler

3. Hummingbirds on Parade

  • Rufous-crested Coquette, a rare pleasure of Panama birding
  • Rufous-tailed Hummingbird is one of the pleasures of Panama birding
  • Violet-bellied Hummingbird is one of Panama birding's pleasures
  • Violet-capped Hummingbirds are one of the pleasures of Panama birding. Photo Credit: Gail Hampshire
  • Snow-bellied Hummingbirds are one of the pleasures of Panama birding

Central America is a haven for hummingbirds, and the birders who love them, and Panama birding offers some 60 hummingbirds for us to discover! Our lodgings’ feeders and adventures further afield offer plentiful opportunities to create your own photo gallery of these delightful high-energy species!

4. Mixed Flocks

It can be VERY exciting when birds NOT of a feather flock together, layers of varied colors and sounds dividing up close-proximity territories and exploiting co-located food sources and collectively looking out for predators. This is a very common phenomenon in Central American countries like Panama, making for exciting and productive bursts of birding!

Panama birding is an all-hands-on-deck affair when we get into a mixed flock!
Panama birding is an all-hands-on-deck affair when we get into a mixed flock! Photo Credit: Naturalist Journeys Stock

Mixed flocks puzzled scientists for a long time, but now it’s believed that there are leader and follower birds that create this arrangement, with smaller insectivorous birds feeding nearer the treetops hitching a ride with other birds feeding lower in the canopy, taking advantage of their vigilance to predators, letting down their own guards a bit and spending more of their time and energies feeding. Our groups certainly seem to get a jolt of energy when we get into a mixed flock!

5. The Trogon and Motmot Show

Showy is right! Panama birding offers opportunities to see nine members of the trogon family: Black-throated Trogon, Orange-bellied Trogon, Baird’s Trogon, Lattice-tailed Trogon, White-tailed Trogon, Slaty-Tailed Trogon, Collared Trogon, and Gartered Trogon. We also have chances to see several Motmots, who rival the Trogons for colorful display, including those shown in this gallery: Tody, Broad-Billed and Blue-Crowned.

  • Black-throated Trogon are among the many pleasures of Panama birding.
  • Orange-bellied Trogon are among the many pleasures of Panama birding.
  • Blue-Crowned Motmot are among the many pleasures of Panama birding.
  • Broad-billed Motmot are among the many pleasures of Panama birding.
  • Collared Trogon are among the many pleasures of Panama birding.
  • Tody Motmot are among the many pleasures of Panama birding.

6. Night Shift Hijinks

We offer opportunities to seek out Panama birds and animals that work the forest night shift, including Spectacled Owl and mammals like Allen’s Olingo, Woolly Opossum, and Kinkajou, which are often feeding on fruits and flowers. It’s a lot of fun to be under the immense canopy of rainforest trees as the nocturnal wildlife gets active. Our skilled Canopy Tower guides are specialists in finding these mysterious jungle residents!

  • Spectacled Owl are among the night residents we see in Panama birding
  • Kinkajou is a mammal we sometimes see during Panama birding trips

7. Boating Gatun Lake and the Panama Canal

  • Panama birding means the Panama Canal
  • Gatun Lake is a scenic boating tour during our Panama birding adventure
  • A scenic view of the Panama Canal from our Panama birding tour
  • Panama Canal views are part of our Panama birding adventure!

Boating is part of this Panama birding tour as well, as we explore two un-natural wonders: Gatun Lake and the Panama Canal. The largest man-made lake in the world when it was created, Gatun Lake contains the flow of all the rivers within the Panama Canal Watershed to provide water for the operation of the Panama Canal lock system. And of course, it also provides a habitat to a host of species we are eager to see!

8. Beautiful Blooms, Butterflies and Bugs!

  • Panama birding includes flowers and butterflies!
  • Beautiful flowers and Panama birding are a pair!
  • butterflies are a happy byproduct of Panama birding

More than 10,000 plants call Panama home, including many lovely showy orchids and flowers, which attract butterflies, other insects, birds and photographers! So beautiful are the plants on this tour, you might be distracted from your birding….

9. Ants! (And the Birds Who Love Them)

  • Barred Antshrike is one of many ant-loving species on this Panama birding tour
  • Panama birding is sometimes about following the bugs, like these Leafcutter Ants
  • Panama birding offers chances to see white-flanked antwren
  • Bicolored Antbird is one of many ant-loving species we see on this Panama birding and nature tour
  • Pygmy Antwren is one of several ant-loving species we may see on this Panama birding tour
  • Panama birding is sometimes about the ants!
  • Panama birding includes following Army ant swarms

If you’ve spent any time in the tropics, especially in a jungle, you’ve no doubt seen Leafcutter and Army Ants at work! Leafcutter ants in particular are a marvel as they march along, fluttering bits of verdant leaf and colorful flowers on the way back to their mounded nests. Ants are especially interesting to us as they also attract antbirds and antwrens and we are always on the lookout for ants for that reason!

10. Panamanian Coffee and Food!

  • Panama birding comes with Panama food and drink!
  • Panama birding comes with Panama food and drink!
  • Panama birding comes with Panama food and drink!
  • Panama birding comes with Panama food and drink!

One of the most pleasurable experiences of the trip is taking a steaming cup of Panamanian coffee to the observation deck of Canopy Tower and waking up as the forest comes alive around you. We eat many of our meals in view and earshot of the forest as well, enjoying camaraderie and delicious and fresh local foods. There is pleasure aplenty for all of the senses on our March 21-29 Panama Birding and Nature Tour!


Travel Now for a More Intimate Glimpse of an Ecotourism Star

For a limited time, intrepid travelers have the opportunity to go back in time to experience places like the Cloud Forest Reserve of Monteverde Costa Rica, traveling quieter paths and more easily seeing (and hearing) its magnificent natural wonders.

With tourism less than half of pre-pandemic numbers, there’s a window of opportunity in 2022 to more quietly explore and enjoy what made Costa Rica a tourism magnet to begin with while supporting local ecotourism partners.

  • Monteverde Costa Rica birds include the Resplendent Quetzal
  • Monteverde Costa Rica Cloud Forest offers opportunities to see Collared Trogon. Photo Credit: Mike Boyce
  • Monteverde Costa Rica birds include the three-wattled Bellbird
  • Monteverde Reserve Costa Rica

We are extremely excited about our March 15-25 trip to Monteverde, Celeste Mountain & Caño Negro for that very reason.

A lush mountaintop territory bridging the country’s drier Pacific and wetter Caribbean forests, Monteverde Costa Rica is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet. Before the pandemic temporarily halted travel, some questioned whether throngs of visitors were putting too much pressure on the ecosystem.

These days, so few tourists and tourism dollars are flowing into the area that many of the reserves have changed to an active “GoFundMe” model for supporting conservation, Conde Nast reported in July.

  • Costa Rica tourism means ecolodges

Consequently, our trips to Costa Rica in 2022 offer what may be a limited opportunity to see Monteverde as it once was, with a higher ratio of Howler Monkeys and Resplendent Quetzals to tourist vans and telephotos.

Guided by Carlos Sanchez, whose deep experience in Costa Rica really shines on this trip, we start on the Pacific side, climb to Monteverde and then bird Caribbean lowlands that border Nicaragua, maximizing our opportunities to see species from multiple biomes.

We begin and end in the lush, gardened, birder-friendly Hotel Bougainvillea in San Jose suburb Heredia, where dozens of species can often be spotted before breakfast. Our Pacific-side birding includes a boat ride to the Guacalillo Mangroves and a trip to one of Costa Rica’s most famous bird reserves: Carara National Park.

Climbing to Monteverde, we stay at Monteverde Mountain Hotel, which sits amongst 15-acres of private forest at 4,500 feet above sea level. We bird several famous reserves, including the Children’s Eternal Forest, Monteverde Cloudforest, Curicancha and Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserves.

Moving to the glorious Celeste Mountain Lodge on the slopes of the Tenorio & Miravalles Volcanoes, we enjoy both Caribbean and Pacific influences and the species lists from here are truly astounding.

  • Costa Rica tourism means ecolodges
  • Costa Rica tourism means ecolodges
  • Costa Rica tourism means ecolodges

We descend to the lowest elevation of our trip with one night at Caño Negro Natural Lodge, located inside Caño Negro National Wildlife Refuge, one of the most important biological areas of the country and among the most important wetland areas in the world.

Nearly a quarter of Costa Rica’s landmass is protected by national parks, biological reserves, wildlife refuges or other protected areas, allowing us to travel freely from one natural jewel to another.

“They have ecotourism down to a science,” said Carlos, who has led many trips for Naturalist Journeys to Costa Rica. “Infrastructure is good, the birding is well thought out…people are often surprised just how easy it is to be there.”

Canopy Bridge | PC: Leslie Cross via Unsplash

Fulfilling Ecotourism’s Promise

It has been difficult for our partners on the ground, trying to survive with virtually no tourism in 2020. And just 40 percent of Costa Rica’s tourists returned in the first 11 months of 2021, the country’s tourism ministry reported this week.

In 2020, National Geographic wrote about how devastating the pandemic has been to places like Monteverde, which relies almost exclusively on tourism dollars.

By traveling, we hold up our end of the ecotourism bargain; that locals have as much or more to gain by preserving natural resources as they would by developing them.

This one’s for the adventurers: The Best Birding in Belize

Located on the northeastern coast of Central America, Belize welcomes travelers to enjoy its rich culture, delicious cuisine, and endless opportunities to explore. This diverse country features ancient archeological sites, massive barrier reefs, lush jungle scapes, and winding rivers. Naturalist Journeys offers two unique birding experiences to tour Belize.

During these two different itineraries, you’ll relish in:

Awe-inspiring birding:

With over 590 species of birds, Belize is a naturalist’s paradise! Join our guides and seek out extravagant Neotropical birds and familiar faces over wintering from North America. For example, you may find a Collared Aracari, or even a Barred Antshrike! This country offers extensive biodiversity to add to your life-list, so birding in Belize is a must!

Incredible wildlife:

Our two different itineraries  provide the chance to see the wonders of the rainforest first-hand including monkeys, wild cats, reptiles, and even the chance to spot the mystifying jaguar (ask Jessie about seeing a Jaguar swim across the river at Lamanai).

Enriching time at Maya ruins:

Dive into Belize’s cultural history while we explore ancient cities and other historical monuments—some of the best in all of Mesoamerica! Visiting the Caracol and Lamanai ruins gives us access to  breath-taking remnants of the Maya empire, a must see when traveling this country.

New friends, long-lasting relationships, and unforgettable experiences

The only thing better than an incredible experience is crafting long-lasting relationships with your fellow travelers. By the end of every trip, we are toasting to new friends and unforgettable adventures. Above all, you’re now part of the Naturalist Journeys family.

Between the captivating wildlife and the rich culture, Belize is a bucket list trip that we look forward to each year. So, if you need some help deciding which trip is right for you, here’s a breakdown of your two options. 

Our Classic Belize Trip

True to its name, this trip takes you to the two “classic” or must-see lodges when birding in Belize: Lamanai Outpost and Chan Chich, nestled in reserves and protected forests, and offering varying habitats, Maya ruins, and tasty food. During our Belize Birding & Nature tour, enjoy extended time at each of the two lodges to ease travel and absorb the special attributes that give them such amazing reputations.

We offer two departures this winter: January 15-23 with James P. Smith (click here), and March 23-31 with guide, David Mehlman (click here)

Ultimate Southern Belize

This extended trip was crafted by our owner, Peg Abbott, through years of experience birding in southern Belize. The result is an in-depth birding and natural history experience at a pace that lets you absorb and learn. In addition, we’ve carefully selected FOUR of Belize’s top birding lodges along with local guide, Steve Choco (2017 winner of the National Tour Guide of the Year award) to help us navigate these incredible conservation areas.

We offer three departures this winter: January 27 – February 7 with Bob Meinke (click here), February 23 – March 6 with James P. Smith (click here), and March 2-13 with Pat Lueders (click here).

To learn more about birding in Belize (and our upcoming trips) visit the link below:

Birding in Belize

The Colors of Costa Rica: Experience a tropical Birding Paradise

Between stunning landscapes, endless biodiversity, and top-notch coffee, traveling Costa Rica sits at the top of our must-see list. During our winter destination tours, Naturalist Journeys brings you to this tropical birding paradise. The opportunity to immerse yourself in the country’s abundant wildlife is hard to pass up. These trips provide a chance to taste local cuisine, capture amazing photos, and of course, experience one of the most incredible birding tours on the planet.

Costa Rica contains a whopping 6% of the world’s biodiversity—many species existing nowhere else in the world. This wildlife oasis contains an overwhelming roster of tropical birds including parrots, guans, curassows, hummingbirds, tangers, toucans, and MANY more. One of the perks of our relaxing mornings at various lodges are the feeding stations flooded with local birds. To give you a look into the trips, we came up with a colorful list highlighting some of our favorite finds.

Scarlet Macaw 

Even the slightest glimpse of the Scarlet Macaw will put a smile on your face! We hope to find this stunning parrot soaring across the treetops in groups or pairs.

Orange-collared Manakin 

Known for its bright orange “collar” the Orange-collared Manakin boasts a unique mating call with an electric “snap” and is a delight to watch. We hope to see this bright little bird on lek.

Yellow-throated Toucan

These large, fruit-loving birds are as social as they are beautiful. We had great sightings of  Yellow-throated Toucans flying across the road as well as soaring above our heads on a recent tour.

Green Honeycreeper

While these green beauties stand out in a crowd, they actually use their unique coloring to blend in with the thick rainforest foliage. Needless to say – catching a look of a Green Honeycreeper is always a treat.

Blue Dacnis

We spot this striking blue tanager in the canopies. Although it is common to lay eyes on one of these, its beauty never disappoints.

Purple Gallinule

The Purple Gallinule dazzles with its purple feathers and blue-green wings. It even has a unique talent! This nimble waterbird uses its long, yellow legs to tip-toe across lily pads – a sight worth seeing!

It only seems right to acknowledge the two birds that deserve the award for most colorful. The Fiery-throated Hummingbird features a wide variety of colors resembling an oil-slick rainbow. Wildly designed, the Resplendent Quetzal is found in tropical rainforests ranging from Mexico to Panama and is the subject of various Mesoamerican myths. Its vibrant feathers are unmistakable and on our winter tours, we expect to see the males in full breeding plumage (hello, tail feathers).

Noteworthy Neutrals

Finally, it feels necessary to give our flightless friends some recognition. Although Costa Rica is a tropical birding paradise, there are many sights to be seen. Here are some animals you just might spot on your trip: 

Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth

The slow-moving Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth is loved by many. Our favorite attribute of this animal is its upturned mouth, giving them a constant smile.

Mantled Howler Monkey

These monkeys are local to South and Central America and known for their loud calls (that can be heard up to three miles away!) and beard-like facial features. While they prefer the rainforest, we spotted several young howlers in someone’s yard on a recent tour. Mantled Howler Monkeys are one of many endangered species in Costa Rica being displaced by habitat destruction—so it is an honor to witness them in the wild.

Whether you’re a seasoned birder, looking to add to your life list, or seeking a perfectly crafted adventure, our Costa Rica birding tour package has something for everyone. Click here to find out more about taking a winter trip to this tropical birding paradise with Naturalist Journeys.

And before you go, click the link below to get instant access to trip announcements and the latest birding news!

Naturalist Journeys Email List

Costa Rica Tourism is Both Astounding and Easy

All the Biodiversity and Less Travel Hassle

Next tours: Costa Rica Birding and Nature Jan. 5-12 and Feb. 9-16 with Pacific Coast Extension; and Southern Costa Rica Feb. 21-March 3

One of the most delightful and enduring drivers of Costa Rica tourism is the country’s astonishing variety of natural habitats, which host a rich biodiversity of plants, animals and insects. At least 5 percent of all known species found on the planet live in Costa Rica, on just .03 percent of Earth’s real estate.

  • Costa Rica tourism depends on a safe neighborhood
  • Costa Rica tourism in a country the size of W. Virginia

With both Pacific and Caribbean coasts, two mountain ranges arching into its spine, highlands and valleys, white water and cloud forests, volcanoes and dry forests it’s little wonder that more than 800 species of birds have found a niche there to call home, along with 208 mammal species, 50,000 insect species, and 2,000 orchids!

  • Costa Rica tourism means ecolodges
  • Costa Rica tourism means ecolodges
  • Costa Rica tourism means ecolodges
  • Costa Rica tourism brings you close to a Red-Eyed Tree Frog
  • Costa Rica tourism may bring you a Volcano Hummingbird.

Even at our relaxed and comfortable pace, the country’s diversity and compact size makes it easy to visit many habitats here, an endeavor made even easier by Costa Rica tourism’s leadership. Nearly a quarter of the country’s landmass is protected by national parks, biological reserves, wildlife refuges or other protected areas, allowing us to travel freely from one natural jewel to another.

“They have ecotourism down to a science,” said guide Carlos Sanchez, who has led many trips for Naturalist Journeys to Costa Rica. “Infrastructure is good, the birding is well thought out…people are often surprised just how easy it is to be there.”

Costa Rica tourism means ecolodges
The aerial tram at Tapirus Lodge brings us easy canopy birding!

Costa Rica offers visitors far less friction than many other countries. The tap water is good and you don’t need a converter to use the electrical outlets, Carlos said. 

“People find they can instantly relax and focus on the birds and not have to worry about anything else.”

Our guests also get the benefit of our deep roots in the country. We have worked for more than 30 years with the same wonderful local partner.

The fact that Costa Rica is relatively small – West Virginia is a bit bigger – makes it so much easier getting from birding the rainforest canopy by aerial tram near coastal Limon to being serenaded by howler monkeys from a lowland boat safari close to the Nicaraguan border, to exploring the majesty of the Tenorio Volcano to gliding through the rain forest of Braulio Carrillo National Park.

Thanks to the magic of Costa Rica tourism, we’re able to do all of those things while maintaining a relaxed pace.

Birding the edge of La Selva Rainforest.

We have six additional tours with four other itineraries currently scheduled to Costa Rica, which is one of the most popular tourism destinations we visit, for obvious reasons! 

From guide Carlos, here are just a few examples of the birds we expect to see in each area of the October trip, as early migrating raptors and songbirds may be seen moving south:


Here we can expect to see Fiery-throated Hummingbird, Long-tailed Silky Flycatcher, Golden-browed Chlorophonia and Resplendent Quetzal. Revered by the Maya, the Resplendent Quetzal is considered by many to be the most beautiful bird in the Western Hemisphere.

Caribbean Foothills

Here we may see Snowcap Hummingbird, technicolor tanagers, including Emerald, Golden-hooded and Black-and-yellow Tanagers, along with the Black-Crested Coquette, an impish and unforgettable hummingbird.

Carribean Lowlands

Here we can expect to see Snowy Cotinga, Chestnut-Collared Woodpecker, Rufous-tailed Jacamar and Black-Throated Trogon, among others, Carlos said.

“What’s so wonderful about birding in a place like Costa Rica, is that even going up in elevation 1000 or 2000 feet will produce an entirely different set of birds,” Carlos said.

Costa Rica Tourism = Gorgeous Ecolodges

Just like the surfers flock to Tamarindo Beach, and the ladies who spa hit Tabacon, we will find different birds congregating near each of the four inviting ecolodges on our Oct. 6-15 Costa Rica’s Carribean Side tour:

  • Costa Rica tourism means ecolodges
  • Costa Rica tourism means ecolodges
  • Costa Rica tourism means ecolodges
  • Costa Rica tourism means ecolodges
  • Costa Rica tourism means ecolodges
  • Costa Rica tourism means ecolodges
  • Costa Rica tourism means ecolodges
  • Costa Rica tourism means ecolodges

Our Christmas in Costa Rica trip Dec. 22 – Dec. 29 includes visits to the Tapirus Lodge and also local favorite ecolodges Hotel La Quinta Sariquipi and Savegre Hotel, Natural Reserve and Spa.

  • Costa Rica means ecolodges
  • Costa Rica means ecolodges

Our three “classic” Costa Rica tours, Jan. 5-12, Feb. 9-16, and March 3-10 include stays at Savegre Mountain Lodge, Rancho Naturalista and SarapiquiS Rainforest Lodge.

  • Costa Rica tourism means ecolodges
  • Costa Rica tourism means ecolodges
  • Costa Rica tourism means ecolodges
  • Costa Rica tourism means ecolodges
  • Costa Rica tourism means ecolodges
  • Costa Rica tourism means ecolodges
  • Costa Rica tourism means ecolodges
  • Costa Rica tourism means ecolodges
  • Costa Rica tourism means ecolodges
  • Costa Rica tourism means ecolodges

These three trips offer a post-tour extension to the Pacific Coast, with stays at La Ensanada Lodge and Villa Lapas Lodge.

  • Costa Rica tourism means ecolodges
  • Costa Rica tourism means ecolodges
  • Costa Rica tourism means ecolodges

Carlos highly recommends that “serious birders” book the extension, because it produces dramatic birding every day, and visits a niche area of dryland forest in Costa Rica. Here we see birds found nowhere else in the country, including Streaked-backed and Spot-breasted Oriole, Banded Wren and Black-headed Trogon. Birders may also see Double-striped Thick-knee, Scarlet Macaw, White-Throated Magpie-Jay, Turquoise-browed Motmot and the huge, bill-rattling Jabiru, a stork with up to a 9-foot wingspan and the tallest flying bird in North America.

A Jabiru in flight is a thing to behold!

“This extension really adds so much to their trip,” Carlos said of the Pacific Coast 5-day, 4-night post-tour extension, which includes both a boat tour and a tractor tour of a working farm. “Sunsets there are so amazing, we see a wide spectrum of birds, and it’s really relaxed and easy birding.”

Birding Belize … Why We Love It!

At Naturalist Journeys we are thrilled to offer a grand array of Neotropical birding tours. Our expert guides vie for the chance to lead groups in Belize. For many reasons, we love birding Belize! Find out ….

Deciding where to bird in the Neotropics, which includes both Central and South America, can seem like a daunting task, and rightfully so. There are many lodges to choose from, and each country has its own draw. We suggest a stair-step approach in which you gain skills and knowledge with each visit, making the most of your time and budget.

Birding Belize
Violaceous Trogon by Peg Abbott

Continue reading Birding Belize … Why We Love It!

Highlights from Our Belize Birding Tour

Every winter, Naturalist Journeys heads to Belize for a number of fun-filled trips. Here are highlights from a 2016 Belize birding tour.

Belize Birding Tour
Group at Pook’s Hill Ruins, Naturalist Journeys Stock

The highlights detailed in this blog post were from a February 2016 Belize birding tour …  and this trip was extra special: Naturalist Journeys‘ owner Peg Abbott celebrated her 60th birthday on the trip; it was a bit of a reunion with long-time travel companions, which made for a whole lot of fun. You can read the full trip report here.

Without further ado, here are the highlights, day by day. Continue reading Highlights from Our Belize Birding Tour