Saturday, May 10, 2014

La Moskitia once again

Point of departure - La Ceiba Airport
If there is anywhere in Honduras that you are going to find birds that have not yet been recorded in this country, or find the elusive ones that an experienced Honduran bird-watcher still has not got on his list, then La Moskitia is the place that you are likely to find them. So that’s just what we were setting off to do. With recently acquired friends Robert Gallardo and his partner Olivia (Robert is the experienced birder who is writing the guide to the birds of Honduras) we were on our way to La Moskitia once again. This time by small plane from La Ceiba to a remote little town of Puerta Lempira on the shores of the vast Laguna de Caratasca, and then the following morning in an even smaller missionary plane to the tiny village of Mocaron. The dusty field that we landed on was in the grasslands of Honduras’ north-east, a strange region where vast swathes of grass suddenly give way to pine woodlands which, in turn, give way to wet forests. 

The crowd of onlookers that rushed to the plane as it rolled to a stop suggested that this place didn’t get a lot of visitors. But in spite of this, there was a “lodge” of sorts and the very friendly owner, Irma Love, ensured that we had a good lunch before we set off on our hike deeper into the forests. 

Point of arrival - Mocaron International airport

Packing to head further inland
Our original plan was to go upriver some way in small outboard-driven canoes carved out of large forest trees, but the water was too shallow and so instead, we pilled all of our gear, together with guide, porters and cook, into the back of a pickup and bounced off across the grasslands to an even smaller village on the edge of a river beyond which vehicle transport was not possible. It was early afternoon by the time we made our first river crossing and set off through the forest. 

The bemused onlookers…. 

One of the porters - not sure what was in the cigarette but he was always happy!

I'm hoping that we don't really need this???

Whilst, in theory, our route was to take us through a biosphere reserve, we were following a well marked trail that clearly had not been established for the purpose of appreciating the biodiversity of the region - at least not in the way that westerners do! At regular intervals we came to small clearings where bananas, maize and beans were being cultivated. The flat grasslands where the villages were located were clearly not suited for growing much - the regular inundation by wet-season rains and low nutrients that accounted for the lack of forest also meant that the region was not good for agriculture. However, where there was forest, there are also nutrients - hence the cropping inside the forest. Because the people couldn’t live in the reserve, they simply walked in to farm it, setting up small structures where they would stay for several days, with pigs and dogs, while they tended their plots.

The first river to be crossed...

After you…...

The intrepid, and slightly damp, Robert Gallardo

Olivia and Alicia, the cook, wading in!

After our 4am start, we were pretty exhausted when we arrived with soggy boots and tired legs at our first camp with just enough light to pitch tents, sneak in a bit of birding and organise some food before collapsing into bed.

Our first night's camp - apart from pigs shit everywhere, it was pretty nice.

More bemused onlookers - white-necked puffbird
King Vulture

Our second day’s hike found us venturing further into the forest - the clearings were being left behind but wooden poles lying across the trail at 3 meter intervals made it pretty obvious that large trees were being rolled out from deep in the forest. The effort that would be required to remove a single tree would be enormous. I suspect that, while its probably illegal, its got to be more sustainable than any of the legal logging that happens throughout the rest of the world. Unfortunately the almost complete lack of sizable wildlife suggested that the rifles that everyone carried were being put to good use. After a bit of confusion about our location, we set up camp by a small stream that had enough water for drinking and bathing. This was going to be our base camp for the next few days so our porters set to work building a pretty sturdy camp. 

Base camp
Another resident of base camp!

The next few days were spent on day hikes, exploring the region from our camp. The flat forested plains gave way to limestone outcrops which looked interesting and inviting but, as soon as you started to climb the ground became very dry, and the forests became quieter, suggesting that a few million years of water leaching through the porous limestone had taken all the nutrients with it, making the area relatively unattractive for all the beasties that build their food chains up from the forest floor. For some reason the only exception were the ticks, and they welcomed us in their thousands - tiny pepper ticks that got into everywhere and left us scratching for days!

Black-eared wood quail - apparently getting a photo of this guy is pretty special

Bicolored Antbird
Forest fashion

…all the essentials

After a few days of exploring it was apparent that this particular part of Mosquitia did not have the wealth of birds that we had expected. We did see the tracks of a jaguar and its cub and we heard a group of peccaries that melted off into the forest before we could sight them, and while I added lots of new birds to my list, it was a bit frustrating for Robert G so eventually we packed camp and made our way back out. 

Return to civilisation

Compared to the Rio Platino (see the earlier post) this area is not likely to become a great drawcard for tourists, although I’m sure botanists would have a field day. But it was a great experience, both to see this place and to have the privilege of birding with Robert, and it was something that had to be done simply to find out what was (or in this case, wasn’t) there, given that it was virtually unvisited by scientists or naturalists. 

Working hard against the current

A bit of grassland birding

They are a friendly lot here in Honduras!

Olivia ready to go home

The runway???

The beginning of the burning season

So now the question is - what might be in the other parts of this vast little-explored wilderness - clearly it varies hugely from region to region. Maybe we might just have to find out - and there is still the elusive Harpy Eagle to find! 

And huge thanks to Robert and Olivia for inviting me along!!

1 comment:

  1. What a great story. Thank you for sharing it. The snake with the salmon belly could be a salmon bellied racer, but I am not sure if they exist there. You live an incredible journey Sir. Our hats are off!