Birding Adventures in Nicaragua

Birding Adventures in Nicaragua

Michele Berger
Published: 09/03/2009

Guardabarranco, the
national bird of Nicaragua. Photo by jerryoldenettel, Flickr Creative Commons.

Recently I spent a week in Papayal and Guanacastillo, Nicaragua, two small towns about 30 minutes outside of Managua, the Central American country’s capital. The purpose of the trip, through a group called Bridges to Community, was to build a house for a wonderful single mother named Sandra and her four children.

The house-building experience was breathtaking in and of itself—mixing cement with shovels from piles of sand and water, filling in the holes between cinder blocks with cement, painting and hammering alongside Sandra and her daughters. But being as bird-obsessed as I am and in a country home to hundreds of gorgeous species (including its national bird, the guardabarranco or turquoise-browed motmot), I couldn’t resist carting my binoculars and ID book.

If you’ve ever been lucky enough to experience a trip like this, you’ll know that every minute is planned, leaving very little time to, say, stare at the trees. So I made time; every morning at 5:30, I was out from under my mosquito net, work clothes on, binocs trained at the clumps of trees surrounding our living site.

Initially, few birds showed their beaks. But as the week progressed, I got lucky: Two blue-grey tanagers. Several kinds of orioles. A pair of ruddy ground doves. A great kiskadee. Multiple flycatcher species. Many, many groove-billed ani. The list goes on.


Moving cinder blocks to the house site. That's me on the right, in the blue shirt. Photo by Cyrile Wilson.

However, one bird eluded me: the guardabarranco.

According to all three of my trip guides—amazing guys, by the way—one guardabarranco hangs out every morning on the wire near our sleeping quarters. And supposedly, another one (or maybe the same one) makes appearances at lunchtime at the edge of the trees. That week, he was a no-show. On day four or five in Papayal, I finally caught a glimpse. But it was just a tail-feather glimpse at that.

The more I wanted to see this bird, the more others on my trip got into it. (It’s important to note that only two of 13 of us enjoy birds, and the other birdwatcher didn’t bring her binoculars.) As we waited for our bus to take us away from Papayal forever—or at least, for now—the bird showed up, at first propped on a wire 25 feet away, then suddenly on a wire maybe 10 feet away.

It was completely worth it. Everyone got to see the beautiful specimen. And maybe, just maybe, they now understand a little bit more why I love watching birds.