Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Zen Birding at Chocoyero-El Brujo Reserve

On January 13, Managua-based birder Howard Youth visited Chocoyero-El Brujo Reserve for the first time. The reserve protects an intact dry forest less than 30 kilometers from Managua. Thanks to a well-marked trail system, a visit here allows you to guide yourself through the forest without fear of getting lost.

The reserve is best known for its nesting Pacific Parakeets but for birders, there is far more to see. Hiking within the forest rather than along its edges challenges you to bird like a ninja--listening for rustles and chips, anticipating motion and tracking shadows with your binoculars until you see your birds. Youth hiked along the Congo Trail and back on the main trail from about 8:15 a.m. to noon. Bird activity was constant the entire time. This might have been thanks to the weather, with patchy overcast and cool breezes that prolonged foraging of mixed bands of birds in the interior.

On his visit, Youth saw many wintering songbirds, including two Worm-eating Warblers, several Black-and-white Warblers, three Kentucky Warblers, a few Ovenbirds, an American Redstart, a few Yellow-bellied Flycatchers, and a Swainson's Thrush. Ant activity seemed to draw a gang of mostly resident birds to the same patch of forest floor--Red-throated Ant-Tanager, Gray-headed Tanagers, an Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush, a Barred Antshrike, and a large Blue-crowned Motmot were briefly joined by a Wood Thrush. Dusky Antbird, Streak-headed Woodcreeper, Greenish Elaenia, and Yellow-billed Cacique were among the forest interior birds seen in other areas.

Chocoyero is a well-known birding site, but for the first-time visitor, arriving there can be a challenge. In rainy season you'll likely need four wheel drive. In dry months, high clearance vehicles will have a much easier time, though they're not usually necessary, as evidenced by the caponeras that ply the road.

Don't be afraid to ask for directions once you turn off the highway. This will get you started: First, head south on Carretera Masaya. Turn right at the Ticuantepe traffic circle (a tree of life is there) and continue to the first traffic light (in Ticuantepe), where you turn right onto the Ticuantepe-La Concha highway. Watch for km markers. The turnoff to the reserve is on the right at 21.5 KM and is marked with a reserve sign. As you turn right off the highway, you will need to take a sharp U or hairpin turn that takes you down a hill.

Once off the highway, you have about seven more unpaved KM to reach the reserve parking lot. The track starts with pavers then quickly surrenders to dirt. There are a number of reserve signs pointing the way and a number of cross roads where there's simply no signs at all. When you find no signs, try to keep to the widest track. At one point there's an unmarked T junction where you need to turn left. After pineapple, banana, and pitaya groves, you enter coffee plantations for the last KM or so. You are getting close when you see a huge boulder on the left side amid the coffee. The reserve parking lot is at the end of the road.

Without detours, you can reach Chocoyero-El Brujo Reserve in a bit under an hour from Altos de Santo Domingo. Proceed to the headquarters building next to the parking area. For residents, admission is 40 cords. For another fee, you can hire a guide as well.

--Submitted by Howard Youth