Birding Finca El Pilar at Cerro Cucurucho, Antigua Guatemala,

This private area protects habitat ranging from 1600 to 2400 m (5250 to 7870 ft) elevation, including dry forest in the lower section, and pine-oak and cloud forest at higher elevations. Finca El Pilar offers several options to access the habitat.

White-eared Ground-Sparrow
White-eared Ground-Sparrow Melozone leucotis at Finca El Pilar

Nature trail from 1600 to 1900 m (5250 to 6230 ft) elevation: A well-made foot path of about 1.5 km length has been constructed recently, making accessible a narrow valley with shade coffee plantation, humid broadleaf forest and dry forest. Total walking effort is about 3 km using the dirt road for the way back. The trail has several steep stairways with handrails. You can start birding from the parking lot, walk by the pools and go straight to the coffee plantation after the small houses, from where the trail is well marked.

Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer
Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer

At the beginning of the trail there are good views over the canopy of the northern slope of the valley, where flocks of Bushy-crested Jays can often be seen. Many canopy birds can be found, such as Rose-throated Becard, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Northern Emerald-Toucanet, and with some good luck Chestnut-sided Shrike-Vireo and Bar-winged Oriole, which often moves quietly in pairs through the canopy. Several woodpeckers can be seen, such as Northern Flicker, Golden-fronted, Golden-olive, and Hairy Woodpecker. Baltimore Oriole, Tennessee, Black-throated Green and Townsend's Warblers are common during the northern winter. White-eared Ground-Sparrow, White-naped (Yellow-throated) Brushfinch, Ruddy Foliage-gleaner, Rufous-capped Warbler, and White-tipped Dove live in the scrubby undergrowth.

Rufous Sabrewing
Rufous Sabrewing

Hummingbird feeders are located at the lower entrance to the trail. This is a good spot to see Rufous Sabrewing, which is endemic to the Pacific slope mountains of Chiapas, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Also the regional endemic Green-throated Mountain-gem is seen frequently. Rivoli's, White-eared, Azure-crowned, and Berylline Hummingbird, as well as Violet Sabrewing and Mexican Violetear use also the feeders.

The forest harbors a typical highland bird community with Slate-throated Redstart, Golden-browed Warbler, Gray-breasted Wood-Wren, and White-faced Quail-Dove. With some good luck it is possible to see Highland Guans. Forest birding can be challenging and there might be very quite days without much movement.

Taking the dirt road for walking back downhill gives a good chance to see Greater Pewee, Gray Silky-flycatcher, and Black-capped Swallows, which nest and roost in caves in the road bank. Hammond's Flycatchers are readily seen during the boreal winter.

Dirt road from 1600 to 2000 m (5250 to 6560 ft): The dirt road leading through dry and mixed forest has a total length about 4.5 km. At good days the road  can be quite birdy with Black-capped Swallows, Blue-throated Motmot, Tufted Flycatcher, Flame-colored Tanager, Hooded Grosbeak, White-eared Ground-Sparrow, and other highland birds. The Singing Quail is often heard and, with some good luck, it may be seen. Around the car parking at 2000 m elevation there is open area which allows impressive views to the volcanoes Agua, Acatenango, and Fuego on clear days. Rufous-collared Robin, Tropical Mockingbird, Rufous-collared Sparrow, and Eastern Bluebird are often around this spot.

View from Finca El Pilar to Ciudad Vieja
View from Finca El Pilar to Ciudad Vieja on the base of Fuego volcano.

High-elevation trail: The forest between 2000 and 2400 m (6560 to 7870 ft) changes gradually from mixed pine-oak-cypress forest to cloud forest. Three species of woodcreepers can be expected, the most common of them is Spot-crowned Woodcreeper. Also Spotted Woodcreeper and Strong-billed Woodcreeper have been reported several times. Two species of trogons, Collared and Mountain Trogon, occur. Mixed flocks of Townsend's, Wilson's, Black-and-White, Crescent-chested, and Red-faced Warbler, Slate-throated Redstart, Blue-headed and Hutton's Vireo, and others roam through the forest during the northern winter.

The cloud forest harbors a bird community dominated by Common Chlorospingus, Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush, Guatemalan Tyrannulet, Golden-browed Warbler, Chestnut-capped and White-naped (Yellow-throated) Brushfinch, and Yellowish Flycatcher. Other typical highland birds we found included Black and Mountain Thrush, Elegant Euphonia, Amethyst-throated Mountain-gem, Brown-capped Vireo, Rufous-browed Wren, and Mountain Elaenia.

Black Thrush
Black Thrush

Sign up for a private full or half day birding tour at El Pilar
led by Knut Eisermann or Claudia Avendaño

How to get there: Finca El Pilar is located 2 km southeast of the central park of Antigua Guatemala, and can be reached in a 10-min drive. It opens the 365 days of the year from 7:00 AM to 5:00 PM.

Accommodation in Antigua Guatemala: Antigua Guatemala offers a variety of hotels.

When is the best time for a visit to Finca El Pilar? Any time of year.

How do you support conservation and development in Finca El Pilar? El Pilar is a private preserve. It provides water supply to several communities close to Antigua Guatemala. By birding there you support the owner's efforts to protect the forest and watershed. Finca El Pilar is part of the Antigua Guatemala Important Bird Area (IBA GT016). The identification of IBAs in Guatemala was coordinated by Knut Eisermann and Claudia Avendaño of CAYAYA BIRDING.

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