Nicaragua Day 1- Montibelli Preserve

My 10 day trip to Nicaragua got off to  nice start with my flight to Managua. I left Atlanta right around sunset and it was completed dark by the time we were flying along the western edge of Florida. We flew just west of Key West and it stood out like a beacon against the surrounding dark of the gulf and just beyond and much less brilliantly lit were the Marquesas Keys.

We then flew directly over Havana, Cuba. At one point Key West, the Marquesas keys and Havana were all visible at the same time. A beautiful sight for sure.

Nicaragua is the largest but most sparsely populated Central American nation and is slightly smaller than the state of New York. It has two big lakes, Nicaragua and Managua, that are connected by the Tipitapa River.

A view looking along the Tipitapa River northwest into Lake Managua

The capital is Managua which has a population of 973,087. The currency is the Cordoba. One Cordoba is equal to 0.036 U.S. dollars.

The Nicaraguan population is basically mestizo, a mixture of white and Amerindian. There are no census data on racial composition, but estimates place the mestizo component at 69% and the white population at 17%; blacks account for 9% and Amerindians for the remaining 5% ( 2016).

The main agricultural exports are coffee, cotton, sugar, and bananas. Nontraditional exports are growing and include: honeydew melons, cantaloupe, sesame seed, onions, baby corn, asparagus, artichokes, and cut flowers. Sorghum, cacao, yucca, tobacco, plantains, and various other fruits and vegetables are produced on a smaller scale for the local markets ( 2016).

The most bizarre part of the whole trip was when we were on approach in to Managua and from around 5,000 feet there were these massive light bulb covered tress in bright neon colors of yellow, blue, green and red all over the streets of Managua. It was totally unexpected and so very strange that I was seriously wondering if I were seeing things.

Tree of Life
A picture of one of Managua’s strange “Trees of Life” that were the brainchild of Nicaragua’s first lady Rosario Morillo.

As my plane was descending I began wondering how and why a country that is the second poorest in the western hemisphere (behind Haiti)  and that has a developing electrical grid, is spending precious resources to keep such structures lit. Nicaragua has spent over $3.3 million  building these behemoths and spends over $1.1 million annually to light them. As I was able to see Nicaragua during my trip and saw how very poor many of the people are and how little they have I wondered at this display and what its real purpose is.

Once I got into Managua, cleared customs and was met by one of my tour leaders Connie Volkert and got to the hotel for the night it was after 10 pm.

The next morning we had breakfast and took some time to get to know each other (there were 10 of us in group) before heading off to Montibelli Reserve, a 400 acre private reserve that produces shade-grown coffee in the dry tropical forest. This type of forest is more open than other forests we visited which made birding much easier.

We were originally going to visit Volcan Masaya which is an active volcano that you can drive right up to the crater to view. But due to high activity within the crater, the park was closed. Masaya was referred to by the early Spanish conquerors as “La Boca del Infierno” or “The Mouth of Hell”. It last erupted in 2003.

Montibelli Reserve-53
Volcan Masaya belching sulpher gases

But, of course, the primary reason I came to Nicaragua was to see the birds! I was not disappointed and had a fantastic time. I will be creating a blog for each day as we did and saw so much each day that each deserve a separate entry.

Montibelli Reserve-50
Tour leader Bill Volkert and others searching for the Common Potoo near an old Sandinista encampment
Montibelli Reserve-39
Hooded Warbler searching for insects in fallen leaves

I understand migration and the routes by which many birds travel to wintering and breeding destinations.I am fascinated by how such tiny birds (the Ruby-throated Hummingbird weighs only as much as a dime) can fly so far twice a year. But to actually follow their route and then see them in a place thousands of miles from Wisconsin where they either migrate through or nest really brings a clarity and perspective that reading about migration can never do. Ironically, many of my nemesis species in Wisconsin, such as the Hooded Warbler,  made themselves available to me in Nicaragua. Other bird species, such as the Summer Tanager and Painted Bunting which breed in other regions of the United States were also seen.

Montibelli Reserve-43
Molting juvenile Summer Tanager
Montibelli Reserve-42
Another view of the molting juvenile Summer Tanager

We had a female painted bunting give us a brief appearance at Montibelli. We did see a male from a distance during a hike up the mountainside.

Montibelli Reserve-8
Female Painted Bunting
Montibelli Reserve-12
The bunting taking a water break

Montibelli Reserve-15

The striking Rufous-naped Wren

When I first saw the Clay-colored Thrush in the Lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas last December, I was absolutely thrilled. After the first couple of days in Nicaragua, I realized they were as common as Robins in Wisconsin and quickly got used to seeing them. We quickly began referring to it as our “default” bird and all unidentified birds jokingly became Clay-colored Thrushes.

Montibelli Reserve-6
The Clay-colored Thrush .
Montibelli Reserve-10
The White-winged Dove
Montibelli Reserve-37
The beautiful Squirrel Cuckoo
Montibelli Reserve-36
Another look at the Squirrel Cuckoo
Montibelli Reserve-23
Hoffmann’s Woodpecker
Montibelli Reserve-47
What a bird! The incredibly camouflaged Common Potoo
Montibelli Reserve-7
White-tipped Dove
Montibelli Reserve-16
The subtly yet strikingly colored Blue-gray Tanager
Montibelli Reserve-19
A roosting Mottled Owl
Montibelli Reserve-33
Orange-fronted Parakeets…or are they lovebirds?!
Montibelli Reserve-18
Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush
Montibelli Reserve-52
One of the birds I most wanted to see…the Collared Aracari
Montibelli Reserve-17
The Inca Dove
Montibelli Reserve-3
The always inquisitive Tennessee Warbler

While I did not see the number one bird species I would have liked to see, the Resplendent Quetzal, I did see four of its  Trogan relatives. To be fair, it was very unlikely that we would have seen a quetzal as it was not their breeding season and so they  had moved off to different areas. I was very pleased to have seen such a beautiful bird as the Black-throated Trogan.

Montibelli Reserve-31
The first of four Trogans…the Black-headed Trogan
Montibelli Reserve-30
A Western Kingbird
Montibelli Reserve-11
Common Ground-Dove
Montibelli Reserve-34
The Orange-fronted Parakeet. I was not able to get any really good pictures of this bird…still a beauty.

There were more than birds too! Many other types of animals and beautiful flowers, trees and other flora as well.

Montibelli Reserve-24
A Green Iguana foraying out of his tree hideout
Montibelli Reserve-25
Another Green Iguana
Montibelli Reserve-27
And yet another Green Iguana

Montibelli Reserve-45

The deftly camouflaged Gray Cracker Butterfly

Montibelli Reserve-49
A shade grown coffee plant
Montibelli Reserve-26
There were many epiphytic plants in the various forest types we visited. In the dry tropical forests we saw these “air” cacti.
Montibelli Reserve-44
Of course there were bananas. Pretty cool for a guy who has spent his life in the Pacific Northwest and the Midwest

The first full day of this trip in Montibelli Reserve was wonderful with many species, both common and uncommon , being seen. Even masters of camouflage could not escape  us thanks to our incredible guide who could spot birds such as the Common Potoo  with seeming ease.

Stay tuned for day two!

6 thoughts on “Nicaragua Day 1- Montibelli Preserve

  1. Hello Jeff, the trogon is a Black-headed Trogon, the woodpecker is a Hoffmann’s Woodpecker and the kingbird is a Western Kingbird (shorter bill than Tropical and you can make out the white side edges to tail). Great pics!


    1. Hi Stephen, Can you assist with the identity of the yellow bird that I have above the Slaty Antwren? I have not been able to satisfactorily identify it. Thanks for your assistance! I am going to email you a picture of a juvenile tern that I took on Lake Nicaragua that no one on the trip could identify. Maybe you can!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s