Trip Report-April 20-27, 2022
By Robert Gallardo
With Guides Robert Gallardo & Robert Gilson.
This year marked the inaugural Hairstreaks and Highlands Tour to Honduras, and seven guests from different walks of life from the U.S. would come to witness firsthand the country’s incredible diversity. Although still growing, the country list now stands at over 1,250 and numerous previously undescribed species have been discovered in recent years. Due mainly to its geographical features, Honduras is equivalent to the Darien Gap found further south. Existing there is an incredible conglomeration of species originating from southern Central America and those from further north. Its pine-clad mountains, combined with lowland and montane rainforests, make it an incredible place to explore and visit.
The trip was designed to visit two sites: the southwestern highlands of La Paz and the species-rich Lake Yojoa basin. The La Paz site is the only area in the country where one can drive for many miles along a 7,000ft. ridgeline and explore a patchwork of habitats. This is the area where in 2018, Robert Gallardo discovered the country’s first endemic butterfly, the recently described Elizabeth’s Firetip (Jonaspyge elizabethae). Lake Yojoa, with its 900+ species, has sites jam-packed with butterflies and harbors the highest levels of biodiversity found anywhere in the country. At Bio Parque Paradise, Robert discovered a phenomenon he coins as the hairstreak ‘fallout’ where over 80 species have been recorded.
During our stay in Honduras, we would travel around in a spacious Toyota Coaster bus where everyone had their own seat. Nearly 230 species of butterflies would be recorded, and one country record obtained. The guests would take an untold number of photographs, probably thousands, and everyone would depart with fond memories.
The guests arrived (at least most of them did) at San Pedro Sula, and we made our way to Marcala in the department of La Paz. We stayed at the La Casona hotel on the outskirts of town, which would be our base for the next several days. Upon arrival, and right when everyone was checking into their rooms, we were greeted with a pleasant surprise. A lovely Double-spotted Owl-Butterfly (Eryphanis aesacus) was attracted to a light in front of the rooms. It was a great way to start the trip.
Early the next day, we departed for the nearby ridgeline of Opatoro-Guajiquiro. Before the year 2000, this area was virtually unknown to Naturalists. This mountain harbors most of the regionally endemic birds that range from southern Mexico to western Honduras and is where two undescribed butterflies have already been found.
Partway up the road, we stopped and had a healthy picnic breakfast, enjoying freshly brewed coffee and tropical fruits while listening to the songs of two species of solitaires. Heavenly. A Yellowish Flycatcher was nesting along a road cut and provided some great pictures. We got our first glimpses of the country’s first endemic species, Elizabeth’s Firetip (Jonaspyge elizabethae). Several took advantage of the sun’s rays gleaming over the forest canopy.
We continued down the road to the first spot where Mountain Fuchsia (Fuchsia paniculata) grew. As the air started to warm, the butterflies began to get moving. Two of the first target species we saw on the Fuchsia were the lovely Many-spotted Ridens (Ridens crison) and a Todd’s Skipper (Ridens toddi); both were only recently recorded for Honduras in 2018. More butterflies began to fly, and we saw our first Guatemalan Copper (Iophanus pyrrhias). It is the only species within its genus and occurs from southern Mexico to western Honduras. Salome Yellows (Eurema salome) began to appear and would be a constant companion throughout the day. Over a nearby ravine, we spotted two species of sulphurs: Mexican Dartwhite (Catastica nimbice) and Pure-banded Dartwhite (C. teutila). Most of these unique sulphurs occur in the highlands throughout the Neotropics.
We moved on to the next patch of Fuchsia plants to see what was stirring. There were more plants and thus more butterflies. Several Magnificent Swallowtails (Pterourus garamas) passed by. Some would feed on Fuchsia while others engaged in aerial pursuits. Mexican Silverspots (Dione moneta) also began to appear and would be a regular sighting throughout the day. Some would feed on Fuchsia while others fed the last of the blooming Salvia
cinnabarina flowers. We also got our first looks at the giant Dark Doberes (Doberes anticus), the largest skipper that occurs in Honduras. Elizabeth’s Firetips we abundant, cruising around the canopy, and now and again one would come lower to feed on Fuchsia. We were happy to know that at least there, at that time of year, this endemic butterfly was common.
We moved on to a third Fuchsia patch to finish the day and had a picnic lunch there. A tiny, bright blue object came bouncing in, and it turned out to be the first hairstreak of the trip. It was an Oceia Hairstreak (Laothus oceia), a highland species that is relatively uncommon. A second blue object came in, flitting around in the blackberry shrubs alongside the road. It turned out to be a beautiful White-etched Hairstreak (Contrafacia bassania) and is also an uncommon highland species. We also found many ‘Central American’ Umber Skippers (Poanes melane poa) and Zabulon Skippers (Poanes zabulon). Another common highland species we encountered all along this route was the Central American Banded-Skipper (Autochton vectilucis).
Just up the road from where we were parked, there was a small ravine filled with a nice variety of vegetation. A handsome Golden Banded-Skipper (Autochton cellus) patrolled it and chased away other skippers that went flying by. This was another species only recently recorded for Honduras in 2018 in that same area. Close by, we also found a Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia). In much of Central America, this species is either uncommon or extremely rare, and in Honduras was first recorded in 2019 near the city of La Esperanza. It was a great way to end the first day of the trip. We made our way back down the mountain and had dinner in town.
The following day we departed early again and had another picnic breakfast. We were at a Fuchsia patch and were waiting for it to warm up. Yesterday there were clouds early on, but they burned off, and we had a spectacular, sunny day. We thought this day would be the same, but Nature has its way of making up its own mind. It warmed up a bit, and a few butterflies were starting to come out, but it would cloud up again and eventually rain.
We did see a Marbled White (Hesperocharis graphites), Mexican Longwing (Heliconius hortense), Donysa Sister (Adelpha donysa), and Banded Mapwing (Hypanartia dione). At one point, a small butterfly appeared and landed on the road in front of everyone. It was so worn that we could barely even tell that it was a hairstreak. Photos were taken, and it appeared that, at one point, it was green on the underside. After the trip was over, photos started to be shared. John sent numerous images to R. Gallardo, who passed them on to a lycaenid expert who works at the Smithsonian. After carefully reviewing the photos, the genus Cyanophrys was eliminated altogether. It was determined that it was a male Nitetis Hairstreak (Erora nitetis) which ended up being a country record. A great find!
We started to make our way down the hill when Gallardo spotted something on a tree along the road. It wasn’t a butterfly but a tiny, colorful orchid (Prosthechea vitellina). This is one of the few orange-colored species that occurs in Honduras. We also added a few more butterflies at this stop before returning to Marcala, including Pale Sicklewing (Achlyodes pallida), Two-toned Gemmed-Satyr (Cyllopsis hilaria), Sachem (Atalopedes campestris) and Central American Checkered-Skipper (Burnsius adepta). Later that evening Caydee showed up and joined us for the trip.
The following day we departed for Lake Yojoa but stopped in La Esperanza to visit a private nature reserve called El Consejero. We were met by Julio Bu, the owner, who gave us a brief introduction to his place. The air started to warm and with it came the butterflies. Right off the bat, an exquisite Three-tailed Tiger Swallowtail (Pterourus pilumnus) soared by and disappeared into the forest. This is yet another species that reaches its southern limit of distribution in western Honduras.
Different species of Sisters began to appear, including the Yellow-striped Sister (Adelpha leuceria) and the Pithy Sister (Adelpha pithys). A male Common Banner (Epiphile adrasta) landed above us and allowed for a brief look. Mexican Azures (Celastrina echo gozora), the largest blue in the region, also began to appear. Down the trail a bit a pair of the lovely Cryptic Skipper (Noctuana lactifera) were sparring, but would perch atop ferns and allow for some photos. Other skippers seen include Round-spotted Silverdrop (Epargyreus socus), Bolivian Sootywing (Bolla boliviensis), Rough-tipped Sootywing (B. evippe), and Fawn-spotted Skipper (Cymaenes trebius). As we were walking someone noticed something small on the ground. It turned out to be an Orange-crescent Groundstreak (Electrostrymon guzunta) and this reserve is the best place to observe it in the entire country.
Another White-etched Hairstreak was spotted and was amazingly cooperative as it let Robert G. bend down the branch where it was perched so everyone could take macro photos. The reserve is also a great place to see numerous species of crescents. This day we saw Darkened Crescent (Anthanassa ptolyca) and Montane Crescent (A. sitalces). Perhaps the biggest highlight of the morning was getting a great look at one of Honduras’ true glasswing butterflies. Two White-spotted Clearwings (Greta annette) were spotted in the dark understory, and one perched low to the ground where everyone could get great photos. It was an excellent way to wrap up the Highland part of the trip.
We had lunch and then continued our trip, making our way northward to Lake Yojoa. We reached the Cerro Azul Meambar N.P. visitor’s center, which would be ‘home’ for the next four nights.
The next day began another adventure as we explored a different area and different habitat altogether. Bio Parque Paradise and Emerald Valley represent Honduras’s two most studied areas, whose combined species lists exceed 800 species. Several years ago, Robert and Olivia discovered a natural phenomenon they had seen nowhere else. Each year, during the height of the dry season, large quantities of butterflies seek refuge in the cool areas of the shade coffee plantation. This is especially true for hairstreaks, where a great variety can be seen daily.
No one is sure what makes this all happen, but it may be due to the fact that there is a diverse mixture of native shade trees coupled with an understory filled with diverse native plants and a lack of the use of harmful chemicals. Whatever the reason for its diversity, Bio Parque is a haven for butterflies and is always worth spending numerous days.
We decided to split up into two groups to cover different areas within the coffee farm. R. Gilson and Olivia took Vernie, Beth, and Sandy, while Caydee, John, Linda, and Deb went with Gallardo. Indeed, each day both groups would see species the other group did not. The list of species observed on the first day is long. It includes White Mimic-White (Enantia lina), Crimson-patched Longwing (Heliconius erato), Hecale Longwing (Heliconius hecale), Tiger-striped Longwing (Heliconius ismenius) and Leuctra Satyr (Taygetis leuctra). The splendid Common Morpho (Morpho helenor) would be a constant companion and was seen daily, as well as the ghost-like Rusty Clearwing (Greta morgane). Another fantastic species seen by some was the leaf-like Tiger-striped Leafwing (Consul fabius).
Bio Parque is also filled with a nice variety of metalmarks (Riodinidae), and today was no exception. Numerous female Periander Metalmark (Rhetus periander) were seen, especially hiding under leaves, but a splendid purple male also made a star appearance near the parking lot. Barnes’ Metalmark (Detritivora barnesi) was seen daily, and although common, it has an intricate pattern when observed up close. The White-stitched Metalmark (Napaea eucharila), with an exquisite pattern, was also seen daily. However, its habit of hiding under leaves low to the ground made it challenging to see well. Other specialties observed were Cell-barred Metalmark (Mesene phareus), Guatemalan Metalmark (Mesene croceella), Silvery Metalmark (Chimastrum argentea) and Pelarge Metalmark (Calospila pelarge).
Lowland areas in the Neotropics often harbor a wide variety of skippers (Hesperiidae), which usually represents the largest family at any given site. They are often more numerous during the rainy season, but our visit to Bio Parque would still produce a nice variety and some noteworthy species. An exceptional skipper we were fortunate to observe was the phantom-like Aecas Ruby-eye (Flaccilla aecas) which is difficult to find anywhere. Another ‘snazzy’ species was the Blue-glossed Skipper (Onophas columbaria), which is also challenging to find in Honduras. Other skippers observed include Red-studded Skipper (Noctuana stator), Variable Blue-Skipper (Pythonides jovianus), Black-spot Remella (Remella remus), Onaca Skipper (Vettius onaca), Yellow-rimmed Scarlet-eye (Ocyba calathana) and Orange-headed Metron (Metron chrysogastra).
Although we saw many wonderful species in different families, many of the participants really wanted to catch a glimpse and/or photograph a variety of hairstreaks that occur there. Today we would get our first taste of these tailed gems. The Dusky-blue Groundstreak (Calycopis isobeon) is Honduras’s most widespread and common species and would be a daily companion at Bio Parque. The large and elegant Barajo Hairstreak (Laothus barajo) would also be observed daily. Trebula Groundstreak (Calycopis trebula) would be seen daily but is by no means abundant. Two green-colored hairstreaks observed on this day included Goodson’s Greenstreak (Cyanophrys goodsoni) and Hassan Greenstreak (Chalybs hassan). The rarest hairstreak observed on this first day would be the Variegated Hairstreak (Michaelus jebus).
The day was jam-packed with species and action that went on until most everyone tuckered out. Everyone returned to PANACAM at the end of the day for a bit of R&R, while some decided to continue exploring those rich forests.
The second day at Bio Parque would also be replete with a wide variety of species, some of which were seen yesterday, and many new species. Everyone went to the Blue Lagoon site on the property, and we would be rewarded with some wonderful species. Before the short ascent, a large skipper was spotted perched high atop a large leaf. It turned out to be the lovely Spotted Skipper (Melanopyge erythrosticta), which is not easy to find anywhere. By the lagoon, we saw Julias (Dryas iulia), Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charithonia), Banded Peacock (Anartia fatima), and Malachite (Siproeta stelenes).
One knows that being in the field long enough will increase the chances of seeing rare species; today was no exception. Gallardo was in the lead when he spotted a prize species sitting at eye level atop a Heliconia leaf. It was an exquisite Stoll’s Sarota (Sarota chrysus), replete with intact tails, and would represent one of the best sightings of the entire trip.
We returned to the eatery and ate lunch before heading back out. In terms of the hairstreak phenomenon, these are the best hours of the day, so our break was short.
During our walk, we encountered many brushfoot butterflies, including Tiger Mimic-Queen (Lycorea halia), Rayed Sister (Adelpha melanthe), Dirce Beauty (Colobura dirce), Crimson-patch Checkerspot (Chlosyne janais), Gold-edged Owl-Butterfly (Caligo uranus), Cryptic Satyr (Cissia terrestris) and Thamyra Satyr (Taygetis thamyra).
Metalmarks were again plentiful, and we found a nice variety of species, including White-rayed Metalmark (Hades noctula), Blind Eurybia (Eurybia elvina), Dark Calephelis (Calephelis velutina), Dotted Metalmark (Argyrogrammana stilbe) and Cilissa Metalmark (Calospila cilissa). A very cooperative Satyr Metalmark (Leucochimona lepida) appeared and posed for everyone to get photos. It would end up being one of the rarest species on the trip.
Today we would encounter even more species of hairstreaks to our growing list. The elegant Togarna Hairstreak (Arawacus togarna) is common in Honduras but always nice. Vernie photographed the Janthodonia Hairstreak (Janthecla janthodonia), representing only the country’s third record. Other species seen include Two-toned Groundstreak (Lamprospilus collucia), White-striped Groundstreak (Calycopis clarina), Red-spotted Hairstreak (Tmolus echion), Syedra Hairstreak (Strephonota syedra), Caldas Hairstreak (Ignata caldas) and Anderson’s Hairstreak (Iaspis andersoni).
There was no shortage of new skippers for the trip. Today we would find Falcate Skipper (Spathilepia clonius), Small Telemiades (Telemiades fides), Hoary Skipper (Carrhenes canescens), Evans’ Skipper (Panoquina evansi), Purple-stained Skipper (Zenis jebus), Perching Saliana (Calpodes esperi), Triangular Saliana (Calpodes triangularis) and the colorful Lycortas Skipper (Orthos lycortas). It was yet another fruitful day at Lake Yojoa.
We had decided to spend a third full day at Bio Parque Paradise, knowing that we would find more species, including new hairstreaks. This would pay off.
Brushfoots encountered by both groups included the Mimic Tigerwing (Melinaea lilis), the delicate Tutia Clearwing (Ceratinia tutia), Klug’s Clearwing (Dircenna klugii), Phylaca Sister (Adelpha phylaca), and Moon Satyr (Pierella luna). But the best was yet to come.
In the morning, we all walked as a group down a different path to see what was stirring. There were a few different clearing species, but the ‘biggest’ prize was just around the corner. Olivia spotted something tiny dart into a large ginger bush. Atop a leaf was a little gem, a Godman’s Sarota (Sarota myrtea), and it posed nicely for photos. Other metalmarks included the stunning male White-banded Metalmark (Hypophylla sudias), Creamy Metalmark (Nymphidium ascolia), and Molpe Metalmark (Juditha caucana)
However, we were ready for more hairstreaks. And more would we receive. In a specific area of the coffee farm, we would find the majority of species during our trip, and today revealed yet more species. A worn and formally elegant Regal Hairstreak (Evenus regalis) was found and allowed for a photo session. Other species included the giant Sky-blue Hairstreak (Pseudolycaena damo), Pale-clubbed Hairstreak (Denivia hemon), Thales Blackstreak (Ocaria thales), Zebra-striped Hairstreak (Panthiades bathildis), Bitias Hairstreak (Panthiades bitias), Variable Hairstreak (Parrhasius orgia), and two tiny species: Carnica Hairstreak (Dicya carnica) and Celmus Hairstreak (Celmia celmus).
We would also add some more skippers to the trip list, including the Morning Glory Tufted-Skipper (Pellicia dimidiata), Alternate Ruby-eye (Talides alternata), Ocala Skipper (Panoquina ocala), a freshly hatched and handsome Blurry Skipper (Mielkeus tertianus) and Purple-washed Skipper (Panoquina lucas).
Some brushfoots we would also see include the Blue-gray Satyr (Magneuptychia libye), White-banded Satyr (Pareuptychia metaleuca), Black-bordered Crescent (Tegosa anieta), Anteas Actinote (Actinote anteas), Guatemalan Actinote (Actinote guatemalena), Longwing Crescent (Eresia phillyra) and Isabella’s Longwing (Eueides Isabella).
There wasn’t much extra time to explore Cerro Azul Meambar national park. Still, a few additional species found by the group include the Cream-spotted Tigerwing (Tithorea tarricina), Rusted Clearwing-Satyr (Cithaerias pireta), and Purple-washed Eyed-Metalmark (Mesosemia lamachus). The trip sadly ended, but we all made new butterfly-watching friends and hope to see each other on another trip sometime in the future. We recorded nearly 230 species in all, representing nearly 20% of all species that occur in Honduras.
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