Discover biodiverse birdlife in a maze of freshwater lagoons

When we think of coast lines it’s easy to just think of the beach and its immediate surroundings. However, it’s often the case that highly diverse habitat is found hidden behind the waterfront.

This is certainly the case at el Banco, on Guatemala’s Pacific Coast. Indigo’s work here, in collaboration with Estación Biológica el Banco, primarily focuses on sea turtle conservation, and while that is a major concern for the region, it’s far from the whole picture. A huge wetland habitat is found just a little way inland that includes a maze of freshwater lagoons, interspersed with grass islands, and labyrinthine mangrove swamps.

And so it was that in July this year the Indigo field team set off before the crack of dawn to discover what treasures this little known habitat held. We met our guide, Luis from Nebula Tours, at the small dock and in a little wooden boat we headed out through the canals of slow moving water in to the wetlands themselves.

It became immediately apparent that these waters are rich fishing grounds for a myriad of bird species. What seemed like hundreds of great egrets, each pure white and standing one metre tall, were patiently waiting for the most opportune moment to catch their breakfast. Every so often a kingfisher would dart out from the tall grass and speed its way up the canal in front of us.

Entering the main lagoon as the sun started to rise over the mountains to the east of us, we stopped the little outboard motor and the allowed the tranquility of dawn to envelop us. As we sat in awe watching the sunrise with its rich pastel colours change in the sky, small cups of strong, chocolatey Guatemalan coffee were passed around. It was a scene of pure magic!

With the sun risen and the colours in the sky finally settled on a gloriously deep blue, we started off again to a nearby spit of land that was large enough for trees to grow. These trees were the nesting ground for snowy egrets. There were hundreds of nests and the air was thick with raucous squawking.

Amongst the egrets the odd turkey and black vultures could be spotted. Down below at eye level Northern jacanas tottered around on the lily pads with their long toes spreading their weight. Every now and then they would take to flight and reveal bright yellow flashes on their wings.

The real highlight for me, however, was spotting my wild crested caracara, too quick for me to create a photo, but stunning none the less. The black and white hawk-like bird made several appearances as it moved away from us through the trees.

It was a morning I’ll never forget. The sheer abundance of birds shows how important it is to protect and care for this unsung gem of an ecosystem. We can’t wait for our next Indigo Expedition to discover what other beautiful species the wetlands of el Banco will reveal.

Sunrise in the wetlands

Strong, chocolatey Guatemalan coffee

Melodius blackbird

Great egret in flight

Luis, our guide from Nebula Tours

Great egret

CONSERVATION EXPEDITIONS