Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Nicaragua Trip - Montibelli Nature Reserve

Our daughter has always been interested in birds ~ from the time she was four and had a 'red-tailed hawk' themed birthday party.  She has spent countless hours working on her very own bird guide.  And so, one of our main destinations to Nicaragua had to be Montibelli Nature Reserve and nearby Chocoyero-El Brujo Natural Reserve.  Chocoyero has over 400 hundred Pacific green parakeets that roost in a cliff next to a waterfall.  And Montibelli is a destination for birdwatchers in its own right as well.

All in all, one of the best parts of our Nicaragua trip turned out to be our stay at Montibelli.  This 400-acre private family-owned reserve has become a model for sustainable agriculture and ecotourism. The reserve is beautiful, and even in the dry season it was green and cool. It felt like an oasis coming from Managua.

Our nice little casita and deck.  
According to their website, approximately 105 bird species have been identified at Montibelli. Several species that occur on the reserve are endangered or threatened with extinction, including six species of hummingbirds. (You can pull up species lists on their website.)

Montibelli used to be a coffee plantation, and a small part of the reserve is still in production for shade-grown coffee, but the majority of the land is being allowed to revegetate to its natural state in order to benefit neotropical migrant birds and other wildlife.  Just today I received the latest issue of Audubon Magazine, which has a feature article on Nicaragua's small coffee fincas (farms):

“A shade-coffee canopy with diverse tree species provides very high-quality habitat for many bird species, both native and migrants,” says Robert Rice, a researcher with the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center. Coffee plantations with a diverse canopy cover of greater than 40 percent are second only to undisturbed forest in terms of bird species richness.
It is humbling to think about how important places like Montibelli are to Wyoming summer species, such as the yellow warbler.   In fact, it's an odd feeling seeing a yellow warbler in a mango tree.  At home I often see them along the river near my house, but perched in willows and cottonwood trees.  Seeing our Wyoming birds in their winter habitat, it's easy to get the connection between place.

The reserve has its own fruit and vegetable production. Pineapple, passion fruit, cactus fruit (Pitahaya), lemon, bananas, squash, and other food is grown within part of the reserve. Therefore the meals served are very fresh and the coffee was excellent, of course. For dinner one night we had delicious homemade squash soup.

There are several paths for hiking - ranging from 30 minutes to 2 1/2 hours. Guides are provided by the reserve; in fact you are required to walk with one.  Without a doubt, this enhances your enjoyment of Montibelli as the guides are very knowledgeable.  If you visit Chocoyero-El Brujo Natural Reserve, which is right down the road, a guide from Montibelli will also accompany you.  Again, the guides are great and will point out things you might otherwise miss. 

Early am bird walk with our guide Alejandro, walking through plantains.
I liked everything about our stay here ~ the beautiful setting, the basic but pretty accommodations, the helpful staff, the good food, the knowledgeable guides, the efficient driver that Montibelli arranged for us, and the ease of contacting them and their help with planning our trip.  It is an easy place to take kids, especially if they are easily entertained by the great outdoors!  And most of all, even though we weren't there at the best time of year for birdwatching, it was still really good.

 Gathering breakfast ~ mangoes.  You'd think it would be challenging to wake a 9-year old up at 5:30 am on vacation, but we could hardly sleep in with the sound of the cicadas and howler monkeys.  Plus she was very excited to go birding, just with her mommy.

 Doing homework.

Always zip your bags in the tropics.We found this little guy in my suitcase. 

Playing with an orphaned squirrel.

If traveling on your own, it seems like this would be a little hard to find unless you are familiar with the area.  See for directions.  Also see for more information.

Our bird list:
Tropical Kingbird
Long Tailed Manakin
Black Headed Trogon
Turquoise Browed Motmot
Blue Crowned Motmot
Orange Chinned Parakeet
Northern Oriole
Yellow Warbler
Clay Colored Robin
Pacific Parakeet
Cinnamon Hummingbird
Rufous Wren
Clay Colored Wren
Barred Antshrike (way cool!)

Cicadas in the morning.

Do-Over Scoop:  I highly recommend a visit to Montibelli.  It is so close to Managua but it seems a world away. I would spend at least two nights and one full day on the reserve, relaxing at the cabin during the heat of the day and going on am and pm bird walks.  Be sure to spend a full afternoon or full morning at nearby El Chocoyero.  The guides at Montibelli will take you to where the parakeets are roosting or nesting.