Oaxaca with Uxpanapa Road into Veracruz - January 14th - 22nd 2005

Published by Brad Benter (brad_benter AT fws.gov)

Participants: Brad Benter, Mike Brady, Randall Davis,Thomas Evans


This report is directed at target birds, a summary of the 370 species we found can be requested by e-mail from the author. Brad_Benter@fws.gov

1/13/05: Arrive Oaxaca City 22:00.
1/14: Monte Alban and Garbage Gulch Area.
1/15: La Cumbre and Teotitlan de Valle.
1/16: Monte Alban, drive towards Puerto Angel with a stop at the White-throated Jay spot and La Soledad.
1/17: La Soledad, the bus stop side track and tracks outside Playa Zipolite.
1/18: Playa Zipolite tracks, a drive to Tehuantepec with a stop outside Huatulco and a stop just outside Tehuantepec.
1/19: Areas outside Tehuantepec, a drive to Tepanatepec then on to Uxpanapa Road.
1/20: Uxpanapa Road then a drive to .
1/21: Valle National from Km 91 back to .
1/22: Valle National from Km 46 to Km 108 then the drive to Oaxaca City with a stop at Monte Alban.
1/23: Back to Alaska 0:800.

Four friends met at the Oaxaca airport on the night of January 13.  We picked up our rental car from hertz, a dodge Stratus that would be returned in two days as it had no clearance and dragged over every speed bump (tope) we crossed.  Our second vehicle was a Jeep Liberty, perfect for the poor roads found around Oaxaca.   First night was spent in the Fiesta Inn ($100 per room). 

First light found us at the gate to Monte Alban.   We hiked the 1/2 Km to the parking area and started birding here.  This was not the best plan as most all the endemics were later to be found on the brushy trails outside the ruins.  Good spots included the trails behind tomb seven near the parking area (a jump over a new fence is required to access the brushy area), the flowering trees on the hill just beyond the entrance gate (38 peso fee), and the “nature trail” area through the pines, north west of the ruins.  A good breakfast was available in the visitor center.  This area was birded the morning of 1/14, 1/16 and for two hours in the evening of 1/22. Target birds we located were Dusky (20+) and Beautiful (only one male & a few females) Hummingbirds, Gray-breasted Woodpecker (3 birds), Pileated Flycatcher (only 1 bird), Slaty Vireo (I saw at least 5 birds while others in our group missed this skulker), Dwarf Vireo (3 birds, also skulky), White-throated Towhee (common with dozens seen per hour), Oaxaca Sparrow (4 birds seen well).  In all, this set of birds came fairly easily, all without tapes.  We managed to briefly see two unidentifiable thrashers between the four of us in no less than 12 hours of birding here.  Ocellated thrasher was a hard to swallow miss.

In the afternoon we birded the area between 5 to 9 Km up highway175 from the intersection of highway 190 (garbage gulch and areas along the river).  Along the river here we added Bridled Sparrow (3 birds) as well as seeing more Oaxaca Sparrows.  Second night was again at the Fiesta Inn.

Pre-dawn birding thru early afternoon at La Cumbre.  A fee of 50 pesos per person was requested.  We only birded the track to the north (left). We were lucky enough to run into no less than five mixed flocks that contained Dwarf Jays (35+ birds) on the track that runs down to the creek on left side, about 3 Km in from highway 175.  Other target and good birds seen here were Garnet-throated Hummingbird (1 bird), Aztec Thrush (1 Bird), Rufous-capped Brush-finch (6-8 Birds), Gray-barred Wrens (40+) and several of the crowd pleasing Red Warbler (10+).  Tom found a pair of Red-capped Manakins about 1 Km up the road from the previously mentioned track.  The male was zipping back and forth between a mossy covered limb and a vine making snapping noises trying to impress a female.

An afternoon was spent on the hillsides above Teotitlan de Valle, again searching for, and missing, Ocellated Thrasher.  We did pick up West Mexican Chachalaca near the Reservoir and Boucard’s Wren in a pipe cactus here.  The reservoir area provided some exciting birding and an amazing nighthawk display at sunset.  That night was spent in the Columbia Hotel, approximately 3 Km up 175 from 190.  Quite a noisy, “odd” place. 

The next morning (1/16/05) we set out to revisit La Cumbre, but upon approach the winds were gusting over 40mph, so we decided to head towards the coast, after another non-productive search for Ocellated thrasher at Monte Alban.  A good part of the day was spent driving towards Puerto Angel.  A hurried stop on a track before Km 158 to look for White-throated jay was a great break in the driving.  We managed to locate several Stellar’s, but no White-throated jays here.  We arrived at La Soledad with only a few hours of light left.  A recent land slide filling the pullout made it difficult to find the spot.  We were awarded with poor light views of the Blue-capped Hummingbird (2).  The next two nights were spent in a small hotel across from the Pemex station on the far side of Puerto Angel.  Nice place if the buses and trucks weren’t so noisy. 

First light found us back at La Soledad.  As we were walking up the road from the car we noticed how birdy the road was.  Many fruiting trees in the area were filled with large mixed flocks of birds.  As we trying to get everyone onto a Waglers’ Emerald Toucanet a flock of jays passed within 30 feet of us.  I was elated to see that they were White-throated Jays (5).  These Jays offered great views off and on for the next hour.  I spent the first two hours birding the road before going down the track. We picked up Green-fronted Hummingbird (2) along with many great birds including Collard Trogan (2), Collard Forest-falcon (1), Mexican Hermit (1), Eye-ringed Flatbill (1), Abeille’s (12) and Dickey’s (2) Oriole.  A Colima Pygmy-owl responded to my whistle, coming to within 40 feet for full frame views. Birding continued to be excellent for the remainder of the morning before going to La Mirador for lunch.  On the way back to Puerto Angel we birded a track off to the left, near a bus stop for a village down the hill.  This track provided non-stop birds for the next two hours.  Here we picked up Black-headed Siskin (3) and White-throated Magpie-jay (15), Red-legged Honeycreeper (5) along with several trip birds we found nowhere else.  Thanks go out to Dave MacKay for the tip.

The last few hours of the day were spent on tracks on the far side of Playa Zipolite where we picked up our first Citroline Trogan, Orange-breasted Buntings (10), Golden-cheeked Woodpecker (2), Lineated Woodpecker (1) and Doubleday’s Hummingbirds (3).

The next morning (1/18) we birded up a long track (dry streambed) uphill from a preschool type facility on the road past Playa Zipolite.  The track has a road off to the right 12 km in, that borders a cornfield and goes into nice thorn forest.  While doing Pygmy-owl whistles I was surprised to call in three Ferruginous and a Colima Pygmy-owl.  The birds seen were similar to the evening before, the best additions were Blue Bunting (2), Happy Wrens (3),Pale-billed Woodpeckers (2) and Yellow-winged Cacique (15).  We headed down to the beach for a few minutes to pick up as many new trip birds as we could.  Mike commented on how strange a Mexican vacation we were having, trying to get away from the beach as fast as we could.

The remainder of the day was spent driving towards Tehuantepec with a stop at a dry arroyo 25 km past Hualtulco.  This stop produced Red-breasted Chat (1) along with a good supply of ticks.  We were lucky enough to see more West Mexican Chachalacas (2) on the drive. Soon after leaving the freeway we stopped at a recommended spot for Sumichrast’s sparrow.  The area did provide great looks at Lesser Road-runner (1) and Stripe-headed Sparrow (5) but only possible Sumichrast’s as the sun was setting and the thorn scrub was impenetrable.   That night was spent in a nice hotel, Guiexhoba about a mile past the prison before you go over the bridge.

The next morning (1/19) had us chasing Sumichrast’s sparrow with little luck.  We birded several areas pulling in good birds but not the target.  After two hours we decided to go to Howell’s spot at Km 244.  We again split up with Mike going down a track to the north and Randall and Tom going down tracks to the south.  I decided to bird the dry grass under the power lines next to the road.  Within 100 feet of starting out I was on the radio with a report of five Sumichrast’s Sparrows in a bush 10 feet in front of me.  What a great looking sparrow. 

It was still early so we made a decision to try for Rosita’s Bunting.  The wind was really cooking (gusting over 70 mph) on the drive over to Tepanatepec, moving our jeep from lane to lane at times and making me think we had little chance of seeing any birds.  We stopped at a wet area for a break, picking up Green Parakeet (2) in the brush and several Northern Jacanas (12) on the floating vegetation.  The wind was blowing so hard we were forced to move due to the sandblasting we were receiving.  Upon arrival at the area 10km past the intersection of highways190 and 200 we parked and crossed the road to bird a gully going up hill.  I decided to try a pygmy owl whistle, blowing as hard as I could to compete with the wind.  To our surprise within a minute we had a beautiful male Rosita’s Bunting (1) looking down from above.  Additional beauties included Canivet’s Emerald (2) and several Orange-breasted Buntings (5).  It was still early so we decided to try work our way to the Uxpanapa road north of Matias Romero.  Due to road construction and limited time we only birded the first 20 km of the road today.  Birding was excellent, driving slowly stopping for mixed feeding flocks.  We also birded two small roads and an orchard about 12km in from highway185.  Some of the best birds located this afternoon included Black-throated Shrike-tanager (2), Yellow-winged Tanager (25+), Band-backed Wren (6), Gray-headed Doves (15) and Yellow bold">-bellied Tyrannulet (2).   That night was spent in a hotel in Matias Romero, about a half hour back down highway185. 

After seeing the condition of the road we decided to give ourselves an hour and a half before daylight to get to the bridge 41 km down the Uxpanapa road.  At first light we worked a track off to the south about 1 km before the bridge.  For the first time on the trip we decided to try a tape.  While testing my MP-3 system and getting the speaker adjusted at first light I got an immediate response from a Nava’s wren from 30 meters up the limestone slope.  I was able to get responses from 3 different birds on this track, all immediate to the first attempt, then no additional response.  I am sure the birds here are quite familiar with the tape and pass it off quite rapidly this time of year.  We birded this area for the first three hours of the morning.  I went back to an area where I had a response early in the morning and sat still for about ten minutes.  I then played the recording once and shut it down.  I again got a response and within a few minutes a Nava’s Wren worked past me within ten meters.  Other highlights of this area included White Hawk (1), Long-tailed Sabrewing (2),  White-Bellied Emerald (1) Long-tailed (1) and Little Hermit (3),  Violaceous Trogan (3), Slate-headed Tody-flycatcher (1), Mealy Parrots (4), Blue-crowned Motmot (1),  Collared  Aracari (15), Stub-tailed Spadebill (1),  Northern Bentbill (1), Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher (1),  White-winged Tanager (6), Black-faced Grosbeak (4), Smokey-Brown Woodpecker (1), and a cooperative Crested Guan eyeing the area from a tall tree. A male Slaty Finch was seen well by Tom as it moved through an open area adjacent to uncut stands of moist humid rainforest characteristic of this area. We then birded the track running north alongside the river looking for a jacamar, without luck. We did have a nice chat with the very friendly police unit set up on the bridge checking vehicles.  They were familiar with birders and showed quite an interest in what we were seeing.  For the rest of the day we birded our way back toward highway185.  We ran into several nice feeding flocks in the forested areas, consisting mainly of warblers, euphonias and tanagers, Brown Jays (20), woodpeckers, woodcreepers and other common birds in the area.

We spent the rest of the day driving to Tuxtepec, stopping at a few spots on the way and picking up a few Atlantic slope trip birds.  That night was spent in the Hotel Villa Esmeralda, quite nice and comfortable.  It was our plan to bird the area above Valle National from Km 95 back down to Tuxtepec before the banks closed.  Today (1/21) would prove to be some of the best birding of the trip.  Birding remained active and productive all day.  First light had us at about Km 80, we birded from here to Km 91 for the first several hours of the day.   Birding started out with a nice flock of Azure-hooded jays (3), Collard Trogan (1), and Yellow-billed Cacique (1).  Driving between pullouts we spotted several Slate-colored Solitaires (20), White-napped Brush-finch (4), and Ruddy-capped Nightingale-thrush (12).  Flocks of Common Bush-tanager (100+) were run into at every stop.  Other good birds seen in this area included Emerald Toucanets (10), Unicolored Jays (5), Buff-throated Folage-gleaner (1), Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer (4), Gray-breasted Wood-wren (2), Black-faced Grosbeak (10), Barred Forest-falcon (2) and Crested Guan (4+).  We had a productive Hummingbird stop near Km 80, an old orchard, and cemetery.  The road bank and adjacent gully was in full bloom.  In this area we found Bumblebee (4+), Amethyst-throated (1), Emerald-chinned (1), and Wedge-tailed sabrewing (1).  Our next stop was a dirt road near Km 65 that was running south to a village 3km away.  About 1 Km down this road was a track at a sharp bend going back uphill.  This track had several fruiting trees containing numerous birds.  Some of the highlights included Blue-crowned Chlorophonia (2), Yellow-winged Tanagers (30), Crimson-collard Tanager (6), Golden-hooded Tanager (2), White-winged Tanager (4), and Black-cowled Oriole (8).  Other good birds here included Yellow-billed Cacique (1), Red-crowned (3) and Red-throated Ant-tanagers (8), Bananaquit (1), Black-headed Saltator (2), Golden-olive Woodpecker (2), and Blue-crowned Motmot (1).   The best birds were a pair of Tody Motmots feeding on an ant swarm in this area.  The drive down thru Valle National produced Chestnut-headed Oropendola (10+).  That night was spent in the Villa Esmeralda in Tuxtepec.

The strategy for the next day was to start birding in Valle National Km 46 and end up in Oaxaca City to return the car.  Good birds near the river crossing were Red-lored Parrots (2) and Amazon Kingfisher (2).  We spent most of the morning birding the area below about Km 60 along with the track from the day before (which still had the Tody Motmots).  The best birds were Violet Sabre-wing (2), White-bellied emerald (2), Azure-crowned Hummingbird (1) and Black-crested Coquette (2).  We made a few stops around Km 80 to photograph Hummingbirds then off towards Oaxaca City.  One stop in the pine forest produced a good assortment of warblers including Crescent-chested and Red Warblers. 

We made the decision to pass up La Cumbre and to make one more try for Ocellated Thrasher at Monte Alban.  We put in another two hours here, but only Dwarf Vireo (2) made a good showing along with the more common birds of the area.

We returned the rental car and were given a free ride to the Fiesta Inn.  That night we took a taxi to Casa de la Abuela restaurant in the center of town for a great final Mexican send off.  It was Saturday night and the square had a carnival like atmosphere.  We all purchased treasures to take home with us and started to plan for our next trip.