Mike Andersen, New York, Ken Behrens, Pennsylvania, Nick Block, Texas, Mike Freiberg, Iowa, Pete Hosner, Michigan, Alex Merritt, Virginia, Christian Nunes, Rhode Island, Jay Packer, Texas, Michael Retter, Illinois, Justin Rink, Illinois
This is an overdue trip report documenting a three-week trip to México. Ten college-aged birders drove from the U.S. border as far south as Chiapas and back. Due to scheduling restraints, our group of two cars had to split up on the night of 7 January 2003 at Puerto Arista, Chiapas. At this point, one group returned back to the States via Uxpanapa Road, Veracruz, while the other spent an extra week exploring Chiapas. The pace of this trip was very fast. We were up at sunrise almost every day and spent much of the day birding with little down time for meals. A better part of our evenings were spent driving from one birding location to the next, leaving us with little more than five to six hours of sleep per night. When possible, we camped to minimize cost. Often times, the best (or only) available campsite was on the roadside near the next morning's birding location. While this pace enabled us to cover a considerable distance, we had less time to observe, study, and/or photograph the birds than some may desire.
We used Howell's A Bird-Finding Guide to México as our primary bird-finding guide. The numbers in parentheses following locations refer to sites in this book. We do not make any attempt to provide further directions unless we feel the need is warranted or the site is not mentioned in Howell. Throughout our trip we found the Lonely Planet guide to México to be of utmost use for finding inexpensive hotels and restaurants. In addition, this book has phenomenally detailed maps of major, as well as many minor, towns throughout the country. Finally, Howell and Webb's A Guide to the Birds of México and Northern Central America is the field guide to use. All monetary amounts are in pesos. The exchange rate was approximately 10 pesos to one U.S. dollar.
28 December: Cross border at Brownsville. Drive through the afternoon. Night: El Tajín ruins, Veracruz (off Highway 180 just south of Poza Rica; not in Howell).
29 December: AM: Bird El Tajín ruins. Drive to Tecolutla (10-1). PM: Bird Tecolutla. Drive to Colonia Francisco Barrios, Veracruz (10-4). Night: Hotel in Córdoba.
30 December: AM: Bird Amatlán, Veracruz (10-3). PM: Back to Colonia Francisco Barrios (10-4). Drive south to Sierra de los Tuxtlas, Veracruz (10-6). Night: Camping in Los Tuxtlas.
31 December: AM: Bird Los Tuxtlas, including UNAM Biological Station. PM: Drive to Montepío. Back to Biological Station to bird in late afternoon to dusk. Night: Camping in Los Tuxtlas.
1 January: AM: Bird Los Tuxtlas. PM: Lake Catemaco. Night: Drive to near Bastonal.
2 January: AM: Bird high elevation remnant forest near Bastonal. PM: Bird La Jungla on Lake Catemaco shoreline. Drive to Tuxtepec. Night: Hotel in Tuxtepec.
3 January: Drive and bird Highway 175 from Valle Nacional, Oaxaca, to Continental Divide (11-7). Night: Camping on roadside on Atlantic Slope (about 10 km shy of Continental Divide).
4 January: AM: Bird cloud forest and humid pine-oak forest on Highway 175 from KM 94 on. PM: La Cumbre/Cerro San Felipe, Highway 175, Oaxaca (11-5). Night: Camping on roadside to Monte Albán, Oaxaca (11-1).
5 January: AM: Bird Monte Albán ruins, Oaxaca (11-1). PM: Bird Highway 175 north of Oaxaca. Drive south on Highway 175 (11-9) toward Puerto Angel. Night: Roadside camping at KM 158-159.
6 January: AM: Continue birding Highway 175 (11-9) south toward Puerto Angel, Oaxaca. PM: Descend to Puerto Angel (11-10). Bird bluffs from Zipolite (northwest of Puerto Angel). Night: Drive to Tehuantepec, Oaxaca. Hotel in Tehuantepec.
7 January: AM: Bird Highway 190 at KM 244 west of Tehuantepec, Oaxaca (11-13). PM: Drive to Puerto Arista, Chiapas (12-3). Night: Our group of two cars split this night. One going back north to USA camped on the beach in Puerto Arista. One going into Chiapas stayed at a hotel in on the way to Tuxtla Gutiérrez.
8 January: AM: Puerto Arista, Chiapas (12-3). Drive to Uxpanapa Road. PM: Uxpanapa Road, Oaxaca (10-7). Night: Camping on Uxpanapa Road.
9 January: AM: Bird Uxpanapa Road, Oaxaca (10-7). PM: Drive to Las Barrancas, Veracruz (10-5). Night: Camp in field at Las Barrancas.
10 January: AM: Bird Las Barrancas, Veracruz (10-5). PM: Drive to USA border. Cross border. Night: Brownsville, Texas, USA.
8 January: AM: El Sumidero, Chiapas (12-1). PM: San Cristóbal area, Chiapas (12-8). Night: Hotel in Tuxtla Gutiérrez
9 January: AM: Drive to Finca Prusia, Chiapas. PM: Hike to El Triunfo (12-9). Night: El Triunfo Base Camp
10 January: AM: Palo Gordo Trail at El Triunfo (12-9). PM: Palo Gordo Trail and Base Camp. Night: El Triunfo Base Camp.
11 January: AM: Hike to Cañada Honda. PM: Cañada Honda area. Night: Camping at Cañada Honda.
12 January: AM: Cañada Honda area. Start hike to base camp. PM: Hike to base camp. Night: EL Triunfo Base Camp.
13 January: AM: Hike to Finca Prusia. PM: Drive to San Cristóbal. Night: Hotel in San Cristóbal.
14 January: AM: KM 2 on Highway 199 toward Ocosingo, Chiapas (12-8). PM: Mapastepec microwave Valley, Chiapas (12-4). Night: Hotel in Mapastepec.
15 January: AM: Mapastepec Microwave Valley, Chiapas (12-4). PM: Drive toward Uxpanapa Road, Veracruz (10-7). Night: Hotel in Piedra Blanca mentioned in Howell.
16 January: AM: Uxpanapa Road, Veracruz (10-7). PM: Drive toward Las Barrancas, Veracruz (10-5). Night: Hotel near Las Barrancas.
17 January: AM: Las Barrancas, Veracruz (10-5). PM: Tecolutla (10-1). Drive to El Naranjo area, San Luis Potosí (4-5). Night: Camping on El Maguey Road.
18 January: AM: El Naranjo area, San Luis Potosí (4-5). PM: Drive to Brownsville, Texas, USA. Night: Hotel in Brownsville.
28 December 2002
We purchased insurance from Sanborn's and filled up with premium gas (so it would mix with the lesser grades at our first Pemex station) in Brownsville, Texas, before crossing the International Bridge at 11 a.m. In Matamoros, we purchased individual tourist cards for approximately 190 pesos each as well as mandatory car permits. We stopped at the Soriana (grocery chain) down the road to exchange our money and shop for groceries. Finally, after a slight turnaround in Matamoros due to confusing signs, we were on our way.
The drive south on Highway 101/180 into the state of Veracruz was accompanied by the usual assortment of roadside Tamaulipan birds, including GRAY, ROADSIDE, and WHITE-TAILED HAWKS; LONG-BILLED CURLEW; GREATER ROADRUNNER; and TAMAULIPAS CROW. In addition, we saw four different flocks of EURASIAN COLLARED DOVES of about 100 individuals in total. All birds were seen north of the junction to Ciudad Victoria along Highway 101/180.
We made it all the way to the El Tajín ruins near Poza Rica in the state of Veracruz. Due to our late start out of Brownsville, we did not make it to our goal destination of Tecolutla. Instead, we pulled into the parking lot of the ruins and made camp between midnight and 1 a.m. At least three MOTTLED OWLS serenaded us to sleep.
29 December 2002
We woke to the sounds CRESTED GUAN and displaying MONTEZUMA OROPENDOLAS. The oropendolas were rather common throughout the remainder of the trip within their range. Good views of an eye-level ROADSIDE HAWK were enjoyed by all while standing atop one of the ruins. At this same spot we watched CANIVET'S EMERALD; WEDGE-TAILED SABREWING; and BROAD-BILLED, BUFF-BELLIED and RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRDS. In general, this was a very birdy spot with good views of a remarkable diversity of species. At least one GRAY-COLLARED BECARD was right above a lekking sabrewing, and great views of RED-LORED PARROTS were had by all. Other birds included MUSCOVY DUCK, INCA DOVE, COMMON GROUND-DOVE, WHITE-TIPPED DOVE, WHITE-CROWNED PARROT, GOLDEN-FRONTED WOODPECKER, VERMILION FLYCATCHER, ROSE-THROATED BECARD, MASKED TITYRA, PHILADELPHIA VIREO, BLACK-CRESTED TITMOUSE, CLAY-COLORED ROBIN, TROPICAL PARULA, YELLOW-THROATED EUPHONIA, BLUE-BLACK and YELLOW-FACED GRASSQUITS, BLUE BUNTING, and BLACK-HEADED SALTATOR.
Next, we drove to Tecolutla (10-1) to look for Altamira Yellowthroat in the marshes as described in Howell. We walked the dike about one mile out into the marsh. It took a while, but after two hours, all ten of us had satisfactory looks at ALTAMIRA YELLOWTHROAT. Some were fortunate enough to see a male remarkably well - long enough to obtain some video footage. While searching for the yellowthroats, we saw a pair of APLOMADO FALCONS followed by a PEREGRINE FALCON over the marsh. Many keen eyes finally tracked down a LESSER YELLOW-HEADED VULTURE as it soared overhead and then cruised low over the marsh at eye level. It perched on a snag about 100 meters away. As it turned its head, we could see shades of blue interchanging with yellow and pink. Other birds here included RUDDY CRAKE (heard only), MARSH WREN, and numerous North American migrants.
On the drive south on Highway 180 from Tecolutla to Colonia Francisco Barrios, Veracruz (10-4), we had a nice selection of birds, including an OCHRE [ORCHARD] ORIOLE, COMMON BLACK-HAWK, two APLOMADO FALCONS, two LAUGHING FALCONS, GREEN PARAKEETS, and an AMAZON KINGFISHER. The Ochre Oriole was surprising at this time of year. We were well within its summer breeding range, but they should be no closer than Oaxaca in late December, according to Howell and Webb. We were stopped at the tollbooth at Puente Nautla and were thus afforded a decent look as it flew across the road and perched in a roadside tree.
We arrived at Colonia Francisco Barrios (10-4) at 5 p.m., leaving only about one hour of sunlight. Our group split up three ways to cover more ground in hopes of turning up either Mexican Sheartail or the nominate subspecies of Rufous-naped Wren. After about ½ hour of searching, a few of us located a small group of RUFOUS-NAPED WRENS about ½ mile north of Highway 125 where the thicker thorn scrub begins. Based on our brief observations, this population seems like a good candidate for a taxonomic split in the future. As depicted in Howell and Webb, these wrens look more similar to Spotted Wren, Campylorhynchus gularis, than either of the other two Mexican races of C. rufinucha.
Some members of our group had fleeting looks at female MEXICAN SHEARTAILS. One made infrequent but repeated feeding trips to the little corral near the roadside pull-off. Other birds of interest here included BAT FALCON, LESSER NIGHTHAWK, FERRUGINOUS PYGMY-OWL, numerous BALTIMORE and ORCHARD ORIOLES, and LARK SPARROWS. A pair of LAUGHING FALCONS dueted as we left for Córdoba.
30 December 2002
We awoke early this morning to bird Amatlán, Veracruz (10-3). Our goal for this site was the endemic SUMICHRAST'S WREN. We heard at least one singing deep within the forest. Despite modest taping, we were unable to observe this species. This site, however, was not without its rewarding species. On the whole, this was one of the birdier spots of the trip. Species observed included lingering BROAD-WINGED and dark-morph SHORT-TAILED HAWKS; WHITE-CROWNED PARROT; SQUIRREL CUCKOO; FERRUGINOUS PYGMY-OWL (seen); WHITE-COLLARED SWIFT; STRIPE-THROATED HERMIT; WEDGE-TAILED SABREWING; WHITE-BELLIED EMERALD; BUFF-BELLIED HUMMINGBIRD; VIOLACEOUS TROGON; BLUE-CROWNED MOTMOT; OLIVACEOUS WOODCREEPER; OCHRE-BELLIED, YELLOW-OLIVE, and TUFTED FLYCATCHERS; MASKED and BLACK-CROWNED TITYRAS; BAND-BACKED and SPOT-BREASTED WRENS; WHITE-BREASTED WOOD-WRENS (common throughout lowland Atlantic forests on this trip); TROPICAL PARULA; FAN-TAILED, GOLDEN-CROWNED and RUFOUS-CAPPED WARBLERS; RED-THROATED ANT-TANAGER; WHITE-WINGED TANAGER; BLACK-HEADED SALTATOR; and RUSTY SPARROW. In addition to the birds (and stellar views of North America's third tallest peak), we were treated to numerous tropical butterflies upon returning to our cars at the quarry. The more notable species included Rusty-tipped Page, Cracker species, various Heliconians, and a few Eighty-eights, one of which landed on our bumper. Lastly, we would like to caution future visitors, as sections of this trail were moderately steep and treacherously slippery. This trail is used by locals with pack mules resulting in an excessive amount of smooth limestone coated in mud. Despite these conditions, we highly recommend this location for both birds and butterflies.
Note: The trail we took was past the quarry on the left. We drove past the quarry, and then parked along a small track to the left overlooking the quarry. This may not be the same trail mentioned in Howell. At the time, we thought it was, but the trail did not level out after a few hundred meters like he says. His trail may leave from next to the quarry entrance itself back down the road a short distance.
After leaving Amatlán, we returned to Colonia Francisco Barrios to resume the search for a male MEXICAN SHEARTAIL. With a little more time, we still managed to glimpse only the female at the roadside corral.
This evening was devoted solely to driving south along the coastal Highway 180 to the Sierra de Los Tuxtlas (10-6). We camped on the first road to the right past the road to Coyame and Tebanca (see map on page 203 of Howell). Our hopes were to put ourselves within the "remnant montane rain forest" patches for the next morning's birding.
31 December 2002
The morning of New Year's Eve saw us walking up into montane rainforest. Before long, a thick fog rolled in, making birding near impossible. As per Howell's advice, we descended to lowland rainforest along the road to Montepío in hopes of finding a "fallout" of higher elevation species there. The road passes through long stretches of deforested hillsides. The only species of note was the buff-throated subspecies of BLACK-HEADED SALTATOR. It was not until we reached the UNAM Biological Station that we found a nice collection of lowland rainforest birds . . . along with some very heavy downpours. KEEL-BILLED TOUCANS, COLLARED ARAÇARIS, and an OLIVE-BACKED EUPHONIA met us at the parking lot to the station. The walk up the wide trail to the dormitories produced good looks at RED-CROWNED ANT-TANAGERS. We took shelter under the dormitory eaves during a heavy rain and were rewarded with excellent views of a nectaring LONG-TAILED SABREWING and STRIPED-THROATED HERMIT. Between walks at the station, we drove to the coast for lunch at Montepío. A quick check of the beach yielded a family of NORTHERN JAÇANAS, MAGNIFICENT FRIGATEBIRDS, and one distant COMMON BLACK-HAWK.
Back at the biological station, we ventured deeper into the forest where a mixed species flock included female BLACK-THROATED SHRIKE-TANAGERS; OLIVACEOUS, IVORY-BILLED, and STREAK-HEADED WOODCREEPERS; PLAIN XENOPS; COLLARED FOREST-FALCON (heard); a male RED-CAPPED MANAKIN; SEPIA-CAPPED FLYCATCHER; WORM-EATING WARBLER, and SWAINSON'S THRUSH. At dusk we heard a GREAT TINAMOU, numerous MOTTLED OWLS, and another owl-like bird that gave infrequent, single raspy hoots (more like squawks). Despite the station's many bright streetlights, it took a rather powerful Q-Beam to spot this awesome BLACK-AND-WHITE OWL. According to Howell and Webb, this species often feeds near bright sources of light at the forest edge.
We returned to our previous night's campsite in hopes of birding the montane rainforest in better weather in the morning.
1 January 2003
We birded this road all morning. The group split up - one up the road and one back down. Both groups were rewarded with good, but different, species. PLAIN-BREASTED [CHESTNUT-CAPPED] BRUSHFINCHES were seen by all, some more easily than others. Both newly split species of hermits, LONG-BILLED (from Long-tailed) and STRIPE-THROATED (from Little), were also seen frequently at roadside flowers. One person was also lucky enough to flush a TUXTLA QUAIL-DOVE from right next to road at dawn. Other notable species included TODY MOTMOT; BUFF-THROATED FOLIAGE-GLEANER; YELLOW-BELLIED TYRANNULET; BLUE-HOODED (ELEGANT), SCRUB and OLIVE-BACKED EUPHONIAS; WHITE HAWK; CRIMSON-COLLARED TANAGER; BLUE BUNTING; COLLARED TROGON; and RUFOUS-BREASTED SPINETAIL.
We descended to Catemaco for lunch where we watched an adult SNAIL KITE feed on snails while we, too, fed on a plate of . . . snails . . . at a lakeside restaurant next to the bus stop. We also saw a few YELLOW-THROATED EUPHONIAS in the lakeside willows, along a few FORSTER'S TERNS.
At this point, the story goes awry for the next seven hours. We made a rather futile attempt at driving up a road toward Bastonal in hopes of seeing TUXTLA QUAIL-DOVE. After asking numerous people for directions to Bastonal, most of whom did not recognize the name, we finally found what we believe to be the best road. This is not the road mentioned in Howell; that road was also pointed out by locals but is probably no longer passable, even with four-wheel drive. The road recommended by the locals is actually the road to Miguel Hidalgo. Past Miguel Hidalgo, if you go far enough, it will apparently reach Bastonal, but we did not go that far. So if you are adventurous enough to try to get to the remnant rainforest here, ask for directions to Miguel Hidalgo. To get there, go past Tebanca to a long straight drive to the left that is lined with tall Australian pine trees that look as though they have no business being there amidst the cleared rainforest. As per the directions we received from the locals, we took this road up into the sierra as night fell upon us. Although this is the better road of the two to Bastonal, it is still only passable in high-clearance, four-wheel drive vehicles. Getting to Miguel Hidalgo is fairly easy because much of the road is lined with dual cements tracks for traction, but the road gets extremely difficult past the small town. It took us about three hours in a Jeep Cherokee and an Isuzu Trooper to climb up to the plateau where very small patches of forest still exist. All the while, we were dodging enormous ruts and mud, and the Cherokee did get hung up once. For much of this moonlit drive, we passed through undulating cattle pasture, where the road was hard to follow, with much evidence of felled forests. Once we finally found a track of forest that seemed suitable for birding in the morning, we stopped and made camp, utterly exhausted and frustrated by our decision to drive this far knowing all too well we would have to make the descent in the morning. PAURAQUES were seen intermittently along the drive.
2 January 2003
With the morning came more fog and the dawning realization that this track of forest was scarcely 200 meters wide along the road. Nevertheless, we set off in hopes of flushing a quail-dove. VIOLACEOUS TROGON, BLUE-CROWNED MOTMOT, and BUFF-THROATED FOLIAGE-GLEANER were seen, but not much else. With ten people, we thought it wise to create a line and march through the forest much the same way a group would conduct a deer drive. Only a small number of us were fortunate enough to flush a TUXTLA QUAIL-DOVE from the forest floor. As luck would have it, those same people flushed it a second time ten minutes later.
The descent was slow, but not without a few interesting birds. A raptor gave us pause for more than fifteen minutes while we deliberated with only one scope. We finally decided on a male dark-morph HOOK-BILLED KITE. A LAUGHING FALCON was also in the vicinity. Further down the road, just above the village of Miguel Hidalgo, we had good looks at a gorgeous male BLACK-CRESTED COQUETTE perched next to the front car. Elsewhere in the village, we saw OCHRE-BELLIED FLYCATCHER, RUFOUS-TAILED HUMMINGBIRD, YELLOW-FACED GRASSQUIT, and MELODIOUS BLACKBIRD. We heard a SLATE-COLORED SOLITAIRE singing - undoubtedly a caged bird from someone's porch. All told, from the top of the sierra where we camped to the base of the road at the row of pine trees, we traveled a meager 7.2 miles. It took three hours to ascend and about two to descend.
In an attempt to abate our frustrations, we stopped at La Jungla (preserve?) along the northwest shore of Lake Catemaco. An entrance fee is apparently charged here, but we left our cars at the entrance and walked in. After a quick cheese-and-crackers lunch, we hit the trails. The only mixed flock of birds we saw was fairly close to the entrance. Notable were numerous ant-tanagers and the rufous subspecies of DUSKY-CAPPED FLYCATCHER (Myiarchus tuberculifer lawrencei). About four KEEL-BILLED TOUCANS were fun to watch as they were blown about in the tops of 100-foot-tall trees. The bird of the day, however, was a distant, but spectacularly spotted, SUNGREBE swimming on the opposite shore of a small lagoon on Lake Catemaco. Rivaling the Sungrebe was a very cold Bothrops asper (Fer-de-lance) coiled along the side of a trail.
The late afternoon and evening were spent driving inland to Tuxtepec, Oaxaca. We spent the night in a hotel, the Villa Esmerelda, in Tuxtepec, although we had had intentions of making it to Valle Nacional. Our utter lack of sleep had finally caught up to us, however, and we stopped at about 11 p.m.
3 January 2003
We woke early to drive to Valle Nacional, where we filled up at a Pemex - highly recommended here. Just outside of town, we stopped at a bridge to look at an AMAZON KINGFISHER and were rewarded with great studies of a swimming Central American River Otter, Lutra longicaudis annectens. The day was devoted to birding Highway 175 south of Valle Nacional, Oaxaca (11-7). This road bisects the Continental Divide starting in low elevation rainforest and climbing through cloud forest up to humid pine-oak forest at the divide. This stretch of road is as close to completely untouched by loggers as we have seen in the neotropics. With the exception of the valley floor, the extremely steep slopes of this range were covered in beautifully lush tropical vegetation. There are ample places to pull off on this road - it would behoove birders to utilize as many of them as time permits. This site, more than any other on our trip, is one we should not have rushed as much as we did. Despite our pace, we did manage to see many phenomenal birds along this route. The next three paragraphs are divided based on the three major life zones we focused on.
Right off the bat, we found large mixed species flocks - far better than anything we found in Los Tuxtlas. LONG-TAILED and STRIPE-TAILED HERMITS; WEDGE-TAILED SABREWING; CANIVET'S EMERALD; RUFOUS-TAILED and AZURE-CROWNED HUMMINGBIRDS; BLACK-HEADED TROGON; OLIVACEOUS and IVORY-BILLED WOODCREEPERS; SEPIA-CAPPED FLYCATCHER; MASKED TITYRA; a female WHITE-COLLARED MANAKIN; WHITE-EYED VIREO (odd?); LESSER GREENLET; WHITE-BREASTED WOOD-WREN; TROPICAL PARULA; BANANAQUIT; GREEN HONEYCREEPER; CRIMSON-COLLARED and WHITE-WINGED TANAGERS (10+ in one tree); OLIVE-BACKED EUPHONIA; YELLOW-FACED GRASSQUIT; BLACK-HEADED, BUFF-THROATED, and GRAYISH SALTATORS in one tree; and BLACK-COWLED ORIOLE.
Howell states that above KM marker 71, one enters cloud forest. Here we saw the following: BAT FALCON (odd at this elevation); BROWN-HOODED PARROT; VIOLET SABREWING; WHITE-BELLIED EMERALD; EMERALD-CHINNED, and BUMBLEBEE HUMMINGBIRDS; AMETHYST-THROATED MOUNTAIN-GEM (HUMMINGBIRD); MOUNTAIN TROGON (heard); EMERALD TOUCANET (heard); GOLDEN-OLIVE WOODPECKER; PALE-BILLED WOODPECKER; UNICOLORED JAY; GRAY-BREASTED WOOD-WREN; SLATE-COLORED SOLITAIRE; GOLDEN-BROWED WARBLER; BLUE-HOODED (ELEGANT) EUPHONIA; BLUE-CROWNED CHLOROPHONIA, CINNAMON-BELLIED FLOWERPIERCER; and WHITE-NAPED BRUSHFINCH.
As the afternoon waned, we climbed higher to the humid pine-oak/cloud forest transition zone around KM 102. We immediately hit a belt of fog, which made jay identifications rather difficult. In a mixed species flock with AZURE-HOODED JAYS, we saw a couple smaller-sized jays fly through the fog, which would prove to be the trip's only DWARF JAYS. Due to the fog, we retired back to the upper reaches of the cloud forest to camp in a large clearing alongside the road. This night was the coldest of the trip. At nearly 10,000 feet elevation, the temperatures dipped into the lower twenties - the cold did not stop the streak of MOTTLED OWLS we enjoyed at every campsite on the trip thus far.
4 January 2003 (Zoothera Day)
We woke to a chorus of four or five SLATE-COLORED SOLITAIRES. This morning was spent in humid pine-oak forest past KM 104 where hummingbirds were both diverse and numerous. Birds recorded this morning included WHITE-EARED, GARNET-THROATED, and BUMBLEBEE HUMMINGBIRDS; AMETHYST-THROATED MOUNTAIN-GEM (HUMMINGBIRD); SPOT-CROWNED WOODCREEPER; TUFTED FLYCATCHER; AZURE-HOODED (at cloud forest campsite at dawn), UNICOLORED, and STELLER'S JAYS; MEXICAN CHICKADEE; BROWN CREEPER; AZTEC THRUSH (5 feeding on berries with silkies (-flycatchers); GRAY-BARRED WREN; BROWN-BACKED SOLITAIRE; GRAY SILKY (-FLYCATCHER); OLIVE, CRESCENT-CHESTED, RED, and GOLDEN-BROWED WARBLERS; SLATE-THROATED WHITESTART (REDSTART); CINNAMON-BELLIED FLOWERPIERCER; YELLOW-EYED JUNCO; and RED CROSSBILL (heard).
As we continued south on Highway 175, we stopped at the bridge near KM 161 mentioned in Howell and found CINNAMON-RUMPED [WHITE-COLLARED] SEEDEATER, VIRGINIA'S WARBLER, VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOW, VERMILION FLYCATCHER, THICK-BILLED and CASSIN'S KINGBIRDS, BLACK PHOEBE, NORTHERN BEARDLESS-TYRANNULET, and a VIOLET-CROWNED HUMMINGBIRD.
At this point, our entire group had not had good looks (or any at all) of Dwarf Jay so we decided to stop at La Cumbre (11-5). After grudgingly paying a modest fee to access the road, we were off. Past trip reports have mentioned that the fee to enter this area was illegitimate. However, it seems to not have been true. There is now a small visitor center at the entrance, which was built using these entrance fees, and the area seems to be a legitimate conservation area. The fees vary depending on how you intend to use the area, however. The fee to bird and observe wildlife in the area is about twice as much as the fee to simply drive around and explore. These fees are posted in the visitor center. Had we not had any binoculars, we could have gotten in for much less. So if you plan to visit this site, we recommend hiding your binoculars and just saying that you wish to look around. If they "catch" you using binoculars, though, they will not let you out if you don't pay the extra money. We did not find any jays, though we met two Canadian birders who had seen two DWARF JAYS earlier that morning. We did find COLLARED TOWHEE, CHESTNUT-CAPPED BRUSHFINCHES, and a pair of RUSSET-NIGHTINGALE THRUSHES. In addition, we saw a few good mixed-species flocks that included the usual assortment of RED, OLIVE, and CRESCENT-CHESTED WARBLERS and SLATE-THROATED WHITESTART (REDSTART).
We took the evening off and enjoyed a night out on Oaxaca's zócalo. After losing ourselves in the maze of serape-selling merchants, we filled up on gas and drove up the road to Monte Albán, where we made camp a bit before the entrance gate.
5 January 2003
We woke at first light with hopes of birding the Monte Albán ruins and surrounding thorn forest before the crowds hit. As luck would have it, we managed to come on a Sunday - the one day per week admission fees are waived, resulting in busloads of Oaxacan tourists. We walked up the road past he closed gate (they open at 8 a.m.), but when we arrived at the ruins, we were told we could not stay and had to wait for them to open. We made due with the birds on the entrance road but felt we would have been better off on the ruin grounds earlier. The group split up far and wide - only partly by design. WHITE-THROATED TOWHEES were quite common along the road. They were one of the first birds to vocalize in the predawn hours. It was not long before we figured out they were towhees and that there were lots of them. DUSKY HUMMINGBIRDS and BLUE MOCKINGBIRDS were also notable on the road. Once on the grounds we slowly turned up one endemic after the other. GRAY-BREASTED WOODPECKER, BOUCARD'S WREN, OCELLATED THRASHER, and BEAUTIFUL HUMMINGBIRD were seen by members of our group. Some of the endemics proved harder to find than others, though. All ten members of our group saw both hummingbirds and the woodpecker without too much trouble. A few saw the wren, while a few heard and only one saw the thrasher. According to previous trip reports and Howell, these endemics are easier to find during the breeding season (spring). It is clear that more than one morning is needed to find all of the possible endemics at this site during the winter months. We planned to bird a selection of other Oaxacan valley sites mentioned in Howell. However, we were set back a few hours when we were inadvertantly locked out of one of the cars. We would be remiss not to plug Sanborn's Insurance for acting as a middleman to translate instructions to a towing company over the phone, though. An ordeal that could have lasted all afternoon took us no more than two hours. Other species seen at Monte Alban included: WHITE-TAILED KITE; BERYLLINE, MAGNIFICENT, RUBY-THROATED, and RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRDS; COMMON RAVEN; CANYON and ROCK WRENS; GRAY SILKY (-FLYCATCHER); BLACK-THROATED GRAY WARBLER; SLATE-THROATED WHITESTART (REDSTART) (odd?); WESTERN TANAGER; RUFOUS-CROWNED SPARROW; VARIED BUNTING; BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK; and SCOTT'S ORIOLE.
Once back on the road, we drove north across the valley up into the foothills to bird a site not mentioned in Howell dubbed Black Tank due to the large, rusted out, black oil tank on the west side of the road. The site is on Highway 175 north of Ciudad Oaxaca about 5-7 km into the foothills. See previously posted trip reports on the internet for more precise directions. In the fading afternoon sun, one member of our group saw a pair of PILEATED FLYCATCHERS up the draw, but neither of the endemic sparrows showed themselves. Also of note were another GRAY-BREASTED WOODPECKER and a pair of BLACK-VENTED ORIOLES. This site looks promising; however, given the time of day and also the season, it only served to fuel our frustrations for finding some of the Oaxacan Valley endemics. While purportedly hosting certain key endemics, this site leaves something to be desired aesthetically. Howell mentioned numerous other sites for these endemics (namely the sparrows and flycatcher), but we cannot recommend them first-hand as we did not give ourselves enough time to visit them.
We crossed back south over the valley and ascended into the Sierra Madre del Sur, where we made camp at the base of a logging track between KM 158 and 159 on Highway 175. We heard COLIMA PYGMY-OWL and some of us were fortunate enough to see a MOTTLED OWL in car headlights. This locale is not specifically cited in Howell, but he does mention a series of logging roads along this stretch of road. We found more detailed directions on a previously published trip report. This spot is notable for White-throated Jay, but the next day's birding would not produce one.
6 January 2003
We were awoken around 2 a.m. by the headlights and diesel engine of a large flatbed truck attempting to pull into the track we had assumed as ours for the night. Fortunately, the driver was quite friendly and understood our intentions. Through some broken Spanish accompanied by hand gestures and copious amounts of smiling, we politely moved our cars and campsite to the corner of the clearing so the driver could pull in. As it turns out, he had arrived about four hours early for a 6 a.m. pickup of a logging tractor scheduled to descend the track the following morning. While not birding related, we relay this incident to further our belief that roadside camping in México can be done safely, and minor incidents such as this can be handled with a little common sense and the benefit of the doubt that most Mexicans will be more than willing to accommodate your situation with kindness and respect.
We awoke just as the tractor was pulling in. After a quick goodbye to the friendly truck driver, we found ourselves upslope looking at numerous lekking GREEN VIOLET-EARS; BERYLLINE, WHITE-EARED, MAGNIFICENT, and BUMBLEBEE HUMMINGBIRDS; BLUE-THROATED and VIOLET-THROATED [AMETHYST-THROATED] MOUNTAIN-GEMS (HUMMINGBIRDS); flyover BAND-TAILED PIGEON; MOUNTAIN TROGON; SPOT-CROWNED WOODCREEPER; BROWN CREEPER; RUDDY-CAPPED NIGHTINGALE-THRUSH; CRESCENT-CHESTED, RED, and GOLDEN-BROWED WARBLER; SLATE-THROATED WHITESTART (REDSTART); and CHESTNUT-CAPPED BRUSHFINCH.
Between the logging road and site 11-9, we stopped one or two times to bird a few mixed-species flocks. An especially fruitful one had a pair of CHESTNUT-SIDED SHRIKE-VIREOS, BLACK-BACKED and DICKEY'S [AUDUBON'S] ORIOLE, STELLER'S JAY, and the usual suspects of warblers. Several BLACK-HEADED SISKINS were feeding on seeds along the roadside, and we also had a vocalizing COLLARED TROGON.
We stopped at site 11-9 to look specifically for BLUE-CAPPED HUMMINGBIRD. Our patience paid off as all ten of us saw it at one point or another. Even more exciting was the sighting of three WAGLER'S [EMERALD] TOUCANETS in a roadside pine tree. With this species we use the most current taxonomy as per Clements (15 July 2003). It is of our belief that this species complex will be split in a future edition of the AOU checklist. Other species seen along this short track included GREENISH ELAENIA, TUFTED FLYCATCHER, GREATER PEWEE, WESTERN FLYCATCHER, GRAY-CROWNED WOODPECKER, OLIVACEOUS WOODCREEPER, RUDDY FOLIAGE-GLEANER, HAIRY WOODPECKER, FAN-TAILED WARBLER, CINNAMON-BELLIED FLOWERPIERCER, RED-LEGGED HONEYCREEPER, and DICKEY'S [AUDUBON'S] and SCOTT'S ORIOLES.
Next, we stopped for lunch at the restaurant El Mirador cited in Howell. Very good food (beans and rice with a choice of chicken or beef) for a very cheap price. From the restaurant's balcony, we saw a TENNESSEE WARBLER, while a FLAME-COLORED TANAGER was observed out front.
After lunch, we descended the remainder of the Sierra and birded a small area of coastal thorn scrub outside the village of Zipolite, northwest of Puerto Angel, Oaxaca. Walking through a series of roads, we came across an overlook with views of an offshore rock. We quickly found about 30 RED-BILLED TROPICBIRDS with an equal number of BROWN BOOBIES and MAGNIFICENT FRIGATEBIRDS soaring back and forth. Other birds of note included a PEREGRINE FALCON - at one point perched on the rock, ROYAL and ELEGANT TERNS, BROWN PELICAN, and a probable first-winter WESTERN GULL (rare here). With the aid of a scope we found numerous Procellariiforms cruising by in a general north to south fashion. The distance made positive identification quite difficult, but we feel the following species were possibly or even probably seen in the hour before sunset: TOWNSEND'S/AUDUBON'S type SHEARWATERS (dozens), two larger and all dark shearwater thought to be SOOTY, one similarly-sized bicolored shearwater believed to be a possible PINK-FOOTED, and large, all dark storm-petrels believed to be BLACKS (dozens). These identifications were based largely on known distributions combined with their jizz and overall color patterns. We strongly believe the pelagic possibilities from Puerto Angel fishing boats to be exciting and greatly unexplored. We strongly recommend such a trip to anyone with an offshore itch.
Back ashore where the identifications were anything but sketchy, we found a nice selection of thorn scrub birds in just a couple hours. DOUBLEDAY'S HUMMINGBIRD, WHITE-THROATED MAGPIE-JAY, BANDED and HAPPY WRENS, WHITE-LORED GNATCATCHER, LONG-CRESTED (NORTHERN) CARDINAL, and ORANGE-BREASTED BUNTING were found without much trouble. RUFOUS-NAPED WRENS of the subspecies C.r. humilus were also found here. One member of our group was fortunate enough to spot a RUSSET-CROWNED MOTMOT, and GRAY-BREASTED MARTINS were circling overhead.
The evening was spent driving across the windswept Isthmus of Tehuantepec. We spent the night in a hotel in Tehuantepec, Oaxaca.
7 January 2003
We birded site 11-13 in hopes of finding CINNAMON-TAILED (SUMICHRAST'S) SPARROW. Most of our group saw one or more of this sparrow around brushy clearings. Other birds of interest were a pair of LESSER GROUND-CUCKOOS, CINNAMON and BEAUTIFUL (including one nice male) HUMMINGBIRDS, ZONE-TAILED HAWK, NUTTING'S FLYCATCHER, WHITE-THROATED MAGPIE-JAY, RUFOUS-NAPED and BANDED WRENS, WHITE-LORED GNATCATCHER, ORANGE-BREASTED BUNTING, STRIPE-HEADED SPARROW, and STREAK-BACKED ORIOLE.
A hop, skip, and a jump brought us to the Tehuantepec foothills (11-5) in search of ROSITA'S (ROSE-BELLIED) BUNTING. It was not long after getting out of the cars that we found ourselves in a lineup all staring at a pair of the aforementioned buntings feeding on grass seed. They were no more than fifteen feet deep in a rather open stand of vegetation, offering stellar views for about fifteen minutes. WEST MEXICAN CHACHALACA was also notable. Further up this road, we saw a flock of about six ROSITA'S (ROSE-BELLIED) BUNTINGS feeding amidst the crown of a felled tree.
Ever onward on this never-ending journey - we found ourselves crossing the border into Chiapas without problems. We drove into Puerto Arista (12-3) with plans of finding GIANT WREN. It took about three hours of walking up and down roads before a group of three or four were spotted in someone's backyard. We also saw many birds typical of the dry western slope including ORANGE-FRONTED and ORANGE-CHINNED PARAKEETS, YELLOW-WINGED CACIQUE, 200+ WHITE-COLLARED SWIFTS, GROOVE-BILLED ANI, WHITE-THROATED MAGPIE-JAY, SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHER, GRAY-BREASTED MARTIN, MANGROVE SWALLOW, RUFOUS-NAPED WREN, TROPICAL MOCKINGBIRD, BLUE GROSBEAK, PAINTED BUNTING, BRONZED COWBIRD, and DICKCISSEL.
A brief inspection of the mangrove lagoons north of town yielded MARBLED GODWIT, STILT SANDPIPER, LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER, and BLUE-WINGED TEAL. We concluded this day with a meal at one of the beachfront restaurants. The group split up this night - one going further into Chiapas, the other staying behind with intentions of returning to the States via Uxpanapa Road in Oaxaca (10.7).
8 January 2003
Our group, reduced by half, spent the first two hours of daylight birding the Puerto Arista area. Best birds were heard-only GIANT WREN and a BAIRD'S SANDPIPER in a roadside ditch. We departed Puerto Arista and drove back across the Isthmus. We turned north in Tehuantepec on Highway 185 and headed for Uxpanapa Road (10.7). Highlights from this afternoon's brief birding time included GOLDEN-WINGED WARBLER in a small roadside flock. RUFOUS-BREASTED SPINETAILS responded to tape playback, but none were seen. MEALY PARROTS were quite conspicuous all afternoon as they loudly announced their departure for an evening roost to the southeast. A group of AZTEC PARAKEETS also gave obliging looks through the scope.
We made camp alongside the road under a roofed structure that appeared to be a dilapidated bus stop. From here we ventured out across a pasture towards some rather tall forest in hopes of finding a trail or some other means of exploration for the morning. We turned up a Black Howler Monkey, Alouatta pigra, but not much else.
While making dinner, we called in one of three MOTTLED OWLS in hopes of observing the darker Central American lowland subspecies, Ciccaba virgata centralis. With a little patience, one came in and offered spectacular looks at nearly eye-level. In addition, we heard a COLLARED FOREST-FALCON, which was later seen flying over the road with the last remnants of light. Lastly, we were treated to a wonderful comparison of singing FERRUGINOUS and CENTRAL AMERICAN PYGMY-OWLS! The latter gave phrases of six to eight notes while the Ferruginous gave its typical extended series of hoots.
9 January 2003
We awoke to the songs of many of the same birds we fell asleep to, including the forest-falcon and Central American Pygmy-Owl. MEALY PARROTS were busy streaming overhead in pairs and MONTEZUMA OROPENDOLAS were displaying in the treetops. We spent the better part of the morning exploring the forest edge from a dry creek bed. We walked this in hopes of gaining easy access to the otherwise impenetrable forest. Instead, the stream led us to a large limestone cave. We followed it into the darkness and explored around until we found a hole up above. After finding our way up the steeply sloping walls of the thirty-foot tall cavern, we emerged into extremely lush forest. Within minutes, a LONG-TAILED SABREWING blew by us, followed by another Black Howler Monkey that came crashing through the trees toward us. It stopped about 20 meters ahead of us and belted out one of the most impressively loud sounds I've ever heard from an animal. Due to the extremely rough terrain and thick vegetation, we turned around in hopes of making better progress elsewhere. To make a long story short, we never managed to explore a great extent of this forest. Instead, we continued to work the edge in hopes of Nava's Wren and other lowland rainforest species. No one in our group saw the wren here, but we did see STRIPE-TAILED HUMMINGBIRD, GREENISH ELAENIA, WORM-EATING WARBLER, RUFOUS-BREASTED SPINETAIL, GRAY-HEADED [GRAY-FRONTED] DOVE, WHITE HAWK, and LAUGHING FALCON.
This afternoon, we drove non-stop to Las Barrancas, Veracruz (10.5). We arrived after dark and camped along a side road (we realized we were in a cattle pasture the following morning).
10 January 2003
Our campsite proved successful as we heard a number of DOUBLE-STRIPED THICK-KNEES and GRASSLAND YELLOW-FINCHES before first light. After breaking down camp, it was light enough to count a handful of thick-knees and a small flock of yellow-finches. We continued to explore for a couple of hours and turned up one GRASSHOPPER SPARROW and a pair of APLOMADO FALCONS. We did not find any FORK-TAILED FLYCATCHERS, however.
We spent the rest of the morning and much of the night driving back to Brownsville, Texas, USA. We crossed the border sometime after midnight without any problems.
8 January 2003
After splitting up, Nick Block's car (composed of Block, Michael Retter, Justin Rink, Ken Behrens, and Pete Hosner) delved further into Chiapas. Due to a lack of communication (our fault), we were unsure if we were meeting Jorge this day or the morning of the 9th. We went to the zócalo in Tuxtla Gutiérrez (a nice, very clean city), which was to be our meeting point. Jorge did not arrive, and we finally got a hold of him by phone. It turned out we were going to meet the next day at 9:00 to drive to the trailhead for El Triunfo.
We then headed up to El Sumidero National Park (12-1), just north of the city. We got there a little before 9:00, and a guard at the park entrance warned us that because it was a weekday there were no police in the park and to be careful. Apparently, many cars are broken into on weekdays, so perhaps a weekend visit would be better. We saw no robbers or criminals of any type. A few miles down the entrance road, before any of the miradors, there is a large field on the right, which was full of blooming flowers. This field (perhaps at KM 14?) had the highest density of hummingbirds that we encountered on the trip, including a gorgeous male SLENDER SHEARTAIL. Others were BERYLLINE, BUFF-BELLIED, AZURE-CROWNED, GREEN-FRONTED, and RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRDS and WHITE-BELLIED and CANIVET'S EMERALDS. Also in the field were a number of GRAY-CROWNED YELLOWTHROATS and a BLUE BUNTING.
We passed the first mirador (as the guard at the entrance suggested) and parked at the second to bird the short trail leading to the canyon overlook. These woods were teeming birds, including IVORY-BILLED and OLIVACEOUS WOODCREEPERS, BAND-BACKED WREN, a RUFOUS-BROWED PEPPERSHRIKE, an ORANGE-BILLED NIGHTINGALE-THRUSH, RUFOUS-CAPPED WARBLER, YELLOW-WINGED TANAGER, and YELLOW-THROATED EUPHONIA. Near the mirador there was a patch of bamboo that yielded a pair of cooperative BELTED FLYCATCHERS, a singing BLUE-AND-WHITE MOCKINGBIRD (that we never saw), and a mystery emberizid that only Pete saw. The bird was small, all ochre-brown, with a stubby conical bill with a curved culmen. It was most likely a female BLUE SEEDEATER, although we saw several BLUE BUNTINGS in the area.
We birded the other two miradors, which had similar bird life and finished at the restaurant at the end of the road. There were several BROWN PELICANS in the bottom of the gorge here - interesting to see them this far inland. Another BELTED FLYCATCHER was seen as well. The only new species here were two RIDGWAY'S [NORTHERN] ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOWS on the wire and a BLACK-VENTED ORIOLE. On the way out of the park, we had a flock of about 20 more Ridgway's foraging over a brushy hillside.
For the afternoon, we headed to the San Cristóbal area (12-8) to try and see the pine/oak Chiapan specialties before our trip to El Triunfo, thus saving us a day afterward. In a disappointing afternoon of birding, we saw next to nothing at the Cerro Huitepec reserve except for a flyby GARNET-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD, a MOUNTAIN TROGON, a couple RUFOUS-COLLARED SPARROWS, and a TROPICAL MOCKINGBIRD along the road. We then visited the side road at KM 2 on Highway 199 to Ocosingo mentioned by Howell. Unfortunately, we got there with little light before sunset. The brief highlights were RUFOUS-COLLARED ROBIN, GUATEMALAN [NORTHERN] FLICKER, SLATE-THROATED WHITESTART (REDSTART), OLIVE WARBLER, RED CROSSBILL, and PLAIN [PINE] SISKIN.
9 January 2003
This morning we met Jorge Uribe of EcoBiosfera-El Triunfo in Tuxtla Gutiérrez and drove to trailhead for the El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve (12-9) in Finca Prusia, which took most of the morning and early afternoon. On the drive, Ken began to get sick. Birds included YELLOW-WINGED CACIQUE, WHITE-THROATED MAGPIE-JAY, and RED-LEGGED HONEYCREEPER (during a rest stop). The fast pace and poor nutrition of the trip caught up to all of us on the hike up to El Triunfo. The people with the reserve were very accommodating and let Ken ride a mule up the last 11 km of the trail to the camp. Since we were behind schedule, there was little time to bird on the way up, although we did record COLLARED FOREST-FALCON, WHITE-FACED QUAIL-DOVE, BARRED PARAKEET, LONG-BILLED STARTHROAT, GREEN-THROATED MOUNTAIN-GEM, EYE-RINGED FLATBILL, YELLOWISH FLYCATCHER, PLAIN and RUFOUS-BROWED WRENS, BROWN-BACKED SOLITAIRE, MOUNTAIN ROBIN, WHITE-WINGED and YELLOW-WINGED TANAGERS, RED-LEGGED HONEYCREEPER, RUSTY SPARROW, BLACK-CAPPED SWALLOW, SINGING QUAIL, SPOTTED NIGHTINGALE-THRUSH (incredible!), SPECTACLED (SCALY-THROATED) FOLIAGE-GLEANER, and GOLDEN [YELLOW] GROSBEAK along the way. We got there about dark and went to sleep immediately. We heard a pair of FULVOUS OWLS duet at dusk, as we did every night at the base camp.
10 January 2003
This morning was quite cool, and birds were inactive. We spent the morning hiking the trail toward Palo Gordo looking (mostly) for Horned Guan, which we did not see during our short stay. Some highlights were RESPLENDENT QUETZAL (at least six total; two males and one female seen well), BLUE-THROATED MOTMOT (heard), HIGHLAND GUAN (heard), BARRED PARAKEET, more SPOTTED NIGHTINGALE-THRUSHES (one of the more common species), MEXICAN WHIP-POOR-WILL [WHIP-POOR-WILL], MOUNTAIN TROGON, MAGNIFICENT HUMMINGBIRD, TAWNY-THROATED LEAFTOSSER (heard), TUFTED and YELLOWISH FLYCATCHERS, UNICOLORED JAY, RUFOUS-AND-WHITE and RUFOUS-BROWED WRENS, RUDDY-CAPPED NIGHTINGALE-THRUSH, SLATE-THROATED WHITESTART (REDSTART), GOLDEN-BROWED WARBLER, BLUE-CROWNED CHLOROPHONIA, CINNAMON-BELLIED FLOWERPIERCER, and GOLDEN [YELLOW] GROSBEAK.
11 January 2003
A little more rested this morning, we began the hike down to Cañada Honda, home of Tangara cabanesi. Highlights from the hike down included RUFOUS and VIOLET SABREWINGS, GREEN VIOLET-EAR, SPARKLING-TAILED WOODSTAR (HUMMINGBIRD), EMERALD-CHINNED and WINE-THROATED HUMMINGBIRDS, BLACK ROBIN, BLUE-CROWNED CHLOROPHONIA, SHORT-TAILED HAWK, SINGING QUAIL, GREEN SHRIKE-VIREO, FLAME-COLORED TANAGER, WHITE-EARED GROUND-SPARROW, and many things seen the day before. We arrived at the Cañada Honda camp a little after noon, where we got identifiable looks at AZURE-RUMPED TANAGER, except Justin and Michael, who got to see one bathe in the stream.
12 January 2003
We awoke to a calling BLUE-THROATED MOTMOT, but again it never showed itself. The highlight of the morning was an ant swarm. Unfortunately, there were no obligate ant-followers, but there were many thrushes, including SPOTTED NIGHTINGALE-THRUSH, HERMIT (out of range?), and SWAINSON'S. The birds found in the morning were similar to the day before.
We started the hike back up to El Triunfo around 10 a.m. Just before leaving, a flock of 3 AZURE-RUMPED TANAGERS fed in a fruiting tree right in camp, giving us jaw-dropping looks from about 20 feet away. We saw few other birds that morning, due to the high winds. Once we got up into the cloud forest, the wind died down, and we were treated to another RESPLENDENT QUETZAL, great looks at WHITE-FACED QUAIL-DOVE, and other cloud forest birds mentioned previously.
13 January 2003
Unfortunately, we had to leave the reserve this morning. On the way out, we had a few birds, but it was very quiet and foggy. Pete and Ken got excellent views of a HIGHLAND GUAN and a female RESPLENDENT QUETZAL, and we all heard another BLUE-AND-WHITE MOCKINGBIRD. Other sightings included RUDDY FOLIAGE-GLEANER. When we got down below the cloud forest, activity picked up immensely. The fog had pushed many cloud forest birds into tropical evergreen forest, including BROWN-CAPPED VIREO and EMERALD TOUCANET. When we reached the Finca, there was an immense mixed species flock of hundreds of resident and boreal migrant birds. The highlight of the day was a calling raptor soaring overhead, which turned out to be a BLACK HAWK-EAGLE.
Upon returning to our car at Finca Prusia, we found that it had been broken into, and a lot of our stuff was gone. Luckily, Pete had left nothing but dirty clothes in the Trooper, but the others weren't as lucky. If you buy an Aiwa car stereo at a market in Chiapas and it doesn't work, it may be Nick's! Jorge said that they have never had a problem with anyone breaking into cars at Finca Prusia in ten years. Given the new danger, you should keep your vehicle in the locked compound at the reserve's headquarters in Jaltenango and have EcoBiosfera transport you to Finca Prusia.
Note on El Triunfo access - In order to arrange a trip to the reserve, please contact Jorge Uribe of EcoBiosfera. He works at the central offices of the El Triunfo preserve in Tuxtla Gutiérrez. The easiest way to contact him is via email: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. The office phone number is +52 (961) 611-3891 or 611-3975, ext. 110 or 109. The fax number is +52 (961) 611-3975, ext. 107 or 108.
A little dejected, we headed back toward San Cristóbal. Our only excitement on the drive came when a RUSTY SPARROW flew into the side of the car as we were driving bewteen Jaltenango and Tuxtla Gutiérrez. We pulled a quick u-turn, found the specimen on the side of the road, and were able to obtain stunning in-hand views of a RUSTY SPARROW in good plumage. Once in San Cristóbal, we found a room at the Hotel Buen Samaritano, which was slightly pricey for us but a very nice establishment.
14 January 2003
We returned to the area around KM 2 on Highway 199 at dawn. We had much better luck than a few days before. We were treated to numerous GARNET-THROATED HUMMINGBIRDS, PINK-HEADED WARBLER, RUFOUS-COLLARED ROBIN, and BLACK-THROATED JAY. We also had a female GOLDEN-CHEEKED WARBLER, SPOT-CROWNED WOODCREEPER and BROWN CREEPER in the same tree simultaneously, RED CROSSBILL, another GUATEMALAN [NORTHERN] FLICKER, and a pair of CHIAPAS [YELLOW-EYED] JUNCOS.
In the afternoon, we drove to the Mapastepec Microwave Valley (12-4). Neat birds along the way included PACIFIC PARAKEET and SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHER. We at the valley in the evening to see several YELLOW-NAPED PARROTS coming in to roost and a BAT FALCON. We spent the night in a hotel in Mapastepec.
15 January 2003
We spent the whole morning birding the small road that goes up the valley from east side of the Puente Sesecapa - not the cobbled road to the microwave towers mentioned in Howell. We were able to drive quite a distance up this road and turned around before it ended anywhere. Near the beginning, there was a large fruiting tree filled with STREAK-BACKED, SPOT-BREASTED, BALTIMORE, and ORCHARD ORIOLES and a single YELLOW-BILLED CACIQUE. Farther up the road near a small bridge, we found TURQUOISE-BROWED MOTMOT, CHESTNUT-CAPPED [RUFOUS-CAPPED] WARBLER, and a very ratty-looking WHITE-BELLIED CHACHALACA. The area was quite birdy overall and, despite being mostly second growth, we found two more BLACK HAWK-EAGLES. Other birds seen along this road included ORANGE-FRONTED and ORANGE-CHINNED PARAKEETS, WHITE-FRONTED and YELLOW-NAPED PARROTS, CHESTNUT-COLLARED SWIFT, CINNAMON HUMMINGBIRD, RUFOUS-BREASTED SPINETAIL, BARRED ANTSHRIKE, PALTRY TYRANNULET, YELLOW-BELLIED ELAENIA, NORTHERN BENTBILL, COMMON TODY-FLYCATCHER, YELLOW-OLIVE FLYCATCHER, GIANT and PLAIN WRENS, and the third subspecies of RUFOUS-NAPED WREN possible in México, C.r. nigricaudatus, or the Rufous-backed Wren.
We spent the rest of the day driving toward Uxpanapa Road (10-7) and stayed at the hotel in Piedra Blanca mentioned in Howell.
16 January 2003
Waking before dawn, we headed up the very pot-holed Uxpanapa Road at a fairly slow pace. Until around noon, we birded along the road between KM 36 and just past the bridge at KM 41. Though most of the habitat appeared to have cut before, there was a nice diversity of lowland tropical birds. We found a few small trails, but no good areas of karst or Nava's Wrens. At about 10 a.m., we had worked our way to the bridge, where we found BAT FALCON, MANGROVE SWALLOW, ORANGE-BILLED SPARROW, and WEDGE-BILLED WOODCREEPER (the latter two in the forest just past the bridge). Looking back down the road, there was a large raptor circling. Low and behold, it was our 4th BLACK HAWK-EAGLE in 4 days! On the way back, we found a trail to the north that led into some nice karst and thicker forest. We heard a strange, tinny chip note that no one recognized and spent about 15 minutes following it around. Eventually, Michael and Ken got good but brief looks at the culprit, a NAVA'S WREN. Unfortunately, no one got another look as it disappeared among the treacherous karst and called no more. Other birds on this short trail included STUB-TAILED SPADEBILL and SLATE-HEADED TODY-FLYCATCHER. Highlights from birding elsewhere along the road, which was mostly in second-growth forest, included SHORT-BILLED PIGEON, GRAY-HEADED [GRAY-FRONTED] DOVE, WHITE-CROWNED and MEALY PARROTS, AZTEC [OLIVE-THROATED] PARAKEET, WHITE-COLLARED and VAUX'S SWIFTS, STRIPE-THROATED and LONG-BILLED HERMITS, LONG-TAILED SABREWING, BLACK-CHEEKED and SMOKY-BROWN WOODPECKERS, PASSERINI'S and CRIMSON-COLLARED TANAGERS, and BLACK-FACED GROSBEAK.
The afternoon was spent driving toward Las Barrancas (10-5), mostly along the very nice cuota between Acayucan and Veracruz. Highlights from this drive included APLOMADO FALCON, SNAIL KITE, WOOD STORK, NORTHERN JAÇANA, GULL-BILLED TERN, FORK-TAILED FLYCATCHER, and seven wader species. We stayed in a hotel near Las Barrancas because we arrived after dark and weren't sure about being able to set up camp in the pastures.
17 January 2003
This morning, we also tried for Double-striped Thick-knee, but had less luck than Freiberg's car. It was very windy (30-40 mph from the north), and the farmers we spoke with were familiar with the birds and said they hunkered down out-of-sight on windy days, making them very difficult to find. Unfortunately, they were correct, and we did not find any thick-knees despite extensive searching. However, we did find lots of GRASSLAND YELLOW-FINCHES, a few FORK-TAILED FLYCATCHERS, and we had a brief view of a PINNATED BITTERN in flight.
We returned to Tecolutla (10-1) in the afternoon to try to boost our trip list above 500, which ended up not being a problem. We did not bird the marshes again but instead went straight to the beach to looks for shorebirds and gulls. New birds for the trip included BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER, SANDERLING, and HERRING GULL.
From here, we drove to the El Naranjo area (4-5) and camped on the El Maguey road.
18 January 2003
We only gave El Naranjo a couple hours in the morning, but it still produced a few new birds for the trip, including a calling TAMAULIPAS PYGMY-OWL, SPOTTED WREN, CRIMSON-COLLARED GROSBEAK, and AUDUBON'S ORIOLE. At the very picturesque waterfall overlook on the road toward El Salto, we enjoyed a very cooperative BAT FALCON perched on a dead branch overhanging the falls.
We spent the rest of the day driving back to Brownsville, arriving at the border just before dark. The highlights of the drive were a handful of new trip birds found in flooded fields along Highway 180/101, including SNOW, ROSS'S, and GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE; NORTHERN PINTAIL; RING-NECKED DUCK; and LEAST SANDPIPER.