This is a trip report documenting an eighteen day trip to Mexico. Five college-aged birders drove from the U.S. border as far south as Puerto Angel, Oaxaca and back. As with previous trips with this group, we have traveled about the country at a very rapid pace. Often times, we spent the evenings and nights driving from one location to the next in order to be at a new spot by dawn. While this trip was fast-paced, we allowed ourselves more time over a shorter distance to avoid as much driving in the dark as possible. This extra time also allowed us contingency time for a number (4) of flat tires. When possible, we camped to minimize cost. Often times, the best (or only) available campsite was on the roadside near the morning’s birding location.
We used Howell’s A Bird Finding Guide to Mexico 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 Mexico useful for finding inexpensive hotels and restaurants. Often times, however, we found it easy enough to find such amenities on our own. Finally, Howell and Webb’s A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America is the field guide to use. All dollar amounts are in pesos. The exchange rate at the time of travel was approximately 11 pesos to one U.S. dollar. In general, however, we simply divide or multiply by ten to make quick conversions in our heads. All times are listed in Central Standard Time (CST).
I have an excel spreadsheet with lists of all species seen per day, with rough abundances. If this would useful to you, don't hesitate to email me (pah24_AT_cornell.edu). Unfortunatly I can't post it on surfbirds with thier format.
27 December: Cross border at Brownsville at 1030. Drive through Tamualipas to Tampico
via Rte. 101 and Rte. 180, then inland to Tlanchinol (8.11) in the state of Hidalgo. Night at Hotel Victoria in Tlanchinol, Hidalgo. Drive from Matamoros, Tamualipas to Tlanchinol = 8.5 hours.
28 December: Bird Tlanchinol from 0700 to 1030 along track at KM marker 169 as per Howell.
Drive to Mexico City and on to La Cima (8.4). Arrive La Cima around 1400. Night: camping in the open pine forests along KM 45 track as per Howell’s map on page 162.
29 December: AM: Bird Pine Forests and bunch grasslands at KM 45 and KM 43.5, respectively,
as per Howell. Drive to Almoloyo del Rio (Lerma Marshes).
PM: Bird Lerma Marshes (8.8). Drive to Temascaltepec, Mexico (8.9).
Night: Camp on El Polvorín road above Las Mesas.
30 December: AM: Bird around Las Mesas and below towards Temascaltepec. Birding time was
limited this morning due to a flat tire the night before.
PM: Drive to a small town about 15km north of Chilpancingo, Guerrero.
Night: Hotel about 15km north of Chilpancingo, Guerrero.
31 December: Pre-dawn: Drive into the interior slopes of the Sierra de Atoyac (9.2). Bird here
Night: Camping in the Sierra de Atoyac.
1 January: AM: Bird interior slopes through humid pine-oak habitat.
PM: Drive across the Sierra de Atoyac to Nueva Dehli and Paraíso on the coastal
slopes of the Sierra.
Night: Hotel on the triangular zocalo in Paraíso.
2 January: AM: Bird between Paraíso and Nueva Delhi in the Sierra de Atoyac (9.2). PM: Drive to San Marcos, Guerrero on Rte. 200 via Atoyac and Acapulco.
Night: Hotel in San Marcos.
3 January: AM: Drive from San Marcos, Guerrero to Puerto Angel, Oaxaca (11.10) via Rte. 200.
Night: Camped on beach in Zipolite, Oaxaca (about 5 km west of Puerto Angel).
4 January: AM: Bird Rte. 135 above Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca (11.11).
PM: Return to Puerto Angel to arrange a pelagic trip.
Night: Camped on beach in Zipolite, Oaxaca.
5 January: AM: Pelagic trip from Puerto Angel. 0630 – 1130.
Night: Camped on beach in Zipolite, Oaxaca.
6 January: AM: Bird coastal thorn-scrub west of Playa Zipolite, Oaxaca (11.10).
PM: Obtain police report in Puerto Angel for stolen items. Drive north on Rte.
175 to Oaxaca City.
Night: Camped next to reservoir above Teotitlán del Valle (11.2) in the central
7 January: AM: Bird scrub above Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca (11.2).
PM: Rug shopping in Teotitlán. Drive into Oaxaca City to visit the U.S.
Consular Agent. It was closed so we birded the first few kilometers of
Rte. 175 north of the city as per Howell (11.4).
Night: Roadside camping on the road to Monte Albán, Oaxaca (11.1).
8 January: AM: Bird Monte Albán around Tumba 7 (11.1). Return to U.S. Consular Agency
in Oaxaca City.
PM: Birded north of Oaxaca City on Rte. 175.
Night: Roadside campsite on Rte. 175 north of Oaxaca City about 1 km south of
Cerro San Felipe (La Cumbre) (11.5).
9 January: AM: Bird La Cumbre, Oaxaca (11.5).
PM: Drive north to Continental Divide in humid pine-oak habitat (11.6). Night: Camp in large pulloff along Rte. 175 in the upper elevations of cloud forest
on the coastal slopes.
10 January: Bird cloud forest along Rte. 175 in fog and rain. Drive down into montane
rainforest and bird there, too (11.6, 11.7).
PM: Check e-mail and waited out the rain in Valle Nacional, Oaxaca.
Night: Hotel in Valle Nacional, Oaxaca.
11 January: Bird up Rte. 175 south of Valle Nacional as far as KM 80 or so where we couldn’t
see anything due to the fog/clouds.
PM: Drive to Tuxtepec (11.8).
Night: Hotel in Tuxtepec.
12 January: AM: Bird around Tuxtepec, Oaxaca (11.8) as per Howell’s directions.
PM: Drive to Tecolutla, Veracruz (10.1) with a stop at Las Barrancas, Veracruz
(11.5) en route.
Night: Roadside camping about 2 km west of marsh site at Tecolutla on road to
village of Tecolutla.
13 January: AM: Bird Tecolutla marshes.
PM: Drive to Matamoros. Cross border.
Night: Brownsville, Texas, USA.
Saturday 27 December 2003:
We spent the better part of the day driving south from the U.S. border. Matamoros to Tlanchinol, Hidalgo was about 8 ½ hours via Tampico. This route is far faster than the mountainous route via Victoria, Valles, and Mante south to Tamazunchale.
Highlights of the drive included 300-400 SNOW GEESE (including about 15 Blue Geese) and 7 SANDHILL CRANES in central Tamaulipas. On Route 80 north of Tampico between KM marker 36 and 37 we counted 8 EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVES. This spot is farther south than the location we saw them at last year. Lastly, while driving west from Tampico through vast wetlands we saw a single MUSCOVY in flight at 1745 CST.
Stayed in Tlanchinol, Hidalgo at Hotel Victoria for 180 pesos (five people in one room with two double beds). Dinner at a Tacqueria in town.
Sunday 28 December 2003:
Birded the track at KM marker 169 this morning which is past the Lontla track if you are driving north out of town. It was a brilliantly sunny day without much bird activity. Before we started down the track, a COLLARED FOREST-FALCON, which had been calling since we got out of the car, flew over and down the slope.
The entire forest seemed very dry as evidenced by the crunching leafs underfoot. Only one COMMON BUSH-TANAGER flock was observed in three hours of birding here—a testament to the sun. One BROWN-CAPPED VIREO and a GOLDEN-BROWED WARBLER were associating with some TOWNSEND’S WARBLERS and other more common Neotropical migrants. Two UNICOLORED JAYS also were notable. Shortly thereafter, we came across a group of 10 RED-LEGGED HONEYCREEPERS in a bare tree. All were in basic plumage. Pete managed a few shots to document this out of season observation. For what it’s worth, this group saw three Red-legged Honeycreepers in the Sierra de Mihuatlán of coastal Oaxaca in early January of 2003. Our sighting of these birds at Tlanchinol represents a new species for this site according to Howell’s list.
The forest opens up into a clearing with grazing cattle about 1 – 2 km from the main road. Here we saw 2 HOODED GROSBEAKS, many singing/flight displaying BLACK-HEADED SISKINS, SPOT-CROWNED WOODCREEPERS (the second and third of the day), 4 EASTERN BLUEBIRDS, and an AUDUBON’S ORIOLE. Other notable sightings included feathers from a Crested Guan, singing MOUNTAIN TROGON, ACORN WOODPECKER, BLUE MOCKINGBIRD, and RUFOUS-CAPPED WARBLER.
At 1000 CST, we left for Pachuca and on to Mexico City. Arrived at Pachuca at 1400 were we stopped for Pastes. What an odd, but delicious lunch for Mexico! Pete, now officially a yupper, gave them the thumbs up. If you’re ever in town they’re definitely worth a stop! From here, it was about an hour or 90 km to Mexico City on the Route 85 cuota (28 pesos). We opted to drive straight through to the other side on Insurgentes, one of the major boulevards that runs north-south through the city. This road connected nicely with Route 95 (both the cuota and libre). From here, we took the libre south towards Cuernavaca (stopping well short at La Cima). It took us just over an hour to cross the city and another 30 minutes to get to La Cima from the start of Route 95 libre.
La Cima was rather birdy when we arrived at 1645. AMERICAN ROBIN, WESTERN BLUEBIRD, AUDUBON’S (YELLOW-RUMPED) WARBLER, and YELLOW-EYED JUNCO were all quite common. We followed the track about 250 to 300 meters in (taking the left-hand fork). Here we found STRIPED SPARROW to be common. Many were singing periodically from the tops of rock piles. HORNED LARKS and AMERICAN PIPITS were common flyovers. One LONG-TAILED WOOD-PARTRIDGE was vocal from a nearby hillside.
Pete managed a good look at one SIERRA MADRE SPARROW, but no one else could get good close looks. In the fading light, we decided to drive south to the track at KM 45 to camp in the pine forests for added security. Once on the track we drove off road a bit and found a nice clearing away from any potential nighttime city visitors. A SAW-WHET OWL called throughout the night and into the pre-dawn morning at this campsite. We also heard a pair of dueting GREAT HORNED OWLS and a loud pack of Coyotes.
Monday 29 December 2003:
Woke up at dawn to a layer of ice on our tents. We broke camp and fanned out through the forests in search of STRICKLAND’S WOODPECKER. We all found several within an hour or so of birding. We found two groups of about five or six individuals each. Each group seemed to be loosely congregating in a cluster of about ten trees. Other birds of note included BUFF-BREASTED FLYCATCHERS (2), EVENING GROSBEAKS (2 – 3 flyovers), 3 RED WARBLERS and 100 BUSHTITS (Black-eared) in three flocks. Some STRIPED SPARROWS were seen here along with 2 HOUSE (Brown-throated) WRENS.
Once we all reconvened and had had satisfying looks at the woodpeckers, we drove back to the 43.5 km track to look for SIERRA MADRE SPARROW. It didn’t take long to spot one from the car sitting up on a rock pile. Walking around a bit more yielded an EASTERN MEADOWLARK and a flyover PINE SISKIN that was actually seen quite well. Other than that, it was more of the same from yesterday evening.
At about 1000 CST we drove to the Lerma Marshes in Mexico State. We stopped in Coatepec for a much recommended local cuisine—tacos de obispo. The marsh was easily accessed as per Howell’s directions. We arrived at 1220. By 1223 we found our first BLACK-POLLED YELLOWTHROAT, a male in the very first clump of grass! We continued driving along the dike to bird the east and southern edge of the marsh. We found four more BLACK-POLLED YELLOWTHROATS and about as many COMMON YELLOWTHROATS (which were of the local “White-polled” race). Other birds of note here included WHITE-FACED IBIS, NORTHERN HARRIER (1), HOUSE FINCH (common; singing), BREWER’S BLACKBIRD (common), SORA (4 seen, plus others heard), and SONG SPARROWS.
Drove through Toluca, the capital of Mexico State, where we shopped for food at the Walmart and paid our tourist visas at the bank. They cost 205 pesos per person, actually a slight decrease in price from what I have paid in the past, considering the 11.15 pesos to the dollar exchange rate on this trip.
We continued driving west through town, following signs straight then left to Valle de Barro to get to Route 134. From here, we drove south to Temascaltepec, Mexico State. We arrived at 1730 to a series of M-80 fireworks in the zocalo. We continued on toward Real de Arriba where we birded a bit before dark. Notable sightings included a quick flyby GREAT SWALLOW-TAILED SWIFT, ORANGE-BILLED NIGHTINGALE-THRUSH, and WHITE-THROATED ROBIN. We continued on up the El Polvorín road where we had a flat tire. We unfortunately could not locate a jack in the suburban and were rendered stuck in the woods. Unsure of where exactly we were on the road in the dark, we decided to camp here and wait for the morning to solve out little problem. A SAW-WHET OWL called off-and-on all night.
Tuesday 30 December 2003:
In the morning two of us started walking down the road in hopes of finding someone with a jack in town. About an hour after they left, a single Mexican drove by from up the road. We stopped him and asked for his help. He obligingly agreed and within twenty minutes, we were back in business. About five minutes later, the two guys came back with a jack in hand! As it turned out, we were actually above the town of Las Mesas (see map on page 170 in Howell). We had not realized we drove through it last night and thought it would be a much farther walk down to Real de Arriba. Nevertheless, we were itching to get off this rocky road for fear of another flat without a spare this time. The forest was generally not birdy this morning, except right in the town of Las Mesas. Here we found the following: RED-HEADED (1 female), HEPATIC, and FLAME-COLORED TANAGERS, BROWN-BACKED SOLITAIRE, SPOTTED and GRAY-BREASTED WREN, CRESCENT-CHESTED, BLACK-THROATED GRAY, HERMIT and TOWNSEND’S WARBLERS, PAINTED and SLATE-THROATED (Whitestart) REDSTART, SLATY, HUTTON’S, and CASSIN’S VIREO, CHESTNUT-SIDED SHRIKE-VIREO (2), RED CROSSBILLS (3 feeding in an alder (Alnus sp.), GOLDEN-CROWNED EMERALD, BLACK-VENTED, BLACK-BACKED and BULLOCK’S ORIOLE, TUFTED FLYCATCHER and GREATER PEWEE. West of Real de Arriba we added GOLDEN VIREO.
We opted for Route 95 libre to Chilpancingo, Guerrero, which was a longer haul than we expected. We actually never made to Chilpancingo because we stopped at a hotel on the northern edge of Zumbago (a town about 15 km north of the Guerrero capital). Our spare tire blew its tread on a paved highway just before we entered Guerrero. Luckily we noticed the jack and wrench under the hood at our last Pemex station! We spent a little time shopping in the mountainous town of Taxco, Guerrero. We bought some silver from some of the abundant silver shops that line the streets. In addition, we bought our second spare tire of the day! This town is very much the anomaly that the Lonely Planet makes it out to be. For this reason alone, it is well worth a visit if you are driving this way.
Wednesday 31 December 2003:
We left the hotel at 0400 in hopes of getting into the cloud forest by first light. With a few stops to listen for BALSAS SCREECH-OWL, we made it into good cloud forest at 0615, about twenty minutes before first-light. We did hear one screech-owl at 0500.
At dawn a BARRED FOREST-FALCON was heard barking in the distance. In addition to the forest-falcon, the dawn chorus included many BROWN-BACKED SOLITAIRES, GREEN VIOLET-EAR, and WHITE-EARED HUMMINGBIRD. Shortly after dawn, a female White-eared Hummingbird was observed on a nest. Much of the chorus was drowned out by the super-abundance of Green Violet-Ears. Over the course of the morning, we birded up and down this road through humid pine/oak forest where the most numerous birds were Neotropical migrants. Especially numerous were TOWNSEND’S and YELLOW-RUMPED [Audubon’s] WARBLERS. The next most common warbler was WILSON’S followed by HERMIT. Other common migrants included WESTERN TANAGER and SCOTT’S ORIOLE. RED WARBLER and SLATE-THROATED [Redstart] WHITESTART were nice additions to the largely temperate bird list. In general, birds were everywhere in the forest. From the forest floor to the 100’ tall canopy, birds were foraging at all levels of the forest.
As the morning progressed we added some more Neotropical birds including WAGLER’S [Emerald] TOUCANET and SPOT-CROWNED WOODCREEPERS. The toucanets were actually fairly common in the sierra. We found about 6 during the day. We recorded the first and were able to bring it in rather close for observation.
Reptiles seen and photographed included an alligator lizard (Family: Anguidae) and a Rose-bellied Fence-Lizard (Sceloporus sp.).
After spending the entire day looking for White-throated Jay without success we decided to camp in a clearing well off and out of sight of the road. At dusk a group of 2 or 3 LONG-TAILED WOOD-PARTRIDGES sang back and forth to one another. A MOTTLED OWL was heard briefly as we made camp and a distant STYGIAN OWL called about five times at about 1930. Temperatures got down to about 40 degrees F in the night.
Thursday 1 January 2004:
Awoke this morning at 0630 for another attempt at the jay. We gave up around 1100 and made the decision to attempt crossing the Sierra de Atoyac to the coastal slopes (according to Howell and other sources this has not recently, if ever, been done by the birding community). We hadn’t seen anything new or of note on the second morning so off we went. The road appeared recently graded as evidenced by copious amounts of dust that was kicked up onto the roadside foliage. The road was also well traveled in the time we were there. Given this knowledge we assumed (or rather hoped) the road was passable. Indeed it was. The worst section was actually below Nueva Dehli. We pulled into Paraíso around between 1830 and 1900. There, we found the purple hotel referred to by Forest Rowland in his trip report. It was on the triangular zocalo but not as vibrantly purple as he described it.
The drive over was long and birdy in spots and was punctuated by our third flat tire. We found a pair of WHITE-TAILED HUMMINGBIRDS well before we crossed over onto the coastal slopes. While out of range, we guessed they might be traveling in search of blooming flowers since there were so few on the coastal slopes. Nevertheless, they represented our first endemic to these mountains. Further down the road in the cloud forests above Nueva Delhi a RUDDY QUAIL-DOVE ran across the road in front of our car. One stop in the late afternoon in the cloud forest produced more Wagler’s Toucanets and COMMON BUSH-TANAGERS.
We stopped above Nueva Dehli and found a LONG-BILLED STARTHROAT and again below town and found a good collection of birds including ROSE-THROATED BECARD, YELLOW-BILLED CACIQUE, BLACK-HEADED SALTATOR, MASKED TITYRA, and LILAC-CROWNED [Parrots] AMAZONS. At one point during our time birding here, we felt a small tremor underfoot. The earthquake only lasted for a few seconds and was rather weak, but we wondered how far it might have originated from and how much it had dissipated during the time it took to reach us. As we got closer to Paraíso we saw WHITE-THROATED MAGPIE-JAY and heard FERRUGINOUS and COLIMA PYGMY-OWL and COLLARED FOREST-FALCON.
Our hotel cost us 150 pesos for five people in two small rooms (one slept out on the roof).
Friday 2 January 2004
Headed up the mountain to bird below Nueva Delhi. Very few flowers were blooming and as a result we saw very few hummingbirds. For the morning we had about a dozen BERYLLINE, and 1 WHITE-TAILED HUMMINGBIRD. We did not see any coquettes. Of note this morning was a RUDDY FOLIAGE-GLEANER, more LILAC-CROWNED AMAZONS and ORANGE-FRONTED PARAKEETS. The butterflies were particularly interesting along the many streams that crossed either under or, in some cases, over the road. The list of leps included a Rhetus among many others!
Spent the afternoon driving down to Atoyac (where we ran over a bolt and popped our fourth tire). Drove southeast on the coastal highway (Route 200) through Acapulco to San Marcos, a small town about an hour south of Acapulco. Here we found a hotel on the edge of town.
Saturday 3 January 2004
Birded the hotel (actually, it was five of us guys in a ‘motel’, for those of you who know what this implies) grounds out back for a few minutes where we found RUFOUS-BACKED ROBIN, RUFOUS-NAPED WREN, and ALTAMIRA, and ORCHARD ORIOLE. Got in the car and drove 5 hours to Puerto Angel. En route we stopped at one of the many roadside marshes where we saw the following: 3 BARE-THROATED TIGER-HERONS, 20 WHITE PELICANS, WHITE IBIS, LITTLE BLUE and TRICOLORED HERON, about 50 NORTHERN JACANAS, and 1 ZONE-TAILED HAWK. Otherwise, this drive was highlighted by over 20 SHORT-TAILED HAWKS! We noted about a 50/50 split between light and dark color morphs. We arrived in Puerto Angel where we met up with Rich Hoyer from Tucson, Jim Tietz and Rebecca Green from Los Angeles. We ate a delicious seafood dinner for about 60 pesos per person (including beer). We camped on the beach in Zipolite.
Sunday 4 January 2004
Following a tip from Rich Hoyer, we drove up Route 135 from Puerto Escondido (11.11) in search of CINNAMON-SIDED HUMMINGBIRD. Rich had seen it the day before at KM 216.3. Within twenty minutes of our arrival, we found a male feeding in a patch of blooming morning glories. Even though AOU does not currently recognize this population as a separate species, this bird was gorgeous, better looking in real life than Webb depicts and was thus well worth our efforts! We did not linger long here as we wanted to leave time to charter a boat for a pelagic trip in Puerto Angel. Other birds from an hour’s birding at the same spot included CITREOLINE TROGON, ORANGE-FRONTED PARAKEETS, HAPPY WREN and, SCRUB EUPHONIA.
That afternoon in Puerto Angel the harbor master (located at the base of the pier) directed us to a boat captain across the harbor from the pier. We met with him at his restaurant and decided on 0630 for the next morning. We settled on 5 hours time with 8 people at about 280 pesos per person. The captain said we could go out about ten miles from shore. We spent the night camping on the beach at Zipolite. For those who want something a bit more structured, there is a campground in Zipolite (listed in Lonely Planet) for a few bucks a night. They charge a la carte per person, per tent, and per car.
Monday 5 January 2004
We met at 0630 for our pelagic. After receiving life vests we boarded the small fishing boat that would take us out on the Pacific. Eight of us plus three Mexicans fit rather comfortably. The only drawback to this boat was that it sat rather low on the water. We could easily reach over and let our hand trail through the water. The benefit was that is allowed us to get close (within 10 meters) to flocks of shearwaters as they rested on the water. First we went to the large rock just south of Playa Zipolite. Last year we had about thirty Red-billed Tropicbirds here from the bluffs. This morning there was nothing. Within about twenty minutes of leaving the rock we started seeing shearwaters flying by. Early on we were seeing a mix of AUDUBON’S and WEDGE-TAILED SHEARWATERS. After about ten flybys we found our first flock and motored on over. We approached them easily and got great looks at about 25 WEDGE-TAILED SHEARWATERS. Over the course of the morning we found two or three more sizable flocks of Wedge-taileds with a few Audubon’s mixed in. The largest flock held about 100 Wedge-taileds. This included at least one dark-morph individual. We saw three or four dark-morphs on the whole trip. Also very notable were the BLACK-VENTED SHEARWATERS we saw mixed in with some of the larger shearwater flocks. To our knowledge, this represents the first record for Oaxaca. It is worth noting that Steve Howell told Rich Hoyer to keep an eye out for this species because he had heard of a report from Guatemalan waters just a few weeks prior. Unfortunately, we did not find any Townsend’s Shearwaters that we were positive about. One or two birds were candidates but they turned out to be Audubon’s.
Other birds seen out there included 1 PINK-FOOTED SHEARWATER (seen well amidst Wedge-tails) about 300 BLACK TERNS, 3 POMARINE JAEGERS, 1 RED-NECKED PHALAROPE, BROWN PELICANS, CASPIAN TERNS, 3 COMMON TERNS, and many LAUGHING GULLS. We also saw about 15 Green Sea Turtles, a double-back-flipping manta ray and the caudal fin of a swordfish. Back at the Zipolite rock we saw two RED-BILLED TROPICBIRDS (one sitting on the water 25 meters away!), a flock of GRAY-BREASTED MARTINS, a SPOTTED SANDPIPER, a light-morph SHORT-TAILED HAWK, and an adult COMMON BLACK-HAWK. The following is a list of all species seen on the pelagic:
Through a combination of sources, we believe there is a high probability that the Wedge-tailed Shearwaters we saw were from Hawaiian breeding populations. Between 70 and 90% of the 1000 pairs of breeding Wedge-tailed Shearwaters on Islas Revillagigedo are dark-morph birds (Howell and Webb, 1995). All birds south of 10º N latitude are dark-morphs, while the birds breeding in Hawaii, the Marshalls and the Marianas are mostly pale-morphs (Pratt et al., 1989). Puerto Angel, Oaxaca is just south of 16º N latitude. Given the fact that we saw about 300 light-morph individuals and only 3 dark-morphs, it is highly unlikely all our Wedge-taileds came from Islas Revillagigedos. The only way this could be true, given the above references to be correct, is if we saw the entire light-morph breeding population of Wedge-taileds from Islas Revillagigedos! An unlikely event, indeed. Instead, we believe our birds were from Hawaii.
If the above deduction is correct, then what does it say for the potential for Newell’s Shearwater (Puffinus newelli) off the coast of Oaxaca? Newell’s Shearwater is sometimes considered conspecific with Townsend’s Shearwater. If Wedge-taileds are dispersing east from their Hawaiin breeding grounds, might Newell’s be doing the same? Can the identification of Townsend’s Shearwater from Oaxaca be made reliably?
Pink-footed Shearwater 1
Wedge-tailed Shearwater 300
Black-vented Shearwater 12
Audubon’s Shearwater 10
Oceanodromus sp 1
Red-billed Tropicbird 3
Brown Boobies 10
Red-necked Phalarope 1
Pomarine Jaeger 3
Laughing Gull 100s
Black Tern 300
Barn Swallow 2
While out there we had two more observations that are worth conveying here. The first was of a few pale-headed (almost white in one case) Black-vented Shearwaters. In all respects they looked like leucistic Black-venteds. Most were like that depicted by Sibley on page 38. One, however, had much more white on the cap and nape. The other notable sighting was of an apparent Audubon’s Shearwater that we observed resting on the water. When it raised its wings to take off all eight of us simultaneously said “it has black underwings!?” Without any references on board we could not determine what it was. After checking Harrison’s Seabirds we found out our bird was likely of the Galapagos population: “In some populations underwings often completely fuscous, e.g. Galapagos Is." (but note Pete has since visited the Galapagos and searched in vain through thousands of Audubon’s Shearwaters there without finding a dark underwinged bird, though this was during the nonbreeding season so perhaps they were not actually Galapagos breeders) We photographed the white-headed Black-venteds but failed to document the underwings of dark-winged Audubon’s (just sitting on the water).
Finally, regarding the large numbers of Black Terns seen on the pelagic trip. Binford lists this species as “uncommon and irregular?” winter residents on the ocean “at least off Puerto Escondido” (1989). He lists three records from 6 and 18 February and 5 March concerning 4, 14, and 30 birds, respectively. He continues by citing Williams (1983): “These appear to be the only winter records for Mexico.” Clearly, we saw far more than Binford or Williams suggest should be off the Oaxacan coast in winter.
We spent out last night on the coast camping on the beach at Zipolite again. One member of our group had his backpack stolen from his tent while he was sleeping. He awoke in the middle of the night and noticed his tent door was unzipped and then realized his backpack was missing. Unfortunately, his binoculars, passport and tourist visa were in the pack. Another trip member’s passport and tourist visa were in the backpack, too.
Tuesday 6 January 2004
Woke up this morning in an obviously downer mood. We stuck to the original plan of birding the thorn-scrub covered bluffs south of Zipolite (11.10) as described by Howell on page 236. We hit a couple of nice flocks in a few hours and had the following: DOUBLEDAY’S and CINNAMON HUMMINGBIRD, CITREOLINE TROGON, RUSSET-CROWNED MOTMOT, GOLDEN-CHEEKED and PALE-BILLED WOODPECKER, WHITE-THROATED MAGPIE-JAY, RUFOUS-NAPED and BANDED WREN, WHITE-LORED GNATCATCHER, BLUE and ORANGE-BREASTED BUNTING, STREAK-BACKED and ALTAMIRA ORIOLE and YELLOW-WINGED CACIQUE.
After birding we spent the latter half of the morning and into the afternoon obtaining a police report from the Puerto Angel municipalities office. Afterwards we drove straight to Oaxaca City with minimal stops for birding. We spent the night camping alongside the reservoir above Teotitlán del Valle (11.2).
Wednesday 7 January 2004
Birded this morning above Teotitlán del Valle in hopes of some Oaxaca valley endemics. Before long we heard an Ocellated Thrasher singing but we could not locate it. The WESTERN SCRUB-JAY found here were common and they look distinctly different than those found in the U.S. We saw about a dozen in the morning. In general, it took a while for the scrub forest to wake up. Once it did we started seeing birds like WHITE-THROATED TOWHEE, BRIDLED SPARROW, BOUCARD’S WREN, GRAY-BREASTED WOODPECKER, and BULLOCK’S and BLACK-VENTED ORIOLES. We also had an obliging OCELLATED THRASHER that sat atop a bush and sang for a good 45 minutes. We photographed and recorded it extensively. Also of interest was a selection of higher elevation birds that had descended into the valley for the winter. Among them were PAINTED and SLATE-THROATED [Redstart] WHITESTART and CRESCENT-CHESTED WARBLER. Just above this site one can see pine forests. The transition is not too much farther up from here. As a result we could hear BROWN-BACKED SOLITAIRE and COMMON RAVENS calling from upslope while the thrasher and other valley endemics sang below.
After birding we spent an hour shopping in town for rugs and then drove into Oaxaca city to visit the U.S. Consular Agency. We arrived about 15 minutes past three which turned out to be about 15 minutes after they closed for the day! As it turns out, they are only open between 10 and 3, 5 days a week. FYI, they are located in a mall one block south of the major cultural museum in the north part of the city. The street name is Macedonio Alcala. It is building number 407 and office number 20. The address in the Lonely Planet is incorrect. It lists the correct office and building number but the incorrect street. The phone number is 951.514.3054 (for what it’s worth).
With the remaining daylight we drove up Route 175 (11.4) to look for more valley endemics. We birded the forest at various pulloffs and found a few BRIDLED SPARROWS and a CHESTNUT-CAPPED BRUSH-FINCH—surely another winter wander from the mountains. This was definitely the weirdest of the wanders we found today in arid scrub forest!
Drove back across the city to camp on the road just below Monte Albán.
Thursday 8 January 2004
We awoke below Monte Albán (11.1) at dawn and drove to the gate, arriving at about 7:00am. Wanting to bird the scrub before 8:00am when the gates (hopefully) open, we parked the car at the gate and wandered the trail to the right though some small cornfields and headgerows up towards the ruins. This route produced few birds, but we did have many WHITE-THROATED TOWHEE and a RUFOUS-CROWNED SPARROW. We were attempting to get to Tomb 7 (which is outside the ruins proper) but ended up wandering to Tomb 104 (inside the ruins proper) free of charge! We then snuck out and found our way down to Tomb 7 just before 8:00am. We birded the area around Tomb seven and had a few interesting things, like DUSKY FLYCATCHER, WESTERN TANAGER, DUSKY HUMMINGBIRD, WHITE-TAILED KITE, and 3 ELEGANT EUPHONIAS feeding on mistletoe. After about 20 minutes of birding around the tomb, Pete wandered around the backside (which seves as a bathroom for many people) and found the PILEATED FLYCATCHER that Rich Hoyer had tipped us off on. Unfortunately by they time he successfully alerted everyone, the bird was gone. Another hour of searching for the Pileated was fruitless, although we did have a female BEAUTIFUL HUMMINGBIRD and a great look at a BLUE MOCKINGBIRD. We left at 9:30am, in order to have plenty of time to deal with the US Consulate in Oaxaca City.
The Consulate told us that officially we should go to Mexico City to the Embassy to be issued an emergency passport. This would cost $100, but could be turned into a regular passport in the USA for free. On the other hand, a new passport in the states would cost $100, so no real increase in cost for replacement, besides time and gas. However, unofficially he said that they would issue us papers explaining the situation that should get us to the border, where we could have some problems if they asked us for them, but would still be ok. We opted for the later, and continued on our way as planned. As it turns out, we didn’t get stopped at any checkpoints and were not asked for ID at the border, so everything as far as that goes turned out OK.
We headed back to Rt 175 north (11.4) from 3:30 to 5:30pm search of Oaxaca Sparrow again, and again came up empty handed. The birds were similar to the day before with the addition of several DWARF VIREOS, and a GOLDEN VIREO. We had several more BRIDLED SPARROWS, BLACK-VENTED ORIOLES, and a couple GREATER PEWEEs and TUFTED FLYACATCHERs left us hoping for a Pileated that everyone could see.
We gave up on the Oaxaca valley and drove up towards La Cumbre in search of a campsite. We found one a couple kilometers before the road up La Cumbre, and stayed the night. A NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWL sang us to sleep, perhaps the farthest south Northern Saw-whet in existence.
Friday 9 January 2004
We awoke at dawn and drove the last 2 km or so to La Cumbre. We arrived at the gate about 7:30am, but unfortunately there was no one at the gate to let us in. After talking to a few people a man (who was not in charge but had a key) let us in without charging us. Several logging trucks were curiously parked near the entrance. We drove slowly to km3 where we parked the car and began walking in search of jays. We had about 4 COLLARED TOWHEES around an old building foundation, and a warbler flock including 4 TOWNSENDS, 3 HERMITS, 1 CRESCENT-CHESTED and singing OLIVE WARBLER and BROWN CREEPER. Several CHESTNUT-CAPPED BRUSHFINCHES scratched around in the undergrowth. We heard our first flock of STELLAR’S JAYS calling on the hillsides, but only a handful materialized all morning. We only heard one pair of GREY-BARRED WRENS. After half an hour the three logging trucks passed us on the road, and we began to hear chainsaws off in the distance. We turned around at about km 7 and returned to the car. On the way back we had 3 RED WARBLERS, several MAGNIFICENT HUMMINGBIRDS, and a nice dark phased RED-TAILED HAWK. We then drove to km 9 to walk again, and here our spirits dropped. The chainsaws were loud enough to drown out the birdsong, and many trees had been selectively cut. We counted rings on one and got to about 70, this was a large tree over a meter in diameter. NOTE: This was selective logging, basically going for the big trees but leaving 95% of them uncut. One still wonders if this will have an effect on the Dwarf Jays at La Cumbre. The forest there has been logged before, and the Jays persisted, but I have no idea about their specific habitat preferences. Anyway, totally dejected with the overall lack of birds and decreased abundances of trees, we left at about 11:00am, a RED-FACED WARBLER was a last good bird on the way out. On the way out there was a group of locals hanging out at the entrance. We were delighted that they didn’t make us pay on the way out, but angered that they take money from tourists (including us last year) “to protect” the forest that they allow to be logged. Interestingly enough, this appears to be very new. Rich Hoyer lead a WINGS group there two weeks prior, and had no evidence of recent logging. They did collect money from him (and increased the amount, I believe).
We drove north to the arid river valley mentioned by Howell. Around the bridge we had a BLACK PHEOBE, a pair of DUSKY HUMMINGBIRDS, and a female WHITE-COLLARED (CINNAMON-RUMPED) SEEDEATER. We continued to drive back up into the humid pine forest. We stopped a little shy of the continental divide, which was all fogged in. Last year at this spot we had many good birds, including a flock of Aztec Thrushes in a tree right off the road. This tree was gone now too, and a resturaunt was in its place. This area had also been further logged. At this point we saw our last HERMIT, OLIVE, RED, and CRESCENT-CHESTED WARBLERS of the trip, and Mike found a tiny salamander that appeared to be a Desmognathus.
We crossed the continental divide at 5pm with 10m visability, and continued down to km post 90 to a great campsite on the right that we used last year. We got our tents set up just before the rain started, a rain that lasted until the next evening.
Saturday 10 Jan 2003
Singing SLATE-COLORED SOLITARES woke up shortly after dawn. We packed up camp during a brief break in the rain, and began the mornings birding. We were in thick fog, so we attempted to drive down to get out of it. It was slightly lighter at km76, and we got out and had 4 EMERALD TOUCANETS, 4 UNICOLORED JAYS, 1 AZURE-HOODED JAY, and one YELLOW-BILLED CACIQUE that seemed a big high in elevation. We walked down to km 75 where Mike spotted a STRIPE-TAILED HUMMINGBIRD. The cold rain continued and we began to fear this was a norte coming in off the gulf that was not about to let up. At km 73 we were pleased to see 3 SLATE-COLORED SOLITARES in a fruiting tree with 6 ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS. We were now getting below the fog, although it was still raining steadily. Our next stop yielded AMETHYST-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD, COMMON BUSH-TANAGER, GRAY-BREASTED WOOD-WREN, SPOT-BREASTED WREN, BLACK-HEADED SALTATOR, LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH, and YELLOW-BELLIED TYRANNULET. An odd mix of species at this elevation, now below cloud forest at km 68.
Continuing down to the hamlet of Pto. Eligio (km 62.2) the birding began to get better, and the birds seemed to be caring less about the rain. We heard a KEEL-BILLED TOUCAN calling downslope, always a welcomed reminder that you’re back in rainforest. A mixed flock of warblers crossed the road, including BLACK-THROATED GREEN, WILSON’S, GOLDEN-CROWNED, and a WORM-EATING. A trio of BUFF-THROATED FOLIAGE-GLEANERS called from the undergrowth and gave great looks. Another mixed flock came by with 2 PLAIN XENOPS, 8 WHITE-WINGED TANAGERS, and about 30 LESSER GREENLETS. A DUSKY-CAPPED FLYCATCHER of the rufous race called from a exposed perch, and a STRIPE-THROATED HERMIT fed in roadside flowers. We continued to walk down the road until km 61. The highlight of the day to this point was a soaked GOLDEN-HOODED TANAGER that perched at eye-level for about 5 minutes. We flushed a couple more toucans from the side of the road, and walked to a large bend in the road at km 61. This spot was one of the best spots along the road last year, and this year it pulled its weight as well. A GREEN SHRIKE-VIREO put on a show, and was in view from as close as 3m for about 15 minutes. Other birds included 2 BLACK-COWLED ORIOLES, 3 CRIMSON-COLLARED TANAGERS, 1 VIOLET SABREWING, 1 WHITE-BELLIED EMERALD, 1 BARRED ANTSHRIKE, 3 VIOLACEOUS TROGONS, and 1 TAWNY-THROATED LEAFTOSSER (heard).
We arrived at the pulloff to the village of la Nueva Esperanza around noon. Again, there was quite a bit of activity, and it was only sprinking now. Birds in the shrubs included 2 RUFOUS-BREASTED SPINETAILS, 1 BARRED ANTSHRIKE, BUFF-THROATED SALTATOR, CRIMSON-COLLARED TANAGER, WHITE-BREASTED WOOD-WREN, LONG-BILLED GNATWREN, VIOLET SABREWING, LESSER GREENLET, and STRIPE-TAILED HUMMINGBIRD, and one COMMON BUSH-TANAGER (at almost sea level now). Rich Hoyer told us to look a couple hundred meters down the road for a female and a young male Black-crested Coquette. Instead, 20m down the road there was a flowering Inga tree full of hummers that contained an adult male BLACK-CRESTED COQUETTE, WHITE-BELLIED EMERALD, AZURE-CROWNED HUMMINGBIRD, and at least 4 RUFOUS-TAILED HUMMINGBIRDS.
We arrived in Valle Nacional and checked internet to see if the weather was going to let up. Sure enough, we were getting slammed by a norte, and it appeared that it was not going to let up until at least Monday. However, there was nowhere else to bird that wasn’t getting slammed by the norte, so we decided to stick it out for one more day. Although we had seen all the target species in the cloud forest last year, we wanted to see those things again. We stayed in a decent hotel in Valle Nacional for 150 pesos.
11 January 2003
We started back up 175 above Valle Nacional, and birded a steep trail that led through a coffee plantation a few km out of town. There wasn’t any rain today although it was foggy in places. We had VIOLACEOUS TROGON, TUFTED FLYCATCHER, OLIVACEOUS WOODCREEPER, OLIVE-THROATED PARAKEET, KEEL-BILLED TOUCAN, SCRUB EUPHONIA, OLIVE-BACKED EUPHONIA, and a very low TOWNSENDS WARBLER. Walking up the road from there we had both ANT-TANAGERS, several YELLOW-BELLIED FLYCATHERS, BLUE-CROWNED MOTMOT, PALE-BILLED WOODPECKER, and all three SALTATORS. A little up the road at km 41 we had an impressive flock of 41 BLACK-FACED GROSBEAKS and a GREY-COLLARED BECARD. We visited la Nueva Esperansa again, and had the same birds as the previous day (including the BLACK-CRESTED COQUETTE perched in the scope for about 20 minutes), plus WHITE-CROWNED PARROT, YELLOW-BELLIED FLYCATCHER, IVORY-BILLED WOODCREEPER, YELLOW-BELIED TYRANULET, OCHRE-BELLIED FLYCATCHER, BLACK-COWLED ORIOLE, GRAY-COLLARED BECARD, RUSTY SPARROW (easily seen on road), and BANANAQUIT.
At the bend in the road at km 61 there was another OCHRE-BELLIED FLYCATCHER and a YELLOW-BILLED CACIQUE. We continued up to cloud forest at km 76, and walked into a small clearing off the road that ended up being a graveyard. It was all fogged in this high, and very quiet. We did have a BLACK-HEADED NIGHTENGALE-THRUSH, A WHITE-NAPED BRUSHFINCH, and a SPECTACLED FOLIAGE-GLEANER. We went back down the mountain, as it began it rain again. We got down to Valle Nacional for a late lunch at a roticería. As we drove towards Tuxtepec, we spotted a WHITE HAWK perched in a tree that allowed a good scope view. We got to Tuxtepec a little before dark, got lodging (at Motel las Brisas, perhaps the greatest Automotel in the world!). We looked for the Striped Owl on the wires near the Pemex station described by Howell. No luck though.
12 January 2003
We began the morning at the road described by Howell. A good mix of tropical edge species was present, including MONTEZUMA OROPENDULA, BLUE GROUND-DOVE, BLUE-BLACK GRASSQUIT, BLACK-FACED GROSBEAK, THICK-BILLED SEEDFINCH, GRAYISH SALTATOR (eating flowers), LAUGHING FALCON, GRAY HAWK, RUFOUS-BREASTED SPINETAIL, WHITE-CROWNED PARROT, and YELLOW-TAILED ORIOLE. The biggest surprise was a male GREEN-BREASTED MANGO. We continued the area around the dam, stopping briefly at a banana plantation to view BLUE-GRAY TANAGERS, YELLOW-WINGED TANAGERS, and two very odd female Agelaius blackbirds. They were very well marked, a rich warm chocolate brown rather than the dusky color we are used to on Red-wingeds, and the pale streaks were rich ochraceous rather than duff buff. Perhaps a local subspecies?? The area around the dam had MANGROVE SWALLOW, PAINTED BUNTING, WHITE-EYED VIREO, HOOK-BILLED KITE and fabulous looks at a CRIMSON-COLLARED TANAGER.
We drove to Las Barrancas, Veracruz in the afternoon. After the train tracks we took a right. about 100m down the road we walked out into the fields, and found 9 DOUBLE-STRIPED THICK-KNEES, 8 GRASSLAND YELLOW-FINCHES, 5 SAVANNAH SPARROWS. The fields in the area had 20+ FORK-TAILED FLYCATCHERS and 4+ LESSER YELLOW-HEADED VULTURES. We went back to the main road and took a right towards the coast. After about a quarter mile we stopped at a marsh and Pete spotted 2 PINNATED BITTERNS in the open. The birds stood erect and occasionally took a step or two, but stayed in the open until we left them about 20 minutes later. In the field on the left there were another 2 DOUBLE-STRIPED THICKKNEES. We headed back to the main road and drove to Tecolutla to camp for the night.
13 January 2004
We walked the dike into the Tecolutla marsh a little after dawn. We had a couple glimpses of ALTIMIRA YELLOWTHROATS before we all got a good look at a nice male. Other birds in the marsh included many SORA, a LEAST BITTERN, TAMAULIPAS CROW, MARSH WREN, and PURPLE GALLINULE. Birds in the hedgerows included GRAY-CROWNED YELLOWTHROAT, YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER, LAUGHING FALCON, and another surprise, a female PROTHONATARY WARBLER. After about an hour we left and drove to Matamoros, reaching there shortly after dark. We then had an uneventful crossing into Brownsville.
All species recorded by day, with rough abundance estimates.
I have an excel spreadsheet with lists of all species seen per day, with rough abundances. If this would useful to you, don't hesitate to email me (pah24_AT_cornell.edu). Unfortunatly I can't post it on surfbirds with thier format.
Greater White-fronted Goose
West Mexican Chachalaca
American White Pelican
Great Blue Heron
Little Blue Heron
Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture
Great Horned Owl
Northern Saw-whet Owl
Great Swallow-tailed Swift
Northern R-winged Swallow
"Northern House Wren"
Black-throated Gray Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Sierra Madre Sparrow