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Birding notes on a trip from Texas to Guatemala
by Karl Overman
[JWW Comment: Karl Overman has generously granted me permission to post his detailed daily notes of a recent trip through Mexico. Karl has been keeping daily records like this for every day of his life since childhood and must have more than 5,000 pages of single-spaced birding notes by now. As you will see, his chronological accounts convey what birding trips are really like better than most conventional trip reports. We experience the birder's hopes and apprehensions as they arrive at each new site, not knowing what they will find or whether they will dip.]
April 27, 2000
Peter Kaestner is currently posted at the U.S. embassy in Guatemala City. [See October 2000 interview.] He had arranged to buy a new Jeep Grand Cherokee in Texas and drive it back to Guatemala and bird along the way through Mexico. He asked me to join him for some serious birding along the way. We crossed over the border into Mexico on a new bridge east of Brownsville. On the Mexican side, there was a nice wetland where we had Snowy Egrets, a pair of Mottled Ducks, a Ringed Kingfisher, Long-billed Dowitchers, Bank Swallows, Black-necked Stilts among other birds. A logistical problem was finding a place to buy Mexican auto insurance. It took us a while to find a place which was in the middle of town in a nice neighborhood in Matamoros. While Peter took care of that business I guarded the car and birded. A pair of Black-crested Titmice were going down the pole supporting a basketball backboard. A male Ruby-throated Hummingbird was visiting saw lovely red flowers. A Green Heron incongruously flew over this urban setting. Rough-winged Swallows were overhead. I spotted a Franklin's Gull flying with Laughing Gulls high overhead. Once insured, we were off to the tropics. Driving through northern Tamaulipis along route 180 we had a flock of 25 Whimbrel and several Willets fly across the road at one point. We saw a few Chihuahuan Ravens en route. After the split of routes 101 and 180, we made a brief stop on 180 in rolling arid grasslands punctuated with tall yuccas. Heard Bobwhite. Saw a female Northern Harrier. Eastern Meadowlarks singing. Saw Blue Grosbeak and Couch's Kingbird. On 180 before Soto la Marina, we stopped briefly and picked up a pair of White-eyed Vireos and a Cardinal (seen). Also along that stretch of road we added Roadside Hawk, Gray Hawk, an immature White Ibis (at a small temporary pool). We then drove on the paved road to La Pesca on the coast. Tamaulipis Crows were a common roadside bird along the way. First we looked for waterbirds, reserving to later birding the thorn forest areas we passed through on the way to the coast. Near the coast there were large stretches of flats on the north side of the road but they were nearly devoid of both water and birds. We drove across one such flat on a dike road and found only three shorebirds–a pair of Baird's Sandpipers and a Snowy Plover. We had a flock of around 30 Dickcissels perched in a roadside tree. There were a number of modest motels along the river in the immediate vicinity of the coast. We saw both Osprey and Crested Caracara hunting along that wide river. In the town of La Pesca itself we saw Least Terns and two raggedly looking, very white looking Herring Gulls. The coast itself was littered with garbage and there were quite a few Mexicans enjoying the beach there. We went to the end of the road were there is a channel leading to the Gulf of Mexico. Across the channel various waterbirds were resting – 40 Black Skimmers, 50 Royal Terns, one Black-bellied Plover, Sanderlings, Ruddy Turnstones, Spotted Sandpiper and at least one American Oystercatcher. I saw a Sandwich Tern in flight. It was a glum, overcast day. We headed back into the hills west of La Pesca to eventually look for the target bird of the area, Tawny-collared Nightjar. We found a track leading down from the main road on the north side that went through a nice stretch of thorn forest. I heard parrots along the main road but did not see them but on this track we saw a singleton and a pair of Yellow-headed Parrots flying over. Thicket Tinamous were calling everywhere from the thorn forest. Other heard birds from the tropics there included Spot-breasted Wrens and Ivory-billed Woodcreeper. The Ferruginous Pygmy Owl tape worked well there bringing in a male Blue Bunting, Olive Sparrows, Altamira's Oriole and Black-crested Titmice. We saw White-tipped Doves in that area. I heard an Elegant Trogon call several times. A couple of Purple Martins called as they flew over. Brown Jays were common and vocal in the thorn forest. We spent several hours from dusk into the night, playing the tape and listening for Tawny-collared Nightjar but only got one short response. We heard Mottled Owl calling there. We had a chicken dinner in Soto la Marina that was pretty bad and hit the road at 9:30 p.m. for Mante. It was a windy and rainy drive. In Mante we arrived at what would be our usual time of arrival – 1:00 am. We stopped by the Los Arcos Motel but we did not like what they had to offer (in retrospect, we should have taken it) and instead went into town and stayed at the Hotel Mante which at around $60 a night was overpriced.
April 28, 2000
Somewhere along the way yesterday, the temporary license on the Jeep had either been stolen or had blown off. Peter carefully drew up a new temporary license for us that served us well for the rest of the trip. In the pre-dawn hours, we heard a Clay-colored Robin singing from the Hotel Mante grounds. We were off to the forested mountains above El Naranjo. The ridge before El Naranjo had recently been torched leaving a huge area of charred woodland. As we started up the hills beyond El Naranjo we had a Greater Roadrunner on the side of the road. We didn't stop to bird until we reached a dirt road leading off to the left marked Maguey de Oriente as indicated in the Howell bird finding book, 11.5 miles from the bridge in El Naranjo. The cloud forest in the area was still extensive but looked stressed from lack of moisture. We birded down that side road for about a mile until the habitat started looking too degraded. Peter was as focused as ever on his quest for life birds so he was trolling for the Tamaulipis Pygmy Owl with the tape. Thicket Tinamous were commonly calling. We had a White-crowned Parrot fly over plus several times we saw Amazonas parrots fly over that were either Red-crowned or Red-lored. Red-billed Pigeons were likewise seen flying over. Birds seen by me along that mile stretch included a male Barred Antshrike (in a brushy clearing), Buff-bellied Hummingbird, a calling Mountain Trogon, Plain Chachalacas (common and seen in virtually all wooded areas in eastern Mexico we birded), Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Eastern Wood Pewee (heard), Spot-breasted Wren, Vaux's Swift, Long-billed Thrasher (commonly seen above El Naranjo today) Greater Pewee, Green Jays, Golden-crowned Warblers, Rufous-capped Warblers, Cassin's Vireos (common; never definitely saw a Blue-headed). Tropical Parulas were along that stretch of road and were generally common and in song in cloud forest and foothill areas above El Naranjo. Migrants seen along that road included Black-throated Green Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler and Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Dipping for the moment on the Pygmy Owl, we left that side road and went back to the main road. We drove up slightly higher and drove down a muddy track on the opposite side of the road that lead to small cultivated areas. Rufous-browed Peppershrikes were common with one being uncharacteristically seen on a fenceline through the brushy forest. A Catbird popped into view in the undergrowth. The pygmy owl tape attracted quite a crowd of birds including Azure-crowned Hummingbird, Wedge-tailed Sabrewing, Blue Mockingbird (we saw at least 5 of them scattered over the cloud forest in brushy areas). Driving on to a large clearing in a flat area, we stopped inside the forest and found a pair of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, a Black-headed Grosbeak (Peter only), Audubon's Oriole, Brown-backed Solitaire (seen there; heard often in the area), Crescent-chested Warblers (saw them often above El Naranjo), and at least three Elegant (formerly Blue-hooded) Euphonias (feeding on mistletoe). Across the main road from where this track enters the forest there is a pasture upslope with a couple horses grazing. Under the shade trees along the road there is an ancient sugar cane press. Walking on the edge of the pasture we had another Blue Mockingbird and Wilson's Warbler. In the tree tops on the fringe of the pasture we spotted Olive-sided Flycatcher and several Gray Silky Flycatchers. In the trees hanging over the road there we had several Yellow-throated Euphonias and White-winged Tanagers, both of which we saw frequently in cloud forest areas today. We drove up hill only to the corral mentioned in Howell before Agua Zarca. A family group of Spotted Wrens were on the fenceline at the corral. A Chipping Sparrow was hopping on the ground there. A pair of Hepatic Tanagers were in the woods across the road (along with some local woodcutters). We saw a Bronze-winged/Golden-olive Woodpecker there. A pair of Great Black Hawks soared over, calling loudly as if courting. We drove all the way back to El Naranjo so that Peter could get the necessary supplies for creating a new license plate. In the lower reaches of the hills above El Naranjo we made a birding stop where Peter saw a Fan-tailed Warbler and we both saw Squirrel Cuckoo, Yellow-green Vireos (very common), Streaked Flycatcher (only one for trip), Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, Social Flycatchers and Boat-billed Flycatcher. Uncharacteristically for the trip, we had a sit down lunch which was of chicken grilled right along the road. It was delicious. In the shade trees of that grimy town, I saw several Yellow-winged Tanagers. We checked east of town for the Altamira Yellowthroat stakeout but the marsh had been dug out. Groove-billed Anis were along the fringes of the sugar cane fields. Driving back up into the hills, Melodious Blackbirds were common on the lower reaches. The single White-throated Robin for the day was likewise at a low elevation. We drove the side road to Maguey de Oriente again. This time we drove through the forested areas into the open farmland areas where we added a number of trip birds: Rusty Sparrow, Vermilion Flycatcher, Eastern Bluebird (a pair), Northern Raven (two overhead), Hooded Oriole, Black-headed Saltator (on a brushy slope), White-collared Seedeaters. We saw a female bunting that I believe was a Varied (brown, paler and unmarked below, blue tail) which otherwise went unseen on this trip. We worked our way back through the forested part of that side road. A half mile from the main road at 4:10 p.m., Peter played the pygmy owl tape and got a response. This was the area with the densest undergrowth. We eventually got fine views of this little guy, the recently christened Tamaulipis Pygmy Owl, formerly part of the Least Pygmy Owl complex. We left the area at 4:30 p.m., dashing off towards Veracruz. We stopped to bird when we started hitting marshes west of Tampico, Tamaulipis. At one roadside pond we had Least Grebes, Common Gallinules [trust me, it won't stay Moorhen forever], Coot, White-faced Ibis, a pair of Shovelers, a couple Least Sandpipers and a Lesser Yellowlegs. A Black-crowned Night Heron flew off. Both Double-crested and Neotropical Cormorants were on the transmission lines behind the pond. Distantly a pair of Harris's Hawks landed on powerline poles. Despite the heavy traffic, we played the tape for Altamira Yellowthroat. We got plenty of Common Yellowthroats in response but no Altamira Yellowthroat. Several flocks of Forster's Terns flew by at that late hour, heading toward the coast. Peter saw a Gull-billed Tern in one such flock. At a nearby pond which was covered with floating vegetation we saw two Soras and several Northern Jacanas including young. We drove through the night to stay in Tecolutla, Veracruz on the coast. We arrived at 1:45am and stayed at the Hotel Playa (425 pesos with around 9 pesos to a dollar) which was a very acceptable place to stay.
April 29, 2000
We got up at dawn in hopes of getting to the beach before the beach crowd on this Saturday morning. No way. Even after we arrived, dozens of buses from the Mexican interior arrived dumping beach-goers onto the beach in the night. Per usual litter was everywhere on this beach and they were even burning garbage on the beach. The town was alive with visitors with no gringos in sight except for us. We drove out of town looking for marsh habitat. None could be seen from the main road. We stopped at a house that had a long perimeter line of pines. Peter, in his fluent Spanish, told the owner that we were looking for marsh habitat. The owner informed us that water levels were way down but he would take us to a marshy area. The owner got in his pickup truck and drove back towards Tecolutla and then turned north on a long dirt track that passed by a farmstead. Beyond there the track ended but we drove across an open field grassy field that had recently been mowed. We saw an Upland Sandpiper in that field and a White-tailed Kite was hunting over the field. There was a rough track cut through a portion of the tules (seems to be the Spanish word for marsh vegetation) but we walked it rather than drive it. In the uncut grass, as opposed to cattails and tules, we heard at least three Sedge Wrens singing and saw one. There was a clump of five small trees and bushes isolated out in this marshland and those bushes were magnets for migrants including Eastern Kingbirds, Western Kingbirds, Indigo Bunting (female), Painted Bunting (female), Crested Flycatcher, Catbirds, Yellow Warbler, and Lincoln's Sparrow. A Barn Owl flew out as we approached those bushes. At one point a couple of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks were perched on there. We often saw that species in eastern Mexico. We had a small flock of Lesser Goldfinches in that open area. A Merlin flew over. In the dense cattails Peter played tapes of Ruddy Crake and Altamira Yellowthroat. We got responses from both with Peter glimpsing the Crake and both of us seeing a female Altamira Yellowthroat. We saw Marsh Wrens in that area. There was a huge migration of swallows underway in the area, especially noticeable on the coast with 10s of thousands of birds moving north, mostly Barn Swallows but also quite a few Bank Swallows and we picked out one Cliff Swallow. Driving back to the main road, we spotted a pair of Olive-throated Parakeets in a tree by the farmstead. Blue-black Grassquits were common in the weedy fields in that area. We had a small flock of White Ibis in flight over Tecolutla. We eventually found the place mentioned in Howell that was within walking distance of the hotels. From the main road follow the sign to the Hotel Aldana. On the road you turn on (the Hotel Aldana is on the road closest to the beach, a right hand turn off this road), there will be a small white building, obviously not a house set back on the edge of the marsh/fields. It is behind that building that the small diked area referred to in Howell is located. On the dikes we found both Ochre Oriole (a bird Peter was keen to see in case of future splits) and migrant Orchard Orioles. A Gray-crowned Yellowthroat popped into view. Inside the diked area was a small wet area like a sewage treatment pond that was filled with tall tules/cattails. It is there that we saw a handsome male Altamira Yellowthroat in response to a tape (good luck without a tape). Also in response to a tape I got a quick but fine look at a Ruddy Crake that briefly perched on top of the mass of dead tules underneath the live tules. A King Rail called out. While on those dikes we saw the trip Muscovy Duck fly by plus we saw Lesser Yellow-headed Vultures. We checked out of our hotel around 11:30, after a monotypic (for this trip) sitdown breakfast in town and headed down the coast. Along the way in small wetlands near the coast we saw several Tricolored Herons. Before turning inland, we crossed a wide river at Casitas where Peter pointed out Mangrove Swallows. It was slow going due to traffic through much of northern Veracruz with no real chance for roadside birding until we started climbing into the mountains. On slopes that were unbelievably steep that towered above the road beyond Tlapacoyan, we stopped to try roadside birding. I saw a Western Tanager and we both saw a pair of Red-legged Honeycreepers. We had arrived in the land of the Common Bush-Tanager as that became a dominant species in highland forests. We drove on to where the terrain was less vertical, around Kilometer 12 and found a side track leading off to the left into mountain forest which we could drive in the Jeep. Some pines in the area but mostly deciduous looking tropical vegetation. A Slate-colored Solitaire was singing which responded to the tape but I only saw in flight. We also had there Black-headed Nightingale Thrush, Emerald Toucanet (I wanted to call it a trogon by voice), Tufted Flycatcher and Brown-capped Vireo. The road climbed up to the Mexican plateau and areas of open pines. In a rare pine grove on the side of the road with large trees we stopped. The area seemed to be used mostly as a roadside bathroom but in the towering pines we had some birds including Gray Silky-Flycatchers, an immature Red Crossbill, siskins sp (heard only), Hutton's Vireos, Crescent-chested Warblers. Up on the Mexican plateau in Veracruz the countryside was intensively cultivated. We stopped to bird profitably in a very unlikely looking area under the shadow of a mountain with lion in its name where there was a split in the road, with one road going to Perote (which we did not take) and the other road going through V. Aldama. In this area, presumably intensely farmed for hundreds of years, there was very little native bunch grass around. Very narrow strips of bunch grass were to be found in the hedges of agave plants and it that habitat we found quite a few Striped Sparrows. Checking further we also found several Canyon Towhees in the agave hedges. We saw one sparrow that was streaked underneath that reminded me of a Savannah Sparrow but it did not quite fit. After the fact I began to wonder about Sierra Madre Sparrow but I could not kick the bird back up and it did not react to playing the Sierra Madre Sparrow song. We decided to check other areas for bunch grass in hopes of Sierra Madre Sparrow. Across the road leading to Perote there were more fields with some bunch grass along an eroded gully. We drove into that field. Horned Larks were plentiful on the plowed fields there. In an ancient hedge we found a Yellow-eyed Junco. We spent 45 minutes birding the hedges there. I did see a Lincoln's Sparrow in the hedge which was not the streaked sparrow I had seen earlier. Several male Broad-tailed Hummingbirds were displaying in the area. A few Violet-green Swallows were flying over the fields. I flushed a Grasshopper Sparrow that perched conspicuously for us for five minutes. Peter pointed out a Hooded Yellowthroat in a more distant hedge. That made four Yellowthroat species in a day which surely I will not ever duplicate. A large green hummingbird was undoubtedly a Green Violet-ear. We saw empids there but as usual on this trip I let them go unidentified. House Finches were abundant in the hedgerows in that area. We drove downhill to Xalapa where Peter had the Jeep washed (keeping this new vehicle clean before repatriating the vehicle with his wife was a very high priority with Peter) and from there we drove on to Coatepec where we were to look for Bearded Wood Partridge on the morrow. Coatepec was a much bigger place that either of us was prepared for with 40,000 some in population. Moreover a coffee festival was going on so finding a room was difficult. Eventually we found two at the Camino Real which was very acceptable. Finding Pedro Mota was more difficult. When we first went to his house he was not there and his daughter indicated that he was out for the evening. Pedro is a bird trapper and in his house there were caged Mealy Parrot, Flame-colored Tanagers, Elegant Euphonias, Slate-colored Solitaires and what appeared to be a Slate-colored Seedeater. We went back later in the evening and met up with Pedro and arranged to meet him at 5:30 am to go after the Bearded Wood Partridge.
April 30, 2000
Peter and I picked up Pedro and a young man that was either a son or a nephew of his and we drove about 8 kilometers out of town and parked in a coffee finca in the dark. A Pauraque was on the cobblestone road where we parked. In the dark we walked up hill through shaded coffee and woods. We heard Mottled Owls calling before dawn. First light found us in tropical hills overlooking a bowl, half filled with native forest and half scared by a recent fire with the fire scar extending all the way up the far hillside. We soon heard from the far side of the bowl bird sounds that Pedro said was the Bearded Wood Partridge. However the sound I heard was neither of the two calls that Pedro imitated to try to attract the birds. One call he used was a rapid wavering call and the other a rollicking whip-poor-will like call. We walked very wide trails that we were told were property lines through the hill forest and bracken covered open areas. In forest, Pedro showed us a place where he says the Wood Partridge dust bathe. Pedro was not alarmed by the recent slash and burn clearing on the hills, claiming that the Wood Partridge benefit by the planting of beans in these areas. We had no large bird parties at dawn and no flights of parrots at all. I got the feeling that birds in this area were heavily trapped as we saw no parrots, solitaires, or tanagers (other than euphonias). Birds in general seemed scarce. The birding technique for seeing the Wood Partridge was basically a waiting game. Find a patch of poke berries and try to lure the birds there by call. At the poke berry patch where we spent most of the time, there was a green shot gun shell on the ground. We ran into a man with five hunting dogs though the man was not carrying a gun. It was a good area for hummingbirds. In open bracken covered areas with hedges, you would hear a strange wren-like song that actually was the sound of displaying Wedge-tailed Sabrewings. Amethyst-throated Hummingbirds were common in the forest as were Green Violet-ears and Azure-crowned Hummingbirds. A fine looking male Bumblebee Hummingbird was on territory along the ridge line where we spent much of the day. After the morning hike up and a couple hours of uneventful waiting for the bird, Pedro took a nap for much of the day, saying the Wood Partridge rest during the heat of the day. White-collared Swifts were thick overhead but despite much searching, there were no other swifts in with them. Momentarily we mistook some migrating Mississippi Kites as high flying/soaring swifts. There were two groups totaling 80 birds that flew over the ridge we were on. Peter pointed out a Hooded Yellowthroat in a bracken covered hillside below us. A fruiting tree attracted vireos, namely Cassin's and Yellow-green. I was a little surprised to see an Ochre-bellied Flycatcher in these forested hills. A single Slate-throated Redstart put in an appearance in the forest understorey. A couple of Golden-browed Warblers briefly appeared in an open poke-berry patch on the forest edge. Peter and I were eaten alive by small black flies that seemed to prefer the subtropics on this trip. A pair of Yellow-faced Grassquits were along the trail on the ridge we were on. Other birds we saw during our long wait included Green Jays, Montezuma's Oropendula, Brown Jays, Yellow-throated Euphonias, Golden-olive Woodpecker, Swainson's Thrush (common with some singing their full songs), American Redstart, Chestnut-sided Warbler. Pedro thought that the Wood Partridge would be calling again before going to roost around 8 p.m. but we needed to drive that night to Córdoba so we started walking out of the hill forest at around 6 p.m. We saw Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch on the trail through forest on the walk back. We dropped Pedro off at his house, paying him $20 U.S., and started driving to Córdoba. We took secondary roads which were fine with the roads paved and little traffic. It went through interesting looking country with steep forested slopes part of the way but of course this was mostly after sunset. We stayed, at my suggestion at the swank Villa Florida Hotel in Córdoba for our usual 5 hours of sleep. Mexico (unlike what I was to see in Guatemala) is almost devoid of U.S. fast food places although in Córdoba we saw Kentucky Fried Chicken and Pizza Hut. We never saw a McDonald's in Mexico. Outside of Córdoba we had momentarily stopped at a conveniently located motel only to find that it was an Auto Hotel. These are found on the outskirts of most large Mexican towns and they are where men take their mistresses. These hotels have a distinctive, fortress-like look and typically have garages for each room so that cars can be discretely hidden.
May 1, 2000
We drove the short distance over to Amatlán, past the cemetery and climbed up the forested limestone hill that is the world stakeout for Slender-billed Wren. Much of the hill is planted in shade coffee. It proved to be a very birdy area. Red-lored Parrots flew by in the early morning light. In the coffee areas with shade trees we found Olive Sparrows, Red-throated Ant-Tanagers and numerous migrant warblers such as Tennessee Warbler and Magnolia Warbler. We saw such birds on that hill as Lineated Woodpecker, Blue-crowned Motmot, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Ivory-billed Woodcreeper, White-breasted Wood-Wren, Scrub Euphonia, and Indigo Buntings. We heard Slender-billed Wren calling from downslope, inside the forest. To see the bird required climbing down on limestone stacks and waiting at a small limestone ravine in the forest. With the tape, we had fine looks at this unique looking wren which stayed on the limestone rocks and ledges while we observed it. Time to get back to the car and drive on. While driving through Amatlán, we saw a pair of Grayish Saltators. Driving on the Cuota (toll) highway through the lowlands of Veracruz en route to Catemaco, we stopped frequently at the wetlands we passed. We saw a Striped Cuckoo perched on the fenceline for the toll road and saw a perched Laughing Falcon as we flew by.. Black-bellied Whistling Ducks were numerous and we had one group of 40 Fulvous Whistling Ducks in with them. Gray-necked Wood-Rails were surprisingly easy to see even at 75 miles per hour. Other waterbirds seen along this stretch included Roseate Spoonbills (4 distantly perched birds), Collared Plover, Caspian Terns, Blue-winged Teal, Solitary Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher (heard and seen). We left the toll road and drove up through mostly open fields toward Santiago Tuxtla. A quick roadside stop at a stream crossing produced Common Black Hawk and Black-headed Trogon (heard and then seen). We started seeing Fork-tailed Flycatchers along fencelines in open country. Ruddy Ground Doves are now common roadside birds. We were in Catemaco around 11 am. We tried getting a room at Playa Azul but they were full. We drove toward the coast. Along the way we stopped in a cultivated area with numerous shade trees and had a pair of Rose-throated Becards visiting a fruiting tree. We started down the road to La Barra de Sontecomapan hoping for shorebirds once at the coast. We saw Blue-gray Tanagers in this area of mostly pastureland. Concluding that this was not bird efficient, we turned around before getting to the coast. We then drove on the poor road into Playa Escondido that is one lane part of the way. The hotel is set in a lovely patch of tropical forest on a bluff overlooking the Gulf of Mexico which was barely visible due the haze. We had lunch there and paid for a room for the night – 200 pesos I think. I walked a trail to a cliff overlooking the Gulf. Saw a Long-tailed Hermit stealing insects from a spider web at the beginning of the trail. Magnificent Frigatebirds were common along this coastline. We set out to try to find the route up into the Sierra de Los Tuxtlas. Driving along the north side of Lake Catemaco there were a fair number of herons along the shoreline plus grebes, including some Pied-billed Grebes. We picked out a Ruddy Duck out on this expansive lake. We had a dismal showing for raptors. We drove to the village of Tebanca and Peter asked directions for getting up into the Tuxtlas. People were leary of telling us, saying that the road was very bad in this area and that the main route up was further along (it turned out the current road up was 1.5 miles from the end of the pavement). We found the old road up the mountain which started across from a series of well maintained houses along the lake. The drive up was brutal. I was impressed by both the vehicle and Peter's driving skills. The drive for much of the way was like driving up a streambed. At times the track was totally abandoned (but still of course between two lines of shade trees) with us driving up adjacent pastures. At one point Peter had to navigate between a large rock and a deeply eroded gully down the former road. Unfortunately we slid into the gully and the vehicle was in danger of tipping over. Ever prepared, Peter pulled out a shovel and started digging. For myself, I dragged a log and numerous rocks to fill in ahead of the vehicle. Many of the rocks I turned over had Black Widow type spiders (black, bulbous bodies with a small red spot). It was touch and go but after six or seven tries, we were free at last, free at last. We had already past through two large patches of impressive tropical forest with huge trees. These were in essentially flat terrain. We did not bird them much but did have Keel-billed Toucans, White-bellied Emeralds and Lesser Greenlets among other birds. We heard what was certainly a Green Peppershrike. In the pasture land up in the Tuxtlas you would see burned out landscapes with massive charred remnants of the primeval forest. The area was not very precipitous and thus cattle country now. We would often encounter men on horseback. We would ask for the area known as Bastonal but it did not seem to be universally known. We came to a cross road and went left, hoping it was where Howell described as a well forested area but it turned out to be the currently used route up and down the mountain. We back tracked and drove on as rapidly as Peter dared as time was against us. En route we saw very few birds – Yellow-winged Tanagers were common. Saw a male Black-crowned Tityra on a snag in a pasture. Rough-winged Swallows were common over pasture land. We heard and saw House Wrens. We finally found the correct cross roads with one of the innumerable cattle gates at the beginning of the road leading down hill through forest. This was at around 3000 feet per Peter's altimeter. It was now 6:30 p.m. We had been struggling to get up the mountain for five hours and now had only about one hour to find the three endemics we came up the mountain for. We walked down the forested road which was good for about a quarter of a mile until a stream crossing where the road would challenge even a Humvee for a crucial stretch. Peter saw a Violet Sabrewing at the stream crossing. We called a Chestnut-collared Swift by shape and size. Back near the top of this side road, we went steeply down into the forest on a slight trail and found a man and his dog seemingly ready to camp in the forest that night. The man had been gathering some kind of palm leaves. Walking past the campsite in dark forest, we flushed a dove from a nest about five feet up in the crotch of a tree. Two eggs in the nest. The nest seemed well made for a dove with sticks at the base and leaves for a lining. By the size of the bird, we tantalizingly suspected a Geotrygon but we could not locate the flushed bird. As the sunset we were 0 for 3 on the endems of the Tuxtlas and that was totally unacceptable by Peter's standards. We would sleep in the vehicle up on the mountain rather than drive up and down that mountain to have more time for the target birds. At dusk Pauraques were calling from the large cleared area below us at the cross roads. After sunset I spotted a Chuck-wills-widow that perched on a rock on the edge of the clearing and sortied out from there after insects. Peter broke out the emergency food, including beef jerky (not bad under the circumstances). We made a fire and went to bed early by our standards (10 p.m.). Mottled Owls were calling from two places nearby but our attempts to spot light them were in vain.
May 2, 2000
In the pre-dawn light we walked the forested road downslope hoping to bump into Tuxtlas [Purplish-backed] Quail Dove or “Plain-breasted” Brush-Finch. No luck on those birds. We saw a singing Bright-rumped Attila and a couple Black-faced Grosbeaks. We had a nice bird party composed mostly of migrant warblers. The Spectacled Foliage-gleaner we saw seemed to be moving with them. We saw both a male Gray-collared Becard and a pair of Blue-crowned Chlorophonia near the top of this side road. We walked down into the forest to check the Geotrygon nest. There was a Geotrygon on the nest but unfortunately it was a male Ruddy Quail Dove, not a Tuxtla Quail Dove. Peter was quite sure it was a female on the nest last night. Anxiety levels were on the rise as we still had not seen the target birds for the Tuxtlas. We got in the Jeep and started to drive over the crest to explore. We stopped just before the crest and heard a dove calling up the mountain far behind us. We decided to drive there to investigate. We climbed up into the forest on the steep slope. The bird was still calling far above us. We were not sure what kind of pigeon/dove it was. Peter decided to make the arduous climb upslope through the forest but I declined to follow, not liking the odds of seeing a Geotrygon compared to the effort to get where it is currently calling. Once Peter started up, I saw a bird fly in low into the dense nettle looking vegetation in the ravine beside me. I saw it well but briefly before it dove into the dense vegetation. It was a “Plain-breasted” Brush-Finch. I yelled to Peter that I had the Brush-Finch. He came back downslope in time to glimpse the bird(s) (Peter said there were two). He then went back uphill where he found the Tuxtla Quail Dove calling in the canopy and brought it down to the ground for fine views with tape play back. He really earned that bird. Peter had also seen a Long-tailed Sabrewing. I saw a lone Slate-throated Redstart in the forest as I awaited Peter's return. After Peter had seen the Tuxtla Quail Dove, it was time to get out of there as fast as we could. Driving over the cleared pasture land on the mountain we saw some Gray-breasted Martins and Masked Tityras. We drove down the mountain on the current access road for the mountain. In the little town up on the side of the mountain, Peter was surprised when I brought him a Coke served with ice in a transparent baggie. He was familiar with this method of drinking soft drinks from Guatemala but he was surprised there was even a store in that collection of houses (Juan Miguel?). In the heat of the day we stopped at La Jungla on the north shore of Lake Catemaco. It is actually an impressive patch of lowland forest with some huge trees. We didn't see much in the forest though I am sure the birds are there. We saw Red-throated Ant-Tanagers, Keel-billed Toucans, Brown Jays, Ivory-billed Woodcreepers and Yellow-olive Flycatcher in the forest. By the restaurant on the edge of the lake at La Jungla we added a Purple Gallinule and a Northern Waterthrush. Time for driving again as we headed east toward the Veracruz/Tabasco border. We drove through marshy areas, seeing Solitary Sandpiper at a pond along the Cuota. In slightly hilly country, we stopped and noticed some hawks passing by including a high flying Peregrine. We drove toward the coast at Tonata. Heavily populated. The trip Snail Kite was on the edge of a borrow pit with ominous poison signs on the side of the road. We gave up on reaching the coast and turned around and drove toward Choapas. Even in town Pale-vented Pigeons were flying around. In the savannah country west of Choapas, we spotted a small flock of Plain-breasted Ground Doves. In a woodlot we found a good supply of North American migrants including at least 4 Baltimore Orioles and a Summer Tanager. Dusk found us at a heron rookery on the side of the road. Even before total darkness we started hearing Spot-tailed Nightjars calling. A Laughing Falcon was calling after dark which we spot lighted. We drove back to Tuxtepec just inside Oaxaca for the night.
May 3, 2000
As usual, an early start. Once it became light we were still in the tropical zone of northern Oaxaca. We got a slow start with little seen in the tropical lowlands. Moving up into foothills above Valle Nacional, we found a couple Crimson-collared Tanagers at one stop and I saw a Yellow-billed Cuckoo at another. A stop at the base of a well forested slope yielded our first Slate-colored Solitaires singing in Oaxaca but they were too far upslope to see. Had the trip pair of Flame-colored Tanagers there plus Canada Warbler and American Redstart. Common Bush-Tanager was a dominant species. We stopped at Kilometer post 71 and right on cue, without the aid of a tape, a Pheasant Cuckoo was calling. Alas, it would not come in to a tape. A very noisy Emerald Toucanet there did not help matters. Slate-colored Solitaires were very common there and in full song and we saw several without the aid of a tape. We saw both Chestnut-capped and White-naped Brush-Finches there. Gray-breasted Wood Wren there. Several White-winged Tanagers were present. Peter pointed out the trip Blackburnian Warbler, a male. Golden-crowned Warblers were common with a distinctive clipped call note. Peter pointed out the call of Short-billed Pigeon. We climbed up into pine forest. We heard jays calling and tracked them down to find that they were Unicolored Jays with no Dwarf Jays in with them. We had warbler parties that included Black-throated Green Warbler, Red Warbler and Olive Warbler. We saw Russet Nightingale Thrush in the undergrowth of pine forest along the side of the road. We descended into the dry valley below Gueletao de Juarez per Howell. We took a jeep trail up into the arid hills near the river crossing (major bridge work at the moment) and found it quite birdy at mid-day. A pair of Oaxaca Sparrows on the ground was the highlight. Other birds there included Greenish Elaenia (seemed common around Oaxaca), Boucard's Wren, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Western Scrub Jay, Cassin's Kingbird, White-throated Towhee (the only Oaxaca Valley (I know this spot is not technically in the Oaxaca Valley) specialty that is trashy), Western Wood Pewee, and Dusky Hummingbird. We climbed back up into pine oak forest. We reached the La Cumbre area around 3:30 p.m. There is a chain across the entrance to the area and we paid 60 pesos to a guy to let us in which I suspect is a rip off but why fight it. We soon came upon a birding couple from Mexico City. The woman took the lead in telling us they had just seen Dwarf Jays and Mountain Trogon (as if they were equals). We followed her directions and took the lower of the two roads at the fork (the lower road curves back to meet up with the other road again). It was cloudy and cool. The pine forest there was magnificent with huge trees. We frequently had to dodge lumber trucks though at La Cumbre. We heard some Stellar's Jays and sure enough there were 2 or 3 Dwarf Jays in with them. Farther along on the same road we found a band of Gray-barred Wrens and we pished (Peter says tropical jays are strongly attracted to pishing) and in came four Dwarf Jays with no Stellar's Jays in sight. Red Warblers were common at La Cumbre. Other birds at that spot were Bushtits, Brown Creeper, Yellow-eyed Juncos, House Wren, American Robin (common), Mexican Chickadees and Hairy Woodpecker. It started to rain and then the rain turned to a hail. In short order the ground was covered with hail stones. With limited success we tried to park our vehicle under trees to avoid as much of the hail as possible. It hailed for easily an hour. Afterward I walked along the lower road and flushed a Whip-poor-will from the side of the road. We birded until dark trying for Aztec Thrush. We saw a couple of Rufous-capped Brush-Finches in a small brushy clearing. Around 7:00 pm on this overcast day, Peter played the Mountain Pygmy Owl tape and right on cue in came a Mountain Pygmy Owl along with a couple of Russet Nightingale Thrushes in its wake. After dark we heard a Whiskered Owl calling. Peter went back to the car for a light and got back with the bird still calling so we got to see it in the spotlight. We saw several more Whip-poor-wills on the road as we drove out in the dark. We drove down to the city of Oaxaca and met with Megan Hill who would ride back with us to Guatemala City. Megan worked for the Fish & Wildlife Federation and was stationed in Guatemala City and had an interest in birds. She put up with our hard-core style very well. She was staying at the Hotel Victoria, the supposed class place to stay in Oaxaca. It was certainly pricey with our modest room going for $130 a night.
May 4, 2000
The goal today was to see the remaining four Oaxaca Valley specialties as quickly as possible and then go back up to La Cumbre to try again for Aztec Thrush. Our first destination was near Kilometer 8 on route 175. Just before that spot there was a police check where they actually pulled us over a couple of times. We checked the reservoirs in that area and found little beyond domestic Muscovy Ducks. Past the reservoirs, we first checked a brushy ravine on the side of the road. With the rains of yesterday, there was water in the streambed there. We did poorly at this spot. The hoped for Ocellated Thrasher turned into a Blue Mockingbird. Black-headed Grosbeak and Western Wood Pewees were common there as well as other arid brushy areas in the Oaxaca Valley. We saw a flock of Lesser Goldfinch and a Blue Grosbeak. Even in this somewhat arid setting (isolated pines were starting to appear at this elevation) you could hear Brown-backed Solitaires. After walking up hill to where there were some scattered pines, we spotted a MacGuillvray's Warbler in a brushy area with considerable grass cover and heard Greater Pewee. Spotted Towhees were common. Back at route 175 I heard Canyon Wren calling from above the river on the opposite side of the road. A Lesser Roadrunner was calling from the same general area. We drove up route 175 a short distance to a graffiti covered structure and we birded around there. We quickly located a Pileated Flycatcher with the aid of the tape. More Blue Mockingbirds in streamside vegetation there. The pine forests were within sight up slope and the birdlife there was a mix of highland and lowland birds. Gray Silky Flycatchers were in the streamside vegetation. It was surprising to see a pair of Red-headed Tanagers foraging in the grass there. We heard Slaty Vireo singing and got fine looks at it. There was also a Dwarf Vireo singing from the same thicket which we also saw with the aid of the tape. White-throated Towhees were common. We opted for trying for the remaining Oaxaca Valley specialties at Yagul. Driving through the flat country on 190 toward Yagul, we would occasionally see White-winged Doves fly over the road. We saw Curve-billed Thrashers on cactus in that area. A woodpecker flew over the road so Peter slammed on the brakes. Peter believed that Gray-breasted Woodpecker was the toughest of the Oaxaca Valley specialties to get so he was not going to pass up any opportunities to get it. The bird landed on a cement utility pole next to a commercial building far off the road. In the scope Peter and I were barely able to discern that it was a Gray-breasted Woodpecker before it flew off to presumably better hunting grounds. Megan was taken aback that Peter and I were perfectly willing to count (if need be) such a distantly seen bird. We drove up to Yagul, which is the best place to see Gray-breasted Woodpecker apparently. Just before reaching the parking lot there you start to climb through low rocky hills with native arid vegetation. As we were about to enter the parking lot, a small bird flew over the car which Peter pronounced a Bridled Sparrow. We parked and walked back and sure enough there were two Bridled Sparrows teed up for us. Turning around, we spotted a Gray-breasted Woodpecker on a cactus on the rocky hill on the west side of the entrance road. A couple of Boucard's Wrens were there also. That was easy. We did not feel like paying to enter the ruins at Yagul so we quickly left the area and headed back toward Teotitlán del Valle. This is a town renowned for textile products but of course we weren't pausing to eat let alone to shop for touristy things. On the road before the town of Teotitlán, we saw both Northern Mockingbird and Loggerhead Shrike. Beyond the town there was a putrid looking remnant of a reservoir. In the remaining water there was a flock of easily 30 Least Grebes. Peter pointed out on our second pass of the reservoir, that there was a breeding plumaged Eared Grebe in the raft of Least Grebes. Vermilion Flycatchers were common in that semi-arid country. We had one Black Phoebe fly by the reservoir. We needed Ocellated Thrasher and we spent a lot of time in the hills beyond the reservoir looking for it in vain. Up on one of the hillsides we heard Dwarf Vireo again and saw White-eared Hummingbird (no pines around). Heading back toward Teotitlán, we stopped to bird a remnant patch of thorn forest along a stream with a low ridge along it on one side. We saw Golden Vireos along the stream. A Rose-throated Becard was building a nest up on that low ridge. We were getting nowhere with Ocellated Thrasher so we decided to try the Mount Alban area. We parked at that popular tourist attraction, and started following a trail downslope. After 10 minutes we heard a promising sounding mimic thrush song. It was distant and hard to pinpoint. I scanned with my binoculars and spotted a suspicious looking bird on a small tree far off towards the entrance road. In the scope it was clearly an Ocellated Thrasher. The illustration in the book needs refining. The bird is actually browner than illustrated and the bill is not like a generic thrasher bill but considerably thicker at the base. It was 2:30 p.m. Time to move on as this bird had put us behind schedule. On the road down, we stopped to look at a Rufous-crowned Sparrow (not a Oaxaca Sparrow). We drove up toward La Cumbre, arriving at 4 p.m. In the pines we stopped at a wet spot and saw a pair of Collared Towhees. Driving into La Cumbre, a few Band-tailed Pigeons flew by. At La Cumbre we looked around the cabins for migrant warblers, picking up Townsend's Warbler and Yellow-rumped Warblers among others. They were extremely high in the trees. We saw a pair of Mountain Trogons plus Flickers. Again we stayed until dark in hopes of Aztec Thrush. Again no Aztec Thrush.
May 5, 2000
We stayed overnight at the Los Arcos motel in Oaxaca which was fine and cost 390 pesos for the three of us. We had a long drive before we would start birding on our way to the coast so we left at 3:45 am. While driving through the Oaxaca Valley we had a Barn Owl in the headlights. It was simply scary how organized Peter was. For example, in addition to his stash of caffeine laced coffee candies, Peter brought a dozen CDs to help keep him awake during our night driving sessions. After we had driven for a half hour, Peter asked if I could get the Shiana Twain CD to help keep him awake. In the dark I started fumbling through the CDs. He politely reprimanded me – “No no. They are in order. It's on top.” And so it was. Once I announced my intention of making this the day for my Detroit Audubon birdathon, Peter immediately got on board. In order to maximize our birding potential for the day we had to know exactly how much daylight was available. Out comes Peter's GPS monitor. That told us we were at 15' 58.024 north latitude and 95' 33.620 west longitude. Accordingly sunset here will be at 7:43 p.m. – twenty minutes less daylight than when we were birding in northern Mexico. We were going to have to hustle.
Dawn found us in cool montane pine forests in the Sierra de Miahuatlan where birding was reminiscent of Southeast Arizona – Acorn Woodpecker, American Robin, Hepatic Tanager, Grace's Warbler, White-eared Hummingbird, Pacific Slope/Cordilleran Flycatcher. I spotted a couple of Collared Towhees clambering high up a tree very unlike an Atlapetes. I had some Gen for the White-throated Jay near El Porvenir on Rt 175 based upon a trip report by John Wall and Dave Sargeant in 1993. Peter thought it a pipe dream to see it in Oaxaca but he was game to try anyway even though he had previously seen it in Guerrero. We found the likely logging road between kilometer posts 154 and 159 and drove far up it into good forested habitat. We saw essentially nothing. Giving up, we headed back down. At a hairpin curve in a cutover area about 200 yards from the main road, Peter spotted a White-throated Jay and then another in small deciduous trees next to the logging road. What a great bird. The elevation was 7200 feet. We dropped down into the subtropical zone on the Pacific slope and stopped at La Soledad. We walked along the road north of there. Yellow-green Vireos common. We had Berylline Hummingbirds along the road. We drove down the road north of La Soledad that Howell lists for Blue-capped Hummingbird. Fine looking forest though with some obvious recent clearing for coffee. The Colima Pygmy Owl tape worked wonders there. Red-legged Honeycreepers was a dominant species there. Red-headed Tanagers were also common. Along the stream there was a Black-headed Siskin and a couple of migrant Western Kingbirds. After not coming up with the Blue-capped Hummingbird there, we forded the stream and climbed the opposite ridge (4-wheel drive probably essential). We stopped to check a well vegetated ravine below us. Chestnut-capped Atlapetes there. Trolling with the pygmy owl tape finally pulled in a Blue-capped Hummingbird which Megan pointed out to us in the canopy. Actually quite dark above except for the white tail. Another endemic bites the dust. At first we thought that the store at La Soledad was the Mirador Restaurant mentioned in Howell for Cinnamon-sided Hummingbird so Peter looked intently for the bird there while Megan and I had cokes and snacks. Minimal habitat there. We drove further downslope and found the real Mirador Restaurant. From the terrace you look downslope in second growth forest with an understorey of garbage. Peter played the Colima Pygmy Owl tape and in short order had the same pygmy owl flying in repeatedly with an entourage of birds. Briefly this entourage included a Cinnamon-sided Hummingbird but only Peter saw it. Other birds included White-throated Robins, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Elegant Euphonia, Plain-capped Starthroats and 2 unhappy Happy Wrens. Obviously we were already on the fringes of the tropical zone and at kilometer post 211 the birdlife was mostly Pacific slope tropical in flavor – a pair of Russet-crowned Motmots nesting on a road embankment, Orange-fronted Parakeets flying over, and an Emerald Toucanet which of course is typically subtropical. Shortly after rte 175 crosses the main coastal road, rte 200, we took a dirt road west and stopped to check a patch of thorn forest for Red-breasted Chat, a bird I dearly wanted to get. Peter played the tape and in short order we had a male Red-breasted Chat in front of us even though this was the middle of the day and the bird had not been singing. We briefly stopped along the road leading to Puerto Ángel to pick up such characteristic Pacific slope birds as White-throated Magpie Jay, Golden-cheeked Woodpecker, Yellow-winged Cacique and Streak-backed Oriole. Puerto Ángel was not a highly developed Mexican resort city but there were still some gringos around. We drove along the shoreline a short distance west of town per Howell's direction and took a sandy track to the Pacific shoreline. Along the sandy track we had taped in and saw both Colima and Ferruginous Pygmy Owl. Looking over the Pacific with an isolated stack just offshore, I pointed out an adult Red-billed Tropicbird flying by. We had a good look at an immature Brown Booby. Of course Magnificent Frigatebirds were very common in the area. We raced eastward on rte 200 hoping to get to the stakeout for Cinnamon-tailed Sparrow before dark. Six kilometers west of Salina Cruz, the road overlooked a lagoon that was plotted out in various sections, presumably for shrimp farming. We stopped to add some waterbirds to the day's list. The lagoon was not overloaded with waterbirds but there were some useful items for the day's list. A Tricolored Heron was out there. A small flock of shorebirds included 9 or so Baird's Sandpipers and five or six Wilson's Phalaropes. Black-necked Stilts were scattered around. The pygmy owl tape brought in a nice selection of birds to the strip of roadside brush above the lagoon including several dazzling Orange-breasted Buntings, White-lored Gnatcatcher, Rufous-naped Wren, Broad-billed Hummingbird [Doubleday's], and as luck would have it, Cinnamon-tailed Sparrow. We actually found Cinnamon-tailed Sparrow to be common in that area even though it was considerably west of the known stakeout. We backtracked until we found a place to drive down to the muddy fringe of the lagoon. A Common Ground Dove flushed. Peter pointed out that the distant terns perched on pilings were almost all Elegant Terns. Gull-billed Terns around. An Osprey was present. We checked out the semi-open area along the track into the lagoon. We found two Red-breasted Chats, a Cinnamon Hummingbird, and a Lesser Ground Cuckoo along the track. As Irby Davis would have said, we saw “Long-crested” Cardinals singing in that area. Several White-fronted Parrots flew by. Driving on, we came to a large fresh water marsh a short distance to the east. Birds included Jacanas, Little Blue Heron, Mangrove Swallow, Purple Gallinule, Great Blue Heron, Black-bellied Whistling Ducks etc. Driving along the Oaxaca coastline we stopped to see Citreoline Trogon and had a Chachalaca, by default a West Mexican, fly across the road. A pair of Wood Storks were resting in a tree by a roadside slough. Saw a couple of Lesser Nighthawks along the coastal road. In the dark we were passing along the edge of the shanty town of Salina Cruz on arid hillsides when I spotted a nightjar flying low to the ground. We stopped and despite howling dogs from the adjacent barrio we saw and heard Buff-collared Nightjars. We drove north on rte 185 across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.
May 6, 2000
We stayed overnight at a forgettable motel for truckers along rte 185. This morning we were up pre-dawn to drive down the Uxpanapa Road barely back into Veracruz to search for Nava's Wren. We first drove up to the Rio Chalchijapan, a beautiful, clear tropical river, lined with low limestone cliffs. The river was alive with fish including large gars. Birds seen in the vicinity of the river included Green Kingfisher and Scarlet-rumped Tanager [Passerini Tanager]. We did not explore beyond the river. Backtracking, a spinetail flew over the road and into a dense thicket within 100 yards of the river. We walked in the drive through the thicket which eventually goes along the base of high limestone cliffs. With a tape, we got fine looks at a Rufous-breasted Spinetail. At mid-day we drove that track and had fine looks at a perched White Hawk (one of three we saw along the Uxpanapa Road). Other birds along that track included Northern Bentbill (taped in), Rose-throated Becard (a very black looking male) and Yellow-bellied Flycatcher. We spent most of the day at one spot, an area of lowland forest on a low limestone hill near where a road lead off to the north past a small lumbering operation. We essentially spent 8 hours looking for Nava's Wren without success. Unfortunately we did not have a tape of Nava's Wren. Few birds were encountered during our long stay in that forest patch. Mealy Parrots were perched in the canopy and were annoyingly vocal. We saw a male Slaty-tailed Trogon in the forest and once a Collared Araçari flew into the canopy above us. An adult and a young Spider Monkey were highly vocal at the same spot. Along the road I saw Smoky-brown Woodpecker and Yellow-throated Euphonias. Checking hummingbirds feeding in the tree tops over the road, we picked out Long-tailed Sabrewing. Driving north on the side road we had a small group of Mississippi Kites in open country. Tropical Kingbirds of course everywhere in cleared areas. At 6 pm we raised the white flag regarding Nava's Wren. We went into the driving mode, heading for Chiapas. Just before crossing into Chiapas on rte 190, we drove down a dirt track into thorn forest and played the Pacific Screech Owl tape. In short order Peter was spotlighting a Pacific Screech Owl.
May 7, 2000
We stayed overnight at Arriaga just inside Chiapas. It rained hard last night and the roof of our motel leaked. All the more reason to get an early start. We drove up rte 195 into the foothills before dawn. There was nice looking dry forest along the way. We stopped and Peter played the tape in the low light of dawn on an overcast morning. Looking downslope there was a motionless small bird with a blue back – a Rosita's Bunting. It eventually turned around to reveal its Rose-colored belly and the white eye ring. It was the only bird we saw at that spot but that was all we were looking for there so we turned around and headed back downslope. En route in the foothills there was a trio of Stripe-headed Sparrows on the side of the road. We drove along the Pacific coastal plain of Chiapas to Puerto Arista. On the outskirts of town we just started driving down country lanes in the farm country there, hoping to bump into Giant Wrens in the hedgerows demarcating the pastures and fields in the area. Saw Russet-crowned Motmot in one such hedge. We drove out to the ocean at one point and saw a couple of distant White-bellied Chachalacas. Franklin's Gulls were migrating up the coastline. We continued driving down farm lanes on the opposite side of the road into Puerto Arista and came to a salt creek that had the trip Anhinga. A pair of Ruddy-breasted Seedeaters were on a fenceline just before the salt creek. We were surprised that we were not turning up Giant Wren. We then went back to the main road out of Puerto Arista and headed north. We stopped in a nondescript area of pasture and brush and Peter played the Giant Wren tape and finally a pair of them flew in. That concluded our birding trip. We then dashed on toward Guatemala. At the Mexican border crossing at Cuidad Hidalgo, we breezed through Mexican customs thanks to Peters diplomatic credentials. But that only got us out of Mexico. We still had to get into Guatemala and on the Guatemala side things looked dicey. The border closed for lunch at 1 p.m. and it was 12:50 p.m. There was a solid line of immobile looking trucks stretching across the bridge leading into Guatemala. Peter paid one of the local entrepreneurs that hawked their services on the bridge to stand in front of one of the trucks so we could take cuts. It worked and we crossed into Guatemala before the border closed.