Friday, July 31, 2015

Up the Mountain, Back to the Sea, July 18, 2015 Oaxaca

We had pretty much cleaned up in Huatulco, so we decided to use the morning to gain some elevation and try to find a different set of birds. We would be traveling on the road we were going to on the following day, but it deserved a good bit of time. We stopped on Pluma Hidalgo road and heard the eerie call of a Thicket Tinamou nearby. Several Red-crowned Ant-Tanagers dodged on and off of the road. This particular sub-species has a rosier colored crown. Golden Vireos were showing well. We had three Citreoline Trogons and six Spot-breasted Orioles. Happy Wrens sang from the scrub. (They really are called Happy Wrens.)

We went a bit further north and up slope and parked where a young Gray Hawk was perching. We didn't bother him one bit. Several people saw the Dickey's race of Audubon Oriole, which I missed, unfortunately. A Wagler's Emerald Toucanet showed off a bit. The views were incredible! We heard both Ruddy and White-faced Quail Doves calling. We started finding some hummingbirds.  A femail Golden-crowned Emerald perched up nicely. Blue-capped and Berylline Hummingbirds fed on the flowers. A couple of Collared Forest Falcons called, but couldn't be drawn in. There were flycatchers , Sulphur-bellied, Dusky-capped and a Greater Pewee. We had a very range restricted butterfly, a Solitary Bolla. It isn't much to look at, but it was probably the rarest bug of the trip.

We stopped for lunch at a little restaurant along the road. There was a public restroom with a big metal turnstile that charged a couple of pesos. Everyone entered at the same spot, and then there was a small hall where you went left for the women's room, or right for men's. A nice bathroom is a good thing, but this one was even better. There were fabulous moths all over the wall, including a couple of  huge red, black and cream colored monsters, longer than my thumb. After the other women left, I called Martin over to see, as the best ones were on our side. Lunch was good. I was starting to be able to eat a bit more each time.

We made one more stop, a small grassy trail, even higher up which was stuffed with Blue-capped Hummingbirds. We also had a Garnet-throated Hummingbird. Several people walked further down the trail, but I was lazy and stayed up closer to the van. Their efforts were rewarded by seeing a couple of Mexican Hermits, a hummingbird that was recently split from Long-billed Hermit. We stayed for about an hour and then headed back down towards the sea. We would return to this area on the following day.

We drove the winding roads down to Puerto Angel, a small beach town. Michael knew a boat operator there and we were going to do a "mini pelagic" to a huge rock a couple of miles away that has many, many boobies roosting. Michael found him and arranged for us to go. The boat was a lot smaller than the one the day before, not much more than a large skiff with a sun screen. Michael said that he had used this boat for actual pelagic trips and I was shocked. I couldn't imagine going far out in this little thing. They pulled it up on the beach, but you had to wade to get in, dodging the waves. We all took our shoes off and left them in a little restaurant. Martin chose not to go, as the sun was very bright and he burns very easily. I got my freshly washed jeans soaked to the knee, but it was the price I had to pay. Little did I know what would happen later.

We took off and headed out of the small harbor. A Red-footed Booby was one of the first birds we saw. This was a surprise, as they tend to be more deep water birds. We skirted the coast, which was peppered with gorgeous beach homes. We passed a well known clothing optional beach, but it was not occupied, at least that I could see. No, I didn't use my binoculars to check. The rock loomed in the distance and  boobies flew back and forth. A Royal Tern, the only one of the trip, passes us. Magnificent Frigate Birds soared overhead. We reached the rock and went around it a couple of times. Brown Boobies were the most common, by far. There were several Blue-footed Boobies and we had one young Masked Booby, which gave us a five booby trip. (Only in birding can you say something like that!) A group of Bridled Terns flew in and then back out. The waves crashed on the rock. It was very impressive.

The boat sailed back and got to the beach. They pulled it up again, and we all started to get out. Since my jeans were already wet to the knee, I wasn't worried about the water. I swung my legs over the edge and started to get out, when a large wave struck me, knocking me down. I was freaking out about my camera, but one of the men who pulled the boat up, grabbed me and threw the camera up over my shoulder, so it did not get wet. That was about the only thing that didn't get wet. My binoculars went in, but they are waterproof. Thank you Zeiss. When I got to the van, Eddie took one look at me and motioned for me to wait. He didn't want me sitting on the seat of the van. I had my rain jacket, so we put that over the seat and drove back to the hotel. I was actually glad to get to go into the Pacific Ocean. :-)
Photos for the day:

Bird list for day:
 FAMILY         NAME                        
Tinamidae      Thicket Tinamou             
Fregatidae     Magnificent Frigatebird     
Sulidae        Masked Booby                
Sulidae        Blue-footed Booby           
Sulidae        Brown Booby                 
Sulidae        Red-footed Booby            
Pelecanidae    Brown Pelican               
Cathartidae    Black Vulture               
Cathartidae    Turkey Vulture              
Pandionidae    Osprey                      
Accipitridae   Gray Hawk                   
Laridae        Bridled Tern                
Laridae        Royal Tern                  
Columbidae     Inca Dove                   
Columbidae     White-tipped Dove           
Columbidae     White-faced Quail-Dove      
Columbidae     Ruddy Quail-Dove            
Cuculidae      Squirrel Cuckoo             
Apodidae       White-throated Swift        
Trochilidae    Garnet-throated Hummingbird 
Trochilidae    Golden-crowned Emerald      
Trochilidae    Blue-capped Hummingbird     
Trochilidae    Berylline Hummingbird       
Trogonidae     Citreoline Trogon           
Momotidae      Russet-crowned Motmot       
Ramphastidae   Emerald Toucanet            
Picidae        Acorn Woodpecker            
Picidae        Golden-cheeked Woodpecker   
Falconidae     Collared Forest-Falcon      
Psittacidae    Orange-fronted Parakeet     
Furnariidae    Ruddy Foliage-gleaner       
Tyrannidae     Greater Pewee               
Tyrannidae     Dusky-capped Flycatcher     
Tyrannidae     Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher  
Tityridae      Masked Tityra               
Vireonidae     Golden Vireo                
Vireonidae     Yellow-green Vireo          
Corvidae       White-throated Magpie-Jay   
Troglodytidae  Happy Wren                  
Troglodytidae  Banded Wren                 
Troglodytidae  White-breasted Wood-Wren    
Turdidae       Brown-backed Solitaire      
Turdidae       Clay-colored Thrush         
Mimidae        Blue Mockingbird            
Parulidae      Tropical Parula             
Parulidae      Rufous-capped Warbler       
Parulidae      Golden-crowned Warbler      
Thraupidae     Red-legged Honeycreeper     
Thraupidae     Grayish Saltator            
Thraupidae     Black-headed Saltator       
Emberizidae    Olive Sparrow               
Emberizidae    Rusty Sparrow               
Cardinalidae   Red-crowned Ant-Tanager     
Cardinalidae   Orange-breasted Bunting     
Icteridae      Great-tailed Grackle        
Icteridae      Spot-breasted Oriole        

To Sea or Not to Sea, That is the Question. Oaxaca July 17, 2015

We got up and I had to make an important decision. Today Michael had a pelagic trip scheduled. I have gotten very sea sick in the past. I wanted to die when we did the pelagic trip in Peru. I hung off of the back of the boat less than a mile from shore when we went for the Brown Noddy off of South Padre Island. Here I was, still feeling weak from the horrible case of tourista that I had been suffering through, and I was thinking of going to sea. On the positive side, I did have  fresh prescription for scopolamine patches and this was a much shorter trip than pelagics normally are, six hours as opposed to 12 or more. On the negative side, if I did get violently sick, it would drain me even further. The rest of the group was going out for some early birding, since we weren't going out until late morning. I decided to stay at the hotel and rest. I would decide at the last minute.

Martin stayed with me, and we stayed in bed until about 8:00 AM, almost unheard of! I did wake up at about 7:00 AM and heard a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl tooting away. I was unsure if it was an actual owl, or one of the other group members outside imitating one. I asked them when they got back and they said it was definitely a real owl. We went downstairs to the hotel restaurant and I had some amazing cheese stuffed French toast. I was still only able to eat a half a piece, but it was really good! I finally decided I was going to go. With it being a short trip, what was the worst that could happen? We had plenty of water, so dehydration shouldn't be a problem. I put on a patch and decided I would risk it.

The rest of the group returned. We took off for the harbor. We found our boat and it was great! It was small, but very nice. It even had a bathroom. We put on our life jackets because the harbor master demanded it, and we took off. The shore at Hualtuco is really beautiful. If you have seen the movie "Y tu Mama Tambien", it was made about this part of Oaxaca. (WARNING! This is not a family friendly movie!)  The beach here was developed in the 80s by some huge American resorts. Due to flight logistics, it became obvious that this area would not work for North American tourists, so the resorts were sold to Mexican concerns. They are now very popular with the Mexican people. The waters were fairly calm and beautifully blue.

The first bird we had, other than Brown Pelicans, was a Brown Noddy, quite close to shore. It was quickly followed by a Galapagos Shearwater. In Texas you normally have to get way off shore before any pelagic birds are spotted. This was great! The birds came in good number. We had groups of Wedge-rumped, Black and Least Storm-Petrels, at least three species of boobies, including Nazca and Red-footed, both new for me, more Galapagos Shearwaters, and a Wedge-tailed Shearwater. We also saw several Green Sea Turtles and a couple of dolphins, which we were not able to identify. Probably the biggest surprise was three Sabine's Gulls, two of which were in breeding plumage.

We only went out about 15 miles. We saw birds both coming and going. I felt fine! The cooler full of cold water was a big help. I snacked on pretzels. I spilled pretzels, but that was the only mess I made. We were all very happy! We got back to the dock and went back to the hotel. We all cleaned up and then met for dinner. A couple of us had a vague memory of seeing a restaurant that said "wine and tapas bar", so we went searching. After way more walking than we wanted to do, we finally discovered it was actually an Italian restaurant.  The waiter, who might have been the owner, was delightful! I had some excellent ravioli and a glass of wine. I believe it was the most enjoyable pelagic I have ever done!


Bird list for the day:
FAMILY             NAME                      
Procellariidae     Wedge-tailed Shearwater   
Hydrobatidae       Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrel 
Hydrobatidae       Black Storm-Petrel        
Hydrobatidae       Least Storm-Petrel        
Fregatidae         Magnificent Frigatebird   
Sulidae            Nazca Booby               
Sulidae            Brown Booby               
Sulidae            Red-footed Booby          
Phalacrocoracidae  Neotropic Cormorant       
Pelecanidae        Brown Pelican             
Cathartidae        Black Vulture             
Cathartidae        Turkey Vulture            
Laridae            Sabine's Gull             
Laridae            Brown Noddy               
Laridae            Black Tern                
Tyrannidae         Tropical Kingbird         
Hirundinidae       Gray-breasted Martin      
Thraupidae         Blue-gray Tanager         
Icteridae          Great-tailed Grackle      
Icteridae          Yellow-winged Cacique     

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Relaxed Birding and Real Food! July 16, 2015

We had been going at a pretty good pace since we arrived, though I was slower than normal. This day was going to be a bit more relaxed. Michael had to make some arrangements for upcoming days, so he needed some time off. By the way, he did an amazing job with the logistics! Martin and I were very impressed. Our plan was to bird in the morning, take a long break in the afternoon and then do more birding later in the day.

There was a 24 hour cafe across the street from our hotel. I still had very little appetite, so I just had coffee and toast. I devoutly wished I could take this no appetite problem home with me! We met Eddie and left for Laguna Zacates, a park on the outskirts of town. We walked the road and quickly started picking up birds. A pygmy-owl started calling and Michael counted the notes; less than 13 meant it was a Colima, not a Ferruginous. We located the bird and confirmed the ID. Lilac-crowned Parrots flew over. I finally got a look at a Red-breasted Chat, a bird I had really wanted, but missed on our previous attempts. It as a young male with a more diluted color on the breast, but I found it lovely! There was a Northern Cardinal, which you wouldn't think I would be excited about, but this was a different subspecies, Long-crested Northern Cardinal, which is likely to be split. He had a very impressive crest!

We went to a side road where I finally saw Orange-breasted Buntings. I had missed them the day before, due to being crashed out on the van. They were worth the wait! Rosita's was still my favorite, but these were a close second. We also had good looks at the west Mexican form of Blue Bunting. The males look like the ones that wander into Texas from time to time, but the females are very different, not the same warm brown. This is another potential split in the future. There were a few butterflies along the road, including an unfortunate Rayed Pixie, which had seen better days, and a slightly battered Silver-studded Leafwing. We headed back into town for lunch.

I was actually hungry when we got to the restaurant across the square from the hotel. I ordered a beef tyluda, which is similar to a quesadilla. Michael and Gary decided to share a mixed plate of local specialties, including chapalines, fried grasshoppers. I tried a few and really liked them. They have a great crunch and the seasoning was very nice. Michael warned me that it can be a bit disconcerting to see a leg sticking out between your teeth later. I didn't come close to finishing, but the food tasted great. We went back to the hotel where they have the most delicious air conditioning.

We left later in the afternoon to go to two roads with water towers on the outskirts of town. We had several Broad-billed Hummingbirds of the Doubleday's subspecies, a possible split. There were Citreoline Trogons, Russett-crowned Motmots, Lilac-crowned and White-fronted Parrots, and other birds we had seen before. Then the star of the show appeared, a cooperative Lesser Ground-Cuckoo! He didn't let me get any photos, but he showed himself very well. This bird looks like it has Egyptian eye make up on.  Martin did a photo. Here is a link to his picture. We stopped to see if we could get into some ruins in a park nearby, but unfortunately, it was already closed. There was talk of going first thing in the morning on the following day.

On the way back into town we made a stop along side the road when someone, probably Michael, spotted some West Mexican Chachalacas in a small tree.  A Russet-crowned Motmot sat in full view on a telephone wire and a White-fronted Parrot was sharing the tree with the chachalacas. We got back to the hotel and Martin and I decided to forgo dinner with the group and eat at the hotel, as we had a pelagic trip planned for the next day and I wanted to be very well rested, if I decided I was well enough to go.

Photos for the day:

Bird list:
FAMILY         NAME                          
Cracidae       West Mexican Chachalaca       
Cathartidae    Black Vulture                 
Cathartidae    Turkey Vulture                
Accipitridae   Roadside Hawk                 
Columbidae     Rock Pigeon                   
Columbidae     Inca Dove                     
Columbidae     White-tipped Dove             
Cuculidae      Squirrel Cuckoo               
Cuculidae      Lesser Ground-Cuckoo          
Strigidae      Colima Pygmy-Owl              
Trochilidae    Broad-billed Hummingbird      
Trogonidae     Citreoline Trogon             
Momotidae      Russet-crowned Motmot         
Picidae        Lineated Woodpecker           
Picidae        Pale-billed Woodpecker        
Psittacidae    Orange-fronted Parakeet       
Psittacidae    Lilac-crowned Parrot          
Psittacidae    White-fronted Parrot          
Tyrannidae     Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet 
Tyrannidae     Nutting's Flycatcher          
Tyrannidae     Great Kiskadee                
Tyrannidae     Boat-billed Flycatcher        
Tyrannidae     Tropical Kingbird             
Corvidae       White-throated Magpie-Jay     
Hirundinidae   Gray-breasted Martin          
Troglodytidae  Rufous-naped Wren             
Troglodytidae  Banded Wren                   
Polioptilidae  White-lored Gnatcatcher       
Turdidae       Rufous-backed Robin           
Parulidae      Golden-cheeked Woodpecker        
Emberizidae    Olive Sparrow                 
Cardinalidae   Northern Cardinal             
Cardinalidae   Red-breasted Chat             
Cardinalidae   Blue Bunting                  
Cardinalidae   Orange-breasted Bunting       
Icteridae      Great-tailed Grackle          
Icteridae      Brown-headed Cowbird          
Icteridae      Streak-backed Oriole          
Icteridae      Spot-breasted Oriole          
Icteridae      Yellow-winged Cacique         
Passeridae     House Sparrow       

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Road to Recovery (and Oaxaca) July 15, 2015

The next posts will deal with the second part of our trip to Oaxaca which Michael Retter put together for us.  Besides Martin and me, there were Geoff and Christine from Chicago, Jennifer and Peggy from Half Moon Bay, Gary from San Francisco and Michael, who lives in Fort Worth. We also had a fabulous driver, Eddie, who did an amazing job. I only knew Michael and Jennifer and Peggy, so I had a little nervousness about being in such close quarters with people I didn't know, but we all got along beautifully.

We left early in the morning and I was still very much under the weather. Everyone graciously yielded the back seat to me so I could sleep between birding intervals.  Michael decided to take a detour so we could pick up some new birds. We arrived at our first stop around dawn. This was the spot of one of my most wanted birds, Rosita's Bunting. (Aka Rose-bellied Bunting, but I like Rosita's better.) This is a stunning bird, as you can see from the photo, which makes our Painted Bunting look cheap and tawdry. I was thrilled when a male popped up and sat in full view. I felt a bit weak, not sure if it was swooning from the bird or the stomach bug, so i returned to the van.

We moved further down the highway, but when the van stopped, I stayed inside. Martin quickly came and got me, as they had found a Sumichrast Sparrow. I jumped out, saw the bird. There was also a White-throated Magpie Jay. Again, I got back in the van pretty quickly. When everyone came back, Gary asked me if I was taking Cipro. I said I was not, and he strongly suggested I get some. He gave me one of his and we decided to stop at a pharmacy as soon as possible to get more. This was excellent advice. My most distressing symptom quit pretty quickly after starting. Martin had to visit two pharmacies before he was able to get more, and I was more than grateful!

Our next birding stop was for another very wanted species, Giant Wren. Matt Hale, Michael's partner, who was not able to come, had jazzed me up to see it. It is one of his favorite birds. I could see why! It's a huge wren! It makes a crazy whack-a-whack-a-whack-a call! It was absolutely fabulous! Unfortunately, I didn't get any photos. Videos would have been even better. There were also two Bare-throated Tiger-herons. I picked up Ruddy-breasted Seedeater, but it is hard to get excited over most seedeaters. I do have to say, this one is more attractive than some. There were some other egrets and herons and some Northern Jacanas. We drove a couple of back roads looking for a spot where Matt had found Lesser Ground-Cuckoo during the GBNA meeting. We came across a couple of Lesser Yellow-headed Vultures, a bird we expect to find in Texas some day. We finally found the spot, but the ground-cuckoo didn't show. We could hear him, but he was playing hard to get. As we were driving back to the main road we saw a Limpkin, always a nice find.

We finally crossed the border to the state of Oaxaca. We had a long drive ahead to our destination, the town of Huatulco which is on the coast. We made a productive stop at a pond along the road, picking up Snail Kite, Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Common Gallinule and Green Heron. I was already feeling better in my gut, though I still felt absolutely exhausted. We arrived in Huatulco and checked into our wonderful hotel Mision del Arcos. The staff was wonderful. There were Gray-breasted Martins on the power lines, the air conditioning was ice cold and the room was lovely. Everyone decided to eat in the hotel restaurant, but I still had no appetite, so I stayed in. Despite this, I was definitely on the mend.

I only took three photos this day and I have added them here. 

Here is my species list for the day:AMILY             NAME                         
Anatidae           Black-bellied Whistling-Duck 
Cracidae           West Mexican Chachalaca      
Ciconiidae         Wood Stork                   
Fregatidae         Magnificent Frigatebird      
Phalacrocoracidae  Neotropic Cormorant          
Ardeidae           Bare-throated Tiger-Heron    
Ardeidae           Great Egret                  
Ardeidae           Snowy Egret                  
Ardeidae           Little Blue Heron            
Ardeidae           Tricolored Heron             
Ardeidae           Reddish Egret                
Ardeidae           Cattle Egret                 
Ardeidae           Green Heron                  
Threskiornithidae  White Ibis                   
Threskiornithidae  White-faced Ibis             
Cathartidae        Black Vulture                
Cathartidae        Turkey Vulture               
Cathartidae        Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture 
Accipitridae       Snail Kite                   
Accipitridae       White-tailed Hawk            
Rallidae           Common Gallinule             
Aramidae           Limpkin                      
Recurvirostridae   Black-necked Stilt           
Jacanidae          Northern Jacana              
Columbidae         Red-billed Pigeon            
Columbidae         White-winged Dove            
Columbidae         Mourning Dove                
Columbidae         Inca Dove                    
Columbidae         Ruddy Ground-Dove            
Cuculidae          Lesser Ground-Cuckoo         
Cuculidae          Groove-billed Ani            
Apodidae           White-collared Swift         
Trochilidae        Plain-capped Starthroat      
Trochilidae        Canivet's Emerald            
Trogonidae         Citreoline Trogon            
Momotidae          Russet-crowned Motmot        
Picidae            Golden-fronted Woodpecker    
Falconidae         Crested Caracara             
Psittacidae        Pacific Parakeet             
Psittacidae        Lilac-crowned Parrot         
Psittacidae        White-fronted Parrot         
Tyrannidae         Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet
Tyrannidae         Nutting's Flycatcher         
Tyrannidae         Boat-billed Flycatcher       
Tyrannidae         Social Flycatcher            
Tyrannidae         Tropical Kingbird            
Vireonidae         Yellow-green Vireo           
Corvidae           White-throated Magpie-Jay    
Hirundinidae       Gray-breasted Martin         
Hirundinidae       Mangrove Swallow             
Hirundinidae       Barn Swallow                 
Troglodytidae      Giant Wren                   
Turdidae           Clay-colored Thrush          
Thraupidae         White-collared Seedeater     
Thraupidae         Ruddy-breasted Seedeater     
Emberizidae        Cinnamon-tailed Sparrow      
Cardinalidae       Rose-bellied Bunting         
Icteridae          Red-winged Blackbird         
Icteridae          Eastern Meadowlark           
Icteridae          Great-tailed Grackle         
Icteridae          Bronzed Cowbird              
Icteridae          Streak-backed Oriole         

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

El Ocote Chiapas, July 14, 2015. Descent into Darkness

Ok, I am being a bit dramatic with the blog title, but it was, physically, a pretty miserable day. This post will be pretty short, as between my sprints into the woods and my slight fever, I don't remember a lot of the birding, and believe me, you don't want to know about how I felt!

I actually got to sleep in, as our van didn't leave until 615AM. Martin had an earlier start, so I was lolling around the room, when I was hit by sudden stomach cramps. As I said, I won't share the details. I wasn't nauseated, so I thought maybe it was a fluke. I felt pretty well so I decided to go on the trip. I was delighted to see Eric was our guide again. I really liked him. The drive to our first stop was fairly short, but we did take a rest room break. It did not go well, but I was still not feeling sick.

We arrived at our first stop, a road that was easy walking. Eric very quickly found our first target, a Long-tailed Sabrewing, a type of hummingbird. A new hummingbird is always a great prize! We moved farther along the road and found a number of birds, including one of my favorites, a Royal Flycatcher. This bird has the craziest crest ever, but it is never raised. It is multi-colored and spreads sideways, like a Napoleonic hat. Eric got it in the scope and said that the crest was puffed up! Unfortunately, by the time it was my turn at the scope, the bird had flown. That is one of the disadvantages of birding in a group. Everybody can't be first, and that is fine.

We moved on a bit and and Eric found another of our target birds, Nava's Wren. He got the bird in the scope briefly and I was very happy! We picked up several other birds on the road, Tawny-winged Woodcreeper, Yellow-winged Tanager, Red-legged Honeycreeper, and White-winged Tanager, among other birds. I wasn't the only one disappearing for brief times into the woods. I started to feel very tired and kind of feverish at this point. We got back on the van to go to the next stop and I snoozed a bit.

We ate lunch at a spectacular sink hole where dozens, if not hundreds of Green Parakeets roost. The hole is ancient and has some pictographs on the walls. It is massive and quite deep. it is dry at the bottom and has large trees. The noise from the parakeets circling up, calling, when they flew out was really impressive. A pair of Bat Falcons sat near the rim; I witnessed one taking a swipe at one of the parakeets. It looked like they were making a good living. Eric called us out to the parking lot, where he had a black-faced form of Bobwhite calling. It was quite hot and my fever wasn't helping, so I decided not to walk around the rim of the sink hole with some of the other group members. I really wish I had felt better, as it was a very impressive spot.

This was our final trip with the GBNA group. The following day we were breaking off into a smaller private group to head to Oaxaca. Despite my physical condition, which seemed to be worsening, I was really excited. We bid goodbye to our new friends and the ones we had made at the meeting in Beaumont. We had a fairly early start and I was hoping going to bed early would take care of my problems.

I took the worst photos ever on this day!

Birds we saw:
FAMILY          NAME                             
Cracidae        Plain Chachalaca                 
Odontophoridae  Northern Bobwhite                
Ardeidae        Cattle Egret                     
Cathartidae     Black Vulture                    
Cathartidae     Turkey Vulture                   
Accipitridae    Short-tailed Hawk                
Columbidae      White-winged Dove                
Columbidae      Inca Dove                        
Cuculidae       Squirrel Cuckoo                  
Trochilidae     Long-tailed Sabrewing            
Momotidae       Blue-crowned Motmot              
Picidae         Golden-fronted Woodpecker        
Picidae         Golden-olive Woodpecker          
Falconidae      Bat Falcon                       
Psittacidae     Green Parakeet                   
Furnariidae     Tawny-winged Woodcreeper         
Furnariidae     Ivory-billed Woodcreeper         
Tyrannidae      Greenish Elaenia                 
Tyrannidae      Yellow-olive Flycatcher          
Tyrannidae      Royal Flycatcher                 
Tyrannidae      Western Wood-Pewee               
Tyrannidae      Vermilion Flycatcher             
Tyrannidae      Dusky-capped Flycatcher          
Tyrannidae      Great Kiskadee                   
Tyrannidae      Tropical Kingbird                
Corvidae        Brown Jay                        
Hirundinidae    Northern Rough-winged Swallow    
Troglodytidae   Nava's Wren                      
Troglodytidae   Band-backed Wren                 
Troglodytidae   Spot-breasted Wren               
Troglodytidae   White-bellied Wren               
Troglodytidae   Gray-breasted Wood-Wren          
Turdidae        Slate-colored Solitaire          
Turdidae        Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush 
Turdidae        White-throated Thrush            
Parulidae       Golden-crowned Warbler           
Thraupidae      Yellow-winged Tanager            
Thraupidae      Red-legged Honeycreeper          
Thraupidae      Blue-black Grassquit             
Thraupidae      Variable Seedeater               
Thraupidae      White-collared Seedeater         
Emberizidae     Common Chlorospingus             
Cardinalidae    White-winged Tanager             
Cardinalidae    Red-crowned Ant-Tanager          
Icteridae       Altamira Oriole                  
Fringillidae    Scrub Euphonia                   
Fringillidae    Yellow-throated Euphonia         
Fringillidae    Olive-backed Euphonia       

Monday, July 27, 2015

Things to come? San Cristobal de las Casas, July 13, 2015

This day I was scheduled to go to San Cristobal de las Casas, a beautiful town about an hour from Tuxtla. We started out an hour later later than the day before, so I was more rested.This trip promised one of my most wanted birds, Pink-headed Warbler. When I got on the van I discovered an old Facebook friend, so that made the trip even better.  All in all things looked great.

We drove through the city to the spot for the warbler. The property was originally owned by a wealthy man who did not live in the area. Somehow it went from private property to being owned by the Zapotec community. (There is some very interesting political history in this area with the Zapotecs.) One of our guides for the day, Alberto is from San Cristobal and has built relationships in this community, encouraging the use of this land for birding instead of logging or making charcoal. He always requests permission and for a couple of local people to act as guides. We waited for the two men to arrive and scanned the nearby trees. We quickly found Hutton's Vireos and a couple of Steller's Jays, which are a bit different than the Steller's found in the states.

One of the men arrived and said the other would join us shortly, so we started into the woods. The day before the Pink-headed Warblers had been seen very near where we were parked, but there was no sign that morning. We headed to an area known as a territory for Garnet-throated Hummingbird, also one of my big targets for the day. We quickly located a male sitting on a branch, guarding his home turf. It is a big spectacularly colored hummingbird, but unfortunately, the light wasn't good, so I didn't get a photo. We walked through the woods, listening for Scaled Ant-pitta, with no luck.

We then went to a power line cut, which can be good for the warbler. Sure enough, a small mixed flock was on the edge of the woods, including four Pink-headed Warblers. Just as we saw the first one well, I heard a sound behind us of someone being very sick. I felt a deep sympathy for the victim. It is so easy to get "tourista" in Mexico. I was very glad it wasn't me. I really admired him, though, as he rejoined the group and was very upbeat and not asking for any sympathy. We teased him a bit that it was all too much excitement. We moved on to another area of the woods and another participant grabbed the toilet paper and ran into the woods. This was not boding well.

We got back to the van and we headed up to a high elevation point, where Guatemalan Pygmy-owl had been seen by another group. We drove a steep road up to about 9,000 ft. It was misty and pretty chilly. On the way up we spotted a beautiful Unicolored Jay sitting on a fence. It was a much better look than I had the day before. When we parked some Common Chlorospingus were working the bushes. There was no sign of the pygmy-owl, despite Alberto's whistling. Our other guide, Michael Hilchey, of BRANT tours, spotted a number of birds in the low trees along the road. We were high enough up that the trees were stunted, almost like elfin forest. We heard a Highland Guan calling across the field, but had no visual on the bird.

We added more high altitude birds like Cinnamon Flower-piercer, Rufous-collared Robin, Yellow-eyed Junco and a subspecies of Northern Flicker, that may be split in the future. Walking down the road we found several Black-throated Jays. Again, the looks I got were much better than the day before. Unfortunately, I heard the sounds of sickness again. The mood was still very good, though. We got in the van and started out for our lunch spot where there was the promise of a hummingbird feeder and a bathroom!

We arrived at a small reserve on the road to Ocasingo. Sure enough, there was a picnic table with a hummingbird feeder right next to it! There was a lovely little farm on the other side of the fence with some black sheep, whose wool I coveted for knitting a sweater. We ate our lunch watching Amethyst-throated and Magnificent Hummingbirds battling it out over the feeder. After finishing Alberto suggested a hike up one of the trails to try for Blue-throated Motmot. A couple of people who had been fine earlier in the day decided to stay back and rest. I was feeling fine, so I started up.

The trail was a little bit steep, but not bad. We had a group of Band-backed Wrens clattering away at us. There were Slate-throated Redstarts, Golden-browed Warblers, Crescent-chested Warblers and Rufous-collared Robins passing through. We got to the top and had to climb over a fallen tree. I was a little tired and I knew I would be slow going down hill, so I started back. There were several people napping on the picnic table and the hummingbirds were still battling. The rest of the group got down right after I did. We started gathering things together to leave, when Alberto spotted a Gray Silky-flycatcher in a tree by the road. It flew across the road to a field and perched up nicely. We also spotted a Tropical Mockingbird in the same area.

We returned to the hotel, where Martin was waiting for  me. His trip had returned a few minutes
prior. He asked me how our group had done and I told him a couple of people had been ill. He looked concerned and said several people in his group were also not well, including one man who had to be helped to his room. Of course, we were both feeling fine, so we thought they must have forgotten and brushed their teeth with tap water, or ate something they shouldn't have. Little did I know. (Cue the dramatic music.)
Photos for the day (very few)
Species List:
 Cracidae        Highland Guan                   
Columbidae      White-tipped Dove               
Trochilidae     Magnificent Hummingbird         
Trochilidae     Amethyst-throated Hummingbird   
Trochilidae     Garnet-throated Hummingbird     
Trochilidae     White-eared Hummingbird         
Picidae         Northern Flicker                
Furnariidae     Scaly-throated Foliage-gleaner  
Tyrannidae      Tufted Flycatcher               
Tyrannidae      Yellowish Flycatcher            
Vireonidae      Hutton's Vireo                  
Corvidae        Black-throated Jay              
Corvidae        Steller's Jay                   
Corvidae        Unicolored Jay                  
Troglodytidae   Rufous-browed Wren              
Troglodytidae   Band-backed Wren                
Turdidae        Brown-backed Solitaire          
Turdidae        Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush 
Turdidae        Rufous-collared Robin           
Mimidae         Blue-and-white Mockingbird      
Mimidae         Tropical Mockingbird            
Ptilogonatidae  Gray Silky-flycatcher           
Parulidae       Crescent-chested Warbler        
Parulidae       Golden-browed Warbler           
Parulidae       Pink-headed Warbler             
Parulidae       Slate-throated Redstart         
Thraupidae      Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer  
Emberizidae     White-naped Brush-Finch         
Emberizidae     Spotted Towhee                  
Emberizidae     Rufous-collared Sparrow         
Emberizidae     Yellow-eyed Junco               
Emberizidae     Common Chlorospingus            
Icteridae       Great-tailed Grackle           

Sunday, July 26, 2015

What time are we leaving? Tapalapa, July 12, 2015

I am usually pretty game to get up early to go birding, but getting out of bed at 3:45 AM was stretching it. The van was leaving at 4:15AM to go to Tapalapa, a high altitude spot about 70 miles from Tuxtla Guttierrez. This 70 mile drive takes about three hours due to numerous speed bumps, pot holes and bad road conditions. Our group piled in and took off. In my mind I could hear Betty Davis saying "Fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy night", well, actually early morning.

We arrived at our first birding spot at dawn. We had gained a lot of altitude and I was really happy to have a jacket with me. We had a great guide, Eric Antonio Martinez, who is from the Oaxaca area. He has a great ear and eye, and seemed truly happy to be guiding us. He immediately started calling out the birds which were singing nearby. If I recall correctly, a Mountain Trogon was the first bird we actually saw. We could hear White-faced Quail Doves and a couple of species of nightingale-thrushes. Black Thrushes showed well.

Just a few minutes after we got off the van, Eric spotted a very special bird, a Mountain Elaenia. Just a few days previously, Rich Hoyer, one of the top bird guides in the United States, discovered elaenias at this location. It was the first record for Mexico! The bird normally is found in Guatemala and points south. He found not just one, but several. We ended up seeing seven! This area is not birded often, so there is no telling how long this population had been present. It was very exciting to get a bird that isn't even on my listing software for Mexico. I was able to take one of my worst photos ever of one of them. 

It started warming up and butterflies began flying. Most were Mexican Silverspots but I was thrilled to find a Guatemala Hairstreak. A few Black-capped Swallows flew over head, a new bird for me. Eric spotted a tiny Wine-throated Hummingbird feeding, which was not on my list of expected birds. Then a large green bird flew over, quickly followed by another which sported a very long train fluttering behind it, Resplendent Quetzals! I briefly saw the male perching, but was unable to get anyone else on it before it flew. Even though the looks were fleeting, we all were really excited. None of the other groups, nor the scouting party had been able to find them. We hung around that area for quite a while and never saw them again.

We moved further down the road, where we had a large flock of the Black-capped Swallows perched on utility wires. Brown-backed Solitaires were singing their "waterfall of broken glass" song. Eric heard a Blue-throated Motmot, one of the target birds. Unfortunately, it was on the other side of a small patch of woods and never came in. I would have loved to have seen it, but I count heard birds, so that took the sting away a little bit. Common Chlorospingus, formally known as Common Bush Tanagers. The name is much more impressive than the bird. We also spotted a pair of Blue-crowned Chlorophonia fly over head. Their flashiness more than matches their name.

We moved down slope to a new location with a trail through the forest. Eric found another Wine-throated Hummingbird and a Green-throated Mountain Gem, another new hummingbird for me. We then heard Azure-hooded Jays calling. Again, it ended up being a heard only bird for me, but we did see two other species of jays, Black-throated and Unicolored. We had looked for Unicolored in Honduras in November, but had no luck. I felt badly that Martin wasn't with us, as he really wanted this species. I photographed a few more butterflies, Mexican Dart-white, Teal Beamer and Anna's Eighty-eight among them.

The ride back was just as bumpy, though we could at least see where we were. There is a huge reservoir that I only had a vague sense of in the dark. It was very impressive by the light of day. We drove over the dam and we could see some egrets below in the river, but stopping is absolutely forbidden. We arrived back at the hotel to flocks of Green Parakeets screeching over head. It was a very long day, but very productive.

Photos for the day:

List of birds:
 Cathartidae    Black Vulture                    
Cathartidae    Turkey Vulture                   
Columbidae     Band-tailed Pigeon               
Columbidae     White-faced Quail-Dove           
Trochilidae    Magnificent Hummingbird          
Trochilidae    Green-throated Mountain-Gem      
Trochilidae    Wine-throated Hummingbird        
Trogonidae     Resplendent Quetzal              
Momotidae      Blue-throated Motmot             
Picidae        Acorn Woodpecker                 
Picidae        Hairy Woodpecker                 
Furnariidae    Scaly-throated Foliage-gleaner   
Tyrannidae     Mountain Elaenia                 
Tyrannidae     Eye-ringed Flatbill              
Tyrannidae     Pine Flycatcher                  
Tyrannidae     Yellowish Flycatcher             
Vireonidae     Brown-capped Vireo               
Corvidae       Black-throated Jay               
Corvidae       Azure-hooded Jay                 
Corvidae       Unicolored Jay                   
Hirundinidae   Black-capped Swallow             
Troglodytidae  Spot-breasted Wren               
Troglodytidae  Gray-breasted Wood-Wren          
Turdidae       Brown-backed Solitaire           
Turdidae       Slate-colored Solitaire          
Turdidae       Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush 
Turdidae       Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush  
Turdidae       Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush  
Turdidae       Spotted Nightingale-Thrush       
Turdidae       Black Thrush                     
Turdidae       White-throated Thrush            
Mimidae        Blue-and-white Mockingbird       
Parulidae      Golden-browed Warbler            
Emberizidae    Common Chlorospingus             
Cardinalidae   Flame-colored Tanager            
Fringillidae   Blue-crowned Chlorophonia        

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Birding in the Lands of Mole and Maya: Day 1 Sumidero Canyon July 11, 2015

I rarely feel the need to explain why we are on a particular trip, but the circumstances of this one are rather unusual. The Gay Birders of North America, aka GBNA, was founded several years ago to provide a welcoming environment for LGBT birders and straight allies. Martin and I led field trips in Beaumont TX during their biennial meeting several years ago. We have been vocal supporters of LGBT rights for years and are friends with many of the members. We skipped their last meeting at Half Moon Bay, but when we found out this year's event was in Chiapas Mexico, we started looking at participating. Our dear friend, Michael Retter, invited us to join a few friends of his after the meeting to bird in Oaxaca. That was the clincher! Unfortunately, I could not get the time off to do the full GBNA meeting and the Oaxaca trip. We were allowed to do part of the meeting, missing the first two days.

We arrived late morning on July 11 at Tuxtla Gutierrez. Our first birding destination was Sumidero Canyon, which is quite near the city and breathtakingly beautiful. We hired a cab, dropped our bags at the hotel and headed to the canyon. Michael R. was leading a trip there and we hoped to find the group, to bird for part of the day. We stopped at the entry gate of the park and were stunned by the huge numbers of butterflies in the parking, mostly Crimson Patches, Guatemalan Patches and Simple Patches. I also found a Black-patched Cracker, a gorgeous blue bug. Just past the entrance we had Yellow-green Vireos singing and a Plain-capped Starthroat.

We drove up the canyon and spotted a large van parked at a trail head to a mirador, (overlook). There was a small store, so we stopped and asked if the van belonged to birders. The answer was yes, so we told the cab driver to wait and headed down the trail. We ran into Michael and the group walking back. They had seen some amazing birds, including one of Martin's most wanted birds, Blue Seedeater. They also had Belted and Flammulated Flycatchers, targets for the canyon. Michael pointed out where they had the birds and we told them we would catch up after we birded.

Unfortunately, the seedeater did not cooperate. It had been singing on a branch over the trail for fifteen minutes earlier, but it had shut up by the time we arrived. We looked for the Belted Flycatcher and missed that, too. Fortunately, we did see the Flammulated Flycatcher, my first life bird of the trip. It was lunch time and getting very quiet. We did manage to see a pair of Yellow-throated Euphonias building a nest, along with a Squirrel Cuckoo, Collared Trogon, Lesser Greenlet and Olivaceous Woodcreeper. We could hear a Barred Antshrike in the distance, one of my favorite sounds in the tropics.

We got back to the cab and headed up higher, where we found the group eating lunch. We bid our driver goodbye and ate some banana leaf wrapped tamales. We wandered around the picnic area, which had an amazing view of the canyon. It was very quiet bird wise, but we were surprised to have a flock of Brown Pelicans flying down the canyon over the river. We were a long way from the sea, over fifty miles. Michael said that he usually sees them on the river. The butterflies were still thick.

We headed back down towards town, stopping to walk a trail, where Bar-winged Orioles are seen. Unfortunately, they weren't seen by us. We did see Varied Buntings and  Fan-tailed Warbler, along with a few other birds. The prize of the day was out on the road when we returned to the van. One of the group noticed an odd butterfly and pointed it out to Michael, who shouted "RHETUS!" It was a Sword-tailed Beautymark, Rhetus arcius, a spectacular bug. We ran up and I probably took 100 pictures. I felt very badly for Matt Hale, Michael's partner, as he had told me how badly he wanted to see this butterfly and he was leading a different field trip.

We drove back to the hotel for dinner, where we reconnected with some old acquaintances from Beaumont. We discussed with Michael and Laurie Foss, who was one of the organizers, which field trips we could squeeze in on. Martin and I decided to go on different trips, since we had different goal birds. My trip in the morning was leaving at 415AM, so we made it an early night.
Bird list-
FAMILY          NAME                          
Cracidae        Plain Chachalaca              
Pelecanidae     Brown Pelican                 
Ardeidae        Great Egret                   
Cathartidae     Black Vulture                 
Cathartidae     Turkey Vulture                
Columbidae      Rock Pigeon                   
Columbidae      Mourning Dove                 
Columbidae      Inca Dove                     
Cuculidae       Squirrel Cuckoo               
Trochilidae     Plain-capped Starthroat       
Trochilidae     Canivet's Emerald             
Trogonidae      Collared Trogon               
Momotidae       Russet-crowned Motmot         
Psittacidae     Green Parakeet                
Psittacidae     White-fronted Parrot          
Thamnophilidae  Barred Antshrike              
Furnariidae     Olivaceous Woodcreeper        
Tyrannidae      Greenish Elaenia              
Tyrannidae      Yellow-olive Flycatcher       
Tyrannidae      Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher     
Tyrannidae      Flammulated Flycatcher        
Tyrannidae      Boat-billed Flycatcher        
Tyrannidae      Social Flycatcher             
Tyrannidae      Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher    
Tyrannidae      Tropical Kingbird             
Vireonidae      Yellow-green Vireo            
Vireonidae      Lesser Greenlet               
Vireonidae      Rufous-browed Peppershrike    
Corvidae        White-throated Magpie-Jay     
Corvidae        Green Jay                     
Hirundinidae    Northern Rough-winged Swallow 
Troglodytidae   Banded Wren                   
Polioptilidae   White-lored Gnatcatcher       
Turdidae        Clay-colored Thrush           
Parulidae       Fan-tailed Warbler            
Emberizidae     Olive Sparrow                 
Cardinalidae    Varied Bunting                
Icteridae       Great-tailed Grackle          
Icteridae       Bronzed Cowbird               
Icteridae       Streak-backed Oriole          
Fringillidae    Yellow-throated Euphonia