by Carlo Abbruzzese
The weekend before last my wife and I zipped down to the Monterry area from Austin and had a great time despite the heat. Thought my trip notes might help others in planning their next trip.
First of all, I must say that this area is just beautiful and there is a lot to explore. In my humble opinion this area rivals some of the best birding spots in the US. In fact one location (parqu las esperansas) reminded me a lot of cave creek canyon in AZ. This was our trip in a nutshell.
Saturday July 11th:
We got a late start out of Austin, mainly because our fridge died slowly the night before and it was making a horrible clacking noise all night. Left Austin at 10:30am. (Next time I'll leave the night before and stay in Laredo, or leave very early in the morning). We drove most of the day and in an non-airconditioned car the heat was brutal to say the least. Spent about 1.5 hours at the border. Stopped for about 45 min for dinner. Arrived in Saltillo at about 9:00 pm. I don't remember the name of the hotel but it was about $30 US dollars and that was on the lower end of things.
Sunday, July 12th:
Left Saltillo about 5 am. Drove south toward tanque de emergengia.
Small pass just north of Las colonias: stopped to bird and take a break:
Blue Grosbeak, Scailed Quail (heard), Botteri's Sparrow (2-3 , one carrying nesting material), Canyon Towhee (5, one carrying nesting material), House Finch (one HY bird), GT Grackles, Cassin's Kingbird, Cactus Wren
Drove futher south. Took the road to Tanque de emergencias. (Once you pass Las Colonias look for a sign on the right that reads "rancho dos arbolitos". Turn left onto a dirt road.) Drive about 1-2 miles past a small town to an old stone tank. This is where we had be told to find Worthern's Sparrow and they weren't hard to find at all. Incidentaly, there was some sort of agave plant in the little town (tanque de emergencias? ) and the hummingbirds, N flickers, and curve-billed thrashers were all over it, including a couple of female lucifer humming birds, black-chinneds and blue-throateds. At the stone tank we found:
4-5 Burrowing Owls- hanging out with the many mexican prarie dogs (very cute and fun to watch) Worthen's Sparrows- About 9 - 10 singing males-- about 250 yards north of old stone tank-- Jump fence and head north until grassland becomes shubby sagebrush/grassland habitat. The sparrow gives a dry trill similar to the chiping sparrow. Two females carrying nesting material. Found the very early stages of a nest (ie. only a few pieces of straw). Black-throated Sparrow's- 2-3 in Worthen Sparrow habitat. , Lesser Goldfinch, Canyon towhee, Botteri's Sparrow, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Horned Larks- many, Turkey Vultures, Barn Swallows, Spotted Towhee, Cassin's Kingbird, Olive Sparrow, Curve-billed Thasher, Common Nighthawk (heard).
Drove Back up to Saltillo-- stopped to cool down at the Bird Museum (museo de las aves)- very nice museum with mostly mexican species. Worth the stop if you have an hour or so.
Drove east of Saltillo past Arteaga and Los Lirios to campsite one. Birds on route to campsite one ( most in valley west of los lirios): American Robin, Black Phoebe, Chipping Sparrow, American Kestrel, Barn Swallow, Western Bluebird, and Says Pheobe.
Campsite one: This is a pulloff from the main rd. not long (3/4 mile or so)after you start to head down into the canyon. It on the right and was the rd to a house that is vacant now and without a roof. If you see the house on your right you've passed the campsite. You can pull down the road 100-200 feet or so to a flat area. The Birding was great here- Sunday night and monday morning:
Gray Silky-flycatcher- 7- 10- some flying overhead- make "kip-kip" flight notes that remind one of a red crossbill. A few perched at the top of a conifer near camp. Grey-breasted Jays- common and noisy Maroon Fronted Parrots- two flying up canyon high above canyon floor. Others heard from south canyon wall. House wren- 2-3 singing often Rufous-capped Brush-finch- common Brown-backed Solitare- 6-7 quite common and an unforgettable song. One of the neatest songs I've heard. Yellow-eyed Junco- Common Hairy Woodpecker or Williamson's Sapsucker- had a very poor look at it. I say WISA my wife thinks HAWO. Who knows? Whiskered Screech-owl (seen and heard) came into tape. One or two pairs. Saw-whet Owl- one calling up the road ~.25 mile from camp one. Whip-poor-will- one or two calling at sunset Common Raven, Morning Dove, White Throated Swift, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Cordileran Flycatcher, White Breasted Nuthatch, Colima Warbler, Black-headed Grosbeak, Audubon Oriole.
We also had Bandtailed Pigeon, Cassins's Kingbird and Russet-nightengale Thrush (kind of a shy bird, like a hermit thrush, came into a tape of a pygmy owl).
We headed down the valley and en route saw: more of the same as camp 1 and Greater Pewee, Pine Siskins, Bushtit (black eared race), and Spotted Towhee.
We continued down the valley which became drier at lower elevations. Stopped at a few spots and found: A flock of 20 Maroon Fr. parrots flying overhead. Rock Wren, Canyon Wren, Elegant Trogon, Flamecolored Tanager (I belive? sounded a lot like a western tanager but was had an extra note in call), Mexican Chickadee, Rufus-capped Brushfinch and Blackheaded Grosbeak.
This valley is breathtaking. The canyon walls rise 1000-1500 meters above the valley floor. At one point the road enters into a very narrow canyon with walls that go straight up.
We then stopped at Cola de Caballo waterfall. This waterfall is a tourist attraction and was quite crowded for a monday. Difficult to bird here: Tropical Parula, YG Vireo, BB Solitaire, CC Robin, Gr Kiskadee, Rufous-capped Warbler, Sulpher-bellied Flycatcher.
We then headed up to a park called Parque las Estanzuela about 20 miles south of Monterry. This was a beautiful little park that reminded me of cave creek canyon in AZ with similar birds and more: Blue-crowned Motmot (3-4), Brown Jay., Chachalaca, Olive Sparrow, Gr Kiskadee, Rufous-capped Warbler, Tropical Parula, YG Vireo, P. Redstart, Bridled Titmouse, Spot Breasted Wren, Grove-billed Ani, Turkey Vulture, Acorn Woodpecker, Carolina Wren, CC Robins, Bronzed Cowbird, YB Cuckoo, Yellow Faced Grassquit, Rose -throated Becard, Ash-throated, Elegant Trogon, Olive-backed Woodpecker (male and female about 100 yrds upstream from where you enter), Red-tailed Hawk, Painted Redstart, Scott's Oriole, Varied Bunting, House Wren, Flame-colored Tanager, Broad-billed Hummingbird, Tufted Titmouse, White-tipped Dove, Bewick's Wren, Green Jays, Grey-breasted Jays, Barn Swallow, No. Flicker, and Blue Grosbeak.
We spent the night at a camp at the base of the "parrot cliffs". At night we had a male and female Spotted Owl respond to our hooting. A Wiskered Screech-owl also chimed in. In the morning we had: Elegant Trogon, CC Robin, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Lesser Goldfinch, BB Solitaire, and Gray-breasted Jays.
This was a great trip and I highly recommend it to everyone. Many thanks to everyone who wrote with helpful suggestions. Special thanks to Chuck Sexton for fabulous suggestions, field notes and maps.
Feel free to write if you have any questions or want more details.
Carlo and Ann Abbruzzese