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05 - 15 February 2009

by Todd Pepper



: Sandy & Ross MacIntosh, & Todd Pepper, Leamington & Geoff Post, Barry’s Bay; Ontario, Canada

Species: 165 - Subspecies: 1
Travel arrangements: We each made our own travel arrangements to get to Oaxaca City, Mexico. Sandy & Ross had arrived earlier and rented a two bedroom apartment at Villa Maria on Arteaga Street, only a few blocks southeast of the Zocalo, where they planned to stay for the month of February. They generously invited Geoff and me to use their second bedroom while we birded the Oaxaca Valley together. For travel in the city and around the valley we used local taxis, local buses, and collectivos. (Near our place, we could easily pick up a cruising taxi in the early morning.) Costs were generally around 10-20 pesos each, even to get as far out of Oaxaca as Yagul. We rented a car for two days to bird the Teotitlan/Benito Jaurez area, and then the Etla/Guacamaya road. The rental car was 550 pesos/day, all inclusive of insurance and mileage. 

Reference Books:

A Bird-Finding Guide to Mexico  by Steve Howell, Comstock Publishing Associates, 1999.

Birds & Birding in Central Oaxaca, John M. Forcey, 1998.

Despite the date of publication of the reference books, the information and directions remain reasonably accurate. The only significant change is that the roads at La Cumbre now have an eco-tourism booth, sponsored by WWF, and there is a fixed fee of 50 pesos/person to enter the area.

Field Guides:

A Field Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Adjacent Areas: Belize, Guatemala, and El Salvador, Ernest Preston Edwards, 3rd Edition, University of Texas Press, 2003.

Birds of Mexico and Central America, Ber Van Perlo, Princeton University Press, 2006.

A Bird-Finding Guide to Mexico and Northern Central America , Stephen N.G. Howell & Sophie Webb, Oxford University Press, 1995.

We found that more than one field guide was necessary. The Edwards book does not have pictures of all the Flycatchers we encountered and the plate colours of the Flycatchers are not as field accurate as they could be. However, the Edwards book provides more detail on the Hummingbirds than the Van Perlo or Howell/Webb books.




<>Weather:  The weather was dry throughout. The mornings were cool, 70C (450F) requiring a windbreaker or jacket until the sun came up over the mountains. Afternoons were as hot as 320C (900F).

Trip notes

 February 8th:  We took a local taxi up to a spot about 2 kilometres below the archaeological site of Monte Alban (Howell Site 11.1). We then walked up the road towards Monte Alban. There was a good mix of warblers, flycatchers and orioles along the road and in the parking lot area. The trails outside the archaeological site produced a number of endemic species and species of special interest. Everyone had good looks at White-throated Towhee, Grey-barred Wren, Boucard’s Wren and Golden Vireo. A Blue Mockingbird, while seen by all, was being a skulker. Even skulkier was an Ocellated Thrasher. Two of us saw its head and two more its tail as it quickly darted across a narrow trail on the slopes on the east side of Monte Alban. That afternoon we went to the grounds of the Victoria Hotel within Oaxaca city. It was very birdy with migrant warblers and orioles, but also our first Pileated Flycatcher and our only Rufous-backed and Clay-coloured Robins (that Sandy had to go back to see on another day). The highlight may have been a Mexican Lynx casually walking up a trail just outside the hotel fence in broad daylight. All in all, a good start to the trip with 58 species for a reasonably casual and short day.

February 9th:  Today our taxi was to the 2nd class bus station in time to catch the 7:00 am bus that goes south on Highway 190 to Mitla and beyond. We got off at the intersection of the road that goes to the Yagul archaeological site (Howell Site 11.3). We then birded up and down the road, and around the archaeological site. Two Gum or Eucalyptus type trees on the north side of the road were in bloom and attracting feeding flocks of warblers and two targeted endemics: Doubleday Hummingbird and Black-vented Oriole. The organ pipe and prickly pear cactus were not quite in full bloom but enough so that we had at least three endemic Grey-breasted Woodpeckers feeding in the blossoms. A number of Bridled Sparrows also showed well, as did several Boucard’s Wrens. Near the parking lot of the archaeological site, a Dwarf Vireo was in a small yellow flowering bush for over half an hour, providing excellent views. A Crested Caracara crossed the road low in front of us on the way back to the highway. Seems he had a date: we discovered a pair copulating down below the hill. We flagged down a bus on the highway and 40 minutes later we were back in Oaxaca.

February 10th:  Our day started the same way with a taxi to the 2nd class bus station, but this time we caught the bus heading northeast on Highway 175 to Tuxtepec. We got off at Cerro San Felipe, also known as La Cumbre (Howell Site 11.5). The water bottling plant on the north side of the road was very birdy with warblers and vireos, as well as target birds: Chestnut-capped Brushfinch, a single Dwarf Jay, and a couple Sierra Madre Sparrows. We then headed up the north road. After about 1 kilometre a pickup truck came by and we were able to get a ride to Kilometre 7. There is a small campground at this location, with a number of cabins that can be rented. We then walked, mostly downhill, back to the Highway birding as we walked. It was a quiet walk. We encountered only two mixed feeding flocks of warblers, titmice, chickadees and kinglets during the hike, although Geoff was happy as the mixed flock included a number of species that breed in southwestern and western U.S. that he had not seen before. The Red Warblers were exciting and beautiful and they turned out to be the most common bird we saw that day - by the 20th we were pointing them out by sight, not even picking up our binoculars. Around kilometre 2, I could hear the constant chittering of a hummingbird so we knew it was perched nearby. We finally got on the beautiful male Garnet-throated Hummingbird that sat for at least 20 minutes, turning its head and neck into the sun constantly so we could see the glistening garnet gorget and blue breast band.

The last regional endemic for the day was a Pine Flycatcher - good views.

 We caught a collectivo taxi back to Oaxaca. You take your chances with these taxis as they might squeeze 6 or 7 people into a small Nissan or Toyota 4 door sedan. But only 10 pesos.

February 11th:  This was our day to bird the area known in the birding community as the “black tank” or “garbage gulch”. It is located approximately 4 kilometres north of Oaxaca city limits on Highway 175. Our taxi took us to kilometre 205. It was cool this morning and we could have used gloves. Our strategy was to use any paths available to get up into the scrubby brush and grassy area on the northwest side of the road to search for three endemic species that favour this habitat. As soon as the sun came over the crest of the mountain, the brush and scrub along the highway became very active with a mixed flock moving up and down the ridge. We finally got ourselves placed in the middle of this moving flock and ended up with extremely close looks at 4 Oaxaca Sparrows in with some Rufous-crowned Sparrows.

Later, we went back down to the highway walking back towards Oaxaca, until we came to the next cow path taking us into the scrubby brush again. This was just before a guardrail on the north side of the road over a small arroyo. Within a matter of minutes we could hear a “mimic” calling up ahead of us. Not knowing whether we were dealing with a Northern Mockingbird, Curve-billed Thrasher, or our target bird, the Ocellated Thrasher, we cautiously moved forward on the narrow trail. Around the corner was a singing Ocellated Thrasher sitting out in the open at the top of a dead snag. Coming back down the trail 30 minutes later, we saw it still sitting up and singing as we passed by. Earlier, before we got to the Thrasher, a small bird had flown across the slope in front of us as we went up the trail. Focused on the Thrasher, we did not stop to check it out. On the way back down to the highway, in the same area, a small bird again flew up the slope in front of us. This time it landed at the base of a small tree perhaps 2 metres from us. As I suspected, it was our last target bird for the area, a Slaty Vireo. Ross said he now believes that I have a lucky horseshoe in my back pocket. As the vireo moved up the slope, Geoff and I went around to the arroyo to get another look but were stopped in our tracks by a coral snake passing in front of us. Back on Highway 175 we managed to flag down a bus within a couple of minutes. Ross and Sandy had been telling Geoff and me their horror stories of endless waits and 2 or 3 kilometre highway tromps in the heat of the day to get a bus back to the city after birding “garbage gulch.”  Horseshoe again?

February 12th:  This was our first day with our rental car and a hired local guide, Roque Antonio Santiago, We hired Roque for 2 days to help us clean up on local endemics and other species of interest. Unfortunately for him, the list by this point was getting rather short. We picked Roque up at the 3rd speed bump in the town of Teotitlan del Valle. We first birded near the town around the seasonal ponds, although it was mostly list padding except for the endemic Dusky Hummingbird. For the three of us in the group who are regular Point Pelee birders, it was also nice to see a flock of 8 Clay-colored Sparrows instead of the one we might see during spring migration at Pelee. We then started up towards the pine/oak forest of Benito Juarez and Cuajimoloyas. On the way to Benito Juarez we stopped at an arroyo with good riparian habitat and fruiting trees. Two Golden-browed Warblers bathed in the stream at our feet while at least a dozen Brown-backed Solitaires above our head worked their way through the “doll’s eye” fruit. Also in with the Solitaires were a single Black Robin and a pair of White-throated Robins. The Caujimoloyas area produced a few more target birds in Russet Nightingale-Thrush, a Collared Towhee that sat out well (guess who forgot his camera in the car), Rufous-capped Brushfinch and a Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer.

A fairly lengthy hike through some remnant forest patches did not produce the Mountain Trogon that Roque had seen there earlier in the week. Heading back towards Teotitlan del Valle at the end of the day we asked Roque what the plan was for tomorrow. His response was, “You don’t need me”. So either our list was getting more difficult, he had a better offer, or we really did know what we were doing.

February 13th:  Today we broke out the John Forcey book that Roque had given us, to search for trails that would get us back up into the pine/oak forest, and perhaps a Chacalaca or Roadrunner on the way. Geoff had read a promising trip report about birding the Etla-Guacamaya Road, so that is where we headed. Birding started off slowly, but we added the Dickey’s race of Audubon Oriole and, in the riparian habitat where the stream crosses the road, we had both Amethyst-throated and Emerald-chinned Hummingbirds. We flushed an Orange-breasted Falcon as we headed up the hill and found a Red-throated Ant-Tanager when we stopped to search further for the falcon. After the famous “spring” where many locals fill up with drinking water, we took the first logging road to the left, parked and started hiking. The pine forest is pretty thin here, recently cut, with not much understorey. We were about to turn around and head back to the car when around the corner we caught a glimpse of a large, brown-backed bird flying up into a pine tree. To see it, we had to lie down on the road and look through a very narrow field of view. It was our target species, a female Mountain Trogon! And sure enough, about 50 metres farther down the road, the male was sitting out in full view. Then in came a flock of Jays - Dwarf, Stellar’s and Scrub - and Grey-barred Wrens were popping up everywhere. We were glad to have caught that glimpse that took us around the corner, as the hike back to the car was as quiet as the hike in.

February 14th: We went back to La Cumbre hoping for Beautiful or Bumblebee Hummingbird or perhaps a Wood-Partridge crossing the path in front of us. This time we started birding on the south road. We added 3 new thrushes to the trip list and our first woodcreeper, but none of our target birds. A very small patch of a harvested field did produce a single regional endemic – the Black-headed Siskin. We then hiked a couple of kilometres up the north road, but had nothing different from February 10th. The collectivo back to Oaxaca this time was a club-cab pick-up truck with 9 of us squeezed into the covered back of the truck and another 7 or 8 in the front. Geoff and I treated Sandy and Ross to a wonderful Valentine’s dinner (Oaxaca has many fine restaurants) and then enjoyed the entertainment and festivities around the Zocalo. 

February 15th: Using the Forcey book again we set out for Santa Cruz Etla. Behind the 2nd class bus station, we caught a collectivo taxi to Santa Cruz. We got him to take us through the town as far up the road toward the reservoir as possible, then hiked from there to the reservoir and up a trail on the north side of the arroyo. The top of the arroyo is at 3,100 metres; we hiked part of the way up, passing through riparian then thorny-shrub, oak scrub and finally pine/oak forest habitat. There was a pair of Elegant Trogons in the lower reaches of the trail, many Red-faced Warblers but no new endemics or target birds.

Trip List

The trip total was 165 species based on the taxonomy in Cornell's Clements World Bird Taxonomy v6.3.2. Species names in brackets are from Howell and Webb. Endemics are highlighted.

 Species: 165 - Subspecies: 9 

Least Grebe   

Great Egret    

Snowy Egret  

Cattle Egret    

Green Heron  

Blue-winged Teal       

Ring-necked Duck     

Ruddy Duck   

Black Vulture  

Turkey Vulture

White-tailed Kite         

Cooper’s Hawk          

Zone-tailed Hawk       

Red-tailed Hawk         

Crested Caracara      

American Kestrel       

Orange-breasted Falcon       


Common Moorhen     

American Coot           

Wilson’s Snipe           

Spotted Sandpiper     

Rock Pigeon  

Mourning Dove           

White-winged Dove   

Common Ground-Dove         

Plain-breasted Ground-Dove 

Inca Dove       

White-tipped Dove     

Groove-billed Ani        

Lesser Nighthawk      

White-throated Swift  

Green Violet-ear         

Emerald-chinned Hummingbird     

Dusky Hummingbird

(Doubleday’s) Broad-billed Hummingbird

White-eared Hummingbird

Berylline Hummingbird           

Amethyst-throated Hummingbird       

Garnet-throated Hummingbird           

Broad-tailed Hummingbird     

Mountain Trogon        

Elegant Trogon          

Acorn Woodpecker    

Gray-breasted Woodpecker           

Ladder-backed Woodpecker 

Arizona Woodpecker 

Hairy Woodpecker sanctorum           

Spot-crowned Woodcreeper 

Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet         

Pileated Flycatcher 

Dusky Flycatcher       

Pine Flycatcher          

Cordilleran Flycatcher

Greater Pewee           

Tufted Flycatcher       

Black Phoebe 

Eastern Phoebe         

Vermilion Flycatcher  

Social Flycatcher       

Great Kiskadee          

Tropical Kingbird        

Cassin’s Kingbird       

Thick-billed Kingbird   

Dusky-capped Flycatcher      

Ash-throated Flycatcher        

Nutting’s Flycatcher   

Brown-crested Flycatcher     

Violet-green Swallow 

Gray-breasted Martin 

Northern Rough-winged Swallow      

American Pipit

Ruby-crowned Kinglet           

Gray Silky-flycatcher  


Gray-barred Wren    

Boucard’s Wren       

Bewick’s Wren           

(Brown-throated)House Wren           

Gray-breasted Wood-Wren   

Northern Mockingbird 

Ocellated Thrasher 

Curve-billed Thrasher

Blue Mockingbird    

Brown-backed Solitaire          

Russet Nightingale-Thrush           

Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush    

Hermit Thrush

Black Robin    

Clay-colored Robin    

White-throated Thrush           

Rufous-backed Robin

American Robin         

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher           


Mexican Chickadee    

Bridled Titmouse        

Brown Creeper          

Stellar’s Jay    

Dwarf Jay      

Western Scrub-Jay

Mexican Jay   

Common Raven        

House Sparrow          

Slaty Vireo    

Dwarf Vireo   

Cassin’s Vireo

Warbling Vireo           

Golden Vireo

Elegant Euphonia       

House Finch   

Black-headed Siskin  

Lesser Goldfinch        

Olive Warbler 

Orange-crowned Warbler      

Nashville Warbler       

Virginia’s Warbler       

Crescent-chested Warbler    

Tropical Parula           

Yellow-rumped Warbler         

(Audubon’s) Yellow-rumped Warbler

Black-throated Gray Warbler 

Townsend’s Warbler 

Hermit Warbler          

Black-and-white Warbler       

MacGillivray’s Warbler           

Common Yellowthroat           

Wilson’s Warbler       

Red-faced Warbler    

Red Warbler

Painted Redstart        

Slate-throated Redstart         

Rufous-capped Warbler        

(Chestnut)Rufous-capped Warbler   

Golden-browed Warbler        

Red-throated Ant-Tanager     

Hepatic Tanager        

Western Tanager       

Flame-colored Tanager         

Western Spindalis (Stripe-headed Tanager)

White-collared Seedeater      

White-collared (Cinnamon-rumped) Seedeater

Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer        

Rufous-capped Brush-Finch         

Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch          

Collared Towhee     

Spotted Towhee         

White-throated Towhee      

Bridled Sparrow      

Rufous-crowned Sparrow     

Oaxaca Sparrow      

Chipping Sparrow      

Clay-coloured Sparrow          

Lark Sparrow 

Grasshopper Sparrow           

Sierra Madre Sparrow        

Yellow-eyed Junco     

Black-headed Grosbeak        

Blue Grosbeak           

Indigo Bunting

Melodious Blackbird   

Great-tailed Grackle   

Altamira Oriole           

Streak-backed Oriole 

Hooded Oriole

Bullock’s Oriole          

Black-vented Oriole   

Audubon’s (Dickey’s) Oriole  

Scott’s Oriole 


Todd Pepper
tandjpepper AT