11-18 March 1995
by Jim Hengeveld
Returned last weekend from a trip to Oaxaca (3/11-3/18) with Susan Allan and my children (Matt-13, Lisha-16). It wasn't strictly a birding trip because my daughter was not really into that, but she was interested in ruins (we visited Monte Alban, Yagul and Dainzu) and in different tropi- cal habitats (particularly rainforest) so we did manage to get in a fair amount of birding.
Despite some hassles--our luggage was lost and we had to make several trips back to the Oaxaca airport (Matt's was never found); I became violently ill toward the end of the trip, cutting out the entire Pacific part of our journey; and, to top it off, our plane was hit by lightning on the way home-- we managed to have a wonderful time and see quite a few birds. We saw/heard close to 200 species despite the lack of Pacific coast species and virtually no coastal birding.
I had just received the Howell/Webb guide 3 days before leaving and that made the birding so much easier and more enjoyable. The plates are very good quality, there is much useful habitat information and there are range maps next to the descriptions for each species. There is also excellent subspecific information.
This was the first trip to Mexico for all of us, though Susan and I had been to Belize last March. I hadn't learned the bird songs as well as I would have liked (I recognized many of the species that we had heard in Belize), so many of the songs were puzzling.
For the first three nights, we stayed in a cabin in Tlacolula (about a half hour east of Oaxaca), where we had a pair of CR. CARACARAs building a nest in our backyard. Other birds that we saw/heard (H) in the interior valley area included: W. MEXICAN CHACHALACA (heard at Teotitlan del Valle), LESSER ROADRUNNER (4, including 2 at Monte Alban), DUSKY HUMMINGBIRD, BERYLLINE HUMMINGBIRD, GRAY-BREASTED WOODPECKER, BOUCARD'S WREN, HERMIT THRUSH (audu- boni), RUFOUS-BACKED ROBIN, BLUE MOCKINGBIRD (1 at MONTE ALBAN), GRAY-SILKY FLYCATCHER (many at Teotitlan del Valle and other places), RUFOUS-CAPPED WARBLER (jouyi and salvini), WHITE-THROATED TOWHEE, and BLACK-VENTED ORIOLE. One morning, Susan and I were treated to a chorus of 5-6 BUFF-COLLARED NIGHT- JARs and a single GREAT-HORNED OWL on a hillside along the road to Dainzu.
On Tuesday, we headed north from Oaxaca over the Sierra Oriental and ended up spending the night in Valle Nacional. The road over the mountains traverses a wide range of habitats (attaining an altitude of 3000 m), from dry scrubby to fairly dry pine-oak to humid montane to cloud forest to humid pine-oak. Experiencing the humid, high-elevation habitats was the highlight of the trip for all of us! At times, both on the way north and on the way back south, we were actually above the clouds looking down on a fluffy white blanket. At one point, approaching dusk, we were birding on the side of the road adja- cent to a thin ribbon of waterfall that descended 60-80 ft. along a steep, lushly vegetated hillside that was dotted with tree-ferns, when a cloud rolled in and soon enveloped us. With the ethereal songs of a SLATE-COLORED SOLI- TAIRE and several RUDDY-CAPPED NIGHTINGALE-THRUSHES saturating the air around us, it was an experience I'll never forget. On another evening, we were serenaded by GREAT TINAMOU and PHEASANT CUCKOO (we later saw TWO Pheasant Cuckoos fly across the road after I whistled responses to their songs for 2-3 minutes), with GRAY-HEADED DOVES and WHITE-FACED QUAIL-DOVES cooing in the background.
On another stop, I discovered two BLUE-CROWNED CHLOROPHONIAs eating fruit not more than30 ft. away on the side of the road (what gorgeous birds!--no picture could ever do them justice); several COMMON BUSH-TANAGERS were working there way through some scrubby vegetation on the opposite side of the road; a GRAY-BREASTED WOOD-WREN flew low across the road and sunk back into the low understory, singing occasionally; EMERALD TOUCANETS were grunting in the background, but I was pre-occupied with the chlorophonias; a CINNAMON-BELLIED FLOWER-PIERCER gave its woodcreeper-like trill and we soon found it (we saw several on the trip); Lisha then called that she saw some green birds with big bills and wanted to know if they were toucans! Susan, Matt and I hurried over and soon found the EMERALD TOUCANETS--they were quite cooperative as I was able to get the scope on one perched in the top of a nearby tree and everyone had "crippling" views. At a stop where the vegetation was perhaps a bit drier (more pines), we had great looks at RED WARBLER (a big hit with all!) and SLATE-THROATED REDSTART. Other birds that we saw in the humid montane and cloud forests were: COLLARED TROGON, 3 *very dark* (looked black!) guans that were probably CRESTED GUANS, LONG- TAILEDHERMIT, GARNET-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD (!), BUMBLEBEE HUMMINGBIRD, WHITE- THROATED and CLAY-COLORED ROBINS, BROWN-BACKED SOLITAIRE, RUSSET NIGHT- INGALE-THRUSH, KEEL-BILLED TOUCAN, SPOT-CROWNED WOODCREEPER (drier area), GREEN JAY, and UNI-COLORED JAY.
On Wednesday, we headed to a lowland rainforest closer to Tuxtepec about which Hector Gomez de Silva Garza had told me (thanks Hector!). The rainforest-clad hillsides at this site located some 15 km. southwest of Tuxtepec are home to Sumichrast's (Slender-billed) Wren (Hylorchilus sumichrasti), which has a very limited distribution in limestone outcroppings within humid forests of central Veracruz and northern Oaxaca. We didn't plan very well for the trip as we had very little food and water along. The heat, humidity, climbing and grumbling (from Matt) became too much after a while and we had to turn back before I would have liked. We heard at least two different SUMICHRAST'S WRENS while we were there but were never able to see one. While climbing up the steep hillside (we had to walk approx. one km. through scrubby lowland and a corn field before getting to the rainforest area), we found a ROYAL FLYCATCHER foraging just off the path--excellent looks by all! A LAUGHING FALCON was calling onand off for most of the time we were there and a GREAT BLACK HAWK flew over at one point. Another highlight for me was seeing a MANGROVE CUCKOO perched briefly in a tree on the hillside and another perched bird in very poor light (looking into the sun) looked for all the world (at least according to my imagination) like a LOVELY COTINGA.
Others seen and heard in the scrub, along the edge or in the forest were: LIMPKIN (2 in scrub adjacent to road), BLUE GROUND-DOVE (H-several), RED-LORED PARROT, AZTEC PARAKEET, STRIPED CUCKOO (H), GROOVE-BILLED ANI, GREEN-BREASTED MANGO, RUFOUS-TAILED HUMMINGBIRD, VIOLACEOUS TROGON, SLATY-TAILED TROGON(H), BLUE-CROWNED MOTMOT (H), RUFOUS- BREASTED SPINETAIL, BARRED ANTSHRIKE (H), BRIGHT-RUMPED ATTILA (H), BOAT-BILLED and SOCIAL FLYCATCHERS, ROSE-THROATED BECARD, SPOT-BREASTED WREN (H-many), BLACK-HEADED SALTATOR, GRAYISH SALTATOR, BLACK-COWLED ORIOLE, MONTEZUMA OROPENDOLA, YELLOW-WINGED and BLUE-GRAY TANAGERS.
On the way back to Oaxaca on Thursday, we stopped at a little family restaurant located high in the hills in pine-oak habitat. A MOUNTAIN TROGON was calling as we got out of the car but everyone forbade me from chasing it. After an excellent meal with freshly-made cinnamon-flavored coffee (Matt had hot chocolate with bits of chocolate, or cacao in it), I left everyone behind to do some birding in the area. Didn't find the Mt. Trogon, but did manage to find CRESCENT-CHESTED WARBLER, GOLDEN-BROWED WARBLER, OLIVE WARBLER, WHITE-EARED HUMMINGBIRD and RUFOUS-CAPPED BRUSHFINCH. Matt and Susan subsequently found all of these except the brushfinch. Other species that we saw in high-elevation pine-oak forest were BAND-TAILED PIGEONS, HEPATIC TANAGER, BLACK-HEADED SISKIN, and, one of the highlights, a small flock of DWARF JAYs.
We continued to head south from Oaxaca on Thurs., but unfortunately, the rest of the trip was curtailed due to illness.
Overall, despite a few setbacks, the trip was a success. Bird-wise, I was a little disappointed in not seeing a few more of the Oaxaca endemics (perhaps because we were not in the proper place at a good time of the day) and that we did not make it closer to the Pacific coast. BUT, that gives us plenty of excuses for returning!
I'll be making up a more complete list that I'd be happy to send to anyone upon request and I'd also be happy to provide more details about any particular species or sites in which you're interested.
Bloomington, IN 47405