by Clifford E. Shackelford
For those birding in the Oaxaca City area, here are some basic travel notes on "Cerro San Felipe--La Cumbre" that Howell's new birdfinding book recommends to visit. First of all, the book is great and that site has some fantastic birding with only a 25-30 minute bus ride from the N.E. part of Oaxaca City. It reminded me of the Tucson, AZ to Mt. Lemmon drive--you're down in the desert and in less than an hour's drive, you've climbed up into wonderful forests. And how the bird community changes!
First of all, we did not rent a car. I would never rent a car in Oaxaca City unless with a large group/tour, but for two people it was too expensive and parking there is no fun. Besides, the taxi and bus systems are perfectly adequate, regular and safe. We headed for Cerro San Felipe, but we made the mistake of jumping on a second-class bus headed for "San Felipe" which is not the same as "Cerro San Felipe"--don't make this mistake. However, this bus ride to San Felipe ended near the entrance of a large "national" park with lots of trails and nice foothill birds.
The book should just call it "La Cumbre" and merely mention the mountain range somewhere deep in the text--not as a header. The error (our fault!) only cost us about 30 minutes of roundtrip bus time and less than one U.S. dollar in bus fares for two. Instead, you want to wait for a bus at the base of the road to the Monumento de Juarez--where major highways 175 and 190 in the N.E. part of the city intersect. Take the bus that says "Zoo-something"--we couldn't catch the latter part of the town but the "Zoo" part is all you need. Lots of buses come by, but only this one tackles the mountainous climb to where the cloud forest birds are. You can catch a first-class bus to Gualatao for about $2-3 per person and ask to be let off a third of the way (in La Cumbre), but we only found late departure times for that bus system where you'd miss the dawn chorus. Take the second-class bus--it's much more entertaining.
This 'bus waiting location' is about halfway to the town of Tule where the famous Tule tree resides; they claim that it's the largest tree in the world. It's a cypress (Taxodium muchronatum) and quite a sight. This is a 'must see' on your trip even for the master bird lister/chaser. The tree measures 14 m dbh, 42 m tall and 58 m crown spread. A sign at the tree has a calculated volume of this tree at 816,829 meters cubed, and weighing in at 636,107 tons. Wow!
Once in the tiny pueblo of La Cumbre, the birdfinding guide also mentions to pay a propina (tip) of five pesos to enter one of the quasi-private roads, but the logging camp is becoming keen to the increased birding activity here. Be prepared to pay 60 pesos now. This was for two of us hiking for the day--no car and no camping. It's well worth the price, but some birders might get upset if they are expecting to pay only 5 pesos. I explained to the "gate keepers" in the camp office at the base of the three dirt roads that birders will continue to pay as long as there is forest for birds. They clearly understood, but replied that the pines bring a bigger and quicker dollar. The hardwoods are not desirable to the loggers and these thick, dark patches of hardwoods with epiphetic plants were the birdiest. Of the three roads, we had more encounters with birds on the southeast bound road with a small sign saying "Yuvila 7 km" than the northwest bound road. We didn't try the northeast bound road that merely makes a longer loop to Yuvila through less-favorable habitat.
Our mission here was to find the Dwarf Jay and anything else that flies. We looked through four or five different canopy flocks of Gray-barred Wrens and Steller's Jays for the endemic Dwarf Jay during two days of birding there (Feb. 15-16,1999). We could not find one Dwarf Jay! The literature mentions to stay with these types of flocks and look through all the birds since the three species travel together. The flocks were suprisingly easy to watch and to stay with; they usually consisted of 6-8 Gray-barred Wrens and 4-6 Steller's Jays. There are some other great (and endemic) birds here like Mountain (Mexican) Trogon, Red Warbler, Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer, Brown-backed Solitaire and more--not to mention all the Nearctic-Neotropical Migratory Landbirds like Townsend's, Hermit, Orange-crowned and Wilson's warblers and much more.
Other great sites in addition to La Cumbre to visit/birdwatch if you have a week to visit: the ruins of Monte Alban, Mitla and Yagul (certainly not all in one day--maybe two or three days total). The ruins are usually surrounded by nice habitat and birds. I liked Yagul the best because there's hardly any visitors there and the endemic Gray-breasted Woodpecker and its "organ pipe" cactus abound here. Monte Alban has the greatest diversity of birds and thick shrubs, but without a tape it was extremely frustrating. We hardly had a good look at a bird here and the visitation is huge. Set your bins down for a few hours and visit these ruins in great details--it's worth it.
Hope this info helps. Happy birding in a great place--I highly recommend
it in the winter months.
Clifford E. Shackelford
State Coordinator-Texas Partners In Flight
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
4200 Smith School Road
Austin, Texas 78744