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Gomez Farias region & El Cielo Biosphere Reserve

08 - 11 January 2001
15 - 18 January 2001

by Michael Delesantro

Both trips saw temperatures much lower than normal for the region.  Daytime highs were seldom out of the sixties or low seventies and overnight lows dipped toward 40 degrees F.  Except for the 18th, however, when a cold front and rain cut short the birding, the low temperatures did not seem to bother the majority of birds.  There were a few species that we missed, but it is hard to say it was because of the cool weather.  Rather than give a day by day account of the tours, this report mentions some highlights of the main areas we visited and has a trip list at the end.

Rio Purificacion and Rio Corona – These two rivers are crossed en route to our normal lunch stop in Cd.  Victoria.  Both are having major work done on their bridges and access to the Rio Corona is discouraged by the workers.  At the Rio Purificacion we noted Social Flycatcher, Zone-tailed Hawk, Cedar Waxwing, Scrub Euphonia, and several wintering warblers, etc.  We did not stop at the Rio Corona on this trip because of the construction work.

Puente Rio Sabinas – Just prior to the turn to Gomez Farias the Rio Sabinas is crossed.  This has always been one of our favorite spots for Squirrel Cuckoo and we were not disappointed on these trips.  We also had Amazon Kingfisher, Blue-crowned Motmot, Boat-billed Flycatcher, a variety of wintering birds, and a flyby of Green Parakeets.  The highlight was a Bat Falcon that was roosting on the bridge and allowed close approach when it flushed from under the bridge to a power pole.

The road to Gomez Farias – We made several short stops along this road.  The 11 KM from Highway 85 to the village can be incredibly productive.  Or they can be dead.  These trips were somewhere in between.  The Bat Falcons maintained their vigil from the power poles and some Eastern Bluebirds adorned a wire in the lowlands, but the best sighting was a flock of Blue Buntings that was rather tame and allowed close looks.  We also saw anis, Red-lored Parrots, White-crowned Parrots, Brown Jays, and a bunch of wintering passerines.

The road to Alta Cima – On the first trip this road was incredible.  We especially cleaned up on woodpeckers, which can be very difficult sometimes.  On the second trip it was very foggy and we did not see as much.  Highlights of this road were Bronze-winged, Smoky-brown, Lineated, and Golden-fronted Woodpeckers along with Ivory-billed and Olivaceous Woodcreepers.  We also had large numbers of tanagers, grosbeaks, and other passerines, including Hooded, Rose-breasted, and Crimson-collared Grosbeak, White-winged, Summer, and Yellow-winged Tanager, Altamira and Audubon’s Oriole, Masked Tityra, Rose-throated Becard, Black-headed Saltator.  Mountain Trogons were numerous.  We even got decent looks at Singing Quail, which is usually just a “heard bird,” and several flyovers of Military Macaws.

The Village of Alta Cima - This proved to be one of the hotspots of the region.  It turned up most of the usual suspects and more than its share of unusual or out of range species.  The most interesting was the sighting on Jan. 9th (and again on the 16th) of a Violet-crowned Hummingbird defending the flowers of a Coral Bean tree near the Hotel el Pino.  (This bird was independently identified by other birders to the region and accounts have been posted earlier on MexBirds so I will not give added details here.  Suffice it to say that the species is not expected, though I do have a recollection that we have seen it before on the “dry side” of the range.  I’ll have to burrow through my notes for confirmation of that.) Other hummingbirds were: Wedge-tailed Sabrewing, Azure-crowned, White-eared, and Magnificent.  Also of interest was a nice Ochre Oriole (Fuerte’s race of Orchard Oriole; still considered by some to be a separate species).  In fact, we saw six oriole species at Alta Cima on the 16th: Altamira, Audubon’s, Bullock’s, Baltimore, Hooded, and Orchard (Ochre).  Yellow-faced Grassquit, Grayish Saltator, goldfinches, warblers, Spot-breasted Wren, flycatchers, tanagers, hawks, vultures, and more rounded out the long list for the village.

Oak-Bromeliad Forest – This is our name for the more mesic oak forests south of the biosphere reserve where the trees are heavily festooned with epiphytes.  This area is at about 1500 meters in elevation.  Highlights of this habitat were Spot-crowned Woodcreeper, Rufous-capped Brushfinch, Rufous-capped Warbler, Crescent-chested Warbler, Townsend’s Warbler, Flame-colored Tanager, Hepatic Tanager, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Mountain Trogon, Military Macaw, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Painted Redstart, and Hammond’s Flycatcher.

Laguna de San Isidro – This is a large lake on the “dry side” of the mountain range.  Birds in this area included House Finch, Verdin, Ruddy Ground-Dove, and a host of wintering waterfowl species.

Rio Frio – Along the Rio Frio at several stops we managed to find Sungrebe, Crane Hawk, Roadside Hawk, Peregrine Falcon, Yellow-throated Euphonia, Clay-colored Robin, and many others.  The first two species were definitely the highlights.  The former is at the extreme northern limit of its range in the region and is always a great find.  The latter has been severely impacted by damage to its preferred wetland habitats and is much more common in the Gulf Coast lowlands.

El Nacimiento – The headwaters of the Rio Sabinas, and the road there, have always been a favorite area.  Highlights here were Tufted Flycatcher, Bare-throated Tiger Heron, Pale-billed Woodpecker, Ruddy Ground-Dove, Blue-black Grassquit, Gray-crowned Yellowthroat and many more.  Nearby we added Blue Ground-Dove.  But the most interesting bird was a male Golden-cheeked Warbler that must have forgotten to migrate to Nicaraugua!  This individual was feeding, flycatcher like, on little gnats by making sallies out over the nacimiento.  We first thought it was just another Black-throated Green.  Needless to say we were surprised to see its black back, black cap, and eye line!

On the road home – To make the drive home more tolerable (Who ever wants to leave the tropics?) we spent some time seeking roadside birds with some success.  These species rounded out the list (Some might say “padded” the list ;-).) and account for the majority of shorebirds and waders you see on the trip list below.

JANUARY 2001 – BIRDS of the GOMEZ FARIAS REGION – 229 species
(includes species recorded en-route to the region from the Rio Grande Valley of Texas)

Thicket Tinamou
Least Grebe
Pied-billed Grebe
Eared Grebe
American White Pelican
Neotropic Cormorant
Double-crested Cormorant
Bare-throated Tiger-heron
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Little Blue Heron
Cattle Egret
Green Heron
Black-crowned Night-Heron
White Ibis
Roseate Spoonbill
Wood Stork
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Greater White-fronted Goose
Snow Goose
Muscovy Duck
Mottled Duck
Blue-winged Teal
Cinnamon Teal
Northern Shoveler
Northern Pintail
Green-winged Teal
Ring-necked Duck
Lesser Scaup
Ruddy Duck
White-tailed Kite
Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Crane Hawk
Gray Hawk
Harris' Hawk
Roadside Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk
Short-tailed Hawk
Swainson’s Hawk
White-tailed Hawk
Zone-tailed Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Collared Forest-Falcon
Crested Caracara
American Kestrel
Bat Falcon
Peregrine Falcon
Plain Chachalaca
Northern Bobwhite
Singing Quail
Common Moorhen
American Coot
Black-necked Stilt
Greater Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs
Spotted Sandpiper
Long-billed Curlew
Least Sandpiper
Stilt Sandpiper
Long-billed Dowitcher
Common Snipe
Rock Dove
Red-billed Pigeon
Band-tailed Pigeon
White-winged Dove
Mourning Dove
Inca Dove
Common Ground-Dove
Ruddy Ground-Dove
Blue Ground-Dove
White-tipped Dove
Gray-headed Dove
Green Parakeet
Military Macaw
White-crowned Parrot
Red-crowned Parrot
Red-lored Parrot
Squirrel Cuckoo
Greater Roadrunner
Groove-billed Ani
Barn Owl
Ferruginous Pgymy-Owl
Vaux's Swift
Wedge-tailed Sabrewing
White-eared Hummingbird
Magnificent Hummingbird
Blue-throated Hummingbird
Azure-crowned Hummingbird
Violet-crowned Hummingbird
Elegant Trogon
Mountain Trogon
Blue-crowned Motmot
Ringed Kingfisher
Belted Kingfisher
Amazon Kingfisher
Green Kingfisher
Acorn Woodpecker
Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Ladder-backed Woodpecker
Smoky-brown Woodpecker
Bronze-winged Woodpecker
Lineated Woodpecker
Pale-billed Woodpecker
Olivaceous Woodcreeper
Ivory-billed Woodcreeper
Spot-crowned Woodcreeper
Northern Beardless Tyrannulet
Tufted Flycatcher
Greater Pewee
Least Flycatcher
Hammond’s Flycatcher
Eastern Phoebe
Black Phoebe
Vermillion Flycatcher
Dusky-capped Flycatcher
Great Kiskadee
Boat-billed Flycatcher
Social Flycatcher
Tropical Kingbird
Couchs' Kingbird
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
Rose-throated Becard
Masked Tityra
Loggerhead Shrike
White-eyed Vireo
Cassin's Vireo
Blue-headed Vireo
Hutton’s Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Rufous-browed Peppershrike
Green Jay
Brown Jay
Tamaulipas Crow
Chihuahuan Raven
Common Raven
Cave Swallow
Black-crested Titmouse
Spot-breasted Wren
Bewick's Wren
House Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Eastern Bluebird
Brown-backed Solitaire
American Robin
Clay-colored Robin
White-throated Robin
Gray Catbird
Northern Mockingbird
Curve-billed Thrasher
Long-billed Thrasher
Blue Mockingbird
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing
Orange-crowned Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Crescent-chested Warbler
Tropical Parula
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Golden-cheeked Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Townsend's Warbler
Yellow-throated Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
Northern Waterthrush
Louisiana Waterthrush
Common Yellowthroat
Gray-crowned Yellowthroat
Hooded Warbler
Wilson's Warbler
Painted Redstart
Golden-crowned warbler
Rufous-capped Warbler
Golden-browed Warbler
Yellow-breasted Chat
Hepatic Tanager
Summer Tanager
White-winged Tanager
Yellow-winged Tanager
Scrub Euphonia
Yellow-throated Euphonia
Blue-black Grassquit
White-collared Seedeater
Yellow-faced Grassquit
Rufous-capped Brushfinch
Olive Sparrow
Spotted Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Vesper Sparrow
Lark Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
Grayish Saltator
Black-headed Saltator
Crimson-collared Grosbeak
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Black-headed Grosbeak
Blue Bunting
Indigo Bunting
Varied Bunting
Painted Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Melodious Blackbird
Brewer’s Blackbird
Great-tailed Grackle
Bronzed Cowbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
Orchard Oriole
Hooded Oriole
Altamira Oriole
Audubon's Oriole
Baltimore Oriole
Bullock’s Oriole
House Finch
Lesser Goldfinch
Hooded Grosbeak
House Sparrow

Michael Delesantro