by Michael Delesantro
We took several trips to the El Cielo region from September '99 to January 2000. All proved to be exciting excursions for both birds and butterflies. Bird activity was the lesser of the events in September and October. Summer rains had led to an explosion of butterflies and as many as 180 species were encountered on a single trip. Birds came to the fore in November through January. As the weather cooled and dried the butterflies started to dwindle and birds became more active. We saw as many as 176 species of birds on a single trip during those months.
The bridge across the Rio Sabinas, south of El Encino, continued to be a hotspot. Squirrel Cuckoo and Blue-crowned Motmot were regulars, and pygmy owl, Lineated Woodpecker, and Hook-billed Kite were conspicuous finds. The highlight of the season was a Sungrebe. This site thus became the farthest north locale where we have encountered this species (although other secluded areas of the Rio Sabinas ought to shelter them as well).
Along the road from the highway to Gomez Farias the Bat Falcons continued to hold vigil on their power poles. Other reliable birds are the Gray and Roadside Hawks, anis, and Gray-crowned Yellowthroat.
The oak-bromeliad forest along the road to Ocampo and Tula also continued to produce nice finds. This area is the easiest access we know to this habitat type and many of the high-country birds are found there, especially in winter when they move downslope to escape the cold at the mountain tops. Some of our favorites were Gray-collared Becard, Spot-crowned Woodcreeper, and Bumblebee Hummingbird.
By far the best and most consistent spot for birds was the walking trail from Gomez Farias to Alta Cima. This trail can be a bit steep in places but it travels along the forest edge and has many fruiting trees at any season. Tanagers, grosbeaks, orioles, jays, and a wide variety of other birds were found here on every trip. Collared Forest-Falcon and Crested Guan serenaded us on more than one occasion. The area is also great for flycatchers and warblers.
The drive up the mountain to Alta Cima has also been excellent. The little village was quite birdy, especially for flycatchers, euphonias and Yellow-winged Tanagers. The people were friendly and the ecotienda seems to be doing a good business in support of the local guan and currassow project.
The final destination to mention is the nacimiento of the Rio Sabinas. This area was great in the winter. Tufted Flycatcher was especially nice to find. It is a species more likely to be found in western Mexico, but a local population exists in the El Cielo range. It usually is found higher up in the mountains.
Here is our combined trip list for this region:
American White Pelican
Great Blue Heron
Little Blue Heron
Black-bellied Whistling Duck
Northern Beardless Tyrannulet
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Black-throated Green Warbler
Black and white Warbler