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1998 & 1999

by Libby Huffman

My husband and I travelled to Mexico City in 1998 & 1999.  These trips were mainly for birding.  There seems to be a lack of recent info re: Mexico City sites so I felt it would be good to share the little we have learned.

Notes to all the bird lists - Empids, Myiarchus and other flycatchers do exist in and around Mexico City, however, I cannot id most of them so not many are listed.  Please forgive if some of the bird names are not current - I don't keep track of all the changes.  Also, forgive the non-taxonomic order - I'm in a hurry.  Also, w/ the exception of one Amer. Kestrel we have never seen any raptors in or around the city.

The following are sites listed in Howell's "Bird-Finding Guide to Mexico":

UNAM Botanical Garden: Visited Sept, 1999

Very few birds listed are present in Sept.  Not the best site for this time of year.
Bosque de Tlalpan: Visited Sept, 1999
Still a good site this time of year.  Saw Scrub Jay, Canyon towhee, Berryline, White-eared & Blue-throated Hummingbirds, Slate throated Redstart, Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Canyon Wren, (Black-backed) Abeille's Oriole, Black-headed Grosbeak, Bushtit, Black & white Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler, House finch, Lesser (Black-backed) Goldfinch, Ladder-back Woodpecker.  Looking for Blue Mockingbird with no luck.  If you go to this site you must have lunch at the Hacienda Tlalpan - incredible (& inexpensive) food, excellent service and gorgeous courtyard gardens w/ peacocks & other birds roaming the grounds.

The following sites are not mentioned in Howell's book:

Desierto de los Leones & Cruz Blanca: Visited Dec, 1998; March, 1999; Sept, 1999

The location of Desierto is mentioned in other trip reports (and locals know it) but Cruz Blanca is not.  At the entrance road to Desierto, right before the park gate (where you pay entrance fee) is a gravel/dirt road to the right that immediately U-turns off the Desierto entrance road (it is difficult, but not impossible, to get up this road after a rain).  Cruz Blanca is directly above Desierto - I do not know the altitude but the elevation change is significant enough that there are some different species than Desierto.
Birds at Desierto: (Sorry, I only noted Lifers our 1st trip to Desierto - a number of other U.S.  birds winter here as well).  Rufous-capped Brush Finch, Red Warbler, Slate-throated Redstart, Collared x Spotted Towhee, Gray Silky-flycatcher, Yellow-eyed Junco, Strickland's Woodpecker, White-eared & Magnificent Hummingbird, White-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, Olive Warbler, Black-headed Grosbeak, Mexican Chickadee, Tufted Flycatcher, Spotted Wren, Southern House Wren, Phainopepla, Mexican Chickadee, and an unknown little bitty owl.
Birds at Cruz Blanca - the first 14 birds noted above plus Hairy Woodpecker, American Robin, Gray-barred Wren, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, House Wren, Spot-breasted (crescent-chested) Warbler, Blue-throated Hummingbird, Green-striped Brush-finch, Pine Siskin, Townsends Warbler, Stellars Jay, Mountain Trogon, Golden & Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Orange-crowned Warbler, Golden-browed Warbler, Russet Nightingale Thrush, a Myiarchus flycatcher and several unknown other flycatchers.
Additional notes to the above two sites - Mexico City natives use their parks on weekends and holidays.  It is best to bird these areas on weekdays or you will have a hard time finding an area where there are birds and no people.  The food in the small kiosk restaurants at Desierto has never made us ill.  You can have breakfast for about $2 US.  If you don't want to eat, at least have a Cafe de Ollo - a wonderful cinnamon coffee.

Parque Ejidal San Nicolas, Totolapan: A GREAT site.  Visited Mar & Sept, 1999

This ejido (cooperative farm) is operated by a number of Mexican families who gained both public and private sponsors in 1996-1997 when they decided to quit cutting down/burning their forest and try ecotourism!  Hooray for them.  Southeast of Mexico City only about 35 minutes from the main Chapultepec Park area.  Approximately 2300 hectares of land in the Ajusco Mountains with altitude ranging from 2700 to 3740 meters above sea level.  Entrance fee about $1 US.  Part of their efforts to earn money without destroying the land includes raising freshwater trout in the mountain streams.  The park restaurant (open weekends only) will pluck a trout out of a pool, cook it how you like (I recommend Trucha de Ojo - Trout w/ roasted garlic) and plop it on your table within 15 minutes of ordering.  You've never eaten better.
The park opens at 8: a.m. but gate keepers will let you in earlier.  But, it is very, very cold and you should sleep late - the birds do not start moving until about 9: a.m. after they thaw.  The park has guides for hire if desired.  In 1999 they began training guides for birding.  On our last trip we hired a delightful girl who had been in "bird class" for a few months at a local University.  We had a wonderful time - she had not yet learned many English bird names but easily pointed out their picture and give Spanish names.  She taught us bird names in Spanish; we taught her the names in English (she took notes the entire time).  It is worth the small fee for a guide.  These are people who grew up on the farm - even if he/she has not yet learned the birds they do know where and what time to find them.  Mountain biking is very popular on weekends - the guides know which trails are for walkers and which are for bikers.
Directions are: take Periferico South and exit at the Picacho-Ajusco Highway.  The rest of the directions are "KM 11.5 Paraje "La Campana".  I don't know what that means - "paraje" represents a stop or a rest stop.  But you get on the Ajusco Highway and go for 15 - 20 minutes, watch for a restaurant on your right with a bunch of old tires in the ground marking the boundaries of the park entrance.  There is also a huge park sign right at the restaurant.  (Sorry about the poor directions but some Spanish I cannot translate).  Locals can probably help with better directions.  =20 Birds (Lifers only written down, others from memory) - Striped Sparrow, Russet Nightingale-thrush, Bushtit (nest building in March), Pine siskin, Red Crossbill, Pygmy & White-breasted Nuthatch, Gray Silky-flycatcher, Mexican Chickadee, Golden-browed, Red, Wilsons, Yellow-rumped (myrtle), Townsends, Rufous-capped and Olive Warblers, Slate-throated Redstart, Magnificent & Broad-tailed Hummers, Brown creeper, Golden-crowned & Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Spotted Towhee & hybrids, Rufous-capped brush-finch, Yellow-eyed Junco, Eastern Bluebird, Amer.  Robin, Southern House Wren, House Finch, House sparrow, Hermit Thrush, Black-headed Grosbeak, American Kestrel.  Lots of empidonax seen and unknown owls heard calling.
Looking back the species lists don't seem that large.  However, these sites are good for novice to intermediate birders learning the most common birds of Mexico's Central Highlands.  If you intend to travel further in Mexico, try one of these sites to familiarize yourself with the common species.  That familiarity makes it that more likely for you to find the uncommon!

If you need info on where to stay and how to get around in Mexico City, please e-mail me.

Libby Huffman
San Antonio, Texas