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23 March - 1 April 2003

by Nathan Pieplow and David Whiteley

Rough itinerary/list of places stayed (Note: all prices are in Mexican pesos):

March 22: Arrived Mexico City Airport 4:00 PM.  Exchanged money, picked up rental car.  Drove to Córdoba via cuota highways.  Stayed at the basic Hotel San Gabriel (Av. 11 Calle 4 No. 407 esquina, Córdoba, Veracruz, tel. 712-34-11, double room $150).

March 23: birded Amatlán.  Drove to Tuxtepec.  Stayed at the Hotel Hacienda (double room $300).

March 24: birded the Camelia Roja area.  Drove to Valle Nacional.  Stayed at the very basic Hotel Contreras (double room--$160).

March 25: birded above Valle Nacional.  drove to UNAM Biological Station near Catemaco.  Spent night in car outside UNAM.

March 26: birded UNAM Biological Station.  Took boat ride on Laguna Sontecomapan.  Stayed at Hotel Playa Azul, Catemaco (double room--$748.80).

March 27: birded Nanciyaga and other areas near Catemaco; drove to Tehuantepec.  Stayed at Hotel Calli (double room--$600)

March 28: birded Tehuantepec, where our car was broken into while we were birding the scrub.  Drove to Puerto Angel.  Stayed in room rented out by a woman named Sara who worked at the restaurant adjacent to the Restaurante-Bar Viricocos.  Basic room with two beds: $120.

March 29: birded Puerto Angel.  Hired a fishing boat for a self-styled pelagic trip.  Same lodgings as previous night.

March 30: birded La Soledad.  Drove to Oaxaca.  Stayed in some nameless basic hotel on Rte. 175 on the south edge of the city.  Double room: $200.

March 31: birded Garbage Gulch and Monte Alban.  Stayed at highly recommended Hotel-Posada Los Arcos, on Rte. 200 not far east of the turnoff for 175 North.  Luxurious double room: $390.

April 1: birded La Cumbre.  Drove to Mexico City, birding briefly off the cuota highway in the pines west of Puebla.  Turned in rental car, got a hotel with an airport shuttle for our morning flight.  (hotel: $750).

The Play-by-play:

Day 1 (3/22/03):

We arrived Mexico City at 4:00 PM on a Saturday afternoon.  The pollution gave me almost immediate sneezing fits, which lasted until we were out of the valley.  The traffic was indescribable.  Only Cairo sees its equal.

After exchanging some money, we went to pick up our Hertz rental car.  The grassy lawn next to the rental office was surprisingly birdy, and we ticked our first eight species, including Loggerhead Shrike, a male Vermilion Flycatcher, and our only two European Starlings of the trip!

Then we drove out of the city.  Or rather, we TRIED to drive out of the city.  We had heard that corrupt Mexico City “policemen” stake out the route from the airport to the Puebla cuota highway, and sure enough, right at the corner where you turn left onto Ignacio Zaragoza (which becomes the Puebla highway), we were waved over by two uniformed men with notepads.  No patrol car, no badges really, just uniforms and the apparata for writing “tickets”.  In retrospect, they may not even have been cops.

If you’ve done your homework, you know the scam.  They catch you on some trumped-up traffic offense and claim you must pay the fine at the downtown office, unless of course you’d like to “pay the fine on the spot,” thereby further greasing some already slimy pockets. 

Luckily one of us was a Spanish teacher, and the other had done some fruitful research on ways to wiggle out of this trap.  I explained to the man that we were perfectly willing to pay the fine downtown if he would just give us the address, and also that we had been explicitly told that bribing policeman was a criminal matter for which we could be seriously punished.  That was all I really needed to say, as it turned out.  He gave David’s license back and two minutes later we were cruising east, our wallets perfectly intact.

As we followed the highway into the mountains, I saw a bird fly across the road and suggested that we spend our remaining daylight (<30 minutes) seeing what we could find in an unscheduled stop.  We took advantage of the first available pullout and there, sitting on a guardrail mere yards from rushing traffic, was our first Russet Nightingale-Thrush.  It was briefly joined by another—the only two we would see on this trip!  A great bonus bird.

Our remaining daylight netted us a possible Green-striped Brushfinch, a definite Spotted Towhee and a Slate-throated Redstart that only David saw.

We continued on our way, getting into Córdoba rather late.  Our hotel was, in retrospect, a good value, and the walls were thick enough to nearly mute the nightclub next door.

Day 2 (3/23/03)

An early start for Amatlán.

Note: trying to follow the directions in Howell’s site guide through downtown Amatlán was frustrating in the extreme.  The town is simply much more complicated than it’s made out to be.  The church is a prominent landmark, but the Zócalo isn’t.  Somehow we found our way, though.

As we approached the parking site, we were awed by the number of Black Vultures leaving roosts with the dawn.  (We ended the day with an official count of “millions”).  Groove-billed Anis, Rufous-capped Warblers and Great Kiskadees greeted us at the quarry, where Plain Chachalacas and Thicket Tinamous were doing their best to drown out the Black-headed Saltators and Melodious Blackbirds in the dawn chorus--no easy task, if you know the latter two species.  Montezuma Oropendolas were hard to miss, and a flock of White-crowned Parrots flew over.

As we hiked up the trail, we added lifers left and right: Masked and Black-crowned Tityras, Violaceous Trogon, Yellow-throated and Scrub Euphonias, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Tropical Parula, Golden-crowned Warbler, Common Bush-Tanager, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Band-backed Wren, Azure-crowned Hummingbird.  Sumichrast’s Wren was quite vocal, but we never saw it (couldn’t tear our eyes off the other birds!)  The day was gray and rainy, and there was a large flowering tree on the slope; these two factors combined to give us a fantastic level of bird activity which really was never again matched on the trip.  Indigo Buntings were abundant—annoyingly so.  Little Hermit was the most conspicuous hummer.  Keel-billed Toucans were noisy and with some persistence, we were able to get distant views of this, my most-wanted bird...peanuts compared to what would come later! 

We hiked up beyond a small shrine, adding great birds along the way: Zone-tailed Hawk, Yellow-olive Flycatcher, Spot-breasted Wren, Ivory-billed Woodcreeper, Blue-crowned Motmot, Collared Aracari, Squirrel Cuckoo, and Chestnut-capped Brushfinch, as well as the more familiar Black-throated Green, Nashville, Black-and-White, Hooded, Wilson’s, MacGillivray’s, Magnolia, Worm-eating and Blue-winged Warblers, American Redstart, and Blue-headed, Cassin’s and White-eyed Vireos.  Two gorgeous Fan-tailed Warblers were the only ones we would see all trip.  I wasn’t fast enough to get on David’s Rufous Mourner, and he never saw my Ochre-bellied Flycatcher—two more birds we would never refind!
Back down by the quarry we found a Yellow-breasted Chat and a rather surprising pair of Berylline Hummingbirds which appeared to be on territory.  At last, we reluctantly got in the car and headed for the autopista and Tuxtepec.

We ate lunch at a place along the autopista, where they assured us that the libre highways were not much slower than the cuota, so we opted to give them a try.  We found the reports to be accurate, not just along this route but practically everywhere we went in Veracruz and Oaxaca: the roads, with a few notable exceptions, were in good to excellent condition, and we found the libre highways to be plenty efficient for getting from place to place, particularly when David (“the Passmaster”) was doing the driving.  Between the cuota and Tuxtepec, our vigilance netted us Roadside Hawk, Merlin, and Blue-gray and Yellow-winged Tanagers.

We ended this mind-boggling day at the Hotel Hacienda, perhaps a bit pricey for what you get, although the amenities included quiet and air-conditioning, two rare qualities indeed in a Mexican hotel.

Day 3 (3/24/03)

This morning found us on the road to Camelia Roja, a paved road into an apparent hinterland which nonetheless featured an astonishing amount of morning commuter traffic, including busses whizzing past at startling speed.  Be careful if you bird along the road, as we did, finding Red-lored and White-fronted Parrots, Social Flycatcher, and a copulating pair of Northern Beardless-Tyrannulets, among other more northerly breeders.

Once past Camelia Roja, things started picking up, though birds were often more easily heard than seen at this site.  Bright-rumped Attila, Blue-crowned Motmot, Sumichrast’s Wren and Thicket and Little Tinamous sang from far up the hills, while a close-in skulker that sounded rather like a Black Rail turned out to be a Rufous-breasted Spinetail—the first of several we heard.  The corn stubble and weeds below the road held White-collared Seedeater and Blue-black Grassquit, and David saw a Thick-billed Seedfinch. 

Every other bird was an Indigo Bunting, but in between them came a couple of Painted Buntings, Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds, Keel-billed Toucans (nice scope views this time), Blue-black Grosbeaks, Aztec Parakeets, and a magnificent pair of Crimson-collared Tanagers.  David managed to get me on one of the Barred Antshrikes he’d heard calling, and we renewed our acquaintance with some birds from yesterday: Yellow-olive Flycatcher, Spot-breasted and Band-backed Wrens, Squirrel Cuckoo and the two euphonias.  White-collared and Vaux’s Swifts winged overhead, and Violaceous Trogon and Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl vocalized simultaneously, offering us nice comparisons of their startlingly similar calls: VITR slurs down, FEPO slurs up.  We were thrilled to actually spot the owl in a tree up the slope and get nice scope views.  (Yawn!  We would see a half-dozen more on the trip!)

A little further down the road we found another Keel-billed Toucan, in the company of a couple of beautiful Yellow-tailed Orioles, and I saw a Blue Ground-Dove fly by. The Little Tinamou sounded close enough to touch, but did not show itself.  In the more open country beyond, raptors started appearing.  Roadside Hawk, Gray Hawk and American Kestrel were common; one great tree was adorned with a sitting Laughing Falcon, while another, at our approach, let loose a White-tailed Kite.   At a tiny roadside woodlot, I found a flycatcher which I called a Myiarchus; David, with his Costa Rica experience, recognized it as a Yellow-bellied Elaenia, but by that time I'd lost the bird.  Rats!  Luckily, I redeemed myself by recognizing the strange, simple whistles of a distant Striped Cuckoo.  Vermilion Flycatcher, Black-crowned Tityra and Blue-winged Warbler rounded out the stop. 

With afternoon now upon us, we headed back through Camelia Roja towards the dam at Presa Miguel Aleman.  The main river bridge between C.R. and the dam is still out, but we were able to get through on a temporary bridge that the construction crews had installed just upstream. Howell says that Sungrebe and various kingfishers have been seen from the bridge, but that seemed unlikely on our visit, with flow from the river tributary reduced almost to zero and a lot of heavy machinery moving earth down in the channel. Ah well.

By this time passerine activity seemed to have waned, but just below the dam, in the trees along the road, David came up with a female Lineated Woodpecker, so I didn't see fit to complain. The reservoir was nearly birdless, though there were a few pelicans and cormorants way out there, and swallows were wheeling over the dam. Most of these were Northern Rough-wings, but a few were Mangroves, and some investigation revealed that the latter species was nesting in some telephone-pole type structures down along the water's edge to our right.

We returned to the base of the dam and turned right, soon finding another bridge, which was missing only pieces of itself—rather an improvement over its counterpart.  Here we found Northern Jacana, Black Phoebe and Amazon Kingfisher (what a bill!).  We took a left beyond the bridge, and down this road found some flowering trees, which in a half hour produced Rose-throated Becard, excellent looks at both sexes of Green-breasted Mango, and our first northern House Wren, as well as more seedeaters, grassquits, Aztec Parakeets and Rufous-tailed Hummingbirds. A stream crossing farther down contributed Louisiana Waterthrush and Limpkin to our list, to say nothing of Many-banded Daggerwing for a butterfly Grand Prize!

We turned around when we came to a town; it looked like the habitat wouldn't get any better. Imagine our surprise when, passing a certain tree for the second time in two minutes, we found it to have sprouted an Aplomado Falcon in our absence!  Imagine our further surprise when the bird sat still enough for David to walk right up to its tree, camera shutter blazing!  (Tragedy, we later learned: none of the pictures came out!)

After running some errands in Tuxtepec, we set off for Valle Nacional, where we reserved a room at the very basic Hotel Contreras, then went to find what we could with the remaining daylight.  We opted to walk the trail along the river starting from the bridge where the highway leaves town on the way to Oaxaca.  This trail had quite a bit of human traffic, but we managed to kick up some decent birds before dark: Montezuma Oropendola, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Social Flycatcher, and a number of the commoner North American warblers.  As we walked back to the car just at dusk, a nighthawk sp. flew over us silently and was gone.

Day 4 (3/25/03)

We headed up the mountain above Valle Nacional before dawn.  Our first stop was around mile marker 75, where we got brief looks at a Spectacled (Scaly-throated) Foliage-Gleaner and heard Wood Thrush, Gray-breasted Wood-Wren and Emerald Toucanet.  A kilometer further up we came to the town of La Esperanza, and the pullout just downslope of the town provided a fantastic scoping point.  Crested Guans serenaded us from somewhere down in the valley, while a Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer fiddled around at our very feet. 

As we waited, excellent birds made appearances, starting with an eye-popping female Blue-crowned Chlorophonia and eventually including MacGillivray’s Warbler, Bullock’s and Audubon’s Orioles, a female Flame-colored Tanager, Unicolored Jay, and a bunch of White-crowned Parrots.  As we moved on to spots upslope from the town, we finally got a good look at one of the Emerald Toucanets, which had been quite vocal; it was far closer than we had suspected, and stayed down in the denser foliage, rather than up on exposed high perches as the Keel-billeds had done. Yellow-winged and Common Bush-Tanagers, Gray-breasted Wood-Wrens, Cordilleran Flycatchers and Slate-throated Redstarts were numerous.  The ethereal songs of Slate-colored Solitaires rang forth at every stop, but we never did see one despite prolonged and determined neck-craning.  A flowering tree held little for hummers, but did offer us a better look at a Spectacled Foliage-Gleaner, and eventually we got a male chlorophonia in the scope, a bird which immediately zoomed to the top of the “most beautiful” list.

Somewhere around km marker 86, essentially up in the pine stuff, we found a little shrine with a big pullout, which produced a nice Spot-crowned Woodcreeper and a heard-only Collared Trogon along with the obligatory Slate-throated Redstarts.  By this time butterflies were coming out, and I was totally blown away by my most-wanted bug of all time, the magnificent Diaethria anna, known to laymen as the eighty-eight.  Hereafter we saw them at every stop!  At a few stops we were lucky enough to see a terrific hairstreak as well, zebra-striped below and morpho-blue above.  I wish I had had a good resource on Mexican butterfly ID.

Above km 99 we started to run into some more typical pine-oak birds: Slate-colored Solitaires gave way to a single singing Brown-backed, and we picked up Hutton’s Vireo and Violet-green Swallow before turning around at the crest.  Birding was pretty slow on the way back down the hill, but we did manage to find a flock of Chestnut-collared Swifts high overhead, and the overlook just before La Esperanza produced our first Broad-winged Hawk, as well as another singing toucanet and a male Flame-colored Tanager for me.  Farther downslope, the town of Metates came through in a pinch, gifting us with terrific eye-level views of a flock of eight Red-legged Honeycreepers.  This, however, was our last lifer on the way out of the area.

Ahead of us lay the long drive to Catemaco.  We tried not to stop too much so as to make decent time, especially considering that we had decided again not to take the cuotas, and the circumnavigation of Tuxtepec got us very nearly lost on rural roads before we finally refound the main highway.  Our resolve finally broke at the bridge at km 57 east of Loma Bonita, where I thought I had seen a funny-shaped heron standing at the edge of the water.  When we stopped, we got terrific views of the bird--an adult Bare-throated Tiger-Heron, our only one of the trip.   The stop got even better when we found a pair of Gray-breasted Martins in among the Northern Rough-winged Swallows over the river.  A Mangrove Swallow was there too.  And along the path, in addition to yet another Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Blue-gray Tanagers and a nice Ringed Kingfisher, David managed to turn up a Yellow-bellied Elaenia, and I was finally able to recoup this lost lifer from the day before.

After turning north towards the autopista in waning light, we pulled over once more, this time at a lovely little pothole with shorebirds and waders.  Here we found 10 Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks and 6 Snowy Egrets, with a few Greater Yellowlegs, Semipalmated Sandpipers and (probably Long-billed) dowitchers scattered among the abundant Jacanas.  But the real treat was closer to the road: a stunning Fork-tailed Flycatcher hunting from a bush along the fenceline!   In the air, this bird was a spinning ball of wings and tail streamers such as I have never seen.  It vocalized constantly on the wing, and spun seemingly too fast and too randomly to be chasing insects--were we perhaps seeing some kind of display?

Just as we were about to kiss the pond and the daylight goodbye, an Aplomado Falcon cruised past us, as if to put an exclamation point on yet another fantastic unscheduled stop.

We got to Catemaco rather late, and headed first to the Hotel Playa Azul, where many have stayed and birded the grounds.  Yikes!  It turned out the price of a double room was up to $750.  We pushed on towards Montepío, but never quite got there.  For one thing, the road between Sontecomapan and the coast presented some real problems for our belly-dragging rental car, slowing us to a crawl.  For another thing, the map and text in Howell’s site guide gave different accounts of the distance involved, and unfortunately the longer estimate turned out to be the more accurate.  All this culminated in our running out of energy by the time we got to UNAM Biological Station, and so we simply decided to pull over and sleep in the car, with the windows open of course in case any owls should care to call.

Within minutes we had been serenaded by Mottled Owl, Pauraque and Great Tinamou.  Something else in the forest was making a growling noise which was somewhat similar to Crested Owl, but didn’t quite match the tape in pitch or tone.  A frog, perhaps?  All in all it was a pleasant night, despite the fact that we were sleeping in car seats, and even with the windows down all night, bugs were not a problem in the least. 

Day 5 (3/26/03)

The dawn chorus started out with the same birds from the night before and added many more as the light came up, starting with a Slaty-breasted Tinamou to complete our Tinamou Slam.  Howler Monkeys roared in the distance.  One of the several calling Pauraques fluttered around on the road in front of the car; two other road-sitters turned out to be Blue-crowned Motmots.  At the gates of the Biological Station, we got our best looks yet at Keel-billed Toucan and Collared Aracari, which were moving through the trees in the company of Clay-colored Robins, Montezuma Oropendolas, a female Slaty-tailed Trogon and a couple of Red-throated Ant-Tanagers.  A White-bellied Emerald sang from a perch over the path to the dorms, which was cool...but an even cooler hummer was the Long-tailed Hermit visiting flowers nearby.  Beyond the dorms we got into the woods proper, where we added birds slowly but surely: White-breasted Wood-Wren, Bright-rumped Attila, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Yellow-throated Euphonia, Collared Trogon.  Somewhere deep in the woods we came face-to-face with a Great Tinamou, and David spotted a Tamandua Anteater fifty feet up in a tree.  A nearly-dry streambed was not dry enough to drive off its Green Kingfishers, nor the Great Black-Hawk that came swooping over David’s head while I was off looking at a Long-tailed Sabrewing. 

Birding was all right on the forest understory, but we decided we’d had better luck (or at least better views) in clearings and edges, so we sought out a clearing and I tried out my Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl imitation, waking up all the Lesser Greenlets in the area, along with Masked Tityras, Baltimore Orioles, Red-legged Honeycreepers and warblers including Golden-crowned and Blackburnian.  After being mobbed by this lot, we decided the FEPO call was a pretty good trick, but over the course of the trip we were surprised to find that its effectiveness varied from fantastic to almost zero in accordance with some factors we could never discern.  Also, the attention span of the mobbing flock always seemed pretty short, so we had to look fast.

Eventually we had to take a break for “lunch” (read: bird near the car with food in our hands).  We heard a raptor scream and David instantly cried, “White Hawk!”  We looked up and there it was, soaring right overhead in all its glory.  Now suddenly interested in raptors, I scanned a kettle of BLVUs for a non-vulture and found one, which I immediately called a Swallow-tailed Kite.  But no: it turned out to be a Magnificent Frigatebird.  I guess we were closer to the ocean than I thought!

We headed back into the woods for a while and found some more good birds: Tropical Gnatcatcher, Red-crowned Ant-Tanager, Ivory-billed Woodcreeper, Stub-tailed Spadebill.  But the rain showers were becoming rather more frequent and more intense, and our rate of return was starting to drop, so we decided to head for Sontecomapan to try to arrange a boat tour on the Laguna.  Along the road we stopped to scan a few foraging flocks, picking up Lineated Woodpecker and Yellow-bellied Elaenia again, as well as many nice Neotropical migrants, including our first Yellow-throated Vireos and Northern Parulas of the trip. 

At the dock in Sontecomapan, we were mobbed by people offering us boat tours.  A slight warning here: we did meet Ismael, the guide mentioned in Howell’s book, but only after we got back from our trip.  Had we gone out with him in the beginning, we might have had better luck.  The guys we went with were very nice and we did see fifty species of birds, but we got none of the real specialties of the boat tour (Sungrebe, Pygmy Kingfisher, Pinnated Bittern, Bare-throated Tiger-Heron).  The guys on the dock will give you an enthusiastic response if you show them a copy of Howell & Webb, and they will point out all the above birds on the plates, saying “yes, we see these all the time”…but Ismael is probably the guy to actually find them for you.  Make sure to ask for him by name.  Even though we didn’t go with him, our trip was also fun, and did get us some spectacular views of Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture and a female Black-headed Trogon, Common Black-Hawk, Snail Kite, and Laughing Falcon, among other things.

After our excursion we headed out towards the coast at La Barra in hopes of plovers, crakes and the like.  Unfortunately, contra Howell, we found absolutely no marshes along the route.  One wet spot had a lot of jacanas (29 to be exact), but that was it.  The coast was similarly disappointing, with only Spotted Sandpiper, Laughing and Herring Gulls, Black Skimmers, and Common and Royal Terns.

Faced with the prospect of another night in the car, we broke down at the end of the day and drove back to the Hotel Playa Azul for showers, telephones, etc.  It was nice, but it wasn’t $750-nice. 

Day 6 (3/27/03)

Rather than spend two hours of our birding day getting to UNAM Biological Station and back, we opted to bird areas closer to the Playa Azul.  In retrospect, UNAM might have been a better choice.

We started out at the Nanciyaga preserve mentioned in Howell.  Habitat was good, but try as we might, we could not come up with any lifers.  Highlights included Blue-crowned Motmot (heard), White-breasted Wood-Wren, Red-throated Ant-Tanager, Black-headed and Violaceous Trogons (heard), Least Bittern (heard at the lakeside marsh), Purple Gallinule (seen there), a male Green-breasted Mango, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird and Yellow-olive Flycatcher.  Also the most ridiculously tame Louisiana Waterthrushes, Wood Thrushes and Ovenbirds that either of us had ever seen.  We took a moment to watch the Plain Chachalacas taking a dust bath in the mock ceremonial site by the cabañas, where we also flushed a two-foot lizard that took off running on its hind legs—evidently a basilisk relative.

Somewhat less than thrilled with our success so far, we decided to head back towards the Playa Azul to see about birding the grounds.  Unfortunately we’d checked out already and would have had to pay to park there again to bird, so we parked outside the wall instead and walked down an adjacent road to see what we could find.  This quickly paid off with a nice male Canivet’s Emerald, followed by a nesting pair of Rose-throated Becards, Piratic Flycatcher, Yellow-winged Tanager, Band-backed Wren and Rufous-tailed and Buff-bellied Hummingbirds.

After this we backtracked to the bottling plant.  It seemed deserted from the road so we crawled under the fence and walked on in.  A couple of Ruddy Crakes were having a shouting contest in the nearby marsh; our low-volume tape playback brought them closer, but not into view.  A few other birds were around, including orioles and both euphonias and our first Red-eyed Vireo, but not much else.  A close approach to the bottling plant proved that it was actually in operation, and this fact, along with the electric fence nearby, complicated access to the forest patch beyond, so we just turned around.

At this point we faced something of a dilemma.  Our itinerary had us driving that afternoon to Matias Romero in order to try the Nava’s Wren site on Uxpanapa Road the next morning.  Torn between a repeat visit to UNAM to redeem the day and a headstart south, we chose to head south.  In fact, we decided to breeze into the Nava’s Wren site that very afternoon, just to check out the situation.

This we did with less trouble than we anticipated.  The Uxpanapa Road has been paved as far as the toll bridge at km 17, and is now really quite fast.  As we had heard, most of the habitat along the way was totally degraded, but the actual Nava’s site remains heavily forested.  A quick foray into the trees revealed ridiculous limestone cliffs, the reason for the survival of this forest patch so far, and I daresay its ticket into the future.  Unfortunately, at 3:00 PM the forest was nearly silent, and we had to work hard to scrounge up Aztec Parakeet, Montezuma Oropendola and Yellow-olive Flycatcher.  We were decidedly pessimistic about our chances for Nava’s Wren even should we return the next morning, since we had no tapes of this notorious skulker, and so we made the decision to press on to Tehuantepec, forsaking the southeast lowlands a day early and freeing up time for a visit to Puerto Angel.

Our timing allowed us a late-day stop at the Rosita’s Bunting site mentioned in Wheatley’s Central American site guide (a dirt track running east from the highway at km 229 south of Matias Romero).  Just short of this spot, we found our first White-throated Magpie-Jays, vanguard of the new western avifauna.

The dirt track east was birdy late in the day.  Not far from the highway we heard chipping and responded with a FEPO call.  Zoom!  A Stripe-headed Sparrow high-tailed it out of the bush, eluding David even as it became my hundredth lifer of the trip.  Next came the Orange-breasted Buntings: first a female, then a male, which immediately knocked the chlorophonia out of first place on the “Most Beautiful” list.  (OBBUs, as we came to call them, were abundant throughout the Pacific-slope thorn forest, but their abundance failed to make them mundane.  When all was said and done, at the end of the trip, we would both agree that OBBU had successfully defended the Most Beautiful title against all comers.)

After the buntings came the Streak-backed Orioles, seven in the first flock alone.  Neither of us had ever seen so many orioles in one place.  All were Streak-backeds.  Heartened by our success with the owl imitation, we moved down the track and tried again, and this time tooted up a Banded Wren and a Sumichrast’s (Cinnamon-tailed) Sparrow, not to mention a plethora of buntings, orioles, and…oh yeah, Myiarchus.  Most were Ash-throated but some were probably Nutting’s…we didn’t get any definitive views of the latter on this day.

No new passerines with our third pygmy-owl call…we got a pygmy-owl instead!  At closest approach we were twenty feet from the bird at eye level, with crippling scope views.  Eventually the bird flew off but continued calling in the distance, while another one flew in from the other direction!  We got several excellent looks at FEPOs during the trip but these were unquestionably the best.

With dying light, we headed back towards the car, minus Rosita’s Bunting but richer by a singing Canyon Wren and a screaming horde of chachalacas.  It wasn’t until much later that night that we realized we had left Plain Chachalaca on the eastern slope of the Isthmus…these had been our life West Mexicans.

We stayed at the hotel Calli in Tehuantepec for $600.  Yet another FEPO was singing in the parking lot when we pulled up, for the official last bird of the day.

Day 7  (3/28/03)

This was an interesting day.

We started off in the thornscrub west of town on Hwy 190, per Howell’s instructions.  We parked along the highway next to a bus stop at kilometer 244.  Howell describes the area as overgrazed, and says that the resulting lack of underbrush should result in killer looks at ground-cuckoos, if you follow tracks back from the highway.  We found that in reality there was a lot of underbrush, such that the going was difficult after a hundred yards or so.  Furthermore, FEPO calls were not the hot commodity here that they had been previously.  Nevertheless, we did see many of the birds from the night before, with one noteworthy addition: White-lored Gnatcatcher, also known as My Favorite Gnatcatcher.  It is a really nice-looking bird.  No Sumichrast’s Sparrows or cuckoos of any description.

As we headed back towards the car, it gradually dawned on me that I was hearing a familiar and most unwelcome call.  “Is that…our car alarm?” I asked David.

We saw flashing police lights as we came to the edge of the brush.  It was our car, all right.  The hood was open, a window was down, and the police were already there in numbers.  The officers confirmed what we had already guessed: someone had tried to break in.  David had left the driver’s side window cracked, and it appears the would-be thieves had slipped something inside and rolled down the window, since there was no sign of forced entry.  Luckily, either the car alarm or the resulting police presence had scared away the culprits before they could take anything, but we got quite a talking-to from the officers, who told us that this stretch of highway is notorious for crime, including violent crime, and is no good place to be wandering around.  They recommended that birders check in with the police before visiting the area, or else limit their explorations to the area around the military checkpoint a couple of miles further from town.  I leave you to make of this advice what you will.  We had not had any problems before, nor did we have any thereafter; but after that particular incident, we found we had lost our taste for Tehuantepec, and decided to move on towards Puerto Angel. 

After fixing a flat tire (more work of the banditos?), we headed for La Ventosa lagoon.  Since Howell’s guide was published, the road he describes to La Ventosa has been paved, and another paved road has been constructed to the town; you will see the signs for it off the main highway south from Tehuantepec.  The beach in town hosted a large flock of larids, primarily Laughing Gulls and Sandwich Terns, along with some Royals, a Gull-billed, and one adult basic Black Tern.  We heard Melodious Blackbirds singing their R2-D2 songs.  The rest of the lagoon was rather difficult to access but we did find some scanning spots, which turned up little exotic from an ABA point of view, though we did get both pelicans, Neotropic Cormorant, Reddish, Snowy and Great Egrets, White Ibis, Great Blue and Tricolored Herons, Blue-winged Teal and hundreds of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks.  We had been hoping for shorebirds but could turn up only a Spotted Sandpiper in that department.  In the brush along the lagoon we found a few specialty scrub birds, but nothing we hadn’t already seen.

We continued on towards Puerto Angel, still hungry for shorebirds.  At km 303 we saw what we thought were mudflats south of the road, and pulled off on a dirt track to investigate.  The “mudflats” turned out to be some type of fish farm which did not seem to be attractive to birdlife, but the scrub along the track was a different matter.  Here, among the Magpie-Jays, we found our first Yellow-winged Caciques, a pair of Thick-billed Kingbirds, and best of all, nice views of a Russet-crowned Motmot, which in my opinion far surpasses Blue-crowned in beauty!  On a herp note, it was not far from here that we saw our first Black Iguana (Ctenosaura similis) crossing the road. 

We pulled into Puerto Angel in the late afternoon.  Brown Boobies were cruising the harbor along with Magnificent Frigatebirds and the other usual suspects.  After scouting Playa Zipolite, we continued along the paved road past the beach resorts up onto the large hill to the west, immediately across from the seabird stack described by Howell.  We found a dirt track leaving the main highway at the crest of the hill; although our passenger car couldn’t make it much farther than the first fifty yards, a walk up the rest of the road was very productive, producing Rufous-naped and Banded Wrens, Olive Sparrow and Bell’s Vireo.  At the top of the hill we were able to scope the offshore rock, and found it ringed with flying Red-billed Tropicbirds and sitting boobies and frigatebirds.

While exploring some of the footpaths through the scrub, we decided to try our hands at the flycatchers and soon came up with scope views of a calling Nutting’s.  Ash-throateds were more common, however, and Orange-breasted Bunting and White-lored Gnatcatcher were easy to come by.  David came face-to-face with a male Doubleday’s I would have to wait until morning to see.

Although the birds were good, it was hard not to notice that most of the underbrush had been cleared in this area.  At times we even heard the ringing of machetes from down in the valleys.  But this was far and away the best spot we found in the Puerto Angel area, and the regional specialties persisted.  Ironically, it was probably the lack of underbrush that helped me spot the Lesser Ground-Cuckoo just as we were about to get back into the car.  This is one of those birds to which the field guide cannot do justice, and we were unprepared for those metallic bronzy upperparts, that bright blue facial skin, and that remarkable slow-motion walk.  What a great bird!

On this high note, we headed back into Puerto Angel, stopping for a couple caciques and another FEPO on the way.  We ate on the beach at the Restaurante-Bar Viricocos and struck up a friendship with the owner, Alberto.  His seafood pasta was fantastic.  We talked to him about the possibility of renting a fishing boat for a makeshift pelagic trip, and he told us he would talk to a friend of his about a possible excursion the next day.  We also asked him if he knew of cheap accommodations in the area, and he introduced us to the owner of the restaurant next door, a woman named Sara who rented us a basic room with two beds for $120/night.  It was quite adequate to our needs and helped balance our budget after our expenses in Catemaco and Tehuantepec.

Day 8  (3/29/03)

Dawn found us back up on our favorite hill, eager to clean up on Pacific Coast specialties.  Slowly but surely, we did so.  Our first good find was a perching hummingbird which didn’t match anything in the field guide, causing us a good deal of head-scratching, all of which ended when it begged for food, and received it, from an adult female Doubleday’s. 

We continued exploring further down the path towards Zipolite.  After a long fight, the woodpeckers we had been hearing since the night before granted us views, and turned out to be of the Golden-cheeked variety rather than the Golden-fronteds we had come to expect.  At one spot near the water, we found Gray-breasted Martins soaring overhead with the vultures and frigatebirds, but landbirds were rather scarce.  The trip’s first Orange-crowned Warbler seemed to be all we could turn up, and at length we decided to turn back towards the car.  Somehow this decision seemed to have a magical effect.  In minutes we had hit the jackpot with a female Red-breasted Chat popping through the underbrush at our feet, flying her tail like a flag.

The magic wasn’t done yet.  Back up on the crest of the hill, we kicked up a rich brown finch with a curved culmen: a female Blue Bunting.  This was fifty yards from the car.  I believe we actually had the car doors open when we heard the screeching of parrots, and turned around to see the Orange-fronted Parakeets fly in, land briefly just upslope, and fly off again in cacophony.  We got the message.  We shut the car doors, walked ten feet down the road, and were rewarded with unobstructed views of a Lesser Ground-Cuckoo stalking through the leaf litter, presumably the same bird we’d seen there the night before.

When we did get back in the car, we continued westward along the paved road, searching for more scrub habitat, but found only more degraded areas than those we’d left.  A side road to the beach produced a flock of Elegant Terns, but that was the only novelty.

Feeling rather lazy, we returned to Alberto’s restaurant in Puerto Angel for a leisurely lunch while we waited for his friend with the boat to show up.  Having seen essentially all the area specialties, with the notable exception of Citreoline Trogon, and being chronically short of sleep, we were not too upset about the long wait.  Eventually Mario wandered in, and there ensued a relaxed bargaining session, at the end of which we agreed to go out with him for two hours to the tune of $500.  Having explained to him the concept of chum, I convinced him to head over to the fish cleaning station for a bag of blood and guts, with which we hoped to bring the birds close to the boat.

Our craft turned out to be an eighteen-foot dinghy with an outboard motor.  The sea was calm and the sun was bright, and we made good time on the water, but our schedule only allowed us to get a few miles offshore.  On the way out we spotted several Black Storm-Petrels, along with all the coastal species we’d seen in the harbor.  A mile or so offshore, Mario swung the boat around unexpectedly and pointed to a head sticking out of the ocean just a few yards away.  It was the first sea turtle David or I had ever seen; Mario called it a carey (Hawksbill Turtle, Eretmochelys imbricata).  A little farther on, I spotted something weird, like a giant dragonfly, whizzing over the water and disappearing beneath the waves: my first flying fish.

When we reached our chumming spot, I dumped about a half-gallon of fish blood in the water.  It did not create quite the slick I had been hoping for, and I learned that fish blood does not float.  The artificial chum I’d seen used on North American pelagics had been composed of two principal components: fish oils, to attract sharp-nosed seabirds from beyond the horizon; and popcorn, to provide the hungry arrivals with a conspicuous floating food.  Having little of the first component and none of the second, our more traditional chum didn’t work quite as well for seabirds, although before long we had attracted a long dark shape in the water which Mario identified as a Great White Shark.  I got only vague looks at it.

Birds did come to our “slick”, but they were few and far between.  Black Storm-Petrels passed us every couple of minutes, and eventually a pair of phalaropes flew in to spin on the water.  With some caution we were able to bring the boat within a few feet of them, and to our pleasant surprise found that we had both a Red and a Red-necked.  Later, a Pink-footed Shearwater glided by us.  Other than that, it was just the occasional Laughing Gull, despite repeated reapplications of fish blood to the water.
As it was getting to be time to go, Mario took a piece of fish guts and threw it high into the air in the direction of the only Laughing Gull in view.  We should have thought of that before!  In minutes we had an escort of thirty screaming gulls, and I knew that other seabirds could not be far behind. 

Suddenly, though, all the gulls took off, departing simultaneously as though someone had barked an order.  A dark-morph Pomarine Jaeger had come out of nowhere, tearing into the gull flock like a wolf into a chicken coop.  While the jaeger terrorized the hapless gulls, Mario kept throwing fish in the air, and the Pink-footed Shearwater reappeared, along with the Black Storm-Petrels and one Brown Booby.  Then the frigatebirds arrived, and the real show began. 

If you think a jaeger can wreak havoc on gulls, you have got to see a frigatebird in action.  I was totally unprepared for the spectacle.  I had only seen frigatebirds off-duty, hanging in the sky like ornaments, pinned to a point in the air, sliding from one updraft to another without moving a feather.  Such grace seemed incompatible with speed and savagery.  Little did I know.
Before the arrival of the frigates, not a single Laughing Gull, for all its screaming and flapping, had managed to catch a fish in the air.  Once the frigates had appeared, it was a rare fish indeed that hit the water.  Mario would let one fly, and a great black shape would shift ever so slightly, turning into a rocket with the merest fold of a wing, and that wicked bill would snap, and the fish would disappear right over our heads.  I wanted to point in amazement, but refrained for fear of losing a finger.  In the rare event that a gull got a scrap, it didn’t keep it long.  The frigate would slice down on six-foot wings, effortlessly matching the gull’s every desperate swerve until it coughed up its lunch in order to escape.  I had been fond of frigatebirds before, it’s true, but never truly in awe of them until this day.   

The little bash broke up when we ran out of fish.  After a pleasant ride back to shore, we showed our appreciation to Mario with a ten-dollar tip, all the more deserved because we had spent well over our allotted time on the water.  Even though this little side trip netted us only one lifer apiece (the storm-petrel), we both looked back on it as one of the clear highlights of the entire trip.

Our last few hours of daylight were spent exploring brush and fields just southwest of Pochutla, where we renewed our acquaintance with a number of species and added some trip birds in the form of Blue Grosbeak and Willow Flycatcher.  A trail that led north to a trash-filled overlook got us our third (!) Lesser Ground-Cuckoo, our second Rufous-crowned Motmot, and our first Rufous-backed Robin.  Ivory-billed Woodcreeper also made a brief encore appearance.

After our final wonderful meal at Alberto’s restaurant, we headed back up to the hill for a little owling.  Taping for Pacific Screech-Owl and Colima Pygmy-Owl proved fruitless, but we did flush a Pauraque off the road, and a Mottled Owl called from down in the valley.  Back in town, we slept again in the same room in Puerto Angel, rather gratefully putting an end to a long but very enjoyable day.

Day 9  (3/30/03)

4:00 AM came rather too early, it seemed, but we went along with the clock, not wanting to miss any birds.  David offered to drive, and I slept in the car on our way to La Soledad.  Once we got there, David needed a short nap before hitting the trail, so I walked out alone into the half-light to see what I could find.

Bright-rumped Attila and Brown-backed Solitaire were leading the dawn chorus down in the gully.  I followed the path into the woods and was immediately greeted by a dapper little Blue-capped Hummingbird.  Then I spent quite a bit of time trying, and failing, to get adequate views of a singing woodcreeper.  I never did get a good look, but a little research in Howell and Webb found a match for the range and the song: Ivory-billed.  Golden-crowned Warbler and Chestnut-capped Brushfinch were the only other birds I could come up with on my way back to the car.

David was up when I got there, and had found “Wagler’s” Emerald Toucanet and Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher across the road, both of which I was able to see, along with some  “Dickey’s” Audubon’s Orioles, a Gray Catbird, a flock of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and a Veery.  Then we headed down the trail together.  David got a lifer over me in Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush, which I didn’t see well enough to count, and then I did the same to him with a Golden Vireo.  A male Varied Bunting which popped up was a real surprise, and a real disappointment when I was unable to show it to David, just as I had been unable to show them to him in Florida Wash on our first birding excursion together.

Following the trails down towards a couple little houses which preside over a long-defunct basketball court, we found more open forest with some better views of the birds.  Tufted Flycatchers, Greater Pewees, White-throated Thrushes and Gray Silkies were easy to find.  A spectacular bird appeared to me, but not to David: a male Red-headed Tanager.  David retaliated by being the only one to see the Golden-browed Warbler.  He then found us a pair of Blue Mockingbirds and a couple Red-legged Honeycreepers. 

A warning on this next bird: it can make you look foolish.  When David asked me for an opinion on the little green job, I identified it with a glance.  “Empid,” I said, and started looking elsewhere for excitement.  “No wingbars,” he pointed out.  I looked again; he was right.  It had an eyebrow, too.  “My mistake—Orange-crowned Warbler,” I said, and started to move on.  “It’s sitting like a flycatcher,” he patiently replied.  Finally I started to study the bird, which just then let loose with a high-pitched “seet-seet-seet”.  “Greenish Elaenia,” David said, and I sheepishly agreed.

Then we heard something exciting, something that sounded like jays.  And here they came, two of them low right over us.  Backlighting could not hide their contrastingly paler throats.  Dwarf Jays!  A great find of a localized endemic.
Soon thereafter we got brief looks at a White-faced Quail-Dove that we flushed off the path.  When I say brief, I mean brief—and blurry.  But what other bird is the size and shape and color of a basketball?

To round out our lifer list for the site, we got two nice skulkers: Rusty Sparrow and Happy Wren.  A Zone-tailed Hawk sailed over the car as we started north.

I drove the next stretch.  I didn’t drive much during the trip at all—in fact David usually called me in only when the road was bad.  This time he was just sleepy, but seeing me behind the wheel, the road decided to deteriorate in my honor.  Besides the road to UNAM, the twenty-mile stretch north of La Soledad ranks as the worst road I saw in Mexico.  Though paved, it had been the victim of several washouts, which in at least two cases had swallowed the entire right lane.  Then there were the rockslides, in whose aftermath nobody had bothered to clear the pavement, leaving drivers to use their wheels to blaze a double track through a blanket of fist-sized stones.

A pair of stops in the first few kilometers were mostly uneventful, though the second netted us our first Acorn Woodpecker of the trip.  We prepared for an extended excursion, however, down the logging road 25 km north of La Soledad, which Howell mentions as a possible site for White-throated Jay.

Our first bird was a singing Mountain Trogon, heard but not seen.  Warblers were flitting through the denser growth along the stream, and walking up the road, we came upon a terrific flock with Golden-browed and Red Warblers, perhaps the two prettiest birds in that whole gorgeous family.  A Chestnut-capped Brushfinch was also in the mix, and a little farther along we got good looks at a Spot-crowned Woodcreeper.

About a kilometer up the road, we rounded a steep hairpin turn to the right, and discovered a number of flowering trees in the bend of the road.  This site occupied us for the next two hours. The hummingbirds were the real stars of the show here: we got many spectacular views of Green Violet-Ear and Magnificent Hummingbird, both of which were common; White-eared Hummingbirds were a little scarcer but no less exciting; and a short visit by a female Garnet-throated Hummingbird made our day.  Passerine variety was also good, featuring Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer and trip birds Western Tanager, Tennessee Warbler and Steller’s Jay.  Brown-backed Solitaires gave good views for the first time, and both David and I independently saw things that looked like Rufous-capped Brushfinches, but were foraging high in trees, which seemed un-brushfinch, so we held off on the identification.  The intermittent rain showers probably helped bird activity, and kept us lingering happily at this spot until nearly five o’clock, when we finally tore ourselves away and continued on towards Oaxaca.

Our long but wonderful day finally ended on the southern outskirts of Oaxaca, at a nameless basic hotel where a double room cost $200.  Even though we’d skipped breakfast and lunch, we were too tired for dinner.

Day 10  (3/31/03)

This was to be our day in the Oaxaca valley.  From what we had read in the trip reports, it seemed Garbage Gulch was probably the place to start, so that is where dawn found us, 8 km north on Highway 175.

We got Oaxaca Sparrow and Pileated Flycatcher within two minutes of leaving the car along the main trail westward.  And then—nothing.  Okay, there were Vermilion and Tufted Flycatchers and Rufous-capped Warblers , and we did hear and see several vireos—but unfortunately the latter did not include Slaty, and only a possible Dwarf.  Nothing else, in terms of Oaxaca valley specialties or even lifers in general.  We explored both sides of the road until mid-morning and then headed up towards La Cumbre to try our luck there.

Unfortunately, gale-force winds met us at the pass where one pays the gate fee.  Discouraged, we turned around.  A dark-morph juvenile Short-tailed Hawk did only a little bit to cheer us up as we debated what to do next.

Eventually we decided to head over to Monte Albán.  We arrived for the tail end of the morning’s bird activity.  Our first find was White-throated Towhee, which was abundant and conspicuous, along with Vermilion Flycatchers.  Our next find was much rarer: four other people in the parking lot with scopes and binoculars!  They were Brits, as close to the beginning of their trip as we were to the end of ours.  They’d been to Garbage Gulch the day before with similarly disappointing results, and had enjoyed rather better luck at Monte Albán, but were still missing several hoped-for endemics.  We swapped some bird tales before David and I left them to chase a couple of Boucard’s Wrens, successfully as it turned out.  Then, on their advice, we went to stake out the flowering trees on the edge of the ruins for the local hummer specialties.

After trying to sneak a scope inside and being caught in the act, we returned with bins and sat to watch the flowers.  Soon a Dusky Hummingbird dropped by.  Nearby we got super looks at a couple of Blue Mockingbirds, but before long it was evident that bird activity was nearly dead.  Under a tree near the visitor’s center, we discovered what was unquestionably the ugliest bird of our trip: an unfortunate White-throated Towhee which was missing all its head feathers, and consequently looked like something out of an Edward Gorey book.  Things got progressively slower.  Highlights of the afternoon were a Virginia’s Warbler and our first encounter with the black-eared form of Bushtit.

We headed back across town, hoping to find a reasonably priced hotel near where Route 175 heads north from Route 190.  We were in possession of a trip report which claimed that only “love hotels” could be found in the area.  What this meant, we found out soon enough: extremely cheap hotels, lacking double rooms, with curtains drawn across every carport so as to maintain the privacy of customers.  Not the kind of place we wanted to stay.  However, a clerk at one of these establishments directed us just a short distance east along Route 190, to the Hotel-Posada Los Arcos, which turned out to be our favorite hotel of the trip.  $390/night: an excellent value, and a terrific location for birders headed north out of town.  We highly recommend it.
After checking in, we headed out to kill the last hour of daylight back at Garbage Gulch.  We wandered the same route as the morning without hearing a sound.  Finally we turned back, and then, in the last minutes of daylight, stumbled upon a pair of Blue-hooded Euphonias foraging at eye level.  These spectacular birds rounded out our trio of most-beautiful contenders for the trip, and did wonders for our opinion of the day’s success. 

Last bird of the day was a calling Cassin’s Kingbird near the car.

Day 11  (4/1/03)

Although (or perhaps because) we had been somewhat disappointed by our success in the Oaxaca valley, we decided to spend our last birding morning higher up the mountain, at La Cumbre, where more potential lifers might be waiting.

Unfortunately, even just after dawn, the winds were pretty ferocious up on the pass.  This time, however, we bit the bullet and paid the fee to get past the chain up the northwest logging road.  Much has been written about this fee and its legitimacy; when we were there, they charged us $80 ($40/person) and told us that the proceeds went to the preservation of the forest.  One tangible result of this fee seems to be the new nature center right beside the gate.  The locals seemed quite proud of it and invited us to visit, but we declined, citing bird fever.  It looked quite respectable from the outside, albeit small.  I’m not sure about the nature of preservation efforts, however, since we did run into several trucks heading up the road during the course of the morning, some of them loaded down with young men presumably commuting to their work in the forest.

Once we passed the chain and started up the road, we found the wind to be less of a problem, since the road was mostly in the lee of the hill.  Around the 1 km mark, we discovered a single flowering tree sporting no fewer than three White-eared Hummingbirds.  Brown-backed Solitaires and Mountain Trogons were singing nearby.  The first lifer of the day came quickly, in the form of a Rufous-capped Brushfinch, which really was foraging high up in the trees!  I felt good about reaching my goal of 150 trip lifers, since I now had only three more to go.

Unfortunately, things proceeded to slow down in a hurry.  After a long stretch without Mexican specialties, we were very pleased to get Crescent-chested Warbler, which pretty much rounded out our Mexican warbler wish list.  Then, after that first one, they seemed to be everywhere.  In fact, warblers were abundant all along the road all morning—warblers, and precious little else.  A Mexican Chickadee here, a Band-tailed Pigeon there...but everything else was warblers.  Most numerous were Townsend’s, Hermit and Black-throated Green, in addition to decent numbers of Yellow-rumped (Audubon’s), Crescent-chested and Red Warblers.  Halfway up the road we ran into the Brits again, who didn’t have much different to report, except for a Chestnut-capped Brushfinch.  We continued in this same vein all the way to the 9-km mark.  Towards the top we got a few treats, with brief views of solo Red-faced and Golden-browed Warblers, in addition to another pair of magnificent Blue-hooded Euphonias and our first and only Hairy Woodpecker of the trip.  But by then it was nearly noon, and time for us to be heading back towards the airport.  On our way down we stopped for a little bird which I called a Warbling Vireo, only to hear it rebuke me with a high “seet-seet-seet”.  Damn Greenish Elaenias!

The hummingbird tree from earlier that morning was no longer deserving of its moniker when we returned, but we did see Gray Silkies, a Brown Creeper and an Olive-sided Flycatcher at the spot.  Then we headed down the mountain and out onto the autopista, D.F.-bound.

Other than a pair of Harris’ Hawks in Puebla state, we didn’t see too much from the autopista.  We wanted to make good time so as to spend the last hour or two of daylight in the mountains near Mexico City, just as we had on the first day of the trip.  (I was itching for two more trip lifers).  Eventually we pulled over at a roadside well, somewhere around five kilometers west of the Puebla state line.  The habitat was open pine forest with little to no understory, bounded on all sides by busy highways.  It didn’t seem like a likely spot for much bird activity, but it was all we had.

To our astonishment, within a minute of slamming the car door, we were staring at our first Strickland’s Woodpecker, the bonus bird we had not even dared to hope for.  And then, sixty seconds later, we popped up a pair of Striped Sparrows.  Two minutes, two serendipitous Mexican endemics...and for me, a cool sesquicentenary of lifers.  We were both ecstatic.
In the remaining daylight, we rounded out our trip list with Olive Warbler, Western Bluebird and Black-headed Grosbeak.  David saw another Rufous-capped Brushfinch, down in the brush this time, and I got a closer look at the weird olive-backed race of Spotted Towhee.  But all too soon the light was gone.

Our birding done, we made the decision to try to drive to the airport, drop off the rental car a half-day earlier than planned, then find an airport hotel with a shuttle so as to save ourselves stress in the morning.  As it turned out, this was our best logistical decision of the trip.  Although traffic in the city was perhaps even worse than the last time we’d been there, the darkness hid us from corrupt police, and with a little attention to the signs and some good old-fashioned seat-of-the-pants navigation (and a fair dose of luck), we managed to make it back to the Hertz office in one piece.  Our early return of the car saved us a good chunk of money, which covered the price of the airport hotel.  We couldn’t have planned a smoother end to our trip.

In summary, then, here are some of the highlights we hashed out in the Atlanta airport just before parting ways:

Best Bird
Nathan - Keel-billed Toucan (honorable mentions: Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Red Warbler)
David - White Hawk (honorable mention - FEPO)

Most Beautiful Bird
Nathan - Orange-breasted Bunting (honorable mention: Blue-hooded Euphonia)
David - Orange-breasted Bunting (honorable mention - Blue-crowned Chlorophonia)

Ugliest Bird
Nathan and David - mangy White-throated Towhee at Monte Alban

Best Site
Nathan - Amatlán, La Soledad, UNAM
David - Amatlán, La Soledad

Worst Site
Nathan and David - Garbage Gulch

Best Experience
Nathan - The night before departing (serendipitous lifers, getting to Mexico City in one piece)
David - Puerto Angel pelagic trip

Worst Experience
Nathan - Narrowly averted mugging (maybe worse) in Tehuantepec
David - Bad Road to UNAM

Best Meal
Nathan - Seafood pasta at Alberto's
David - Guacamole and tomate pasta at Alberto's

Worst Meal
Nathan - bowl of "fish parts" on the way to Tuxtepec
David - head meat tacos in Valle Nacional

Best Room Value
Nathan and David – Hotel-Posada Los Arcos in north Oaxaca

Worst Room Value
Nathan and David - Playa Azul near Catemaco

Best Trip Food
Nathan - Totopas de Maiz with avocado (very cheap), nut bars
David - Totopas de Maiz, apples (honorable mention - Chiclets)

Lessons Learned
* Use of recordings in the field was worth trouble of making cd's and carting CD player and speakers around (however, put play list with plates to reduce amount of info to cart around, also put site species with plates).
* Always carry valuables in case of break in.
* Never leave windows rolled down, not even a little bit.

Other impressions (in no particular order) - topes (speed bumps—astonishing in their severity and number), many dogs, friendliness of people, inability of most people to give good directions, Mexico City traffic, higher than expected quality of roads, Mexico City pollution, excellence of Mexican cheese, high quality of Aeromexico flights (with meals!), ease of using ATM (no bank fees to withdraw money from ATM), difference between crooked Mexico City traffic cops and rest of Mexico police, frequent passing by cars in no-passing zones, high number of roadside snack bars, pedestrians observed in the middle of nowhere walking on the roads, ability to stop on roads to bird due to number of topes/pedestrians/other stopped cars which seems to create heightened awareness by native drivers


(Note: To download an Excel Spreadsheet file with a detailed daily species list by site, right click here.)

Great Tinamou
Little Tinamou
Thicket Tinamou
Slaty-breasted Tinamou
Least Grebe
Pink-footed Shearwater
Black Storm-Petrel
Least Storm-Petrel
Red-billed Tropicbird
Brown Booby
American White Pelican
Brown Pelican
Double-crested Cormorant
Neotropic Cormorant
Magnificent Frigatebird
Least Bittern
Bare-throated Tiger-Heron
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Little Blue Heron
Tricolored Heron
Reddish Egret
Cattle Egret
Green Heron
Black-crowned Night-Heron
White Ibis
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
Blue-winged Teal
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture
White-tailed Kite
Snail Kite
White Hawk
Common Black-Hawk
Great Black-Hawk
Harris's Hawk
Gray Hawk
Roadside Hawk
Broad-winged Hawk
Short-tailed Hawk
Zone-tailed Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Crested Caracara
Laughing Falcon
American Kestrel
Aplomado Falcon
Plain Chachalaca
West Mexican Chachalaca
Crested Guan
Ruddy Crake
Purple Gallinule
Common Moorhen
American Coot
Black-necked Stilt
Northern Jacana
Greater Yellowlegs
Solitary Sandpiper
Spotted Sandpiper
Semipalmated Sandpiper
Pectoral Sandpiper
Red-necked Phalarope
Red Phalarope
Pomarine Jaeger
Laughing Gull
Herring Gull
Gull-billed Tern
Caspian Tern
Royal Tern
Elegant Tern
Sandwich Tern
Common Tern
Black Tern
Black Skimmer
Rock Dove
Scaled Pigeon
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
White-faced Quail-Dove
Aztec Parakeet
Orange-fronted Parakeet
White-crowned Parrot
White-fronted Parrot
Red-lored Parrot
Squirrel Cuckoo
Striped Cuckoo
Lesser Ground-Cuckoo
Lesser Roadrunner
Groove-billed Ani
Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl
Mottled Owl
Common Pauraque
Chestnut-collared Swift
White-collared Swift
Vaux's Swift
Long-tailed Hermit
Little Hermit
Long-tailed Sabrewing
Green-breasted Mango
Green Violet-ear
Canivet's Emerald
Dusky Hummingbird
Broad-billed Hummingbird
Doubleday's Hummingbird
White-eared Hummingbird
White-bellied Emerald
Azure-crowned Hummingbird
Berylline Hummingbird
Rufous-tailed Hummingbird
Buff-bellied Hummingbird
Blue-capped Hummingbird
Garnet-throated Hummingbird
Magnificent Hummingbird
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Broad-tailed Hummingbird
Black-headed Trogon
Violaceous Trogon
Mountain Trogon
Collared Trogon
Slaty-tailed Trogon
Blue-crowned Motmot
Russet-crowned Motmot
Ringed Kingfisher
Amazon Kingfisher
Green Kingfisher
Emerald Toucanet
Collared Aracari
Keel-billed Toucan
Acorn Woodpecker
Golden-cheeked Woodpecker
Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Ladder-backed Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Strickland's Woodpecker
Lineated Woodpecker
Rufous-breasted Spinetail
Spectacled Foliage-Gleaner
Olivaceous Woodcreeper
Ivory-billed Woodcreeper
Spot-crowned Woodcreeper
Barred Antshrike
Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet
Greenish Elaenia
Yellow-bellied Elaenia
Ochre-bellied Flycatcher
Yellow-olive Flycatcher
Stub-tailed Spadebill
Pileated Flycatcher
Tufted Flycatcher
Olive-sided Flycatcher
Greater Pewee
Willow Flycatcher
Cordilleran Flycatcher
Black Phoebe
Vermilion Flycatcher
Bright-rumped Attila
Rufous Mourner
Dusky-capped Flycatcher
Ash-throated Flycatcher
Nutting's Flycatcher
Great Crested Flycatcher
Brown-crested Flycatcher
Great Kiskadee
Boat-billed Flycatcher
Social Flycatcher
Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher
Piratic Flycatcher
Tropical Kingbird
Cassin's Kingbird
Thick-billed Kingbird
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
Fork-tailed Flycatcher
Rose-throated Becard
Masked Tityra
Black-crowned Tityra
Gray-breasted Martin
Mangrove Swallow
Violet-green Swallow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Barn Swallow
Steller's Jay
White-throated Magpie-Jay
Brown Jay
Dwarf Jay
Unicolored Jay
Common Raven
Mexican Chickadee
Brown Creeper
Band-backed Wren
Rufous-naped Wren
Boucard's Wren
Rock Wren
Canyon Wren
Sumichrast's Wren
Spot-breasted Wren
Happy Wren
Banded Wren
House Wren
White-breasted Wood-Wren
Gray-breasted Wood-Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher
White-lored Gnatcatcher
Tropical Gnatcatcher
Western Bluebird
Brown-backed Solitaire
Slate-colored Solitaire
Russet Nightingale-Thrush
Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush
Wood Thrush
Clay-colored Robin
White-throated Thrush
Rufous-backed Thrush
American Robin
Gray Catbird
Blue Mockingbird
Tropical Mockingbird
Cedar Waxwing
Gray Silky
Loggerhead Shrike
European Starling
White-eyed Vireo
Bell's Vireo
Blue-headed Vireo
Cassin's Vireo
Plumbeous Vireo
Yellow-throated Vireo
Hutton's Vireo
Golden Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Lesser Greenlet
Blue-winged Warbler
Tennessee Warbler
Orange-crowned Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Virginia's Warbler
Crescent-chested Warbler
Northern Parula
Tropical Parula
Yellow Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Townsend's Warbler
Hermit Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Grace's Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
American Redstart
Worm-eating Warbler
Louisiana Waterthrush
MacGillivray's Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Hooded Warbler
Wilson's Warbler
Red-faced Warbler
Red Warbler
Slate-throated Redstart
Fan-tailed Warbler
Golden-crowned Warbler
Rufous-capped Warbler
Golden-browed Warbler
Yellow-breasted Chat
Red-breasted Chat
Olive Warbler
Red-legged Honeycreeper
Blue-crowned Chlorophonia
Scrub Euphonia
Yellow-throated Euphonia
Blue-hooded Euphonia
Blue-Gray Tanager
Yellow-winged Tanager
Red-crowned Ant-Tanager
Red-throated Ant-Tanager
Hepatic Tanager
Summer Tanager
Scarlet Tanager
Western Tanager
Flame-colored Tanager
Red-headed Tanager
Crimson-collared Tanager
Common Bush-Tanager
Grayish Saltator
Black-headed Saltator
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Black-headed Grosbeak
Blue-black Grosbeak
Blue Bunting
Blue Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Varied Bunting
Orange-breasted Bunting
Painted Bunting
Rufous-capped Brushfinch
Chestnut-capped Brushfinch
Olive Sparrow
Spotted Towhee
White-throated Towhee
Blue-Black Grassquit
White-collared Seedeater
Thick-billed Seedfinch
Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer
Stripe-headed Sparrow
Sumichrast's Sparrow
Oaxaca Sparrow
Rusty Sparrow
Striped Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
Yellow-eyed Junco
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Melodious Blackbird
Great-tailed Grackle
Bronzed Cowbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
Orchard Oriole
Audubon's Oriole
Dickey's Oriole
Yellow-tailed Oriole
Streak-backed Oriole
Altamira Oriole
Baltimore Oriole
Bullock's Oriole
Yellow-winged Cacique
Montezuma Oropendola
House Finch
Lesser Goldfinch
House Sparrow

Total Trip Species: 345

We would be glad to answer any questions about our trip.

Nathan Pieplow (,
Boulder, Colorado

David Whiteley (,
Cincinnati, Ohio