29 July - 01 August 2000
by Chris Merkord
Members of the trip were Cameron Cox, Scott Brandes, Tony Ortiz, Pat & Glenn Merkord, and myself - all squeezed into one beat-up pickup truck - perhaps a little more beat-up now than before. Thanks to everyone who responded to my questions when I was organizing this trip. We didn't get to bird El Cielo/Gomez Farias area due to time constraints, but I will use all the great advice on birding that area when I make a return trip in January. Here goes...
July 29 - we crossed the border at Nuevo Progresso around 2pm. The small crossing had no line, but the hours were fairly restricted, 10am-2pm. Half of our party had filled out the necessary paperwork when the clock struck 2 o'clock. The man at the desk promptly closed the register and refused to process anyone else. A little arguing and a small "fee" convinced him to let the other half of us turn our paperwork in. Another tip convinced the vehicle inspector that only the most cursory of examinations was needed of our car. Fees were US $19 per person and US $17 per vehicle. It took us approx. 45 minutes to get through the border station and on the road again. Traveled down the coast highway to near Tampico.
July 30 - we passed through Tampico at 8:30am - traffic was light since it was Sunday morning so we went straight through downtown instead of taking the bypass. Continued on to Veracruz, which was a little harder to get through, but still pretty easy with our Sanborn's Guide. from 5:45-7:45pm we birded Las Barrancas. Two very cooperative Double-striped Thick-knee were the best bird of the stop, but other than that birding was slow for passerines, better for waterbirds. Good looks at Snail Kite and Aplomado Falcon on a fence were also nice.
We did notice dozens of Fork-tailed Flycatchers that appeared to be staging like Scissor-tailed Flycatchers do here in Texas in October. What is the deal with this? Some populations migrate, right? But which population were these birds and which direction were they migrating if at all? One small field had about 30 birds in it. If they were not staging for some kind of migration, does anyone know what the dense concentrations are for - if that is even considered dense.
Drove on to Playa Escondida on the coast near Catemaco. [prices from here on out are in nuevo pesos] Hotel Icacal, the one closer to the beach, was $150 a night and the huge cracks between the boards of the walls allowed for a nice breeze blowing in off the gulf. Quite pleasant if you don't mind the openness - had running water and few bugs, and was pretty clean.
July 31 - we birded the area between the biological station and the small town of Laguna Escondida in the morning. This road was great and we had good looks at lots of birds.
One interesting sighting was of a flock of about 400 Black Swifts winging southward in what looked like a giant, floating globe of birds. I'm sure this sighting must be of interest to someone out there. Can anyone comment on other sightings of this species migrating south through the coastal lowlands?
Also seen was a Louisiana Waterthrush... when do the first migrants of this species usually arrive in the area of southern Veracruz? I was not sure if this was early or not.
In the afternoon we headed out to the town of Monte Pio, although the closer we got the less natural habitat we saw. We did have a great view of 2 immature Bare-throated Tiger-Herons in a roadside drainage ditch, not 20 m from the road. They took off after a few minutes and landed in a giant tree in the middle of a pasture, allowing for great looks the whole while. What a cool bird! After a short time in Monte Pio we headed back to bird the more dense vegetation along the road near the biological station. Spent the night at the Hotel Playa Escondida, which was $150 a room with $50 more for each person over two. Very little water - the biology students studying the Howler Monkeys there said they were having problems with the water tanks. Raquel and Christina, two of the international students, told us there were 3 groups of 12 monkeys each in the area. We saw several at close range, including one adult male. Close range translates to lounging on a branch about 20 feet over our heads.
August 1 - we drove to the biological station - several km away - just before first light. Along the way we counted numerous Paraque, as well as 3 Tawny-collared Nightjar on the road. What is the status of this species in this area? Seasonal migrants or resident birds?
After birding in the morning we packed up and headed to Valle Nacional, Oaxaca via San Andreas Tuxtla and Tuxtepec. Birding the fields and marshes along the river between those two cities was great for raptors, including several cooperative Snail Kites. We stayed at the Hotel Valle in Valle Nacional. Rooms were $70 for two people, were clean and had ceiling fans, but had no A/C and no toilet seats. Great place for birders on a budget. A great little restuarant was located on the main street caddy-corner to the hotel. Birding on the hillsides above Valle Nacional was great in the evening - very birdy!
Texas A&M University
College Station, TX