19-23 November, 1998
by Jose Hernandez
This is not a trip report, but rather a brief mention of the places where we had most luck, of accommodations which we found at the smaller localities, and of people whom you might come across. Keep in mind that some of the birds we saw were in feeding, moving flocks.
The areas mentioned are in the southern part of the state of Tamaulipas and in the state of San Luis Potos very near the border with Tamaulipas. El Encino, Las Calabazas, and Llera are on Highway 85 between Ciudad Victoria and Ciudad Mante. Llera is about 60 kilometers from Cd. Victoria, I believe. The turn-off to Gomez Farias is 100 km south of Cd. Victoria. El Naranjo is more or less west of Cd. Mante on Highway 80. Both Gomez Farias and El Naranjo have been centers for Christmas Bird Counts, so descriptions of the areas are in the birding literature.
The road from El Encino to La Libertad was closed for repairs. We went on down to Las Calabazas and turned toward the Rio Sabinas and the village of El Azteca. There were some birds in the area of the bridge. Nothing extraordinary. Took the road from El Azteca to La Libertad, which runs parallel to the river. Just before getting getting to La Libertad, there was a grassy shallow gully where a bull was tethered, then a small hill. Here were a good number of small birds on both sides of the road. The river side of the hill was planted with cactus.
On the east side of the river at La Libertad were more birds. Within the first 30 or 40 yards, on the north side of the road, we found Tamaulipas Pigmy Owl.
We had to arrive at Alta Cima before dark, so we moved on without exploring any further.
Just before the road to Llera de Canales cut off to the right from the main highway, we stopped on the side of the road and did pretty good. There was an open field to the west, with trees on the other side of it. Right across the highway was a building with power lines and trees in front of it. Less than a block behind us, were orange groves. Between the open field and the orange grove on the west side of the highway, there was a narrow dirt road. We walked along that road for a couple of blocks and had good luck. The grass and weeds on the south side of that road had a good number of birds. The trees on the right did too.
There is a flea bag sort of place in Llera which can serve for sleeping in case of emergency. (Hotel Morelos, phone 3-01-12). It is across from the central plaza.
The last gasoline station on the way to Canindo is on the left as you continue down the highway.
About a mile or two after turning off the main highway onto the road to Gomez Farias, there is a dirt road that goes south. A sign for La Bocatoma Restaurant marks the place. The early part of this road has grassy fields on both sides, with trees lining the east side. We had some good birds here, including Yellow-green Vireo. After you enter the town, there is an intersection with two signs (1.7 miles?). One indicates the restaurant to the left, about a block away. The other indicates "El Balneario", a park, to the right (west). The park is along the river. It was OK. It gave the impression of good potential. GPS reading: 22 deg 59.50 N, 099 deg 08.78 H.
Back on the "main" road, at a Y maybe BD mile or so, there is a Cerveza Superior sign indicating "La Bocatoma" (the place). Go down the right to where the canal starts. To the right there is access to the river. There is a boat ramp. This small place was good. (GPS: 22 deg 56.26 min N, 099 deg 08.78 H) The road along the canal did not show much more than promise.
Note: The Langostino back at the restaurant is a bit expensive and not very filling. Ordering a kilogram of it for the three of us gave us more for the same cost than individual orders.
Neat, picturesque town. Past town, on way to Alta Cima, keep to the left. Not far down, there is a sign indicating the ways to Alta Cima. To the right if by foot or burro, to the left if by vehicle. This was a good place, especially up the foot road.
You can reach Alta Cima in a 2wd vehicle.
When we asked about accommodations in GF, we were directed to some small buildings across from the "Casa de Piedra", a stone house with such a name embedded in the stone of its fence or its front wall (left side of street going toward Alta Cima). The buildings were we were directed looked too decrepit. We moved on without talking to the owner.
Somewhere, close to the government building (across from the plaza), there is a public phone "booth" (caseta de telefono), from where you can make calls, or from where you can contact people up in Alta Cima or San Jose by radio. Likewise, you can call this caseta from the U.S. in order to contact people in those remote areas. It works, I believe, as follows: You tell the person operating the booth the name and location of the person that you want to contact, and you give them the message that you want relayed. They will relay the message through radio and wait for a response while you hold on the phone. When the response comes back to them through the radio, they relay the message to you. The phone # of that caseta is (123)2-43-89.
This was a good place, all around. Not many birds can be seen at Canindo which cannot bee seen here, I believe. We engaged Antonio Berrones Martinez as a guide for N$50 for one day. His brother, Rosalio B. M. is in charge of El Pino, the rooms where we stayed for one night for N$100. One room will accommodate four people in bunk beds. Camping is allowed on the "hotel" grounds. Simple, non-meat meals can be fixed at the restaurant for you. If you want a meat dish (chicken), you need to let them know with plenty of time. They sell a few tourist items at a couple of places there, but we did not look into it.
When you arrive at Alta Cima, the road divides into a Y. The left will take you to Canindo, although you come to a wire gate in front of the restaurant/store. That gate is there to keep livestock out, according to Rosalio. The other branch of the Y also comes to a wire gate. Past the gate is the old road which, I am sure, is now the "foot path" indicated by the sign outside Gomez Farias. We asked Antonio to take us down that road. It was OK, but not great. We had good luck within the village between the base of the Y and the wire gate. That old road drops quickly into a "canyon" mentioned by Ro Wauer in A Naturalist's Mexico. Early in the day we heard a lot of bird sounds.
We really did not do Alta Cima justice. We spent too much time in Canindo and not enough in Alta Cima.
I did not take a sleeping bag because of space considerations. Zarkosi and Stilwell did. I developed a skin fungus shortly after returning from Mexico. I suspect the bed at Canindo because it was stained with mildew. However, I do not really know where I got infected. We spent three nights at Canindo. I consider it a two-niter, at best (relative to the time spent on the trip). The rooms were quite ample. Four single beds in each. I already sent you a copy of the information which I sent Mark Elwonger on how to arrange a stay there. Let me know if you need it again.
The best place there was just before and after the gate leading to San Jose. We had a very busy time one morning. The road on down to San Jose was also good. We heard and saw Mexican Whip-poor-will there, although the sighting was from a distance at dusk. They "fly-catch" from tree tops. Elegant trogons were up the slope behind cabin # 12. A grassy valley within BD mile or so before the station was also good. Again, the birds move on.
The first houses into San Jose belong to the Cedillo family. Two young brothers, in particular, seem to be a bit adamant in wanting to benefit from the visitors to Canindo. Their community made an agreement with the state government in which they feel they are being short-changed. At the time that we went there, they were requiring visitors into their community property to hire a guide. They say that it is actually an agreement made by ALL the ejidatarios (community property owners) in the region. Hiring a guide from any of the ejidos allows free entry to any of the ejidos. Hiring a guide from San Jose would allow free camping in their community property area, according to one of the brothers. The other brother is building a four room "hotel" which he wants to finish in by January. He welcomes campers to his hotel property. These brothers were rather aggressive, in my opinion, in trying to profit from the visitors. They pressured for at least N$100 for "guide" service performed by a youngster.
On the way to El Naranjo, on the loop around Ciudad Mante, on the southwest side of the city, past the entrance to the large sugar cane processing plant which is off to the left, past the railroad, look for a sign on the right to El Nacimiento. Take the dirt road which goes along the side of the canal. You can follow it for a mile or two until it comes to the small lake and park. This was a good area. It includes Hooded, Altamira, and Common Yellowthroats.
I assume that you have an El Naranjo CBC count circle map. It shows the road to El Salto, which goes off to the right (north?) a mile or two before entering the town of El Naranjo. This road was good at several places where we stopped along the way. Right at the intersection of this road with the main highway there was a pond with the water held there by a small levee. It was good. The area at El Salto proper was OK, but not great. Watch out for the seed ticks.
On the way to El Salto, before the hydroelectric plant, there is a hotel named Las Cabanas (tilde over the n) del Salto. No hot water. Apparently no longer popular since the falls disappeared.
At the Y whose left side goes to El Salto, we took the right, rode the dust for miles (7 or 8) through sugar cane fields until we crossed a bridge over running spring water. A fellow led us to the left, through cane fields to a spot where there was another spring. (GPS: 22 deg 34.03 N, 099 deg 27.83 W [I do not know how reliable this reading was]) This was a good place. Falcons and other raptors overhead.
Hotel del Valle, tel/fax: (136)6-02-70, was a nice place in a dusty town. Tamaulipan Crow.
ROAD TO AGUA ZARCA
Places along the side of the road allowed birding, but only two turned out to be exceptional. The first one was past El Sabinito, around marker 141 (we believe). It may have been around 8 am. We could hear Military Macaws to the north. Soon we had them flying overhead, while others could still be heard in what was probably their roost.
Not far beyond that spot was a cemetery on the right (not easily visible). Beyond that is a flat, straight stretch of road. At the beginning of this stretch, just before the sugar cane field on the right side and the orange grove on the left side, was a very good place. A lone tall tree about maybe 80 yards on the right side attracted many birds. The thick brush along the side of the road had its share. More Military Macaws passed overhead.
ROAD TO LAGUNA LARGA
Not great, but arid country with low brush provided new species of birds, included Spotted Wrens. We could not get to the lake. Time ran out. We had to head back.