24 December 1997 -- 4 January 1998
by Jeff Wilson
Rose Marie Stortz, Louise and Red Gambill joined me in Texas and Mexico.
It rained in the U.S., both going down and coming back and except for a very cold first night spent in La Pesca the weather was perfect in Mexico. The freeze below the border did much damage to the plant life and many birds have moved out of their normal areas. Hummingbirds were especially scarce with only 3 species found. The highlands were hurt the most; the landscape in many areas was a monotone brown. Although the damage was not as extensive as in 1989, I would look for some wandering individuals to show up in Texas this year. We found many species farther to the north than in previous years.
States birded in U.S. while traveling:
Northeast Mexico, States of Tamaulipus and San Luis Potosi:
Reynosa to San Fernando, Tamaulipus = R
La Pesca, Tamaulipus = P
El Encino, Tamaulipus = E
Gomez Farias, Tamaulipus = G
Ciudad Mante, Tamaulipus = M
El Naranjo, San Luis Potosi = N
Xilitla, San Luis Potosi = X
Total Trip Species - 328
Total Species in Mexico - 291
Total Trip Miles - 4120
A Common Loon was an unexpected find on a lake near Valles about 90 miles from the coast. Least Bittern = M and very long looks at a Bare-throated Tiger Heron = N were nice birds that are not gotten on every trip.
25 species of waterfowl included a large mixed flock of Greater White-fronted Geese and Snow Geese = R which contained 20+ Ross's Geese. Two Muscovy Ducks were seen in Texas and they were found in good numbers at El Naranjo and were photographed sitting high in the trees.
A total of 22 species of hawks and falcons included 2 Hook-billed Kites in Texas. A real spectacle was at a freshly turned field about 30 miles south of Reynosa in which we found the following aggregation; 5 Red-tailed Hawks, 34 Crested Caracara, 42 White-tailed Hawks in the air with a few sitting on the ground. Most of these were immature plumaged, a real study in the variability of young White-tailed Hawks. Sitting on the ground and later circling not 50' over our heads was a beautiful adult light morph Ferruginous Hawk. Five Kestrels, a White-tailed Kite and four Harriers roamed the field and its grassy perimeter that was packed with Clay-colored, Chipping, Lark, Vesper, Grasshopper, Savannah Sparrows and Lark Buntings. Killdeers too numerous to count along with 100+ Long-billed Curlews, Brewers Blackbirds, Tamaulipus Crows and White-necked Ravens sprinkled the field as far as one could see. At the edge we found a tree full of Lesser Goldfinches just to add more to this plot of plenty. Calling Collared Forest-falcons were heard but not seen this trip = P.E.G.N.X also a calling Laughing Falcon was at an old haunt. Bat Falcons = E. G. N. with a full frame Questar view of a mated pair at a nest hole on the road to Gomez Farias. The road to La Pesca only produced 18 species of hawks and owls this year a little below normal. Peregrine and Zone- tailed were seen in the U.S.
Singing Quail sang chorus after chorus = E.G.N. and Bobwhite covey calls were heard after we flushed a small group.
A great find was 10 Double-striped Thick-knees just below Mante in a plowed field. We were able to photograph these birds for probably the first well- documented sighting in northern Mexico. I have scanned some slides if you have never seen this strange bird.
Shorebird species 22, with Marbled Godwit and Wilson's Plover in the U.S. The Northern Jacanas = M. were tending young. A blue Ground Dove was seen at Alta Cimas = G.
The six species of Parrots included numerous Green Parakeets = E.G.N.X., 55 Military Macaws = N coming from the morning roost. White-fronted Parrots = G. N.X. Red-crowned and Red-lored Parrots = G.N.X. We found 6 Yellow-headed Parrots near the coast at La Pesca and the normal group near El Salto above El Naranjo.
Five Owl species, a single Lesser Nighthawk and Common Potoo rounded out the night birds.
White-collared Swifts put on 2 great shows of daring do, one at El Salto where they collected high above our heads, milled about with small groups breaking off and plunging into the river gorge, then flying through the waterfall to roost. The other was a sight and sound experience, 8 miles above Aquismon they swirled above a gaping hole in the earth over 2 acres in area, only to dive head long down the 1100' shear drop with wings cutting the air like Samuri swords, it was breathtaking to say the least. The cavers say the bottom of the drop is a 6-acre area strewn with moss covered boulders. Green Parakeets also swirled into the gaping hole in tight, green, raucous formations.
Due to the freeze only 3 species of Hummingbirds were found, Buff-bellied, Broad-billed and Wedge-tailed Saberwing, the latter never sounds like a hummer but a rambling mixed up flock of all sorts of bird and non bird life. I could have stayed in Tennessee and seen 5 species over the holidays.
Violaceous = X, Mountain = X.G. and Elegant Trogons = X.G. were jewels to behold but Mot-Mots were to be heard only and even then very few. We could only see 3 species of Kingfishers at one time at our favorite fisher hole, we had to drive another 1/4 mile to see a Ringed Kingfisher, birding is getting tough.
Nine species of woodpeckers included the clown of the clan, the Acorn = N. X. whose antics are always enjoyed. Great looks at both Lineated and Pale-billed were had after only hearing them for a few days. Olivacious = G.N., Spot- crowned = G.N. and Ivory-billed = G.N.X. Woodcreepers crept up the trees and through the bromiliads and ferns.
The Northern Beardless Tyrannulet gave us good views in the open scrub at Agua Zarca, to really appreciate this unique bird you have to get close. Pine and Tufted Flycatchers were watched while they lived up to their names hawking from open perches. A total of 16 species of flycatchers were enjoyed along with many others better left unidentified.
Rose-throated Becards were found in more places than I have ever seen them. One male feeding in the open just 10' away paid us no mind at all as he flitted and snapped at unseen food iteMs. Masked Tityras were in low numbers just as after the last big freeze.
Green, Brown and Mexican Jays were found in their usual flocks, objecting to everything they came across like defense lawyers with a loser for a client. Three crow species and two Raven species were told apart by their distinctive calls and shapes.
You were never more than a pish away from a House Wren on the coast, in the dry scrub, moist cloud or oak-pine forest. The Spotted Wrens were seen around their jumbled nests in the highlands as a total of 9 wren species were ticked off.
The most stunning sound of the trip was a Slate-colored Solitaire in full song near Xilitla, once heard you know why the natives call it the Clarion. It was a transfixing moment in a magical place, a time to remember. Brown-backed Solitaries filled the air with their sleigh bell like, jumbling song, at any dense wooded area and fed at the few feed trees that we located. In this family of singers we also found Swainson's Thrush, Orange-billed and Black- headed Nightingale-Thrushes, Clay-colored, White-throated and American Robins. Cat Birds, Northern Mockingbirds, Long-billed and Curved-billed Thrashers and Blue Mockingbirds were singing their hearts out everywhere we went. A single Gray Silky-Flycatcher = G was seen by Rose Marie others were heard at Alta Cimas. A Brown-capped Vireo, studied from above at an overlook near Xilitla, was a nice trip bird.
21 species of warblers was down from previous years and overall numbers were lower except for the ever present Wilson's Warbler, one so bold as to pick a bug from my pants leg as I watched it work among some boulders at Alta Cimas. We had Northern Parula, Tropical Parula and Cresent-chested warblers in one tree at one time and Altamira Yellowthroat, Common Yellowthroat and Gray- crowned Yellowthroat in view at another.
Another combination we had twice, once in the highlands at Alta Cimas and again in the lowlands at El Encino--- Scrub, Yellow-throated and Blue-hooded Euphonias flitting about together. The weather had everyone mixed up.
For color you could not beat 9 species of Tanagers and the number of Flame- colored was near an all time high. A Common Bush Tanager = X wrestled a dead leaf for its bounty for a full minute before they both tumbled out of sight. Grayish and Black-headed Saltators, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Black-headed Grosbeaks and Crimson-collared Grosbecks were found in good numbers. After seeing both the male and female Blue Bunting in Texas we found them to be in every nook and cranny in which we peered.
Sparrows, Seedeaters and Grassquits could be hooted or pished from cover with numbers much higher than last year. Hooded Grosbeaks were seen at Gomez Farias and Alta Cimas. Canyon Towhees were found in the dry highlands bringing the total for this diverse family to 24 species.
Mexico was magic again and still is full of mystery, spices, good food and good people, hope to see you below the border someday.
Jeff R. Wilson