Archive for Veracruz
A stroll through any wooded habitat in the tropics can be disconcertingly like a visit to the florist. Where else could you encounter such beautiful morning glories?
Or an enormous woody pink-flowered datura?
But not even the most exotic flower shop holds the birds that a rainy morning’s visit to Xalapa’s Parque Natura produced on Saturday.
A bedraggled Squirrel Cuckoo tried to dry out in the weak sun,
while a band of Groove-billed Anis worked slowly through the brush surrounding the basketball court.
Thanks to the dark weather and the morning’s light human visitation, several sometimes elusive residents of the park’s thick trees were in evidence. Plain Chachalacas,my previous visits rarely much more than a croak and a glimpse, flopped around in the foliage:
Black-headed Saltators, equally noisy and only slightly more visible, fed out in the open–or as out in the open as these huge and beautiful finch/tanager/cardinals ever do:
In spite of the lack of human activity, I wasn’t the only one who’d decided it was a good morning for a walk. I shared the misty woods and damp sidewalks with this comical beast, a Gray-necked Wood-Rail that “followed ahead” of me for ten minutes before stumbling into the forest:
A fine farewell to my favorite birding site in Xalapa!
Well, it had to happen: The 2009 ABA River of Raptors Conference comes to an end tomorrow morning–at 3:00 for the early risers with early flights from Veracruz, four precious hours later for those with later flights. I’ll be up to see both groups off on their buses to the airport, then plan a little shuteye and a quick visit to the Parque Natura or the university campus before following everybody later in the afternoon.
But no apocalyptic thoughts got in the way of a great trip today up to La Joya and Las Minas. Up, up climbed our big red bus, and when Manuel, faced with the impossibility of turning around, nonchalantly backed his vehicle a quarter mile along the edge of the barranca, we were grateful for both his manifest skills and his bus’s power steering.
Once safely on the ground, there was no stopping the birds and the birding.
I knew that we would tally a long list–the other conference group had already birded both sites the day before, with great success–but I was happily surprised by just how many of the birds we actually saw. Our first stop turned up an uncharacteristically obliging Red Warbler, which fed in view of us all for many minutes, making it hard to pay adequate attention to the Olive Warblers, Slate-throated Redstarts, Yellow-eyed Juncos, and Brown-throated Wrens bouncing around in the area.
A very pleasant shock was the unwonted visibility of Russet Nightingale-Thrushes; their Rusty Blackbird-like squeaks are a familiar sound in the high elevations, but rarely if ever have I seen as many as the four (!) obliging individuals today.
Any other species and I’d have thrown the photo away, but never did I think I’d be able to point and shoot at any nightingale-thrush and have the bird be recognizable. The scrappy little Gray-breasted Wood-Wren that popped out of its thicket a moment later was moving too fast for a photo, but still gave views every bit as good as those we’d enjoyed last year.
The group had moved on without me, and when I saw binoculars raised in one direction, I hastened to catch up with them. A young male Bumblebee Hummingbird was perched in a nearby tree, its rufous tail and bright back flashing as it preened and stretched. The second or third smallest bird in the world–depending on the mass of Wine-throated Hummingbird–this little creature made the Golden-browed and Crescent-chested Warblers in the background look like great hulking bruisers, and the Brown-backed Solitaire perched above it–itself normally a delicate and elegant beast–seemed almost like the ludicrous blow-up of a bird.
Hard indeed to tear ourselves away, but we had to move downhill to La Joya, where the morning’s bright skies quickly gave way to clouds and even a brief sprinkle–the only rain of the entire trip.
Two big flocks of Black-eared Bushtits (have I already used the word “cute” today?) attracted good numbers of migrant parulids (including Hermit Warblers), and mixed finch flocks in the pines included Lesser Goldfinches of the blackest-backed type, a few Pine Siskins, and several natty little Black-headed Siskins. Mexican Chickadees played in the trees, and the last avian sounds we heard as we climbed onto the bus were the high lisps of Brown Creepers, the weird buzzes of Crescent-chested Warblers, and the cheerful farewell of a Slate-throated Redstart.
Until next time!
This morning’s return visit to Chavarrillo was nothing short of outstanding. For me, the replacement of Monday’s so-so views of Bronze-winged Woodpecker with great looks at a bird perched and in flight, close and in good light, overshadowed everything else–but who can complain about good views of Barred Antshrikes and Masked Tityras? Certainly not the happy birders on our trip!
We’re a goodly distance south of the US border, of course, but a number of the birds we saw reminded me a bit of birding south Texas. Great-tailed Grackles are abundant everywhere, but it pays to remember that this terrifically successful (and terrifically attractive) species has moved across the Rio Grande in historic times.
The same is even more pointedly true of the demurely plumed and demented voiced Clay-colored Thrush, which not that long ago was a birdline rarity in Texas–and now occurs regularly (and as a breeder at that) north to Corpus Christi.
What will be next? As Michael pointed out in a recent article in Birding, there are several common northeast Mexican species that can be hoped–expected–to show up sooner or later north of the big river. I’ve been paying special attention to one of them this week, resolved not to overlook it should I be so fortunate as to run across one on my next visit to the Valley.
Melodious Blackbird is, I must admit, pretty easy to overlook. It’s big, it’s black, and it’s noisy–the classic icterid–but not, on first glance or third, particularly distinctive. They’re big and heavy, with a noticeably broad tail, and the bill is thick like a grackle’s but much straighter. The dark eye eliminates a number of confusion contenders, too.
This species and many others are on the move north, and the more time we spend looking at them in their current range, the more likely we are to pick them out when they arrive in our current range. At least that’s my excuse for this week in Veracruz!
The sun was just starting to get warm when we left Macuiltepetl Park yesterday morning, but the butterflies were already stirring–in a few spots, so abundant as to draw attention even from the birds (gasp).
This one was brighter, and to all appearances tastier, if that left hindwing is anything to go by:
This beautiful fritillary is, I think, a Julia:
I have to admire the lepers for their straightforwardness in naming creatures like this one “longwings”:
I actually have Jeff Glassberg’s beautiful Swift Guide with me, but identifying them always seem to fall behind admiring them! One of these days perhaps I’ll run through my photos and see just what I saw.
Xalapa is a classic small Mexican city: busy to the point of bustling, but dotted with quiet places full of birds.
Macuiltepetl Park is one of those places. Even on a normal Wednesday like today, the street in front of the main entrance is packed with traffic and street vendors and people going about their morning business. But walk through the archway and suddenly Macuiltepetl–the “fifth hill” on whose slopes Xalapa is constructed–is a peaceful near-wilderness, the hillside forests cool and dark and bird-rich.
In our four fleeting hours this morning, we covered the first couple of hundred yards of the park’s wide, level paths, and discovered birds ranging from Black-headed Saltators to a Berylline Hummingbird on a nest. At least two Blue-crowned Motmots graced us with their presence and their low, evocative hooting, and a Canada Warbler on the slope below them was the first I’d seen for a couple of years (!).
My favorite birds, though, were excellent close comparisons of three relatively mundane species (by Veracruz standards, at least!). Once again we enjoyed side-by-side Social and Boat-billed Flycatchers, this time joined by a Great Kiskadee noisily living up to both parts of its name. No photos of the kiskadee, but this boat-bill was a nice one.
The morning’s list is at ebird.org, as usual, and I’ll try to find a moment to post images of a couple of the butterflies for which this site is so famous, too.
Wednesday, already? Seems like we just got here!