Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Higher Elevations Between Chajul and Montebello

March 27, 2010

After a final morning at Chajul Biological Station, Steve and I decided to take advantage of the relatively recently paved highway leading westward along the Guatemalan border. It eventually goes into a more mountainous region to Lagos de Montebello National Park and eventually to the cities of Comitán and San Cristobal de Las Casas, but we were interested in seeing the habitat on the much closer ridges that looked forested on Google Earth. There is also a "ecotourism" project called Los Nubes that seemed worth checking out.

One of the early sights along the highway was this stunning, blue-green river.

We passed through a few small towns which serve predominantly Mayan-speaking populations. Apparently "Snail" means "hall" in this Mayan language (probably Chuj).

We turned around after reaching the tiny border town of Tziscao, which Steve had birded with Sophie Webb back in the 1980s. They had come from the west and stopped here because the roads were too bad for their little car. Things have changed – roads paved, forest cleared– and here's a shot of a spot where they had seen Resplendent Quetzals. There's not enough forest for them here now.

Some of the more inaccessible ridges and slopes are still covered in forest, and we did pass through some pretty birdy stretches of road. A Scaly-breasted Wren was a new Mexico bird for me here.

I spotted this gorgeous flower down the slope and digiscoped it, thinking it was a large, orange Turnera, in the little-known family Turneraceae. My friend Brad Boyle confirmed that it's in that family, but the species is Erblichia odorata; I was chagrined to learn that I missed being able to smell its citrus-like fragrance.

This is a Gaudy Patch, Chlosyne gaudialis.

A digiscoped Green Honeycreeper. I can't wait to get better digiscoped images with my new Canon S90.

On our way back we heard a horrible sound from the rear end of the car, and stopped find this huge piece of metal sticking out of the tire. It was completely flat within the minute, and we spent some blood and sweat getting it changed. Luckily this remote highway has relatively little traffic. We ended up having to buy a new tire when we got back to Palenque.

But we were justly rewarded for our pains. After having looked for Michael Carmody's White-winged Becard (a first documented record from Mexico just over a year ago in this region), we talked about other possible country firsts. Gray-breasted Crake was one of the species mentioned, and Steve's intuition caused him to pull over next to this field in the late afternoon.

Almost immediately after iPod playback one, then two, then three or four Gray-breasted Crakes were calling back, one just across the ditch from us. We had our digital sound recorders ready and got good documentation for this first Mexico record. There were also some Ruddy Crakes calling from the same field, allowing for good comparison of the chatter songs. I've archived my recording at, which now allows you to embed a player.

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