We had one last day on my Oaxaca at Christmastime tour based out of our Oaxaca City hotel on December 30. It’s always a fun day as we venture a bit farther afield, driving southeastward on the Panamerican Highway towards the Pacific coast at Tehuantepec. Just a few kilometers beyond the town of Matatlán, considered the birthplace of mezcal, the highway goes over a low pass (reaching only as high as scrub oaks mixed with mountain-mahogany and other dense shrubbery). It then begins to descend, entering TDF – tropical deciduous forest, which is very deciduous this time of year – dominated by a shocking diversity of giant columnar cacti.
Using an article by David Yetman titled “On the Trail of Oaxaca's Great Cacti” in the Cactus and Succulent Journal, I’ve attempted to identify these two species as Escontria chiotilla (L) and Pilosocereus quadricentralis (R).
Appreciating the diversity of giant cactus is the Gray-breasted Woodpecker.
One of the more conspicuous species here (and conspicuously absent from the extremely close Oaxaca Valley) is White-lored Gnatcatcher.
We often miss Pileated Flycatcher, as they are mostly silent and very furtive in the undergrowth this time of year, but this one called on its own and responded aggressively to playback of the song.
We had a few Plain-capped Starthroats, normally found at much lower elevations this time of year and a write-in species on our 14-year-old master list for this tour.
The vegetation here is stark and leafless this time of year, but a few things are blooming. This is a “goatbush” which I label as Castela cf. retusa, not being sure of the species.
This tree in the bombax family (actually now lumped into the mallow family) appears to be Ceiba aesculifolia.
This is a Beaucarnia sp., usually called ponytail-palm, and related to agaves, aloes, and sotol.
We were back in the Oaxaca valley where we had lunch at a restaurant that produces small quantities of mezcal. They have landscaped with native plants including this blooming Myrtillocactus schenckii.
In the same cactus was this Tillandsia sp. bromeliad.
We then visited the small but distinctive ruins of Mitla, made famous by these geometric designs in the façade.
I looked up into a hole in the ceiling of the ruins to discover this paper wasp nest.
Our last birding stop was the Zapotec ruins of Yagul, where we had two new species: Common Ground-Dove and White-tailed Hawk.
But our final stop of the tour which featured only a wintering Blue-gray Gnatcatcher was this spectacular 2000-plus-year-old Taxodium mucronatum, known as the Tule Tree.