Saturday, January 7, 2017

Birding above Teotitlán del Valle

Our third full morning of birding in Oaxaca, which was Christmas day, was devoted to the Teotitlán del Valle area, starting at the Presa Piedra Azul, which translates to Blue Rock Reservoir.

We had fun counting up all the ducks, coots, and other water birds, but somehow I managed a photo only of this Least Grebe, one of dozens on the lake.

I also spotted a couple Hooded Mergansers, getting some very poor distant photos on our return trip when I realized how rare they were. These turned out to be only the second record for Oaxaca and among the most southerly records of the species ever (there’s a record for Costa Rica). And we later found out that birders had seen them 2 1/2 weeks earlier but hadn’t gotten the word out yet.

We then worked our way up the road towards the town of Benito Juárez, finding Oaxaca Sparrows in the drier scrub down lower, and then finding a shady spot to do some birding and have a picnic lunch well into the pine-oak woodland.

One of the more striking features of the habitat here is the abundance of the spectacular bromeliad Tillandsia prodigiosa, with it’s immense, downwardly-oriented inflorescences. The state of Oaxaca is home to over 100 species of Tillandsia, many of them endemic, and this one of the most distinctive (though clearly related to T. eizii from Chiapas and Guatemala).


As a favor to tourists, the local community has named various curves and pullouts, even adding translations into Zapoteco in the past year or two.


Here’s looking back down onto the reservoir where we had breakfast. 

It was very dry on the lower slopes, where we had great success finding Dwarf Vireo, Nutting's Flycatcher, Boucard's Wren, and Bridled Sparrow. But higher up where it was cooler and moister birds were very quiet. Butterflies were very apparent up here though. This is Anthanassa ardys, Ardys Crescent.

The Astraptes fulgerator complex, Two-barred Flasher may have only one species here, but one needs the caterpillars and host plant (or a DNA fingerprint) to be certain which of the six or more look-alikes it might be.

Two species of dartwhite were here at the same time: Catasticta flisa, Narrow-banded Dartwhite.

Catasticta nimbice, Mexican Dartwhite.

This is a tricky ID but my best guess is Electrostrymon guzanta, Orange-crescent Groundstreak.

As on most of our days, we finished birding after lunch and did something more cultural. Teotitlán del Valle is famous around the world for its long tradition of dyeing, spinning, and weaving wool into beautiful rugs. We were given a demonstration of dyes, such as how over a hundred different shades of red to purple can be produced with the cochineal insect by the addition of an acid (lime juice) or a base (ground limestone).


The family that showed us (and sold some of us) their goods had already taught their 6-year-old son to operate a loom.

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