Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Nava's Wren Video

Just for the fun of it, here is some video I took with my camera through my spotting scope on the Ocote Preserve road NW of Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas. See my blog post about March 14.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Oaxaca and Western Chiapas WINGS Tour: Day 10, Teotitlan del Valle to Benito Juarez

March 21, 2010
This is the tour's last day of birding, and it was spectacular – lots of species and many of high quality. It was also an interesting day for habitat, plants, and butterflies.

We began the morning at the reservoir above Teotitlan del Valle, the town famous for its rug market. The reservoir was birdy, with Least Grebes, Ruddy and Ring-necked Ducks, Least Sandpipers, and a single American Pipit.

A couple miles up the road the pastures and farm fields end, and the natural tropical deciduous scrub begins. We saw Dwarf and Golden Vireos here, heard Ocellated Thrasher, and had great views of a Blue Mockingbird perched in a spot that it assumed was out of sight.

I stopped to admire this composite, and recognized it as one I had seen in Oaxaca before. Judging from the shape and smell of the leaves, it is at least closely related to marigolds (if not in the same genus), but the arrangement of flower heads is striking. A typical marigold "flower" is actually a head composed of many flowers of two kinds – several ray flowers around the outside, each with one strap-shaped petal; and many disc flowers bunched together in the center, each with a regular five-petaled, tubular corolla. At first glance, this plant looks no different, but look again. This is not just one head with two flower kinds – it is actually six individual, many-flowered heads bunched up together at the end of a stem. What's amazing is that they arranged so that the effect is that of one normal composite head. There are five heads around a central head. While the central head has no ray flowers at all, the five radial heads each have just two ray flowers, and those are placed on the side of the head away from the central head. Creative, no?

A little higher up, we entered a rich oak forest with a mix of pines in the shadier draws.

This orchid, Aulosepalum pyramidale, was growing in a colony on top of a boulder. Thanks to Gerardo Salazar for the ID.

I paused to enjoy this Mexican Dartwhite, Catasticta nimbice, while dropping back from the group for a minute.

A little farther up the road we stopped the van for all to admire this rat-tail cactus, Disocactus martianus. Thanks go to Jerónimo Reyes for the ID.

Despite being an unscheduled, non-bird-related stop, this ended up being one of our best birding places of the trip. A huge mixed flock descended upon us, with many warblers, vireos, and our only White-breasted Nuthatch, Bridled Titmouse, Black-throated Gray Warbler, and White-striped Woodcreeper.

Finally, we reached the ridge at the small village of Benito Juarez. One of the distinctive trees at this elevation (about 9500 feet) is the southernmost true fir, Sacred Fir, Abies religiosa.

A lot of species of plants, animals, and birds can be found in this zone that never occur in the dry valley visible below. This is a view of Benito Juarez.

This butterfly is a Mexican Pine-Satyr, Paramacera xicaque.
This is an Oyamel Skipper, Poanes monticola, of very limited range.

Geoff and Sheila found this lovely orchid-like flower. I recognized it as a member of the family Lentibulariaceae. A little google searching found that is is likely Pinguicula moranensis. Its leaf rosette appears to be the winter/dry season form. In the warmer, rainy summer they develop large, fleshy leaves.

This is a tiny shrubby Potentilla.

This is in the genus Eryngium, which also occurs in southeastern Arizona. I remember first seeing this genus and thinking that it must be a composite and not getting anywhere with the floral key. It took me quite a while before I realized that it was a member of the carrot family.

This definitely a composite, one I would love to key out, were there a key to the Asteraceae of Oaxaca. I thought it reminded me of Achillea.

On the way back down, we stopped again in the dry scrub of the lower foothills to try again for the elusive Ocellated Thrasher. We ended up hearing one sing, but it would not reveal itself. It wasn't a dead, hot afternoon, though. We saw a Dwarf Vireo, two Golden Vireos and a group of West Mexican Chachalacas in the search. And in the warm afternoon sun, butterflies were active on a flowering shrub in the draw.

Bumblebee Metalmark, Baeotis zonata

Cloudless Sulphur, Phoebis sennae

Gray Lasaia, Lasaia sessilis

Marine Blue, Leptotes marina

I hope to return here some day during the rainy season and compare this dry Selaginella plant to the lush, green ones that result just a day or so after a good rain.

This tree is another composite I would have loved to key out, given a flora of Oaxaca. Few members of Asteraceae here reach such a grand size.

Oaxaca and Western Chiapas WINGS Tour: Day 9, Yagul and Owling

March 20, 2010
This was a more relaxed morning spent in the drier eastern part of the valley of Oaxaca near and in the ruins of Yagul.

There are several kinds of columnar cacti and giant prickly pears that dominate the habitat. We saw many Boucard's Wrens and Curve-billed Thrashers, several Beautiful Hummingbirds (including one male), Virginia's Warblers still on their winter grounds, and a Lesser Roadrunner singing on a rock while carrying a lizard it its bill.

This is a view from the back side of the ruins to the northwest.

On the way back to our hotel for lunch we made the traditional stop at the giant, 2000-year-old Montezuma Baldcypress in the town of Santa Maria del Tule.

A stomach flu-like bug has been moving through some of the group, slowly hitting one person after the other, but each in a different way. After a siesta at the hotel, those of us still feeling well took a picnic dinner back up to Cerro San Felipe, first seeing some nice birds such as Mexican Chickadee, Red Warbler, and another Dwarf Jay.

The land here is owned by the community of Santa Catarina Ixtepeji, and they started unofficially charging entrance to the roads about 13 years ago. Now it's all official, and birding at Cerro San Felipe is one of the more expensive activities. On person suggested we could save a lot of money if our driver dropped us off at the highway and we jogged in.

As dusk approached, multiple Mexican Whip-poor-wills began calling, and at least two groups of distant Long-tailed Partridges chorused. Then I began whistling and playing tape for the several species of owls that are possible here. For the first hour we walked and drove up the road, stopping to troll for Flammulated, Whiskered Screech, Northern Saw-whet, Stygian, and Barred Owls to no effect.

Finally, a shape flew in over our heads and landed in plain sight in response to my whim to play Fulvous Owl, a species known only from south of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. It's a horrible photo, but we had amazing views. It also called and sounded much like Jesse Fagan's Fulvous Owl recording from Guatemala. It looks like we'll have to publish something on this find, once we know what's going on with the genus Strix here and in other parts of Mexico.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Oaxaca and Western Chiapas WINGS Tour: Day 8, Cerro San Felipe

March 19, 2010
This was our full day on the road up to Cerro San Felipe, just north of Oaxaca. It was a beautiful day full of great birds.

We started on the lower slopes along the main highway.

Here we saw Dwarf and Slaty Vireos, White-throated Towhee (our first of many), Red-headed Tanager (a new Oaxaca bird for me, this being my 10th trip to the area). I was the only one to glimpse an otherwise uncooperative Oaxaca Sparrow.

This Vermilion Flycatcher sat up close.

This male Elegant Euphonia fed in the nearby mistletoe with its mate.

We then worked our way up to 9700 feet where we met with our main target, Dwarf Jay. They were very elusive for a while, but since one participant didn't see it, we continued searching and were rewarded with great views of this bird, as well as Steller's Jay and Gray-barred Wren.

We had a late lunch at Carmen's Cafeteria Restaurant Colibri (but the hummingbird feeders were no longer up). Here is Carmen, a really sweet person.

We did some birding while lunch was being made and had Russet Nightingale-Thrush and Brown-throated Wren.

Lunch was really good, and Carmen makes the best chiles rellenos.

A little bit of birding down another road in the late afternoon was not bad – Collared Towhee and Rufous-capped Brush-Finch were some of the highlights. I stopped to digiscope this pink-flowered stonecrop growing epiphytically with a peperomia on an oak trunk.

Oaxaca and Western Chiapas WINGS Tour: Day 7, Tehuantepec to Oaxaca City

March 18, 2010
Today was largely a travel day, from Tehuantepec to Oaxaca City. Not wasting the best morning birding hours, we got an early start and stopped in some roadside scrub not far north of town.

This area is in the middle of the very tiny range of Cinnamon-tailed (or Sumichrast's) Sparrow, and we found two almost immediately. The dry season is very long and hot here, and the plants that have adapted to it are quite interesting.

This twiggy Euphorbia caught my eye.

This is another Euphorbia in the Pedilanthus group, similar to one we saw at Sumidero Canyon.

 There are many species of prickly-pear here. This lovely red flower was growing on a 9-foot tall plant.

We then returned to the Guiengola area, where we had looked for owls last night. This area is even hotter and drier, with limestone slopes being very poor at holding water. We saw a Lesser Ground-Cuckoo and heard a Colima Pygmy-Owl here.

 We all oohed and ahhed at this gorgeous lizard. I recognized the pattern as being similar to Rose-bellied Lizard, but the colors of the upper side are strikingly different. I was surprised when Jon Campbell at University of Texas Arlington said it was indeed that species,  Sceloporus variabilis smithi. It turns out that this subspecies is easily recognized by the colors of the stripes, is restricted to the Tehuantepec region of Oaxaca, and that we were in the type locality where Hartweg and Oliver first discovered it in 1936.

We then began the long drive up to Oaxaca City, with a couple stops to stretch and see some birds. In this habitat about halfway to Oaxaca we saw our first Bridled Sparrows and Gray-breasted Woodpeckers.

 This yellow Opuntia was on a very small plant, just a few pads growing close to the ground.

Oaxaca and Western Chiapas WINGS Tour: Day 6, Arriaga and Tehuantepec

March 17, 2010
We returned this morning to the foothill forest above Arriaga where we got some more nice views of Rose-bellied Bunting. Now that they've finished a new, fast toll road from Tuxtla Gutierrez to the coast at Arriaga, the old road is virtually traffic free.

We wandered down to a stream where a Little Blue Heron and a Spotted Sandpiper foraged. I quickly snapped this shot of this damselfly in the genus Argia. Known as dancers, this is a difficult group in this area. It may be A. pipila.

We also walked up a steep trail into dry forest and had good encounters with the inquietus subspecies of Nutting's Flycatcher – and only some 20 kilometers from the flavidior birds we saw yesterday.

This Long-tailed Spiny-Lizard, Sceloporus siniferus was along the trail.

This bright orange marigold (genus Tagetes) was on a woody stalk that would certainly classify it as a small shrub. Its leaves had that distinctive pungent, citrussy odor of T. lemmoni from SE Arizona.

One of the few species of climbing fern, genus Lygodium, in a surprisingly dry forest.

On the way back down just before lunch we stopped to watch a big pulse of Swainson's Hawks and Turkey Vultures migrating northward. It was starting to get very windy, with a cold front approaching from the north.

We then made the longish and very windy drive across the southern end of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. This is probably one of the windiest places in the world. Not long before us, a large truck trying to make the drive was blown over; luckily the highway had been cleared by the time we passed. We did a little birding along the way, but didn't have time to make it to the coast. Double-striped Thick-knee was a highlight along the way.

In the late afternoon we birded a bit at the very base of the foothills in a very dry forest on limestone.

This pink seeded plant caught our attention. We had seen some along the roadside and thought they were flowers. I have no idea what it is. Suggestions anyone?

I spotted this anole, genus Norops, on the rocks. There are apparently several possible species, and not being a male showing the colors of his dewlap, this one may not be identifiable from a photo.

We waited until dusk to look for owls and nightjars. We ended up with great views of Buff-collared Nightjar and hearing a couple reluctant hoots from a Pacific Screech-Owl. The colors of the sky were marvelous – greenish clouds set off by a lilac sky.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Oaxaca and Western Chiapas WINGS Tour: Day 5, Puerto Arista and Boca de Cielo

March 16, 2010
This was Giant Wren Day. By driving just a few kilometers eastward from Arriaga, one enters the rather limited range of this great bird. We didn't have to wait long, birding along a rural side road leading past fields and mango orchards before we found them.

The birding here was really fun, with all manner of open country birds and migrants. First thing in the morning a few hundred Western Kingbirds flew over. We also came across Dickcissels and Blue Grosbeaks feeding in a field.

Another one of our target birds here was the subspecies of Nutting's Flycatcher Myiarchus nuttingi flavidior, which occurs from here southward to Costa Rica. In general, it is very similar to the subspecies M. n. inquietus, which occurs north of here. But while the taxon is based on measurements and colors taken from museum specimens, it turns out they differ quite radically in voice and habitat – and they occur very close to each other in apparent parapatry. That would make them separate species.

Here is one shot I got of the flavidior Nutting's Flycatcher. Steve also got some additional recordings of the calls.

We spent much of the rest of the morning birding the nearby coast and waterways, such as here at Boca de Cielo.

A group of Groove-billed Anis allowed close approach here.

It was a fun day, and without trying too hard we managed about 115 species of birds.