Monday, 7 March 2016

MEXICO 2016: Southern Oaxaca (3-7 March)

This is the final postings covering a recent trip to Southern Mexico with Jon Hornbuckle, Brian Foster and Rod Martins. Eric Antonio Martinez of Mexico-Birding Tours ( expertly guided us around in his Jeep Compass. Our last five days were spent from Oaxaca to the coast at Huatulco mostly along Highway 175.

3 March. Eric was outside the hostel at 06:00, as arranged, and we drove into the foothills behind Teotitlan.  It was Eric’s home town and it had been an hour’s round trip for him to come into Oaxaca to collect us. We started birding by a small reservoir on the edge of town seeing Reddish Egret, Killdeer, Wilson’s Snipe, Say’s Phoebe and Curve-billed Thrasher. We continued up into the dry hills and soon found some superb Bridled Sparrows as well as Rufous-crowned and another Oaxaca feeding along the edge of the track. In the scrub we saw West Mexican Chachalacas, Grey-breasted Woodpecker, the Sumichrest race of Woodhouse’s Scrub Jay, Bridled Titmouse, Virginia’s and Black-throated Grey Warblers and Painted Redstart but two singing Blue Mockingbirds remained in cover. At 10:45 we returned to Teotitlan and birded an open area on the edge of town where we saw a confiding Rufous-backed Thrush and some superb Boucard’s Wrens as well as more sparrows - Lark, Vespers, Clay-coloured and a secretive (and for me flight views only) Grasshopper. We had brunch nearby –a superbly located restaurant with rear windows that overlooked a wild garden that provided excellent photo opportunities. I woofed down an omelette and spent most of my time at the window. We left at 12:15 and drove along highway 175 climbing up to San Jose del Pacifico. It was pleasantly cool although rather cloudy. We birded along the road seeing Rufous and White-eared Hummingbirds, Green Violetear, Grey Silky Flycatcher, American Robin, Audubon’s Oriole and for me male Hooded Yellowthroat. The low clouds over nearby hillsides had looked threatening for some time and at 17:30 they rolled in and it started raining heavily putting paid to our hopes of looking for night birds. The weather convinced me it was not worth venturing out for an evening meal but having a wood fire lit in our room was most welcome.
hills above Teotitlan
Reddish Egret on the small reservoir there
Little Blue Heron
White-winged Dove
Greater Pewee
Bridled Sparrow habitat above Teotitlan
Bridled Sparrow
one of the smartest sparrows I have seen

Rufous-crowned Sparrow

Oaxaca Sparrow

another irresistible Bridled Sparrow

higher up
young Red-tailed Hawk
looking back down at Teotitlan and the small reservoir where we had started the day
Grey-breasted Woodpecker, opposite the reservoir on our return
Rufous-backed Thrush

Lark Sparrow
the view from one of the restaurant's windows
Curve-billed Thrasher

Dusky Hummingbird
Ladder-backed Woodpecker

eyes closed at point of impact

Boucard's Wren

White-throated Towhee
In Eric's motor. It was easier to doze off in the back, we all did it. It was easier staying awake in the front and I saw 6 Loggerhead Shrikes on telephone wires while we were travelling to our next destination.
the Pacific slope
San Jose del Pacifico
Rod and my room, fire lit, the untidy bed is mine, Rod out to dinner
4 March. It rained hard for most of the night but cleared up just before dawn enabling us to try for nightbirds. We gathered on our veranda and a Whiskered Screech Owl called once but could not be enticed to do more while a more vocal Mexican Whip–poor-will responded but failed to come in. We followed a track towards it but were not close enough to tempt it to show. Disappointing. We spent all day in the area, mostly birding along the road which was not too busy. We saw good numbers of birds but of rather limited species. Highlights were Bumblebee, Rufous and White-eared Hummingbirds, Brown-backed Solitaire, Ruddy-capped Nightingale Thrush, White-throated and Aztec Thrush (although I missed the latter), Scott’s Oriole and Blue Mockingbird (good for me to see at last). Warblers were well represented with a couple of flowering trees by the road full of mainly Audubon's, Nashville and Townsend's. The Hooded Yellowthroat showed briefly again and we saw another Red Warbler, 2 MacGillivray’s and a Golden-browed. The weather had been better and it stayed that way until dusk when we had more success with Mexican Whip-poor-will, seeing one perched in torchlight. The Whiskered Screech Owl, if it was still around, remained silent.
San Jose del Pacifico
Brown-backed Solitaire
more often heard than seen
Grey Silky Flycatchers
a very good area for hummingbirds
Rufous Hummingbird
look, no wings

Ruby-throated Hummingbird
male Bumblebee Hummingbird, my favourite
White-eared Hummingbird
very nice too

male Western Tanager

female Western Tanager
Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch, skulking as they do
Collared Towhee looked superficially similar
Spotted Towhee
Eric ready for action
San Jose del Pacifico
American Robin
Yellow-eyed Junco at a birdbath
Nashville Warbler, one of many warblers visiting a flowering tree
Orange-crowned Warbler
Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer
Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer
with its very distinctive bill
Bullock's Oriole
Audubon's Warbler
a brighter male
male Townsend's Warbler with highwayman's mask
a duller Townsend's
but still very smart
roadside birding
at its best ...
another fast moving Red Warbler
it was never quite in focus
or completely unobscured
or facing the right way
still a very smart bird
how it should have been (photo Jon Hornbuckle)
5 March. We heard the Mexican Whip-poor-will and a distant Mottled Owl from our veranda at dawn and birded the road and a short trail above it until 09:45. We disturbed three Aztec Thrushes from beside the road early on and mostly saw similar birds to the previous day. We had breakfast and left at 10:25, continuing on Highway 175 making a few stops and taking a short diversion in the pine forest which produced a superb Chestnut-sided Shrike-Vireo. We continued descending towards the coast, stopping every so often and briefly encountered another British birding group by the roadside. Brian knew them and had been invited on their trip but had already committed to Jon’s more budget oriented one. One difference was immediately obvious – we were manageably crammed into Eric’s Jeep while four of them appeared to be rattling around in a large minibus. I knew where I’d rather be and at that particular point in time we looked more cheerful too. Following the main road through the centre of one of the larger towns we found the road ahead blocked. A Circus was in town and many of the roads around the centre had been closed. Eric eventually found his way around along a succession of back-streets, a diversion not appearing to be sign-posted at all. We finished the day birding in dry forest on the edge of Huatulco Golf Course for the last hour of light and then drove into town where we stayed a short distance from the main square at the Posada Michelle. We had covered a range of habitats during the day, starting in damp montane pine forest and ending in very dry habitat near the coast. I had seen about 80 species of which 11 were new. Highlights not mentioned above were Magnificent, White-eared, Berylline, Cinnamon and Bumblebee Hummingbirds, Golden-crowned Emerald, Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, Citreoline Trogon, Golden-cheeked Woodpecker, Pine Flycatcher, Steller’s and very brief and unsatisfactory White-throated Jays, Blue Mockingbird, Slaty and Golden Vireos, Ruddy-capped Nightingale Thrush, 2 more Red and a Hermit Warbler and Black-headed Siskin. We saw 6 species of oriole including Spot-breasted but I found most of them rather confusing.
Zone-tailed Hawk
Grey Silky Flycatcher

mountain village

White-throated Magpie Jay
they were common when we reached the dry coastal forest

Yellow-winged Cacique
Golden-cheeked Woodpecker

Russet-crowned Motmot
Citreoline Trogon

6 March. We left the posada at 05:15, made a coffee stop and headed inland into the foothills. We were back on Highway 175 revisiting some of the lower elevation sites we had been to the previous day. We negotiated the circus road closures without difficulty and birded various areas along the roadside to about 11:30 by which time it was quite hot. We had a brunch stop and remained in the area to mid-afternoon, keeping in the shade as much as possible. Along the highway we saw Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, Oaxaca (Blue-headed) Hummingbird, Long-billed Startthroat, Wagler’s Toucanet, Grey-crowned Woodpecker, Bat Falcon, Flammulated Atilla, Golden Vireo, Happy Wren Orange-billed Nightingale Thrush, Fan-tailed and MacGillivray’s Warblers, Northern Hepatic and Flame-coloured Tanagers and a male Orange-breasted Bunting. We were targeting three hummingbirds that Jon needed (all were new for me too). Eric had seen two of them, Cinnamon-sided and Mexican Hermit, infrequently in the areas where we were looking but try as we might, including a rather hopeful call on my part, we were unsuccessful.  The third hummingbird Jon was after was Doubleday’s which was common on the coast, although we had failed to find it the previous evening. We returned to Huatulco to try for it again, stopping briefly by a roadside pond, where we had superb views of a flock of 40 Vaux’s Swifts as they skimmed low over the water to drink, and on a narrow bridge over a small river. We parked in a rather posh neighbourhood of Huatulco that backed onto the National Park and followed a track into the dry forest. It was rather quiet, with more birds around the houses at the start. We saw West Mexican Chachalaca, Russet-crowned Motmot, Sclater’s Wren, Olive Sparrow and more Orange-breasted Buntings before returning to our posada at 18:30 as the light was going. Doubleday’s Hummingbirds were most noticeable by their absence. Looking for hummingbirds was proving very frustrating. They are so much easier to see when coming to feeders although Eric pointed out some big drawbacks that I hadn't really considered– a sugar-rich diet can lead to diabetes while plants go unpollenated if hummingbirds don’t need to visit them.
colourful tree by Highway 175
Orange-fronted Parakeet
Audubon's Oriole
Ferruginous Pygmy Owl
Bat Falcon
with unidentified prey

Orange-billed Nightingale Thrush
Pacific slope forest 
male Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Squirrel Cuckoo

Flame-coloured Tanager
Grey-crowned Woodpecker

Northern Hepatic Tanager
Short-tailed Hawk

eye-level Blue-headed Vireo
from the narrow bridge
Green Kingfisher
on the stream below

I had been surprised when we were overtaken by a posh 4WD towing a large horse box. It became clear when we saw a roadside racetrack with stands and a race meeting about ot start. We did not stop ...
Orange-breasted Buntings on the edge of Huatulco
the colours really went well 
what a bird to have in one's garden!
certainly another trip highlight for me
urban Sclater's Wrens too
the track into the National Park

Brian, Rod, Jon and Eric looking unsuccessfully for Doubleday's Humminngbird
excitable Yellow-winged Cacique
love the hair
nice display too
although I'm not sure she was as impressed
and she had wackier hair
Russet-crowned Motmot

West Mexican Chachalacas

feeding on the flowers
7 March. We left the posada at 05:45, made a coffee stop and drove to a higher entrance to the National Park for dawn. It was a good area for Buff-collared Nightjar at the right season but we were a bit early and none responded. We had a good vantage point and saw a pair of Pale-billed Woodpeckers and an Ivory-billed Woodcreeper being careful not to mix up teir names! A few parrots were flying over but all those we saw were White-fronted. We soon saw the first of several Doubleday’s Hummingbirds and wondered how we had missed them the previous evening. We slowly walked along a narrow dry track into the National Park and were passed by a few locals heading for a secluded beach. We headed that way too seeing a reasonable selection of birds including Colima and Ferruginous Owls, Thick-billed Kingbird, Banded and Happy Wrens, Red-crowned Ant-Tanager, 3 Red-breasted Chats and more Orange-breasted Buntings. We ran out of time and turned back before reaching the beach, leaving the park at 11:30.  Eric was staying another night before the long drive back to Oaxaca where he was meeting other clients so once back at the posada we put our bags in his room and checked out of ours. We had brunch in a restaurant opposite then drove to a lighthouse on the coast where Magnificent Frigatebirds were cruising by at head height. Our final birding site was a wet area on the edge of a golf course and after an ice cream stop we picked up our bags. Eric dropped us at the airport just before 16:00, he had been a brilliant guide making it a very successful and enjoyable trip and we were sad to say goodbye. Hopefully it would be hasta la vista. Our flight was at 18:25 and left on time. A spectacular sunset over the clouds about Huatulco was almost matched by the lights of Mexico City as we came in to land. We arrived at 19:45 and were bused to the main terminal. Our international flight departed on time just before midnight. As it had been on the way out we each had three seats to stretch out on. It seemed strange the flights had been so under subscribed considering they were reasonably priced and we found AeroMexico a good airline. Not that I was complaining as spent much of the night flight sleeping horizontally, a rare luxury and better than an upgrade!. We arrived at Heathrow a bit early, were quickly through immigration and my bag was waiting for me, as was a tube. I arrived at Victoria two hours before my train home to Shoreham, and probably caught a cold waiting on the platform. Megan was waiting for me at the station and I was home at 20:45.
White-fronted Amazon
another Orange-breasted Bunting
Brown-crested Flycatcher
Ivory-billed Woodcreeper
White-throated Magpie Jay
Bell's Vireo
Cinnamon Hummingbird

Doubleday's Humminngbird
Red-breasted Chat. An immature male, hardly co-operative for the camera but more so than the two bright adult males seen
dry, fairly open forest
Citreoline Trogon

Jon, Brian, Eric and Rod watching ...
another Russet-crowned Motmot

Huatulco coast

Jon, Brian, me and Rod

the Pacific, no chance of a paddle though
oh to be seawatching in England ...
... as a Magnificent Frigatebird cruises past

leaving Huatulco


over Mexico City
It had been a very enjoyable trip due in no small part to Eric’s expert guiding and the companionship of Brian, Jon and Rod. Many thanks to them all, and also Jorge and Amy for making us so welcome at El Triunfo.

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