Saturday, May 28, 2011

Oaxaca Birding - Monte Alban - May 20, 2011

Monte Alban is a large Zapotec site located quite close to Oaxaca city, but surrounded by native habitats. We started our day birding a track adjacent to the entrance gate in the cool of the morning. The habitat is thornscrub with patches of current and former agricultural lands, and the birds were plentiful. One of the highlights were the excellent views of this brilliant Slaty Vireo before the sun rose over the hillside. The psychotic white eyes of this bird are reminiscent of the White-eyed Vireo, but the chartreuse and gray color scheme is striking once it comes into the open.
Among the ruins a Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet put on a show, but remained silent.
Other highlights included Ocellated Thrasher (distant views), Dusky Hummingbird, Pileated Flycatcher, and of course the spectacular ruins. Eric Antonio Martinez, our guide (see previous post for contact info for Eric) provided an excellent overview to the site, the times, and the 30,000 Zapotecs that resided there at one time.
Robert was savvy and realized that only former residents of the site were allowed to sell handicrafts inside the site, and that these works were likely to be (much) better quality than those available in the parking lot. I wish I'd spent more time shopping, but I'm always more focused on birds in the cool hours when they are most active.
Later on we stopped at the famous Tule Tree or Big Tree, a huge bald cypress in the town of Santa Maria de Tule, Oaxaca. I can't begin to imagine the amount of biomass in this one single tree.

There's no way to convey the huge size of this tree with a camera, the perspective is too easily lost. Birds aside, it's worth a visit if you're in Oaxaca.

We spent the rest of the afternoon walking along Highway 175 in lowland thornscrub, finding a pair of Oaxaca Sparrows, a stunning Elegant Euphonia and a Dwarf Vireo, which put on a show for all of us minutes before the rains came.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Oaxaca Birding May 2011 - Teotitlán del Valle

I've just returned from a meeting in Oaxaca City. Most unfortunately I could not get a flight in on Sunday, so I had to travel on Saturday and go birding on Sunday (May 15) (poor me!). A quick email to Manuel Grosselet identified a local bird guide who was available to take a small group out on Sunday.

Our guide, Eric Antonio Martinez (mirmidons_1987 AT, picked us up promptly at the hotel at 6 AM on May 15 and took us to a riparian area near his home town of Teotitlán del Valle east of Oaxaca city. We explored this stream area on foot for a few hours. Here's the rest of the birding group, with Eric on the left.
The riparian area ran through arid scrub, and the combination had the birds in abundance. Highlights for me were Gray-fronted Woodpecker, Dusky Hummingbird (none of the field guides seem to do a good job illustrating this bird), Pileated Flycatcher, Boucard's Wren, Bridled Sparrow, and the social, chattering endemic White-throated Towhee. Here's the scenery:
And a few birds, starting with the stunning Bridled Sparrow, one of the showiest New World Sparrows. Love the white malar and black chin, and those rufous highlights!
And here's Boucard's Wren, widespread in this habitat but not seen at higher elevations.
Here's a Pileated Flycatcher - elusive in the winter, but in May singing and putting on a show for us.
After birding the lowlands, and a small presa or reservoir we headed through town to a higher elevation area where the oaks were starting to come in. We heard but did not see Dwarf Vireo, but had excellent looks at West Mexican Chachalacas, Golden Vireo, and Blue Mockingbird. Then it was on up the mountain (the Sierra Juarez) to pine-oak forest, and more endemics including this White-striped Woodcreeper. We went on up into the pine-oak - watching a mix of familiar and unfamiliar birds, Red-shafted Flicker, Mountain Trogon, Crescent-chested Warbler, Slate-throated Redstart, Collared Towhee, Lincoln's Sparrow, and a host of beautiful songsters - Orange-billed and Rufous-capped Nightingale-Thrushes and Brown-backed Solitaire.

Lunch was at the town of Benito Juarez, where we had a late lunch at the local restaurant and saw Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer, Black-headed Grosbeak, Red Warbler, and more before heading back down birding our way back to town. Back in Teotitlán del Valle we visited a high-end weaver as the town is known for the many weavers who dye and weave wool into rugs. The wares were well out of a biologists price range (up to $3000 US) but were stunning.

Our last stop was a sidetrack to a nearby mountain range racing the thunderstorms to look for a Fulvous Owl that had been found previously. We were able to hear it hooting, like a monotone Barred Owl, but did not see it (today!). With lighting and thunder all around it was not surprising the owl didn't come out for us. We returned to the hotel at about 9:30 PM (!). It was a long day but a great one.

We had previously arranged five more days birding in Oaxaca after the meeting - stay tuned!

One last highlight was a migrant Black-billed Cuckoo found by Sherry.