Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Birding the Chara Pinta Reserve, Sinaloa

The Tufted Jay is a charismatic endemic with a very limited range in the pine-oak forests of highlands in Sinaloa, Durango, and Nayarit. Steve Howell's A Bird Finding Guide to Mexico gives directions to this species at Rancho Banco Liebre in Sinaloa. The neighboring community, Ejido El Palmito, has developed an ecotourism program with facilities for tourists who want to see the Chara Pinta, as the Tufted Jay is known locally. And who wouldn't want to see this bird? Here's the Ejido El Palmito van for the Ecotours Chara Pinta in front of one of the cabins. The cabins have running water, propane hot water heaters (lit only when you want a shower), a small cooking facility (gas burners), a sitting area and 2-3 bedrooms per cabin.Here's our cabin, which was set off from the main area by a couple hundred yards. We could see the lights of Mazatlan from the porch, and we could hear Stygian Owl and Mexican Whip-poor-will! Whiskered Screech-Owls are also common here.The communal area had a kitchen and dining room.Here's a view of the cooking end of the cabin -
And the seating and eating end. Note: No internet access as of 10/2011, but cell phone reception was OK. There's no electricity on site, so rechargeable LED lights (provided) were used in the cabin - and bring your own headlamp or flashlight!A wood stove next to the cooking area was used as well, here to heat blue corn tortillas. Our group had arranged for the local community to provide our meals, and we were glad we did! Very tasty food, we especially enjoyed the homemade salsa with roasted chiles and tomatoes. Cooking over a wood fire can be a slow process, but the results are worth the wait. The forest is spectacular. Old pine trees mix with oaks and madrones, and an extensive understory means that Red Warblers of the gray-cheeked subspecies melanauris.
There are several miradors or view points over the Barranca. We saw Military Macaw (Guacamaya) and Band-tailed Pigeon flying in the canyon.Here's Don Santos, our bird guide from Ejido El Palmito with Greg Levandoski of the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory. Our thanks to Don Santos for sharing his knowledge and experience. But the star of the show is the Tufted Jay or Chara Pinta.
We spent a lot of time talking to Don Santos about the Tufted Jay. He believes from survey work he has done that the population has declined on the property by 50% from 600 to 300 birds. Don Santos knows the birds well, and using him as a local guide will add to your experience at the property. Don Santos has a good knowledge of vocalizations, and because he's out on the property often he knows where the birds are. We first met him as we drove in to the reserve and he had a group looking at a Stygian Owl roosting near the road! He told us the best season for Thick-billed Parrots (early November) and knows the seasonal presence of the birds as well. I can't wait to return! To make reservations to visit the Chara Pinta reserve, contact Lizett Gabriela GarcĂ­a Alfaro (Gaby) at lizett.garcia@conanp.gob.mx. For our group of four, costs for meals and room came to $800 pesos for 2 nights in October 2011. Don Santos's guide service is extra, as is transportation to/from the Mazatlan airport or hotels. If you are unfamiliar with driving in Mexico or uncomfortable with dangerous mountain roads and lots of truck traffic, leave the driving to Ecotours El Palmito. Others who rode in their van were pleased with the drivers skills and abilities on the tight turns and "interesting" situations presented by the Durango Highway. The road from the highway to the cabins was recently graded when we arrived and although we had to walk some sections (to assess clearance and lighten the load) we were able to navigate the road slowly and with due caution. Higher clearance would have made the trip much easier.

For more information, see the Reserva Chara Pinta facebook page here; go to the "info" and "welcome" links at the left under the logo. And "like" the page while you are there!

A bird list can be found for the Tufted Jay Preserve hotspot in eBird/Aver Aves. Please report your observations in eBird!
Here's a link to an update with a better photo of the Tufted Jay!