1999 - Mexico - Veracruz, Oaxaca and Chiapas

June 18 - July 4, 1999
Bob Cecil, John Cecil, Richard Tetrault, Francis Moore, Ann Johnson

Map of MexicoWe had planned to leave my place at 4:00 pm on June 18th.  At 4:03 we were on the way.  All time record for promptness!  For you map aficionados, I'll try to give you our route.  Headed south on Interstate 35 to Kansas City and then onto route 71 to Joplin, Missouri.  I44 to Big Cabin, Oklahoma and south through "I'm an Okie From Muscogee" country and eventually to Dallas, Texas. Naturally my turn to drive came after dark and in the rain.  John and I tag teamed south of Dallas before waking the others for the push on to Laredo.  We reached Laredo about 11:00 am, bought car insurance, exchanged dollars for pesos, and headed to our quiet crossing that normally goes quickly.  Since the advent of NAFTA, the line of trucks crossing the border at Laredo means at least an hour or two of waiting in line.  Our secret border crossing about 20 miles up river has always saved us a lot of time.

We reach the Colombia crossing at noon, feeling really good about the time we're making.  Victoria should be no problem.  Pay the toll, cross the Rio Grande or Rio Bravo (depending on which country you're in!) and pull in to the parking lot to get our tourist passes and car permit.  What's this?  People everywhere!  It seems the computer had broken down in Nuevo Laredo and they were sending folks to Columbia.  Ugh!  The tourist passes were no problem but the car permit...  Four-and-a-half hours and a couple of near riots later we were on the road again.  Obviously Victoria was out of the question.

The 26 km checkpoint was a breeze and we began making up time on the autopista (toll road).  Around Monterey and a quick stop at our favorite polla asado stand for some great chicken.  It's starting to get dark so we ask about hotels.  There's one up the road a few miles.  Great.  They have two rooms, each with one bed.  Not too good for five people so we head for the next town.  Both hotels are full.  On to Linares in the dark.  The hotel has no rooms.  There is only one choice.  We pull into the Pemex (gasoline) station and park the van.  After driving for over 24 hours we are relegated to sleeping in the car!!!

OK, it's fairly warm down here and we have five smelly bodies - three of whom snore - sleeping in upright positions.  I take that back.  Only four were sleeping.  I can't stand it any more.  I open the door of the van, naturally disturbing everyone else's sleep, and go outside for some fresh air.  There was only one choice.  Sleep on the asphalt.  So I lay my body down close to the van and try to get some sleep.  It was just about to work when flashing lights bring me to attention.  Seems the local constabulary is trying to figure out what is going on.  He probably thought the four guys had done terrible things to me and tossed me out (G).  I couldn't figure out how to tell him in Spanish that the terrible thing they had done was snore too much!

Back in the van, this time with the windows down for some air and we got a couple hours of sleep.  Three hours in two nights - we're all beat and haven't even started to bird.

Up (?) early and on the road again.  A short break in Tampico finally produced a few birds like Ringed Kingfisher and innumerable herons.  A couple of Magnificent Frigatebirds floated high overhead.  Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks were everywhere.

The fiascoes of the past day caught up to us.  The day ended about three hours short of the intended destination and we called it a night north of Veracruz.  A hot shower never felt so good.  But by now it is Sunday night and the bird list is really crummy.  If things don't pick up soon, this trip is going to turn into a real disaster....

Our intention had been to be at the biological research station near Catemaco at the crack of dawn but that was obviously out of the question.  We managed to save some time by finding the by-pass around Veracruz and headed south along the coast.  For awhile we were traveling along barrier dunes and we got great looks at a Great Black Hawk teed up along the road.  Northern Jacanas and Least Grebes were in many of the marshy areas.  Probably birding along this stretch would have been pretty good had we the luxury of time to stop but common birds such as both Turkey and Black Vultures, Gray and Roadside Hawks, Social Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee, Ruddy Ground Dove, and Groove-billed Ani were readily identified at 60 mph.

Dugout canoesWe reached the research station about 11:00 and bailed out of the car.  Birds were still singing and the parking lot seemed surrounded by a Blue-crowned Motmot family.  A walk around the area produced Rose-throated Becard, Collared Trogon, Red-crowned and Red-throated Ant-Tanagers and Spot-breasted Wrens.  We finally keyed out my first lifer - Yellow-olive Flycatcher tending a nest near the path.  From there we drove back to an Indian village, getting nice looks at a Laughing Falcon along the way, and proceeded down the steep hillside to Laguna Escondida or Hidden Lake, a beautiful little lake.  It was hot but we took our time and saw a few birds along the way.  Band-backed Wren, Squirrel Cuckoo, Green Kingfisher, Violaceous Trogon, Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Barred and Spot-crowned Woodcreepers, Blue Mockingbird, and perhaps the most spectacular, Crimson-collared Tanager.  The guys walked up the trail a ways and saw the resident White Hawk, a bird I missed on this trip.

Warm and dry, it was time for a Buffet moment at the beach in Monte Pio.  Our meal of langostinos didn't fill us up so we walked on down to another restaurant - and I use the term loosely - where we had pescado a ajo or fish grilled in garlic sauce.  Best meal of the entire trip!  Amazon Kingfisher was the only new bird of the evening.

We survived the mother of all thunderstorms that rolled in over the gulf and got out early the next morning back to the biological station.  It was pretty wet and muddy but some of the new birds were Red-legged Honeycreeper, Lesser Greenlet, Giant Cowbird, Golden-olive Woodpecker, Black-headed Saltator, Black-cowled Oriole, Yellow-throated Euphonia, Blue-gray and Yellow-winged Tanagers, Masked Tityra, Clay-colored and White-throated Robins, and Long-tailed Hermit.  A stop back toward Lake Catemaco produced Short-billed Pigeon.

The Mexican people have always been wonderful to us and this was shown again when we got on the autopista headed north instead of south.  Down came the chains and we were motioned around to the right toll booth and off to Palenque we went.  As we hit the state of Tabasco, the autopista was no more.  The atlas lied.  Oh, I guess it was there but in pieces that had never been completed.  Consequently, we got to Palenque just in time to drive out to some marshy areas in hopes of seeing Boat-billed Heron.  No joy there but we did manage to pick up Tropical Mockingbird, Grassland Yellow-Finch, Tropical Gnatcatcher, lots of herons and egrets including Bare-throated Tiger-Heron, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Aztec Parakeet, Snail Kite, Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, and Solitary Eagle.

An unidentified nightjar flew across the road on our way back in the dark.  This was not a road to drive when you can only see a few feet ahead.  But, we made it back safely to Hotel Palenque, had a great dinner, bought some Marcos (head of the Zapatistas) dolls from a cute little girl who kept sneaking into the restaurant to sell them, and went to bed with dreams of birding the ruins the next morning.  The air conditioner and hot water worked and life was good.

Up early and off to Palenque to bird one of the most famous birding areas in Mexico.  Great expectations abounded.  The ruins didn't open until 8:00 so we began around the museum and one of the first birds we saw was Golden-hooded Tanager, a small but striking member of the tanager family.  As we birded around the road I finally solved one of my nemeses from Mexico by seeing a pair of Pale-billed Woodpeckers.  Bob got on a Green-backed Sparrow, the southern counterpart to Olive Sparrow of the Rio Grande Valley, but the rest of us only heard it.  Finally it was time to get to the ruins.

The trick to birding Palenque is to get there early before the place fills with busloads of tourists.  But the ruins themselves are awesome and I found myself looking through the viewfinder of the video camera more than the bins!  It's amazing that this early Mayan settlement had aqueducts for running water and a septic system but "modern" Mexico has not yet been able to accomplish this same infrastructure.

There were a few birds around as well.  In the parking lot we were greeted by Scarlet-rumped Tanager and Violaceous Trogon.  Bat Falcons were probably nesting on top of one of the ruins and would periodically fly.  John and I tracked down a calling Laughing Falcon.  Double-toothed Kites put in an appearance and down one trail we had a Little Hermit come to investigate.  John had really studied his hummingbirds and helped us figure out critical field marks in the brief looks at those mites.

The place was fairly populated with artisans selling their crafts.  We started up a trail into the forest but footing was treacherous on the wet and steep stairs and muddy paths.  Not much was stirring in the way of bird life.  This was the first indication that June may be tough birding in the tropics.  Oh, we saw any number of beautiful tropical species but they were birds we had seen elsewhere like Montezuma Oropendula, Masked Tityra, Band-backed Wren, Smoky-brown Woodpecker, and Collared Aracari.

The temperature and numbers of people were growing higher so we headed out of the park.  Stopped for lunch at a huge restaurant where we were the only customers.  The proprietor noticed our interest in natural things and gave us pre-meal tour of his property.  He fed the fish in the stream and showed us a cacao plant in his yard and explained how he got the chocolate from the bean for use in mole sauce and whatever.  Hmmm…one's own chocolate tree.  Must be heaven.

A friend from Texas had told me about some marshes and grasslands north of Palenque that would be good for some of our targets like hawks, Double-striped Thick-knee, and hopefully Jabiru.  So off we went toward Tabasco and Campeche.  First road - no marshes.  Second road - no marshes.  OK, so the grasslands filled in Grassland Yellow-finch for those who had missed it the day before and I got to impress my compadres by calling Gray-crowned Yellowthroat in the air and identifying a baby Botteri's Sparrow, but we really wanted some of those exotics.  Fork-tailed Flycatchers were cool but once you've seen a few you realize that Scissor-tails are more spectacular.  Plain-breasted Ground Dove was a new bird for us all but…

I guess the rainy season hadn't been in full swing for long enough to raise the water level.  We did manage to find a large roost of Wood Storks but there were no Jabiru there.  Best bird of the afternoon was Pinnated Bittern.  Deciding that Palenque was overrated, it was back to town for tacos and sleep.

The following morning was pretty much a repeat.  The guys decided to climb the mountain, the short broad opted for hanging out at lower elevations.  The guys slipped around on muddy trails risking life and limb while the broad added the elusive Streaked Flycatcher and a small flock of Brown-hooded Parrots to her collection of ticks.  She also had time to sit and enjoy Keel-billed Toucans moving through the canopy.  Score - four unhappy, overactive guys and one fairly contented female.

We headed for San Cristobal de las Casas and the highlands of Chiapas.  One stop, which my Texas friend had mentioned and was written up in the Howell bird finding guide was a big disappointment.  This was supposed to be an overlook where one could look into the canopy and perhaps find Lovely Cotinga.  Not anymore.  Slash and burn farming "technology" had ended that plan.  That experience made us all understand the difficulties of writing a bird finding guide for a tropical country.  It's entirely different from describing the best pullouts in Rocky Mountain National Park for White-tailed Ptarmigan.

Just before getting to San Cristobal, site of many news stories about the Zapatista uprisings, we were greeted by a military checkpoint that was more thorough than the previous ones had been.  In fact, we seldom were even stopped for questions up to that point and the checkpoints looked terribly understaffed.  We wondered if much of the military had been dispatched to Puebla for earthquake cleanup.  At this one, though, we all had to get out of the van.  A young man on my side of the car tried to make conversation.  In my cryptic Spanish I explained we were birding and handed him my binoculars for a look.  He smiled broadly.

Got into town as the sun was setting and brrrr.  Had to go buy a long-sleeved shirt.  Go figure.  San Cristobal is a dynamite city and very cosmopolitan.  It has become quite an attraction for European visitors.  The city is filled with members of indigenous tribes, descendants of the Mayans, selling their wares to make a living.  My contribution that night was to an adorable little boy who was selling pictures he'd drawn on a ruled tablet.  OK, my monkeys look like normal parental refrigerator art but what the heck!

Manana…birding the highlands.

Tropical forestI can't even begin to tell you how nice it was to wake up to a morning requiring long pants, long sleeves, and boots.  It had rained and the morning was pleasant.  I was the first one ready to go (who says women are always slow?) and sat patiently in the hotel courtyard.  Heard a zonatrichia type call and almost at my feet appeared a bird I'd been wanting to see - Rufous-collared Sparrow.  Dynamite little bird.

Our first stop was to find the road up the mountain that overlooks San Cristobal and search for the Pink-headed Warbler and Black-throated Jay.  The Howell guide said to look for a water tank and turn.  Well, after three passes and never seeing the water tank, we decided it was time to wing it and try a likely looking mountain road.  It was rough but we finally found ourselves in pine forest.  Jays called and we quickly parked and went after them.  A couple of us saw a bird that looked significantly different, but the only positive IDs we could get were Steller's Jays.  But the Steller's of Chiapas are no ordinary Rocky Mountain variety.  They are darker and have very little crest.  Take a look if you have a chance.  In the pines we had birds such as Painted and Slate-throated Redstarts, Yellowish Flycatcher, Hutton's Vireo, Olive and Crescent-chested Warblers, and Yellow-eyed Junco.

Along the road were numerous houses with lovely flowers.  Cinnamon-bellied Flower-piercers worked their way through the gardens as did White-eared and Amethyst-throated Hummingbirds.  In the open we had Scrub Euphonia, Yellow-winged Tanager, and even an Eastern Bluebird pair.  A Northern Flicker flew over but this was a new sub-species - Guatemalan.

On up toward the TV antennas we went until the road seemed too steep to drive.  OK, at this altitude we're going to walk?  Yep, slowly up the hill we trudge.  Gray Silky-Flycatcher sat high in a century plant and periodically shot high after a bug.  Swallows flew over and we had our Black-capped Swallows.  A Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush posed nicely.  Once again I'm tired of spending more energy walking than looking for birds so I held back.  It was a wise decision because a Blue-and-White Mockingbird skulked in the area below.

This road wound through an Indian village that was almost like another world.  Bright traditional garb, men working fields with hoes, children tending goats.  The primary crop of this village was flowers.  We had seen women with large bundles of cut flowers walking toward town and the market.  Now we knew where they came from.  And with flowers come birds like flowerpiercers and hummingbirds.  And in one particular flower bed was the most spectacular hummingbird I've ever seen.  Garnet-throated Hummingbird is a large one with rufous wings, purple underparts, and a brilliant garnet gorget.  Wow!

We decided that the mountain looked like the best habitat around so headed for the other side where there was a reserve.  On the way we ran into our army buddies again.  They'd moved the checkpoint.  I had to smile when my friend from the day before (the one I'd let look through my bins) came running over to say Hi while his buddies took (training?) photos of the back of a gringo van.

Paid our fee and started up the trail of the reserve.  It was a nice walk but the birding was almost non-existent in mid-day.  Part way up we heard giggling and decided to wait out the passing crowd in a shelter.  A young man popped into the shelter saying something like "mucho muchachas".  He'd been guiding a large group of girls on the trails.  Soon he was showing us his badge or ID card showing that he was the ProNatura park ranger.  When we explained we were birders, he picked up our book and began leafing through it, pointing out the birds in the park.  This guy knew his stuff.  So, why not?  We ask Roberto if he'd be willing to give us a little guided walk.  He smiled and off we went.  He showed us Bushtits.  He showed us an Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush and her nest.  He pished up birds in a way that would have made Pete Dunne proud.  He led us back to his house where he picked up his rain gear (good move!) and everyone else saw a White-naped Brush-Finch.  OK, if someone hollered that name at you, where would you look?  Brush is a bad choice.  The *%#@ bird was in the tree.  Oh well.

In the car we had a Peterson Mexican Guide written in Spanish (a gift to Bob) and John's old binocs which were along as spares.  We talked among us and what better place to leave this stuff?  Back down the mountainside in the pouring rain where we presented Roberto with his guide fee - bins and a book.  The smiles were priceless and as we left he was working through the Spanish names for the birds he sees everyday.  It doesn't get much better than this!

Another morning of birding around San Cristobal and we still missed the Pink-headed Warbler.  Rufous-collared Robins and Zonatrichia capensis were cool though.   Although we didn't see a lot of new birds, I had an interesting people experience which brought home the edginess in the political climate in Chiapas.  Once again the guys had taken off and I was just hanging out in a fairly birdy spot with Brown Creepers (in Mexico?!), Buff-breasted and Tufted Flycatchers, Crescent-chested Warblers, and the like.  I heard bells, looked up, and saw goats wandering through the forest.  Down on the road was a group of indigenous women and children, obviously out tending the goats.  I waved and there was no response.  I said "Good Morning" and they were just frozen in their tracks.  I believe that was the first time in my life I've ever seen someone absolutely afraid of me.  Needless to say, I hustled out of the way so they could go back to tending their goats.  Strange feeling to say the least.

Off to Tuxtla Guiterrez and El Sumidero Canyon where the birding became decidedly western in nature.  It is kind of a strange place because the birds were more Pacific Slope although we were still in the Atlantic drainage.  We began seeing birds like Russet-crowned Motmot, Varied Bunting, Band-tailed Pigeon and Greater Pewee.  An Emerald Toucanet gave us the hat trick on Mexican toucans and White-throated Magpie-Jays soon became trash birds (G).

With a taste of El Sumidero we headed back up the mountain early the next morning.  It was tough birding because the birds would cross the road and disappear into the dense vegetation, never to be seen again.  One of the first little guys to make himself well seen was a Red-breasted Chat - cool bird!  Northern Bobwhite, a bird of my yard, scurried across the road but these were very different my birds.  These had black heads and very rusty underparts - the coyolocos subspecies.  Really striking chickens.  Lesser Roadrunners could be briefly seen and occasionally one would sit still long enough to compare the field marks to the Greater Roadrunner of the north.  So much of what was around we could hear but just not get out in the open.  Blue-crowned and Russet-crowned Motmots, White-tipped Doves, Banded Wrens that might let you identify them a piece at a time.  But the one that really frustrated me was the Belted Flycatcher.  It kept calling but would never come close enough to the road to get even a glimpse.  So, I left my target bird behind as a heard-only bird.

We did have a few other interesting birds in the area.  Female Slaty Finch may have been the best of the bunch although the teed-up Emerald Toucanet was pretty superb.  White-lored Gnatcatcher which was nice to see and compare with the Tropical of a couple days earlier.  Family groups of Yellow-green Vireos.  Another vireo that was making me crazy until I researched a bit and found that the Plumbeous Vireo south of the Isthmus has the coloration of Cassin's Vireo.  So how come they aren't Cassin's?  I still don't get it.

We finally crossed the Continental Divide and were truly on the western slope.  New birds appeared.  Birds like Yellow-winged Cacique and Orange-breasted Bunting.  We heard Rosita's Bunting, taped it's call, played it back, and the bird promptly disappeared!  Rusty and Stripe-headed Sparrows, Tropical Mockingbird, and…oh yes.  THE bird of the trip - two adult King Vultures.  Wow!

As we hit the coastal plain there was an abundance of water, some even flowing across the Pan American Highway.  Anymore rain and that road will be closed.  Through this area we picked up numerous water-related birds like Black-necked Stilt and Roseate Spoonbill.  Fish dinner along the coast, where we actually saw a sea gull, and five tired birders called it a day.

The morning began by spending some time in the West Mexican thorn forest where we saw West Mexican Chachalaca.  Hey, nice naming.  The real target was to get a look at Rosita's Bunting.  The first stop produced Sumichrast's (Cinnamon-tailed) Sparrow, a Oaxacan endemic with a very limited range.  Russet-crowned Motmots were calling but were difficult to find.  A pair of Banded Wrens scolded noisily and finally popped into view.  Next stop produced killer looks at singing Orange-breasted Bunting for everyone.  A small flock of Orange-fronted Parakeets flew over and there were many Sumichrast's Sparrows in the area.  I managed to clean up a Mexican species I'd seen in Arizona but never in Mexico - Plain-capped Starthroat.  We heard a different bunting up the hill and the song matched the description perfectly for Rosita's Bunting so off we go.  Following the bird got temporarily interrupted by a Lesser Ground Cuckoo near the road.  It still amazes me how a bird that size and only fifteen feet away can stay absolutely hidden from sight.  The bunting kept moving up the hill, and to make a long story short, another target went on the list as heard only.  Dern!

We had miles to go so it was back to the junction and north the Oaxaca City.  There had been considerable flooding in this area and consequently water-related birds were abundant.  Just your normal stuff like egrets, Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, Northern Jacanas, and Roseate Spoonbills.  The road to Oaxaca climbs from near sea level to a high plateau surrounded by mountains.  Best bird at 60 mph was Citreoline Trogon.  In the high pines we made a short stop to stretch and found birds familiar to us from Arizona trips - Hepatic Tanager, Bridled Titmouse, Scrub Jay, Rusty Sparrow.  OK, the Rusty hasn't made it to the US - yet.

Jim had given me a number of good spots on the way into the city so we stopped at one.  Here we picked up White-throated Towhee, Boucard's Wren and Bridled Sparrow in the same field of view, and Dusky Hummingbird.  Francis wanted to shop for rugs so we ran out of time to look for other endemics.  A young couple was walking along the road so we picked them up.  Got to chatting and found out the guy was a grad student at the University of Wisconsin.  They knew Tetrault's daughter who is also a student there.  Small world, eh?

Found a great hotel on the south side of the city.  The birds in cages were a bit grim, but the Black and White-collared Swifts flying overhead and the Rufous-backed Robin on the lawn were nice.  Identifiable hummingbirds in the gardens were Broad-billed and Magnificent.  Three of us took a cab downtown for food and culture.  I love Oaxaca.

John CecilUp early the next morning for birding along a small stream that had been good to us the year before.  The place was really hopping and we added Golden and Dwarf Vireos and White-throated Flycatcher.  On up the road to La Cumbre.  I have a feeling this area is much better in the winter when the birds are in flocks, but Red Warblers, White-eared Hummingbirds, Slate-colored Solitaires, and Black-headed Siskins made for an interesting walk.  Picked up Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch at our lunch stop where the proprietor took interest in our activity and brought out his Mexican Peterson to show us what was in the area.  It's kind of uplifting to see some locals getting interested in their natural surroundings.  A quick stop along the road produced Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, our fourth gnatcatcher of the trip.

The road across the Sierras had deteriorated since last year when we named it El Camino Diablo so it was very slow going.  We finally reached the crest and started down into the cloud forest.  There were birds, like Unicolored Jay and Common Bush-Tanager, but most would have to wait until morning.  As we neared Valle Nacional we stopped for a few moments to enjoy Crimson-collared Tanager, Buff-throated Saltator, Blue Ground Dove, Gray-breasted Wood-Wren, and Red-legged Honeycreeper.  If I had to pick one place I've birded in Mexico that is my favorite, this is the spot.  I would venture to say I've seen more life birds here than anywhere else in the world.

Tomorrow - back in the jungles again.

A huge tree fernThe area around Valle Nacional has to be the finest birding I've found in Mexico.  The area is rugged and so far - knock on wood - hasn't been as decimated as many other areas.  The highest areas are pine-oak forests.  As you drop in elevation you enter a dense cloud forest that extends for about 20 miles.  As you drop even further you are in lowland tropical forest.  Three different habitats in a fairly condensed area.

We headed first to the always hot area at the shrine.  I have no idea who built this little shrine back off the road, but on either side of the road are barrancas or limestone sinks which makes the vegetation more closely eye level.  A stream flows through here so there is a water attraction.  And the steep hillsides are covered with thick vegetation.  Thankfully, the road is not heavily traveled and it creates a birdable break in the forest.

The activity was pretty intense for awhile.  Ruddy Quail-Dove flew behind us and back into the forest.  Blue Ground Dove competed for time with White-tipped Dove.  A fruiting tree was very attractive and mixed in with the Red-legged Honeycreepers was a pair of Green Honeycreepers.  That's one of those birds that no plate in a field guide can adequately portray.  Black-throated Shrike-Tanager was cool and who could ever tire of Crimson-collared Tanager?  Rufous-tailed Hummingbird and Long-billed Starthroat worked the flowers in the barranca.  Dick and I got a brief look at a hummer that boggled our minds.  The tail consisted of two long streamers with white spots.  Clements calls it Sparkling-tailed Hummingbird but I prefer Howell & Webb's Sparkling-tailed Woodstar.

When the birding slowed down a bit we started up the mountain.  A quick stop near some homes produced Bananaquit.  White-collared and Black Swifts could be seen flying over.  A hawk looked different enough to elicit a "stop" and it turned into a juvenile Hook-billed Kite.  Higher we went until reaching the cloud forest.  A logging road gave us some access and we started walking.  Gray-breasted Wood Wrens called loudly and occasionally we would see or hear Slate-colored Solitaire or Common Bush Tanager.  But basically the place was dead.  Birding the cloud forest is never easy and it looked like once again we would leave a number of species behind.  Two guys got on the Ruddy Foliage-gleaner but unfortunately, I wasn't one of them.

Back down the mountain we went.  Birds were moving everywhere.  A quick stop to look at Rusty Sparrow, Yellow-faced and Blue-black Grassquits, more Black-throated Shrike-Tanagers, Blue-gray and Yellow-winged Tanagers, Rufous-capped, Golden-crowned, and Golden-browed Warblers, Unicolored Jays, Blue Mockingbird, and family groups of Yellow-green Vireos.

The barrancas were still hopping.  Occasionally the Green Honeycreeper would move in to feed.  Buff-throated Saltator skulked through the vegetation. A small flock of Yellow-throated Euphonias flew into the tree beside the car and there among them was an Olive-backed Euphonia.  We tracked down a Happy Wren that appeared to be a bit out of range.  A new bird for us all was Yellow-bellied Tyrannulet, much brighter than its northern cousin.  Hating to leave, we headed for Tuxtupec.

Jim had given me some places to try around Tuxtepec so we scouted a bit in the heat of the day.  Birding was pretty blah but it's always nice to see an Amazon Kingfisher.  Early the next morning three of us went to the sure-fire spot for Mottled Owl.  Guess what - they ain't calling in early July!  Back to pick up the others and bird the area.  Unfortunately, much of the forest has been cleared along the road.  However, the second growth was full of grassquits and seedeaters and even a Blue-black Grosbeak.  Blue-crowned Motmots called from up the hill and the normal array of flycatchers flew around.  Grayish and Black-headed Saltators made themselves known. A Variable Screech-Owl called from up the hill.  Maybe we were out too early?  From up on a rocky limestone face came the call we had all been waiting for - Sumichrast's Wren.  One of us had the patience to wait until it showed itself.  Wanna guess who (G)?

Birding at the base of the dam finally got yours truly off the hook.  Bob has nicely taken me along on some of these treks.  I was now 3 for 3 on Yellow-billed Cacique and he was about 0 for 10.  So I found him one!  One of the great mysteries of the trip was finally solved.  At several locations we had heard what sounded somewhat like a Western Screech-Owl.  Could never get a look.  Hmmmm….would you believe it wasn't an owl at all but a Barred Antshrike?  Bet we all remember that call!

We learned an interesting  tidbit along the stream.  Mangrove Swallows aren't married to mangroves.  Ringed Kingfishers will always be impressive.  It was tough but it was time to head north.

We spent the night at the beach north of Veracruz.  The Gulf of Mexico isn't particularly birdy but watching diving Brown Pelicans and ghost crabs isn't a bad way to unwind before the long drive home. 

Our final destination was Hotel Taninul, a beautiful hotel and spa within striking distance of Des Moines.  We were well on our way when all of a sudden traffic stopped.  A demonstration was well underway and some farmers had placed a tree over the road to stop traffic.  We never figured out just what the protest was all about but it had something to do with the governor.  The military and Federales were at the scene but no one wanted things to escalate.  After about an hour of sitting, traffic began moving again.

We had counted on Taninul to pad the trip list if you will but the rain pretty much prevented that.  A storm had knocked out electricity so there was an air of adventure just finding the right room.  We did manage to find Francis his long-awaited Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl and there were a few Green Parakeets roaming the grounds.  A lack of parrots was a disappointment.

Saturday morning at 9:15 am the ride began.  With very few stops, we arrived at my house about 3:00 pm Sunday.  Not bad.