2000 - Mexico - Oaxaca and the Los Tuxtlas with Mahlers

May 26 – June 4, 2000
Glenn & Eileen Mahler; Ann Johnson

I met the Mahlers at the airport in Mexico City where we caught our flight to Oaxaca.  I had a slight miscalculation here that would create a bit of havoc the following day, assuming erroneously that since my luggage was checked through from Chicago to Oaxaca that I would be doing the customs/immigration bit there.  Driving to Mexico is so much simpler!  Oh well, live and learn.

After clearing customs (that part was right) and getting our car, we headed out of the city for Yagul for a couple hours of birding.  Glenn & Eileen immediately got their first endemic – White-throated Towhee.  I heard what was probably a Boucard’s Wren but about then the rain came.  The next two hours were spent alternately sitting in the car and walking the road for brief times when the showers dissipated.  After some mediocre birding we decided to hang it up for the day and find a hotel.  All of our nights in Oaxaca were spent at Hotel Jardines del Lago (350 p. for 2) near the intersection of Highways 190 and 175.  This is really convenient to get to birding areas either direction and a taxi ride to the zocalo is 30 – 40 p.

May 27th –   We headed out early for Monte Alban where the first bird to greet us was a Rock Wren.  Walking the trails at the edge of the ruins was certainly pleasant but the birding was a bit disappointing.  Northern Beardless Tyrannulet, Gray Silky, and Blue Mockingbirds were nice.  The prize of the morning was a teed up Ocellated Thrasher, a bird that had eluded me my last two trips to Oaxaca.

Since my luggage was legal but my body was not, we had already decided to swing by the airport after birding Monte Alban and check on getting me a tourist permit before heading out into the countryside.  This was not an easy proposition and my simple Spanish vocabulary of a few nouns made communication difficult.  However, Eileen knew some Spanish and a young lady at the airport knew some English and several phones calls produced a solution.  Since I did not have a magic card from the airline, we would have to follow a fairly complex procedure.  Thankfully, the young lady at immigration got in the car and led us to the appropriate places.

First we had to find a store where we could buy the appropriate forms.  Then it was downtown to the main immigration office where the form was validated.  As we pulled up out front there was quite a military presence and a lot of people were milling around.  As I waited for my paperwork to be processed, I was locked in a room with a number of Guatemalan refugees, each carrying a small bag with all their worldly possessions.  It was a bit sobering to think that conditions in Guatemala are such that people are trying to escape to Mexico for a better life.

That form finally processed, it was off to the bank to pay my 170 p.  Presumably to deal with the bribery issue, government officials are not allowed to take money.  After standing in two different lines because of some confusion over my maiden name, mission accomplished and back to the airport to get the actual tourist permit completed.  Naturally I was never asked for it the following week, but…  Note to self: Go through immigration in Mexico City and get passport to simplify identification.

It was finally time to get back to birding so we headed up the mountain on 175 for La Cumbre.  The “fee” is now up to 60 p. but we didn’t argue.  That seems like a small price to pay if it keeps the awareness high among the folks who live there.

We drove back on the west road to a large sign at an intersection with a road that goes steeply down hill.  The sky was getting darker but we managed to get in a bit of walking before the rains came.  Russet Nightingale-Thrushes and Brown-backed Solitaires sang and a mixed flock of small birds produced Mexican Chickadee, Slate-throated Redstart, and our first Red Warblers.  Alas no jays or wrens before we got soaked.

May 28th - The day started with Dusky Hummingbird at the flowers around the hotel.  As we birded our way up the mountain, we found prizes such as Boucard's Wren, Greenish Elaenia, and Elegant Euphonia.  Back up at La Cumbre, the day was much nicer and we were rewarded with Dwarf Jay, Black Robin, and both Russet and Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrushes.  The birding was very nice here but we had miles to go.  Lunch at one of my favorite restaurants, where one can eat while watching the birds come in, produced Collared Towhee, Common Bush-Tanager, and Rufous-capped and Chestnut-capped Brush-Finches.

Slowly winding our way up and over the mountains, we finally descended through the cloud forest above Valle Nacional.  Because we were headed for Tuxtepec for the night, we had little time for much more than a sampling of the area.  We did manage to add Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush to the list, however.  The hotel parking lot was full of Melodious Blackbirds.

May 29th - Up early for the drive to Valle Nacional and the forest above.  We could hear a Thicket Tinnamou calling, but as usual it did not want to be seen.  The list for the day was nothing short of fantastic.  Some of the highlights include Long-billed Gnatwren, Blue-crowned Chlorophonia, Golden-hooded Tanager, Crimson-collared Tanager, Slate-colored Solitaire, Green and Red-legged Honeycreepers, Blue-black Grosbeak, Variable Seedeater, Thick-billed Seedfinch, Blue Ground-Dove, Chestnut-collared Swift, Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift, Scaly-throated Foliage-gleaner, Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, and the list goes on and on.  Glenn and Eileen went exploring and found a beautifully cultivated field of orchids tucked away in the mountains.  Perhaps the highlight was when Glenn got the scope on a Bumblebee Hummingbird, the bird that put Eileen on the top half of the world's birds.  Wow!

May 30th - We spent the morning birding the thorn scrub around Tuxtepec.  Little Tinnamou called from the hillside. Laughing and Aplomado Falcons are always nice.  We saw many of the same species we had been seeing elsewhere, although Rufous-breasted Spinetail, Black-crowned Tityra, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, and Yellow-billed Cacique were new.  Unfortunately we had no luck with the Sumichrast's Wren.

On to Catemaco and more tropical forest birding in the Los Tuxtlas.  On the way we saw our first Snail Kites.  The forest birding around the motel was fairly typical with Red-lored Parrot, Blue-crowned Motmot, Collared Aracari, Keel-billed Toucan, and Violaceous Trogon.  Lesser Greenlet, while maybe not spectacular, was a new bird for me.

May 31st - We spent most of the day birding the Los Tuxtlas around the research station.  While not finding some of our target species, there was generally nice birding to be had.  Some of the more spectacular species for the day included Bare-throated Tiger-Heron, White Hawk, Laughing Falcon, Short-billed Pigeon, Gray-headed Dove, Brown-hooded Parrot, Western Long-tailed Hermit, American Pygmy Kingfisher, Yellow-bellied Tyrannulet, Tropical Pewee, Yellow-throated and Olive-backed Euphonias, and Black-cowled Oriole.

June 1st - This morning we birded the forest around Lake Catemaco, adding a few new water-related species like Least Bittern, Wood Stork, and Purple Gallinule to our trip list.  Plain-breasted Ground-Dove and Short-billed Pigeon were nice additions, as was Black-headed Trogon.  And who can ever get tired of Keel-billed Toucans working in the canopy?  After a pleasant morning of birding we headed back to the southwest across the Isthmus of Tuantepec, stopping for the night at a hotel near our next day's destination.  While the hotel looked clean enough, the open windows allowed the biggest cucarachas I have ever seen into the rooms.  It made for a less-than-restful night.

June 2nd - I wanted to explore some place new on this trip so we chose the Uxpanapa Road.  Glenn did a great job of navigating the 40 miles of rutted and often muddy dirt track.  Most of the drive was through countryside and villages where we were the source of much curiosity.  Just as we neared some nice forest near the river, the Federales had setup a checkpoint.  After trying to question us for awhile and not getting sufficient answers, the young man hollered up the hill to his boss, "Gringos!" and we were waved through.

The forested area around the Uxpanapa River was superb birding and we lamented how little time we really had to do it justice.  Solitary Eagle was spotted here.  Some of the new birds for the trip were Little Hermit, Streak-headed Woodcreeper, Barred Antshrike, Slate-headed Tody-Tyrant, Streaked Flycatcher, and Passerini's Tanager.  The prize, however, was the object of targeting this area in the first place - Nava's Wren. 

Soon it was time to make the rough ride back to the highway and head for Tuantepec for the night.  We made several stops along the way and picked up several birds frequently found in the isthmus.  Orange-breasted Bunting is certainly a spectacular bird and Lesser Ground-Cuckoo is another nice find.  The Broad-billed Hummingbird here was the Doubleday's subspecies.  White-throated Magpie-Jay and Yellow-winged Cacique give the indication that one has crossed over to the western side.  White-lored Gnatcatcher and the endemic Cinnamon-tailed (Sumichrast's) Sparrow rounded out a superb day of Mexican birding.

June 3rd - The day began birding the thorn scrub near Tuantepec.  New birds included West Mexican Chachalaca, Lesser Roadrunner, Green-fronted Hummingbird, Plain-capped Starthroat, Russet-crowned Motmot, Nutting's Flycatcher, and Rufous-naped Wren.  We also found another group of Cinnamon-tailed Sparrows, always fun because they have such a small range.  Working our way higher and back into the Oaxaca Valley, numerous stops produced more good birds - Pileated Flycatcher, Gray Silky-flycatcher, Boucard's Wren, Ocellated Thrasher, Slaty Vireo, Bridled Sparrow, the endemic Oaxaca Sparrow, and Black-vented Oriole.

June 4th - Since I was flying out in the afternoon, we spent the morning in places fairly near to the airport but still managed to find some good birds.  It was great to once again see birds that are somewhat endemic to this part of the country, like Dwarf and Slaty Vireos, Pileated Flycatcher, White-throated Towhee, Ocellated Thrasher, and Oaxaca Sparrow.  Others, such as Hepatic Tanager, Berylline Hummingbird, and Rufous-backed Robin, I would probably find again in the US but here they are much more common.  All too soon it was time to head out for Mexico City and back to Chicago for the night, leaving Glenn and Eileen to enjoy another meal of pollo asado on their own.

This was a superb trip.  The Mahlers are fantastic birders and Glenn always totes his scope along so we had some amazing views of many of the species.  Flying from Chicago saved me a lot of money so many thanks to friends Jim and Kate Frazier for providing lodging and schlepping me to and from the airport.  We ended the week with a list of 249 species which included 23 lifers.