Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Black-throated Blue Warbler

Our GCWA field season in Chiapas officially kicked off today with the first flock of the season, here in the Moxviquil (“mosh-veekeel”) reserve in the hills surrounding San Cristóbal de las Casas. After having seen exactly zero goldencheeks in Costa Rica, I was eager to see one today.

When we left the field station at daybreak, we heard Wilson’s Warblers chipping left and right, and a little further away several Brown-backed Solitaires were singing their wistful dawn song. Other birds we encountered included a Yellow-faced Grassquit, a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and some Rufous-collared Thrushes. And more Wilson’s Warblers: that bird is found here clearly in high densities.

However, a real warbler flock was somehow hard to find this morning. When we finally encountered one, it seemed more a loose association of insectivorous birds than a real flock to me. It had a Greater Pewee in it, a bird that calls frequently and is sometimes considered a ‘leader’ of such insectivorous flocks. The other birds were remarkably quiet for most of the time, and only the two Townsend’s Warblers and the two Hutton’s Vireos (and of course the six Wilson’s Warblers) called every now and then. Calling softly was a male Black-throated Blue Warbler, a bird whose main wintering area is in the West Indies and northern South America. I had certainly never seen one as a member of a warbler flock in the mesoamerican pine-oak forest, although I remember seeing one fly over the Cardel, Veracruz hawk watch site last September. That bird was headed this way.

We had lunch (antojitos) in the market hall in downtown San Cristóbal, and then we took a colectivo bus back to the field station. These colectivos are really revamped mini-vans that were originally designed to hold maybe eight people, but now fit 20 Mayans and a tall Dutch guy. Just barely, though.

Late afternoon, when the sun was out and the wind had died down a little, the birding was excellent right outside the field station. The courtyard that yesterday had White-eared Hummingbird now also had Green Violet-ear (another hummer) and Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer.

In trees and shrubs surrounding the field station we found several Townsend’s Warblers, a troupe of Bushtits, a Brown-backed Solitaire, a Gray Catbird, a couple of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, a Rufous-collared Sparrow, and a Rufous-collared Thrush. On one of the trails we saw a beautiful Red-faced Warbler (an oak specialist) and what appeared to be another warbler flock. We decided to revisit that location tomorrow morning.

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