Tuesday, January 20, 2009


We’ve arrived at our last field site here in Chiapas for the current Golden-cheeked Warbler field season, this time a little further from ‘home base’ Moxviquil. We got here yesterday [see note below] by bus and taxi, altogether maybe three and half hours of traveling from San Cristóbal.

Coapilla is a small town, smaller even than Teopisca. It’s got one hotel that’s still partly under construction, and a few smaller outfits – posadas – that are essentially mom and pop operations. Not wanting to stay at a noisy construction site, we are now at “Rossy”, one of those smaller outfits, which appears to be run not so much by mom or pop but by the daughter, who cheerfully multitasks cooking duties with cleaning, laundry, dishes and various other tasks, while her relatives sit around watching TV or chatting. Pobrecita! I’m sure these relatives have nothing but the best of intentions for her. For example, almost right away, an enquiry was made into the marital status of the gringo. Technically not a gringo – although being European practically amounts to same thing – and certainly not independently wealthy, I am hardly worth their attention.

Bueno. The birding here certainly is good, as two life birds, a goldencheek and a surprise find all testify. Which lifers? Well, White-throated Swift, which was actually a bit overdue given the amount of time I have now spent birding the region. I don’t think this is a particularly rare species, it’s just that I had never seen one. Today we saw a group of four. The other lifer was Gray-collared Becard, a bird I didn’t expect to see here and in fact knew so little about, that when I saw it – and I saw it well – I didn’t even know what it was. Some kind of becard, was all I could come up with. The only becard I know well is Rose-throated, but this bird – a male – was much paler than that, a little smaller also, and had a lot of white on the wings, and a gray tail with a white edge and sides. This bird is nowhere common in its range, which comprises three geographically separated populations: in western Mexico, eastern Mexico, and Central America. There was a female Rose-throated Becard around as well. A little bigger and with a completely rufous tail, it wasn’t a female Gray-collared.

Regular readers of this blog have seen several posted Blue-throated Motmot photos by now, another bird that is supposed to be uncommon. We’ve encountered it now at three different sites and I wonder if it is really so uncommon here. It’s not a bird we actively search for, but occasionally stumble upon. I have never heard one vocalize, I usually just see it sitting quietly in a tree somewhere. They have a tranquil beauty and presence all of their own, and even without tail streamers they are still my favorite motmot (photo top).

Birds we see more often and hear practically all the time at most of our Chiapas field sites are Mountain Trogons.

The understory in the forest that we surveyed today had lots of flowers, and consequently lots of hummingbirds. This is a Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

Pelicans of course are common birds in pine-oak forests, often seen nimbly catching insects hidden away in needle clusters… No, wait a minute – that seems wrong.

This Brown Pelican was about the last bird I expected to see here, but there it was! I don’t think I’d ever seen one away from salt water. Maybe this bird – a young ‘un – got lost and found itself high in the mountains of Chiapas, looking for a place to fish. It circled for 10 minutes over La Laguna Verde, the local pond that serves as a centro ecoturístico, before it decided the pond was too small and moved on.

We saw birds there that fish on smaller prey, like these Least Grebes.

The goldencheek we found while scouting for future locations, after we had already described the first flock here. We’ll probably return there sometime in the days ahead, though not tomorrow. Tomorrow a local forestry official will take us to a part of the reserve that is a little too far to walk, but which apparently also has the Golden-cheeked Warbler among the members of its bird community.

Other warblers of note that we have seen here this first day are a Magnolia Warbler (generally more common at lower elevations), already three Black-throated Green Warblers (maybe more common here?) and a couple of Nashville Warblers, a rather uncommon species at the sites around San Cristóbal.

Note: we didn’t find any internet here in Coapilla the first few days, so it may take a while for these posts to appear on the blog.

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