VERACRUZ 2010: The Journey South

Oct 5th – This morning we made a special trip to see another Mexican endemic, the very local Sumichrast’s Wren. This large wren is only found in forested areas with karst outcrops and caves in a very small area of Veracruz, Puebla, and Oaxaca. We drove from Cardel at sea level, to the town of Amatlan (near Córdoba), at about 1000 meters, and then to the hills just east of town. This is a well-known spot for the wren, among other nice birds.

We arrived early and hiked in a bit on the trail. We heard our target bird calling uphill, and walked closer to find it. It continued calling above the coffee plantation and into the edge of the forest. The vegetation was thick, and a machete would have come in handy, but we made our way closer, and sure enough when the karst became prominent, with all its caves and nooks and crannies, the Sumichrast’s Wren appeared! It moved with ease and agility among the rocks, walking and jumping on vertical surfaces using its very strong legs. We enjoyed good looks at the bird, then headed back downhill to seek some of the other birds in the area, before the long drive to Catemaco. We had great looks at Fan-tailed Warbler, another endemic that favors this type of rocky and forested habitat. White-crowned Parrots, Red-billed Pigeon, and Montezuma Oropendolas were common, and we even saw a male Northern Cardinal on the way out.

After a couple of hours on the highway, we made our way to sea level again to Las Barrancas, one of our favorite sites, made up of natural savanna, seasonal wetlands, and scrub forest. We quickly found three of our target birds: Aplomado Falcon (above), Double-striped Thick-knee (below), both favorites for the group, and then Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, which is fairly common here and easily distinguished from Turkey Vulture with practice.

Moving down the road, we added many herons and egrets, including abundant Yellow-crowned Night-Herons, and a handsome Limpkin. We stopped in a small forest patch to hear, then see, a Yellow-bellied Eleania. At several roadside wetlands and a large lagoon we saw many Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, Northern Jacana, and other waterbirds.

Back on the highway, as we passed through the flood plain of local rivers, we had an immature Great Black-Hawk, another target bird of the area. This region of marsh and seasonal wetlands, near the small city of Lerdo de Tejada, had suffered from recent flooding associated with two hurricanes. What is normally wetlands was now a huge lake. The streets of the town were flooded, with water rising half-way up some of the houses and buildings. Some unlucky vehicles (above) were floating into the wetlands. We were fortunate as the water level had subsided and the highway was open for us to traverse.

We made our way south towards Catemaco, and after a detour to avoid backed up tractor-trailer traffic, we arrived in Catemaco. En route, we stopped a few times on the scenic road for perched Red-lored Parrots and later Keel-billed Toucan and Bat Falcon. As we passed the UNAM biological Station at sunset (our site for the following morning), we looked for owls, and soon thereafter saw the local pair of Black-and-White Owls.

By nightfall we had covered many miles, but had a great day, with gorgeous scenery, amazing diversity, and 100 species tallied!

report © robert straub
all photos © Peter Kyne & Micha Jackson

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