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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Mexico: Oaxaca and Western Chiapas

2020 Narrative

In Brief: Our tour of Oaxaca and western Chiapas is designed to sample a variety of habitats and many of the specialty birds of the region. Beginning in Tuxtla Gutierrez, our birding ranged from the bamboo-choked woodland at SumideroCanyon to the high-elevation pine-oak forests of San Cristobal to the humid rainforest at El Ocote, with birds like Belted Flycatcher, Pink-headed Warbler, and Nava’s Wren keeping us duly entertained. From Tuxtla, we descended to the Pacific slope, through gorgeous Rosita’s Buntings to conspicuous Giant Wrens and White-bellied Chachalacas. Heading across the isthmus of Tehuantepec, habitats and birdlife changed dramatically. Although our time in Oaxaca was cut short this year, we managed to see a number of specialties including Ocellated Thrasher, Boucard’s Wren, and Bridled Sparrow – not a bad haul, and we were certainly yearning for more of what this special region has to offer! Add to these great birds an easygoing group, no logistical hiccups, and great food, and it’s easy to see why this tour deserves its popularity. I’m excited to come back next year!

In Detail: Our tour through southern Mexico began, as usual, in the bustling city of Tuxtla Gutierrez. From here, we had ample opportunity to survey the wide range of nearby habitats over the coming days. Starting at the incredibly scenic SumideroCanyon, we got accustomed to the conspicuous White-throated Magpie-Jays, savored Russet-crowned Motmots in the scope,and started practicing oriole identification with the many Streak-backed. Birding here can be quiet, and it takes some time to pull out the real prizes. At least two calling Red-breasted Chats remained hidden (for now!), but we certainly enjoyed a startling view of a snazzy Belted Flycatcher that rocketed in above our heads!

The afternoon was spent at the famous Tuxtla zoo, which we visit primarily to gawk at the semi-wild (?!) Great Curassows and Crested Guans, along with throngs of Plain Chachalacas.

Changing gears, the next day was spent exploring the cool pine forests around the town of San Cristobal, about an hour east of Tuxtla. A new reserve just outside town provides habitat for the much-desired Pink-headed Warbler, and we were glad to score this little stunner after quite a bit of effort! Impressive numbers of Rufous-collared Thrushes were moving overhead, and we managed to pull out several other nice birds including Garnet-throated Hummingbird, Strong-billed Woodcreeper, Tufted, Hammond’s, and Yellowish Flycatchers, Unicolored Jay, Black-capped Swallow, Band-backed Wren, and several attractive warblers including Crescent-chested, Townsend’s, Hermit, and Red-faced. As pleasant as the sun is, it really shuts down bird activity, so we headed into town for a delicious lunch and continued to work hard for birds during the afternoon. A stunning Blue-throated Motmot was more than enough to keep us happy, as was an incredibly cooperative Bearded Screech-Owl after dinner!

Back to Sumidero the next day, where we started off quite well: Rusty Sparrow from the bus, a stunning Guatemalan Yellow Grosbeak during breakfast, followed in quick succession by a male Red-breasted Chat flitting around at nearly arms length and mega bonus Blue Seedeater in the same bush! We continued to the upper overlook to enjoy a productive fruiting tree, with amazing eye-level views of Northern Emerald-Toucanet, Yellow-throated Euphonia, Yellow-olive Flycatcher, and Yellow-winged Tanagers. A sneaky Blue-and-white Mockingbird played hard-to-get, while Berylline, Buff-bellied, and Azure-crowned Hummingbirds zipped around the canopy. It was a fantastic morning, and we continued our lucky streak at El Ocote in the afternoon with a Nava’s Wren doing knee-bends on an open branch in front of us, after considerable effort. Awesome!

We departed from Tuxtla the next morning and headed to our next base, Arriaga, via some productive morning birding again at El Ocote. Here we again scored views of Nava’s Wren, the main target at this site, and we appreciated prolonged scope views of a Green Shrike-Vireo singing in the canopy. Birding in this forest was quite a bit more difficult than the past few days, so we had to work hard for fast birds moving through the treetops. Highlights included great views of Collared Trogon, Barred Antshrike, a very responsive Ivory-billed Woodcreeper, the beautiful songs of Slate-colored Solitaires echoing around us, tons of Black-faced Grosbeaks, noisy Black-headed Saltators, and new-for-the-tour Golden-hooded Tanager!

Soon it was time to continue to Arriaga, where our lunch stop produced Rosita’s Bunting just as planned. We returned here in the afternoon to ogle the amazing buntings yet again – this surely must be one of the most beautiful birds in the world! A male perched in the open, singing, below eye-level, for nearly a half-hour of undisturbed scope views. Wow! The nearby Orange-breasted Buntings were hardly an eyesore, either, and a local Green-fronted Hummingbird was just icing on the cake.

The next two days saw us birding in the coastal lowlands around Puerto Arista and El Paredon, which held a whole new suite of birds. Various coastal spots padded our list with Reddish Egret, lots of Wood Storks and White Ibis, Magnificent Frigatebirds, some shorebirds including Whimbrel and Marbled Godwit, and a surprise Black Tern, among other things! The main target in this area is the impressive Giant Wren, which proved quite easy and cooperative, bouncing around the fencerows, bushes, and smack in the middle of the road. The supporting cast was just as fun, with loads of Western Kingbirds, Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, and Cliff and Cave Swallows migrating overhead, White-bellied Chachalacas crashing around the trees, Northern Bobwhites scurrying on the ground, Double-striped Thick-knees resting in the shade, and gorgeous Bare-throated Tiger-Herons stalking in roadside pools. We even connected with the should-be-split Ridgway’s Flycatcher, which sounds very different from Nutting’s, and a nice pair of Citreoline Trogons.

A long afternoon drive brought us to Tehuantepec, where we scrambled to re-organize our travel plans around the upcoming travel restrictions caused by the coronavirus. Despite this very unfortunate change of plans, we managed to scrape together a chock-full day of birding from Tehuantepec to Oaxaca, starting with stunning views of Cinnamon-tailed (Sumichrast’s) Sparrow, Doubleday’s (Broad-billed) Hummingbird, and “real” Nutting’s Flycatcher (in contrast to the Ridgway’s yesterday)just outside of town. We were delighted by a random roadside Lesser Roadrunner somewhere on the way to Oaxaca; it even let us all exit the bus and gawk at it perched in a tree just a few yards away! We made a quick pre-lunch stop just as we entered the Oaxaca Valley, where we picked up Woodhouses’s (Sumichrast’s) Scrub-Jays and an Ocellated Thrasher perched up despite the mid-day sun and heat…wow!

Our lunch stop at Rancho Zapata also produced some nice endemics, including Boucard’s Wren, Gray-breasted Woodpecker, White-throated Towhee, and the strange local House Finches (they really look different!). My plan to do a big loop above Teotitlan was perhaps a bit ambitious, although we made it into the pine forests and some people connected with an abnormally sneaky Red Warbler, and we added a few other species like Peregrine Falcon, Loggerhead Shrike, Bushtit, and Red Crossbill. We barely scraped a pair of Bridled Sparrows just after the sun set, and continued on to the hotel in Oaxaca for our unfortunately-too-soon farewell dinner.

Thank you, everyone, for your understanding and patience as we navigated the logistical challenges posed by the coronavirus situation. It was a spectacular tour before it was cut short, and I hope our paths cross in the future!

-    Luke Seitz



Created: 20 April 2020