At last, the long anticipated and planned trip for my very first neo-tropic birding expedition had arrived and I was on my way with birding friend from Tucson, Chris Rohrer. Our destination was Tuxtla Guitérrez, the capital of the state of Chiapas, in extreme southwestern Mexico. It required one full day of travel on 3 different flights to arrive. We were to take part in 5 pre-planned field trips, but we scheduled our arrival a day early and we wasted no time the next morning exploring a bit on our own at the Tuxtla Zoo and were joined by Ernie Welsh from NY.
I began this journey with 495 life birds and it did not take long to hit number 500 on my life list; a beautiful Altamira Oriole. What I discovered about birding in the tropics? Photography is much more challenging, due to dark, shady canopies, low light, heat, and humidity. And of course some of the birds are less likely to offer great photo opportunities than others. This oriole's range extends all the way to southern Texas and from what I have been told, they are a bit easier to photograph in TX as they are regular feeder birds there. Looks like a future trip to TX is definitely in order
The zoo is a great place to find birds flying and inhabiting the area as many know they are protected there and are used to humans. Since caged birds do not count on a life list, (at least on my list!) one has to have some knowledge and needs to assess what is natural and what is captive.
My number 499th bird was the Plain Chachalaca. Just love saying their name! They were quite common throughout the zoo and the surrounding area, including just outside the front entrance.
I quickly discovered that the wrens in this area have some awesome songs and the diversity of species was incredible. The first new wren of the trip was this Banded Wren that serenaded us near the entrance of the zoo.
Number 501 was one of my target birds before the trip even began; the Russet-crowned Motmot. It is a fairly common bird and before the trip ended, I was able to view many of these unique birds. But they are not always so eager to pose for photos. This one, was probably my closest viewing of this bird even though it was overcast and in the shade.
Another, but less common bird that has found sanctuary in and around the zoo grounds is the Crested Guan. Thankfully, they were accustomed to humans and were comfortable in this location or I might have missed out on this bird during my trip. This is a large bird at about 34" in length.
The Crested Guan above and the next bird; the Great Curassow, along with many others in this family, are extirpated and/or decimated due to habitat loss and over hunting and can be difficult to locate in their native habitat. The Great Curassow is even listed as 'threatened' by the IUCN, (International Union for Conservation of Nature). Luckily, this species has found the zoo grounds to be a safe haven and we were lucky enough to even observe a young chick that was being protected by its mother.
Great Curassow with chick
Great Curasso - Female
Great Curassow - Male
Another new bird for me that I have always wanted to see is the Green Jay. What a beautiful bird and it is another bird that is fairly common in southern Texas, so it is one I hope to also see when I make a trip to TX. What is interesting about this species, is that the birds in Texas have dark eyes, while the ones in southern Mexico have yellow eyes.
The last two species of birds depicted in photos for this post are birds that I already had on my life list. However, I was lacking a decent photo of either one. The Grove-billed Ani, is a bird that occasionally makes an appearance in Arizona, I was able to see this species for the first time at Sweetwater Wetlands in the Tucson area a couple of years ago, but the only photo I was able to get consisted of a black shape behind a bunch of green leaves. At least now we can see how it got its name with those grooves in the bill. This bird is fairly common in these parts of Mexico and before the trip was over, I was to see many more.
This last bird, is one that I had added to my life list as a 'heard' only bird a few years ago on a trip into Sonora, Mexico. They are a rather secretive dove and are more often heard than seen. Their call is reminiscent of blowing across the top of a wine bottle. Never had photos before, but finally I now have a photo of a White-tipped Dove.
This is just the beginning of an incredible journey and an amazing 118 new life birds for me. I hit the magical number of 500 on my first day and only 5 days later, I hit the more magical number 600 which will appear on a future blog post. While I was not able to photograph all the new species, I at least got good enough looks at all those that I added to my list to identify them. There were a few species that some of the guides saw and pointed out or heard, but if I did not see them well, then I did not add them to my list. Stay tuned for future posts, but it will be time consuming as I have many photos to process.