Saturday, July 25, 2015
Chiapas, Mexico - Tapalapa, Field Trip Number 2
On our second field trip, we were scheduled to visit the Tapalapa area. This is a small town situated high in cloud forest mountains north of Tuxtla. It was a 3 hour ride just to get there and was the trip that had the earliest departure. Elevation is over 7000 feet and the altitude harbors a different host of birds and plants than the visit to San Cristóbal from the day before.
What I was quickly learning is the fact that photographing birds in the tropics is tricky. First one has to deal with intermittent rain and in this location, being in the clouds (or fog, if you prefer), dense vegetation for the most part, and in our case a group of about 10 plus the guide, adds a lot of other dimensions to the photography action. In my case, since most of these birds were new birds to me, I wanted to see and observe the bird first through my binoculars so I could at least pick out some of the key field marks so I would feel like I at least learned something about that species. Many times, by the time I got my camera up and focused, the bird might be gone. So once again, I did not come away with many photos of birds on this day.
The Brown-backed Solitaire was easy to view and is related to the Townsend's Solitaire that we have in Arizona. The family of solitaires are closely related to the bluebirds of North America.
A bird that was not even on our radar for this area was the Mountain Elaenia.The northern most range for this species has always been Guatemala, until the day before when our guide, Rich Hoyer, led another group to this location and was shocked to find one here. It had never been documented in Mexico before. Today was no exception and he was able to detect at least 4 of these birds. This was an added bonus lifebird for me as well as several others.
Nightingale-thrushes are a rather secretive group of birds. They are easily heard and have beautiful songs; however, they most certainly do not like to be seen. We heard 3 different species and I got a view of the Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush but no photos. The Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush was a bit more cooperative; it at least appeared on a small branch in the shade for a brief time and I was at least able to capture a photo of this wonderful songster.
While eating lunch a small group of Black-throated Jays visited us, but they must have learned stealth from the thrushes as they did not come out of the trees. They remained about 2 to 3 feet deep into the branches. We got good looks, but photos left a lot to be desired. Guess this is typical behavior for them.
The Eye-ringed Flatbill is a flycatcher that belongs to the tyrant flycatcher family. Many flycatchers can be difficult to ID by site alone. Vocalizations are very instrumental in identifying many of these species. This bird is unique enough to identify with a visual sighting. Even my slightly blurred photo shows off the very distinct eye-ring, the large eye and the impression of a large head.
We had one more surprise just before we packed up to depart back to Tuxtla, a calling Mountain Trogon. The male was calling, but he was not going to allow any of us a look at him, so we had to settle on a female high up in the tree. Some of the trogons in the tropics have to be identified by calls, but a view of the underside of the tail is really the key as they all have different patterns. Even though this female was high in the tree, the underside of the tail was very distinctive.
We had been advised that there were a plethora of butterflies in Chiapas and on this day reality set in as I started detecting many different butterflies. I am far from being a butterfly expert, but have learned a few species in Arizona. This was totally new and I did start taking photos of butterflies even if I did not know their names. I did get the name of this first one; Anna's Eighty Eight. A rather odd name for a butterfly, but once you see the underside of it's wings and see the 88 on it, then it makes perfect sense. And it was a stunner.
Anna's Eighty Eight
Cloud Forest Monarch Butterfly
Unknown Moth species
Tops of mountains in the distance showing we are above the clouds.
Gunnera species - Note how large this plant is - I am 6' 5"
Gunnera flower spike
Slate-throated Redstart nest
Our first two days were the higher elevation locations. This day resulted in 18 new life birds which was 3 more than the first day at San Cristóbal. The next trip was going to be El Sumiderdo National Park which is located just outside of Tuxtla and was going to result in a different set of birds.