Fan-tailed Warbler

Fan-tailed Warbler

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Chiapas: El Ocote

The beginning of my 4th day of field trips, began earlier than I had planned by an early morning unexpected wake-up bodily call and the beginning of a visit by Montezuma's Revenge in the motel room.  So the day started out in a disastrous way for me, I even contemplated cancelling my day trip by staying back in the motel.  However, I was not sick in the stomach, I decided to try toughing it out.  After all, this was a trip to El Ocote a biosphere preserve about an hour or so northwest of the city of Tuxtla and probably the best location to find the endemic Nava's Wren.  So glad I went along on this day even though I did spend some time in the van with a couple of other participants that also felt ill that day.  I still added over 20 new life birds for the day

Nava's Wren; this is a very special bird that is not that easy to find.  Within its range, it might be a bit common, but it is far from easy to find in the dense undergrowth of the trees.  Usually the best bet in finding this bird is to hear its call notes.  See the reference to this bird straight out of the Howell & Webb Guide to Birds of Mexico and North Central America.  Note the range map that I have circled in red below.  It definitely has a small range and it is listed as 'vulnerable' due to habitat loss in such a small range. Also not that the illustration for this bird is also from the same book and it refers to bird number 19.  Being a bit under the weather, I did not spend as much time walking the roads and trails as I would have liked and due to that and the heavy overcast weather, photos were few and far between.  But our guide, Michael Retter, was extremely patient and when he found a Nava's Wren, he made sure everyone got a good look at it.  So I was able to add this bird to my life list even though no photos were taken.  Great bird and glad I was able to see one; it was a pretty special moment!

Nava's Wren from Howell and Webb bird guide to Mexico
By the way, this book is the guide book to have when birding in Mexico and northern Central America.  It is a fairly large book and a bit heavy to carry around, but really covers just about all the birds one is likely to encounter in this area:  A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America, by Steve N.G. Howell and Sophie Webb.

I did manage to get photos of a couple of other birds in this first area as well.  One of them was the Long-tailed Sabrewing, another endemic species to be found in this area.  This is another great example of our guides arriving a few days earlier and scouting many of these areas to look for and document where certain specialized species might be found.  This bird was found in pretty much the same location as it had been located during the scouting trip.

 Long-tailed Sabrewing

Long-tailed Sabrewing

Woodcreepers are a family of birds that are not represented in the United States.  They climb trunks of trees similar to woodpeckers and suggests a similarity to the family of creepers but they are not closely related.  They can be hard to identify as they are usually found on trunks of trees and high up in the trees and their color pattern is usually browns and rufous tones with varying degrees of spots or speckling.  Bill length is also key.  I had seen a couple of woodcreepers on our earlier El Sumidero trek, but on this trip to El Ocote, we were lucky enough to see the Olivaceous Woodcreeper and add it to our list and for a brief moment, it landed on a tree with whitish colored bark giving us a brief opportunity with a couple of photos.

Olivaceous Woodcreeper

This next bird is a stunning bird to see and I wish it would have cooperated a bit more for a better photo, however that was not to be.  We sighted it very early in the morning before any sunlight peaked through and of course it landed in a tree giving us views with it being backlit.  I had to overexpose the photo in Elements to get the colors to stand out and actually considered omitting this photo and bird on my post for this day.  But I finally decided that even a bad photo is better than no photo of such a stunning bird.  May I present to you my bad photo of a Crimson-collared Tanager?  

Crimson-collared Tanager

From the shade and cool damp forest areas of El Ocote, we ventured to an area to the south and east to a spot called Sima de las Cotorras.  This is a large limestone sinkhole that is 520 feet in diameter and 460 feet deep and is noted for the large numbers of Green Parakeets that reside in the trees growing from the floor of this sinkhole.  This was our last stop for the day and the noise of the parakeets was deafening as they came and went from the sinkhole.  This photo does do it justice, as it was very impressive.  

Along the far wall of the sinkhole a couple of our group spied a Bat Falcon on a perch.  Yes it was a long way away, but I did not hesitate to try for a fuzzy photo of this very sharp dress raptor.

Bat Falcon

Around the grasslands and trees above the sinkhole Northern Bobwhite were calling from every direction.  This is the same species as what we found in Nebraska when growing up in the southwest part of the state many decades ago.  However, this sub-species was very different in appearance than what I remember.  This sub-species is known as the 'Masked' Bobwhite.

 'Masked' Northern Bobwhite

 'Masked' Northern Bobwhite

Of the 5 field trips we participate in, this is the one that I would love to return to for another shot at it.  The fact that I was not at my full 100% health leaves me very disappointed in my enjoyment of the birds as I should have been.  In some respects, I felt like I was cheated from getting better views of the birds we found and I know it was due to the fact that I was not operating at 100%.  The next day was going to be La Sepultura with a much different habitat and I wanted to be at full health the next day for our final field trip.  And what a day that last trip turned out to be.  It was astounding and will have to cover it in at least 2 parts if not 3.  Better things will be forthcoming.



  1. Hi Gordon

    I stumbled onto your blog today and was interested in the location and other information regarding the "Masked Northern Bobwhite" you photographed. Did you see more than the one male, did you get photos of others, did you video tape any, were they calling; can you describe the habitat or do you have photos showing the area where you saw them?

    Thanks for any info.

    1. Hi David,
      Thanks for the comments. My photo of the 'Masked' Northern Bobwhite were taken at Sima de las Cotorras in the state of Chiapas, Mexico. Our tour group stopped here and there were several of them calling from the grasslands all around the are above the large sinkhole. If you type that name into Google maps, it will display a map with its location and if you change to the 'earth' mode, you will better see the sinkhole and the surrounding grasslands. Here is a Wikipedia link to more information about this place:

      Thank you.