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The stone work at Mitla was engineered by the Zapotecas to withstand the sporadic earthquakes several hundred years ago, and they were still able to maintain the strong symbolism of the art. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
This year saw the return of the Christmas in Oaxaca tour to the Field Guides schedule, and it was a wonderful return indeed. From the chilly mornings in the ethereal pine forests of Cerro San Felipe, to the thorn scrub that rims the valley around Oaxaca City, and the fantastic centuries old Zapotec ruins, it was a truly memorable week in this fascinating corner of Mexico.
We spent the entire tour based out of our comfortable accommodations at the Hotel Mission de San Antonio, which not only had good food, but provided us with good birding to boot.
Our first day of birding saw us working the area around the town of Teotitlan del Valle, to the east of Oaxaca City. This area is world-renowned for its skilled textile workers, though we wouldn’t explore that aspect of their culture quite this early in the tour – there were still so many birds we had yet to see! Birding the road on the way into Teotitlan was rewarding right off the bat, starting with several Mexican endemics, including our only Boucard’s Wrens of the tour, which put on quite a show, and our first Gray-breasted Woodpeckers and Dusky Hummingbirds. Blue-black Grassquit, a species we don’t usually encounter on the tour, was a surprise here, and we got good looks at several species of sparrow, including Lincoln’s, and our only Grasshopper and Vesper sparrows of the week. The reservoir in Teotitlan had a higher-than-normal water level, but we still pulled out a few birds of interest, especially at the stream that feeds it, where we got a phenomenally cooperative Louisiana Waterthrush and our only “Myrtle” Warbler of the week- a familiar sight to the easterners on tour. It was also the start of our week-long barrage of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. Our first shot at the specialty vireos was successful almost immediately, with the oft-difficult Dwarf Vireo responding quickly and showing well for all. We also got stellar looks at a pair of handsome Bridled Sparrows nearby. We continued working up the hillside, ending in a picnic lunch at the top, but not before picking up some more odds and ends at Rio Verde, including cooperative Rufous-capped Warblers and Blue-throated Hummingbird.
Our next day was our full day birding Cerro San Felipe, starting at Pollo Niño and working our way up to La Cumbre, where we hiked in on the Cabeza de Vaca trail. The misty pine forest, at more than 9,000 feet above sea level, was one of the most beautiful settings of the tour. The vibrant pink and yellow thistle flowers were a welcome (and awe-inspiring) shock of color in the overcast morning, as were native wild tomatoes growing as vines up some of the old growth trees. We also had some great birds here, with Dwarf Jay, the charismatic Gray-barred Wrens, White-eared Hummingbirds and a symphony of singing Mexican Violetears being some of the most unique or memorable. A picnic lunch at Corral de Piedras produced more than just calories, as we got good views of Mountain Trogon and Strong-billed Woodcreeper, our only experiences with both of these species during the tour. It was also a great day for warbler diversity, with eleven species. Dinner was at Asador Vasco, a Basque restaurant on the Zocalo in the center of the city.
Day three began with our farthest flung destination, as we dropped into some more dry coastal habitat of the Pacific slope. Km 77 was one of our most bird-rich mornings of the trip, with one great bird after another in quick succession throughout our couple of hours at the site. Russet-crowned Motmot was our first highlight, but we also had a few very exhibitionist Rufous-naped Wrens, great views of Streak-backed Orioles, repeated great views of spiffy White-lored Gnatcatchers, Green-fronted Hummingbird, both Golden-fronted and Gray-breasted woodpeckers, Thick-billed Kingbird, and a small group of showy White-throated Magpie-Jays. The Magpie-Jays would’ve been in the running for favorite bird of that morning, but for the appearance and cooperation of a pair of drop-dead gorgeous Orange-breasted Buntings. The male perched in view for a good long while, allowing us to bask in its vivid color palette, and discovering some new shade of brilliant green or blue or orange or yellow each time we took another look in the scope. Then it was off to Rancho Zapata for a demonstration on how they make Mezcal, the trademark liquor of this region, before an ample and delectable lunch. We then continued onto the archaeological sites of Mitla and Yagul, both of which were fascinating from a cultural, architectural, and anthropological perspective, and the latter of which also provided us with a vocal and cooperative Lesser Roadrunner that Dan pulled out of the thorn scrub of the hillside.
The fourth day brought us back to Teotitlan, where we got our third and final endemic vireo of the tour, Slaty Vireo, and also found Sumichrast’s Scrub-Jay, West Mexican Chachalaca, Greater Pewee, and a good mix of migrants. Rio Verde and the road above was again good for us, with Chestnut-sided Shrike-Vireo, great views of Chestnut-capped Brushfinch, a very cooperative Slate-throated Redstart, great White-striped Woodcreeper, White-breasted Nuthatch, and a Grace’s Warbler. We then went back down into the town, where we were served lunch, and then provided with a demonstration of wool work, by the incomparable Mendoza sisters. Deciding which was better, the food or the textile work, would be a difficult one, but luckily we didn’t have to choose!
Our penultimate day of birding dawned as we headed over to the most iconic cultural site in the region: the ruins of Monte Albán, in Oaxaca City. Our primary avian target here was the always difficult Ocellated Thrasher, and we would eventually get it from inside the ruins with the help of Jorge, though it did take attempts in several different places both inside and outside the grounds. Jorge gave a great interpretive tour of the ruins, and our eventual thrasher success happened to occur right under a tree that was loaded with mistletoe and hosted a pair of exceptionally cooperative Elegant Euphonias. Lunch and then a break at the hotel turned into lunch and then birding, since on the way to lunch Dan heard a Blue Mockingbird that we went to track down as a group after we ate. In addition to the mockingbird, we had a couple of cooperative Rufous-backed Robins, and a very inquisitive Golden Vireo—an amazing collection of birds for such a small patch of habitat, in the middle of the city no less. After that, those who chose to spend an afternoon and evening back up at Cerro San Felipe came for an owling jaunt. On the way up a couple of Dwarf Jays showed well, but the real stars of the show (in addition to the picnic dinner and the warm drinks) were a pair of Fulvous Owls, a Flammulated Owl, and a very active Mexican Whip-poor-will, as well as the glowing night’s sky which we spent a little time looking at through the scope before the chill wind sent us running for the heat and shelter of the van.
Our final day of birding together took us back up to La Cumbre, but this time we went east along the road to Yuvila. We started out by hearing some Long-tailed Wood-Partridges here, though they were far downslope, and they never got quite close enough for us to see them. One of the major highlights for this morning was being serenaded by the constant tinkling of Brown-backed Solitaires, which have what must be one of the most striking and memorable birdsongs in the entire world. Other highlights here were a great Spot-crowned Woodcreeper at point-blank range, a good pair of Collared Towhees, a boisterous flock of the “Black-eared” Bushtits (candidates for a split, anyone?), the stricklandi subspecies of Red Crossbill, an atypically cooperative Russet Nightingale-Thrush, and close views of a male Crescent-chested Warbler. We then ate lunch at the Colibri restaurant on the other slope of the mountain, where we enjoyed yet more great Oaxacan fare, as well as some exceptionally close Rivoli’s Hummingbirds coming to the feeder out front.
Thus wrapped up a stupendously successful holiday week in Oaxaca. From birds, to food, to culture, to landscapes, to more birds, this was a lovely voyage through this exceptionally interesting region. Dan and I were overjoyed to have the privilege of spending our Christmas holiday with such a splendid group. We both sincerely look forward to meeting you in the field again, somewhere on this wonderful planet of ours.
KEYS FOR THIS LIST
One of the following keys may be shown in brackets for individual species as appropriate: * = heard only, I = introduced, E = endemic, N = nesting, a = austral migrant, b = boreal migrant
Wow! What.A.Bird. Gasps and exclamations of joy far outweighted coherent words while this Orange-breasted Bunting was in view! Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
Anatidae (Ducks, Geese, and Waterfowl)
BLUE-WINGED TEAL (Spatula discors)
GREEN-WINGED TEAL (Anas crecca)
RUDDY DUCK (Oxyura jamaicensis)
Cracidae (Guans, Chachalacas, and Curassows)
WEST MEXICAN CHACHALACA (Ortalis poliocephala)
A morning at Monte Albán is always a morning well spent! Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
Odontophoridae (New World Quail)
LONG-TAILED WOOD-PARTRIDGE (Dendrortyx macroura) [*]
LEAST GREBE (Tachybaptus dominicus)
Here's a compilation of video clips from our excellent week in Oaxaca. Much fun was had! Video clips by guides Doug Gochfeld and Dan Lane.
Ardeidae (Herons, Egrets, and Bitterns)
GREAT BLUE HERON (Ardea herodias)
GREAT EGRET (Ardea alba)
SNOWY EGRET (Egretta thula)
LITTLE BLUE HERON (Egretta caerulea)
CATTLE EGRET (Bubulcus ibis)
GREEN HERON (Butorides virescens)
Cathartidae (New World Vultures)
BLACK VULTURE (Coragyps atratus)
TURKEY VULTURE (Cathartes aura)
Accipitridae (Hawks, Eagles, and Kites)
WHITE-TAILED KITE (Elanus leucurus)
NORTHERN HARRIER (Circus hudsonius)
RED-TAILED HAWK (Buteo jamaicensis)
These amazing flowers were interspersed throughout our first morning hike in the pine forest of Cerro San Felipe, and, believe it or not, they belong to thistle plants! Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
Rallidae (Rails, Gallinules, and Coots)
AMERICAN COOT (Fulica americana)
Charadriidae (Plovers and Lapwings)
KILLDEER (Charadrius vociferus)
Scolopacidae (Sandpipers and Allies)
LEAST SANDPIPER (Calidris minutilla)
SPOTTED SANDPIPER (Actitis macularius)
Columbidae (Pigeons and Doves)
ROCK PIGEON (Columba livia)
BAND-TAILED PIGEON (Patagioenas fasciata) [E]
INCA DOVE (Columbina inca)
It took a few days, but we finally found a Blue Mockingbird that was cooperative, on the hotel grounds no less! Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
COMMON GROUND-DOVE (Columbina passerina)
WHITE-WINGED DOVE (Zenaida asiatica)
MOURNING DOVE (Zenaida macroura)
LESSER ROADRUNNER (Geococcyx velox) [E]
FLAMMULATED OWL (Psiloscops flammeolus)
NORTHERN PYGMY-OWL (MOUNTAIN) (Glaucidium gnoma gnoma) [*]
FULVOUS OWL (Strix fulvescens)
Caprimulgidae (Nightjars and Allies)
MEXICAN WHIP-POOR-WILL (Antrostomus arizonae)
WHITE-THROATED SWIFT (Aeronautes saxatalis)
We got great views of the Mexican endemic Dusky Hummingbird at several locations on the tour. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
MEXICAN VIOLETEAR (Colibri thalassinus) [I]
The cheery streets of Oaxaca City can brighten up anyone's day! Photo by participant Jan Mersey.
RIVOLI'S HUMMINGBIRD (Eugenes fulgens)
BLUE-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD (Lampornis clemenciae)
RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD (Archilochus colubris)
DUSKY HUMMINGBIRD (Cynanthus sordidus) [E]
BERYLLINE HUMMINGBIRD (Amazilia beryllina)
GREEN-FRONTED HUMMINGBIRD (Amazilia viridifrons) [E]
WHITE-EARED HUMMINGBIRD (Hylocharis leucotis)
MOUNTAIN TROGON (Trogon mexicanus)
RUSSET-CROWNED MOTMOT (Momotus mexicanus)
GREEN KINGFISHER (Chloroceryle americana)
Gray-breasted Woodpecker is one of the endemics that we most frequently encountered in desert habitats. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
GRAY-BREASTED WOODPECKER (Melanerpes hypopolius) [E]
GOLDEN-FRONTED WOODPECKER (WEST MEXICO) (Melanerpes aurifrons polygrammus)
LADDER-BACKED WOODPECKER (Picoides scalaris)
HAIRY WOODPECKER (SOUTH MEXICAN) (Picoides villosus jardinii) [*]
NORTHERN FLICKER (RED-SHAFTED) (Colaptes auratus mexicanus)
Slaty Vireo! One of the most wanted of the endemics in Oaxaca, and with great reason- just look at that understated dark gray suit with those bold lemon-lime accents and that judgemental eye! Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
Falconidae (Falcons and Caracaras)
CRESTED CARACARA (Caracara cheriway)
AMERICAN KESTREL (Falco sparverius)
MERLIN (Falco columbarius)
PEREGRINE FALCON (Falco peregrinus)
Just look at the bill on this Strong-billed Woodcreeper! This also captures the misty, mossy ambiance of the high elevation pine forest to the north of Oaxaca City quite well. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
Furnariidae (Ovenbirds and Woodcreepers)
STRONG-BILLED WOODCREEPER (CENTRAL AMERICAN) (Xiphocolaptes promeropirhynchus sclateri)
WHITE-STRIPED WOODCREEPER (Lepidocolaptes leucogaster)
We had a fantastic experience with this Spot-crowned Woodcreeper along the road to Yuvila on our final morning. It flew in unprompted and landed in the trees closest to the road, where it then foraged seemingly oblivious to our presence. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
SPOT-CROWNED WOODCREEPER (NORTHERN) (Lepidocolaptes affinis affinis) [E]
Male Vermilion Flycatcher is one of the most stunning birds there is. Luckily, we had a couple right outside the rooms at our hotel. This one was captured nicely by participant Jan Mersey.
Tyrannidae (Tyrant Flycatchers)
GREENISH ELAENIA (Myiopagis viridicata) [*]
TUFTED FLYCATCHER (Mitrephanes phaeocercus) [*]
GREATER PEWEE (Contopus pertinax)
LEAST FLYCATCHER (Empidonax minimus)
HAMMOND'S FLYCATCHER (Empidonax hammondii)
DUSKY FLYCATCHER (Empidonax oberholseri)
CORDILLERAN FLYCATCHER (Empidonax occidentalis)
BLACK PHOEBE (Sayornis nigricans)
VERMILION FLYCATCHER (Pyrocephalus rubinus)
DUSKY-CAPPED FLYCATCHER (Myiarchus tuberculifer)
ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHER (Myiarchus cinerascens)
NUTTING'S FLYCATCHER (NUTTING'S) (Myiarchus nuttingi inquietus)
GREAT KISKADEE (Pitangus sulphuratus)
SOCIAL FLYCATCHER (SOCIAL) (Myiozetetes similis pallidiventris)
TROPICAL KINGBIRD (Tyrannus melancholicus)
CASSIN'S KINGBIRD (Tyrannus vociferans) [E]
THICK-BILLED KINGBIRD (Tyrannus crassirostris)
WESTERN KINGBIRD (Tyrannus verticalis)
We lucked into a great experience with White-throated Magpie-Jays at km77, and they eventually escorted us about a half a mile all the way back to the vans. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
Vireonidae (Vireos, Shrike-Babblers, and Erpornis)
CHESTNUT-SIDED SHRIKE-VIREO (Vireolanius melitophrys) [E]
GOLDEN VIREO (Vireo hypochryseus) [E]
This Golden Vireo was uncharacteristically inquisitive on the grounds of our hotel in the heart of Oaxaca City! Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
SLATY VIREO (Vireo brevipennis)
DWARF VIREO (Vireo nelsoni)
HUTTON'S VIREO (Vireo huttoni) [E]
CASSIN'S VIREO (Vireo cassinii)
BLUE-HEADED VIREO (Vireo solitarius)
WARBLING VIREO (Vireo gilvus)
Corvidae (Crows, Jays, and Magpies)
DWARF JAY (Cyanolyca nanus) [E]
WHITE-THROATED MAGPIE-JAY (Calocitta formosa) [E]
STELLER'S JAY (CENTRAL AMERICAN) (Cyanocitta stelleri coronata) [E]
WOODHOUSE'S SCRUB-JAY (SUMICHRAST'S) (Aphelocoma woodhouseii sumichrasti)
COMMON RAVEN (Corvus corax) [*]
NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOW (Stelgidopteryx serripennis)
VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOW (Tachycineta thalassina)
Paridae (Tits, Chickadees, and Titmice)
MEXICAN CHICKADEE (Poecile sclateri)
The Bushtits in Oaxaca sure don't look like the ones from north of the border, even though they're still classed by many authorities as the same species! Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
Aegithalidae (Long-tailed Tits)
BUSHTIT (MELANOTIS GROUP) (Psaltriparus minimus melanotis)
WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCH (INTERIOR WEST) (Sitta carolinensis mexicana)
BROWN CREEPER (ALBESCENS/ALTICOLA) (Certhia americana alticola)
Rufous-naped Wrens were amazingly confiding and friendly at km77, where they put on a great show! Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
ROCK WREN (Salpinctes obsoletus)
CANYON WREN (Catherpes mexicanus) [*]
HOUSE WREN (NORTHERN) (Troglodytes aedon parkmanii) [*]
HOUSE WREN (BROWN-THROATED) (Troglodytes aedon brunneicollis)
BEWICK'S WREN (Thryomanes bewickii)
GRAY-BARRED WREN (Campylorhynchus megalopterus)
RUFOUS-NAPED WREN (SCLATER'S) (Campylorhynchus rufinucha humilis)
BOUCARD'S WREN (Campylorhynchus jocosus) [E]
GRAY-BREASTED WOOD-WREN (CENTRAL AMERICAN) (Henicorhina leucophrys festiva)
This Gray-breasted Wood-Wren put on an astoundingly good show at Cerro San Felipe. Often you just see them as a blur as they loudly taunt you from close range with their resonant song! Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER (Polioptila caerulea)
WHITE-LORED GNATCATCHER (Polioptila albiloris)
The grounds of the Tule Tree, and the impressive tree itself to the left. Photograph by guide Dan Lane.
GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLET (Regulus satrapa) [E]
RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET (Regulus calendula)
Turdidae (Thrushes and Allies)
BROWN-BACKED SOLITAIRE (Myadestes occidentalis)
ORANGE-BILLED NIGHTINGALE-THRUSH (Catharus aurantiirostris)
RUSSET NIGHTINGALE-THRUSH (Catharus occidentalis)
CLAY-COLORED THRUSH (Turdus grayi)
RUFOUS-BACKED ROBIN (Turdus rufopalliatus)
AMERICAN ROBIN (MIGRATORIUS GROUP) (Turdus migratorius phillipsi) [E]
White-lored Gnatcatchers were pleasingly common amongst the abundant migrant Blue-gray Gnatcatchers in the wash. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
Mimidae (Mockingbirds and Thrashers)
BLUE MOCKINGBIRD (Melanotis caerulescens)
CURVE-BILLED THRASHER (CURVIROSTRE GROUP) (Toxostoma curvirostre curvirostre) [E]
OCELLATED THRASHER (Toxostoma ocellatum)
NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD (Mimus polyglottos)
Participant Jan Mersey wonderfully captured this Rufous-backed Robin.
GRAY SILKY-FLYCATCHER (Ptiliogonys cinereus)
Peucedramidae (Olive Warbler)
OLIVE WARBLER (Peucedramus taeniatus)
Parulidae (New World Warblers)
LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH (Parkesia motacilla) [I]
BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER (Mniotilta varia)
CRESCENT-CHESTED WARBLER (Oreothlypis superciliosa)
ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER (Oreothlypis celata)
NASHVILLE WARBLER (Oreothlypis ruficapilla)
VIRGINIA'S WARBLER (Oreothlypis virginiae) [E]
MACGILLIVRAY'S WARBLER (Geothlypis tolmiei) [*]
YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER (MYRTLE) (Setophaga coronata coronata)
YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER (AUDUBON'S) (Setophaga coronata auduboni)
GRACE'S WARBLER (Setophaga graciae)
BLACK-THROATED GRAY WARBLER (Setophaga nigrescens)
Streak-backed Orioles didn't play hard to get during our morning at km 77. What a beaut! Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
TOWNSEND'S WARBLER (Setophaga townsendi)
HERMIT WARBLER (Setophaga occidentalis)
RUFOUS-CAPPED WARBLER (RUFIFRONS GROUP) (Basileuterus rufifrons rufifrons)
GOLDEN-BROWED WARBLER (Basileuterus belli)
WILSON'S WARBLER (Cardellina pusilla) [E]
RED WARBLER (Cardellina rubra)
Golden-browed Warbler was surely one of the snazziest looking birds on a tour filled with snazzy birds. Photo by participant Jan Mersey.
PAINTED REDSTART (Myioborus pictus)
SLATE-THROATED REDSTART (Myioborus miniatus miniatus)
Thraupidae (Tanagers and Allies)
BLUE-BLACK GRASSQUIT (Volatinia jacarina)
Passerellidae (New World Buntings and Sparrows)
BRIDLED SPARROW (Peucaea mystacalis)
GRASSHOPPER SPARROW (Ammodramus savannarum)
CHIPPING SPARROW (Spizella passerina) [E]
LARK SPARROW (Chondestes grammacus)
CHESTNUT-CAPPED BRUSHFINCH (CHESTNUT-CAPPED) (Arremon brunneinucha suttoni) [E]
YELLOW-EYED JUNCO (Junco phaeonotus)
VESPER SPARROW (Pooecetes gramineus)
LINCOLN'S SPARROW (Melospiza lincolnii) [E]
WHITE-THROATED TOWHEE (Melozone albicollis)
RUFOUS-CROWNED SPARROW (Aimophila ruficeps)
OAXACA SPARROW (Aimophila notosticta) [E]
COLLARED TOWHEE (Pipilo ocai) [E]
Bridled Sparrow is one of the most handsome sparrows there is, even when you can't see its bright rufous back. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
Cardinalidae (Cardinals and Allies)
HEPATIC TANAGER (NORTHERN) (Piranga flava hepatica)
SUMMER TANAGER (Piranga rubra)
WESTERN TANAGER (Piranga ludoviciana)
BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK (Pheucticus melanocephalus)
BLUE GROSBEAK (Passerina caerulea)
INDIGO BUNTING (Passerina cyanea)
ORANGE-BREASTED BUNTING (Passerina leclancherii)
VARIED BUNTING (Passerina versicolor)
Icteridae (Troupials and Allies)
BLACK-VENTED ORIOLE (Icterus wagleri)
HOODED ORIOLE (Icterus cucullatus)
STREAK-BACKED ORIOLE (Icterus pustulatus)
BULLOCK'S ORIOLE (Icterus bullockii)
SCOTT'S ORIOLE (Icterus parisorum)
BRONZED COWBIRD (Molothrus aeneus)
GREAT-TAILED GRACKLE (Quiscalus mexicanus)
This aptly named Elegant Euphonia foraged its way through the large tangle of mistletoe that had weaved itself seemlessly into the tapestry of a tree in a corner of the main ruins at Monte Alban. It also may have been responsible for creating some new birders, as many passerbys stopped and gawked up into the tree to try and see what we were all looking so intently at. Most of these folks who would have otherwise walked right by it without a second glance were really turned on by this guy! Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
Fringillidae (Finches, Euphonias, and Allies)
ELEGANT EUPHONIA (Euphonia elegantissima)
HOUSE FINCH (COMMON) (Haemorhous mexicanus roseipectus)
RED CROSSBILL (Loxia curvirostra stricklandi)
LESSER GOLDFINCH (Spinus psaltria)
Passeridae (Old World Sparrows)
HOUSE SPARROW (Passer domesticus)
The group after a delightful morning at the truly impressive Zapoteca ruins of Monte Alban. Photo by local guide Jorge Herrera.
MEXICAN GRAY SQUIRREL (Sciurus aureogaster)
Totals for the tour: 170 bird taxa and 1 mammal taxa