Monday, December 22, 2008


After an excellent few days in Oaxaca (pronounced Wah-hah-kah), we´re moving further East. Though not as quickly as we had hoped thanks to all the buses being full up because of the holidays. Why couldn´t those bastard christians keep their crappy traditions to themselves instead of infecting most of the rest of the world.

Following our excellent day with Eric, we spent the next couple of days wandering around the village of Teotitlan del valle trying to catch up with a few more local specialties. The fields south of the village were fairly quiet but still we saw our first Blue Grosbeak and Western Wood-pewee.

By far the most productive area was around the reservoir just to the North of the village. Wandering around the roadside scrub and following cattle trails up onto the slopes gave us Bridled Sparrow and Ocellated Thrasher, 2 very range-restricted species, along with Audobons Oriole and Elegant Trogon at the southernmost extreme of their range (the birds in Central America are considered a sperate species by many, including me if I see one). We followed the road up the hill a bit further until we found a promising looking dry stream-bed leading up into the woods. Promising it most certainly was, we scored with a couple of Oaxaca Sparrows, a very difficult to see endemic, and I even got some acceptable photos, of which it seems there are none on the internet so far, i´ll be uploading them onto this blog as soon as I get some decent internet facilities, along with heaps of other shots of course.

We´re currently waiting outside Oaxaca bus station for a bus or three towards Palenque, which will be a very uncomfortabe 18 hours i´m sure. It should be worth it though as the avifauna will be totally different from anything we've seen so far, so I should have plenty more to write about. I'm also really looking forward to seeing the Maya ruins that the site is famous for, it will certainly make for an 'interesting' way to spend christmas. Bollocks to tradition!!!!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

1000 up!!!

OK, it may not be very spectacular compared to the efforts of The Biggest Twitch, but i'm proud of it (and I bet i'm owning them on birds per pound spent). Today, whilst birding in Oaxaca I saw my 1000th bird species THIS YEAR (EDIT:like a dumbass, when I originally wrote this post I forgot to mention that it was 1000 species this year. I have absolutely no idea what I have seen in total!!!), a White-throated Towhee, a Central Mexican Endemic.

We arrived in Oaxaca city early yesterday morning after another tortously long bus journey. We were picked up there by the living legend that is Eric Antonio Martinez, who we met volunteering at Long Point. Eric took us to his village, the birding hotspot of Teotitlan Del Valle, where we'll be staying for a few days. We went back into the City yesterday evening and had a goo look around the zocalo at all the cool old buildings. Whilst taking a gander at the impressive baroque church (one of only 4 in Mexico), we spotted several Lesser Nighthawks hawking for moths in the spotlights, a great atmospheric way to kick off our birding in arguably the most diverse state in Mexico.

At dawn this morning, we headed down to the scrub and rough farmland a few km's Southeastof the village to try and pick up some of the endemics. First bird up, before it was even light was a Rufous-capped Warbler, which was swiftly followed by the White-throated Towhee, bird no.1000. After a quick punch of the air, we moved on, and soon Eric picked up the call of Boucards Wren, another endemic. Soon enough, a pair of these hoooge wrens were giving excellent views amongst the cacti. Other good birds in the area included Curve-billed Thrasher (finally!!), Hooded Yellowthroat, Virginias Warbler and Black-vented Oriole.

After grabbing some breakfast in the village, we started climbing up into the hills North of the village. We stopped at a small reservoir to look through a big feeding flock of Violet-green and Northern Rough-winged Swallows, and found a female Dusky Hummingbird sat on a nest close to the track.

Next stop was a long way up into the wooded hills, where after good looks at Crescent-chested and Red Warblers (as stunning as they were before), a Red-faced Warbler showed up and gave excellent views. A bit of piching produced somemore monster wrens, this time it was a flock of Grey-barred Wrens, looking very bizarreclambering overthe bromeliads looking for insects. Climbing a little further, a paritculalrly good spot held Amethyst and Blue-throated Hummingbirds and Green Violet-ear. Chestnut-sided Shrike-vireo and Collared Towhee were a good score, along with a skulking Grey-breasted Wood-wren along the very birdy gulley. A confusing looking empidonax (are there ay that aren't) was finally nailed as a Grey Flycatcher, and we returned to the car to climb further. After a quick stop for a look at several White-throated Swifts buzzing high over the forest, we reached one of Erics 'special sites', near to the village of Benito Juarez. The hoped for Aztec Thrushes didnt show, but Chestnut-capped and Rufous -capped Brushfinch (which actaully look very different from each other) were welcome compensation, aswas more good looks at a Red Warbler.

Overall, a very enjoyable day, with some really good local endemics and other cool birds. Big thanks to Eric are in order for all his local knowledge and keen ears, as well as ferrying us about.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Drowning in lifers.

Where was I, oh yes, we were just about to catch a ferry to Mazatlan from La Paz right.
Wrong!! Contrary to what was written in the Lonely Planet latest edition to Mexico (published this September!!!), there are no ferries to Mazatlan on Fridays, only on Sundaays, mondays and thursdays, boll-ocks. We didnt find this out til we arrived at the terminal (no Xantus Hummer), so after much cursing of Lonely Planet, we decided to jump on the boat to Topolobampo instead, several hundred miles North of where we wanted to be, not ideal. Moral of the tale: Lonely Planet are a bunch of lazy pricks who cant be arsed to update their info for their new books. Or maybe its that travellers should do some of their own research rather that putting all their eggs in one thick paperback basket.
Anyway, the few hours on board the boat before sunset were pretty productive for us, we scored Red-billed Tropicbird, Magnificent Frigatebird, Grey Phalarope, Brown Booby and Black Strom-petrel, so we wern´t that pissed off when we arrived in Topolobampo in the middle of the night with the prospect of a long day on a bus ahead. And it was a long day. We left at 11pm, the bus broke down, we switched to a new one, 7 am, and the bus was involved in massive high speed smash-up (thats a bit dramatic actually, some little lorry clipped us slightly) so we had to wait a few hours for some insurance weasel to arrive and take photos, 5pm and after a change in Tepic ,we fianlly arrived in San Blas, one of the premiere birding spots in Western Mexico. It was soon too dark to do any birding that night, but the next day was mind-blowingly awesome:

47 lifers in a day!!!
That doesnt happen very often.

Starting off at dawn around the sewage pond trails (sounds lovely I know) we were soon racking them up, Broad-billed and Cinammon Hummingbirds in gardens, Varied and Painted Butnings feeding on the tracks, Citreoline Trogon and Russet-crowned Motmot sitting on telephone wires, Happy Wren and Bells Vireo in the scrub, it was hard work keeping track.
We then headed up to the small fort overlooking the town, and continued to score with Tropical Parula and MacGillvary´s Warbler giving exceptional views, Mexican Parrotlets buzzing around, a pair of Masked Tityra sitting quietly in a fruiting tree. After a quick streetside Taco in town, we caught a bus up to the nearby village of Singayta. Walking down the dirt road through the village and into some scrubby areas we rounded a corner and there were a load of Elegant Quail on the side of the track, resultado, a difficult North-west Mexican endemic under the belt. The hummers contined to stack up, with White-eared and Violet-crowned ,and Golden-crowned Emerald. Orange-fronted Parakeet, Godmans (Scrub) Euphonia and Stripe-headed Sparrow were other good local birds, and we finished off with a fine pair of Black-throated Grey Warblers as we waited for a bus back. A final look at the Sewage ponds trails before dark added Clapper Rail, Stilt Sandpiper, Grey-crowned Yellowthroat and Black-bellied Whistling Duck to a day list of around 120 species.

The real fun however started today.
After a long, shitty bus ride from San Blas to Uruapan, in the Western Central Highlands, we arrived to find that the bus terminal was still 2km outside fo town, just great! Luckily, just as we feeling a little jaded, some local family offered us a ride into town in the back of their pick-up, dropping us right outside our cheap, but slightly fowl hotel.
Up early again today, we caught a bus to the nearby town of Angahuan. It wasnt a known birding site but we had heard that the trails up to the adjacent volcano passed thorugh Pine Forest, the habitat of some very sough after species. Arriving in the village, we saw that the volcano was actually some way off, and instead decided to have a mosey up a hill what was labelled as a ´recreation area´ with signs showing bike trails through the woods ,sounded promising, providing the bikes kept away for the morning. What a choice it proved to be, we immediatley picked up Yellow-eyed Junco, Mexican Jay, Grey Silky and Slate-throated Redstart. Pushing on up the hill, we encountered a few mixed flocks containg Olive, Grace's and Golden-browed Warblers, Greater Pewee and Tufted Flycatcher. Reaching the radio masts at the summit, there was a sudden flash of colour, up went the bins, and, SHIT THE BED!!! RED WARBLER!!! What a stunning bird; bright strawberry red all over apart from a shiny little silvery ear-covert patch and a subtle pink wing bar. I´ve tried searching the net for a picture but none quite do the bird justice. It´s one fo those birds that the first time you see a picture of it, you just have to see it ,and it was one of my most wanted birds of the trip, and I wasnt disappointed, its even better in real life. Hopefully we'll see a few more before the year is out and´i'll try and compose myself enough to compose a photo. On the way back down we picked up Mountain Trogon, Painted Redstart, Russet Nightingale Thrush and a whole heap more hummers; Rufous, Magnificent, Black-chinned and Green Violet-ear, along with several bizarre Cinammon-bellied Flowerpiercers.

In the afternoon, we caught another bus out to the Cascades De Tzararacua, a series of waterfalls about 10km outside Uruapan. Despite it being really chuffing hot in the middle of the day, we added Bridled Titmouse, Crescent-chested Warbler, Arizona Woodpecker, Cassins Vireo and White-throated Thrush to our growing trip list.

Overall not a bad day considering that the area around Uruapan is hardly recognised as birding area, it just sounded good, and accesible by public transport for plebs like us so we though we'd give it a go, and it paid off. Thats what this sort of birdy travel is all about.

Anyway, thats me up to date for the time being, hopefully on the next post i'll be able to tell you of a small personal milestone that I should reach within the next few days. Don't look away!!!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Grey Vireos do exist (but they are shitty)

Contrary to popular belief, Grey Vireo's actually do exist, i've seen them myself!! However, i'm not surprised they're so difficult to see, as they are really quite a boring looking bird. Imagine a really smart bird, like a Blue-headed Vireo, and then remove all colour, and there you have it, a Grey Vireo.

We've just arrived in La Paz, down in the South of Baja, after a long overnight bus from the small town of San Ignacio, slap-bang in the centre of the peninsula, and we're currently killing time waiting for the ferry to take us to across the Sea of Cortes to Mexico proper.

After Ensenada, we caught a bus South to Guerrero Negro, where we birded around the extensive salt pans just outside of town. The pools were heaving with shorebirds and we picked up plenty of new species, including American Avocet, Western Sandpiper and Short-billed Dowitcher. Herons were also plentiful, with Little-blue and Tricoloured Herons, and Reddish and Snowy Egrets everwhere. We also found the scrub around one particular pool to be heaving with Sage Sparrows, right at the Southernmost limit of their range.
After GN, we took a short bus ride down to San Ignacio, which is prominent for being a big lagoon in the middle of the desert, and very birdy for it. On the lagoon itslef were a Least Grebe and a somewhat out-of-place Great-northern Diver, but it was the surrounding scrub and vegetated desert that really scored. After a quick look on Google Earth, we decided to take a look up a small canyon behind the supermarket on the junction going into the town from Hwy 1. This proved to be a good decision, as it was heaving with birds. Canyon, Rock and Cactus Wren all showed well just behind the supermarket. Verdin, California Gnatcatcher and Black-throated Sparrow were in some ver spiky shrub just up the canyon and Harris' and Zone-tailed Hawks flew overhead. Dubios highlight was the aforementioned Grey Vireo, which gave us excellent views about 200m up the overgrown streambed from the supermarket. We hadnt really expected to see this species so it was even more of a surprise when another came into a spot of pishing near the far end of the canyon later on. Scrambling up the canyon walls to a plateau on the top, we found the cacti to be very popular with Ladder-backed and Gila Woodpeckers, along with a few Gilded Flickers. The odd Costa's Humminbird zoomed past, repalcing Anna's Hummer which had previously been common, and a few Ash-thorated Flycatchers were being vociferous.

For slightly easier birding, we crossed back over the road towards town and had a gander around the scrub opposite the Motelito Fong, where we found our first Baja Endemic, a pair of Grey Thrashers, hanging around with some Cactus Wrens and a few Pyrrhuloxia. Hooded Orioles, stunning Vermillion Flycatchers and White-winged Doves were hanging around the Motelito and then it was time to move on, with a quick stop in Santa Rosalia for a look at the Yellow-footed Gulls and Blue-footed Boobied feeding in the harbour.

Now we have until this afternoon to try and score Xantus Hummingbird somewhere and La Paz before jumping on the ferry, probably at the very last minute, a la Scillonian. Then we're on mainland, where we expect to be totally overwhelmed with a a whole new avifauna, I can't wait!!!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Jumping into the deep end!!

America's all well and good, but you know, its a bit like a paddling pool; fun and easy but just a little bit too shallow.
It's been great travelling through the country, but it's time to move onwards with our journey so we jumped on a train in San Diego that took us to the Mexican border and the notorious town of Tijuana. After hearing reports that Tijuana is, and I quote, "a total fucking craphole", we decided to bypass it and head on down to the 'more sedate' town of Ensenada.......Sedate my arse!!!! We went out on the piss last night with a couple of lads in the hostel and had what ranks as one of the craziest nights ever, them Mexicans sure know how to party!! The night culminated in us being chucked out of an Izusu Trooper at 5am on some random road outside of town, though to be fair, it was kindof uncomfotable with 11 people in it. The situation was looking a little bit sketchy at one point, but luckily we managed to find a taxi to take us back into town safely.
Anyhoo, this is supposedly a birding blog so I guess that I ought to write about what we've been seeing:

Not a lot really. From San Francisco, which is a really cool city by the way, we got a bus down to the college town of San Luis Obispo, which is located roughly in the middle of nowhere. We birded the scrubby hills around the village one morning, picking up Acorn and Nuttall's Woodpeckers, California Towhee and Rufous-crowned Sparrow.
Since San Luis Obsipo (or SLO as us in the know call it), we haven't birded much, but a walk around the harbour in Ensenada today gave us our first Royal and Elegant Terns flying around, a few Clarks Grebes around the boats and several Cassin's Kingbirds thorughout the town itself.
We're heading South on a bus tomorrow morning, probably going as far as Guerrero Negro, on the border with Baja California Sur, where we'll start trying to see some of the Baja specialties, of which there are quite a few!!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Pelagic Photographs

A few pictures from the weekends pelagic in Monterey.

Townsends Warbler in trees along the Seafront

Western Grebe in the harbour

Surf Scoter

Sooty Shearwater

Rhinocerous Auklet

Rhincerous Auklet

Pomarine Skua

Pink-footed Shearwater

Pacific Loon

Bullers Shearwater

Bullers Shearwater

Black-footed Albatross

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


Well, its been a pretty hectic few days since leaving Portland. We caught an Amtrak train South to Salinas, and got a bus on to Monterey, ready for a pelagic trip the following day.
The train journey itself was pretty good, and we saw some quality birds including White-tailed Kite, White-faced Ibis, Long-billed Curlew and Marbled Godwit as we trundled along.
Early on the morning of the 29th we joined up with Debra Shearwater for a rare November trip. Even waiting on the quay I picked up a lifer in the form of a Pacific Diver fishing around the supports, along with a load of Black-necked and Western Grebes. Setting off out of the harbour a Black Turnstone was ngits way through a steaming pile of California Sea Lions hauled up on the breakwater, and flocks of Surf Scoters scattered as we passed close by. As we got out into the bay we came across plenty of Rhinocerous Auklets loafing about, and soon after masses of shearwaters started to appear. The vast majority were Black-vented Shearwaters but with a smattering of Sooties and Pink-footed, and a couple of Short tailed. Highlight of the day for all the locals on board was a Great Shearwater (heaps rare out here apparently) but for me a late Bullers Shearwater stole the show. A good number of Black-footed Albatrosses was entertaining too. I bloody love albatrosses, they're right up there with the best birds in the world, and this species is no exception, being a totally different colour to any other members of the family, they are a truly striking bird, and I apologise to anyone next to me on the boat who might have been slightly shocked by some expletives that I couldn't hold in upon seeing the first of these beasts glidig into view.
Further quality came in the form of Cassin's Auklets and Ancient Murrelets that were all over one particualr area of sea, and the trip was rounded off nicely by a school of Pacific White-sided Dolphins that came in for a bit of bow-riding as we steamed back.
Overall an excellent day on the water with a good variety of species, including some much wanted lifers. Though I must say that I wasnt impressed with the price of the trip compared to the others i've done around the world.
The next day was spent in Monterey recovering from bar-based celebrations of the pelagic. This turned out to be a good move however, as we were walking along the sea-front we spoteed a pair of Harlequin Ducks hanging around some rocks in the marina!! All the photos that i've seen of these stunning birds couldn't quite prepare me for just how exquisite a drake Harlequin Duck, they are superb little birds, and all the better for the fact that I really wasnt expecting to see them. After getting good looks at wintering Townsends Warbler, Audobons Warbler and Black Phoebe in nearby trees we had some fun feeding bread to the gulls (Heermans, Western and California) and enjoyed a brunch of Clam Chowder from one of the many outlets on Fishermans Wharf.
After Monterey, we headed up to San Francisco (Matt was lucky enough to pick up Yellow-billed Magpie on the journey). We were supposed to be moving South again today, but the hostel we're staying at is just too good and we were in no fit state this morning to sort out trains and stuff, so we're staying for another day at least. Having seen Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge yesterday, we might try and hit up a few museums today, before coming back to the hostel for the promised 'Beer Olympics', with free booze from a local brewery, I said the hostel is good!!!!