Chapter 3. Sierra Madre del Sur
© Bert & Shari Frenz, 2003 All rights reserved.
(Shari) "They would not have built this beautiful road just for the donkeys," John retorts when I tell Bert that maybe we need to stop and ask if we are on the right road. Isn't that just like a man? Here Joanne and I are unsure and want confirmation on our route, and the men just want to go barreling along. Well, I hate to admit it, but the men are right and we are on the right road to the butterfly preserve. However, we do pass up the entrance and I tell Bert to turn around because it just does not feel right. We finally make it just at the same time the rest of the group pulls into the gravel road. We had stopped earlier to make a reservation at a hotel for lunch and the rest of the group went on ahead. Somehow we got ahead of the group anyway. We park our cars and are accosted by young men asking if we want to ride horses up to the preserve. After arranging a horse for Pat, Bert and I get our own horse and up I go. Oh my, I am on a wooden saddle on a horse that seems too small to hold me. Miquel, my guide, grabs the rope and off we go. "Despachio," I yell. I want to go slower. After about 10 minutes of riding I ask how long until the end. Miquel replies, "Trienta minutes." Thirty minutes more, I wonder if my body will take it. The trail goes through a beautiful wooded area and pines surround us. The longer we travel down the trail, the more butterflies flutter across our path. I would enjoy it more, if the horse were not so uncomfortable. I ask again how long at 10 minutes more and 5 minutes more. Finally I see the end. Noticing my left leg shaking and unable to bear any weight, I tell Bert he has to help me off and I fall into his arms. I tell Miquel that I will walk back, even if it is uphill most of the way. It is another 10-minute walk down hill to the butterflies and when I get there, all is worth the trip. Millions of gorgeous Monarch butterflies flutter around like big orange snowflakes. Everywhere I look, I see butterflies and I have the sense of well-being. We comment on the fact when we see things like this, we just have to believe there is a God. Never in my life have I seen so many butterflies. I literally mean millions of them. Trunks of trees are packed solid with butterflies that have not warmed up enough to fly. Ones that slept overnight on the east unshaded sides, have been up an hour or so and are flying about. It feels as if just waving your arm about would knock hundreds aside. I linger awhile before I decide I had better start back if I intend to walk. Only about six of us ride back on horses, the remaining group walks. But, it is all uphill. I walk for over an hour, taking numerous breaks. The GPS has us at 10,455 feet and I do not want to over tire my heart. Later, lunch at the hotel is fantastic and we certainly get our $6.55 worth. Two kinds of chicken, chili rellenos, soup, tortillas, rice and beans, and dessert tempt our palates and I notice no one is shy when filling their plates. It has been a good day.
(Bert) Our horses climb over the ridge at 10,500-ft. elevation. On the slow descent, the scene looks like it was taken from a George Lucas production: hundreds of fluttering Monarch Butterflies wing through tall pines. Having dismounted, we walk further through an ever-increasing number of butterflies. A few cluster on branches, some hang on flowers, more fill the air. A half-mile further through the woods we come to the principal roost. The scene is both more and less than I imagined from descriptions told me. It is less in that the area seems so closed in: pushed in on all sides by dense dark pines that foreshorten my view. It is more in that the density of butterflies is so great. Still a bit cold and lingering on their nocturnal roost, the butterflies cling in dense bunches to tree branches and tree trunks. As far as I can see into the dark woods, virtually every tree is covered with butterflies, an orange and black quilted pattern of twitching movement. In the sunlit forest opening directly in front of me the Monarchs have begun feeding on the flowers. Wings folded, wings spread, top views, side views, perched, hanging, clustered: a hundred different poses for my camera. Numbers are an illusion. If you asked me how many butterflies I can see, I'd say a couple of thousand. But then I pause to count just the butterflies on one small branch. I get to 100 along the edge, then multiply by the number of layers and easily reach 1000. How many such branches are within my view? Hundreds, plus add those butterflies lined up the tree trunks and the ones foraging on the flowers and the ones on the ground and the ones filling the air in dense clouds. It's easy to reach numbers in the millions in my crude count. With binoculars I can see deeper into the woods and each tree as far as I can see is covered with butterflies as dense as those directly in front of me.
(Shari) Anyone taking bets on how long 120 miles will take us? Being the pessimist that I am, I decide we had better leave by 9AM. After our travel meeting we head out and no sooner have we gotten two miles down the road when Ralph and Virginia announce they see smoke coming out of their vents. The rest of us push on for at least 30 minutes before we find a pullout big enough for a caravan. After waiting 15 minutes, we see the two motor homes coming down the hill, Tailgunners and Ralph and Virginia. I let out a big hurrah and we are off again. It takes us another two hours to find a big rest stop for the group and we eat our lunch there. Another big city to negotiate looms in our future and I want to be regrouped before attempting the bypass. We find the bypass but it is as congested as any of our U.S. city streets and it takes quite awhile to get through it. Stoplights hold the caravan up, and those in back do not like not seeing those lucky enough to have made it through. In the front, we do the best we can to take it slowly, obviously making the locals upset. Luckily the road is 4-lane and the left lane can pass our turtle pace. We arrive at the campground at 2:45 PM, a whopping 6 hours after we left this morning. Man, oh man! But the group is in good spirits and even set up an impromptu happy hour while Virginia, Sue and I arrange for a dinner and show tomorrow night.
(Bert) News in Mexico travels slowly, at least to us caravaners. Late this afternoon I visit an Internet café in Pátzcuaro and retrieve e-mail for myself as well as a few caravaners whose friends and relatives are sending messages through me to them. Surprisingly, three messages ask whether the earthquake affected us. How did they know about that little tremor last night? I had come out of the RV just at the same time as Pat C. came rushing out all excited and then a few others came out too. Pat exclaimed, "Oh, my God, did you feel that?" She and several others felt their motorhomes shake as if some strongman was pushing on its side. I felt nothing. I had been visiting with Paul, a retired local resident from Minnesota who two years ago married Elodia, an attractive Mexican lady he met through the Internet, but that's another story. Paul said they sometimes feel earthquake tremors here in Zitácuaro, but like me, he did not feel this one. Late this evening when I get back to camp in Pátzcuaro - we traveled 120 miles west today - I deliver one of the e-mails to Ralph. He tells me, a little earlier he had heard from the campground owner that the earthquake centered in coastal state of Colima and measured 7.4 on the Richter scale. Here in Pátzcuaro, closer to Colima, the RV'ers said the earthquake really shook their vehicles and had some rushing to the owner for advice on what to do. Like I said, news travels slowly to us, and it takes 24 hours for us to learn we were at the edge of a major earthquake.
(Bert) Yesterday's RV travel and today's birding drive traverse the volcanic belt at the base of the wishbone of Mexico's mountains. We travel between high conifer forests and baking lowlands of the Río Balsas drainage, giving us a variety of habitats to search for birds. Our first stop this morning is a steep hillside overlooking the city of Tecámbaro. Standing at the base of a vertical rock road, eighteen of us have binoculars aimed uphill at a flowered tree hosting hummingbirds. Just then a Mexican lady rounds the corner above us and is startled to see us peering back at her. Gwen says something with hand motions to explain our strange behavior and the lady smiles, but we still must have seemed weird to her. When we gather further up the hill to stare into someone's cornfield, a small group of children and adults gather to watch us watch birds. Nonetheless, we enjoy a parade of good birds: Berylline and Violet-crowned hummingbirds, Plumbeous and Warbling vireos, Black-throated Gray and Townsend's warblers, Black-vented and Bullock's orioles and an elusive Blue Mockingbird. From the hillside spot we cross the city to the pine forest on the opposite side and just outside of the sprawling population. We stop for Groove-billed Anis, only to be further captivated by small flocks of warblers, a Buff-breasted Flycatcher perched on a fence wire and a very patient Banded Wren viewed through spotting scopes. Under the cool shade of the pines and overlooking the thinly wooded lot, we eat our packed lunches. Above us we hear the chorus of Grace's Warblers in full song. Later in the heat of the day - high 90's - we try to find an ill-defined dirt road through cane fields near Pedernales, but finally give up and head back to another spot along a deep narrow gorge, so infested with trees and undergrowth that we cannot see the rushing stream below. We add Cinnamon-rumped Seedeater, Dusky Hummingbird and Social Flycatcher to the trip list. When we come to the uphill end of the gorge, the stream dumps over a small waterfall and we hear a waterthrush in the thicket surrounding upstream. May, fascinated with waterthrushes, walks into the water, shoes and jeans wet to above the knees and disappears upstream in search of the songster and perhaps a stream-loving motmot. Fifteen minutes later she returns having found neither, but I'm sure the cooling effect was refreshing in the midday heat. One more stop on our way back, precipitated by my sighting of a Red Warbler flying across the road, adds a few more high elevation conifer forest species: Golden-crowned Kinglet, Brown Creeper and Hermit Warbler. We end the day with at least 75 species seen among the group.
(Shari) Where are those birders? A 3/4-day turns into a full day and beyond as the last of them do not come back until 5:30 PM. I am sooooooo glad I did not go along. Joanne and I have a wonderful day of our own starting at 10:30 AM. I like practicing my Spanish and even though it is horrible (and my spelling worse) people respond to me. Here at the campground I ask the man what bus to use for the return. He does not know how to write and has his 8-year-old daughter write the stops on a piece of paper. However, she does not know how to spell them either. Soon he comes to fetch me and hands me a piece of paper with the words all printed neatly for me to use. Wally and Virginia join us on the bus to Centro and we do Internet, shop and have a light lunch. We try quesadillas and a local soup called Tuscanios or something like that; it tastes like a tortilla soup with a creamy tomato base. Buying a carved spoon, a basket and a baby outfit from the artisans themselves is wonderful. We "talk" with them as best we can in our limited Spanish. Joanne samples a local berry that tastes bitter and then realizes she had not sanitized it. We walk around the huge open-air market looking for a lime to disinfect her stomach. The ladies wonder why we buy only one lime, cut it open and squeeze it into her mouth while she puckers up in distaste. I tell them "eso es por enstomacho para hace no nausea." They laugh but I hope they do not try it on their kids tonight as some new American medicine. Seeing ten Cedar Waxwings caged at the market, Virginia almost buys the whole lot, intending to set them free. I think that they might just fly back to the cage because they have sweet bananas to eat and she would have wasted $75. We shrug our shoulders, Virginia motions that it makes her cry and we walk on. Later in the evening we all car pool to the hotel for a delicious dinner off the menu and are treated to a show of the local Indians doing traditional folkloric dances. I have the local specialty of la pesca blanco with garlic, fish caught in the local lake in a garlic sauce. Yum!
(Shari) Today was to be an easy day of travel. I asked a number of people if the toll road to Playa Azul was now complete and most said it was done. The operative word here is "most." Since I am not 100% convinced that the toll road is complete, we depart the campground at 7 AM. At noon the toll road ends! We stop for lunch and Don talks to a Canadian couple that says the road from here south is horrible and there is a group of farmers barricading the road wanting money to pass. As we exit the toll road, we notice a Green Angel truck (a group of men traveling the roads to make Mexico safe for travelers). One of the men is taking a siesta and the other is playing a game with a small girl. I ask if anyone speaks English. Of course no one does. Here goes my Spanish. "Mi espanol is muy poquito. Yo oiy (pointing to my ear) las personas alto traffico (holding up my hand in a stopping position) para la propina." By now the Green Angel taking the siesta is awake and listening intently as are all the people in the area. "Si," acknowledges the man I am talking with, as if of course they are and it is all ok. I ask "Cuanto pesos?" and he responds with "Cinco." So down the road there are people holding up traffic for money and a payment of 5 pesos (50 cents) should get us through. This does happen but not until hours later when we get on the toll road again. Following signs to Acapulco and cuota we meander up and down and around hills on a narrow mountain road. On two bridges only one lane is open and we wiggle our way around barrels and barricades. Twice I get out of R-TENT to help Bert squeeze through pillars and over metal parts sticking up in the road. Unreal! This would be unacceptable in the U.S. but here we are following signs to the toll road. Traffic is light and what little there is, assures me the road continues up ahead, although I have my doubts, especially when we come to a river rushing over the road (mind you toll road) and we have to cross this one-lane section which has a huge pothole in its surface. After a 20-min. break in the tension as we are stopped for construction, we continue another couple of hours. It takes over two hours to travel this 30-mi. unfinished portion of the toll road and finally we see the people collecting their "tip" at the entrance of the completed road. We pay our money and travel in peace until we exit where more people want $2.00 to let us pass. We give them 50 cents but they will not let us pass. Bert gets upset; I say lets give them all the change we have, which still is not enough. We have to fish around for more change in the back before they let us through. Apparently there is a land dispute with the government and these people want their money. No more and no less than $2.00 will suffice. Ralph handed them $5 and got $3 in exchange! The day is not over yet. We hear Lee and Pat have lost power and are pulling off on the side. The tail gunner stays with them and the rest of the group travels the last 30 miles to the campground where we must back in, parking like sardines in a can. Fortunately we can enjoy the facilities and most of the group gathers in or around the pool before our Margarita Party. Not all of my chickens are safe in the coup and I am uneasy all through the festivities and into supper. Something serious must be wrong to take this long. We call the U.S. office to see if there is any word from our lost party, but there is none and we are assured they will call if they hear anything. By now it is dark and I have just about given up hope of their arrival when I hear engines. The two are back. We have four tired, crabby, but safe people. All that was wrong: Lee and Pat had run out of gas.
(Bert) Adventures and misadventures of traveling in Mexico was the theme for today. It started out harmlessly enough. An early travel meeting just as first light shown overhead on a foggy morning was quickly followed by a 7:30 departure from Tecámbaro, which lies in the belt of volcanic mountains at ~6200 ft. elevation. Once on the newly completed toll road, we coast downward past pine-oak forests interspersed with cane fields. I have my Jake brake on the entire time and occasionally supplement with my ordinary brake, hardly ever using my accelerator for an hour and a half. We are headed south to the Pacific Ocean through a broad pass between distant volcanoes. Like ocean waves on a moonlit dawn, the fogged cone-shaped peaks, mixed with more rounded ones, form layers of silvered darkness in a receding horizon. After the long descent, the land flattens and for about the same time period as we drive past mango orchards and cultivated fields, still edged by mountains. Although a toll road, access is not blocked to wildlife, and free-roaming feral donkeys and dogs are plentiful. Four mules on the road ahead cause me to slow and simultaneously use the CB to announce the threat ahead. But Don C. doesn't hear the announcement and slams on his brakes, narrowly missing one of the mules. Wheels jammed, the tires skid on the road, taking a half-inch of tread off one and stripping off the outer layer on another. The collision is avoided, but the tires are damaged, so Don and Dan replace one of them while the caravan moves on. The land is more rugged now, with fewer people living here. We come to a new bridge, partially barricaded, but without detour signs. As we slowly navigate the single open lane across the wide bridge, three men are working on repairing big holes through which we can see daylight beneath. On the opposite side of the bridge a barricade is partially open, just wide enough for us to pass after I get out and place sheet metal over the sharp remnants of a cut off metal post on each end of the opening. In deep cuts through the mountain, rockslides spill over the concrete ditch and partially into the traffic lane, more evidence of the recent earthquake. Now we see almost no people or evidence of civilization, save the toll road. We have yet to see a Pemex station. A large reservoir, water edged by barren mountainsides, is enjoyed by pelicans and gulls, an anomaly in this dry desert. Candelabra cactus, three times our height, cover thousands of acres of foothills of volcanic peaks. We reach a rim of mountains separating us from the Pacific and begin a ten-mile climb, curving upward in third gear. We stop at a barricade and the end of the toll road. With enough room to park, we wait for the three rigs that stopped for gas at a turnoff and for Dan and Don to return from the tire change. Meanwhile a few of us explore the cactus-studded hillside and find Golden-cheeked Woodpeckers and Black-chested Sparrows. When the whole caravan is together again, we take the narrow, but newly paved road switchbacking through the hills. High in the mountains we encounter another large reservoir, this one with a minuscule island hosting two Brown Pelicans, a strange sighting for this barren mountain desert. Descending now, we change habitats once again, to a thorn forest succeeded by taller and thicker trees and a Gray Hawk, only to be replaced again by thorn forest. The good road ends at road construction and the paving machine and is followed by a pockmarked surface on the winding mountain roads. Still no people, very little traffic and no Pemex. Finally a road sign indicates our destination and a change of conditions, but we stop first for lunch beside a vendor selling drinks and coconuts. Back on toll road, we sail smoothly to the next tollbooth. Preceded by a man blocking our way with a knotted rope until we pay his "toll" of 5 pesos, it is later followed by the legitimate toll of 24 pesos. The new road takes us in sight of the Pacific Ocean and a coastline carpeted with thousands of coconut palms. Somewhere around here the CB message is passed forward that Lee and Pat's van has stopped and Dan and Sue are staying with them to check out the problem. At what would have been the last tollbooth, the exit is unfinished and officials absent. Instead, a gang of locals apparently upset about a land dispute collects a 20-peso duty at penalty of driving over a spike-studded plank. We continue a few miles and stop at only our second Pemex in 160 miles and all refuel. I chat with Jodi and she shares that this has been her most relaxing travel day thus far. Reaching Playa Azul, our campsite is a hotel parking lot - much too small for our 16 rigs, but manageable after an hour of careful backing into three parallel rows, rigs lined up front to back. Lee and Pat and our tailgunners are not back yet when we begin our 5:30 Margarita Party and bird countoff. Nor are they here when we phone the office at 8 PM. But in the darkness they arrive an hour later, and we back them also into the parking lot and the two remaining spaces we saved for them. Hours of diagnosing the problem finally resolved on a faulty fuel gauge. The van had run out of gas.
(Bert) Staying mostly on the coastal plain, our progress is a numbing succession of passing through small villages, each with two to six topes, and then a short spurt of paved road to the next speed bump retarded village. A few times we climb coastal cliffs and can get a broad overview of the coconut palms and the blue ocean curling on miles of undeveloped sandy beaches. The exception is Ixtapa where from an overlook we can see the planned parkways and vacation hotels fronting a beautiful bay enclosing several rock islands. Winding out of the city, our travel log misdirects us to an unplanned scenic excursion of the Zihuatanejo airport, but the detour is momentary and we are back on Highway 200. We pass extensive palm groves and must see millions of trees by the end of the day. Land not in agriculture is mostly thorn forest and larger trees that often overhang the road so that we pass through a shaded tunnel. Vines of brilliant sky blue Morning Glories entwine green bushes. Several times we see White-throated Magpie-Jays wave across the road like a winged kite with an enormous undulating tail. After our last gas stop, Pat and Jim see a small flock of endangered Yellow-headed Parrots fly by. No one else sees them and later we jealously accuse Pat of not learning to share when she attended Kindergarten.
(Bert) Almost no side roads spur from the coastal highway, thereby nearly eliminating access to both the coast itself and the mountain range inland. An exception is the road leading to Atoyac de Alvarez and beyond to Sierra de Atoyac. We leave a bit before dawn to reach the congested town by 8 AM and wend our way through the unsigned streets to the inland side. Breaking free of the town, the paved but narrow road winds up the mountain. Trucks, often loaded with workers, frequent the road, yet we have enough pullouts to begin our birding. A stop at Las Parotas is a bonanza of birds highlighted by Rufous-naped Wrens, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl and Russet-crowned Motmots. Climbing on the road again, a West Mexican Chachalaca clumsily flies across our windshield and over the cliff. Although we stop, we cannot find it again, but we do see a couple White-throated Magpie-Jays. The view from our various stops is a broad second growth forest enveloping miles of mountains, all absent of people, villages or roads. A screeching flock of parrots halts us on the road and we pile out to identify them as Orange-fronted Parakeets. Only a few hundred yards further we encounter Coen, Brenda, Chris and May who spent the night in Atoyac so that they could get an earlier start up the mountain this morning. With them we get good looks at an Emerald Toucanet, much larger, bigger billed and beautifully green-colored than I expected. We see an intensely yellow Golden Vireo, and also Masked Tityra and Rose-throated Becard. Each stop along the road includes bird sightings and by noon we have reached the coffee plantations, almost unnoticed in the mix of native shrubs surrounding the short coffee bean trees and the canopy of large trees above it. We pursue a Nightingale-Thrush, but it disappears in the foliage before we can get a good view. But we do find Rufous-backed Robin , Golden-crowned Warblers, Hepatic, White-winged, Summer and Western tanagers and lots of Warbling Vireos. Finally the heat of the day puts a near stop to bird sightings and we begin our long return to Acapulco. This remote birding site definitely deserves more attention. Today we only penetrated 20 miles beyond Atoyac and were in the "good" birding section. Beyond lies the "better" birding areas, and still higher are the "best" birding habitats. We definitely are leaving behind some good birds.
(Shari) One of the many North Americans in the Acapulco Wal-Mart asks if I am having a party. She, as well as everyone in the store, can't help but notice the sixteen whole chickens I have in my cart. My intention was to have the campground furnish the chickens for our potluck but at $12 each, I decide to do it myself and cut the cost to one-third. Woody is a saint and drives Virginia, Pat Y. and me into town to shop. The traffic in Acapulco is horrendous and the streets are confusing, making me happy that I could not have the car today. I think this is the first time Woody has done the grocery shopping without Gwen (she went with the birders) and it takes him 90 min. to find his items. I tell him he can now appreciate why it takes women so long to shop. At 5:30 we all meet at the mirador (a beautiful deck overlooking the Pacific Ocean) and set up our food on the tables provided. The campground has also set up a TV for us to watch the Super Bowl game. Food, company, weather, and setting are wonderful and I know there are others beside myself who wish we could spend more time here.
(Bert) The bypass of Acapulco is like driving over a cheese grater: blacktop patches on top of patches make the road a cacophony of ridges. We dip briefly into the maize of the congested city to make a planned U-turn and then swing on to the toll road connecting Mexico City. An engineering marvel, the toll road cuts through a severe mountain range, slicing away mountains, shoring up low spots, bridging deep ravines, and generally making straight what was once round. Perhaps they should be called the grand canyons of the Sierra Madre del Sur, the vast terrain exceeds anything I've seen in North America in its class. Somewhat like Nevada or Colorado, but a larger version and duller colored, we view an endless rolling sea of mountains for 30-50 miles on either side while we drive some 150 miles. In a pattern oft repeated, my diesel engine climbs in third or fourth gear at 40 mph for 10-20 minutes and then shifts to a Jake-braked second gear on the descent at a slightly faster speed for half the time. Periodically John announces over the CB the elevation changes: 1000 ft., 2000 ft., 3000 ft. By noon we break for lunch, about 2 hours up the mountain range and at 3000 ft. When we begin again, it is still upward. Deep gorges are bridged by an architecture marvel of elegant design. Like sail ships poised over a waterless airspace, the "sails" are an array of 300 ft. black and silver pistons, splayed at the base and coalescing to a common point at the apex. Narrow gorges are spanned with a pair of these triangular sails, one on each side of the highway; but for wide gorges it takes two pairs. Named the Rio Balsas drainage, only once do we see water: a yellow-green rivulet spinning beneath steep rock walls. The dry mountains are sparsely covered with thorn forest, sometimes cactus - including an armless version of Giant Saguaro - sometimes short palms and often leafless trees and lime green shrubs. Barren rocks blanket the surface, leaving little subsoil. We reach 4000 ft., according to John, and perhaps for the third or fourth time. After 177 miles and 4600 ft. the road levels into a broad plateau of brown grass grazed by cattle. Before Taxco, five miles of short palms and ornamental shrubs, some in bright pink bloom, center the boulevard-like toll road. We arrive at Cuernavaca, 198 miles in about 7 hours, our toll bill having reached $79.
(Bert) Perched on a bare branch high in a pine, the petite crested flycatcher patiently waits while I return to my car and bring back my spotting scope. I even have enough time to take a few photos through the scope to confirm the identification as Pileated Flycatcher, a life bird for everyone in the group. Our birding site today at Coajomulco is the best so far on the trip and everyone sees several species they have never seen before. My other life birds today have multisyllabic names: Chestnut-sided Shrike-Vireo and Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer. The first is a chunky multicolored vireo with splashes of rufous, white, black, gray and yellow; the second is related to seedeaters and sparrows, but hardly looks like one. Resembling the colors of a robin, but acting like a busy warbler, the male flowerpiercer is all motion and rarely stays still long enough to focus binoculars on it. The female is drab and sparrow-like, but moves through the flowering shrubs just as fast as the male and rarely is more than a few feet from him. At an elevation of 8400 ft., the pine-oak woods hosts many unusual species and as we spread around the area each birder sees species that others miss. Some I wish I'd have seen that others did are: Gray-barred Wren, Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush and Rufous-capped Brush-Finch. It takes longer to say the names of these birds than the time they permit us to view them. But I do find the other two Nightingale-Thrushes - Orange-billed and Russet - as well as White-striped Woodcreeper, Slate-throated Redstarts and lots of Black-eared Bushtits. Birding at high elevation has the added advantage of cooler temperatures and birds that remain active later into the day. Breaking away after lunch is hard to do, and at the last minute Brenda and Coen add Colima Warbler to the list before we head back.
(Shari) After another day of travel, I needed a rest. This has been a hectic schedule but the birders still got up early yesterday morning for their outing. I spent the day resting and getting caught up on paperwork. Today is a free day for all of us. Ralph, Virginia and I drive to Taxco leaving Bert at home to catch up on his paperwork. We meet Steve and Cecile, John and Joanne and Pat Y. in the quaint town built on hills. Reminding me of towns in Italy with its narrow brick streets, tiled roofs, and whitewashed buildings, I find everywhere I point my camera makes a charming picture. The town is renowned for its silver and, my goodness, one silver shop after another after another line its streets. Every one of them has a man inviting me in to look at his wares and of course every shop has the best prices just for me, or at least so the man tells me. Convinced, I buy a nice pair of silver earrings for someone's Christmas gift. We visit the Cathedral of Saint Prisco and Sebastian before eating lunch at a restaurant overlooking the square. Most churches that I have visited in Mexico have been in varying states of disrepair. This one, however, has been beautifully restored and gilded in gold. Again it is reminiscent of ones in Italy with its paintings and wonderful woodcarvings on the walls. Our pizza is good and very filling so dinner tonight will be light. I am still trying to stay on the diet although realizing I will not be losing at the rate of one pound a week as I have had these past 25 weeks. Too many tempting margaritas! ;)
(Bert) By 11 AM I have the campground almost all to myself. On this scheduled free day, shoppers headed to Taxco and hardcore birders to the countryside, leaving me to catch up with computer work. Dan is getting greasy under Don C.'s trailer when I pull my car beside his rig. Dan has three out of four brakes working - only one was previously - and Don is holding the worn part for the fourth brake. I head to the city for e-mail and Don comes along for household shopping and hopes to find the brake part. Two hours later I've checked all my e-mail, but still have not resolved the problem of sending out the daily journals. Earthlink's website substitutes a pseudonym for my registered web site e-mail address and Yahoo's e-Groups will not permit me to post messages from the pseudonym. Earthlink says they can't change their procedure and Yahoo provides no customer support at all. So it seems the only way I will be able to post these journals to the 250 readers is if someday I can find a Internet Café that will allow me to use my own computer on their lines. Late in the afternoon, having completed my errands, including rewiring my car CB, I go with Coen and Brenda to a nearby birding site they discovered earlier in the day. Chris says, "This place is thick with birds," and he is right. I add many birds to my trip list, but the best is a lifer - Banded Quail - which I scare up four times and see in flight, but never quietly resting on the ground.
(Bert) We pass through Cuernavaca, a city of a million inhabitants, in an hour and a half along the expressway and then up the winding road on the outskirts to reach La Cima by 8:30. The temperature is only 43 deg at this elevation of 9700 ft. Grain fields and pine forests, both sprinkled with volcanic rock, this open unpopulated land seems disparate with being only 15 miles from Mexico City and its 20+ million inhabitants. Parking on the edge of a grain field, we quickly hustle out of our cars as the harvested field is hopping with robins, bluebirds and, most importantly, Striped Sparrows . A little while later we also find the rare Sierra Madre Sparrows, which closely resemble the common Lincoln's Sparrows. Spotting scopes give us great views of both sparrows, especially when they perch on the ragged gray volcanic boulders or atop tight clusters of bunchgrass. The few other birds we see here are fairly common species, so we split up and some head to Coajomulco or Tres Marias, but our carload stops at a hilly grain field edged by pine-forest just a bit down the road from our starting point. I get a sharp view of a Rufous-capped Brush-Finch, but the others miss it and instead find a variety of hummingbirds at the spot. We see a brightly colored orangish Buff-breasted Flycatcher, Elegant Euphonias and Pygmy Nuthatches, but the best bird is a Strickland's Woodpecker - a drab bird, but a lifer for each of us since its split from Arizona Woodpecker. After lunch we join the others at Coajomulco. We see only a few scattered birds until we stumble on a foraging flock of amazing complexity. Imagine seeing all of these birds at one time in one tree: Chestnut-sided Shrike-Vireo, Red Warbler, Colima Warbler, Hutton's Vireo, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Townsend's Warbler, White-throated Robin, Slate-throated Redstart and two Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercers. We follow the flock to another location, trying to get a better look at the Colima Warbler, but soon are distracted by a Blue Mockingbird playing hide-and-seek in the thick underbrush and an elusive Green-striped Brush-Finch scratching in the leaf litter. Today ends as the best birding day so far. Our trip list now stands at 312 species.
(Shari) Taking a local 10-seat van, transferring to a local bus, driving for an hour through congested streets and disembarking at the cathedral, Wally, Steve, Cecile and I begin our day in Cuernavaca. Worn wooden floors, rain-stained ceilings, chipped plaster, cracked pews, dark interior and frescos in need of restoration, this cathedral typifies much of Mexico. Beautiful buildings allowed to decay. Poor people begging, pestering vendors, police with bulletproof vests, a crowded market place, a wash bucket full of dead bugs for sale, a demonstration against Costco, congested streets, honking horns, a sea of humanity, a good lunch with a green sauce tasting strange, and the ever present stare of dark skinned people looking at light skinned ones. There is no way we can blend in, even if we never open our mouths. The only other light skinned people I see all day are Ray, Marianne and Jim, from our group, also enjoying lunch on the square.
(Shari) "I can't find Shari. Does anyone know where she is?" I hear his panic over the CB and I respond but he cannot hear me. Virginia and I had parked the caravan at a Pemex and went on ahead in the car to scout out the route. We went back to retrieve the caravan to lead them in, but somehow made the wrong turn and now all 16 rigs are headed toward Puebla Centro. I know we have to get ourselves turned around. I tell Bert to park on the side of the road while Virginia and I go on ahead, but he does not follow my directions and keeps on going. We find a turn around but by the time we come back to find the caravan, it has already passed the exit. Now what? With a little panic in my voice now too, I scream into the CB that Bert HAS to turn around. I hear others say that they are headed straight to downtown and I envision a caravan caught forever locked in a congested crowded Mexican shopping area. At this point Virginia and I decide to stay put and just wait it out. It takes forever and a day and I suggest to Virginia that we say a prayer. I pray that everyone stays safe because we have learned from experience that the drivers in Mexico have a death wish and once behind the wheel of a car they are on a suicide mission. But, thankfully, soon I hear Bert and see the caravan. I again pull out in front of the pack and we go up onto the freeway again. I tell Bert to keep the caravan on the side of the road while I go check out the next exit. Virginia hops out to stay with Bert and I go on ahead. I radio back that this is not the correct exit. I am at a loss and wonder where in the world I am, and how in the world I am going to get the caravan back on track. I radio to them that they should find a taxi to lead them in. I, on the other hand, have to find my way back to them. I U-turn on the retorno, get back on the expressway heading the wrong way, make another retorno wondering what I am to do, when I hear voices on the CB. THE CARAVAN IS CLOSE. A taxi is leading them in. I get behind the caravan and follow through one retorno and then a left turn. Boy, am I surprised when the left turn is the one I was looking for all along. I have no idea how that happened, but think the Devil changed the roads from the time Virginia and I scouted it to the time we led the caravan in. After a well-deserved margarita party (Bert makes them pretty stiff tonight) I stew over the situation. At 4 in the morning I get up, since I cannot sleep, and get out the maps. I was following directions as if coming in from the north, when we were coming in from the south. The right turn off of the expressway should have been a right turn and then a retorno. (By the way, this is what the taxi did.) I was so close, but yet so far. Everyone, and I mean everyone, was so nice about it though. I got so much positive feedback and so many hugs that I threatened to get lost again. Heaven forbid!
(Bert) "That's the wrong turn," I shout into the CB as I watch Ray and then Chris and then Lee and then a string of others all make the same right hand turn, just 20 ft. before the right turn I had made. Ironically, both right turns end up at the same glorieta and the entire caravan ends up behind me again. That maneuver saves us from venturing further toward downtown Puebla - the fourth largest city in Mexico - and back on the thoroughfare heading west. We aren't out of the frying pan yet. A mile further I regain CB contact with Shari and Virginia who used our car to reconnoiter the location of the RV park. Yet even with their leadership we managed to take the wrong exit from the expressway. Now we are following their car again and they lead us back onto the periferico. We reach another - or the same? - exit and this time Shari drives on ahead to check it out, but soon radios back that this exit looks wrong also. We stop and wait, this time with Virginia with me in our motorhome. Seeing the traffic jam we are creating, a local Mexican with impeccable English offers to help. He tells us we are very close to our destination and soon a taxi pulls up and offers to lead us to the RV park. He takes us out the same exit Shari used, but within a block we make a wide U-turn at a stoplight, blocking four lanes of traffic. A half-mile further we wind through two alleys and reach our target. We have two city maps, a company travel log and a camping site book, but none of these show the route we took to the park. A spontaneous Margarita Party and a sprawling table of snacks take the edge off our frazzled dispositions. Soon darkness and the chill of 7150-ft. elevation send us to our RV's and an early night of rest.
(Bert) A varied panorama of mountain scenery is the theme for today. Starting from Puebla shortly after sunrise, we sneak a brief view of Popocatépetl through our left rear window. The flat plain along which we travel accentuates the great height (17,671 ft., Mexico's second highest mountain) and severe cone-shape of the famous-since-Cortez volcano. Reactivated in 1994, a spiral of white clouds plumes from its apex; the rest of the volcano is unclouded, though hazy, in the distance. For miles along the toll road we travel through a field of smaller volcanoes; again the flat plain versus discrete cone-shaped peaks offers a strange experience compared to typical mountain scenery. Fifty miles into the day, we see Pico de Orizaba on our left, at 19,280 ft. the highest peak in Mexico. Long-time readers of these journals may recall we saw this snow-covered volcano clearly from the opposite direction on our birding stop at Amatlán on January 24, 2002. As the day moves on we see a great variety in mountain shapes and terrain: majestic canyons surrounded by sweeping mountain folds, gorges so deep and narrow we cannot see the base of the high bridges over which we travel, slopes spiked with 20-ft. cactus looking like porcupine quills erect and green, Giant Saguaros with branched arms like men waving, yellow-flowered Huisache and white-flowered Guajillo trees, short palm-like trees at 6500-ft. elevation - a strange sight so far from my sea level expectation for this family. The only characteristic today's views share is shades of brown and gradations of dryness. Elevations change from low to high every half-hour with John frequently keeping us abreast of 4000, 6000, 8000-ft milestones. It's a pleasure to drive the well-designed, wide and smooth cuota road, the only penalty being the $59 in tolls accumulated by the time we descend into the Valley of Oaxaca.
(Shari) All travel days should be like today. We have good roads, smooth pavement, little traffic and no mishaps. Hurrah! After parking the troops at a Pemex outside of town, Virginia and I drive to the campground to confirm that it is open. The good news is that it is open, but the bad news is that it only has 13 spots for 16 rigs. In addition, the traffic is horrendous from the gas station to the park. I say a little prayer and believe it or not, the traffic thins and we have no troubles. Bert and I lead the first seven rigs in and Ralph and Virginia take the next seven. We make a lot of locals upset when we block the road while we turn into the spot to park. We try to get the rigs off the road as rapidly as possible and everyone is sensitive to the situation and parks quickly. PLUS, we all fit! Most of us have water, sewer and dump. Those that don't get extension cords or will get it manana. At 5 PM we have an impromptu meeting to discuss the next five days and a group of us go out to eat down the street. As an added bonus, the owner of the restaurant serenades us with traditional Mexican tunes accompanied by his guitar.
(Shari) Piling into Wally's truck, Jim, Joanne, Wally, Richard and I head out for our adventure. Wally has arranged the whole day and, in my experience, his days are wonderful. I feel special to be invited along. He takes us first to a whole town Sunday market. The streets are closed off and hundreds and hundreds of vendors pile their wares in open-air stalls covered with multicolored plastic tarp for shade. At first the men give us only 30 min., but after complaining they allow us an hour. Joanne and I make our way up the street browsing all the goods artfully arranged on tables, on carts, or on the ground. Colorfully painted coconut bowls, animal-shaped pottery, woven textiles in cotton and wool, rugs, blankets, shawls and purses capture our attention. In 55 min. we have not even covered half of the market and complain loudly that we do not have enough time. Rushing back past oranges and mangoes piled high in pyramids, tomatoes stacked in bins next to broccoli and squash, we have no time to purchase those items we were saving for last. Today is a special day for the locals and we notice all the women, young and old, are carrying gaily-dressed dolls in chairs. The people are celebrating the day baby Jesus was presented at the temple and it must be a big day, since so many people, carrying their doll with reverence, are participating. The dolls are of different sizes and dressed in different clothes, certainly of the finest materials, but what is so peculiar is that all the dolls are in a high back chair: not a cradle and not carried in arms, but sitting upright in a chair. The posture must mean something but I do not know what. Our next stop is the pyramids of Mitla and Joanne and I, having our priorities straight, shop first and look at the pyramids last. I buy a colorful woven belt inserted in leather and Joanne adds more Christmas tree ornaments for her grandkids. We arrive home just in time to join 20 others on the city bus to el centro. After checking e-mail news from home and having a tour of the square and its colorful people and vendors, we all sit down in an open-air restaurant to enjoy a terrific meal with terrific people. I have had good days on caravans before, but today is one of the best.
(Bert) From mid level up one of the peaks surrounding the Valley of Oaxaca, I can look back at the city nestled below among the folds of the mountains. I'm standing among tall green pines and dried brown oaks, pleasantly cool and quiet except for the occasional Sunday morning traffic climbing the road. Birds are scarce, although the habitat looks inviting yet dry. We hear a distant owl that we assume is a Ferruginous, but later I see from my range maps that it must be a rare Mountain Pygmy-Owl. Coen imitates the owl call and gets a couple Black-headed Siskins and a few other birds to alight from their hidden perches. Earlier we found a good number of birds in a canyon still unlit by morning light. The flurry included Red-faced Warbler, several Townsend's Warblers and the first of many Rufous-capped Warblers we see today. A few of us also got a brief glimpse at an Oaxaca Sparrow, one species we hope to get a better view later in our stay in Oaxaca. Now we decide to head downhill, hoping the birding is better along a stream we passed this morning. We stop at a pullout where the stream is adjacent to the road and here in the cool shade we find several good birds. With the directional aid of Coen's mirror, many of us get a rare opportunity to see a Slaty Vireo flittering through thick underbrush. One view when it is perched in a ray of sunlight shows much prettier colors than depicted in Webb's drawing. Coen also finds the nest of a Dusky Hummingbird and I get one good photograph of it on the nest before it takes flight, and then wait unsuccessfully for 20 minutes for it to return. Across the road, foraging in the thick scrub several of us see a female Chestnut-sided Warbler. A lime-tinted olive green back and a cream-white underside, offset by a sharply-defined white eye ring mark this bird as first fall plumage. The complete absence of any rust color defies its name. This particular bird is way out of its normal range; Forcey mentions only one prior sighting (May 17, 1998) and Howell simply puts an asterisk in the middle of the state on his range map for the species. Further down the mountain we rejoin Ralph and Virginia at a streamside pullout they had visited a couple of years ago. This proves to be the most prolific birding spot of the morning and we see a dozen species including Slate-throated Redstart, many flycatchers and a Blue Mockingbird. We have three Virginia's with us this week: Virginia W. and Virginia L. who are on the tour, plus Gwen and Woody's daughter Virginia who is visiting Oaxaca this week. Now we add a fourth one: a Virginia Warbler. After lunch we head to the reservoir and then back to camp, perhaps just a bit early since Chris and May find a rare American Dipper after our departure.
(Bert) "Over here!" I yell to the others, as I continue to look upward into the sky. We are near the top of the mountain, Cerro San Felipe, and now together we watch the raptor soar 200 yards above us. At first it seems to me like a Gray Hawk, but the pillow of white feathers sticking out from its rump is weird and certainly doesn't fit Gray Hawks I've seen before. In fact, it doesn't fit any hawk I've ever seen. Together we note the long multi-banded gray and white tail and the less distinct banding at the ends of the fairly long wings. I watch the bird for five minutes, banking, circling, gliding, keeping its wings cocked in a suppressed V-shape, occasionally flapping. When it finally disappears over the edge of the mountain, I get out Howell and Webb. Immature Double-toothed Kite fits to a tee. But this bird is out of range; the range map shows it reaching the State of Oaxaca near Tehuantepec, some 150 miles distant. The book also reports the kite as a more lowland resident, between sea level and 3000 ft. This one was flying at nearly twice that elevation. The kite is the best bird of the day, but we have many more great finds, including lifers for many: Dwarf Jays, Spot-breasted Woodcreeper, Gray-barred Wrens. The morning started with multiple opportunities to hear Brown-backed Solitaires in song, including at least three times observing one singing and once through the spotting scope. Like a delicately small, cascading waterfall in a high forest the tinkling series of descending sounds could set Handel to composing water music. A confusing pair of names, we identify Rufous-capped Brush-Finch and Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch, sometimes in the same brushy area. These, like most of the birds we see today are skulkers and some of us are scrambling through the underbrush trying to get a closer view, or any view at all. We reveal Golden-browed Warbler, a bird that could win a beauty contest hands down - or should I say feathers down - with its intensely yellow and rufous headdress. Most everyone gets a look at a pair of Collared Towhees, but after an hour of looking down from the roadside edge of the ravine and looking up while struggling through the steep hillside brush from below, my best look is a pattern of black and white on a towhee-sized bird. What a tough bird to see! The species we most try to see in the thick brush is Aztec Thrush, but no one comes across one. As Gwen leaves the area and reaches La Cumbre she sees two black-and-white robin-sized birds fly low across the gravel road. Perhaps she saw what the rest of us missed all day.
(Shari) Vaguely hearing Bert depart R-TENT at 6:45AM, I roll over to enjoy one of my "free" days. Finally getting up at 8, I unload the washing machine (Bert had started it this morning while the voltage was still acceptable) and string my clothes on a line above the bed. As soon as the group realizes I am up, I have a progression of knocks on the door. When is the gas truck coming?, what happened to Coen and Brenda's chairs?, who wants water?, what is the schedule for the next few days?, where is the book exchange?, do I need tequila or Controy?, have I arranged the tacos delivery?, can I pay the bill?, what time are the birders coming back?, can I talk to the owner of the park in Tehuantepec?, etc., etc. The questions keep coming and it takes me six hours to complete an hour's task. I spend a good portion of the day looking for the malaria pills. My computer reminded me that today is the day for pill #1 but I cannot find where I put them. I tear apart every drawer and closet in R-TENT, sometimes three times, but no pills. Finally at 2:30 I find them behind the first drawer I looked in. They had fallen behind and to the side of the drawer and I only found them because I was getting desperate and started to feel in dark places. My day is also spent negotiating in Spanish: first the bill (two of our people did not have water and I wanted their two nights free) and then the 150 tacos to be cooked here on Wednesday at 5:30 PM. I am getting good at this if I say so myself. Just to be on the safe side I write out my requests on a piece of paper to show the manager of the restaurant: "30 personas, 150 tacos, incluye carne of res y porka, salsa, frijoles, guacamole, y tortillas. En trailer park las ses menos trienta 5 Febrero Miercoles." (30 people, 150 tacos, includes beef and pork, salsa, beans, guacamole, and tortillas. At the trailer park at 5:30 PM on Wednesday February 5.) We will see if it turns out. Now, after happy hour and a home-cooked dinner of swordfish, mashed potatoes and broccoli, I am tired and ready for bed.
(Bert) Undoubtedly the dryness of the winter season and perhaps the dryness of successive seasons have concentrated birds at water sources. Late in the morning we sit uncomfortably on volcanic rocks, remaining motionless and silent. Overhead the scrub closes off most of the cloudless sky. Ahead of us we peer through a tangled web of undergrowth toward a minuscule waterhole, a remnant accumulation of a stream not flowing. Chris discovered the hole and came to tell us that he'd seen Bridled Sparrows. Three of us watched the site at first, but when I whispered back to the others that I'd seen a Dwarf Vireo, more birders came. Now as we wait patiently we see much more. A flycatcher takes center stage, frequently moving from one low perch to another and rotating poses so that we can see all sides. It is the only one that stays resident, the other birds coming in briefly and then exiting the hole. Because of our scattered positions and the dense tangle of branches and leaves, not all of us see every bird, but the combined list is impressive. While sitting patiently at one spot, here is what I see or hear, in chronological order: Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Townsend's Warbler, Dwarf Vireo, White-tipped Dove, an unidentified empidonax flycatcher, Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush, Bridled Sparrow, Lesser Goldfinch, Lincoln's Sparrow, Blue Mockingbird, West Mexican Chachalaca. Birds others see, but I don't, are: Orange-crowned Warbler, Oaxaca Sparrow, Spotted Towhee, Hermit Thrush, unidentified hummingbird, White-winged Dove. That's 17 species while sitting for an hour in a brush pile! In the same area, from the road, others saw and heard Ocellated Thrasher, a nemesis bird for Coen, but no longer. I got my first good look at a Boucard's Wren through Pat's scope as it perched atop an organ pipe cactus. We all found many Black-vented Orioles; strangely, some are yellow and some orange, and chirping like tree frogs. Again today, several of the birders find out-of-range species, this time Wood Thrush and Gray Catbird. Combined with the many species we saw earlier at the reservoir, our day list totals 96 species, the highest day thus far into the trip. Another camper, and non-birder, back at the campground told Ralph earlier that he was surprised we birders would visit Oaxaca since it is so dry and the birds have all left the area. Clearly, he didn't see what we saw today.
(Shari) "Another great day in paradise," as Don would say. Meeting the birders at noon, two carloads of people travel to the reservoir. After a pleasant tailgate picnic, we all go on together to Teotitlán del Valle, the little town famous for its woven rugs. As is so true throughout Mexico this town only sells one product. Big rugs, medium sized rugs, small rugs, rugs made into coasters and purses line every shop in town. We have a special treat, when Ralph and Virginia take us to one of the artisans himself who not only weaves his own rugs but grows the cochineal bug for its natural red dye. He shows us the process from the hanging of cactus leaves for the bugs to grown on, to the carding, spinning and weaving of the wool. Unfortunately I do not like any of his rugs and go back out onto the street to look for others. Each vendor realizes they have a hot customer in me and do not want to let me depart from their area. I finally settle on an area rug woven with a Mexican scene, two coasters and a small rug for my entry way. These rugs do not creep and slide as all my other rugs have, so I do not mind spending a little more but Bert is afraid they will get soiled. (I hope he then will be more careful about tracking in the dirt.) However, don't tell him the rugs are reversible and washable. After our fill of shopping, we walk to a beautiful ornate church, its chancel loaded with wonderful roses and gladiolas. We all gather in the shade for Happy Hour and discuss tomorrow's agenda and the birds seen today before separating to our individual rigs for dinner.
(Bert) Evidence of human occupation dates to 3000 B.C. at Yagul where we bird today. The stone ruins, rebuilt in part, are a later period, perhaps in the heyday of the Oaxaca valley, around 850 A.D. What a charming location they picked for their city! The view of the valley is wide and long, although today dimmed by haze, perhaps created by the dusty conditions particularly along the miles of road construction. Our best birding is outside the ruins before the site opens. We get our finest looks at Bridled Sparrows, White-throated Towhees, Gray-breasted Woodpeckers and Boucard's Wrens. On the way back we stop at Santa Maria del Tule to see the largest tree in Mesoamerica. The heavy branches of the 2000-year-old tree are flying buttresses to support the 636-ton weight of the sprawling tree. Its height, towering over the adjacent church, combined with its 46-ft. diameter, make it difficult to photograph the monstrosity. In the afternoon I try once more to post these journals, this time with my own computer attached to the Ethernet connection at an Internet Café. But yet again, I can receive regular messages, but not post to e-groups.
(Shari) Only four of us are part of the SOB contingent this morning. The rest went with the birders or are off on their own. Meeting at Monte Alban at 9, we spend the rest of the morning looking at its famous ruins. Then four carloads drive on to view green pottery. Yet another one-product village, full of pottery pieces at dirt-cheap prices, separates a good many of us from our money. I buy more than I intended just because the pieces are so pretty and I can find a home for them somewhere. For two days in a row now, I think Mariane has beaten Joanne and me in the purchase category. We now know who the real shoppers are in this group. We return by 1:30 to spend the remainder of the afternoon shopping or napping or both. Because we are traveling again tomorrow, we have a Happy Hour travel/bird meeting and then Ralph, Virginia, Dan, Sue, Bert and I walk across the street for a wonderful meal and staff meeting.
(Bert) Beautiful Hummingbird is the 600th species I see in Mexico. A fitting name for such a milestone, but the female I watch is a rather drab representative. Only its unusually long arched bill is distinctive in this tiny 3.5-in. green and off-white hummer. We arrived at the Monte Alban ruins in the crisp morning air, before the radiant sun warmed the dry foothill overlooking Oaxaca. The Zapotecs first building here in 400 B.C. predates the famous Mayan ruins we've visited in the Yucatan peninsula. I'm impressed by the many ruins here, complete at least in outline with foundations and partial walls to give a sense of the city on the hill. The birders spend as much time hiking the brushy fields on the slopes surrounding the ruins as they do exploring the ruins themselves. I photograph a very patient Nutting's Flycatcher and a Rock Wren . We see many of the same birds as the last few days. Once a rarity to us a week ago, the White-throated Towhees are now commonplace birds, easily ignored. New to the list are Western Kingbirds and a Grasshopper Sparrow. Pat C. and I watch an Elegant Euphonia and I get my best view ever of the striking colors on the gem-colored bird. I try to reach Gwen on the portable personal radio, but apparently she isn't carrying hers. This species has become her nemesis bird: almost everyone on the four trips we've been on together has seen the euphonia except her. I find her an hour later and she stands by the tree hoping the bird will return, until it is finally time for us to depart and she yet again strikes out.
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