Thursday, August 6, 2015

Hot On The Trails

I love this photo.  Serious birders with some serious concentration. L to R  Rich, Martin and Gordon. It reminds me of Charlie's Angels but with birders. 
I couldn't sleep the night before this trek.  After days of cloud forest work, I was beginning to have my doubts about capturing images of the birds out in the field. Could we find some difficult birds on this next trek?  Thankfully we had Tucson's very own Rich Hoyer with us as our guide.  Also joining the crew was an experienced birder by the name of Martin. Things were already looking up, but I knew that this birding trek would be a BIG challenge for me personally. Two extremely important target birds were on the list which included the challenging Blue Seedeater and Belted Flycatcher.  Both are considered top birds in the birding world. 

Overlooking the majestic Sumidero Canyon
This dark trail took us to the edge of a cliff overlooking the incredibly beautiful Sumidero Canyon. How does one focus within such beauty while trying to find some of the most difficult birds on this planet? Martin told me that he had spent decades trying to find this Blue Seedeater.  With Rich as our guide, I knew our chances would be very good for this rare encounter. 

Erodyle Checkerspot/Guatemalan Patch
We walked the trails looking at butterflies and trogons. Rich was, like always, very focused.  Having worked with him before in Tucson, I was familiar with his style of birding.  The man is a genius! And he exhausts my brain from all the information he gives while on the trails. If a bird peeps, he can pinpoint the location and tell you what it is. Me?  I had drool coming out of my mouth. So when I saw a Black Vulture flying above the canyon, I was relieved to find and observe a bird I already knew well:)  The list of birds on this trek was wild and confusing.  Flycatchers were abundant. 

Black Vulture
The weather was cooperative on this afternoon hike but the shadows of the forest loomed over us.  We all bumped the ISO up on our cameras anxious to find the Blue Seedeater. 

A Katydid
The Blue Seedeater called and the group quickly focused on their target bird.  It was flitting around the trees near the seeding bamboo where it feeds.  The bird is not by any means rare, but it has a very tight habitat requirement.  If the bamboo is seeding in the right location, a person has a good chance for spotting this tricky bird. However, the bird is erratic and a tricky one for birders to find.

Blue Seedeater
I spotted the bird with my binos and it flew near the right side of the group for them to take great pictures.  I stood with Martin on the left side.  He, of all people, needed to get photos of this tricky bird.  After all, he had made several attempts to find this bird over his many years of birding treks.  Sometimes a nemesis bird can really play with you.  But the gods were good and the Blue Seedeater flew to our side for excellent views.  I almost wet my pants from excitement:)  It felt good to really observe this incredible bird. 

After everyone had great views of the seedeater, we continued forward on the trail to find a very special flycatcher. 

White-patched Skipper (Chiomara asychis) Thank you to Doug Taron for the ID
Along the way, little birds darted among the leaves forcing us to really stop and look.  A Northern Bentbill(below) made for a lovely sight as it sat in the branches for a few moments before flitting off. 

Northern Bentbill sans tail
I love sparrows, but it seemed that while on our treks within Chiapas, not many people cared to stop and look at them.  My stubborn German side came out and said enough was enough.  When I heard an Olive Sparrow(that I kept calling an Olive Warbler out of habit), I stopped and waited for the bird to make an appearance.  It was VERY close and eventually popped out on the branches for everyone.  Green Jays flew in and distracted everyone. They all wanted to see them instead....but not our poor Olive Warbler Sparrow:)

Olive Sparrow
Our trek was not complete.  We had to find the Belted Kingfisher Flycatcher.  Common bird names for me back home kept screwing up my Mexican bird names.  And Gordon kept correcting my annoying habit of saying the wrong bird names even though I knew what I meant:)  

Grasshopper Species-a nymph of the very diverse genus Melanoplus(thanks Rich and Ricardo Marño-Perez for the ID)
Our first special flycatcher was the Flammulated Flycatcher.  It looked like one of those mariachis birds.  You know....the Ash-throated, Dusky-capped ones!:) It is closely related to the birds of the genus Myiarchus(my-arch-us). Or as I like to mispronounce it.  Mariachis.  Drives people nuts:)

Flammulated Flycatcer
After having nice observations of this special Flycatcher, I noticed what looked like burn marks on the trees.  Turns out that we were actually looking at caterpillars. It was gross and very cool at the same time.  These wormy critters will turn into beautiful butterflies or make a nice snack for someone:)  I watched the Lion King and remember that grubs and caterpillars make for great protein.  So Hakuna Matata all! I think I will pass:)

Blue Morphos Caterpillar-ID thanks to Michael Retter
Let's get serious now.  What about that tricky Belted Flycatcher?  Well, we hit the jackpot and found several!  Again, this is a highly prized gem for the birding world.  It is listed as Near Threatened because the bird is found in fewer than 10 locations in a very small range.  The Belted Flycatcher is suspected to be in decline due to habitat loss within their tight range. Thankfully, Sumidero Canyon is a protected location.  As for the other 9?  I would like to visit them and see what's happening there.

Belted Flycatcher
After our target birds were found, I could relax a bit and just enjoy the hike.  The stress was over.  Rich did an amazing job and I am grateful to him for all the hard work.  It isn't easy guiding a group of 10 on tight trails.

I know it's not safe, but I wanted to jump.  It probably would've killed me, but have you ever wanted to fly for just for a moment?
On this day, one of MY personal targets came out to play.  The Barred Antshrike was an amazing way to end our hike! 

Sexy Barred Antshrike
He looked at me.  And I looked at him. Then he asked, "Who the hell are all of you?" And took off:)

Bye bye birdie!

The birders then changed into butterfliers.  Yeah, the butterflies stole the show at one point and people were goo goo and gah gah over them.  I learned that if you pee, they will come.  I think it also works with "number two" as well since I could smell something nasty and familiar.  Definitely human and definitely a favorite with the smaller butterflies.  I deleted those pictures:)

This would be the last trek with a full crew before the plague hit the group.  It would take many innocent lives which included my buddy Gordon.  Here we smile one last time together.  It was the final time I would see my British friend Helen(on the left).  Ernie, to my right, would be spared.

On our next journey, I will take you all to some of my absolute favorite birding spots while in Chiapas.  El Ocote took my breathe away.  I wanted to stay there longer, but could we?  Thanks in part to the plague, it appeared butterflies would have much to dine on:) Until next time friends....


  1. Forget "flying" ... even for an instant!! THAT is a long way down!

    I love the little Antshrike too... and, can definitely live without the caterpillars.... ick......

  2. Awesome post and birds, Chris! The Antshrike is cool. And I love the gorgeous views. The last butterfly shot is awesome. Happy Birding!

  3. So glad you got your bird. I love all the bug wings.

  4. Another brilliant post Chris. A real Hitchcock tale and a fantastic list of birds this time. I don't know why some folk don't rate sparrows when they are often such a challenge to birding skilss in both calls and appearance - maybe that's the reason? I reckon that Barred Antshrike was the bird of the trip though even if it wasn't especially rare.

    Sorry about the plague taking hold but if you will go birding to these exotic location what do you expect?

    1. The dangers of international birding! Pretty exciting stuff actually. For some it was their first time and unfortunately their bodies hadn't built an immunity to bacteria. I felt so bad for them. Nasty stuff!

  5. I saw a lot in your post today that I have never seen or heard of. It has been a wonderful education. Thank you Chris and your photography was a joy to see.

  6. Sumidero Canyon, don´t think I have heard of it and it surprise me. Such a great place to explore! Thanks for sharing all the great things :)

  7. The black, white and red butterfles are awesome, they kind of steal the show for me, with the pattern on their wings that looks to me like a three-fingered hand and short thumb. The Antshrike has amazing feathers too, the white bands on the tail really catch the light. It's too bad that while beautiful country, especially the view of the green rollng hills and meandering stream, danger lurks there in the form of Plague. I'm sorry for your loss of friends there.

  8. Glad you have built up an immunity to the 'plague', what a terrible thing to happen on such a wonderful journey. Those butterflies are gorgeous.

  9. Beautiful shots Chris and so glad you found your target species. For me though the butterfly shots are the most amazing - what a lovely species :)

    So sorry to hear about the loss of your friends.

  10. The scenery is fantastic and all those birds and butterflies are like the icing on the cake! Perfect! I'm glad you found the two birds that you especially wanted but the little sparrow is rather nice too.

  11. Sounds like a brilliant trip and some amazing birds and wildlife captured too. Great images.

  12. thanks for the fun report! what a fantastic trip and congrats on the flycatcher. the butterflies are gorgeous as well.

  13. Love the butterflies, and the belted antshrike! What an amazing trip! So happy you had such well-known birders with you, though I have to admit the first photo and the idea of all of you searching so hard for your target birds reminded me a bit of that movie, Life Bird! :-) Sorry. Great photos! Can't wait to see more of your amazing birding venture!


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