Monday, August 3, 2015

Rain Rain Go Away!

A lovely walk in the cloud forests around Tapalapa
The clock ticks.  You either find the life birds or you don't! Some of the most difficult birding happened during our first two days on the trails in the cloud forests around the beautiful San Cristobal de las Casas and Tapalapa. 

Reserva Ecológica Huitepec
On both days, our guides Alberto and Rich, did a great job taking us around the areas.  It was wet, overcast, cloudy, and misty.  We had to keep wiping off our cameras and binoculars to get decent views of the birds.  

Female Mountain Trogon.  The secret to Trogon ID is in the tail. 
From experience, I knew that photography in a cloud forest would have its' challenges, but it still didn't stop me from becoming super frustrated. Everyone's solution, bumping up the ISO, did not work too well thanks to the rain:) I love photography so much and capturing the image of a new bird is essential.  Many of our lifebirds DO NOT have images from these days. Surprisingly, my cell phone took most of the pics you'll see today. 

Rich explains the set up of Sumidero Canyon to the the rain:)
I had never birded with a large tour of 10 people before nor was I used to this "tick" listing. It goes something like this. After your observation window, you get on the bus and pull out the paper and pencil.  At that point, you check off all the birds you saw. Done. It's a different style of birding that is quite opposite of what I do at home. 

Mexican Sulfur-female
In general, birders do well in groups of 3 or 4 people. If there are too many people, the birds tend to stay away. With our group being around 50, we were all divided up into 10 people per day. Our guides had huge challenges on our daily treks. Could they find birds for such large numbers?  Eventually I got the hint, so I stepped back and just used my binoculars to look at the birds.  This group thing was a definite challenge for me.  I'm used to staying in one habitat for a week and freely walking a routine 3 times each day to document the birds. If it rains, I can go back to the same area again when the weather is better and try again. I may not get the highest number of birds but I'll have quality views and observations of the ones I do see. It just proves that birding is a lot more complicated and challenging than it sounds.

We stand tall amongst the Gunnera
I also thought a lot about the crazy stuff I was seeing.  Just a few weeks ago I was walking around in snow for a Ptarmigan.  Now I was in the middle of a gorgeous cloud forest searching for....whatever! What an amazing life! My thought was interrupted as the rain began again.  I pulled out my poncho(not a rain jacket/it's a Wisconsin thing:) and put my camera underneath. 

I fell in love with this Scottish birder. He was a kind man and his English was difficult for me to understand which really intrigued me.  
The group searched for Blue-throated Motmots and Resplendent Quetzals.  These were birds I had seen in Guatemala so I wasn't stressed about getting photos of these two species. But I was concerned about the Pink-headed Warbler, a declining species due to habitat loss. This was my only true target bird. 

Amethyst-throated Hummingbird-the ONE big bird photo from our trek
We were lucky to have Alberto with us as our guide on this trek because he had discovered these warblers on privately owned Zapotec forest land.  The Zapotec and birding community, thanks to Alberto, may one day profit from one another. Birders work everyday to educate the public about protecting habitat.  Alberto made a deal with several of the people on the property to show them that birding can bring in revenue for the group.  In return, they watched us and helped several birders carry their scopes. 

Back to the birds:) We'd get on a bird and it would start to rain!  Come on Mother Nature!  Be nice to us!  The rain did not seem to deter the birds one bit.  There goes another life bird without photo documentation.  After two days of terrible weather conditions, I unfortunately snapped at Gordon from frustration and said, "This is bull$%^!" He just happened to be the unintended victim standing there as I went crazy. I had to let off steam because I'm not one to keep it bottled up inside. Thanks for being patient with me Gordon:)  I couldn't control how I birded and that drove me crazy.  The participants were amazing as were the guides but I couldn't control when or how I was going to bird. My hands were tied.  It's now or never so get your act together buddy. This is your one shot at this bird.  So, as a birder, you are sometimes only given the time allowed and nothing more. This can also be said about our lives.  Do it now because you never know if you'll get another opportunity to do it again. 

Orchids, ferns and lots of air plants
The conditions grew darker and eventually I stopped looking because I didn't want to see anymore life birds without photos.  So the question for myself on this trip was, "Why was a photo so important me?"  There are general categories of birders.  The bird photographer. I am a bit of this especially when it comes to new life birds. The birder(binos and bird). I normally play this role after I've seen and documented most of my life birds.  The tick lister(see a bird and tick it off your list.  Great observations aren't always necessary.) And the target birders(looking for specific birds). There is also a subspecies of the target birder known as THE TWITCHER(chasing a rare bird at any time of day or night; reasoning and logic are thrown out of consideration here:) The photographer in me makes me slow down and really observe the birds.  The binos help me locate the birds for the photo. My most important goal while birding?  Finding the bird and getting the best observations that I can while I'm out in the field.  I memorize their calls, watch their flight patterns and behaviors.  I memorize their habitat, etc etc. 

More rain came and what happens?  A new life bird, the Rufous-browed Wren, makes an appearance.  Of course it does:)

Rufous-browed Wren
The rain ceases until we stop to find some new hummers. And then the rain begins!  A Green Violetear shows up for a beautiful shot.  Meanwhile I navigate my camera as best I can to get the shot. 

Green Violetear
But the main purpose for our trek to this area was to find the Pink-headed Warbler or what the Mexicans call a "Chipe Nevado"(Snowy/Misty Warbler).  It didn't take long before we saw at least 6 of them dance around the branches in the rain.  At one point, one flew right over my head and it was so beautiful. 

We just give up with the cameras and pull out our cell phones:)  Gordon gets up close and personal with this ladybug
The image below is from our guide Alberto. I did not take this picture, but this was one of the warblers we saw:) As you can see, there is rain coming down in the background. It rained 4 of the 5 days for the groups.  On the "sunnier" day, the warblers weren't as cooperative which I thought was an interesting observation.  Isn't this warbler sexy?

Photo taken and used with permission by our guide Alberto Martínez Fernández of a Pink-headed Warbler
This species is listed as vulnerable as it is only found in southern Chiapas and northern Guatemala. The habitat is fragmented and shrinking thanks to......habitat loss. In Mexico, this bird is listed as endangered.  Records that date back to 1898 listed them as a common warbler to the highlands of Mexico.  Today, they can be very difficult to find.  Thanks to the guides and their hard work, we were able to observe these amazing birds.  This was definitely a positive for this whole group birding bit:)

Our crew with Alberto(far left)
Our treks into other areas would yield better photography results but it would still be difficult work ahead.  I hope you join me next time as we explore a very HOT chase into one of the most beautiful areas of Chiapas.  Until next time friends......

Cinnamon-bellied the rain


  1. I do not recall you snapping at me at all! Guess I was so overwhelmed by the birds that I was willing to overlook a lot. I knew that with the rain, photos were going to be pretty much of a failure, so I just tried to keep my equipment dry and enjoy the birds. It was not doubt a challenge, but so much fun at the same time. You got some photos there I I failed to get. Great job!

    1. Oh good! We were in the hotel after the Tapalapa trek and instead of holding my tongue, I let it out. So I'm glad you didn't notice:) I wish I lived there so I could go back. I'm already thinking about staying in San Cristobal de Las Casas and doing some of my own work.....BUT that won't be for awhile. We have another trek to plan for next month:)

  2. It seems that the more involved you are in Any project the more tricky and challenging it gets but it’s good for becoming oneself of a kind though. What an experience!

  3. I can hear your frustration coming through stil in this post but birding in a marvellous adveture and the weather has a big part to play in seeing birds and photographing them but signing up and knowing you wil be in a group has also challenages but it is a good attitude to other that will show who you are. I don't know whetheri ahvasked you thisbefore but is it possible to make you text colour WHITE as I cannot read any of the other peoples comments as it is Black on dark green.

    1. Hi there Margaret. I would normally do this but I can't read the white on the green:) I'm so sorry.

  4. Hello Chris, this trip sounds just amazing to me. I know it is nice to get a photo of any life bird, but it is wonderful too just to see a new bird for the very first time. Awesome post and photos.

  5. I'm guessing it must be easier to bird in smaller groups Chris but then the bird whereabouts knowledge of the guides would be invaluable. Could be more productive for someone like you to have a one on one or two kind with guide kind of thing. However frustrasting it was at times I get the feeling that you really enjoyed the trip right!

  6. I enlarged Gordon's photo of the pink warbler and it is amazing. Maybe next time you'll get your own photo to share with us. Sounds like a challenging time. It's that way when you travel with a hope of photographing anything. You always wish if you're not successful that you could just return tomorrow and that's not always the case, is it?

  7. Amazing place Chris - so feel for you with the frustration of not getting photos but I did like the shots you did manage to take including the butterfly and moth :) The warbler is a gorgeous little bird.

    Not overkeen on group trips/walks myself as I like to be free to do what I want when I want to do it!! But sometimes they can be good ways to see wildlife that you might not find yourself. Have actually gritted my teeth and arranged to go on a guided butterfly walk soon myself in search of a new species of butterfly (for me).

    Look forward to reading your next post :)

  8. Chris, in spite of your complaining, you still had an amazing time! I had to laugh at your frustration, (sorry!) when I remembered you looking for the Bicknell's here last year! I am sorry about the rain, and that is an interesting observation that the birds were MORE active in the rain. Maybe that's because they live in a RAIN Forest? Anyways, I am still glad you went and amazed at the birds you got to see with such poetic names! I am sure I could not have endured this trek, so you get kudos from me! Well done!

  9. Life has a multitude of ways (some annoying, some not) of teaching us the things we need to learn. Rain is a difficult teacher :)

  10. Very enjoyable post. It's a bummer about the dreary weather but I did like the first few shots and that one bird, Trogon is super cool, especially the tail.

  11. I really can't imagine birding, or even hiking, with a group so large. Good thing you had a great guide. And even in frustration you got some wonderful shots.


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