06 April 2009

Jay Turns up at the Last Chance Saloon…(Oaxaca, Mexico): 23 March 2009

This morning we birded for the final time in Oaxaca, starting at La Soledad, an area of high pines and oak on the pacific slope, north of Puerto Angel. We had checked this site in the middle of the day earlier on our trip with limited success, so we still had a discreet set of endemic birds to try for here. A short distance along a nice forest trail that thankfully got us off the annoyingly busy highway, we heard and quickly saw one of our key birds, a pair of Gray-crowned Woodpeckers scrapping by the side of the trail. A blast of a Colima Pygmy-Owl tape did not unfortunately bring any response from the owl, but did bring in an array of scolding birds, including a scarlet-hooded male Red-headed Tanager, Rose-throated Becard, Elegant Euphonia, Red-legged Honeycreepers, Tufted Flycatcher, Cassin’s Vireo, and the odd Berryline Hummingbird, all “screaming abuse” at me (or really my owl tape), from the treetops above. A little further back we heard the greenlet-like song of a Golden Vireo and watched another of these endemic vireos serenading from the canopy. However, our main bird we were after seemed absent as we heard not a peep out of it. My companion Nick even remarked lets go bird somewhere else “…as there are no Chestnut-sided Shrike-Vireos here”. Famous last words if ever there were. A few minutes later we both heard a strange call that we independently both thought, could it really be…? So we popped the tape, and sure enough high up in the trees a magnificent male Chestnut-sided Shrike-Vireo appeared right on cue, where we had declared they were not around just a short time before. A sweet, sweet moment as we had somehow failed to find a close calling bird at La Cumbre earlier on the trip, so had begun to believe we had thrown away our best chance at that time.

With the vireo under the belt we went off for one last desperate attempt to get a jay that had showed just to me briefly earlier on the trip. However, with the woods now quiet, bright blue skies overhead and the day having warmed up considerably our chances were looking bleak to say the least. Hot sunny days in the cloudforest are famously poor for birds with activity strongly peaked in the wee hours after dawn. Aside from the ever-present masses of wintering American wood-warblers (not to be scoffed at mind you), there was little sound of any other birds aside from a few roadside hummers at flowering tree, that included a brief Blue-capped Hummer. We trooped up the trail more than anything else to check a flowering tree where we might pick up a new hummer. As we walked up with the sun beaming down on us, and minimal bird activity Nick continued intermittently to pop the tape of White-throated Jay, in a last desperate act. Just as I was mulling the pointlessness of this at 1pm in the afternoon I heard the unequivocal sound of a jay right beside me, glanced back at Nick who had not heard and so proceeded to wave my arms around to catch his attention. Soon enough we were both combing the sides of the road for signs of the jay that had gone quiet and turned dastardly once more. Here and there we received a quiet indistinct reply from the jay to little effect, until I picked up a subtle movement in the bushes below and clapped my eyes on a deep indigo blue jay with a gleaming white throat and thin ivory brow – White-throated Jay. Nick came down to get it just as it slinked back into the undergrowth. Eventually though we both got killer looks (if brief), of this star jay. The bird was always really tough though, just appearing for the briefest of moments, otherwise remaining hidden in deep cover, only calling very softly and very occasionally. It became clear why people struggle to get this here. We were both very relieved to get it at the very last chance saloon, and were then happy to head back to Oaxaca where we celebrated with some top spicy Mexican tamales and tostados, washed down with a couple of dark Bohemian beers. A great end to our Mexican road trip.

No comments: