05 April 2009

Vireo Hatrick on our return to Alban…(Oaxaca, Mexico): 22 March 2009

Flushed with our success from birding the valley the day before, and armed with some further hot gen from Michael Retter about good stuff they’d seen around the ancient Mayan ruins site just a few days earlier, we were keen to return to the place we were first birded in the Oaxaca Valley - Monte Alban. Focusing our efforts along the entrance road , just above the city of Oaxaca, initially we found the gate barring entrance to cars, and joggers busy combing the road up from the gate. So we dropped the car by the gate and walked up the quiet road in to the ruins. Michael had put us on a sixpence for one bird (i.e. his directions were top notch, and pinpoint), that noisily called back and popped up in front of us, once we’d reached the appointed location. The bird, an indistinctive “cresty” flycatcher, called Pileated Flycatcher is a tricky customer, as they are often believed to be absent in winter when most birders visit the ruins. Although, our return visit seem to have been just late enough for the birds to be back in town, and we heard three or four different birds during the morning. A far cry from the “silent valley” we had experienced in the second week of March. We also heard several sneaky Ocellated Thrashers along the road although could not get one to come out, some tantalizing rustling in the leaf litter being all we got out of them. Our road work was not finished though as shortly after enjoying the Pileated Fly, a superb Slaty Vireo appeared in the trees beside us and rapid fire shots could soon be heard from our cameras. I’d seen this endemic vireo on our first visit for a fraction of a second, so it was good to be able to enjoy one at length at last.

Moving on from the road we checked around Tomb 7 just outside the main ruins, where we had birded before. The activity was slowing down even at this early hour of 08.30, although we still found a Canyon Wren hopping along a dry stone wall (wren number 19 of the trip!), a couple of Blue Mockingbirds skulking in the brush, and could hear several Ocellated Thrashers. We went “off-piste” (i.e. scrambling through the thorny scrub) in hot pursuit of this spotted number. As we neared the sound and readied ourselves for what we thought would be a scramble into the undergrowth to find him lurking near ground level, I looked up to find one sitting high up in a tree singing its heart out. I had barely managed to glass it, when it slinked down into the undergrowth just before the person I was with was in sight of it. A game of cat-and-mouse followed for a while and it appeared that may have been its last star performance of the morning, when suddenly there it was up on top again, and a little later we even saw a second bird trying to outperform the firsts star turn. I then went to check out a small stream near the tomb where it had been very birdy on our last visit (and where I had missed the short showing of a Dwarf Vireo). I followed a narrow trail finding another Blue Mocker, more of the ever-present White-throated Towhees, and amazingly at the last gasp, a Dwarf Vireo gleaning low down in the thorny scrub. Mission accomplished for all our main targets, we headed back down to the car, being distracted by an eye-level Golden Vireo picking bugs off a flowering tree, and decided to head out of town once again for our final birding in Oaxaca.

In the afternoon we travelled south on the Puerto Angel road again to the picturesque village of San Jose de Pacifico and checked into some neat log-fire mountain cabins once more. A period of afternoon birding south of there was quiet except for a few hummers, including a single Garnet-throated Hummingbird.

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