Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

from the December 31, 2007 Newsletter issued from Yerba Buena Clinic just outside Pueblo Nuevo Solistahuacan, Chiapas, MÉXICO
about 1740 meters in elevation, ± LAT. 17° 11' 27"N, LONG. -92° 53' 35"W

A tradition of this Newsletter is that on Christmas Day I list the birds that happen to be part of my life that day. Therefore, last Tuesday on my way up to the cloudforest and back I jotted down what I saw, and below I present the birds in the order they were seen. This wasn't really a birding hike, so these are just species I couldn't miss.

Since I began climbing before sunrise the first species were just heard, not seen, as they contributed to a diffuse, slow-pace "morning chorus," beginning when there was just enough light to see that the trees were green and the full moon dominated the western sky.

  • 1) BROWN-BACKED SOLITAIRE, accelerating musical jumble
  • 2) RUFOUS-COLLARED THRUSH, nasal robin warning calls
  • 3) MOUNTAIN TROGON, monotonous kyow-kyow-kyow
  • 4) BLUE-THROATED MOTMOT, a low "double-hoot," oot-oot
  • 5) GRAY SILKY, ±5 in treetops with nasal k-liks
  • 6) GREAT-TAILED GRACKLE, at clinic squeaking & popping
  • 7) WHITE-CROWNED PARROT, ±10 screeching above treetops
  • 8) CANYON WREN, descending series of sharp whistles
  • 9) BLACK-HEADED SISKIN, ±5 in treetops, nasal teu
  • All the above were heard in oak-pine forest on the way up to the reserve as the morning grew lighter, revealing a splendidly blue, cloudless sky. In the reserve, climbing steeply through more oak-pine and then crossing the top belt of cornfields I identify nothing new. Inside the cloudforest I identify:

  • 10) GOLDEN-BROWED WARBLER, like a Yellowthroat, but with chestnut cheeks and crown, foraging in underbrush
  • The Golden-browed Warbler is the only species identified in the cloudforest, where I saw several foraging alone. Inside the cloudforest it was so cool (52° F, 11° C) and humid that my binoculars and glasses misted terribly. Also the light was so intense and shadows so stark that what few other birds I saw showed up as mere silhouettes. It was frustrating, but dreamlike, causing me feel as if I were being toyed with by light and vapor. My hands got so cold I couldn't use my fingers properly and that sharpened the sensation that I was out of control, drifting in an ethereal world bent on showing me how illusory things truly are.

    The following were seen as I descended back into warmer air and softer lifht, passing across the upper cornfield and coming to the oak-pine woods edge. By now wind had begun shaking tree limbs, making it even harder to spot birds.

  • 11) ACORN WOODPECKER, ±5 with noisy rattling calls from treetops at wood's edge

  • 12) TUFTED FLYCATCHER, 2 conspicuously flying in and out of trees catching insects over cornfield

  • 13) BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLER, foraging at wood's edge

  • 14) NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOW, one soaring over upper cornfield, landing in dead tree, nervously gawking around as if unfamiliar with this area

  • 15) GREEN JAY, noisily complaining from shadowy brush

  • 16) WHITE-EARED HUMMINGBIRD, at red salvias

  • 17) WILSON'S WARBLER, foraging at wood's edge

  • 18) BAND-BACKED WREN, gruff, rollicking she-eh eh-eh-eh from shadowy brush at woods edge

  • 19) ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK, silent female watching me from woods edge, not moving at all

  • 20) CINNAMON-BELLIED FLOWERPIERCER among red salvias

  • 21) SUMMER TANAGER giving same pik-u-ruk call heard in North America during the summer

  • 22) AZURE-CROWNED HUMMINGBIRD working red salvias
  • The above list holds fewer migrants from North America than I'd expected -- the Black-throated Green Warbler, Wilson's Warbler, Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Summer Tanager. A couple of months ago trees were full of migrant Townsend's Warblers so their absence now surprises me. However, Wilson's Warblers were abundant then and even more so now. Over half the time if something was moving in brush or lower trees it proved to be a Wilson's.

    What could have been the star of the list got away. Entering the cloudforest zone but in a disturbed area with grass over my head and stunted trees, two large, unseen birds flushed from nearby treetops. They were so large and clumsy-sounding that they were surely turkey- like Cracids -- very possibly Great Curassows or Horned Guans, which the local hunters swear are present, or maybe Highland Guans, also called Black Penelopinas, which also should be here.