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Birding the Durango Hwy. and San Blas, Mexico. – Chris Llewellyn's "Birds Eye Views"

Birding the Durango Hwy. and San Blas, Mexico.

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I fly in to Mazatlan to meet my guide, Mark Stackhouse mark@westwings.com , who I have birded with in the past.  He is in a class by himself and probably the best birding guide I have had.  The plan is to bird the Durango Hwy. and then move on to San Blas.  The views of Espenosa del Diablo (spine of the devil) mountains were unbelievable.  National Geographic quality all the way.  Talk about rugged, man oh man!  Now on to the birds.  Only had a week to shoot new birds, of which I did get 30 new species for my camera.  The skies were hazy so the lighting was poor but following are photos of a few of my new birds… 

Red-headed Tanager













This Red-headed Tanager insisted on staying under cover and constantly on the move made capturing an image difficult. The Red-headed Tanager is endemic to the mountains of western Mexico, where it occurs in pine-oak, evergreen, and semideciduous forests and forest edge. This is a small species of Piranga. The male, very distinctive, is olive above and yellow below, with a red head and throat. Females, however, completely lack red on the head; they are olive above and yellow below, with a paler belly. Red-headed Tanagers travel as pairs or in small groups, which often associate with mixed species flocks. They forage from the midstory into the canopy, and consume both insects and small fruits and berries. The nest is a cup of twigs and other vegetation well up in a tree, but otherwise little is known about the breeding biology of the Red-headed Tanager.

One of my target birds was the Colima Pygmy Owl and Mark didn’t disappoint me.  He never does.  Check out this cutie Mark called in just by whistling a call.

Colima Pygmy Owl













I think this owl was as interested in us as we were in it.  Colima Pygmy-Owl is a newly-recognized species. Previously these populations were classified as subspecies of Least Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium minutissimum), although now the name Least Pygmy-Owl is applied only to the birds in eastern South America. Colima Pygmy-Owl occurs on the west slope of Mexico, from Sonora south to Oaxaca. This species overlaps geographically with the slightly larger Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium brasilianum), but Colima Pygmy-Owl can be distinguished by its shorter tail, spotted crown, and different song. This species occurs in thorn forest, semi-deciduous forests, and coffee plantations, and locally also in pine-oak forests. The song of Colima Pygmy-Owl is a short series of hollow hooting notes. As is typical of Glaucidium, Colima Pygmy-Owl is partially diurnal and hunts for invertebrates and small vertebrates, but there is very little information available about its biology.

Another target bird I was really hoping to photograph is this Golden Vireo.  An absolutely gorgeous bird that never sits still for a photo shoot.

Golden Vireo












Then off we go hiking and listening for the bird of the day.  I think this is the largest Jay in the world, the awesome, noisy Tufted Jay of Durango.  

Tufted Jay












It was kind of funny.  Once we found this flock of Jays, sometimes called a “party” they followed us back, keeping a distance, to where the car was parked.  Mexico is the best country in the world for jays. More species of jays can be found here than in any other country on earth. Sixteen resident species to be exact. The state of Nayarit on the central Pacific coast of Mexico holds one of the highest diversities with a total of seven species represented, including the endemic San Blas JayPurplish-backed Jay and the very localized Tufted JayBlack-throated Magpie-jays are common in Nayarit and are also regarded as endemic to Mexico – except for a small disputed population in southern California which most experts regard as originating from escaped captive birds.

I almost did’t want to show this next picture to y’all because it’s so dark, but I’m going to.  These hard to find, deep brush finches were really putting on a musical show for us.  Singing and singing.  Green-striped Brush Finches.

Green-striped Brush Finches












Again, following our ears, ahead and way down a valley we could hear the calls of yet another target bird.  Mark new the place to look and listen for the spectacular Military Macaws.

Military Macaw













I’ve photographed these birds before but at that time we couldn’t get any closer than seeing them flying about a mile away.  Still a very shy bird I got a little closer this time.  The military macaw (Ara militaris) is a large parrot and a medium-sized macaw. Though considered vulnerable as a wild species, it is still commonly found in the pet trade industry. It is found in the forests of Mexico and South America. It gets its name from its predominantly green plumage resembling a military parade uniform.

I’ll try to blog some more about the Durango Hwy. birds and then San Blas.  But I’ll be heading over to Colima, Mexico soon and then off to Costa Rica.  The plane ride to Costa Rica is the pits but the birds are worth it.  Hopefully this time I’ll get the Jabiru.

Have fun and happy birding.   chrisllewellyn0211@gmail.com


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