Danner’s truck skidded through a huge mud puddle and we all held on for dear life. Speeding through the Pitayal at 7am I couldn’t have felt more contented. A behemoth above the desert landscape, the fig tree of the ranch loomed ahead.
As AWA began to explore the region in the early days, they found a nearby cattle ranch that was fine with a buncha geeky gringos sneaking around and shouting about “los pajaros.” With considerable stands of mesquite scrub, a small freshwater creek, a squared man made lake, and the aforementioned fig tree, there were of birds aplenty. They were chattering away as we made our way towards the lush creek banks sloughing warblers and the fruit heavy fig.
Kiskadees and Gila Woodpeckers were making a ruckus gorging fruit. Behaving much more respectably and frustratingly cryptic was a species I’d long wanted to see, the Rufous-backed Robin. For a millisecond birds would pop into view and stuff their faces, before disappearing behind the shroud of leaves. Someone said something about them “just being robins,” as I sat patiently enduring their infuriating shyness.
Along the lakeshore we found masses of Lark Sparrows. I’d never seen so many in my life; they were in small flocks of six or eight birds and seemingly everywhere. Seeing huge amounts of migrant birds was surprisingly one of my favorite things about Mexico, (considering that I enjoy birds largely because of their ecology and not for the baseball aspects of birding, this actually isn’t a surprise at all). Imagining the odyssey rivaling journeys that these birds endured to arrive at Navopatia, knowing that possibly they’d even be from Washington State boggles the mind (which end of their migration are they actually from anyway?). Seeing clouds of Orange-crowned Warblers of the same subspecies that breed in the Northwest continued to enliven imaginative drifting on avian life. It certainly put the rest of us humans in our place. As if to keep reminding me that we were still in North America and that, yes most of these birds could be seen within 100 miles of where I live, a male Bufflehead screamed down to land.
Neotropic Cormorants bobbed up and disappeared beneath the murky surface of the lake. At the far end, Least Grebes sat nicely along with Pied-billed Grebes accommodating those who were new to them. Mexican Mallards floated together like any other mallard pair would, despite their practically imperceptible dimorphism.
Vermilion Flycatchers are so stunning that I think they overwhelm people. Danner and I followed a male around snapping shots as he patiently went about his day. It was too easy to see these birds everywhere and get dulled to their stunning red and black plumage – but being a pale, color starved Northerner I couldn’t get enough. People may balk at that statement and suggest some notable birds that display the shade, but no I’m sorry, there’s nothing so brilliantly crimson in Washington. After probably 80 photos of this little gentleman, I got distracted and went off to find a Harris Hawk that had flown by with nest material clutched in it’s talons.
A couple ranch hands rode by on horses, friendly enough but seeming a bit suspicious of the bunch of us. I couldn’t blame them. Despite the natural wealth of the land here, everyone living on this ejido (land made communal by the government) was poor. Here we were, a bunch of kids running around with binoculars, scopes, cameras, things that would cost many people here more than a years salary. It reminded me of a time in Ecuador when our group stood watching some gaudy, extraterrestrial bird in awe of the exquisiteness of nature, when a group of cattle ranchers drove their cows past our group. Wearing torn clothes, their cows visibly infested with bot fly larvae, it was immediately hard to feel happy about this place. These Mexicans weren’t unhappy and probably weren’t starving but I couldn’t help but feel a wash of guilt about my luck.
It was easy enough to slip back into my astonishment of birds and nature almost as a remedy for such feelings. A Bell’s Vireo sang in a clump of mesquite and I succumbed to my excitement once again. But I didn’t want to completely forget about the disparity of the world and the fact that this is not only horrible for people but the environment as well. I used to think that we couldn’t help the environment without first helping people. While that is conditionally true the simplicity of that view doesn’t permit a holistic approach. Considering people and place separate, animals apart from people, won’t solve problems but more likely than not actively promote the downward spiral. Health of the environment means health of the people. While I’m not suggesting a Utopian ideal, it’s obvious that when the air is clean and the water clear, people are better off. What makes me ashamed of my economic status more than anything is knowing that it is built on the backs of people like this and that companies knowingly continue to callously ruin people and place for things like Pop Tarts and TV Dinners.
I continued to think about this as we headed back to Navopatia. Ahead, six Harris Hawks started from some particularly tall pitaya and my mood lightened a bit. Life strode on in the face of everything people thrust upon it and ultimately no matter what happens to us, nature will get through the human hiccup. That doesn’t meant can sit back and watch it all fall down but it’s comfort knowing that people are still part of a system we neither control or completely understand. My awe of this planet will never cease and neither will my drive to make it a better place for all considered. Face to face with biodiversity and environmental strife in the pitayal, we slowed to watch an immature Gray Hawk just before returning camp ward.