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Mexico Part 7 – Rio Cuchujaqui

The Rio Cuchujaqui’s best birding is accessible through the Mentidero Wash, just outside of Alamos. Even as we started making our way down the wash it was starting to heat up and I was getting the anxious feeling that comes when I feel I’ve missed a good opportunity to see new birds. I was also developing a foul mood because the dogs kept screaming ahead of me, chasing all the birds.
I needn’t have worried. Our specific destination was a group of fig trees abutting a cliff wall about a mile up the river. Simone, Alex, and I were leading because we were frustrated with the dogs and accidentally stumbled on the figs. Almost immediately we found an Elegant Trogon!

As we stood there enjoying several trogons (I got excited and tried to make them the less common Mountain Trogon), Sarah stared fixedly at a spot deep in the fig. In a peculiar voice she said, “I feel like there’s something non-avian in that tree.” Was this some sort of 6th sense for the non-avian?
A second later, we saw movement where she was looking. The first Coati I’ve ever seen popped into view and started a retreat down the tree. Apparently we’d awakened it from a nap with our excited shouting. By the time the rest of the group arrived it had disappeared.
Things began whirl in excitement quickly after everyone showed up. Lifers were popping out of everywhere. A Rufous-bellied Chachalaca, in characteristic clumsiness, crashed out of a tree behind the fig. Rose-throated Becard flitted overhead in the tall Monterrey Bald Cypress. Hummingbirds were all around but one caught my eye, a Plain-capped Starthroat. I finally managed glimpses of a Sinaloan Wren. Not a lifer, but a good bird nonetheless, a Squirrel Cuckoo bounced off in the background. This was the spot!

After running into a colonial spider nest (think spiders in every orifice) while bushwhacking in the Amazon and encounters with Tiger Snakes in Australia, I’ve always been hesitant to dash into brush in exotic places. But ubiquitous birdlife can still overwhelm my prudence. Just as Oliver and I spotted Purplish-backed Jays high on the hillside behind the figs, some of the others had found Elegant Quail at the cliff base. No consideration necessary, into the bushes I dashed.

I didn’t manage to see the quail or a Yellow Grosbeak, which I barely missed getting onto. For people who aren’t birders or unfamiliar with these species, many are endemic to this region of Northwestern Mexico. These were special, special birds, seen nowhere else. However, as we stood admiring the orioles, magpie-jays, and warblers streaming in and out of the fig, we found another gem. A bird visually akin to a Townsend’s Solitaire, sat in view for a few seconds. A Brown-backed Solitaire, far away from the montane locales it was supposed to be!

Eventually the group decided that they wanted to sit by the river and go swimming. Simone and I weren’t done (we’re never really done). As the Common Black- and Gray Hawks soared overhead, we continued down the river for a bizarrely but appropriately name bird, a Bare-throated Tiger Heron.

It was strange seeing Lesser Yellowlegs in this seemingly tropical riverbed. I had to remind myself that we were at the intersection of North and South. From here the gray-green Tropical Deciduous Forest (which would harbor many more new species in breeding season) stretched south to Costa Rica. But high in the mountains were the Ponderosa Pine and Douglas Fir of back home. When enjoying nature, there’s nothing better at making you feel insignificant than contemplating biogeography.

We managed some fleeting views of the Tiger-heron, however they were being very skittish. As we started back we encountered a group of Mexican men walking the riverbed with guns and fishing poles (a possible reason for the herons being skittish). Seeing as there were seven of them and two of us, I was a bit nervous but it turned out they were only fishing and very friendly. They asked us if we’d seen any fish. “Solamente pajaros!” I dislike revealing insecurities that could be perceived as prejudice, but things can happen when you are alone with strangers in a remote places anywhere in the world and boys with guns are prone to taking the occasional shot at a living target.

Back at the Pedregal we picked up another new bird that Oli had mentioned he’d seen the day before. A Blue-hooded Euphonia, soon to be renamed Elegant Euphonia and gain status of endemism to Northwestern Mexico. A surreal blue and orange male sat high in a tree outside the straw bale emphatically spouting a vaguely Pine Sisikin-like array. It was a great end to a exciting day of birds.

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