Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Baby birds are said to bring good luck

A parent Bewick's wren heading in to feed the brood

Oh, aren't they a cute brood?!
By the way, they fledged two days later. It's hard to believe they could be ready.

The house we are building in Arocutin, a small village on the west side of Lake Patzcuaro, has two active nests right now. Each has four baby birds. One nest is a Bewick's wren; the other is a Barn swallow. I sure wish Barn swallows were as tidy as Violet-green swallows. The latter use fecal sacs!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Fledgings are everywhere

In case you've every wondered what a juvenile Yellow-eyed junco looks like, here's one. I had to search and search in the Tucson area to add this species to my ABA (American Birding Association) list, and only found one. Yet, they are in my yard each and every day here in Patzcuaro.

Friday, July 25, 2008

What's this bird doing here now?

Photo by Michael Hobbs, Marymoor Park, Washington State

When Susan C. (compiler of San Miguel de Allende's bird checklist) and I were watching hummingbirds at my feeders last Sunday (July 20), we were startled to see a small drag yellow-green bird flitting around the quince tree and into the birdbath. An Orange-crowned warbler! Her husband Wayne was focused on photographing hummingbirds and didn't get a shot of the warbler, so I thank my friend and also Seattle Audubon Society Master Birder Michael for sharing this photo with me.
Another OCWA was seen in Veracruz the same weekend.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Upcoming Birding Events - July 28 & 31, 2008

1. Birding La Finca Tusa Zirahuen
Monday July 28, 2008

Molly Hoopes, a botanical illustrator who studies and paints plants in the Lake Patzcuaro area, will lead us on a bird walk near Lake Zirahuen. Recently, several of us visited her property. You’ll find information and photos from this trip at Be sure to check out our bird list for the day, as well as the photo of the Acorn woodpecker’s granary tree. This outing involves walking/hiking and may require climbing through some barbed wire fences. Bring binoculars, but leave your scope at home - you won’t want to lug it around. Bring nourishments (water and snacks).

We’ll leave Patzcuaro at 9:00 AM, and we’ll be back in Patzcuaro by 2:00 PM, mas o menos.

Again, let’s try to carpool as much as possible, so please let me know if you are willing to drive or want a ride. The point of departure will be the street in front of the Policia Federal by the Pemex Station in Patzcuaro. It will be a safe place to leave vehicles while we’re in Zirahuen. If you need directions to this location, let me know. If you’re in Zirahuen, Santa Clara or another village in the vicinity and need directions to Molly’s property, let me know.

2. Hummingbird Study
Thursday July 31, 4:00 – 6:30 PM

I’m hosting another humming bird study for those of you who couldn’t make the last one and any who want to come again. Location is Corazon de Durazno, about 3 miles south of Patzcuaro on the highway that goes to Santa Clara del Cobre. I’m in Casa 28, which is at the very bottom of the hill. It’s a single story house next to the water treatment facility. Refreshments will be served. Ample parking is available.

Check as well as my archive for more information and photos from the initial hummingbird study. Photographers will like this event. You can get close to the birds without disturbing them.

Please pass the word! Novices and experts are welcome. These events are free and open to the public.

Hummingbirds in Flight - Photos

Wayne and Susan C, from San Miguel de Allende, spent three days in our area with the Patzcuaro Birding Club. Susan compiled the bird checklist for SMA (about 200 species), and Wayne co-authored a book on San Miguel's botanical garden El Charco del Ingenio with another San Miguel retiree, Walter Meagher, a trained botanist (who also has published in Spanish an inventory of vascular plants growing naturally in El Charco - at last count, 565 sp).

I thank them for spending several hours at my residence. These are Wayne's photos (species names are below each photo):

Berylline hummingbird

Blue-throated hummingbird

Magnificent hummingbird

Magnificent hummingbird

Magnificent hummingbird

Monday, July 14, 2008

Birding Tacambaro Area

Sunday turned out to be one of those days, a day following several rainy days. Having said this, as we left Patzcuaro, we almost decided to turn around and head to the Morelia area. The fog was thick and it was misty.

As we entered Tacambaro, lo and behold, the day got better and better. It's definitely a different eco-zone than Patzcuaro.

I am not going to reiterate where we went and what we saw - go to There you'll find more information and photos.

Many, many thanks to Tracy and Glen for getting me out and about this past month and for prompting me to activate this blogspot.

It was a grand day; I had 4 lifers and several great birding experiences, including a Rose-throated becard nest, an adult Grooved-bill ani with almost tail-less juvenile, nesting Golden-cheeked woodpeckers, and zigzagging swifts.

Sad to say, we were totally pleased with what we'd seen by mid-afternoon and didn't progress further to Pedernales. We left the destination for various swifts, as described in Howell's book, for another day. The Patzcuaro Birding Club plans to return to the area real soon.

A Shake Down, Almost

Several of us, including a new club member Linda, birded Ojo de Agua on the north edge of Tzintzuntzan. Most of the usual suspects were seen.

For me, two bird experiences were particularly special: watching a juvenile Golden-fronted woodpecker do those wing flappings that newly-fledged birds do and having a clear view of a Social flycatcher nest with two busy adults. The other special experience came when a van load of international conference attendees happened to stop by and were awarded with a peak through my spotting scope. A good look at a bird in a spotting scope is - well a life changing experience for many individuals, and I'm pretty sure several of them will never look at a bird in the same way they did previously.

As I made my way back to Patzcuaro, I was stopped in Tzurumutaro by a supposed policeman who claimed I'd made an "infraction" and asked me to pay a 500 peso ($50 USD) fine on the spot. I pretended to not speak/understand Spanish, and he finally waved me on. He went another direction. That's when I noticed something funny about the car. He didn't get into a police car - he got into a taxi. So, I followed him into Patzcuaro. I scribbled his taxi number down and promptly visited the Policia Federal and Ministerio Publico to report his misconduct and attempted thievery.

The police called the taxi company (yes, he was a taxi driver impersonating a police officer - he'd even pinned a fake badge to his shirt) to ask the driver to come to the station. You should have seen this guy's eyes when he arrived and saw me sitting there! A few minutes later, he was also chagrined, or even worse, to see the owner of the taxi company arrive.

In the end, my request for resolution was a 500 peso payment to the local public health clinic and a warning that I never wanted to hear/see that he was bribing others. I left with the police still talking to him about the fake badge....

Hopefully, he will have learned a lesson and won't try to fleece others. I also hope his three children become ornithologists.


Weather can play such a factor when planning a field trip. It's the rainy season, after all, and it lasts from late May until sometime in October. Mas o menos, as they say here. On most days, the rain comes late afternoon. With lightning and loud thunder. It can also rain for a day or two. When that happens, it seems my Internet service is non-existent.

For a day or two thereafter, it will be wonderfully sunny, warm, and very green (verdant).
As you can see from the following photos, it's a challenge to predict when to schedule a birding field trip. This particular storm moved from Puacuaro to Arocutin. The heavens opened 30 minutes later, missing us to the west.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Hummers in the 'Hood

Can there be many experiences so magical as a close-up look at a hummingbird?My feeders are always teeming. Today was no different.Here's a White-eared hummerthat be-stilled my heart.

Here's how close I was.

Patzcuaro Birding Club - Upcoming Field Trips

1. Tzintzuntzan – Monday July 14, 2008

Ojo de Agua, a small pocket park on the north boundary of Tzintzuntzan, is our destination for this half-day trip. With access to the lake, agricultural fields on both sides, tall and expansive trees, berry bushes, and a riparian area, we are bound to see a variety of birds. There’s no hiking involved – you might even bring a folding chair.

Departure from Patzcuaro is 9:00 AM. If anyone is interested in carpooling, let me know if you are willing to drive or want a ride, and I’ll try to organize this. Others who are coming from different localities should time their arrival to Ojo de Agua for 9:30-9:45 AM. We’ll bird this spot for a couple of hours, weather dependent. Bring binoculars. This is a great spot for spotting scopes.

If anyone is interested in Blue grosbeaks, I saw them last week on the road to the ruins near Ihuatzio. I also saw Horned larks in a newly plowed field by Las Cuevas. We could look for them after birding Ojo de Agua.

Directions to Ojo de Agua: From Patzcuaro, make your way to Tzintzuntzan. Continue through town, past the square and then the turn to the embarcadero, as if you were heading to Quiroga. Near the north side of Tzintzuntzan, watch for the median to end and turn left into the park.

From Quiroga: You’ll find Ojo de Agua on the right side of the road as you enter Tzintzuntzan.

2. Bird trip to Rancho Madroño – Target Birds are Trogons!
Saturday July 19, 2008

For this excursion, we will visit Rancho Madroño in the oak, pine and madrone forested hills above Erongaricuaro, Michoacan. The bumpy dirt road to the Rancho is 5 kilometers long. Rancho Madroño is an organic farm that uses permaculture methods to restore and enhance habitat for native plants, birds and wildlife. The Rancho is off the grid with solar panels to provide minimal electricity and rain catchment systems provide the water. Other systems include composting toilets, solar hot water heating, plant propagation, adobe block making, food and test gardens, and many kilometers of trails ideal for bird watching. A natural building workshop will be held in October to teach cob and straw bale construction.

Some species we’re likely to see/hear at the Rancho (not in taxonomic order):

Common raven
Sharp-shinned hawk
American Robin
White-throated thrush
Pine siskin
Yellow-eyed junco
Pine flycatcher
Mexican whip-poor-will
Mexican jay
Hepatic tanager
White-breasted nuthatch
Violet-green swallows
Trogons (Mountain and Elegant – we could hope for Eared quetzal!)

Please note that access to Rancho Madroño is only by permission and prior arrangement.

A 50 peso per person donation is requested to support bird habitat at Rancho Madroño. After birding, our host will guide anyone wishing a tour of the permaculture activities. There is an additional 50 peso donation suggested for the tour.

Because the trogons are most active in the early morning (7:00 – 9:00 AM), we will meet at the Plaza in Erongaricuaro at 6:30 AM. Sorry about such an early start, but the plan is to carpool from the Plaza to the ranch so we can arrive around 7:00 AM. Our host will have hot water and tea ready for us.

We’ll walk the trails through the forest and/or bird from his patio. Less ambulatory individuals will see plenty of birds from his patio. We’ll return to Erongaricuaro’s Plaza before noon.

Depending on the interest, we might venture north along the lake to Opongeo for a fish lunch. Or, three women make IMO the best quesadillas right there on Eronga’s Plaza. Delicious, freshly made, and at ten (10) pesos each, they’re an unbelievable meal.

Please send me a note if you are interested in this trip – I’d like to give our host an idea of how large our group will be. Bring binoculars and a spotting scope, if available.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Hummingbird Study

Looking at the feeders (above and below)

Glen having a closer look

I have two hummingbird feeders. At any given time, there are at least two dozen hummers buzzing around. Because of the volume, I fill my feeders at least threet times a day.

Today's outing of the Patzcuaro Birding Club was a study of hummingbirds, a request made by several individuals who have trouble telling one hummer from another. Joining me were: Tracy and Glen (of La Jacaranda), Diana (I know her as yellowhibiscus), and Bruce (I sure wish I had an oak tree like he had in San Antonio).

We were entertained by seven (7) species:

Green violet-ear
Violet-crowned (yes!! Seeing this species is not an every day occurrence)

I'll be offering this event again, because the folks who asked me to do this were out of town. If you're in Patzcuaro and what to see hummers, let me know.

Rained Out - El Estribo Bird Trip

We were told there was a rainy season here. Being Seatteites, we thought we were prepared. Yesterday (July 9, 2008) taught us a new lesson. At El Estribo, a wonderful vantage point to view Patzcuaro and the Lake, Chuck (my husband) and I met three other birders for what was to be a climb from the gazebo to the top of the hill. While introducing ourselves, we watched the rain come our way. Within a few minutes, a downpour determined our next step: no bird outing.

The only bird seen and heard was a Cassin's kingbird.

Bridge to Jaracuaro - a return visit

Tracy, of La Jacaranda, asked me about the swallows seen at the bridge between Arocutin and Jaracuaro. Although I was 99.99% sure they were Cliff swallows and not Cave, I decided to double check (Saturday, July 5, after birding Zirahuen).

On my way, I spotted a raptor being stooped by a smaller bird by San Pareo. Luckily, I was able to pull off the road, put on warning lights, grab my binocs, and jump out of the car in time to clearly see both birds: a White-tailed hawk being stooped by a Cassin's kingbird. Clear light and close proximity, I was able to see upper and lower sides of the hawk. So cool. The Cassin's was nothing in comparison!

On I went to the bridge, where I got out my big Sibley's and National Geo and really studied the swallows. Still not convinced, I hopped over the side and made my way through all the basura (trash) to where I could see the nests underneath. Clearly, we have Cliff swallows nesting here.

Made my way back to the roadway, where I was harassed by a 20-something girl. Mind you, I am not fluent in Spanish, but do okay in most circumstances even though it sometimes takes me a bit to understand what is being said/asked of me. This time the message was clear: Dame dinero para refrescos. Give me money for soft drinks. She was aggressive, even after I showed her I had no money in my pockets. Although I tried to continue to bird the bridge, I was a bit unnerved by her continued presence, continued requests for money, and the 20-something fellow who joined her. That's when I packed up my scope and left. Unfortunately, I didn't realize that I'd left my big Sibley's on the side of the bridge until I made it all the way that to Patzcuaro. By the time, my husband and I returned, the villagers and my book were gone.

The silver lining will be that this girl or one of her young relatives will study my book and become an ornithologist. We can all hope so.

Scouting Zirahuen for Upcoming Bird Trip

I don't like to schedule a field trip without having seen the place, so I thank Molly (botanical illustrator extradinaire) for taking us on a half day hike in, around, and through property owned by Molly, Dan, Jenn, and Randall. Details of our wonderful experience, including photographs, are posted on under "Birding Lake Zirahuen".

Addendum to Eastside of Lake Patzcuaro Trip Report

As I left Ojo de Agua, I decided to cruise a few new roads. I drove to the ruins at Ihuatzio, where I saw Blue grosbeaks and an immature Red-tailed hawk. I also stopped at Las Cuevas, where I saw three Horned larks in a newly plowed field.

East side of Lake Patzcuaro

I hadn't birded Tzintzunzan in a couple of months, ever since Lawrence, a very good birder and one of my favorite local birding buddies, left for Vancouver, BC. So, I made my way to Ojo de Agua. It's a pocket park on the north side of the village, and it's a special birding spot. Not only does it have water front access, it also has riparian habitat.

Eager as I was to have a quiet time at Ojo de Agua, as I rounded the corner and neared the entrance to the park, I was dismayed to see a large tent on site with a raised stage and a 5-piece band with speakers, each nearly as large as my vehicle ('05 Ford Escape). Ojo de Agua is typically crowded on weekends, but I thought I was safe to bird it on a Thursday. Who celebrates a boda (wedding) on a Thursday?!

Nonetheless, the birds weren't fazed by the commotion. Joined by a young Mexican girl (8-10 years of age from Zamora) who learned very quickly how to work my Leica scope, the following is a list of what we saw - all were lifers for her:

Double-crested cormorant
Great egret
Snowy egret
Cattle egret
White-faced ibis
Turkey vulture
Common moorhen
American coot
Northern jacana
Mourning dove
Inca dove
White-eared hummingbird
Berylline hummingbird
Golden-fronted woodpecker
Greater pewee
Black phoebe
Vermillion flycatcher
Social flycatcher
Cassin's kingbird
Barn swallow
Canyon wren (heard)
Bewick's wren
Curved-billed thrasher
Blue mockingbird
Orange-billed nightingale-thrush
Rufous-backed robin
House sparrow (last month's ABA online photo quiz featured a female)
House finch
Lesser goldfinch
Yellow warbler
Common yellowthroat
Painted redstart
Hepatic tanager
White-collared seedeater
Canyon towhee
Song sparrow
Black-headed grosbeak
Red-winged blackbird
Great-tailed grackle
Bullock's oriole - bullockii and abeillei
Scott's oriole

Trogons in the Hills

6:00 AM (July 3, 2008) comes early in Patzcuaro. It's dark and cold at this time of the morning. It's also eerie, with streets virtually empty except for a few sleepy-eyed individuals and an occasional combi (public transport).

I picked up Michelle, Erin, and Andrew at the traffic circle on Lazaro Cardenas and headed toward Erongaricuaro. We'd been invited onto private property up in the hills, and our purpose was to check it out for an upcoming bird trip. Well, that was one purpose. Secretly, I longed to see at least one, if not two, species of trogons.

As we arrived, the sky was just beginning to lighten. Thankful it wasn't raining - after all, it's that time of year. We were met on the patio by Brian, the owner of Rancho Madroño, and Maria, who is becoming quite knowledgable about the birds seen there - go Maria!
Greetings and introductions ensued. In the midst of this fun chatter, an unfamiliar noise finally registered in my head, and I asked "What's making that noise?" Always, the birder, I felt bad for interrupting the conversation, but, well, it was a bird.

We turned and, lo and behold, a trogon as sitting on a branch not 20 feet from us. It was making such a racket, and I was beside myself for not having my binoculars handy. I kept saying "Be still my heart, be still my heart." Or something along those lines.
By the time I got binocs in hand, the bird had flown. Was I watching where it went? No! Did I realize I wasn't fully awake and in serious birding mode? No! Someone had a brief glimpse of the bird but it moved further back into the forest never to be seen again that day.

Brian and Maria toured us around the property. Rancho Madroño is an organic farm that uses permaculture methods to restore and enhance habitat for native plants, birds and wildlife. The Rancho is off the grid with solar panels to provide minimal electricity and rain catchment systems provide the water. Other systems include composting toilets, solar hot water heating, plant propagation, adobe block making, food and test gardens, and many kilometers of trails ideal for bird watching.

Along the way, we saw the following birds (not in taxonomic order):

Common raven
Yellow-eyed junco
Pine flycatcher
American robin
Accipiters (a pair) - they must have been sharpies but we never got good looks. Brian says they're always around.
Orange-billed nightingale thrush
Black-headed grosbeak
White-throated thrush
Pine siskin
Violet-green swallows (nesting in tiles on shed. Oh so cute, but a cat likes to sit atop the tiles waiting for a snack....)
Acorn woodpecker
Mexican whip-poor-will (heard)
Hepatic tanager
Hummers - unidentified
Trogon - unidentified. I've listened to lots of recordings but none are of the alarm call. Unfortunately, I never saw the upper side of the tail nor did I have a chance to study the barring on the under side. As I've thought of this bird since then, I keep coming back to Mt. trogon but I cannot declare it. Brian found a dead trogon on his property - it's an Elegant trogon. I got to inspect it closely. I suspect both species are here...

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Patzcuaro Birding Club's First Outing

On Thursday, June 26, 2008, thirteen individuals met me at the bridge between Arocutin and Jaracuaro, one of my favorite birding spots. The height of the bridge allows for uninhibited viewing of the marshy area and canals that flow to Lake Patzcuaro. Novices to expert birders always find interesting birds to observe, including the endemic Black-polled yellowthroat.

Regularly scheduled birding events are planned in the Patzcuaro, Michoacan area. These birding events will explore a wide variety of locations, such as Patzcuaro, Morelia, Zirahuen, Tacambaro, Uruapan, Quiroga, and Erongacuaro-Yotatiro-Zarzamora. They are free and open to the public. Anyone who lives nearby or plans to visit is encouraged to join me and the Patzcuaro Birding Club.

Birds seen at the bridge were:
Pied-billed grebe
Tricolored heron
Little blue heron
Great egret
Snowy egret
Cattle egret
Least bittern - juvenile
White-faced ibis
Ruddy duck
Turkey vulture
Northern harrier
Common moorhen
Northern jacana
Mourning dove
Broad-billed hummingbird
Black phoebe
Vermillion flycatcher
Cassin's kingbird
Northern rough-winged swallow
Cliff swallow - nesting under the bridge
Barn swallow
Curved-bill thrasher
House sparrow
House finch
Lesser goldfinch
Common yellowthroat
Black-polled yellowthroat (endemic)
White-collared seedeater
Song sparrow
Great-tailed grackle
Bronzed cowbird