Saturday, August 1, 2009

San Miguel Audubon Comes to Patzcuaro!

View of Lake Patzcuaro from Yacatacas in Tzintzuntzan

The following is a summary entitled "Audubon Goes to Patzcuaro" by Carol Wheeler

In case you haven't heard, all Audubon trips are wonderful. The most recent one, to Patzcuaro and environs in July, was no exception. Participants included: Twenty lucky bird lovers, two skilled, devoted, bird guides, one all-knowing guide to the Purhepechan ruins, and startlingly, dozens and dozens of birds who came along for the ride as it were, including: the elegant euphonia, the gray silk flycatcher and even the turkey vulture, for example.

Amenities were rife. Not only was the hotel splendid--Casa Encantada may be the best bed-and-breakfast in Patzcuaro--certainly it has sumptuous breakfasts, spacious rooms and charming folk decor everywhere. But so was the transportation--commodious six-passenger vans that took us not only to Patzcuaro and back, but everywhere we went once we got there, and the food, which ranged from a gourmet dinner at Patzcuaro's best restaurant to perfect bag lunches for our visit to the ruins in Tzintzuntzan. This was birding for anyone eager to spot feathered creatures in the utmost comfort.

Our bird guide, former Alaskan Georgia Conti, was not only an experienced naturalist--she was also impressively high-tech, equipped with an i-touch that sang the calls of Michoacan's birds on request, to entice the birds to fly closer. Her co-bird leader Hugo (otherwise known as Victor Hugo Valencia Alberto), who grew up in the area, used his scope to make sure we all saw what he saw. Both Georgia and Hugo cared a lot about that. Hugo had learned birding right there in Erongaricuaro (a little village) from his father, a railroadman. The tracks his father had been in charge of were one of our birding sites, so he knew them well. In use no longer, those tracks were perfect for birding--no mud and a smooth, flat path all around us, all bordered by woods, hills, and the shells of houses the railroad workers lived in. But even that paled beside the next day's site: a waterside platform where the birds came to us, no walking required on our part. (They were also visiting tall trees, horse pastures, fence posts, and a lake.)

We Audubon travelers were in luck. In the course of our trip, Georgia and Hugo showed us most of the distinctive birds of Michoacan, including our guide Georgia's choice for most characteristic song, the brown-backed solitaire, along with the berylline hummingbird, the painted redstart, the black-polled yellowthroat, the hybrid towhee, the elegant trogon and many, many others.

Our ruins guide, another transplanted American called Didi Rose, was incredibly knowledgeable about the Purhepechan culture (the ruins we visited are known as Yacata, meaning pile of rocks, but were once the seat of the monarchs of Purhepecha, above the village of Tzintzuntzan, which was at one time the capital city of Michoacan). The ruins themselves are being sorted out by the Mexican government, walls rebulit, grassy areas cleaned up. She also led us through a beautiful ex-convento fringed by a placid, serene garden, also being restored by the government. Just outside was the famous Tzintzuntzan market--no egrets, no ravens, not even a cinnamon-bellied flowerpiercer (we'd seen those already), but yet quite a popular site for our group, this time searching for comals, straw cradles and flowered blouses.

Yes, we didn't only look for and at birds. We shopped and we partied; we visited museums and markets, and we got caught in the rain (but only in the briefest, pleasantest way, because if our cars weren't waiting, our hotel was just down the street). Often we combined several activities, as when we visited the home of Georgia and her husband, a modern aerie in the sky high above rolling farmland, with a privileged view of the world, plus several hummingbird feeders hanging from the patio roof, filled with the constant comings and goings of dozens of hummingbirds, close enough (almost) to touch (though if you tried, you might well fall off into that farmland, way way down below). Or when we spotted birds on our way to the art potter Nicholas Fabian's studio in his home in Santa Fe de la Laguna, a tiny, rustic Michoacan town. Fabian's work impressed us all; many of us bought pieces--one or a few--and then saw them later in town for three times the price. Always a nice surprise.

Not a surprise, totally expected but very nice nevertheless was the beautiful way Linda Whynman, Audubon's president, and her husband Saul ran the trip. They even thought to bring extra binoculars for those of us less well-equipped than we should be. And of course they provided the perfect place to talk over our daily sighting--the daily cocktail party.

Audubon is hoping to take off on another trip to Patzcuaro in the fall. And another, first-time, trip is scheduled for Mexico City's botanical gardens in October. If you become an Audubon member (go to our web site, you'll be one of the first to hear about our plans.
Birds seen (not in taxonomic order):

House sparrow
Rock dove
Canyon towhee
Cassin’s kingbird
Great-tailed grackle
Curve-billed thrasher
Orange-billed nightingale-thrush
Blue mockingbird
White-throated thrush
Chipping sparrow
Barn swallow
Slate-throated redstart
Painted redstart
Berylline hummingbird
White-collared seedeater
Cattle egret
Common raven
Cinnamon-bellied flowerpiercer
Acorn woodpecker
Spotted wren
Rufous-capped brushfinch
Hybrid towhee (Collared towhee x Spotted towhee)
Cooper’s hawk
House finch
Rusty sparrow
Pine flycatcher
Rufous-capped warbler
Bewick’s wren

Wilson's snipe
Canyon wren
Turkey vulture
Blue-throated hummingbird
Elegant trogon
Brown-backed solitaire
Eastern bluebird
Elegant euphonia

Elegant euphonia, male

Bullock’s oriole
Black-backed oriole
Red-tail hawk (both dark and light morph)
Gray silky-flycatcher
Black vulture
Great egret

Marsh wren
Northern jacana
Song sparrow
Black-polled yellowthroat
Cliff swallow
White-faced ibis
Little blue heron
Red-winged blackbird
Snowy egret
Bronzed cowbird
Vermilion flycatcher
Blue grosbeak
Mexican mallard
Great kiskadee
Yellow warbler

Yellow-breasted chat
Orchard oriole
Black-backed oriole
Great egret
American coot
Common moorhen
Snowy egret
Black phoebe
Rufous-backed robin
Curve-billed thrasher
Elegant euphonia (male and female)
Lesser goldfinch

Nashville warbler
Wilson's warbler
Golden-fronted woodpecker
Vermilion flycatcher
Song sparrow
Cassin’s kingbird
House sparrow

Lincoln sparrow
House finch
Inca dove
Cattle egret
Barn swallow
Canyon towhee
Brown-headed cowbird
Bronzed cowbird
Canyon wren
Gray silk-flycatcher
Mexican mallard
?? vireo
Yellow-headed blackbird
Magnificent hummingbirds
Berylline hummingbird
Broad-billed hummingbird

Hugo Valencia, Linda Whynman, and me

Mike Judd loves herpes as well as birds

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