Blog 16: CBC Redux

December 31, 2013

CBC redux (but no ducks)


           December 27, Christmas Bird Count day.

            I go out to the street at 6:15, an hour at which the only light is starlight. But we are high enough, and there is so little pollution, especially at this hour, that the stars give enough light to see the silhouettes of a few birds in the eucalyptus trees across the street. As I wait for Bill to pick me up, the ragged lines of the mountains on both sides of the valley clarify into view, until, about 6:50, a shaft of orange light fires up the pyramids on the summit of Atzompa across the valley. Next door to our house of El Huajal, on the dead tree at the foot of the path up to the Casa Ames, one of the two habitual grey-breasted woodpeckers is clinging to the topmost part of the trunk.

            That’s 1.

            I write it down, noting the time, as Bill pulls up behind me and I heft my backpack into the car. Crammed into it are scope, tripod, water bottle, granola bars, sandwiches, sweater and windbreaker. After the Presa Gutiérrez we will be heading a vertical mile up the mountain and it will be cold. That’s Oaxaca cold, of course, not New England cold, maybe 40 degrees.

            At the parking spot we meet up with Bill Stier (Australian, bass player) and Doreen (Gringa, sharp eyes, self-confessed video game addict). We bird for about two hours and find two common but out-of-range hummingbirds. Alas, no Amazon kingfisher. We haven’t seen it in ten days, and presume it has come to its senses and winged south and lower to more appropriate climes.

            Total so far: 48 species.

           Bill Stier and Doreen go home for a nap. At La Mesita Bill checks in with the watchman of the Bienes Comunales ecological preserve, who drops the chain to let us through and waves to us as we weave up the hill between the ruts and rocks and washouts on the road. It will take us two hours to negotiate the six kilometers up to the Llano Inglés (Flat place of the English), a level swatch of forest the size of a couple of tennis courts at the top of the mountain ridge at 3,400 meters (10K) feet or so.

            Windows down so we can listen, Bill’s eyes on the road, mine on the trees and underbrush. A couple of times we hear chirps or clicks or buzzes and stop, get out and prowl the road on both sides of the car, but the yield is thin. Three times we pass banks of flowers, hard yellow pompoms on thick-ridged stems that don’t seem nectar-ious and don’t seem to attract anything at all, and a few patches of deep red little horn-like flowers, poking out of thick matted vegetation. We hear the tedious flat metalic tzzpp of white-eared hummingbirds, but see none. We hear a few other birds that we do not see and cannot identify by sound.

            At a hairpin turn (Spanish chooses different metaphors: herraduras, horseshoes, or ganchos, hooks) by a small stream we sense activity in the treetops We get out of the car and walk up the road. After a few frustrating moments of pointing out to each other the clusters of leaves or thickets of twigs behind which there may be movement, we are rewarded with glimpses of two uncommon small birds, a red warbler and a red-faced warbler, and clear views of both slate-throated and painted redstarts.




            A kilometer beyond the Llano Inglés is a small cabin sometimes used by road workers, visiting scientists, and officials from the Comisaría de San Pablo checking up on things. Grazing in the woods around it are a couple of dozen mangy cows who, when we approach are skittish, and trot—or in some cases sidle—off into the woods. All but one: a particularly brave or stupid one who adopts me and, mooing softly, follows me around like a puppy as we scan a hedge of willows and a boggy patch of dying pines. We get four more previously untabulated species.


            58, which, Bill thinks, is already better than the annual total for each of the last few years.


            We take a break for sandwiches and liquid (water in, water out), and then start the slow drive back down to La Mesita, at the border between the deciduous forest and the thorn scrub, and further down to the Presa Gavilán, where we log a rock wren. Uncommon, very nice.  We drop another hundred meters to the Presa Gutiérrez where we again meet Bill and Doreen. They have seen a few more species, including an osprey. For a half hour we futilely scan likely perches for the Amazon kingfisher, dammit!,  but get two kinds of swallows as consolation prizes.

            We go back to Bill Stitcher’s patio to review the list, estimate the numbers of individuals of each species seen (red-faced warbler: 1

; white-winged doves: 2 zillion – well, probably 100). Despite missing a handful of  very common birds, we are ready to submit the list to the Compiler.

            Total species? 74, a new San Pablo record, beating the previous best by 30 species.

            Over chips and cheese and beer and fizzy water the four of us briefly debate going out to dinner to celebrate, but decide instead to go home to bed.



            Postscript: Audubon allows as addenda any additional species seen during the 3 days previous to and after the Count Day. Our addenda for CBC minus 3, 2, 1 and CBC plus 1,2, is 19 birds.




            We go back to Presa Gutiérrez on CBC plus 3, walk up to the bluff and, son-of-a-gun!, there she is: the Amazon kingfisher, who has obviously had second thoughts about winging south and down to join her co-species in the coastal lagoons. It remains to be seen whether here in San Pablo she is a dawdling stray, or the start of a migration.


            94 !