El Triunfo Mar 17—27, 2007

Posted by Victor Emanuel

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Victor Emanuel

Victor Emanuel started birding in Texas 69 years ago at the age of eight. His travels have taken him to all the continents, with his areas of concentration being Texas, Ari...

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VENT operated the first tour ever to visit El Triunfo in March 1977, thirty years ago. Since then we have taken over three hundred birders to this remarkable cloud forest and have helped in the effort to protect it for future generations. Every trip we make seems to qualify as the best ever. In truth they have all been wonderful. This year?s trip was another great experience. I had not been to El Triunfo, my favorite destination in the world, since 2004. It was wonderful to once again walk those marvelous trails, through truly magical forest, with a fine group of participants. I was especially glad that my good friends, Bob and Birgit Bateman, were part of the group. I had been urging them to come on this trip for ten years. They were finally able to fit it into their schedule. At our dinner the last night in Tapachula, Bob said to me, “Victor, you are right. This is the king of tours.”

We enjoyed many special experiences on this trip. The first morning we had the best looks I have ever had at a Belted Flycatcher in Sumidero Canyon National Park. Later, Barry Lyon, who was co-leading the tour with me and Brad Boyle, electrified me and others by calling out, “I’ve got a Slender Sheartail.” This very long-tailed hummingbird is endemic to Chiapas. I had only glimpsed one briefly years ago. This individual, a male, stayed around for about fifteen minutes and even perched repeatedly, allowing scope views.

Once we arrived at the valley of El Triunfo, we all felt as if we were truly in a tropical montane paradise. We awakened to the plaintive calls of Resplendent Quetzals and went to sleep listening to the hooting of Fulvous Owls. Everyone had numerous great looks at Quetzals and Horned Guans, as well as many other species. As spectacular as the Horned Guan is, some participants felt the Highland Guan, with its remarkable call and flight display, was almost as exciting.

Most memorable for me was sitting with part of the group, including the Batemans, beside the trail and observing a Horned Guan for over an hour. As we sat there, mostly in silence, we listened to the ethereal song of the Brown-backed Solitaire and the calls of an Emerald Toucanet. A soft wind rustled the leaves of the cloud forest trees. The Horned Guan had settled onto a moss-covered branch only 35 feet away from us. Bob Bateman, one of the most renowned nature artists in the world, was sitting next to me sketching the guan’s head. We all agreed it was one of our most memorable times ever in nature.

VENT is so fortunate to have Brad Boyle as a leader on our El Triunfo tours. He first co-led our El Triunfo trip with me and Greg Lasley in l998 and has co-led it almost every year since then. Brad is both a world-class botanist and a superb tour leader. His knowledge of El Triunfo, and its birds, plants, and other living things, is truly awesome. He speaks fluent Spanish and has camped in many beautiful wild places in North and Central America with his wife Alice. Brad holds a Ph.D. from Washington University. His dissertation director was the late Alwyn Gentry, the greatest expert on the plants of the Neotropics that ever lived. Brad’s knowledge of plants and of Mexican culture adds another dimension to the rich and fantastic experience that is El Triunfo. Brad is also trained in wilderness medicine, having completed the NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) course.

As I have written many times before, a journey to El Triunfo is a journey back in time to a Mexico that was pristine with forested mountain ridges as far as the eye can see. On this trip you are immersed in wilderness and the natural world in a way that few people ever are.