El Triunfo Mar 20—30, 2010

Posted by Brian Gibbons

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Brian Gibbons

Brian Gibbons grew up in suburban Dallas where he began exploring the wild world in local creeks and parks. Chasing butterflies and any animal that was unfortunate enough t...

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El Triunfo

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Sumidero Canyon is a great way to introduce birders to the amazing and varied avifauna of Chiapas. Despite the wind, we found Russet-crowned Motmot just inside the gate. The endemic Red-breasted Chat was next, swinging his tail and singing from the thickets of the thorn forest at the lowest elevations of the national park. Our next stop produced the large White-throated Magpie-Jay and the tiny Canivet's Emerald and White-lored Gnatcatcher. A cooperative male Varied Bunting sat for scope views. The bird of the day was spotted by Ed; a male Slender Sheartail sat for a few seconds before zipping off with that spectacular tail trailing.

Finally we reached a promontory where we were able to admire the splendor of Sumidero Canyon's 2,000-foot limestone walls and the Rio Grijalva slicing through this amazing park. A Collared Trogon sat for scope views, and Yellow-backed Orioles ravaged the coralbean flowers. A white-nosed coati sauntered across the road after we mentioned his name. Our final bird for Sumidero was the handsome and range-restricted Belted Flycatcher, which prefers the dry forest with an understory of bamboo.

After a breezy lunch on the ledge of the canyon, we headed to Jaltenango. A few choice stops along the road swelled our bird list. We added Mangrove Swallow, Collared Aracari, Yellow-winged Cacique, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, hundreds of Scissor-tails, Laughing Falcon, four kingfishers at one bridge, and Limpkin just to name a few. We arrived in Jaltenango to discover the fair with its barkers hard at work.

At first light on our second day we were in the back of a truck for the long and very birdy ride to Finca Prusia. The bumps and dust were interrupted by some great birds. We had a field full of seedeaters which included Lesser Goldfinch, Black-headed Siskin, Painted and Indigo buntings, and, most importantly, a couple of Prevost's Ground-Sparrows. Also along the way as we climbed into the pine forest was a pair of Black-capped Swallows zipping about. Once at the trailhead we fueled up and were off on our several-mile-hike with a 2,000-foot elevation gain. One of our first new species was Emerald-chinned Hummingbird; several males were squeaking away on a lek. Another bend revealed a Tody Motmot wagging its tail. Higher still we encouraged a Chestnut-sided Shrike-Vireo to come in for a look, revealing its striking pattern.

Finally, we crested the trail and the rest was downhill to the El Triunfo clearing. Although tired, we never stopped looking for birds. Our first Horned Guan encounter was frustrating, as the bird was humming on a ridge, but we could never espy it. The Highland Guans were calling too, with their rising whistles and the ensuing wing rattles. With tree ferns, moss-wrapped branches, and bromeliad-encrusted limbs, there was no mistaking we were in the cloud forest. A Barred Forest-Falcon taunted us by barking for several minutes, but never revealed itself. With a huge sigh from everyone, we had made it to the clearing of El Triunfo.

Over the next three days we soaked in the cloud forest, which was sunny much of the time. The Horned Guans continued to baffle our eyes, and it wasn't until our last day that everyone had good looks at a very cooperative bird up the Palo Gordo trail. We enjoyed several sightings of Highland Guan too. Each morning we enjoyed the birds around the clearing: Blue-and-White Mockingbird, Gray Silky-flycatchers, Spotted Nightingale-Thrushes and an incredible array of other thrushes, Flame-colored Tanagers, Yellow Grosbeaks, Violet Sabrewing, and adding color were Elegant Euphonias and Blue-crowned Chlorophonias. Emerald Toucanets croaked from the forest, only occasionally revealing themselves. The crown jewel of the cloud forest finally presented itself in the form of a spectacular male Resplendent Quetzal. We had nice scope views of this beauty.

Swooping past late one afternoon in the dark of the forest was a pair of Fulvous Owls. Black-crested Coquette female, Wine-throated Hummingbirds, and Green-throated Mountain-gems were the smallest of the cloud forest birds. Behind the cafeteria there was usually a White-faced Quail-Dove to be found.

Leaving the cloud forest behind, we headed to Canada Honda. Suddenly the world changed from everything draped in green to the crisp, fresh smell of a dry coniferous forest, the Ciprasol. We descended into the moist canyon that was Canada Honda and the home of the Azure-rumped Tanager. We found our first tanagers and the Rufous Sabrewing near camp. The Rufous-and-white Wrens were singing all around with their beautiful clear whistles. The next morning we saw Azure-rumped Tanagers again as we traveled to Limonar, our next camp. The tropical dry forest was rich with the new sounds of Long-tailed Manakins and Thicket Tinamous, though the tinamous would remain just sounds to us. New warblers were in the woods too, with Fan-tailed and Golden-crowned both fairly common. As we made our way to the Limonar camp, a troop of Central American spider monkeys was very perturbed by our arrival. They howled, chattered, and barked at us, much to our amusement. When that didn't drive us off, they came in for closer looks, shaking branches and vines.

After departing Limonar, Hector found an Azure-rumped Tanager nest under construction. Some of us had great looks as the pair made a few trips in and out, with the female working and the male lending encouragement. Edilberto located a very cooperative Crested Guan that stayed just long enough for everyone to get good looks at this typically shy species. Our previous two sightings of White Hawk were distant; today a bird sat under the canopy for a great study.

Our final morning was spent birding the open areas of Paval. Orange-fronted Parakeets and White-fronted Parrots were constantly squawking around the opening. A stunning Turquoise-browed Motmot popped into view for a moment in the sun. After one last walk out to the trucks, we were headed towards civilization. We enjoyed a relaxing lunch at the Arguetas and then air-conditioned vans to Tapachula. On the grounds of our hotel we got good looks at Giant Wren and White-bellied Chachalaca, as well as Spot-breasted Oriole. Pacific Screech-Owl was our last new bird.

During our amazing transect over the Sierra Madre de Chiapas we saw and heard 275 species of birds which included 5 species of motmots, 25 species of warblers, 17 species of hummingbirds, 5 owls, 7 parrots, and one amazing quetzal.