El Triunfo Mar 18—28, 2013

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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The magic of El Triunfo lured us in. Victor’s stories of his first explorations of this area nearly 40 years ago hooked us. Driving into the dark of old Mexico not knowing what he’d find—Typhus, Fer-de-Lance, and the mythical Pavon were waiting in the prehistoric cloud forest. Our trip was a little more civilized; our vans were air-conditioned, we endured some cold showers, and were well-fed throughout the trip. The birds Victor sought 40 years ago were still there, and we were enthralled with the cloud forest of El Triunfo and the Pavon (Horned Guan).

Starting in Tuxtla Guttierez, we enjoyed an evening flight of parrots from the hotel balcony and a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl that is probably still looking for me. Our first morning took us to the spectacular limestone cliffs that create Sumidero Canyon. Russet-crowned Motmot, White-lored Gnatcatcher, orioles, warblers, hummingbirds, and buntings entertained us. Any trip to Sumidero is not complete without sighting the Belted Flycatcher. We had prolonged excellent studies of this highland endemic of northern Central America. A Lesser Roadrunner was also a fine and confiding bird. After a canyonside picnic we headed to Jaltenango with just a couple of birding stops en route. Our first stop at a field netted some spectacular flycatchers like Scissor-tailed, Fork-tailed, and Vermilion. Soon we were in Jaltenango, resting for the next day’s hike into El Triunfo.

Driving to FincaPrusia, we birded a couple of spots that allowed us to sample the rich birdlife along the way. Violet Sabrewing and Prevost’s Ground-Sparrow were a couple of highlights. Before noon we arrived at FincaPrusia to prepare for the ascent. The midday birding in the forest was slow, but the mountain scenery was fantastic with enormous Sweet Gum trees towering over us. After we congratulated ourselves for making it to the crest, we hiked into the El Triunfo valley as a group and were rewarded with a fine study of a calling Horned Guan, eventually spotted by Joette. This was just the first of many wonderful sightings of this near-mythical beast. As we finished the hike to the clearing, the Highland Guans were displaying with rattling wings heard all over the forest.

Over the next three days we were delighted to see and hear the many wonderful birds and mammals of the cloud forest. Cacomixtle (Southern Ringtail), Horned and Highland guans, Resplendent Quetzals, Fulvous Owl, Yellow and Hooded grosbeaks, Flame-colored Tanagers, White-faced Quail-Dove, Rufous-browed Wren, Blue-throated Motmot, Gray Silky-flycatcher, Blue-and-White Mockingbird, and Black-throated and Unicolored jays were all noted during our stay. Around the Wigandia and other flowering shrubs we watched Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercers; Black-crested Coquettes; Wine-throated, Emerald-chinned, and Sparkling-tailed hummers; and Green-throated Mountain-gems. Throughout our stay a Barred Forest-Falcon taunted us from the shadows, barking daily. Our last morning found most of the group trying to charm a pair of Singing Quail into view. Amazingly, they ran past us three times, much to everyone’s delight. A Chestnut-sided Shrike-Vireo was also a final morning goodie. At our highest elevation, where the trees are most heavily laden with moss, we found the rare Mountain Thrush.

Soon we were descending the Pacific slope. We dropped into the Cypress and Pine forest before having lunch at the waterfall at Sisilar. Here we heard our first Rufous-and-white Wrens and we started searching the Heliconia flowers for Rufous Sabrewing. Our first Tody Motmot was seen near camp, and everyone had good looks at the prize of Canada Honda, the Azure-rumped Tanager, in a fig tree. While heading down the trail to Limonar we encountered an army ant swarm. As we all quickly learned, this is the place to see a Fan-tailed Warbler and glimpse an Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush. Arthropods had a tough decision: flee the swarm and get gobbled up by some pint-sized bird; climb to higher ground and try to avoid the parasitic flies, hoping to get high enough to avoid ants; or sit tight and get consumed by the swarm.

At Limonar we heard the Cacomixtles in the night; they quickly passed overhead in the trees. Finally we were low enough to hear the “toledo” calls of the Long-tailed Manakins and the Thicket Tinamous. On our hike through the dry oaks we noticed some tracks in the trail, large cat tracks, either Puma or Jaguar! During the hike down to Paval we lost 2,000 feet in elevation and the diversity of birds went up. White Hawk, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Blue-crowned and Turquoise-browed motmots, Gartered Trogon, tanagers, flycatchers, and Collared Aracari were all seen near Paval. Perhaps the best find was an adult King Vulture spotted soaring over the clearing. Spot-breasted Oriole, Pauraque, and Gray-collared Becard were good finds too. After packing up we made the short hike to the trucks and slowly back to modern society. In slow procession we went from a footpath to a dirt road, then a paved road, and then we saw powerlines, a few shacks, then a village, and then the Argueta’s house where we enjoyed a great lunch before continuing our voyage. We ended in the hotel in Tapachula, with air-conditioning, WiFi, comfortable beds, and ample food. It was a million miles from El Triunfo, but not better. I estimated we all walked a minimum of 33 miles during the week we were on the trail.

The hotel grounds in Tapachula are great for birding. First, it is hard to avoid the gurgling calls of the enormous Giant Wren (a Chiapas endemic); we found a pair with a nest under construction. Then White-bellied Chachalacas called and made their appearance. Finally, we got excellent scope views of the Pacific Screech-Owl in a giant Mango tree.

As we reminisced about the trip and sipped the iced beverage of our choosing, it was hard to believe that just a few days prior we were camping in the Sierra Madre de Chiapas. I would like to thank all of you for traveling with me and Victor. You made a wonderful trip very special.