El Triunfo Mar 01—11, 2016

Posted by Brian Gibbons


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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From the arid lower reaches of Sumidero Canyon to the moss-draped realm of the Horned Guan in the cloud forest, this year’s El Triunfo tour scored great birds, scenery, and adventure in Chiapas. We started in the hotel parking lot in Tuxtla Gutierrez, where White-fronted Parrots were feasting on green mangoes and flowers. The quick drive to Sumidero Canyon National Park took us to the wild edge of this burgeoning city of a million. In the dry thorn forest of the lower slopes we found Banded Wrens, Russet-crowned Motmot, White-lored Gnatcatchers, and some nice flock activity. We eventually tracked down two Belted Flycatchers, the specialty of the dry montane forest with bamboo understory. At Mirador Chiapas we had an exceptional experience with a fabulous male Slender Sheartail that sat for scope views just before the mist enshrouded the shear limestone walls of the canyon. A Blue-and-white Mockingbird and an Emerald Toucanet lent a little color to the foggy midday birding. Then we enjoyed a quick picnic lunch at Tepehuaje before descending the mountain. It was after noon, but we had to try for Red-breasted Chat one last time before breaking for Jaltenango. In a little drainage with thicker vegetation, a chip announced his presence, and before long we were enjoying the beauty of this Mexican endemic with his cocked tail and rosy vent. After a long drive we stopped for a little birding at the Independencia bridge where we added Amazon Kingfisher, Wood Stork, and several other birds. Just before dusk at El Parral we were treated to a flurry of activity—hundreds of flycatchers, tanagers, and orioles were going to roost. Vying for the longest tail were several elegant Fork-tailed and Scissor-tailed flycatchers. Dozens of Orchard Orioles were going to roost in some thick roadside figs, resting up for their imminent northbound journey. Tyrannus kingbirds were numerous too, with Couch’s, Tropical, Western, and Cassin’s kingbirds tallied.

Sumidero Canyon

Sumidero Canyon— Photo: Brian Gibbons


The drive to Finca Prusia was under gray skies that kept it cool. Our first birding stop was at a field that is known for Prevost’s Ground-Sparrows. After enjoying saltators, orioles, and a few warblers, the sparrows sat up for great scope views. We also saw a Gray Hawk that was keeping an eye on the little guys too. Along the way we had a very cooperative White-crowned Parrot and several flocks of warblers and flycatchers. Yellow-Olive Flycatcher, Lineated Woodpecker, Yellow-throated Vireo, and Yellow-bellied Flycatcher all made the list. After a quick lunch and settling our gear we were off to El Triunfo, leaving the horses to lug our gear uphill. The gray misty skies kept bird activity down, but allowed for a very comfortable hike as we gained elevation. Along the way we heard an Emerald Toucanet barking, and we saw an Emerald-chinned Hummingbird. Above Finca Prusia, the aroma of Liquidambar set the ambience. Once we reached the cumbre (the summit), we were in Horned Guan country, and with excitement and relief we headed down to El Triunfo through the cloud forest. Brown-backed Solitaires and their cascading songs filled the saturated air. Before long we heard the subliminal hum of a singing male Horned Guan, the Pavon! Amazingly, Magnus spotted it on a distant ridgeline and we all got some mediocre looks. We pushed on towards El Triunfo, and again we heard a calling guan; this one was croaking downhill. Heber spotted the guan as it moved slowly through a fruiting tree, feeding as it kept an eye on us. Excellent looks were enjoyed by everyone. This was the crown jewel of El Triunfo, and we drank in the exotic rarity until it glided downhill and out of view! An hour later we were in El Triunfo camp—exhausted, excited, and hungry!

Horned Guan

Horned Guan— Photo: Brian Gibbons


Through the night the plaintive wails of the Cacomixtle (Southern Ringtail) reminded us we were in a different world. For four mornings we reveled in the dawn chorus of the cloud forest. First, in the dark, the Fulvous Owl would bark, and then the Highland Guan would whistle, which was followed quickly by its bizarre wing-rattle display flight. Still half dark, the Barred Forest-Falcons would share their barks for a few minutes, never to be seen. Soon the sky, filled with mist and light, would have Brown-backed Solitaire, Yellow Grosbeak, Resplendent Quetzal, and Spotted Nightingale-Thrush songs swirling around in it. The light revealed the flora of the forest; trees were vivid green, and every branch was festooned with moss, ferns, bromeliads, and orchids. Fresh-squeezed orange juice with a great breakfast seemed an incredible luxury in the cloud forest, and soon we were on the trails seeking the hidden gems of the woods. We had the great pleasure to see Horned Guans on five straight days; one day netted five sightings alone! Mountain and Collared trogons were tallied, as well as cute little Elegant Euphonias. The mulch pile was often the hotspot, and after a couple of days everyone finally saw the White-faced Quail-Dove well when two strutted under the corral for spilt seed that the mules hadn’t found. The singing male Wine-throated Hummingbird delighted everyone as it flared its gorget in a bid to attract females. Golden-browed Warblers were common understory birds that were easily seen in the dark recesses of the forest, given their bright faces. Inside the forest we saw Spotted and Spot-crowned woodcreepers, Scaly-throated and Ruddy foliage-gleaners, and the sneaky Tawny-throated Leaftosser. Flame-colored Tanagers were scuffling daily over territory right at the clearing, refueling in the Perlita tree upon occasion. From North America, Hammond’s Flycatchers and Townsend’s and Black-and-white warblers were all busy feeding for their northward journeys. After relishing our time in the cloud forest, it was time to leave, and we hiked out the Costa trail and bid the cloud forest goodbye. Quickly after cresting out, we found ourselves in the dry Cypress-Pine forest, beautiful with stunning bromeliads, but fairly bird-free at midday. At Sisilar we enjoyed lunch at a small waterfall on a stream with freshwater crabs. Jorge knew the favorite perch of a male Sparkling-tailed Hummingbird, and soon we were all enjoying views of this stunning little hummer with his navy-blue throat. The long descent brought us to the humid drainage of Cañada Honda, the habitat for the rare Azure-rumped Tanager, and we found several in a distant fig tree feasting on the fruit. Another new sound was the Rufous-and-white Wren duet we heard as we were arriving at our campsite for the night. The Arguetas and their team of 10 animals, led by Payaso the donkey, managed to get all of our things to camp well before we arrived, and after setting up tents we explored the canyon a little to find more Azure-rumped Tanagers. Roger and I mustered the strength for a quick night walk, and we were rewarded with fantastic views of a Kinkajou!Mottled Owls called through the night in Cañada Honda.

Spotted Nightingale-Thrush

Spotted Nightingale-Thrush— Photo: Brian Gibbons


In the morning the Blue-throated Motmots sounded off in the half light, just after the Mottled Owls had gone to bed. White-collared Swifts screeching overhead had probably roosted overnight along the cliffs near the fantastic waterfall across the canyon. Today’s leisurely hike was sponsored by Elegant Euphonias and Blue-crowned Chlorophonias, two of the most numerous birds today, that were feasting on figs and mistletoe along the trail. Near Limonar camp we found a singing male Rufous Sabrewing, and after a bit of a wait everyone had good scope views of this range-restricted species. Our third motmot of the trip popped up on the side of the trail in the form of a cute little Tody Motmot. Again the night was punctuated by Mottled Owls and ringtails.

The long hike to Paval took us through a dry oak forest that was buzzing with migrant Tennessee Warblers and Western Tanagers. A few fine vistas over the forest allowed us to spot the first of several very distant White Hawks and a couple of Plumbeous Kites. We were also in the range of Orange-fronted Parakeets, and their screeches would be common all the way to Paval, our final campsite. The El Niño weather pattern persisted and we had gray skies for our entire hike down the Pacific slope, which kept temperatures down and hiking comfortable. Just before Paval we found Jorge’s favorite tree, an enormous fig, that was dripping with fruit and birds—thrushes, grosbeaks, buntings, and orioles were busy feasting. We finally caught up with Chestnut-capped Warbler, and some lucky folks even got a Fan-tailed Warbler.

Sparkling-tailed Hummingbird

Sparkling-tailed Hummingbird— Photo: Brian Gibbons


Paval in the Pacific lowlands is one of the birdiest locations we visit on this tour. Displaying Long-tailed Manakins, Turquoise-browed and Blue-crowned motmots, Yellow-winged Tanager, orioles, White-eared and Prevost’s ground-sparrows, Stub-tailed Spadebill, Piratic Flycatcher, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, and many others made for a busy morning of birding before we made the short walk out to trucks, cold beer, and the edge of civilization. To my great relief we were out and relatively unscathed; next on the agenda was a relaxing lunch with the Arguetas in Guadalupe Victoria before heading to the luxury of a hot shower and a soft bed in Tapachula. But before we could try out that bed, we had some endemics to find. First up was the incomparable Giant Wren; boldly patterned with a voice to match, this bird is not just a Mexican endemic, but a Pacific lowland Chiapas endemic. Next, the White-bellied Chachalaca strolled out into the parking lot before heading to the Cecropia tree for fruit. As the sky darkened, we tried in vain for the Pacific Screech-Owl under the mango tree, but it wasn’t to be. Exhausted, after dinner I decided to give it one more try, and in short order two Pacific Screech-Owls were calling back. Jorge and I quickly rounded up all the participants and everyone had good looks at this special night bird.

Thank you for choosing VENT for this special tour of Chiapas, Mexico. Until our next birding adventure.

Brian Gibbons

Photos on my Facebook page