Hawkwatching in Vera Cruz

Published 8:06 pm Tuesday, November 10, 2009

It was hot in Veracruz, but apparently we were having unusually warm weather- anyway, we sweated a lot, but this was more than made up with copious amounts of water and beer. We were here in early October to experience the River of Raptors, the largest and most concentrated movement of birds of prey in the world and every fall millions of birds of prey pour south from all across North America to spend the winter in Central and South America.&bsp; Most, if not all of several species, concentrate their migration between the mountains and the sea in eastern Mexico- Veracruz in particular.

There are some traditional watch points where most of the hawkwatchers gather to watch this spectacle, such as the hotel roof-top in Cardel or the tower next to the soccer pitch in Chichicaxtle, but with some local knowledge we decided to sit along the roadside in the little town of Paso de Ovejas armed with an obligatory cooler of water, cokes and cold beer. What a show we had that week with thousands and thousands of Broad-winged and Swainsons Hawks, Turkey Vultures, Mississippi Kites with a good sprinkling of Peregrines, American Kestrels, Hook-billed Kites, amongst many others.&bsp; As well as the hawks flowing over our heads like a giant river, the butterflies were also moving and the clouds of sulphurs, Daggerwings and Heliconians floated across all day long. It was very easy to get distracted and actually a lot of fun to do so.

I think we may have identified about 75 species but the jury is still out on several of those hard to identify skippers and scintillants. As well as hawkwatching, we also explored local birding sites and patches of dry and riparian forest produced both local and migrant birds, so we saw migrant Yellow-breasted Chats and Baltimore Orioles with local Squirrel Cuckoos and Masked Tityras.

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Our excursion to the state capital of Xalapa was very pleasant with a visit to the very comprehensive Anthropological Museum. Xalapa has a very mild climate and is called the City of Flowers. To complement our birding tour, we also had a journey south to the small town of Tlacotalpan. Yes, it was still very hot! Tlacotalpan means place between the rivers in Nahuatl and is a little river town that has almost been forgotten. Its a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to the blend of Spanish and Caribbean architecture from the 1700s onwards. Its bright colors are vibrant in the Mexican sunshine and the few days we spent there were a blend of heat, color and music. As well as enjoying boat trips in the freshwater marshes and the mangroves we explored the marshes and wetlands enjoying a nice selection of aquatics, such as Snail Kite, Black-collared Hawk and Bare-throated Tiger-Heron. A stroll around town was a very pleasant experience as we enjoyed windows into another world of rocking chairs, net curtains and flowers.

Several Double-striped Thick-knees and Aplomado Falcons enlivened our return to Paso de Ovejas where we enjoyed a few more days of hawkwatching and the continued spectacle of thousands of birds of prey pouring south. Kettles boiled overhead and streamed towards the horizon. A terrific spectacle that has be one of the worlds most impressive natural history sights. We will definitely go back – maybe even next year.

~&bsp; Bird Box written by Simon Thompson