New world warblers in pine-oak forest in Mexico, Part I

A quiet highway with many serpentine curves, conifer forest, twitters of birds. The typical attributes of a high-altitude German central mountain landscape like the Black Forest in southern Germany. But the location actually is in the middle in Mexico at the slopes mountains of the central mexican plateau with peaks as high as 3,000 m above sea level (asl).  Having just crossed the 19. degree of latitude I am on the way down into the hot dry valleys at the edge of the Pacific coast. The coast is only approx. 150 km distant as the crow flies. But the difference of this forest to the dry thorn bush forests at the west coast could not be bigger. A trip on the winding mountain roads could make you feel like being in a reminiscence to the Black Forest. But here on 2,500m asl you are in the Mexican pine-oak forest. Pine- oak forest biomes are one of the dominating characteristics of mexican high altitudes, in particular on the slopes. The determining of the development of a pine-oak forest is the altitude. Slopes exposed to the coast or forests on the mountain comb are damper and more dense than the pine-oak forest s, which are oriented on one of the central dry valleys. The pine-oak forest in Mexico is very species-rich and shows a high diversity. Of the oaks alone, there are more than 170 species. But the general appearance especially of the dry pine-oak forest in Mexico is not unlike that of its european counterpart on the mountain ranges.

This is true as long until the attentive observer is caught by the charm of the birds you find here in the New world. Practically all colors are represented with its own species of bird. Consequently there are blue Mexican (Grey breasted) Jay (Aphelocoma ultramarina), red warblers (like Ergaticus ruber), brown Tufted Flycatcher (Mitrephanes phaeocercus), orange-grey Olive Warbler (Peucedramus taeniatus), yellowish- white Hermit Warbler (Dendroica occidentalis) and green Pine Flycatcher (Empidonax affinis) to observe.  The images in the gallery give you an idea of the richness of birds and colours. The winter is the favorable season for bird observation in Mexico highlands, since the food offered on the birds wintering grounds lures many breeding birds of the north of the continent into southern areas. Additionally – good for the keen birdwatcher – the Mexican winter is characterized by quite a few rain. If you are lucky, you will finds wintering guests as well as breeding birds as so-called „mixed flocks“.

Sometimes you are almost overwhelmed by the species abundance and species diversity, that you do not know wether you should observe or determine. I was lucky to experience such a spectacle at the beginning of February 2004 during an excursion into the high countryside in close proximity of Patzcuaro near Morelia in the state of Michoacan in central Mexico.

I got up at the small hostel in Patzcuaro, a beautiful, old small town from the colonial age early in the morning. As already on preceding days fantastic morning is to be expected. Already approx. at  6.30 h the early sun shined through the dark trees. First I visited high-altitude fields and pastures, in order to observe new world buntings from Canada or the USA which are supposed to winter here. Not too much effort and I had been successful. Beside Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina), Rusty Sparrow (Aimophila rufescens), Striped Sparrow (Oriturus superciliosus) and Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) I found a Raven (Corvus corax), too. A majestic bird sitting relaxed in the cold on a wooden stick. The raven is one of the few birds, which are familiar for me from my domestic homeground in Germany. But however here it was much easier to observe and shot him on film on short distance.

On the way back back to Patzcuaro I have not been in the pine mountain-forest interspersed with oaks for a long time ……..

A longer version of this blog has been published in german by the author in the journal of the “Brehm-fonds” with the name “Zum Fliegen geboren” resp. “Flying free”, Vol. 22, New Series, No. 1 2004

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