The trip that I have most been looking forward to, I saved until last. At 3000m above sea-level, the mountain forest of Desierto de Los Leones would be a challenge for my smoke-blackened lungs and slender legs. I opted to do this trip at the end of my stay in Mexico to give myself a chance to acclimatise in the relative lowlands of Mexico City.
There are a bunch of specialities to be found in the high pine and oak forests and two of them leapt out at me as soon as I arrived. I had recognised a “small open area tucked away on the left” ( http://10000birds.com/desierto-de-los-leones-mexico-city.htm ) and asked the taxi driver to let me out there. A hint of birdsong filtered through the foliage and my first “pish” of the day (well they do say they are the strongest), brought forth a Red Warbler and two Golden-browed Warblers.
The sui generis Olive Warbler was a guest at this party since its own family get togethers must be a bit flat. Each party was slightly different as I progressed along the road.
At a roadside picnic spot called Casa Manera, I eventually got the opportunity that I had been hoping for since the beginning of the morning. “Pishing" brought some warblers down and one of two Red Warblers hopped into full view just a few meters away. The one above was caught using the flash and I had to Photo Shop the flash in his eye. Below, is as nature intended.
It didn’t stop long and I pished forlornly for a while hoping it would come back, but it was gone. As I sat, I noticed a couple of Brown Creepers working a tree trunk across from me and was pleased to get a picture of them too.
I am unsure how far I walked from where the taxi driver dropped me to the convent, but it took nearly 4 hours. Not because of oxygen deprivation, but because there were so many birds. Walking the road had been a mixed pleasure. There had been enough clear space to get a look at the birds, but lack of silencers and clutches made the frequent traffic very noisy.
The walk along the road had been mostly flattish so I had not had any difficulty with the thin atmosphere. I had fooled myself into thinking how well I was coping and treated myself to a large lunch at one of the cafes by the convent. Then I found out that there is no substitute for fitness and a bucketful of red corpuscles. The lunch had taken up valuable lung-expansion room, just at a time when I was about to embark on a hike on the slopes above the convent.
One of the specials of Desierto de Los Leones is the Russet Nightingale-Thrush. I began the climb, beyond the hermitages, towards an area of tangles where I had seen the bird on a previous visit. Perhaps I would have coped better on a light lunch; it was hard work and I had to stop a couple of times. To my dismay, the intended thicket was higher than I remember and the forest was eerily silent as I walked through it. I didn’t hear or see a single bird above the convent. Perhaps that was because my brain was shutting down the higher brain functions such as seeing and hearing. It was about now that I was cursing Steve NG Howell and Sophie Webb for the 20 pages of bibliography that added extra weight to their field guide.
On a perfect day, I would have been able to include the nightingale-thrush and a Rufous-capped Brushfinch in the list below, but seeing all the other great birds that did make it on to the list, and seeing them well, made it a fantastic day just the same.
Bird species; 23
Acorn Woodpecker 4, Tufted Flycatcher 1, Grey-barred Wren 2, Brown-backed Solitaire 2, American Robin 6, Golden-crowned Kinglet 90, Ruby-crowned Kinglet 3, Bushtit 50, Mexican Chickadee 18, Brown Creeper 5, Stellar’s Jay 4, House Finch 1, Olive Warbler 4, Crescent-chested Warbler 6, Townsend’s Warbler 2, Wilson’s Warbler 1, Red Warbler 9, Slate-throated Redstart 3, Golden-browed Warbler 8, Green-striped Brush-finch 1, Spotted Towhee 1, Yellow-eyed Junco 20, Black-headed Grosbeak 1.