Sunday 25 November 2012

Xochimilco, Mexico City, November 2012

A taxi from the tren ligero station at Xochimilco disqualifies this trip from the 10,000 Birds Year List, but I am feeling confident that the race is all sewn up, barring a late rush from Duncan. My colleague, JP had joined me again in a more demure outfit and was astonished to see our first Vermillion Flycatcher of the day. But then, Vermillion Flycatchers are astonishing birds especially when you see them for the first time. Maybe they should be written in red for every sighting.

There was cause for the red pen today as JP pointed out a brown bird disappearing into the reeds. He found it again and we were able to identify it as a King Rail. 
We started by the Visitor Centre and racked up a good number of birds before popping in to pay our entrance fee. (25 Pesos @20 Pesos = £1). I obtained a free permit which must be displayed at all times when carrying an obtrusive camera. Wilson’s Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, and Common Yellow-throat were seen by the water’s edge of the big lake on the right. House Finch and Canyon Towhee fed from the ground in the rose garden between the entrance gate and the Visitor Centre.

Behind the Visitors’ Centre, a path leads onto a wooden walkway that heads out across the reed-lined lake. Most of the day’s herons, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret and Green Heron, were found along the edge of the reeds in small numbers. On the second walkway, we had to wait for a Snowy Egret to move along before going across and enjoying a close look at a Pied-billed Grebe.

The Blue-faced Darner Aeshna multicolor were flying in lower numbers today than I had seen previously, but they hovered conveniently, just long enough to allow me to get focus.

Vermillion Flycatchers were obvious and common as were the Cassin’s Kingbirds that hawked from perches overlooking newly cut meadows.

We encountered an opossum as we came back round to the road, but only now I find that there are many forms in South and Central America, so I will have to come back to you when I have reduced it to species level. I tried to circle round and get a photograph that avoided tarmac as a backdrop at which point the animal keeled over and died.

We were exploring the grass and looking at hoppers and spiders when JP pointed out a brown bird which had flushed from nearby and was disappearing into the reeds by a small bridge. It looked exciting and we left the insects to have a look. JP found it again, creeping slowly through the tangle of reeds and we were able to discount Virginia Rail and identify it as a King Rail.

We didn’t quite close the circle back at the Visitor’s Centre, but turned up towards the barge quay. Gaily painted barges take trippers out onto the main lake and we were ruing the clock today as our time was limited. The lake was very active with a large flock of waders, plenty of ducks and herons in greater numbers than the rest of the reserve.

The waders were Long-billed Dowitchers (but I reserve the right to change my mind at any time without prejudice) with a couple of Black-necked Stilt and Killdeer thrown in. Ducks included American Wigeon, Northern Shoveler and Cinnamon Teal. A Vermillion Flycatcher continually dropped onto the water hyacinth in front of us to pick insects from the floating weed.

An Osprey flew over in a clumsy attempt to catch fish. Its approach was text-book with talons extended, but the plunge appeared to be inexperienced as the bird ended up deep in the water each time and had to fight its way back into the air. Perhaps its intended prey was deep beneath the surface.

A Peregrine added to the excitement across the lake. Clouds of American Avocet and Black-winged Stilts rose from the shallows as the falcon made passes across the lake. It spotted a bird with a weakness and returned time after time, skimming across the surface trying to catch it, but all the action was very distant and we could not see whether it was successful. In the confusion, some peeps were flushed, but they were too distant for me to identify. I suspect that they were Least Sandpipers.

A trip out on the barges would have brought us much closer to where the birds were resting, but I could not say whether our approach would scare them off (there is a tourist area of Xochimilco Town where barges carry trippers around the canals accompanied by mariachi bands. I assume that these barges, despite their bright colours are more discreet). Given more time, it would have been possible to have circled around the barge lagoon and found a better vantage further up the lake, but the clock was running down and we had to start making tracks towards home. A Buff-bellied Flycatcher sat well in a bank-side willow.

We followed the edge of the lake for a while before cutting back to the path with the arches that leads back to the main gate.

Some taxi drivers seem unsure of exactly where the Parque Ecologico de Xochimilco is. The odd tower near the gate can be used to confirm that you have arrived at the right place.
We took the Metro train to Tasquena (3 Pesos each) at the end of the Blue Line. From there we caught the Tren Ligero to its last stop at Xochimilco (also 3 Pesos one way).

On our return, we crossed the road using the footbridge (here we found another odd tower very similar to the one at the entrance to the parque, but it is unlikely to be confused) and caught a taxi that took us to Tren Ligero station, Periferico. It is closer to the park, but a taxi rank was not obvious at Periferico station. Taxis cost between 40 and 60 Pesos.

Birds seen; 44

American Wigeon 40, Cinnamon Teal 10, Northern Shoveler 15, Green-winged Teal 20, Ring-necked Duck 1, Pied-billed Grebe 8, American White Pelican 5, Great Blue Heron 8, Great Egret 10, Snowy Egret 4, Green Heron 2, Black-crowned Night Heron 2, White-faced Ibis 3, Turkey Vulture 4, Osprey 1, Red-tailed Hawk 1, American Kestrel 1, King Rail 1, Common Gallinule 15, American Coot 100, Killdeer 6, Black-necked Stilt 120, American Avocet 40, Long-billed Dowitcher 150, Mourning Dove 4, Inca Dove 4, Buff-breasted Flycatcher 2, Black Phoebe 1, Vermillion Flycatcher 15, Tropical Kingbird 1, Cassin’s Kingbird 15, Marsh Wren 3, Blue-grey Gnatcatcher 1, Ruby-crowned Kinglet 1, Curve-billed Thrasher 2, Common Yellow-throat 1, Yellow-rumped Warbler 12, Wilson’s Warbler 3, Canyon Towhee 4, Song Sparrow 4, Red-winged Blackbird 2, Great-tailed Grackle 6, House Finch 25.


Other posts from Xochimilco can be seen at the links below;

Visit the dedicated Central and South American Page for more posts from Mexico including UNAM Botanical Gardens and Bosque de Tlalpan


  1. Wow, awesome post. I loved all the birds and the wonderful photos.

  2. An interesting mix of birds...very southern California, with a King Rail and a couple Arizona specialties mixed in.

    The Great Ornithologist Felonious Jive will be birding for 5 days in Costa Rica before the end of the year. With his year list sitting over 400 right now, he expects to reach around 600 or so.

    1. Aaaagh! I have been coasting over the last month thinking that the year list is all wrapped up. Felonious is now the man to watch and will add a nice frisson to December.