By Alberto Lobato
(translated by Jennie Duberstein)
To me, warblers are the most colorful and easily disturbed birds out there. In Mexico there are 64 species, and in the state of Veracruz (where I live), there are 55 migratory and resident species of warblers.
This diversity is due to factors including migration. Many of the warblers that arrive here in Veracruz come from all over North America (where you can find about 45 species). Birds from the eastern U.S. and Canada migrate along the Gulf of Mexico, while birds from the west come through the mountains. In central Veracruz, along the low elevation slopes of the mountains, it is possible to see a combination of migratory eastern and western warblers, as well as our resident species.
Now I will describe the life of a warbler observer during the fall in two different spots in the city of Xalapa, one in the cloud forest and the other in thornscrub.
The Cloud Forest
The first location I am going to write about is a park outside of Xalapa called “Santuario del Bosque de Niebla” (Cloud Forest Sanctuary), where the forest is well-conserved throughout most of the sanctuary. I generally arrive at this spot around 7am, when there is still a fine layer of cloud covering everything and it is very humid. There are many birds, such as Chestnut-capped Brushfinch, Grey-breasted Wood-Wren, and noisy White-crowned Parrots flying around. At first it seems like there are not many warblers around, so I take a trail that extends from the main road. Walking a little bit I begin to listen to some “cheeps,” and there they are, two resident species foraging next to a fallen tree trunk: a pair of Golden-browed Warblers and a small group of Golden-crowned Warblers. The Golden-browed is notable for its enormous golden eyebrow. Continuing along the trail, I find a very familiar migrant: Wilson’s Warblers are everywhere! Later another familiar friend appears, climbing around in the branches: Black-and-White Warbler is also here.
As I go deeper into the cloud forest the mosquitoes appear. Many, many mosquitoes. But hunting the mosquitoes between the trees, there are also birds: Social Flycatchers, different species of Empidonax flycatchers, and warblers. Here are a Black-throated Green, various Wilson’s, and a Nashville Warbler. On the ground I spot a Northern Waterthrush and an Ovenbird, and this reminds me that I found my lifer Northern Waterthrush in the sanctuary this past August.
I finally return to the main trail and spot some movement in the trees. Amongst the more common warblers, I spy another rarer bird, probably a female Black-throated Blue Warbler, which is not common here.
I head toward the exit of the park around 12:30pm and by this time there aren’t very many birds. But a Gartered Trogon (one of the three trogon species I have seen here) is perched quietly in the crown of a tree. I search the nearby ground carefully for the Fan-tailed Warblers that you can sometimes see here, but without luck. Maybe next time!
Thorn Forest: Parque Natura
Parque Natura is a reserve in the extreme east of Xalapa. It has remnants of cloud forst, coffee plantations, and the start of thornscrub habitat. It is also one of my favorite places to go birding. I’ve spotted 117 bird species here, and there are many others that I have yet to spot myself, although other birders have seen them.
This park has various entrances, but I generally enter by the main one and walk the length of the park to the exit on the other side. I almost always arrive at 7 or 7:30am and spend some time up in the observation tower at the park entrance, where you can see large flocks of White-fronted Parrots and ocassionally a view of the resident Short-tailed Hawk, perched in the crown of a tree. On this day, in other trees nearby the tower there are some migratory warblers, a pair of Wilson’s Warblers, and a Black-throated Green Warber, as well as the gnatchatchers that are always present during this time of year.
When I climb down from the tower, I find more warblers: on the ground and in the shrubs I can spot Rufous-capped Warblers looking for food. This resident species is very noisy. Walking along the trail, I arrive to an open, shrubby zone. This is the spot where I almost always find the endemic Hooded Yellowthroat, although today I don’t see anything. Instead I focus on a nearby dead tree, where a Roadside Hawk is perched. This is the problem—as long as the hawk is there, no birds are going to come out. I decide to wait for a few minutes, in hopes that the hawk will leave, and suddenly a flock of Brown Jays appears and begins to mob the hawk, who flies off, pursecuted by the jays. As this happens, I begin to hear agitated calls in the shrubs, and there is a male Hooded Yellowthroat among the branches. Closer to the forest is a male Common Yellowthroat which arrives for the Veracruz winter.
After walking a bit, I enter the forest again, but this part is special for me. It is a place called “el pasillo de los chipes” (the warbler corridor). During the fall, you can spot 18 species of warblers just by walking about five meters. Magnolia, Worm-eating, Golden-crowned, Orange-crowned, Nashville, MacGillivray’s, and Hooded warblers, Ovenbird, Tropical and Northern parulas, and Common Yellowthroat are all here, along with others. And at the start of the fall migration, I spotted a beautiful pair of Prothonatory Warblers.
As I continue to walk, the trail divides. I normally take the trail that leades to a small lagoon and picnic area that then leads to the park exit. Following this trail, I can see the first migratory warblers of the season. This year a Black-and-white Warbler that I spotted in July led the migration. Canada and Yellow warblers quickly followed, and later other species began to appear, as well as flycatchers and buntings. In the lagoon you can find Pie-billed Grebe, but one of my most interesting sightings was in the trees next to the lagoon: one April I spotted a Blackpoll Warbler there, a very unusual sighting for thie area, as the species generally migrates along the Caribbean Sea.
The birding on the road from the lagoon to the park exit can a bit slow. There aren’t many birds because there are many people, but you can still spot an Osprey hunting over the water. But this doesn’t bother me, because I, for my part, am very satisfied with the warblers that I’ve seen.
About the author: Alberto Lobato is a 16-year-old birder who was born in Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico. He has been birding since he was 5 years old and is an active member of the Xalapa Birding Club (Club de Observadores de Aves de Xalapa, or COAX). He has traveled with COAX to various parts of Mexico. In addition to birding, he is a musician, with an interest in traditional music. Alberto’s favorite bird is the Bearded Wood-Partridge.