Monday 16 January 2017

Happy New Year

                           Dec 31-Jan 1 2016 Zacualpan The Riviera Nayarit Mexico
After a long flight, the peace and tranquility of La Colorado B&B was a welcome respite. Despite Mexico being only a five hour flight from Abbotsford it took us twelve hours to finally arrive at our destination. Our host Rosabella made us feel right at home. It was dark so no birding and as is the custom on a Mexican New Year's Eve, a party was about to break loose. Music was blaring, fireworks were a popping and the dogs were a barking. Families were out in the street, many cooking outdoors, the unfamiliar aromas were intoxicating. Eventually the festivities and fun died down around 4.30 am. It was at that very precise moment every cockerel in town began serenading the new day and of course a new year.  As morning turned to a glorious sunny day I sat in the beautiful garden waiting for any signs of bird life. The hummers were first, a violet-crowned hummingbird, then a broad-billed and other hummer species I hope ID at a later date. The more I look at hummers in the bird guide the more I get confused and believe me, it doesn't take much to confuse me! Anyway I am happy to report both hummers were lifers.

Violet-crowned hummingbird. Nikon D500 200-500 F5.6 Zoom

Broad-billed Hummingbird. Nikon D500
I am of course open to correcting any species mis-identified in the blog especially hummer, vireos and flycatchers. 

Next up were a pair of ruddy ground-doves which came to the veranda where they seemed to have a nest right above me. I glad I took the precaution of wearing a hat! With the sun illuminating the valley and mountain a dozen turkey vultures used the thermals to glide effortlessly overhead, one landing close-by on a telephone post.
Plain-breasted dove. D500 200-500 F5.6 Zoom
Turkey vulture
Nikon P900
By now breakfast was being served outside on the veranda. Fresh cut papaya, delicious yogurt, local baked bread, freshly squeezed orange juice and coffee. Just as I began to eat a northern mockingbird landed on the red brick wall that encircled the house. Then a tropical kingbird hawked an insect and was gone as quickly as it arrived. During breakfast half a dozen species blessed us with their presence. A yellow-winged cacique, a hooded oriole, a white-winged dove, a flock of European house sparrows (I think they are on every continent except Antartica) and a yellow warbler. After breakfast I took my camera with me and took a stroll around the garden and found a so far unidentified vireo, a pair of Eurasian-collared doves and a blue-gray gnatcatcher.
Two children play ball next to a tethered horse.
Nikon P900 
It was time to walk around the town. Zacaulpan is not a tourist destination per se but we were to find out that Zacaulpan held a few secrets that might entice a visit and stop off if you ever happen to being travelling between Puerto Vallarta and birding mecca San Blas.
Zacaulpan is the 'real' Mexico. Horse and cart, town square dominated by a splendid catholic church, friendly people, inexpensive groceries drinks and meals and a smile on every child's face. You have to wonder how we Canadians can grumble so often about so much when in towns like this so many have so little. The workers who travel to work at the nearby resorts or housemaid for norteamericanos are paid as little as a $1 an hour.  Meanwhile here I am photographing birds for FUN and try not to be too ostentatious in my actions.

As I mentioned the people were super friendly and as we walked past a well appointed house a voice beckoned us over and asked us where we were from. A few minutes of conversation with Hector led to us being invited that evening to help release several thousand Ridley turtles at nearby Boca de Chila.

Under the protection of darkness thousands of Ridley's Turtle make their way to the ocean
Nikon P7100 compact .

Later that evening Hector, his wife and son drove us along the bumpiest road this side of Mexico City to the most pristine beach I have ever set my eyes on. This is where throughout the year two volunteers (they need more) patrol the beaches. Seven species of turtle breed here. All are endangered due to fishing, pollution and poaching. Hector tells me "The Mob" have allocated themselves a stretch of the beach and protect it with gangs. However recently both federal and local politicians and with generous donations from some Canadians have turned the tide against the egg and meat trade. It will take a while to persuade locals that more money can be made from eco-tourism, the local council are introducing an education program. Even in the schools children are being taught about the turtles so hopefully a new generation will be able get involved.
At Boca de Chila the turtles lay as many a 1-5 times per season depending on which species. The Ridleys' is the largest and can weigh 600 kilos or about the same size as the dune buggy the wardens use to patrol the beaches. There are as many as 500 breeding pairs and each turtle can lay between 2000 eggs. Although the egg laying season is between July-November the staff say the turtles are laying throughout the year. The eggs are then dug up and protected and transferred to a portion of the beach that can be monitored.
It was wonderful to see the faces of both children and adults as they released the turtles. Each one making its way to the lapping waves. Soon the sun had set and we returned past a creek with its great and snowy egrets. Tropical kingbirds lined the fence posts bursting out to hawk a last insect before nightfall. All that is left of the day is a small orange strip of sunset on the horizon.
Our first full day in Mexico was full of surprises, tomorrow we head for Rincon de Guayabitos, an hour's drive north of Puerto Vallarta. It had been a full first day in Mexico.

Note: Bird guides range from $60 for four hours to $100 for a full day. Some run as much a $3000 for five days. If you can't afford those prices just check e-bird where locations are posted and are often the very same spots guides take customers. Obviously local knowledge is what you are paying for as well transportation and lodgings but birding takes many forms so if you are not serious lister then much can be done along beaches and trails near to seaside towns.

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon
BC Canada

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