2 – 3 September 2013
After the Bearded Wood-Partridge chase we were headed for yet another chase of a secretive endemic bird of montane forests. We arrived in Ruiz Cortines late in the afternoon, not really knowing what to expect and we needed to find a place to camp for the night. We stopped at the first little store on the way into town and inquired about camping in the area. Turns out we stopped in the exactly the right place and met Braulio Malaga Temich the local bird guide. How fortuitous! Braulio led us out past town to the ecotourist camp with cabins, a kitchen, bathrooms, and plenty of space to camp. How perfect! Even better the camp was right next to the area we wanted to search for the Tuxtla Quail-Dove. Braulio has been birding the area for the past 5 years and is a real expert. He is also conducting avian surveys of the Ruiz Cortines forests for CONABIO. As we set up camp and started cooking dinner we could hear Keel-billed Toucans, Spot-breasted Wrens, and Yellow-bellied Elaenias. As the sun went down, numerous Common Parques flitted about and a trio of Mottled Owls serenaded us to sleep.
We headed out early in the morning hoping to find the Tuxtla Quail-Dove and other cloud forest birds. The Tuxtla Quail-Dove is an endangered species that exists only in three areas in the Sierra de los Tuxtlas region. A recent survey suggests that only 8.7% of the Tuxtla Quail-Dove habitat remains due to deforestation. Luckily, the forests around Ruiz Cortines are very well preserved and primary rainforest still exists, unlike much of the rest of the Tuxtlas area.
Not too far along the road we heard a Tuxtla Quail-Dove calling in the distance, so we stepped off the trail into the woods hoping to see it. How hard could it possibly be… right? Apparently really hard! We did not see the first quail-dove or the second or the third or the forth dove we heard that day. It seemed that no matter how well we hid ourselves in the forest and how still we tried to be the Quail-Dove would not allow itself to be seen. At one point one had come within perhaps 10-15 feet but we still didn’t see it! We had a great day in gorgeous primary forest, however, and we tried again the second morning, determined to see the Quail-Dove. The first two Quail-Doves we heard evaded us again after hour plus stakeouts, and we feared it was getting too late in the day to have a chance at seeing. As we were headed back for lunch, we heard another Quail-Dove calling further down the road and into the forest we snuck to try again! We both waited motionless for perhaps 40 minutes as the Quail-Dove neared. At one point I gingerly picked up my binoculars to scan the forest floor and the Tuxtla Quail-Dove walked right into my field of view! What! Impossible, how lucky could I possibly be! Unfortunately I was unable to get Josh on the bird before it ducked further back in the vegetation. With the afternoon still in front of us, we took a break for lunch and I was determined to find another Quail-Dove for Josh. We walked further into the forest and had a few new birds amid intermittent rain, but no Quail-Doves. As late afternoon approached we all but gave up our search when I heard a Tuxtla Quail-Dove calling in the distance. One final time we stole into the forest, this time hiding ourselves in the roots of a massive old growth fig, peering over the top of a root into the dim undergrowth. Unfortunately the Tuxtla Quail-Dove stopped calling and our hopes sank. After waiting another 20 minutes or so, a couple of other birds flitted through and momentarily distracted Josh when a single, soft call came from somewhere close. Josh heard the direction it came from well and saw motion on the forest floor! This time patience paid off and he finally saw the Tuxtla-Quail dove walking along the forest floor! Yahoo! Hard work and patience paid off!
In between searching for the Tuxtla Quail-Dove we were lucky enough to also see a juvenile Ornate Hawk-eagle, perched right out in the open. Of course we did not have the good camera along (only the point and shoot) as we were afraid of the frequent rains.
Other notable birds include Slate-colored Solitaire, Eye-ringed Flatbill, Long-tailed Saberwing, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Black-cowled Oriole, Worm-eating Warbler, Gray-headed Dove, Scaly-throated Foliage-Gleaner, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Green Shrike-Vireo, and Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner. See our eBird lists for a complete list of species seen on the 2nd and 3rd.
If you are planning on heading to Veracruz for a birding trip, we highly recommend heading up to Ruiz Cortines and stopping in to talk to Braulio (or anyone at the first little store on the right if he’s not around) to arrange for camping and, if needed, a guide. To get to Ruiz Cortines, take the coastal highway (180) south from Veracruz city to San Andres Los Tuxtlas. Take the bypass around the left side of town and look for the large Goodyear tire store on the right side of the road. Just after the Goodyear take the road to the left, which is directly across from “La Encantada Tortilleria” and next to a little store called “Mini Super Ejecutivo.” If you can’t find the proper road, ask anyone around for the road to “Laguna Encantada” and they’ll put you on the right route. Take the road approximately 2km to a T-intersection and go left, another 10-12km to Ruiz Cortines. There is good montane rain forest along the road starting about 5km before you reach town. Though we didn’t have time left to bird here, it looks great and we’ve heard that it is with several tracks heading into the forest. Apparently Scaled Antpitta has been seen in this area. Once you arrive in town, stop at the first little store on the right and ask for Braulio. Much like the ecotourist activities in Zapotal the money goes straight to the community and helps provide a much need livelihood for the people of Ruiz Cortines.
After Ruiz Cortines we drove down to Catemaco and the UNAM station to check out the areas described in Howell’s bird finding guide but found the area to be largely cut over. We stopped in briefly at the UNAM station for a short walk on their trails and along the roads surrounding the UNAM station. Notable species here include Collared Aracari, Green-breasted Mango, Black-crowned Titrya, White-fronted Parrot, Alder Flycatcher, and White Hawk. See our eBird list for a complete list of species seen. We also stopped by Barra de Sontecomapan to check for migrating shorebirds and found hundreds of Black Terns in a feeding frenzy not too far off the shore, but not too much else. These are decent areas but if you’re going further south in the tropics, all the same species can be found more readily in other locations.
In the afternoon we headed back up the coast Hwy (180) en route to Amátlan to search for the Sumichrast’s Wren only to be blocked again by a teacher protest. So we headed along a different route along a “primary” road that was littered with potholes, washed out in spots, featured long stretches of washboarded dirt track, followed by more potholes. The slow drive allowed for a little birding by car and we saw our first Grassland Yellow-finch and saw a Double-striped Thicknee flying overhead. The slow route eventually brought us to Cordoba where we enjoyed an evening dinner on the square.