7-8 December 2013
After birding around the Pacific slope of Chiapas we headed up to the highlands to try our luck with a few more cloud forest birds at Volcán Tacaná. As we headed toward Tapachula we were met many times by men who ran out to stop us on the highway while quickly pulling out their “immigration” badge asking to see our papers and telling us that we needed to cancel our vehicle permit some 100 km before the border. I find it hard to believe that immigration would send some random guys out on the street to stop foreigners. Especially guys with random ID badges from conferences and the like. Luckily we knew better and told them that they were full of it and drove on. If you drive highway 200 towards Tapachula in a foreign vehicle, be careful, never hand over your original documents and don’t fall for their trap, they are trying to wrangle your $200-$400 deposit by telling you that you won’t find Banjercito at the border and you need to deal with your permit beside the road with them. There is a Banjercito next to Aduana at every border crossing.
The drive up towards Tacaná wound up through coffee plantations, unfortunately most of the coffee, while technically shade grown, was a far cry from good habitat. The typical “shade grown” coffee here is a result of clearcutting and then planting a “canopy” of non-native, fast growing Inga trees (not the most diverse habitat and not in the spirit of forest preservation, but it earns a shade grown label). As we got closer, we could see Volcán Tacaná between the clouds and were excited to head up the mountain the next day to search for more cloud forest specialties. We spent the night camping in the parking lot of a small hotel that overlooked a huge canyon with an observation tower. We talked them into letting us park the truck for the night and use the bathroom and shower for a small amount (in this case 100 pesos), something we’ve done many times. While we were preparing dinner several swifts started passing overhead. We dropped everything, grabbed our binoculars, and scanned the skies hoping to finally get a look at some Chestnut-collared Swifts. Finally, we were able to see the characteristic chestnut collar on several Chestnut-collared Swifts that were circling overhead along with numerous White-collared Swifts. The next morning we drove up the road as far as we could and started the hike up Volcán Tacaná. The hike is rather steep and full of people, surprisingly. The trail passes through corn fields, scattered houses, and more corn fields, despite being a biosphere reserve.
There is very little in the way of cloud forest left on the side of Volcán Tacaná, that is accessible above Union Juarez. Only small patches and much of the area is still being converted and new houses are going up. We only made it to the little town of Tregales, which is actually in Guatemala, and we found the area to be quite depressing. It appears that there is better habitat in other areas of the mountain but access would be difficult and it doesn’t sound like there are many trails. While the birding there can be good (our list for Volcán Tacaná ) we found that the birding along the Chiquihuites road and the habitat to be much better (eBird list for Chiquihuites Rd.). The Chiquihuites road is signed off to the left before you reach the end of the road to climb Volcán Tacaná. The highlight for us was a hummingbird patch were we saw Magnificent Hummingbird, Blue-tailed Hummingbird, Slender Sheartail, and White-eared Hummingbird amid the scores of Green Violetears and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in one small patch along the road.