Category Archives: July 2022

Editor’s Letter

By Jane Bauer

“No bird soars too high if he soars with his own wings.”
William Blake.

I fell in love with a bird once. I had loved dogs and cats but never a bird. One morning, far too early, my mother-in-law came stomping up the path to our house calling out for my husband.
“That bird!” she shrieked pointing to her big toe which was oozing blood.

My in-laws owned an inn in Puerto Angel and they had three yellow-eared parrots that lived in the dining area to the delight of the guests. One of the parrots had a tendency to be quite aggressive and attacking my mother-in-law’s foot was the last chance for that bird. That is how Millie came to live with us. Her cage hung by the front door and we left it open during the day and she would climb out and wander around the house, keeping clear of our dogs. She often appeared at my office window and stepped down onto my desk. She also discovered how to climb on to the bed by pulling herself up and would rub her head against mine. She was a wonderful listener and I shared with her my greatest secrets and fears. After a couple of months my husband told me that Millie’s wings were getting too long and would need to the trimmed to ensure she wouldn’t fly away.

“Let’s leave them. Let them grow,” I suggested. He didn’t agree, but he let me have my way.

Millie needed to learn to fly. I reasoned that a short life free was better than a long life grounded. I held a stick out for her to climb onto and we stood about ten meters from her cage and I would let the stick drop. She’d flap her wings nervously but she eventually learned to fly to her cage. She would squawk with delight and lean into me sweetly.

A few times she did fly off across the canyon that abutted our house and get lost in the trees. She would call out loudly and cry until we found her.

When my daughter was born Millie was very jealous and my daughter still has a scar on her cheek from where Millie pecked her.

When my husband and I separated in 2004, taking Millie with me was not an option so she went to live with his aunt and uncle who had a busy household where she would get lots of attention. They wrote to me when she died on June 5, 2019 and I cried.

Love is an unexpected and invisible thing.

See you next month,

Jane

My Favorite Places in Mexico

By Lori Hartmann

At five years old I made my first of many trips to Mexico. There are so many places to explore and favorite memories!

Nuevo Laredo MX, 150 miles south of San Antonio Texas. A border town I would frequent often as a child. The Cadillac Bar, a landmark, opened in 1926. They kept a saddle on display that once belonged to Pancho Villa. I remember sitting on that saddle many times over my childhood.

Horsetail Falls – Another childhood favorite – Cola de Caballo. Fifty miles south of Monterrey MX in The Cumbres de Monterrey National Park, full of canyons and other natural wonders. We traveled by donkey up to the amazingly beautiful falls.

Copper Canyon Train in the Northern Sierra Madres.
As a young adult, I traveled by bus to Chihuahua. There were no tourist trains through the canyons then. We started the 650 km journey in Los Mochis in the last train car sitting on crates of Coke. There were many stops for the locals and their animals. We were eventually able to move up to real seats and enjoy the thrilling ride along the cliffs. The scenery is AMAZING! There are approximately 40 bridges and 80 tunnels. I saw a man who could be a Guinness World Record holder. His feet were wider than they were long. Most likely had never worn shoes in his life!

Continuing by bus to Mazatlán, we found a campground on the beach. At that time, early 1970’s, you could only buy COLD cervezas at a restaurant or bar. We pooled our money with other campers and ordered an ice-cold keg from the Corona factory every morning!

Cozumel MX. My husband to be and I stayed at the San Miguel Hotel on the town square before it was closed to traffic and the tourist vendors took over. There was no cruise port or crowds! We enjoyed a “Shore-Learn to Dive” one day dive instruction. Next day we went out on a dive boat. The coral reefs were magnificent. Swim throughs brought us to different elevations…one time coming out the side of a wall. I stayed calm and enjoyed the dive!

Isla Mujeras is a lot of fun to visit, good food, beaches and entertainment. MUSA, The Underwater Museum of Art is a shallow dive and a sight to see.

Holbox is a lovely undeveloped island but growing fast. Visit cenote Hoyo Negro Yalahau, a freshwater lagoon fed by springs and set in lush shrub-jungle.

Still looking for “THE” spot to retire, we turned to Belize. Fortunately, I met a lovely Canadian lady there who told me about Huatulco. We checked it out and fell in love. The warm welcoming locals, the beautiful beaches and coral reefs, the birds and wildlife, waterfalls and mountains! The food is outstanding, great restaurants, and fresh fruits, veggies and seafood. We are very happily retired in the BEST PLACE EVER – Huatulco!

A Birdwatching Guide for Huatulco

By Randy Jackson

It’s almost as if humans have a special connection to birds. It is a heart-warming delight for all of us to see or hear a bird. I could even imagine some brutish invading Hun pausing his evil deeds to watch a little bird hop from branch to branch, singing a pretty song. Birds soften us all, especially little birds.

In my view, all of us are somewhere on the birdwatching spectrum. There’s that Hun at one end. At the other end of the spectrum is the fully kitted-out, pocket-ladened dude or dudette (ornithologist), who devotes a good portion of their time seeking even a brief glimpse of an avian creature.

On the birdwatching spectrum, I’m somewhere in the middle. I’m more of a bird appreciator. I do own a copy of “Birds of Mexico and Central America” and I have a pair of binoculars. I also have a few birdwatching friends. It is through these friends that I have met an amazing birdwatching guide who lives in Copalita – everyone just calls him Cornelio.

Cornelio (Cornelio Ramos Gabriel) is well known for his bird-guiding prowess, both locally and online. Cornelio grew up, and currently lives, in Copalita. As a young boy, while out gathering wood for cooking, he was intrigued by a little red breasted bird. Flash forward to one day in 1998 when he was working at the Camino Real resort. Some tourists showed him a photo of a red breasted bird and asked if he’d ever seen one. Cornelio took them to the place he had seen that little bird as a young boy. To everyone’s delight, they found the very bird the tourists were looking for.

As Cornelio described it, “when I looked at that bird through the tourists’ binoculars, I fell in love with birds.” He then bought a bird guidebook, a pair of binoculars, and began walking trails seeking out birds in earnest. Even when on his motor scooter, if he caught sight of a bird, he would follow it until he could identify it. In this way, over time, Cornelio became an expert on the birds in the Huatulco area.

Around the year 2010, by word of mouth, people began asking for Cornelio to guide them bird watching. This guiding work continued to increase, so that by 2014 he was able to leave his hotel job. Guiding bird watchers became his principal job. This work is largely seasonal for Cornelio, who is also a musician.

Before the devastating effects of hurricane Agatha on Copalita, I was able to ask Cornelio some questions on bird watching in Huatulco:

What are some good places to observe birds in Huatulco?

Huatulco National Park, Sendero Candelabro (on Cornelio’s ranch in Copalita, http://www.facebook.com/senderocandelabro), and along the Copalita River.

How important or popular is bird watching in Huatulco?

Huatulco is a good area for birdwatchers. On a good full-day walk, one can observe about 100 to 120 species.

What is the season for migratory birds in Huatulco?

Northern migratory birds begin to arrive in October and they leave again in March. Birds migrating from the south are around Huatulco between April and July.

Have you seen birds in Huatulco that were well off course, possibly blown here by a storm?

Yes, I’ve seen a giant cowbird and a Tahitian petrel.

What is the rarest bird you’ve seen in Huatulco?

Northern Potoo

Any particular captivating bird watching experiences?

Once in the community of La Esmeralda [a five-hour drive northeast of Huatulco, on the border with Veracruz], in two days I observed 30 birds I’ve never seen before.

Cornelio’s reputation has spread to the extent that he sees increasing numbers of serious bird watchers who wish to see the endemic birds of Southern Mexico.

To contact Cornelio, many online links will put you in touch. Facebook, of course, or Tripadvisor, even a Google search for “bird watching Huatulco” will work. His own website is https://birdguidehuatulco.business.site/, or Whatsapp (52) 958-106-5749.

Note: At the time of writing this article, Hurricane Agatha hit the Huatulco area causing severe damage. The town of Copalita was severely hit. Cornelio’s family house was spared, but the homes of many friends and neighbours suffered devastating damage. Cornelio is involved in helping his neighbours out. One way of helping some people in Copalita is to send funds to Cornelio for this purpose.

The last word, of course, goes to the birds. Our relationships to these creatures holds an element of “uplifting of spirits,” somehow more so than with any other creature we see in nature. As Emily Dickinson has said “I hope you love birds too. It is economical. It saves going to heaven.”

Anticipation: Fall 2022 Fiction

By Carole Reedy

Tis the season for anticipation, which according to Balzac is the most reliable form of pleasure. The creative efforts of our favorite writers will fill bookstore shelves and Kindle apps starting this September – here they are!

Shrines of Gaiety: A Novel, by Kate Atkinson (September 27)
Devoted readers of Atkinson have followed the adventures of Jackson Brody with each selection in this series, but Atkinson has given us so much more. Her best-selling and highly acclaimed novel of 2013, Life After Life, followed the various alternate lives of protagonist Ursula Todd throughout the 20th century. A God in Ruins came in 2016 as a kind of sequel that brings to life Todd’s deceased brother.

This time the year is 1926, the place London and its Soho jazz clubs. We’re taken into both the world of the glitterati and the contrasting underworld of the era. This book is unlike anything Atkinson has done before, which is what keeps us coming back.

I Walk Between the Raindrops, by TC Boyle (September 13)
Short stories are TC Boyle’s niche, although over the past 25 years I’ve found his novels to be among the best I have read. In fact, The Tortilla Curtain (1995) remains among my top 10 novels.

I Walk Between the Raindrops is the name of a short story as well as the title of this new collection. You can get a sneak preview of his writing by reading the story version, which appears in The New Yorker magazine July 30, 2018, fiction issue.

Each one of the engaging stories in this collection is filled with Boyle’s usual satire and wit.

Lucy by the Sea: A Novel, by Elizabeth Strout (September 20)
Strout set a high bar for herself and her readers with her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Olive Kitteridge (actually 13 short stories, 2008) about the life of a retired schoolteacher. Olive Kitteridge (the protagonist) hails from the fictional, apparently nowhere, town of Crosby, Maine, and her ruthless honesty permeates each chapter. The book captivated readers worldwide.

A miniseries starring the versatile Frances McDormand received mixed reviews, with accusations that the character was portrayed as one-dimensional, though I thought it quite satisfying.

Strout also has been lauded, although with less enthusiasm, for her series of books based on her other protagonist, Lucy Barton. Strout’s latest takes place during the recent pandemic lockdown, Lucy quarantined with her ex-husband in a small house by the sea. It has been described as “poignant and pitch-perfect,” with human connection at the heart of the story.

Best of Friends: A Novel, by Kamila Shamsie (September 27)
Shamsie’s newest novel examines the different worlds and friendship of two women raised in Karachi in the first years of Benazir Bhutto’s reign and continues over three decades, when they both live in London. Loyalty and principle are guideposts woven into their lives, causing conflict and reconciliation.

Best of Friends is probably Shamsie’s most intriguing novel to date, even though Burnt Shadows (2009) and Home Fire (2017) are major achievements. In Best of Friends, we travel with her characters across the globe and live through significant world events. These provide vehicles for the actions of her complex characters. You’ll find it hard to put down.

Bad Angel Brothers, by Paul Theroux (September 6)
Over the years we’ve been the fortunate recipients of Theroux’s adventure tales via his fiction and nonfiction writing, all based on the many miles he’s traversed on our planet. From The Old Patagonian Express, The Mosquito Coast, and The Great Railway Bazaar of the 1970s to his recent Mother Land (2017) and On the Plain of Snakes: A Mexican Journey (2019), Theroux has dedicated his life to observing, experiencing, and writing.

Now in his 81st year, he brings us yet another psychological thriller involving two brothers at odds and the prospecting of gold and precious metals in the mines of Mexico, Alaska, Africa, and Colombia. Another feather in Theroux’s cap. Although his early books are my favorites, I’m eager to read his latest.

The Marriage Portrait, by Maggie O’Farrell (September 6)
After transporting us to Shakespeare’s world in her previous novel, Hamnet (the story of The Bard’s young son, 2020), versatile wordsmith O’Farrell now takes us to the 1550s and the royalty of Renaissance Italy, exploring the life of a young woman forced into an unwanted royal marriage. Loyal followers of O’Farrell are accustomed to her ability to envelop us in different worlds and centuries. This is my most anticipated book of the season, along with the Barbara Kingsolver novel next on the list.

One reason the novels of O’Farrell are favorites among avid readers is her versatility. The places, themes, and characters vary book to book, as does her style and tempo. My personal favorite is This Must Be the Place (2016).

Demon Copperhead: A Novel, by Barbara Kingsolver (October 18)
Move over Charles Dickens! Popular 21st century author Kingsolver has created a modern David Copperfield, called Damon Fields, whose life parallels our favorite Victorian boy. He is mockingly called Demon and Copperhead for the golden locks inherited from his father.

When I first saw the title of Kingsolver’s new novel, I thought she had returned to the theme of biodiversity so popular in some of her previous works. But I was pleasantly surprised to see it’s actually a retelling of perhaps the most loved work in English literature. Yes, it’s a tome, 560 pages to match Charles Dickens’ creation, whose first edition counted out at 624 pages. Some of our favorite delightful Dickens’ characters are also reimagined for a savory touch.

Kingsolver has taken on the challenge of showing us how little progress has been made in addressing socioeconomic poverty over the past 172 years (the autobiographical David Copperfield was published in book form in 1850, a year after the magazine serialization).

Kingsolver’s version also explores the dark world of poverty, this time in rural Appalachia where Damon grows up in an atmosphere of abuse, addiction, child labor, and foster care, though eventually he finds the kinder side of humanity.

A sense of humor and a talent for artistic expression, with the mandatory bit o’ luck, seem to save both David and Damon. True heroes both, as also could be said of their creators.

Nights of Plague, by Orhan Pamuk (October 5)
The Nobel Prize winner of 2006 is publishing his latest novel this October after controversy in Turkey upon its publication there in 2021. Pamuk was accused of “insulting Turkishness.” But, he says, “In Nights of Plague, which I worked on for five years, there is no disrespect for the heroic founders of the nation states founded from the ashes of empires or for Atatürk. On the contrary, the novel was written with respect and admiration for these libertarian and heroic leaders.”

According to The Guardian, PEN America has reported that at least 25 writers were jailed last year by the Turkish government, the third-highest number globally.

The story takes place on the imaginary island of Mingheria (between Crete and Cyprus), the 29th state of the Ottoman Empire, where Muslims and Orthodox Greeks struggle to live together. Conflict, plague, and murder merge to make this century-old story too close for comfort.

The Passenger (October 25); Stella María (November), by Cormac McCarthy (Boxed set of the two novels available December 6)
I admit to not being a fan of McCarthy, but feel it’s my duty to list his new books due to his extreme popularity. He has been named one of the best American writers by reliable critics, in the company of Philip Roth, Don DeLillo, and Thomas Pynchon. McCarthy, however, has stated he prefers the company of scientists to writers.

The books tell the story of siblings Bobby and Alicia Western. Their stories are told eight years apart, first Bobby’s and then Alicia’s.

The publisher says “These extraordinary novels are unlike anything Cormac McCarthy has written before, and while both should be read and experienced separately, they represent two sides of the same narrative coin. We are extremely proud to be publishing the remarkable, inimitable work of Cormac McCarthy.”

Said to be the publishing event of the year – perhaps I will give McCarthy another chance.

The Trogons of Mexico – Then and Now

By Julie Etra

Meet the Trogonidae, an avian family with two branches of stunningly attractive birds – the trogons and the quetzals. There are 46 species altogether, 25 of them occurring in the Western Hemisphere. There are at least nine species of trogons in Mexico; in Costa Rica there are nine species as well, including two “endemics” (occurring only in Costa Rica), one of which is the rare Baird’s trogon. The fossil record of trogons dates back 49 million years to the Early Eocene; both trogons and quetzals have played an important role in Latin American culture since well before the Spanish arrived.

Along the coast of Oaxaca, the citreoline trogon (Trogon citreolus), also known in Mexico as the Coa citrina, is one of the most beautiful birds of the area, and has a very distinct but subtle call (https://ebird.org/species/cittro1).

Although some birding sources describe its range as being limited to southern and western Mexico, it has actually been found from Tamaulipas in northern Mexico all the way to the Gulf of Nicoya in western Costa Rica. In general, this trogon prefers drier or more arid habitats and is happy in our bosque caducifolio (winter deciduous forest). Habitat includes arid to semiarid woodlands, thorn forests, plantations, hedgerows, and other semi-open areas with taller trees.

In our neighborhood in Huatulco (Conejos), we often see a male citreoline trogon perched in the neem tree outside our upstairs bathroom. It is closely related to the elegant trogon (Trogon elegans), which is found as far north as southern Arizona and as far south as Costa Rica, but apparently not along our coast (the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology shows its habitat skipping right over Oaxaca, and picking up again in Guatemala and extending to northern Costa Rica). The citreoline trogon is also related to the resplendent quetzal (more on this later). The word trogon is Greek for “nibbling” or “gnawing.” These birds excavate and peck holes in trees and termite nests.

Like other trogons, the citreoline trogon has a varied diet that includes insects and fruits. They feed on the wing, so they are short legged with weak feet and don’t walk or hop very well. Unique features of all trogons are their heterodactyl feet where the outermost front toe points backwards, resulting in two toes in the front and two in the back. They also have short bristles around the nares (nasal passage of the beak). The citreoline trogon can be hard to detect, as it sits upright and usually motionless, except when foraging, displaying mating behavior, and feeding newly hatched chicks. They have a yellow belly and black or slate colored chest and may appear a bit dull in color until the light changes and one can see their gorgeous blue-green/golden-green iridescence. Another distinguishing characteristic is their pale-yellow pupils. The female is similar to the male in appearance.

The most compelling reference on citreoline trogon nesting behavior is old but fascinating; Alexander Skutch published “The Life History of the Citreoline Trogon” in The Condor in July of 1948. They make their nests in termitaria (termite nests). The birds excavate a cylindrical opening, with the male usually taking the lead. This is an arduous task, due to the tough material from which the termitarium is constructed and the fact that the trogons typically build the nest in the heat of the day versus in the cooler mornings, which is what one would expect in a hot climate. One account indicated that it takes the couple roughly six days to complete the nest, which is not lined and remains occupied by termites (perhaps the trogon occupancy deters termite predators).

The clutch consists of three eggs. The males and females share incubation duties, which lasts around 19 days. The hatchlings are fed regurgitated insects by both parents; this otherwise arboreal bird can be observed on the ground prior to entering the nest to feed the hatchlings until they are almost mature enough to leave at 16-17 days. The termites go to work resealing their nest after the birds have flown.

The most well-known trogon is the resplendent quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno), in my opinion the most magnificent of all, especially the male with his long, elegant, colorful (brilliant teal), and iridescent tail. The birds have a very limited range, and are only found in cool tropical cloud forests with high humidity. In Mexico they can be found in Chiapas, and farther south in Guatemala and Costa Rica. The resplendent quetzal is the national bird of Guatemala, and the namesake of the Guatemalan currency (the quetzal). We were exceptionally fortunate to observe a nesting pair in Monteverde, Costa Rica, a few years ago.

The resplendent quetzal is well known in Mexican (and Central American, particularly Guatemalan) culture – quetzal feathers, along with feathers of the lovely cotinga, roseate spoonbill, and Piaya cayana (squirrel cuckoo), formed Moctezuma’s penacho, or headdress. There is a reproduction of the original in the Museo Nacional de Anthropología e Historia; the original is in the Museum of Ethnology in Vienna, Austria, and may (or may not) be allowed to return to Mexico on an extended visit. Quetzal feathers were the most valued and precious components of headdresses of Aztec (Nahuatl) emperors and the higher nobility, and the birds were raised in captivity for this purpose or trapped and the feathers harvested, as it was a crime to kill them.

If you’re not an avid bird watcher on your own, I highly recommend spending an early morning with a local bird guide to catch sight of not only the trogon, but all our diverse, rich Oaxacan coast bird life. (See the article “A Birdwatching Guide for Huatulco” elsewhere in this issue.)

Bird Watching Guides and Resources
for the State of Oaxaca

By Kary Vannice

Of the 1,100 species of birds that live or migrate temporarily to Mexico, 736 inhabit Oaxaca. Oaxaca boasts the greatest biodiversity in the country, not just for bird life but for all plant and animal species.

For this reason, many biologists, naturalists, ornithologists, and birders flock to Oaxaca each year to explore and understand the immense diversity of bird life throughout the region. This avian diversity is attracted by Oaxaca’s vast territorial biodiversity, from 10,000-foot peaks and high mountain deserts
to coastal seashores and dense mangrove lagoons – it’s no wonder so many bird species either live or temporarily migrate through this region.

Whether you’re a serious, money-investing birder or simply a casual observer of nature, there’s a resource out there to help you enhance your appreciation and understanding of the birds of Oaxaca.

Several detailed bird books have been published dedicated to the birds of Oaxaca alone. If you’re the type that wants to have an entire encyclopedia of local birds to leaf through when out exploring, then you may wish to add these to your personal library.

Aves de la Lagunas Costeras de Oaxaca, Mexico – This detailed and beautifully published paperback book identifies 133 species of birds that live in or frequent the lagoons of the coastal waters of Oaxaca. Written by Paul Germain and Mateo Ruiz Bruce, this book was published in 2016. Paul, an Englishman who lived in the small village of Ventanilla while writing the guide, took years to painstakingly detail the characteristics of each bird species, as well as photograph them in their natural habitat. The book is written in English and Spanish. Even for those not dedicated to birding, it is a delightful book to explore and may just inspire the reader to pick up their binoculars and take to the lagoons in search of the unique species that live there.

This book is available for purchase locally in several shops in Ventanilla and the surrounding area.

Birds & Birding in Central Oaxaca by John M. Forcey is more of a checklist than an Audubon-type field guide, although it provides some information on each bird species included. One reviewer described it this way… “This annotated checklist includes details of habitat, elevation, breeding, dates for migratory birds, and local subspecies alongside information on the best locations in the area for bird-watching.”

This guide focuses on bird species you will find in the central portion of Oaxaca, including the Sierra Madre and high desert areas that occupy the center of the state. A handy tool for serious birders to keep a running tally of species they’ve spotted in the dense jungle or wide-open spaces as they tick each one off the list. The second edition was published in 2009 and is still available via Buteo Books online.

There are also many general field guides that cover the region of Oaxaca. A Field Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Adjacent Areas: Belize, Guatemala, and El Salvador, by Ernest Preston Edwards (3rd edition, 1998) is an illustrated guide to birds of these regions and contains 850 beautifully drawn, full-color depictions of regional birds. Many of the most common Oaxacan birds can be found in this guide.

Another popular bird book is A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America, by Steve N.G. Howell and Sophie Webb (2003, a new edition is coming out in August 2022). This book is very similar to the one mentioned above. It contains similar drawings/paintings of bird species, and it covers, generally, the same information about each individual species. Either of these books is a good choice for a general bird book for this region.

If you’re not serious enough about birding to invest in a field guide to have on hand but still enjoy identifying local birds while you are out enjoying nature, make a trip to the Mercado Orgánico de Huatulco, held in the main square in Santa Cruz Huatulco on the first and third Saturday of each month. Once there, ask for local naturalist photographer Jon Church. Jon almost always has a booth set up and sells some excellent one-page laminated bird guides that you can easily pop into your backpack or beach bag to have on hand.

If you have an excellent memory (or a good camera), you can snap a mental or real photo of the birds you see in the wild and use some of these online websites to identify the birds you’ve spotted once you get home.

Avibase – the World Bird Database is an excellent online resource that allows you to search by region (Oaxaca) and access a vast amount of detailed information about each species, including photos and recorded bird calls. (https://avibase.bsc-eoc.org/)

Ebird – Much like Avibase, this is a crowd-sourcing database where birders can register and submit data, including photos, bird calls, location found, and other details about each sighting. The page dedicated to the state of Oaxaca identifies 739 different bird species from this area. (https://ebird.org/region/MX-OAX)

Naturalista – This is a Mexican website written in Spanish. Still, with the photos provided, one can easily identify the bird they are looking for and use the translation feature to learn more about the habitat and unique details about each species. This site also has an interactive map that will show you the location of each observation, if you are aiming to locate that one elusive bird, you just haven’t been able to cross off your list yet. (https://www.naturalista.mx/projects/aves-de-la-costa-oaxaca)

Of course, there are many friendly, dedicated birding guides with local knowledge that can arrange to take you to exactly where you need to go to get all the bird-watching action your heart can handle (see articles elsewhere in this issue). Checking out some of the books and websites above just might spark a passion you didn’t know you had!

An Eye on the Women of The Eye

By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken

Brooke Gazer
Brooke has also been contributing a diverse spectrum of articles to The Eye since the beginning of the publication. One of the few Mexican citizens on staff, Brooke brings her relatively long-term year-round residence to inform her writing about local organizations and people as well as Mexican history and government.

Brooke was born, raised and educated in Calgary, Alberta; she received a B.Ed. degree, majoring in Fine Arts and Drama, from the University of Calgary. In between high school and college she spent a year traveling and working in Europe, first as an au pair in Munich, Germany, and then selling clothing in a posh ladies’ store in London, England. She returned to Europe, studying art history in Italy as part of her major concentration. After university, she taught arts and drama in junior and senior high school in rural Alberta, managed an art gallery for three years, spent two years selling and creating advertisements for a lifestyle magazine, and then settled down for a relatively long career as a pharmaceutical company representative.

While she was managing the art gallery, she met her husband Rick at a fitness club where both were members and after dating for a number of years, they married. Both enjoyed traveling and visited Asia three times (Hong Kong, Korea, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Burma). Over the years, they also made several trips to Mexico. But it was during their first trip, forty years ago, that Brooke began to think about running a B&B. She was sitting in a garden at a bed and breakfast, owned by an American couple in San Miguel Allende, and she thought, “What a great life this would be.” The idea seemed so farfetched that she never mentioned this to anyone, not even Rick.

When her job as a pharmaceutical rep seemed to pale, however, she raised the idea. They tried out the concept, renting out two rooms in their house in Calgary. Three years later, they packed up all their belonging, sold their house and drove to Mexico. For six months, they explored every beach community on the Pacific Coast, from San Carlos, Sonora, to Huatulco, Oaxaca. When they reached Huatulco, they knew they had found the perfect place. They bought property, designed and built their new B&B and successfully ran the business for 22 years. At the end of 2021, they sold the enterprise and moved to Merida along with their 12-year-old golden retriever, Tango.

Brooke will continue contributing to The Eye from Merida. Her favorite past contribution was the article she wrote on the Mexican Revolution, “Viva la Revolución” (November 2013); she enjoyed the research needed to understand and explain the complexity of this civil war.

Huatulco: A Paradise of Bird Habitats

By Nick Pitman

Birds. They have a superpower. Unlike us mere ground-bound bipeds, if it takes their fancy they can just open up their wings and soar above the treetops and beyond. What a view it must be from up there! (Sometimes I feel them laughing down at our inadequacies.) We tend not to pay them too much attention, but they are all around us.

Here in Huatulco, we are woken up by the screech of the white-throated magpie-jay and the piercing jungle call of the West Mexican chachalaca, and we watch the sun go down to the loud accompaniment of the orange-fronted parakeet (see “Noisy Birds on the Oaxaca Coast” elsewhere in this issue). Birds truly provide the soundtrack to our outdoor lives.

My own appreciation of birds has been a quite recent development, but what’s not to like? You get to go out early and enjoy the cool mornings, open up your ears and learn the language of the forest. You connect with nature and are reminded that we humans are just a small part of something so much larger, you relax and exist in the present moment. The more you observe birds, the more you see how different they all are; you get caught up in their colorful outfits, rituals, habits and drama, a soap opera waiting to be discovered. A recent scientific study linked exposure to nature, and in particular birds, with increased well-being and life satisfaction; hikers experienced greater joy proportional to the amount of birdsong. The greater the diversity around you, and here we have a lot, the happier you are. So it turns out that great big smile on your face has nothing to do with the sea and sand after all. It’s the birds!

There are more than 10,000 different species of birds in the world. Around 1,100 of those are found in Mexico, which ranks 11th in the world for bird species. More than 700 of those species can be found here in Oaxaca, more than any other Mexican state and more than the whole of Canada.

The Habitats in Huatulco

Huatulco itself, situated geographically as it is, provides rather a unique and multifaceted habitat. Steep mountains directly inland create a “rain shadow,” blocking the rain from reaching Huatulco and resulting in a specially adapted deciduous forest, dry for half the year. This is extremely rare in the tropics. And just like the plants and trees that have evolved to these conditions, so too have the animals that live here.

Along the coast here we have the Huatulco National Park, the finest preserved tropical dry rainforest in Mexico, where you can find spectacular endemic bird species such as the orange-breasted bunting, red-breasted chat, golden-cheeked woodpecker and the citreoline trogon (see “The Trogons of Mexico – Then and Now” elsewhere in this issue). And of course, my personal favorite, the russet-crowned motmot, a bird that actually prunes its own tail to look more sexy!

Then there’s the riparian habitat along the Rio Copalita, home to many varieties of heron, four types of kingfisher and of the exotic roseate spoonbill. Just 10 kilometers inland, around Santa María Huatulco, new species appear, such as the masked tityra and the black-headed saltator. Another 45 minutes up into the hills, it changes again and you start to see species such as the red-headed tanager and our only member of the toucan family, the northern emerald toucanet.

Where Which Birds Are When

So now that you’re getting more excited about birds, where are good places to go near Huatulco to find them? Well, in downtown La Crucecita there’s Parque Ecologico Rufino Tamayo, which boasts hilly trails offering plenty of early morning viewing – listen up for the distinct call of the ferruginous pygmy owl. Right there in Santa Cruz, kitty-corner from the Itoo restaurant on Mitla, is a square of green that is surprisingly rich with some of our more common birdlife, such as the yellow-winged cacique and hanging nests of streak-backed oriole.

The access trail to Playa Pescadores near Tangolunda has water and is a great place to look for the elusive green heron, combined with a stroll around the old campground next to the golf course where you might spot the lineated woodpecker. One of my favorites is to walk along the beach at La Bocana to the river. The estuary there is packed full of birds, look for tricolored herons, reddish egrets and the tiny green kingfisher. Of course, I have a few secret spots but I think I’ll keep those to myself.

Good resources for learning more about the birds of the Oaxacan coast include the website inaturalist, bahias de Huatulco checklist (www.inaturalist.org/check_lists/230415-Bahias-de-Huatulco-Check-List), which lists all wildlife not just birds.

You can download the Merlin app, created by the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology (merlin.allaboutbirds.org/) to your phone, and from there you can add the Mexico: Oaxaca and Chiapas bird pack. This useful tool has all the calls and songs for each bird it shows, so you can start to become Dr. Doolittle and start a conversation with your neighborhood long-crested northern cardinal. It works offline, too; in theory, you can put it on your computer, but it’s really designed for your phone. Locally, when you are down at the Huatulco Organic Market on Saturdays in Santa Cruz, you’ll see Jon Church selling his excellent local bird posters.

If you really feel like getting serious, then why not take a bird tour – we have three very knowledgeable guides in Huatulco. Pablo Narvaez (958 108 5087, http://www.facebook.com/pablo.narvaez.144) does private/group tours locally; he can show where those motmots are hiding. Bird Guide Cornelio (see “A Bird Watching Guide for Huatulco” elsewhere in this issue for more information) maintains an eco-ranch, a small private reserve, above Copalita where you could see the northern potoo. Huatulco Birding Cesar (958 107 3736, http://www.facebook.com/lasninfas06/) has a small reserve in La Jabalina near Rancho Tangolunda, a great habitat for the blue bunting. Contact them directly for more info.

Happy hunting and I’ll see you on the trail!

To see photos of all these birds and more, please follow me on Instagram, @nickjourneyman.

Noisy Birds on the Oaxaca Coast

By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken

We grew up the East Coast of the U.S., where the primary sounds of birds were sweet and melodious. Their songs marked the seasons. The chirping of robins meant spring was here. The summer was filled from sunup to sundown with trills and warbles of brightly colored goldfinches, cardinals, orioles, and the more somberly attired nuthatches. Fall was brought in by the songbirds flocking together and filling the trees with melodies as they prepared to fly south. And even in the coldest days of winter, tiny chickadees hopped around on snow-covered branches as they cheeped their little conversations.

Imagine our surprise when we were introduced to the noisy birds on the Oaxaca coast making a racket as their sounds punctuated the day. We simply don’t need an alarm clock in Huatulco. The chachalacas wake us as soon as the sun rises. Although they are large and heavy, resembling turkeys or overgrown quail, we heard them long before we saw them. Their name means “chatterbox,” but “clatterbox” would be more accurate. Their calls to each other sound like a metal spoon dragging along a washboard. And since they are clothed in feathers of various shades of browns and greys and hide out in bushes and trees, they can be frustratingly hard to spot even though they sound as if they are close enough to touch.

We first actually saw, rather than heard, chachalacas years ago in Santa Cruz driving on a street that ended in relatively dense and high vegetation. Seven or eight of them were comically hanging out on one tree, their combined weight dragging the branches almost to the ground. At first we couldn’t recognize them, since it was after sunset and they were very quiet. But our headlights disturbed one and he or she gave a loud cackle waking the others who called out in an affronted cacophony. We had no doubt that they were the infamous chachalacas who frequently woke us, so we felt justified in turning the tables. Their ability to hide must be an adaptation to being hunted and cooked. Reportedly their meat is very tasty, and said, of course, “to taste like chicken.” Of course, many wild creatures, including snakes, are said to taste like chicken. But we intend to continue using them as alarm clocks rather than dinner. (For more on this bird, see “The West Mexican Chacalaca – Best Known for Its ‘Song’,” in the July 2013 issue of The Eye.)

We are often amused in the late morning and afternoon by white-throated magpie jays. These noisy members of the crow family have bright blue backs, a long blue tail, white breasts, a distinctive black v-shaped bar that rings its lower neck, and a comical curly-cue black crest that bobbles around as it hops from tree limb to tree limb. Magpie jays seem to spend most of their time screeching at each other and squabbling over insects and seeds. The only time they seem to be quiet during the day is when they are by themselves or when they stealthily position themselves near an outdoor human dining area to swoop down and steal a piece of bread or tortilla chip. On the off chance that a human is fast enough to protect the food from the swooping magpie jay, they are likely to find a nearby perch and scream until the human gives up and tosses the desired food to the irate bird. Some outdoor restaurants on the Oaxaca coast, plagued by aggressive magpie jays, have hung curtains to discourage the little beggars. Although we appreciate not needing to fend off avian thieves, we miss being able to watch the reactions of other diners who suddenly realize that part of their meal has been converted into a magpie jay free-for-all.

Mexico has 22 species of parrots and macaws, so parrots are plentiful on the Oaxacan coast. There are three varieties named for the frontal patch right above the beak – white (Amazona albifrons), lilac (Amazona finschi) and orange (Eupsittula canicularis). The little fellow with the orange frontal patch and long tail is actually a parakeet. But all of them are mostly green. And when they are flying from tree to tree and squawking while in motion, it’s difficult to tell them apart. Our favorite time to watch parrots (and many other birds) is during the period right before sunset. The birds flock together and begin searching for a place to roost overnight. Whole treetops seem to blast into air, as the flocks soar and, as one, find another tree to occupy. This visual phenomenon repeats itself several times until, using unknown criteria, the flock settles down for the night. But each time the flock comes in for a landing the group conversation is close to deafening. The sunset brings out a cacophony of ear-splitting, hard, harsh avian sounds multiplied by up to a hundred or more voices.

Finally, the bird whose noise punctuates the quiet of day all day long and sometimes even at night, is the woodpecker. There are three local varieties of the woodpecker; the lineated, pale-billed, and golden cheek woodpeckers. But they are commonly heard more than seen – even though each has a splash of bright red on their heads. Their distinctive ra-ta-tat-tat as they pound away at tree trunks looking for insects to eat can be heard at long distances. So, although one looks for that flash of red in nearby trees, the woodpecker may be deceptively far away. We grew up with woodpeckers, albeit different varieties, most commonly the downy woodpecker, so their drumming was a familiar noise.

But the strident sounds of the chachalacas, magpie jays, and parrots, once startling and unfamiliar, have now become part of our cherished environment in Huatulco.