One of the world’s greatest wildlife spectacles takes place every autumn as millions of hawks and other soaring birds funnel through Veracruz, Mexico, where a pioneering program aims to keep them flowing for millennia to come. Susan McGrath has a front-row seat for this birding extravaganza in "River of Raptors", from our September-October issue:
Sunlight is easing its grip on the coastal plain of southeastern Mexico, and the people of Chichicaxtle are coming out to play. There’s a girl’s softball team fielding grounders on one village green and a men’s soccer match in full swing on the other. Families settling onto the unpainted plank grandstand are unpacking picnic baskets, popping open sodas, hallooing and chatting, and generally drinking in the twin delights of fellowship and sport.
Over their heads a far more serious game is under way—an exalting wildlife spectacle birders come halfway around the world to see. Not that it’s distracting the local sports fans. People here in central Veracruz State take it as the natural order of things that on any given day in early October, half a million raptors might be gliding in stately procession across the sky overhead.
Chichicaxtle lies smack under the greatest raptor flyway in the world, a slip of coastal plain pinched between the Sierra Madre and the Gulf of Mexico. Down through this bottleneck flies just about every able-bodied broad-winged hawk, Swainson’s hawk, Mississippi kite, and osprey in North America; the northern populations of peregrines, kestrels, merlins, Cooper’s, and sharp-shinned hawks; and most of the turkey vultures of the western United States and Canada. Day after day, through most of September, October, and November, the birds pour southward, something between four and six million hawks and vultures in all. It’s the world’s greatest concentration of raptors and yet so little known that my dog-eared copy of Lonely Planet Mexico makes no mention of hawks at all.
Nature’s game does have a grandstand here, the rooftop of a tiny, two-story turret of concrete on the dirt track between the ball greens. Throughout the migration season scorekeepers staff it 10 hours a day.
Continue reading "River of Raptors".