Day 124: The Third Passageway

Mexican birding allows Noah to spot endemic species and some familiar North American birds.

May 4, 2015, Juchitan de Zaragoza, Mexico — Before the Panama Canal was built, three possible routes were considered to get ships across Central America. One, of course, was the one across Panama, which was chosen for geographic and political reasons. Another route was proposed across Nicaragua—and, a hundred years later, that route is currently under way. (The Chinese have financed a massive construction project in Nicaragua which began in December 2014, with the goal of building a canal bigger than the existing one in Panama—to be completed in five years, they say.) And a third, less well known route was considered across southern Mexico. 

Look at a map, and you’ll see that southern Mexico pinches pretty thin before widening into the Yucatan peninsula. The landscape in that pinch point is flat as a pancake—which is what made it attractive to canal builders (they did build a railroad, which was used until the Panama Canal was finished). This same geography means that eastern Oaxaca is biologically diverse: Mountain ranges from the west, north, and east peter out in this isthmus.

Eric and I spent the afternoon birding a large lagoon called the “Mar Muerto”—the “Dead Sea”—where we found 14 species of shorebirds, including a rare American Golden-Plover. The thermometer hit 96 degrees Fahrenheit this afternoon, probably the hottest temperature I've yet experienced this year, and heat waves danced and shimmered on the shorebird flats.

I continue to pick up “North American” birds: Today I saw my first American White Pelican, Western Kingbird, Northern Bobwhite, and Eurasian Collared-Dove of the year. But Mexico has a lot of endemics, too. The bird of the day, early this morning, was a Red-breasted Chat - simply spectacular, and you must go to Mexico to see one!

New birds today: 7

Year list: 2394

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