May 6, 2015, Teotitlan del Valle, Mexico — Eric and I headed into the mountains outside Oaxaca this morning. We spent most of the day in a forest of pine, oak, madrone, and fir trees near 9,000 feet, quite similar to certain landscapes in the western U.S. The birds were similar, too: I saw my first American Robin, Spotted Towhee, Western Scrub-Jay, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Common Raven, Red Crossbill, Black-headed Grosbeak, Bewick’s Wren, Rock Wren, and Cooper’s Hawk of the year.
Of course, the emphasis here is on Mexican endemics, and we found a few of those, too: Red Warblers dripped from the trees; a Slaty Vireo skulked in a thicket; an Ocellated Thrasher perched long enough for scope views; a couple of Dwarf Vireos flitted across a ravine from a Pileated Flycatcher; and we added the endemic White-striped Woodcreeper, Rufous-capped Brush-Finch, Gray-barred Wren, Russet Nightingale-Thrush, and Collared Towhee! I was also interested in the “Brown-throated” House Wren, a subspecies of the familiar House Wren that may warrant its own specific status (I am keeping track of subspecies this year, in case they get “split” in the future!). Most endemic of all was the Oaxaca Sparrow, which is only found in dry forests within the state of Oaxaca. It’s known to be a skulker, so we were stoked when one perched nicely and sang us a song.
Besides birds, Oaxaca is world famous for its food, and I’ve been eating well lately. For dinner this evening, Eric’s wife cooked us black mole (mohl-ay), generally regarded as the signature dish of Oaxaca: A thick, rich, dark sauce made with chocolate, ground sesame, several varieties of peppers, and many spices, served with meat and rice, which takes up to two days to prepare. What a taste! I suppose black mole is the Oaxaca Sparrow of the food world. There are seven types of mole in Oaxaca (with colorful names: negro, rojo, coloradito, amarillo, verde, chichilo, and manchamantel), and, Eric says, these moles are the gastric equivalent of endemic birds. Now that’s something I can dig into.
New birds today: 30
Year list: 2441