Birding Without Borders

Day 127: In Search of a Silent Jay

The Dwarf Jay doesn't make itself easy to find.

May 7, 2015, Valley Nacional, Mexico — In the mountains of Oaxaca lives an understated bird called the Dwarf Jay. It’s pretty enough, with a turquoise-blue body and crisp white throat, but among the jay family, the Dwarf is that quiet sibling sitting in a corner. Unlike most jays, which are loud, visible, and rambunctious, the Dwarf Jay is a hardcore skulker. To track one down, Eric, his wife Jilly, and I spent the morning in a pine forest, scanning for moving shadows.

After two hours, we finally located a silent pair of jays ghosting through the mid level of a pine tree. All the other birds in the forest (Red Warblers, Golden-crowned Kinglets, Crescent-chested Warblers, Mexican Chickadees, Brown Creepers, etc.) were singing their hearts out this morning—right now is the onset of the wet season in Oaxaca, and the local birds are getting ready for nesting—but the Dwarves didn’t make a sound. According to Eric, the Dwarf Jay is one of the few birds here that is more conspicuous in the winter, when they sometimes join mixed groups of Steller’s Jays and Gray-barred Wrens. In summer, Dwarf Jays keep to themselves and are tough to encounter, so we got lucky today.

In the afternoon the three of us continued north toward the Atlantic slope of Oaxaca, which is completely different than the Pacific side: The Atlantic slope is wet, humid, and hot, and has, among other things, the world’s highest diversity of fern species. From the Dwarf Jay spot, the twisty highway dropped from 10,000 feet to near sea level! By the time we arrived in Valle Nacional, our base for the next two nights, the jackets were off and the sweat was running freely.

New birds today: 7

Year list: 2448

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