May 12, 2015, Durango Highway, Mexico — Rene and I spent the morning around Mazatlan and mostly saw the same birds as yesterday, highlighted by great looks at an Elegant Quail. We were able to add just one new bird before lunch, a pair of Ridgway’s Rails (formerly known as the Clapper Rail) skulking in a patch of mangroves.
At noon we swung past the airport to pick up a gregarious Australian immunologist named Phil Hansbro who will spend the next several days with us. Phil flew down today after attending an immunology conference in New Orleans, and has another conference in Denver next week, which leaves a perfect birding window to go birding in between. He likes to plan birding trips around these conferences—today he was already talking about the 2018 conference schedule and beyond.
The three of us drove east from Mazatlan’s coastal lowlands into Mexico’s Sierra Madre Occidental, a rugged, dry mountain range which runs the length of the country in its western interior. As we climbed, the temperature cooled and we wound along the old Durango Highway into a shady pine-oak forest. A stop in the dusty foothills produced an endemic Rusty-crowned Ground-Sparrow, and, while we were watching the sparrow scratch in the dirt, a couple of guys meandered past with .22 rifles. They said hi, and asked politely if we were watching birds. “They’re used to birders here because this place is listed in Steve Howell’s ‘Birdfinding Guide to Mexico,’” said Rene. “But, a few years ago, this road had too much narco traffic to make it safe.” He added that all guns are now illegal in Mexico except for some rifles, which are used for hunting.
Half an hour later, we started hearing gunshots in the forest. Rene assumed it was the guys we’d just encountered, but the shots seemed to be coming from all directions, at random intervals. Suddenly one went off uncomfortably close, right under a nearby tree. What the heck? After an uneasy pause, we realized that the tree was full of vines, and that the vines bore some kind of fruits which were exploding in the midday heat (presumably to scatter seeds). Every time a fruit burst, it made a loud POP!
New birds today: 4
Year list: 2483