Day 133: Jay Day

Tracking down a Mexican icon.

May 13, 2015, Tufted Jay Preserve, Mexico — Northwest Mexico’s most-wanted bird is the Tufted Jay, a bold and colorful character which is restricted to the mountains between Mazatlan and Durango. Nobody really knows how many Tufted Jays there are, but Rene estimates a total population around a thousand individuals—and the only reliable place to see them is the Tufted Jay Preserve along the old Durango Highway.

The Tufted Jay Preserve is an interesting case study of local conservation in action. It’s not a park, and it isn’t run by some NGO or governmental branch. Officially, the preserve has no protected status. Years ago, a local community just decided that it would be worthwhile to leave this patch of pine forest for the birds, so to speak, for the greater environmental (and touristic) good. Now the preserve has several cabins, a caretaker, and a night guard from the community—and, of course, the Tufted Jays.

It took most of the morning for Rene, Phil and me to find the birds. We scoured the forest and encountered some other good stuff, including a group of Military Macaws and the endemic Green-striped Brush-Finch. At one point, Rene pointed at a random pine tree within the forest and said, “That looks like a good spot for a roosting Stygian Owl,” referring to the tree’s relatively dense crown. A few seconds later, he said, “And there it is!” Sure enough, a Stygian Owl peered down at us from a limb.

The jays found us on their own. We were standing at a scenic overlook with an expansive vista of rugged barrancas (canyons) folding away into nothingness when a Tufted Jay suddenly called underneath our feet. It popped out on an exposed branch, then five more drifted past from tree to tree. With their pale eyes, bright white tail bands, sharp black-and-blue plumages, and, of course, the ridiculous tufted crests, the jays were unmistakeable, clownish, a little bit punky, and every bit as fantastic as I could have hoped.

New birds today: 6

Year list: 2489

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