May 16, 2015, Near Durango, Mexico — Two years ago, a new superhighway was completed from Mazatlan to Durango in northwest Mexico. The road crosses 140 rugged miles of the Sierra Madre Occidental with 63 tunnels and 115 bridges (including the world's third-highest bridge), and took 12 years and $2.2 billion to finish.
Rene and I dropped Phil at the Mazatlan airport today with well wishes, then took this new, incredible Durango Highway across the mountains. The road is so perfectly contoured, and so little of it is at ground level, that you feel like you’re flying through a landscape of cliffs. In the first couple of weeks after the road opened, thieves stole much of the wiring inside the tunnels for the copper, so now security guards are posted strategically along the way. (Just imagine: “What do you do for a living?” “I guard a tunnel!”).
As the sun set today, we were in the dry pine forest outside Durango, and I realized I had seen exactly 2,499 species of birds since New Year. The past four and a half months have been a wild ride: I’ve passed through more than a dozen countries since January, from Antarctica to Mexico, and have spent every single day looking for birds. The goal of 5,000 species is too big to comprehend except in an abstract sense, and I haven’t spent too much time dwelling on it. Gradually, though, the birds have been piling up, and I am suddenly halfway there!
Rene and I were on a dirt road after dark when a small bird fluttered through the headlights. We stopped, jumped out with flashlights, and spotted some kind of nightjar on the ground a couple hundred yards away. But which species? The two of us practically crawled toward it, hoping to get a good view before it flew. Then something magical happened: The bird, a little dazzled by the flashlight beam, half-closed its eyes and stayed put until we were sitting inches away from it. I have heard that some nightjars will “freeze” like this when spotlighted, but never actually tried stalking one. Just after 10:00 p.m., I slowly extended my hand, and gently touched my 2,500th bird of the year: A Common Poorwill, as soft as a lamb’s ear.
New birds today: 7
Year list: 2501