Day 137: The Imperial Woodpecker’s Old Stomping Grounds

Noah changes plans based on some birding news, and ends up checking some unique species off the list.

May 17, 2015, Monterrey, Mexico — Rene got a call yesterday from some birding buddies in Durango with good news: They were on a weekend birding trip with the Durango birdwatching club and had just seen three Eared Quetzals! This required a quick change of plans: Instead of driving straight to Monterrey this morning, Rene and I crashed in a house outside Durango with about 10 other birdwatchers last night, and went looking for the quetzals first thing this morning.

Two of the Durango birders, Bryan and Bernardo, accompanied us to the spot today. They had received permission to visit a private ranch in the pine forest with some cabins, a lake, and a nice loop trail. Yesterday they found the Eared Quetzals along this trail, so the four of us went for a hike. It was a cool 5 degrees Celsius (41 Fahrenheit) at dawn, with mist rising off the pine trees—a beautiful morning.

I could imagine, several decades ago, that Imperial Woodpeckers once frequented this spot. The Imperial Woodpecker is Mexico’s counterpart to the Ivory-billed in the U.S., now presumed extinct but recorded as recently as the 1960s very close to where we were this morning. A lot of the Imperial’s former range is now in sketchy narco territory, so few people have gone looking lately (although Rene has made two expeditions to look for it recently), and it’s possible that a few woodpeckers may hang on somewhere. (To see the only existing video of an Imperial Woodpecker, filmed in the 1950s and not released until a couple of years ago, check out

We found the Eared Quetzals near the place they were yesterday, probably a nesting spot. This means I’ve seen five out of the world’s six quetzal species this year: Golden-headed, Crested, White-tipped, Resplendent, and Eared (which is in its own funky genus). The only quetzal I’ve missed is the Pavonine, a rare resident of the Amazon—guess I’ll have to do another big year to see that one…

Rene and I continued through Durango, where a local birder met us on the side of a highway to escort us to a Black-backed Oriole nest, and onward through the afternoon to reach Monterrey where, at dusk, we had just enough daylight to squeak out a Crimson-collared Grosbeak and Long-billed Thrasher. Tonight is my last night in Latin America this year—the U.S.A. awaits tomorrow!

New birds today: 17

Year list: 2518

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