Mexico Travel Diary

Sierra Madre Vista11 March 2009
High in the Sierra Madre Mountains of western Mexico, the cabañas at Tufted Jay Preserve offer a rare, almost unique experience.  I refer not to fascinating bird life or delicious Mexican home cooking, although both are in abundance.  What is most remarkable here is the silence.  It is like a graveyard at midnight.
    Last night I sat on the patio.  I could see the faraway lights of Mazatlan, 2 hours west of here along the Pacific Coast.  The moon had just risen, casting its light on pines and oaks around the cabaña.
    But I could hear nothing.  Not the roar of traffic somewhere.  Not even the rumble of refrigerator or other electrical gizmo.  There is no electricity here, only the quiet.

Townsend's WarblerAnd this morning, amid feeding flocks of warblers and finches, more silence.  Occasionally a Townsend’s Warbler would rattle off a cheerful ditty.  In the distance came, now and then, the plaintive kyow-kyow of a Mountain Trogon.  But mostly the birds went about their day with scarcely a peep.
    Here then is a sanctuary, offering respite from the blaring TV; from the clamor of traffic, the air conditioner, the lawnmower, the chatty cell phone user, the neighbor’s yapping dog and every other assault on our ears that comes with modern life.
    I
n the afternoon, stillness again.  Not even bird song now, just the sigh of wind in the pines beneath a deep blue sky you see at an elevation of 6800’.  The hours drag by.  I take a nap; drink a cup of instant coffee, and strain to hear any sound other than the breeze.

Tufted JayTwo hours before sunset, the birds are active again.  A flock of Tufted Jays, who live in these mountains and nowhere else in the world, passes near the cabaña.  From them comes an occasional chenk-chenk, but they are far more taciturn than our own garrulous Blue Jays.  They feed and move about quietly.  Like the other birds, they seem in full accord with our philosophy here that silence is golden; the less said, the better.
    Afterwards I have a Pacifico beer with Alfredo Valdes Aragon and Carmen Esquival, caretakers who provide my breakfast and supper.  The quiet is interrupted for a while by Carmen’s grandson Orlando, but he is only three so it is to be expected.
    By seven they are gone; silence returns and now darkness as well.  With no street lights, no house lights blazing in every room, night descends like a shroud.  I have a flashlight and battery-powered fluorescent tube, but the night rules.  With it comes a dazzling blanket of stars.  Here at 23°N latitude, Orion sits high in the sky near the zenith.  The binoculars with which I viewed Golden-browed Warblers and White-eared Hummingbirds today now reveal the Great Nebula in Orion’s belt, a splendid sight.

Yellow-eyed Junco12 March 2009
I rise at dawn, have some instant  coffee, then survey the open areas near the
cabañas for all the skulkers:  Spotted Towhee, Blue Mockingbird, Russet-crowned Brush-finch, and the most common bird here, Yellow-eyed Junco.  It is very similar to the gray-headed race of our Dark-eyed Junco, aside from those startling yellow eyes.
    Later
I birded with Santos, a birding guide from the nearby village of Palmito.  Alfredo told me that Santos spoke a little English, but that proved not to be the case.  Except for the occasional American birder passing through, it seems I will spend the week without conversing in the King’s English.

Slate-throated Redstart

12 March 2009
An unsettled day, with high wind in the morning that dampened bird activity.  In the afternoon Santos showed me a road below the cabañas that leads down into Barranca Rancho Liebre, a narrow canyon  that I visited exactly seven years ago.  In the open pine forest was a Red Warbler, but it is a nemesis bird.  In two trips here, I have failed to get a satisfactory photo of this beautiful little warbler.
    So I must be content with a nice Slate-throated Redstart, another warbler who flycatches for insects, in this case a tasty moth.  Redstarts are always found in pairs here, among the most common and conspicuous birds.

    Fog rolled in over the mountains, so we returned to the cabaña for a beer, then an evening meal of tostadas a la plaza:  tostadas with frijoles and shredded chicken and cheese.  Carmen does all the cooking and dishwashing, while we men politely wait for her to set a plate of food before us.  In this part of the world we abide by the old customs.


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