Saturday, February 14, 2009

Mexico - coast and sea

One fascinating aspect of Mexico is the diversity of habitats. If you start at either coast and travel up and over the continental divide and down to the other coast you can’t help but be spellbound by the change between the various life zones and the diversity of life created by this variability… and in such short distances. So this series tries to capture some of that magic, starting at sea level and climbing up to the high elevation pine-oak forests. These photos were taken on a trip to west Mexico with Amber and Kyle before the AOU conference in Veracruz in 2006, which permitted a few days on birding on the east coast in the state of Veracruz. I also snuck in a few photos from an earlier trip to Veracruz and Oaxaca.

The first installment starts basically at seal level. The coastline itself is not homogeneous, rather there are wetlands and marshy areas rich with waterbirds like these Roseate Spoonbills, Black-necked Stilt, Snowy Egret, and Little Blue Heron

There are also sandy beaches with numerous wintering shorebirds such as this Wilson’s Plover. This bird was feeding along the shore where a stream trickled down to the beach. This species has an unusually long and heavy bill for a plover.

Interspersed between the sandy beaches and other habitats are rocky coastal areas where we found this striking American Oystercatcher

The very large Royal Terns are common along many areas of coastline

And where there are rocky outcrops just offshore you may find boobies such as these Blue-footed Boobies. This appears to be a family relaxing together (juvenile middle). Note the characteristic fully webbed feet. If you're looking at the feet you may notice that the youngster is banded.

This is a Brown Booby. The sulids (boobies and gannets) are well known for their remarkable diving ability (plunging beak first into the water from considerable heights) and their long pointed bills are well suited to fishing.

Magnificent Frigatebirds can be common on both coasts depending on time of year. This is a young bird with the all white head, probably second year. The frigatebirds have such a distinctive shape that they are identifiable to family/genus (there is only one genus in the family and just 5 species) at a very long distance. Where two or more species overlap identification to species level is much more difficult. Their unique wings give them exceptional speed over the open ocean and they sometimes torment other birds into dropping their catch, earning them nickname “pirates” or “man-of-war birds”.

The Red-billed Tropicbird is unlikely to be seen from shore so we organized a boat trip out from San Blas to an outcrop known as “Roca Elefante” where they breed. Here we were rewarded with fantastic looks. Tropicbirds represented a family I had never seen before (Phaethontidae). These "ribijuncos", as they are elegantly called in Spanish, seemed to nest only very high on the rock and shot in and out of their burrows so we never saw them perched, but they were certainly spectacular in the air with their elegant tail streamers.

On the open ocean we found two "tubenoses"(we had been hoping for more), the Audubon’s Shearwater, shown here flying low across the water as they so often do

And the Black-vented Shearwater, here shown coming in for a landing with legs dangling

You can view these photos in larger format at:

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