Saturday, February 14, 2009

Mexico - grasslands, scrub

In addition to coastal mangroves, rocky shorelines and sandy beaches, Mexico also has some interesting areas of tall coastal grasslands and savannah-like habitats with sparse trees and shrubs. These are typically on sandy soils and are a product of severe flooding during the warm interglacial periods in the Pleistocene (imagine the deposition of sand and salt in low-lying coastal areas that would have been caused when the huge glaciers melted). As in many other grassland regions of the world, grasses thrive in conditions that make life difficult for other plants. North Americans may be most familiar with the grassland habitats around the Laguna Madre in Tamaulipas, within the Western Coastal Grasslands Ecoregion, but similar habitat extend further south all the way around the gulf of Mexico.

One of the most characteristic grassland birds of this tropical savannah ecosystem is the Double-striped Thick-knee. This large and beautiful shorebird is well camouflaged in the tall brownish grasses. As you may have guessed by the large eye, they are nocturnal. Thick-knees, also known as stone-curlews, are a small family of large shorebirds (just 10 species worldwide), found in tropical or mild temperate dry grasslands, savannah or even semi-desert habitats. Despite their large size, their nocturnal habits and cryptic plumage make them very difficult to spot. Some years earlier with Adam, the only one we saw was in flying and at night (i detected the movement in the darkness and shone the spotlight on the bird sailing over our head). This time, we were elated to find a resting flock of 24 birds south of Veracruz city, one of which is shown here.

The same grasslands hold some familiar species to North American birders such as this Eastern Meadowlark. But these are not Nearctic migrants, rather they are year-round residents in these grasslands.

The same is true for the Northern Bobwhite, also resident here and presumably not too worried about the impact of harsh winter with above average snow cover as they are in some parts of the U.S.A.

Maybe a little less familiar - hunting over the grasslands is the dynamic Aplomado Falcon

And almost invisible in the tall grasses is the cryptic Pinnated Bittern, at least until they fly!

In wetter areas, White Ibis gather in large flocks (the brown birds are juveniles)

Fork-tailed Flycatchers ripple over the grasslands where their superb black and white pattern shows off their elegant maneuvers to full effect. This seemingly antagonistic encounter shows the beautiful tail from several angles.

Perched out on snags in the open country are Red-lored Parrots, presumably on their way to more treed areas

The above were all photographed in Veracruz but there are some grassy area on the west coast too, where the snazzy Elegant Quail roam

And ground doves like these Ruddy Ground Doves come out to feed. Here, the female is in the foreground and the male in the background.

Raptors like the open areas too. Here a Crested Caracara, perches on a cactus above coastal sand dunes. When most of us think of falcons, we tend to imagine the typical shape of Falco falcons but the very-differently proportioned caracaras are falcons too!

And so is the noisy and unique (monotypic genus) Laughing Falcon, shown here perched in an acacia above a grassy area. You are more likely to hear the raucous laughing call of these birds than see them but when they pose like this they are a magnificent treat to watch.

You can view these photos in larger format at:


  1. Terrific pics of native birds Christian, keep up the good work

  2. thanx Willie - appreciate it! good for you for the birdhouses!

  3. Such beautiful birds and photography to match!


Nature Blog Network Birdwatching Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog Directory Fatbirder's Top 500 Birding Websites