By Jim White, Associate Director, Land and Biodiversity
On 14 November 2008 I along with Jeff and Liz Gordon and a few other friends mounted an expedition into the Northeast State of Tampaulipas, Mexico. Our goal was to scout for Jeff’s upcoming Delaware Nature Society trip in February. After getting our paperwork in order we drove south from San Benito, Texas, crossing the Rio Grande and into Mexico. We occupied ourselves by spotting Scissor – tailed Flycatchers, Loggerhead Shrikes and Harris’ Hawks on roadside power lines as we rolled along through miles of dry agricultural lands. It didn’t take long though for us to see our destination on the distant horizon – the mountains of the Sierra Madre Oriental. These lush green mountains and the incredible biodiversity they contain are the northernmost extension of tropical America. The area is within an easy day drive (only a couple hundred miles) south of the U.S border, about the distance from Ashland to Washington, DC . We arrived at our base in the small picturesque town of Gomes Farias. Tucked in a high valley on the side of the mountains, Gomes Farias is perfectly located, allowing us to make day excursions to the nearby cloud forest of the El Cielo Bioshere Preserve or the tropical lowlands and dry scrubland below.
Each day we ventured out early, making our way along well-marked paths searching for tropical wildlife. Jeff’s incredible skills at finding and identifying birds allowed us to observe many species that are either found only rarely in the US or not at all. Birds like Ringed, Amazon, and Green Kingfishers, Brown Jays, Blue-crowned Motmots, Roadside Hawks, and Bat Falcons (photo below) were relatively easily observed. Others like Tampaulipas Yellowthroat, Mottled Owl, Barred Antshrike, Elegant Trogon, Squirrel Cuckoo, Spot-breasted Wren and Sungrebe required a bit of work.
Rivaling the birds in spectacle and surpassing them in numbers were the butterflies. They were everywhere, their colorful gossimer wings flitting around and above us as we walked. Luckily our friend Terry Fuller, his wife Marci and son Nicolas were with us. Terry, an expert butterflier, helped us identify most of the species that we observed. Tropical species like Common Morpho, Two-barred Flasher, Spot-celled Sister, Elf, Two-spotted Prepona, and Square-tipped Crescent, were only a few of the 180 or so species we encountered.
Unfortunately our Mexican adventure was coming to an end and we had to head back to Texas as Jeff and I were leading field trips at the Rio Grande Birding Festival in Harlingen. For the trip back we decided to drive the western side of the mountains. In stark contrast to the lush green mountains of the east side, cactus and Joshua Trees dominated the landscape in flat arid desert along the road north. Just after sunrise we stopped in a small town of Juamave to witness the spectacle of flocks of raucous Military Macaws flying around and perching in trees throughout the town. These large, blue, green and red birds come down from the mountains each fall to feed on the many pecan trees in the town.
As we re-entered the U.S, I was already planning my next trip to the tropical mountains of Tampaulipas, Mexico.
If you are interested in such a trip, please inquire with the Delaware Nature Society about our trip, Texas and Mexico: Brushland to Cloud Forest, February 12-21, 2009, led by Jeffrey Gordon. Contact Joe Sebastiani at 302-239-2334 ext. 115 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.