Friday, March 6, 2009

What have we been doing? (updated with pictures)

The answer: not much.

I (Scott) worked way too much lately, but I also spent a week in Mexico! I got home last night from Chiapas, Mexico, while my luggage arrive today at 1pm. This is the state that is the furthest SW in the country and butts up against Guatamala. The terrain is incredible down there! Serious mountains! I was looking at weather in Tuxtla Gutierrez (where airport is) and thought it'd be hot in the 90's every day. Well, we drove an hour from the airport and went up nearly the entire time! Tuxtla is at ~900 feet in elevation and San Cristobal de las casas (where we spent 5 days) is at 7200 feet!!!! We birded at 9000 feet one day. It was in the 30's and 40's at night! Wish I had more than a fleece jacket! Worked out ok though. We had a decent room and hot water, so that was nice. They fed us well too. The Alliance we were working with paid for everything but cerveza and souveniers.

We had almost 3 days of meeting while there and it was a great meeting. We are partnering with conservation groups in Chiapas to help them develop their organization so they can develop conservation plans, prioritize habitats by how rapidly they are declining, rarity of birds, make maps using technology they need, etc. We are essentially providing guidance for them to move forward with things they want to do for birds and share our experiences with the same type of planning in the US. They are at the beginning stages and need a lot of guidance, but also need to make decisions on their own. My role is essentially bird watcher and photographer, but I'm more on the technical aspect of the group. They will be doing a lot of bird monitoring, so I can help develop protocols, etc. Maybe I can help do the surveys too!

Anyway, we birded a couple days too and in the mornings. We never started a meeting before 930 or so. 830am our time is actually about an hour later in Mexican time. 10 minute break is 30-40min break. very laid back. But this meant we met until 8pm a couple nights. Uh.

San Cristobal de las casas is the nicest town in Mexico I have ever seen. Beautiful zocalo (town square) and streets. Wonderful food and people. I really want to spend more time there. We birded in pine-oak forests that were essentially virgin forests at 9000ft just outside town. Incredible trees and birds. We also birded in Tuxtla and the dry tropical forest, which looks like 20 year old forest with lots of small trees, but it had never been cut before! It just grows slow with nearly no rainfall. We did bird a canyon outside Tuxtla that rivals the Gand Canyon. It was about 4000 feet straight down from where we were. Holy moly! Amazing views. We also spent time at the zoo in Tuxtla, which is remnant virgin forest with cages built under the canopy in a sea of concrete. Very birdy too! The zoo actually was the coolest zoo ever! Beats Memphis, sorry.
In the end, I had a wonderful time outside suffering from a cold most of the time. I felt awful a couple days, but then again the small of poo in Mexico City on the way back made me want to die. It was awful, as is the airport in general. Confusing as heck, completely disorganized, and stupid. Enpough of that. Anyway, the habitats we saw were incredible, as was the destruction to the landscape for firewood, corn fields, and development. Seeing these areas helps me understand the issues down there for the natural habitats and allows me to better develop research projects since I've seen some of the rare birds and habitats. There are a couple priority regions we'll help them work in that we didn't see. I will just have to go back and visit the coast the Sierra Madre mountains in southern Chiapas.

Brian (my buddy in Kentucky that was there) and I are already plotting a return trip. We can stay at the bioreserves for probably very cheap or free and have contacts all over the region for guides, etc. Most expensive part is getting there and that was only $600 round trip when the ticket was purchases barely 2 weeks before the trip!

I have lots of pictures to go through and will post when I get some lined up, but here is a taste:
Magnificant Hummingbird (nearly twice the size of our Ruby-throated Hummers) feeding on a flower at the reserve where we stayed, yes in front of the big cross.
Mountain Pygmy Owl (abut 6 inches tall). Totally awesome!
Me at El Sumidero Canyon, which is about 4000 ft straight down from here.
Another canyon shot.
Canyon again, looking towards Tuxtla.
More pictures (mostly of birds):

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