Friday, July 30, 2010

Las Aves-San Pedro

Meal time! Golden-fronted Woodpecker
I travelled to the state of Coahuila in the north of Mexico to spend a few days with our daughter and her husband. My brother Stephen and his family live in the same community as well. The region is not lush and green like Nayarit and the city of San Pedro de las Colonias is hot and dusty. My daughter was excited (for me) that she had seen a Roadrunner a couple of weeks before I came, but there were none around when I was there. Basically there were Great-tailed Grackles, Swallows over the irrigation ditches, Doves, and House Sparrows everywhere. And that was it!

Taken with my small close!

We went downtown one morning to get the mail and run a few errands. I just had my small pocket camera with me as we walked through the main town square which was filled with people. Large trees grew in the square and to my surprise there were many Golden-fronted Woodpeckers calling and flying about. A young bird stuck its head out of the nest hole right above my head. My daughter wanted to leave but I didn't, so she promised to bring me back again. We did return the next day at noon, just in time for an unexpected downpour. I tried to take pictures but the light was poor so I had to extract a promise of a third visit.

Main square in San Pedro
It is not unusual to see people taking pictures in Canadian city parks, but it wasn't normal activity in this location. The birds were interesting only to me and I felt very conspicuous pointing my lens up in the trees. I had a perfect shot lined up when a old, thin man tapped my arm and asked for a peso. My only shot of the bird's red cap was blurry but I will keep it so I remember that man. My camera cost less than $400 but that is a lot of money for many people here.

My blurry bird is on the left
There was a festival of some sort going on that afternoon and many children were dressed in traditional costumes. I looked behind me and saw a line of girls staring at me as I watched the adult birds feeding their young. They were happy to pose for a picture and my daughter explained to them that I was not crazy, even though she didn't believe it herself.

We spent an afternoon in nearby Torreon at the campus of the Universidad del Valle de Mexico (UVM) where my daughter teaches English. The campus is beautiful and we sat on a balcony watching soccer try outs. I heard a lovely, unfamiliar bird song and finally found the singing finches. They look like our House Finches but their song was very different. They were also feeding their young who had already fledged from the nest.

I know there are good birding areas in this state, but they were not in these urban areas. But I was very satisfied to find a new life bird and to see it during the breeding season.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Las Aves-Tepic

Altamira Oriole

My family's home in the state of Nayarit, Mexico is on a bird migration route for the western part of the continent. Mom has counted many different species on the property in the past few years and I looked forward to doing some easy birding while I was there. Most mornings I was prowling around at dawn as my body clock was still on Eastern time. Besides, the days were very warm so the best time to walk was early in the day. The five acre property is situated in the Tepic valley and the Pacific Ocean is just over the mountains. My brother has planted many trees and flowering shrubs and the adjacent properties are mainly sugar cane fields.

Gila Woodpecker, Western Meadowlark, Barn Swallows, Great-tailed Grackle

While it was easy to see the birds, it was more challenging to get good pictures of them. The Orioles taunted me for three days before I finally took the first photo through the kitchen window. Mom saw the bird land in the tree as we ate dinner and I was able to open the screen without scaring it away. The barn swallows had a nest in the carport and were easier to approach and the Great-tailed Grackles were noisy and bold, just like Grackles in Ontario. The Western Meadowlark hopped from fence post to fence post ahead of me as I tried to get close enough to get a decent picture.

White-collared Seedeaters

Around midday, a group of small birds would hop about on the grass under the Tabachin tree. At first I thought they were some kind of Chickadee, but the females were very different than the males. They were White-collared Seedeaters, birds which are commonly seen around sugar cane fields.

Great Kiskadee

The most unusual and beautiful bird on the property was the Great Kiskadee. It was quite sociable as it dined on the many, many insects which were around.

Dad liked to walk in the nearby ecological park in the evenings where a 2 km track circled marsh land and a pond. The concept of an ecological park in Mexico surprised me as in past visits I have not found the country to be conservation oriented. I noticed far less garbage along the roadways this year and responsible environmental stewardship is being taught in schools.

Ecological Park, Tepic, Nayarit
In the evenings, the temperature might have dropped to 28C or so with high humidity, and I had to chuckle at the people walking the track in jackets and track pants. These temperatures were considerably lower than in the afternoon, but not low enough for a jacket in my opinion.

Purple Gallinule
The park had a few caged animals and several interesting wild birds including the very furtive Purple Gallinule. It walked through the rushes and never swam in the water or came into the open for more than a few seconds.

Black-bellied Whistling Duck

There were many Black-bellied Whistling Ducks and I only saw them in the water once. They preferred to perch on overhead wires and make their distinctive whistling noise. They were beautiful in flight with black and white wing markings. In my mother's Spanish bird guide, they are also called Black-bellied Tree Ducks. I don't know of any other ducks which like a high wire view.

I hope to add a list of birds I saw in this area once I go through all my other photos and look them up in my Sibley Bird Guide. Many birds were unfamiliar and others were familiar but slightly different than related eastern species. Please let me know if I have incorrectly identified any of these birds.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Felicidad- Happiness

Working in sugar cane fields in Nayarit, Mexico

Gaelyn wrote a comment on the last post about her observations when she visited Mexico.

"Rich indeed! Every where I traveled in Mexico the people were so much richer than most Americans, strong family, gorgeous surroundings, happy and full of life..."

I was talking to one of our physicians at the hospital about my trip to Mexico. He had worked in the southern part of the country in the past and I asked him if that particular area was poor. His impression was similar to Gaelyn's and he said that while the people did not have many material possessions, they had all they needed for health and happiness.

Fatima and her new puppy

The University of Michigan's World Values Surveys (WVS) has compiled data on the happiest countries in the world for over twenty years. Their results are considered the most authoritative by happiness researchers. (source)

The winners were
1. Nigeria
2. Mexico
3. Venezuela
4. El Salvador
5. Puerto Rico
with Canada at #10 and America at #15.

Other studies have shown that the happiest people surround themselves with family and friends, don't care about accumulating material goods, find pleasure in their daily activities and forgive easily. Mexico has economic, security, social and political challenges but many people I met, while poor by our standards, were content and happy.

There were incidents of drug-related violence in the city of Tepic recently and police and army checkpoints were set up along the roadways. Thousands of killings have been reported in Mexico since President Felipe Calderón came into power in 2006 and began an anti-drug campaign against cartels which traffic illegal drugs into America. Most of the victims are members of organized crime groups who are fighting for control of trafficking routes. Police, members of the judiciary and journalists have also been targeted. I generally avoided eye contact and photographs in patrolled areas, but the policeman above posed proudly for me as my dad purchased pineapples from the back of a pick up truck in the village. Life goes on as usual for the average citizen and I sensed little anxiety or fear on the streets.

Tortilleria in San Pedro, Coahuila

My daughter buys tortillas at this little business near her home. It was hot outside and even hotter inside the small structure. Most people I know in Canada would complain about working in these conditions. Visiting a poorer nation (not just a tourist resort) always makes me appreciate the exceptional standard of living I enjoy and helps me value the non-material sources of happiness in my everyday life.

Toddler in the village of San Luis de Lozada

Many Mexicans long for the "American" lifestyle and relentless messages in popular media are influencing younger generations to value material things more than ever before. I hope this little girl grows up to value the traditional aspects of her culture which cannot be traded for money and wealth.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Las Flores- The Flowers

A small town called Camichin de Juaja is less than a kilometre from the family property in Mexico. It is typical Mexican community with rows of low adobe homes in streets around the main zócalo or town square. To the average American or Canadian it appears very poor but what is a true measure of wealth? Beautiful orchids bloomed in the courtyard of a home where a woman stood outside scrubbing her laundry by hand on a stone wash board. My father asked if I could enter the gate to take a picture of the flowers and she graciously let me in.

My brother Philip pointed out the star cactus flowers blooming at the front of his house. They smell like carrion and attract flies but I did not personally try to find out if this is true. Regardless of the plant's diet, the blooms were beautiful and unusual.

This Tabachin tree flowered outside the window of the guest room. I loved the vibrant red colour and the tree attracted many birds and butterflies. Mom had willed it into holding its blooms until I had seen it but by the time I left the rains had caused most of the flowers to fall to the ground.

Bougainvillea and Crepe Myrtle (lower right)

I put more of the many pictures I took into these collages and all but one, the yellow tree in the lower set, were taken on the family property. It was always interesting to walk around the grounds to see the many flowers and fruit trees.

Passion Flower, Ornamental Banana flower
Edible banana flower, Trumpet Tree (tabebuia serratifolia)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Las Lluvias- The Rains

I arrived in Mexico the same week the summer rains started in the states of Jalisco and Nayarit. Subtropical climates with their dry and rainy seasons are far different than our weather in Canada where six weeks without rain is a significant drought. Here it rains only in the summertime, from about June to September which coincides with hurricane seasons on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

My parents' home at the start of the rains. Things are much greener now.

The three hour drive from the airport in Guadalajara to the home of my family near Tepic was very wet as we drove up mountains into the clouds and then down in valleys with lightning and rain descending on the slopes above us. The temperatures in Tepic were hot and the humidity very high.

Early morning...This is the same direction as the sunset picture below

Morning mists rose from the ground until they were burned off by the sun. The surrounding sugar cane fields had been harvested and with the rains, the brown landscape became greener every day. My brother has planted hundreds of trees and plants on their five acre property and the flowers were beautiful.

Very early one morning, just as the sun was rising, I walked outside after a thunderstorm and a full rainbow stretched across the valley over the city of Tepic. Ten minutes later it was gone but it was a great way to start a new day.

San Pedro, Coahuila

Our daughter lives in the north of Mexico in the state of Coahuila. The area is part of the Chihuahuan Desert and rain may not fall for a year or more. Dust storms are more common than rainstorms. It was very hot here too, and the air so dry you didn't sweat but just evaporated. One day at noon, while we were at the main town square, a downpour started and most of the children who were gathered for a festival ran for shelter. But a few ran happily in the warm rain which did cool the temperature significantly.

Clouds bring rain and they also create spectacular sunsets. I took far too many pictures of the evening light over the mountains in front of my parents' house but each moment was different and better than the last.

In Canada we often experience dreary, grey, rainy weather for days on end. The rain in Mexico was present each day but the sun always came out when the storms moved away.

Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving;
Sing praises on the harp to our God,
Who covers the heavens with clouds,
Who prepares rain for the earth,
Who makes grass to grow on the mountains.

Psalm 147:7-8

Sunday, July 11, 2010

And Time Goes By

It was the summer of 1972 when Grandma decided to take me on a summer road trip along the Bruce Peninsula in southern Ontario. I was a newly licensed driver and she gave me the wheel of the car for the entire trip which was a great confidence booster for a teenager. I dared not go above 50 mph on the highway (Ontario had not yet converted to metric measures) and Grandma made me pull over on the shoulder if cars behind were anxious to pass us. Our destination was Tobermory at the northern tip of the peninsula and we planned to board the ferry to Manitoulin Island. At that time the M.S. Norgoma, a 190 foot vessel, carried passengers to the docks at South Baymouth. We arrived and booked into a motel in Tobermory, but very windy weather prevented us from taking the boat across Georgian Bay for the next two days.

Young passengers on the Chi-Cheemaun

Today the Chi-Cheemaun, a much larger vessel, ferries vehicles and passengers both ways across the water from Highway 6 at Tobermory to the continuation of Highway 6 on the island. Last week I finally took the journey that Grandma and I missed almost 40 years ago. It seems impossible that so much time has passed since the summer I finished high school.

I returned from Mexico the day before we went north for our vacation. Mom had her first round of chemotherapy when I was there and endured a week of nasty side effects. She had her second round of treatment yesterday. Their home is situated in a beautiful area of the countryside in southwestern Mexico and I enjoyed the restful environment despite the circumstances around my visit.

Lighthouse on Cove Island

We do not know what the future holds and that is a good thing. A butterfly may live for days and its life is measured by moments. A bird may live a few years and its life is measured by weeks. A tree may live for hundreds of years with its life measured in decades. Our lives are a modest span that we measure in years. I couldn't help thinking as I spent time with Mom and Dad that they are living what my life may be in 20 years or so. And seeing how fast time has gone since that vacation with Grandma, those years may come before I am ready for them.

Perhaps life is best measured in "butterfly" moments, seizing pleasure and joy while releasing irritations and frustrations which drag us downward.