Tuesday, January 3, 2023


Chapala Birders Newsletter, January 2, 2023
Sightings this Month

There were 203 species reported for the lake area in December. This is a record number of species seen in a month. The complete list is shown at the end of this newsletter. Interesting sightings included:

  • Jules Evens was part of a group at the top of Cerro Viejo (10,000 ft) that observed a Peregrine Falcon dive-bombing a Red-tailed hawk overhead.
  • Julio Alvarez led a team up the Caracol Trail one night to do some owling. They identified five owl species: Great Horned, Northern Pygmy, Mottled, Western Screech and Elf (a new species - see below),
  • Unusual species seen during the Christmas Bird Count included: Mexican Violetear on the Caracol Trail and Swainson's Hawk attracted to a field-fire near the dike.

New Species -- Elf Owl -- Seen on the Caracol Trail

The Elf Owl, seen here for the first time last month, is a migratory species that breeds along the US-Mexico border in the period of March to August. In September it flies south, spending the winter in higher-level thorn forests on the Pacific Slop of Mexico. It is a tiny owl, the size of a sparrow, weighing only 40g (1.5 oz). It feeds on insects which it hunts from dusk to dawn.

Christmas Bird Count Results

The Audubon Christmas Bird Count (CBC) results are in. For the Ajijic Count Circle (Dec. 14) we got 156 species which was the same as last year. For the Dike Count Circle (Dec.16) we got 95 species, slightly above average for the last 14 years. A review of the figures shows no trends for any group of species when the numbers for both counts are combined. We found, for instance, Sandpipers are trending downwards around Ajijic, but not for the Dike at the east end of the lake. For some reason, Hummingbird numbers were very good this year in the Ajijic Circle area.

'Rediscovery' of Chapala Sub-Species of Song Sparrow

During the CBC Jules Evens observed a Song Sparrow at the Dike. He has studied this species which is known for its sedentary character (unwillingness to relocate if the home habitat is destroyed). It is abundant in the US and Canada, and in Mexico is primarily found in the Trans-volcanic Belt.

In the Lerma basin there are several recognized subspecies including the Chapala subspecies which used to be common in the marshes that constituted 30 percent of the lake before the marshes were drained in 1905. The local population of Song Sparrows largely disappeared at that time. Specimens of the local subspecies can still be found in marshy areas around the lake. In our area they are relatively darker and redder than other Song Sparrows.
Featured Bird: Zone-tailed Hawk
The Zone-tailed Hawk looks very much like a Turkey Vulture. This disguise allows it to get closer to unsuspecting prey on the ground.
  • The Zone-tailed Hawk is a migratory hawk that spends the winters near the coasts of Mexico and Central America. It flies north in the summer to breed in Northern Mexico and the Southern US.
  • It is easily confused with a Turkey Vulture except for the white bar on the tail.
  • It soars and circles pretending to be a vulture and having identified prey on the ground, it will go to one side and will make an unexpected attack from the side.
  • It is not fussy about habitat, being found in deserts, mountains and coastal areas.
  • Its diet varies with location - lizards, frogs, insects, centipedes, frogs, snakes, small mammals and small birds.
  • When you see a Turkey Vulture, you should ask yourself: Is it perhaps a Zone-tailed Hawk? Does it have a white band on the tail?
Upcoming Bird-walks and Trips
Our bird-walks are open to all those interested in birds, both beginners and experienced birders. Just bring binoculars. We always have knowledgeable birders on hand to identify the species. Note that we will limit car trips to four vehicles because larger convoys are hard to manage when trying to stop on country roads to look at the birds. If you are being given a ride, we suggest you make a contribution to your driver for gas and tolls (perhaps $150 pesos for a half day outing, $300 pesos for a day trip).

On Monday January 9, we will meet at 8.15 am at the Old Train Station in Chapala, leaving immediately to bird to the Pumping Station area, east of Chapala. Expect to see a good variety of land and shore birds in a variety of habitats. We will bird until 10.15 am when we will go for breakfast to La Palapa de Don Juan in Chapala. You must reserve - email John at least 2 days ahead of time and please indicate if you can bring a vehicle and can take others, or if you would like to be a passenger (we do not always have enough vehicles). The old train station is on the Lakeshore Road just east of Cristiania Park in Chapala

On Tuesday January 17, we will meet at 8.00 am at the "Sculpture" (at the only traffic light in La Floresta, south-east corner, near Restaurant Pranzo), leaving immediately for the Rosa Amarilla Loop (60 minutes drive). Expect to see a variety of grassland birds and possibly a White-tailed Hawk. Bring refreshments for the morning and sandwiches for the 12.30 lunch stop. We will be back about 3.00 pm. You must reserve - email John at chapalabirders@yahoo.com at least 2 days ahead indicating if you can bring a vehicle and can take others, or you would like to be a passenger. (We do not always have enough cars.)

On Friday January 27, will meet at 8.00am at the trail head to hike a mile or more up the Allen Lloyd Trail which has lots of underbrush in which birds love to hide. Expect to see Blue Mockingbird and hear the Happy Wren - if we are lucky. At about 10.00 we will head to Cafe Negro restaurant for breakfast and complete the bird list.
How to get to the trail head: Drive up the Libramiento a half mile from the traffic light at Walmart, and park on the north side of the road next to the new hospital across from the Radisson Blu / El Dorado Condominium towers.
Birdwalk & Trip Reports
On December 9 we had a small group of birders out on the El Bajio Road. It was a bit windy but we managed to see 37 species including Gray Silky Flycatcher, Buff-breasted Flycatcher, Tufted flycatcher, Rose-throated Becard, Blue Mockingbird and Canyon Wren.

On December 27 we took three car loads of birders to Villa Corona, one of our more popular destinations. We saw an astounding 78 species including Wood Stork, Roseate Spoonbill, Clark's Grebe, Aztec Rail, American Bittern, Chihuahaun Meadowlark and Bell's Vireo.
Monthly Sightings List
Here are the 203 species sighted around Lake Chapala in December:

Ani, groove-billed
Becard, rose-throated (Ac)
Bittern, American (Rp)
Bittern, least (Rp)
Blackbird, Brewer's
Blackbird, red-winged (Ch)
Blackbird, yellow-headed
Bunting, indigo
Bunting, lazuli
Bunting, painted
Bunting, varied
Caracara, crested
Chat, yellow-breasted (Rp)
Coot, American
Cormorant, neotropic
Cowbird, bronzed
Cowbird, brown-headed (Ch,Jo)
Cuckoo, squirrel (At)
Dove, common ground
Dove, Eurasian collared
Dove, Inca
Dove, mourning
Dove, white-tipped
Dove, white-winged
Dowitcher, long-billed
Duck, black-bellied whistling (Dp)
Duck, fulvous whistling
Duck, Mexican
Duck, ruddy
Egret, cattle
Egret, great
Egret, snowy
Elaenia, greenish (At)
Falcon, peregrine (Sa,Cv)
Finch, house
Flycatcher, ash-throated
Flycatcher, buff-breasted (Ct)
Flycatcher, cordilleran
Flycatcher, dusky
Flycatcher, dusky-capped
Flycatcher, gray silky
Flycatcher, Hammond's (Ct)
Flycatcher, least
Flycatcher, Nutting's (Sa)
Flycatcher, social
Flycatcher, tufted (Ac)
Flycatcher, vermilion
Flycatcher, white-throated
Gallinule, common
Gnatcatcher, blue-gray
Goldfinch, lesser
Grackle, great-tailed
Grebe, Clark's (Ja)
Grebe, least
Grebe, pied-billed
Grebe, western
Grosbeak, black-headed
Grosbeak, blue
Gull, laughing
Gull, ring-billed
Harrier, northern (Dp)
Hawk, Cooper's
Hawk, red-tailed
Hawk, sharp-shinned
Hawk, Swainson's (Dp)
Hawk, zone-tailed (Rp,Cv)
Heron, black-crowned night
Heron, great blue
Heron, green
Heron, little blue (Rp)
Heron, tri-colored
Hummingbird, berylline
Hummingbird, broad-billed
Hummingbird, broad-tailed (Ct)
Hummingbird, ruby-throated (Sa)
Hummingbird, rufous
Hummingbird, violet-crowned
Hummingbird, white-eared (Ct)
Ibis, white-faced
Jacana, northern
Kestrel, American
Kingbird, Cassin's
Kingbird, thick-billed
Kingbird, tropical
Kingbird, western
Kingfisher, belted
Kinglet, ruby-crowned
Kiskadee, great
Kite, white-tailed (Dp)
Mockingbird, blue
Mockingbird, northern
Nighthawk, lesser
Nightjar, buff-collared (Av)
Oriole, black-backed
Oriole, black-vented
Oriole, Bullock's
Oriole, hooded
Oriole, orchard
Oriole, streak-backed
Osprey (Rp)
Owl, barn (Rp)
Owl, elf (Ct)
Owl, ferruginous pygmy
Owl, great horned (Av)
Owl, mottled (Ct)
Owl, mountain pygmy (Ct)
Owl, western screech (Ct)
Parakeet, monk
Parrot, red-lored (Jo)
Parula, tropical (Aw)
Pelican, American white
Pelican, brown (Ca)
Pewee, greater
Phoebe, black
Phoebe, eastern (Dp)
Pigeon, rock
Pintail, northern
Rail, Aztec (Rp)
Raven common (Ct,Cv)
Redstart, American (Aw,Dp)
Redstart, painted (Ct)
Redstart, slate-throated (Cv)
Robin, American
Robin, rufous-backed
Sandpiper, least (Dp)
Sandpiper, solitary (Sc)
Sandpiper, spotted
Sandpiper, stilt (Dp)
Seedeater, cinnamon-rumped
Shoveler, northern
Shrike, loggerhead
Solitaire, brown-backed
Sparrow, chipping (Sc)
Sparrow, clay-colored (Dp)
Sparrow, house
Sparrow, lark
Sparrow, Lincoln's
Sparrow, rusty (Ct)
Sparrow, rusty-crowned ground
Sparrow, savannah
Sparrow, song
Sparrow, stripe-headed
Stilt, black-necked
Stork, wood (Ja)
Swallow, barn
Swallow, northern rough-winged
Swallow, tree
Swallow, violet-green
Tanager, hepatic (Sa)
Tanager, summer (Ps,Jo)
Tanager, western
Teal, blue-winged
Teal, cinnamon
Teal, green-winged
Tern, Caspian
Tern, Forster's
Thrasher, curve-billed
Thrush, hermit (Ct,Cv)
Thrush, orange-billed nightingale
Towhee, canyon
Tyrannulet, northern beardless
Violetear, Mexican (Ct)
Vireo, Cassin's
Vireo, golden
Vireo, Hutton's (Ct)
Vireo, plumbeous (Sa)
Vireo, warbling
Vulture, black
Vulture, turkey
Warbler, black and white
Warbler, black-throated gray
Warbler, hermit (Ct,Cv)
Warbler, Lucy's (Sa,Ac)
Warbler, MacGillivray's
Warbler, Nashville
Warbler, orange-crowned
Warbler, red-faced (Ct,Cv)
Warbler, rufous-capped (Cv)
Warbler, Townsend's (Ct,Cv)
Warbler, Virginia's
Warbler, Wilson's
Warbler, yellow
Warbler, yellow-rumped
Waterthrush, northern (Sa)
Whip-poor-will, Mexican (Ct)
Wigeon, American
Woodpecker, acorn (Ct,Cv)
Woodpecker, golden-fronted
Woodpecker, ladder-backed
Wren, Bewick's
Wren, canyon
Wren, happy (Sa)
Wren, house
Wren, marsh
Wren, spotted
Yellowlegs, greater (Dp)
Yellowthroat, common
Yellowthroat, gray-crowned (Ch)
Sighting Location codes:

Ac - Ajijic: La Cristina & El Bajio
At - Trails above Ajijic
Av - Ajijic village
Ca - Lake Cajititlan & marsh
Ch - Chapala
Ct - Caracol Trail & Int'l School
Cv - Cerro Viejo
Dm - Dike: Jamay to Malteraña
Dp - Dike: Maltaraña to La Palma
Hv - Hidden Valley oak forest
Ja - Jamay
La - La Cañada & Hidden Valley
Jo - Jocotepec
Ld - Lerma & Duero rivers
Mz - Mezcala
Oc - Ocotlan
Pe - Petatan area
Ps - Pumping Station & Santa Cruz
Pt - San Pedro Tesistan area
Pz - San Pedro Itzican area
Ra - Rosa Amarilla loop
Rc - Santa Rosa & Carnero dam
Rp - Riberas del Pilar & canyon
Sa - San Antonio & Allen Lloyd Trail
Sc - San Juan Cosala
Sn - San Nicholas & Golf Club
Tz - Tizapan canyon
Te - San Juan Tecomatlan & Mezcala
Tr - Potrerillos & Las Trojes & Chupinaya
Tu - Tuxcueca & San Luis Soyatlan
Xt - Ixtlahuacan & Las Campanillas

What is the "Lake Chapala Area"?
We define it as the whole area of the lake plus all land within 15km (or 7 miles) of the edge of the lake.
Lake Chapala Birders is an informal group of bird observers led by John and Rosemary Keeling.

Illustrated color folders showing our common birds are once again available for $200 pesos at Diane Pearl's Gallery, 11 am to 4 pm, Santa Margarita #23, at the east end of Riberas del Pilar. Also available from John Keeling.

We like to hear of bird sightings at: chapalabirders@yahoo.com.

Check our website: ChapalaBirders.org
There you will find our newsletters, illustrations of our birds and advice on buying binoculars, books and birding apps.