Friday, March 11, 2011

This Is Not A Model Fit For Any Mold

The view of Chavarrillo looking west from the tower.

Wooooooooooooo I love fast internet connections! I finally found one. Expect a few more posts in the near future. I wrote this a while ago (we are getting a lot more migrants now) but I can only do what I can....obviously. Hope ya´ll are well!

Greetings from Mexico, bird addicts. I am now a resident of Chavarrillo, which is about 20 minutes southeast of Xalapa, all in the state of Veracruz. The town is very small, but pretty clean and welcoming. Aside from a hawk bander, almost no one speaks English…which makes everything unnecessarily complicated, but my tortured Spanish gets a little bit better every day. However, my habit of not being able to remember people’s names compounds my communication problems here….it is awkward to ask about someone whose name you should know (but you don’t) and so you must resort to describing them (badly)…then trying to spit your original question out….this is what a lot of my conversations amount to.

I live in a very Mexican house. Its very cobbled together, with bizarre additions, lots of exposed wiring, dirt floors, etc. At the moment I live in a sort of bunker on the ground floor….unpainted cinderblocks, a hole in the wall where a window could be, and a bare cement floor. Today a cat came through the hole, peed on the floor, and promptly left through said urinal portal. Our bunker is adorned with a bare light bulb and some nails sticking out of the walls. The household cat (not the previously mentioned urinting criminal), a young tabby we named Sloth due to its ability to sleep everywhere at all times, often sleeps with me. Of course, I am grateful for his fleas that he freely loans to me every night…they just add to the atmosphere. Some serious placemaking is going to be done here. One of these days I will even attempt to find a mirror and shave…but I’ll probably wait for the house’s water to start working again.

I am not getting paid anything, but I do get lodging in The Bunker and a lot of really good, home-cooked food. A couple noteworthy meals were caldo pescado and a raccoon. The raccoon was quite tasty, surprisingly, and I would not hesitate to eat it again….typically, I have not had a single meal so far that did not involve tortillas.

Short-tailed Hawks are common residentes around town.

My job here, of course, is to be El Contador….one of the hawk counters on the tower that is built on top of the house. The operation here is closely aligned with and supported by Pronatura, which from what I can tell is the big bird conservation entity in Mexico. Hundreds of thousands of hawks and vultures pass over Chavarrillo every spring…this may not match the numbers of the nearby River of Raptors in the fall, but from what I’m told gets the highest numbers of migrant birds of prey anywhere on the continent! Hopefully I won’t be the only person in the tower when the big numbers start moving though…so far, it’s paltry numbers of Broad-wings, Cooper’s, Sharp-shins, Red-tails. There have been a few big Turkey Vulture flocks going north though (I bet you’re excited about that, Americans).

Right next to my end of town is a big, heavily forested hill that is brimming with birds. It has fucking toucans! TOUCANS! I shit you not. I can’t believe there are wild Keel-billed Toucans 5 minutes from my house. Other lifers so far have been Bar-backed and Boucard’s Wrens, Green Violet-Ear and Little Hermit, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl and Greater Swallow-tailed Swift. I expect other bizarre southern species will abide soon enough.

Lastly, I scored a job with USFWS as a Piping Plover biologist during the summer. I will be relocating to exotic…….NORTH DAKOTA! North Dakota….The State Where Nobody Goes….rumors of grasslands and corn…Sharp-tailed Grouse and Baird’s Sparrows….farmer’s don´t know what else is there but I will soon enough


  1. Get the raccoon recipe ("Mapache en mole)?"-- I hate to see so many road killed coons go to waste up here.

    Hmmm, . . . Piping plovers and Norwegian farmers' daughters -- those are big girls, mannn. You're going to have a busy summer.

  2. Fleas aside, what a great experience! If I were a birder, I'm sure your lifers would cause much envy. 15-20 years ago I would have been totally there for the adventure of it all, but now I'm quite fond of hot and cold running water. With your nomadic existence, how do you keep your home base in S.F.?

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