The Nature Writers of Texas

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Sunday, January 23, 2005

Northeast Mexico in Early Spring
by Ro Wauer

An early January trip into northeastern Mexico was fascinating for several reasons. Although the days were mostly clear and warm, as usual, the late December cold front had reached almost 250 miles into Tamaulipas, especially along the eastern lowlands. Combined with the annual dry season, when most of the deciduous vegetation is devoid of leaves, flowering plants were only a shadow of what will occur later in spring. The habitats near the Rio Sabinas, expect where the riparian forest had provided protection, produced very few butterflies. Conversely, the birdlife was more obvious than usual.

The reason for my trip was to scout some of the sites that will be included on the February 20 to 22 El Cielo Festival, centered at Cuidad Mante. I will be leading three butterfly field trips and presenting an illustrated talk on the butterflies that occur in the adjacent El Cielo area. So, my party of four visited Mante's El Nacimiento, several locations along the Rio Sabinas, La Florida, and Gomez Farias. It was interesting that once we got into the Gomez Farias uplands there was less impact from the December cold front than at lower elevations. Apparently the cloud forest zone that begins just above Gomez Farias, with its insulating clouds, maintained warmer conditions.

Although the number of butterfly species was lower than it was a couple months earlier, when in 17 field hours four of us recorded 171 species, we still found about 100 species. Some of the Mexican specialties located included creamy white, dina yellow, fine-lined stripestreak, Huastecan crescent, tiger-striped leafwing, Andromeda satyr, and orange-spotted skipper. Some of the specialty birds found in the areas visited included jacana, red-crowned parrot, green parakeet, elegant trogon, squirrel cuckoo, lineated and pale-billed woodpeckers, olivaceous woodcreeper, social flycatcher, spot-breasted wren, golden-crowned and fan-tailed warblers, and blue bunting. All of these are full time residents.

The El Cielo Festival is designed to include daily birding the butterflying field trips to sites where all of the species mentioned above, as well as three to four times as many species, can be found. Additional programs at the festival will include talks on bird songs and calls, bird photography, butterflies, orchids, and sustainable development. This first annual El Cielo Festival will undoubtedly attract lots of folks from both Mexico and the United States. It especially will be appealing to individuals from the United States that have never before gone to Mexico. The major reason is that one can purchase an "all inclusive festival package" that includes bus transportation to and from Brownsville; I will be one of the tour leaders on board. There is no easier way to get acquainted with northeastern Mexico and its marvelous wildlife. Further details are available on the Internet at www.elcielofestival.com or by telephone: 011(5281)8378-5926.

First-time travelers to Mexico are always concerned about various things, such as safety, water and food, and their ability to communicate. Although I speak only enough Spanish to obtain food and a room, in almost 50 trips to Mexico during the last many years, I have never had reason for concern. I have constantly found the Mexican people kind and hospitable. And access is never a problem like it is to private properties in Texas. Plus, the highways, except for some of the secondary by-ways, are usually equal to those in Texas.

Why visit Mexico? It is a must for the nature-lover, as it is biological paradise of enormous diversity. Although Mexico is only one-fourth the size of the United States, it possess as many plant species - approximately 20,000 - and significantly more kinds of animals. The northeastern corner, including the states of Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon, and San Luis Potosi, in spite of being above the true tropical rainforest zone, contains more than twice the number of birds and butterflies than are known for Texas.

For anyone waiting to visit Mexico for the time, when they can be accompanied by a guide and made safe and secure, the El Cielo Festival offers such an opportunity.

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