The Nature Writers of Texas

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Sunday, March 06, 2005

El Cielo Festival was a Marvelous Success
by Ro Wauer

Three bus-loads of people (84 in all) left Brownsville on Sunday morning (Feb. 20), crossed the Mexican border in minimal time, and reached Monte, in southern Tamaulipas, by mid-afternoon. We stopped twice en route south, at the "Mezcal Museum," where free samples of mezcal were available, and at the Mango Shop in La Morita, where we all enjoyed mango juice and/or slices of mango pie; yummy! That evening we ate outdoors at the Campestre Restaurant; a few dozen locals, including the Mante mayor and several other dignitaries, welcomed us with talks, music, and dances. Our participation in the El Cielo Festival was a big deal; we were treated like long-lost amigos!

Our outdoor adventures began on Monday morning. Each bus traveled to a different destination each day. My group in "Bus C" went west across the hills into San Luis Potosi to El Salto, an isolated area with a beautiful waterfall and a great diversity of birds and butterflies. This is where we found all three Mexican kingfishers, four species of parrots, and a variety of other tropical birds: muscovy duck, elegant trogon, squirrel cuckoo, boat-billed flycatcher, masked tityra, and spot-breasted wren. About a dozen Mexican butterflies were also recorded, including fine-lined stripestreak, falcate metalmark, Isabella's heliconian, orange banner, and usitata and two-banded satyrs. We ended our day at the Campestre with more good food and companionship.

Day three for Bus C occupants was spent along the Ocompo highway at a small drainage in the lowlands and in the oak woodlands in the highlands. The bird of the day was a collared forest-falcon that we all saw extremely well, but we also found several other Mexican bird specialties: short-tailed hawk, ruddy ground-dove, mountain trogon, blue-crowned motmot, ivory-billed woodcreeper, yellow-faced grassquit, and black-headed saltator. Some of butterflies found on day three included polydamas swallowtail, Ardys crescent, and sharp banded-skipper. Later in the afternoon, I presented an illustrated talk at the university on the butterflies of the El Cielo area. My talk was the last of several presentations, including those on orchids, birdsongs, rock art, and bird photography, in the afternoons. And we ended the day with dinner at ? where most of the same dignitaries thanked us for our participation, and guides and presenters were given certificates of appreciation.

On day four we rode the big bus to Gomez Farias where we divided into three smaller vehicles that could negotiate the narrow steep roadway to Alta Cima, a tiny mountain village within the El Cielo Biosphere Reserve. Highlights include an Anna's eighty-eight butterfly; a good variety of birds, including a nesting azure-crowned hummingbird; and outdoor markets and tiny stores that sold various homemade goods. Needless to say, participants made numerous purchases, demonstrating the value of the El Cielo Festival to the local communities. En route back we stopped at La Florida, where we found a good diversity of Mexican butterflies, including tiger heliconian, band-celled sister, red rim, pavon emperor, zilpa longtail, Gilbert's flasher, and common and large spurwings.

Our bus then headed for Brownsville, with a short stop for more mango juice and pie, and arrived back in the U.S. by early evening. We had recorded about 150 kinds of birds and 77 species of butterflies during the field trips, and everyone agreed that it was an excellent adventure. For many of the participants, including Linda Valdez of Victoria, Jimmy Jackson of Beeville, and Bill Williams and wife of Bay City, it was their initial introduction to Mexican birds and butterflies. Many participants told me that now, after seeing how easy it is to visit Mexico, they can hardly wait to go again. And that was one purpose of the El Cielo Festival, to introduce folks to Mexico's significant natural resources, to encourage later visits to the Mante/El Cielo area. We all learned how welcome we were to share the amazing sights and sounds with Mexico's most friendly and kind people.

Sonia Ortiz, the well-organized and gracious festival coordinator, tells me that she plans on holding the second "annual El Cielo Festival" about the same time in 2006. And because of the marvelous butterflies that are so abundant in the El Cielo area, she hopes to also establish an annual butterfly festival there in November. There is no doubt that Sonia's festival impressed a host of participants, and the next series of festivals are likely to be even more successful. For additional details, check out www.elcielofestival.com.

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