I mainly use a couple of field guides: The Audubon Society Field Guide To North American Birds: Eastern Region It has photographs of the birds, usually male and female and is small enough to carry around in your pack. The second book is the Birds of North America: A Guide To Field Identification (Golden Field Guide f/St. Martin's Press)It has drawings of the birds. At first I though the drawings would not be as useful but in fact it is sometimes easier to use this guide. This is because they can present an idealized view of the birds showing all the characteristics that might not be seen in a photograph.
When Roger Tory Peterson tried to sell a book that enabled naturalists to identify birds in the field, most publishers thought no one would be interested. Until that point, identifying birds meant shooting them, and then determining their identification with bulky, scientific guides.
Field guides remain popular among naturalists. There are now field guides for seemingly everything. My bookshelves buckle with them. I not only enjoy using them on outings, I also just like to pick them up and learn about interesting critters.
Here are ten new and classic field guides and reference books for you to enjoy. These represent my interests, but please feel free to list your own favorite field guides and wildlife references in the comments section. And check out my previous list of favorite field guides for more ideas.
As a kid, Golden Guides were my first field guides and also fueled my love of natural history. This one was my favorite. I loved exploring ponds, creeks and puddles, and this one helped me uncover the mysteries lurking there.
Seriously, this field guide shows just how specialized and encompassing field guides have become. It features all 116 species of tiger beetles found in the United States and Canada. It contains everything you could possibly want to know about tiger beetles.
Beyond the larger species like elk and mountain goats, smaller mammals are some of the cutest wildlife to look for in Spearfish. This field guide will help you distinguish weasels from minks and marmots from martens.
This is the introductory field guide series that has, for over half a century, inspired millions of individuals to go out and explore nature. Continuously revised and updated, the reasonably priced Golden Guides are a perfect place for all outdoor explorations to begin.
Jonathan Evans, Environmental Health Legal Director, Senior AttorneyJonathan (he/him) works to protect imperiled wildlife from the threats of environmental contamination and reduce the toxic threats of pesticides, heavy metals and chemical pollution in our environment. Jonathan received his law degree from the University of Oregon School of Law and a bachelor's degree in conservation and resource studies from the University of California at Berkeley. Prior to joining the Center, Jonathan worked at the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation managing ecosystem restoration grants. He also brings to the Center a background in the field of outdoor education as a naturalist and guide throughout California.
Noah Greenwald, Endangered Species Director Noah (he/him) directs the Center's efforts to protect new species under the Endangered Species Act, to ensure that imperiled species receive effective protections and that we have the strongest Endangered Species Act possible. He also works to educate the public about the importance of protecting biodiversity and about the multitude of threats to the survival of North American wildlife. He holds a bachelor of science in ecology from the Evergreen State College and a master's in forest ecology and conservation from the University of Washington. Before he joined the Center in 1997, Noah worked as a field biologist, surveying northern spotted owls and marbled murrelets and banding Hawaiian songbirds.
By Stephen J. Daviessdavies@cgl.ucsf.eduIntroductionKatherine Feldman and I spent a week birding Northern Chiapas during early May 2002. The aim of the trip was to travel independently to the rainforest fragments of Northern Chiapas, where some species representative of the Central American avifauna can be found. We combined the rainforest with a loop back through the North-Central highlands of Chiapas, in the hope of encountering some of the endemic species of that area. This made for an enjoyable if hectic trip, producing 295 species of birds. We had an opportunity to take in some of the sights of this beautiful region of Mexico, but were also provided with an educational and sobering glimpse at some of the problems facing this impoverished area. While birding in Chiapas was not always easy, we would encourage birders to visit this biologically rich and fascinating area to promote awareness and conservation of the natural resources that remain there.ResourcesAs on previous trips to Mexico, we used Steve Howell's excellent book 'A Bird-Finding Guide to Mexico' (Howell 1999) to plan our trip and all locations mentioned here are covered in detail in chapters 12 and 13 of this bird-finding guide. Note that while this book is still immensely useful, Chiapas appears to be a region that is changing rapidly and in contrast to previous Mexican trips, we found the information provided by Howell was frequently no longer accurate. Some of the more important discrepancies we encountered are highlighted in the itinerary section below. We used the indispensable 'A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America' by Howell and Webb (Howell and Webb 1995) as our identification reference. Owing to the timing of our visit, we encountered many Nearctic migrants en route to breeding grounds further north (see below for details), so birders unfamiliar with these species may wish to pack a reference to the birds of North America. Throughout this report, avian taxonomy follows that of Clements (Clements 2000). The few differences between this taxonomy and that used by Howell and Webb are noted in parentheses in the text below, but not in the accompanying trip list. 'The Lonely Planet: Mexico' guide (Noble et al. 2000) also proved useful on many occasions. See bibliography below for full details.TravelTraveling from San Francisco, California, our trip began and ended in Villahermosa, in the Mexican state of Tabasco, which we reached via connecting flights through Mexico City. All flights were with Mexicana Airlines. At Villahermosa we rented a car with Budget Car Rental. We requested the bottom-of-the-line economy model, which from previous experience in Mexico has usually turned out to be a Chevrolet "Pop" or similar. With its short wheel base, ample clearance and tight turning circle, we have found this car to be a very good choice for Mexican roads, with their plentiful speed bumps ("topes"). Unfortunately, our requested car was not available and we ended up with a free upgrade to a Dodge "Stratus". While bigger, more comfortable and with air conditioning, this car turned out to be completely unsuitable for Mexican road conditions away from the major cities - the lack of ground clearance alone meant we bottomed out on even the puniest of "topes". Driving at night in this region of Mexico is not advisable.Many are mindful of the recent civil unrest in Chiapas and we suspect this accounted for the low numbers of Western tourists we encountered during our visit. While it is always advisable to be cautious, we experienced no major difficulties related to the Zapatista uprising and we are not aware of any current travel advisories for the region.WeatherIn the tropical lowlands of the north, conditions were invariably hot, humid and hazy, and frequently overcast. At higher altitudes further south, temperatures were still high but the humidity was greatly reduced and conditions were generally clear. The only rain we encountered was in the early morning in the Lagos de Montebello area on May 11th.HealthMalaria prophylaxis is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's "Yellow Book" ( ). Mosquitoes were numerous in places but not as much of a presence as we expected - in fact, insect repellent was mostly not necessary. Ticks and fearsome tabanid biting flies (horseflies and their ilk) were also encountered in some numbers. We drank only bottled water or water we filtered ourselves using an MSR Miniworks water filter (highly recommended). We were careful not to eat uncooked foods such as fruits and vegetables, but in remote areas this became impractical to avoid and we both succumbed to gastrointestinal problems by the time we returned home.Itinerary and birdsMay 5th: Villahermosa to PalenqueWe arrived at Villahermosa by mid-afternoon, picked up our rental car and immediately headed east, aiming to reach Palenque before nightfall. Driving east from Villahermosa on Route 186, the landscape is dominated by open pasture, savannah and occasional marshes. Roadside pools produced the first WOOD STORK, LIMPKIN and NORTHERN JACANAS of the trip. Still within the state of Tabasco, a bare tree beside the road held three APLOMADO FALCONS - these turned out to be the only Aplomados of the trip.Once in Chiapas, we turned south toward Palenque on Route 199, the Ocosingo Road. One military checkpoint at the 186-199 intersection was quickly negotiated. Further stops for birds along this stretch produced MANGROVE SWALLOWS, GRAY-BREASTED MARTINS and PALE-VENTED PIGEONS on roadside wires. The light was fading badly by the time we pulled in to the campground below the Mayan ruins at Palenque, but we did find our first MELODIOUS BLACKBIRD of the trip before settling in to our tent for the night.May 6th: Palenque and the Usumacinta MarshesPalenque is probably the best known Mayan ruin site in Chiapas and is on the itinerary of many tourists to the region. For good reason too, as the ruins themselves are magnificent. For birders, Palenque offers easy access to remnant patches of rain forest and is a good place to start a birding trip.Well before dawn, the calls of MOTTLED and BLACK-AND-WHITE OWLS were heard from the forest around the tent. As dawn approached howler monkeys joined the chorus with their intimidating growls - we found these primates to be a common presence in the rain forests we visited. At first light, we set off on foot for the ruins, a short walk up the road. Birding along the road itself was good, producing OLIVE-THROATED (AZTEC) PARAKEET, BROWN-HOODED PARROT, CRIMSON-COLLARED, PASSERINI'S (SCARLET-RUMPED) and YELLOW-WINGED TANAGERS and MONTEZUMA OROPENDOLAS. WHITE-COLLARED SWIFTS circled overhead, often in large numbers. At the museum we left the road, heading up the hill on a paved trail into the forest to the south. Bird activity was much less in the forest interior, but we obtained brief views of a WEDGE-TAILED SABREWING before being turned back to the road by docents. One frustrating aspect of Palenque is that the ruins do not open to the public until 8:00 am. Apparently access to this particular trail is restricted in a similar manner and we were forced to return to the museum.Back on the road, birding en route to the ruins remained good, producing our first views of KEEL-BILLED TOUCAN, WHITE-BELLIED EMERALD, RUFOUS-TAILED HUMMINGBIRD, BUFF-THROATED SALTATOR, VARIABLE SEEDEATER and SPOT-BREASTED WREN. With plenty to look at, we made slow progress toward the ruins and didn't arrive at the main entrance until well after 8:00 am. At the parking area by the entrance, SOCIABLE and BOAT-BILLED FLYCATCHERS and GREAT KISKADEES for near each other for an interesting comparison.Inside the ruin complex, two BAT FALCONS perched high on the ruins and did not seem perturbed by the accumulating hoards of tourists. We decided to head straight for the renowned 'Temple of Inscriptions Trail' described by Howell (Howell 1999) while the day was still young, but to our disappointment we found this trail was closed to the public after only 50 yards or so. The docents on guard allowed us to proceed a little further beyond the closure point when we explained we were looking for birds, but this did not really provide the birding opportunity we had hoped for. Returning to the main ruin complex, following the edge of the clearing looking for fruiting trees proved to be a productive alternative. At the east end of the clearing, some fruiting trees were attracting large numbers of birds, with three species of euphonia, GOLDEN-HOODED TANAGER, RED-LEGGED HONEYCREEPER and GOLDEN-WINGED WARBLER all in the same tree.We returned to the campsite by descending the trail back to the museum (now open). Birds observed in the forest interior here included COLLARED TROGON, ROYAL FLYCATCHER, LESSER GREENLET and GOLDEN-CROWNED WARBLER.After lunch and a siesta we headed for the Usumacinta Marshes, along the Tabasco-Campeche state line. This area proved highly productive and since it constituted the only wetland habitat on our entire itinerary, many species on our trip list were encountered here and nowhere else. As suggested by Howell (Howell 1999), we drove through the area, checking the fields and savannas along Route 186 and its various side roads, looking for water. Most of the area was dry, but persistent searching paid off. Highlights included many BARE-THROATED TIGER-HERONS and LAUGHING FALCONS, PLAIN-BREASTED and RUDDY GROUND-DOVES, a half-dozen FORK-TAILED FLYCATCHERS, TROPICAL MOCKINGBIRDS and BLUE-GRAY TANAGERS. On the Tabasco side of the state line, we encountered a group of 4 GRASSLAND YELLOW-FINCHES and a single YUCATAN JAY. Our day ended at dusk along the Palizada side-road in Campeche, where we found 2 PINNATED BITTERNS, a SNAIL KITE and an adorable AMERICAN PYGMY KINGFISHER. At dusk, we found a group of 4 GRAY-NECKED WOOD-RAILS foraging in a flooded woodlot next to the road. In fading light, scanning the fields en route back to 186 produced scope views of a single DOUBLE-STRIPED THICK-KNEE, and what was probably another thick-knee flew across the road as we approached the 186 intersection.May 7th: Palenque, BonampakAfter a second night at the Palenque campground, we spent the morning birding the access road to the ruins again and also checked out the Cascada Trail, which leaves the access road to the right below the ruins, providing another opportunity for some interior forest birding.Despite having birded the road the previous day, we encountered more new species - WHITE-FRONTED PARROT, BLACK-HEADED TROGON, STREAK-HEADED WOODCREEPER and BLACK-HEADED SALTATOR.The Cascada Trail leads to a beautiful waterfall (cascada) a short distance from the road. The stream can be forded with care at the top of the waterfall and then continues through forest for a mile or so before the forest ends. Close to the road, a BLACK-FACED (MEXICAN) ANTTHRUSH foraged in the leaf litter. At the waterfall, we encountered a stunning male WHITE-NECKED JACOBIN that hovered briefly over the creek. Further along the trail, a large bird flushed from the ground with a whirr of wings and perched briefly on a fallen trunk before disappearing - male RUDDY QUAIL-DOVE. Deeper into the forest, we found a selection of forest-interior flycatchers, including YELLOW-BELLIED TYRANNULET and OCHRE-BELLIED and SULPHUR-RUMPED FLYCATCHERS. Scrambling through the dense undergrowth allowed us to get close to a superb WESTERN LONG-TAILED (LONG-TAILED) HERMIT. A male GOLDEN-OLIVE WOODPECKER was foraging along the trail where the forest gave way to brush and farmland.After lunch, we broke camp and headed for the Mayan ruin site of Bonampak, in the Selva Lacandona to the southeast of Palenque. Access to this site has changed considerably since the account provided by Howell (Howell 1999) was published. First, the road from Palenque is now paved all the way to Lacanjá and beyond, so that driving to Bonampak presents no major difficulties. Second, the Mayan ruins at Bonampak have been developed for tourism, with consequent advantages and disadvantages for the visiting birder. On the positive side, it is now easy to find the ruins, which are well signposted, and the 9-km rutted track that once led to the ruins is now a broad gravel road with a large visitor center at the entrance. However, as at Palenque, access to the ruins is now quite restricted - camping at the ruins themselves is no longer allowed and the ruins are now open only from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm. Resident caretakers enforce these restrictions round the clock. Shuttle buses carry visitors from the visitor center down the 9-km road to the ruins between the hours of 8:00 am and 4:00 pm (approximately!). Hopefully these restrictions will promote preservation of the area's archeological and biological assets.The drive from Palenque to Bonampak was uninspiring, if not depressing - there is little remaining forest to see, much of it having been replaced by sickly-looking pasture or having recently been cut and burned. Bonampak itself however, is situated in excellent and accessible forest habitat, making the effort of reaching the area very worthwhile. Once at the visitor center, the nigh watchman explained the access restrictions to us, but having understood we were primarily interested in birds, he very graciously allowed us to camp in a small clearing near the visitor center. We also learned that while the ruins themselves do not open until 8:00 am, we were welcome to bird the 9-km access road and various forest trails by foot at any time.There was little daylight left to explore once we had set up camp, but the difference in habitat quality between Bonampak and Palenque was immediately obvious - as we investigated the area around the visitor center around dusk, GREAT, LITTLE and SLATY-BREASTED TINAMOUS could all be heard calling from the surrounding forest! A short walk along the access road produced STRIPE-THROATED (LITTLE) HERMIT, VIOLACEOUS TROGON, RUFOUS MOURNER, THRUSH-LIKE SHIFFORNIS (MOURNER), CINNAMON BECARD, LONG-BILLED GNATWREN, TROPICAL GNATCATCHER and BLACK-FACED and BLUE-BLACK GROSBEAKS. After dark, three MOTTLED OWLS began calling in the vicinity of our campsite and a single CRESTED OWL called from the canopy immediately above the tent.May 8th: BonampakStarting at dawn, we spent the morning birding the 9-km access road to the ruins. This was an easy walk with excellent birding - highlights included 5 WHITE-CROWNED and 3 MEALY PARROTS, a LESSER SWALLOW-TAILED SWIFT overhead, both WESTERN LONG-TAILED and STRIPE-THROATED HERMITS, 3 WHITE-NECKED JACOBINS, VIOLACEOUS and SLATY-TAILED TROGONS, COLLARED ARACARIS, PLAIN XENOPS, BUFF-THROATED FOLIAGE-GLEANER, DOT-WINGED ANTWRENS, a RUFOUS PIHA, 2 male RED-CAPPED MANAKINS, ROYAL FLYCATCHER, BRIGHT-RUMPED ATTILA, WHITE-BREASTED WOOD-WREN and BANANAQUIT. As we neared the ruins, the trail crossed a stagnant-looking creek where we found a stunning RUFOUS-TAILED JACAMAR. At the ruins themselves, birds included a male CHESTNUT-COLORED WOODPECKER, YELLOW-BELLIED ELAENIAS and a single adult KING VULTURE circling high overhead with the Black and Turkey Vultures.After resting in the shade and enjoying the magnificent ruins, we decided to beat the mid-afternoon heat and catch the convenient shuttle bus back to the visitor center and our camp site. The forest trails around the camp provided more excellent birding in the late afternoon - a pair of skulking TODY MOTMOTS, another BLACK-FACED ANTTHRUSH, STUB-TAILED SPADEBILL and ORANGE-BILLED and GREEN-BACKED SPARROWS.May 9th: Bonampak, Frontera CorozalAiming for a more relaxed day, we birded around the camp in the early morning and then caught the first shuttle bus to the ruins. Once at the ruins, we headed immediately for the narrow trail that leads from the clearing to the Río Lacanjá, some 3 km away. This proved to be another exceptional area, with a slightly different assortment of species to what we had seen so far. Highlights on the trip to the river included a WHITE-WHISKERED PUFFBIRD, 4 CHESTNUT-COLORED WOODPECKERS, WEDGE-BILLED WOODCREEPER, DUSKY ANTBIRD, TAWNY-CROWNED GREENLET, singing GREEN SHRIKE-VIREOS and two YELLOW-BILLED CACIQUES skulking in the leaf litter.At the river itself we relaxed in the shade but saw few birds, except for a RINGED KINGFISHER. We had just begun our return hike when a large bird flushed from some small stagnant pools in the forest close to the river bank. Fortunately the bird flew only a short distance before alighting in the dense undergrowth, still partly in sight. We raised our binoculars and were amazed to find a stunning adult AGAMI HERON crouching in the understory in front of us! The bird remained in sight for several minutes, eyeing us nervously through the leaves before finally taking off through the forest. Realizing this was a good find, we scribbled field notes and managed a few record shots before the bird left. We gather this is only the second record of Agami Heron in the area in recent years (fide Hector Gomez de Silva, pers. comm.).The return hike along the same trail produced more interesting birds - NORTHERN BARRED-WOODCREEPER (BARRED WOODCREEPER), GRAY-HEADED TANAGER and BLACK-COWLED ORIOLE. Back at the ruins, we obtained good views of a female BLUE GROUND-DOVE. We would have liked to spend more time birding this productive site.Around mid afternoon, we departed Bonampak and headed for Frontera Corozal (Frontera Echeverria on some maps), a frontier town on the Rió Usumacinta that serves as the main access point to the Mayan ruins at Yaxchilán. We again found that the road to Frontera had been paved since the publication of Howell's guide (Howell 1999). After a short and easy drive, we arrived on the banks of the Usumacinta, picking up another BLUE GROUND-DOVE en route. At the river, several NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOWS of the RIDGEWAY'S form were feeding with a couple of MANGROVE SWALLOWS, while children played in the shallows. We spent the night at a comfortable hotel on the river bank.May 10th: Yaxchilán, Lagos de MontebelloWithin seconds of our arrival the previous evening, we were approached by a friendly local boatman eager to offer his services for the following day. As Yaxchilán is only accessible by boat along the Rió Usumacinta, such services are essential. We were able to arrange for an early start and left the Frontera dock at dawn. The trip downstream was quick and smooth, the sun rising above the forest with Guatemala on the right, Chiapas on the left. Numerous GREEN and AMAZON KINGFISHERS perched on snags above the water and a CRANE HAWK walked along the Guatemala shore. Arriving at Yaxchilán, SLATY-BREASTED and LITTLE TINAMOUS were calling from the forest. The ruins here were spectacular and our early arrival meant we had the whole place to ourselves. Birding was excellent and highlights included an obliging GREAT BLACK-HAWK, CRESTED GUANS, GRAY-HEADED DOVE, BROWN-HOODED, WHITE-CROWNED and very vocal MEALY PARROTS, WEDGE-TAILED SABREWING, BLACK-HEADED and SLATY-TAILED TROGON, ROYAL FLYCATCHER and TROPICAL GNATCATCHER. A pair of BLACK-CROWNED TITYRAS perched high in the canopy of an isolated tree in the main clearing, while several male MONTEZUMA OROPENDOLAS displayed around their nests. Around midday we returned to Frontera, obtaining brief views of two COLLARED PLOVERS on sandbanks in the river as we headed back upstream.To reach the Lagos de Montebello area from Frontera Corozal we continued southeast on the road that parallels the Guatemala border, rather than backtracking to Palenque and then heading south again via Routes 199 and 190. The former option follows the Guatemala border southeast, south and then west, reaching Lagos de Montebello from the east. Printed sources we checked suggested this road was not complete or was not paved for its entire length, but enquiries with locals before we left Frontera indicated this was not the case. This route offers considerable time and distance savings over the Route 199-190 option, but travelers should be mindful of the following before choosing this option. First, we encountered no fewer than six military checkpoints over the c. 250 km between Frontera and Lagos de Montebello. In all cases, the soldiers we encountered were polite, efficient, well-disciplined and professional. Most checkpoints required us to step out of the vehicle and present our passports while the car was hand-searched. Optical equipment elicited only modest interest and the explanation that we were watching birds was accepted without question. These checkpoints were an inconvenience, but we negotiated each one relatively quickly and without incident. The reasons for the security measures were not apparent to us. Second, while we generally found the road to be in excellent condition, there were two short sections where landslides had reduced the road to one lane and drivers should therefore proceed with caution. Finally, the landscape along the border south of Frontera presents a dismal sight - the forest is almost completely decimated, with vast areas reduced to moonscape, dotted with smoldering tree stumps. In some areas, the forest has been recently cut, with fires burning all around and thick smoke blocking out the sun. Small, poorly constructed villages are scattered along this road and the local population appears to be living under very difficult conditions. Altogether, these features make for a depressing afternoon's drive.For the reasons mentioned above, the journey from Frontera Corozal to Lagos de Montebello does not lend itself to frequent stops for birds. However, we did encounter some interesting raptors a short distance south of Frontera - an immature KING VULTURE, two PLUMBEOUS KITES and a ROADSIDE HAWK. The road gains in elevation as it approaches Lagos de Montebello, eventually passing through cloud forest fragments en route to the entrance of the Parque Nacional Lagunas de Montebello, and it was here we began encountering SWALLOW-TAILED KITES circling overhead. A stop in the park itself to investigate some corvid chatter led us to our first UNICOLORED JAYS. We found a place to camp for the night along a dirt road near the first large lake east of the park entrance.May 11th: Lagos de Montebello to San Cristóbal de las CasasRising early, we first headed east, back to the remnant cloud forest we'd passed through late the previous day. Conditions were dull and overcast, with light rain, making for little activity and difficult birding. Nonetheless, we found a variety of interesting species, including AZURE-CROWNED HUMMINGBIRD, EMERALD TOUCANET, BARRED ANTSHRIKE, SLATE-COLORED SOLITAIRE, BLACK-HEADED NIGHTINGALE-THRUSH, BLACK ROBIN, WHITE-THROATED THRUSH (of the striking leucauchen form), COMMON BUSH-TANAGER, FLAME-COLORED TANAGER, BLUE-CROWNED CHLOROPHONIA, WHITE-NAPED BRUSH-FINCH and PREVOST'S GROUND-SPARROW. We hoped for Highland Guan and Resplendent Quetzal in this area, but the tiny remnants of forest remaining along the road seemed like unlikely places to find these species.Next we birded the 5 Lagos area, beginning at the start of the access road. A gentleman manning an entrance booth there informed us that a pair of Resplendent Quetzals were frequenting the woods in this area - we looked for them in the growing heat of the day and did not see them, but those with more time on their hands might wish to search this area thoroughly in the early morning. We heard a HIGHLAND GUAN giving its clear ascending whistle several times near the road here, but the bird was too far back in the forest for us to see it. Other species in this area included GREEN-THROATED MOUNTAIN-GEM, 'GUATEMALAN' NORTHERN FLICKER, GRAY-BREASTED WOOD-WREN and AZURE-HOODED JAY. Driving the short road to Tziscao, we found our first RUFOUS-COLLARED SPARROWS. Searching the woods near the lake where we'd camped failed to turn up any Strong-billed Woodcreepers, but we did find more RUFOUS-COLLARED SPARROWS and several BLACK-HEADED SISKINS.Before leaving the Montebello area, we stopped off at the Chinkultic ruins just to the west of the park, where we had a singing RUFOUS-BROWED PEPPERSHRIKE. The fields further west produced several WHITE-TAILED HAWKS. We continued on to San Cristóbal and spent the night at a hotel in town.May 12th: San Cristóbal de las Casas areaOur first destination of the day was the Pronatura reserve on Cerro Huitepec, on the west side of San Cristóbal. Frustratingly, we arrived at dawn only to find the gates closed until 9:00 am. To make the best use of our time, we decided to bird the microondas road that climbs Cerro Huitepec from the south first and then return to the Pronatura reserve once it was open. Heading back to town and then west again on Route 190, we were completely unable to locate the microondas road described by Howell (Howell 1999), and we assumed this was due to changes in the area that now make his directions obsolete. However, by trial and error, we did locate a road that ascended the south side of the hill through cultivated areas and woodland, where we found some interesting birds: MOUNTAIN TROGON, GRAY SILKY-FLYCATCHER, RUFOUS-COLLARED THRUSH, black-eared BUSHTITS and a lingering GOLDEN-CHEEKED WARBLER.Returning to the Pronatura reserve at 9:00 am, we found the gates were still locked. At 9:20 am there was still no sign of activity, so we left a note for the reserve warden and crawled through a well-worn gap in the fence with a group of local women who were heading off up the hillside. Once inside the reserve, birding was hampered by repeated loud explosions coming from the hillside adjacent to the reserve boundary. We later learned that a festival was taking place that day and that celebratory firecrackers were the source of the explosions! Despite the disturbance and the late start, birding was still productive, best bird being a SCALED ANTPITTA that bounced along the trail in front of us. Other birds included a male sanctorum-type HAIRY WOODPECKER, RUFOUS-BROWED WREN, RUDDY-CAPPED NIGHTINGALE-THRUSHES, distinctive coronata-type STELLER'S JAYS, BLACK-THROATED JAY, CRESCENT-CHESTED and GOLDEN-BROWED WARBLERS and CHESTNUT-CAPPED BRUSH-FINCHES. On leaving, we apologized to the warden and paid the entrance fee, who seemed none too concerned about our early entry.In the afternoon, we headed back east on Route 190 and then north a few kilometers on 199 to the Chanal road, which branches east off 199. Contrary to the directions in Howell (Howell 1999), this road is now paved and leaves Route 199 approximately 8.6 km north of the Route 190 intersection. Birding was difficult in the afternoon heat, but persistence was rewarded with views of SPOT-CROWNED WOODCREEPER, more RUFOUS-BROWED WRENS, PINK-HEADED WARBLER (2!), YELLOW-BACKED ORIOLE and BLACK-CAPPED SISKIN.At the end of the day, we headed west towards Tuxtla Gutiérrez and spent the night at a hotel in Chiapa de Corzo on the Río Grijalva.May 13th: El SumideroLeaving the hotel before dawn, we arrived at the beginning of the El Sumidero access road by first light. The thorn-scrub habitat with a Pacific slope flavor provided an interesting contrast to other areas we'd visited on this trip - we soon encountered WHITE-THROATED MAGPIE-JAYS and RUSSET-CROWNED MOTMOTS seemed particularly conspicuous. Other species of interest included CANIVET'S EMERALD, PLAIN-CAPPED STARTHROAT, ORANGE-BILLED NIGHTINGALE-THRUSH, WHITE-LORED GNATCATCHER, YELLOW-GREEN VIREO (many), RUFOUS-BROWED PEPPERSHRIKE, FAN-TAILED WARBLER, aurantiacus YELLOW GROSBEAK, and BLACK-VENTED and BAR-WINGED ORIOLES. THICKET TINAMOUS were calling everywhere at the higher elevations above the canyon, but a search for Belted Flycatcher along the last few kilometers of road was (predictably!) unsuccessful. Good looks at a skulking BLUE-AND-WHITE MOCKINGBIRD eased the pain of missing the flycatcher.With our return journey to San Francisco beginning early the following morning from Villahermosa airport, we decided to head north back to Tabasco around midday on Route 195. Although reluctant to leave, we were glad we embarked early on this journey - the winding road and slow traffic made for a tiring drive and we just barely made it to Villahermosa before dark. We spent the night at a hotel in Villahermosa and departed for San Francisco early the following morning.Bibliography"A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America", by Steve N. G. Howell and Sophie Webb (1995). Published by Oxford University Press."A Bird-Finding Guide to Mexico", by Steve N. G. Howell (1999). Published by Cornell University Press."Birds of the World: A Checklist", 5th edition, by James F. Clements (2000). Published by Ibis Publishing Company."Lonely Planet: Mexico", 7th edition, by John Noble, Michele Matter, Nancy Keller, Daniel C. Schechter, James Lyon and Scott Doggett (2000). Published by Lonely Planet Publications.click here for full trip list 2b1af7f3a8