EBird really knows how to push my buttons. I mean that in a good way: By automatically showing one’s new year list each January 1st, and comparing it to one’s last several year lists, they always make me want to hit the ground running with as many species in my first week as I can manage. And in my case, that means heading up to Lake Cuitzeo. (Except in the sad year of 2020, when Lake Cuitzeo had almost entirely dried up by January 1st.)
Most years, a day in January of serious birding around Lake Cuitzeo can give me around 85 species. Only one other of my favorite sites can come close. So up north I go, always hoping for a good harvest of year birds.
This past January, however, my experience was even better. First, the lake’s always-variable water levels turned out to be favorable for picking up some extra species. And second, I had reinforcements: My friend Nacho, a botany professor at one of Morelia’s universities, went with me. Four eyes are better than two. And when two of those eyes are professionally trained for wildlife monitoring, that is certainly a big plus. As a result, we managed to see an even 100 bird species in one day — a record for both of us.
I should clarify that this was just a normal day of birding, at least by my standards. This was not professional-level competitive birding, in which one travels a hundred miles or more through a dozen habitats. We did not start before dawn, and we were home by a bit after 3:00 p.m. I could have easily birded more aggressively, with more driving, but chose not to.
Here are some of the factors that allowed us to pass the century mark in a single morning:
- Winter: If you want to rack up the species in central Mexico, you should bird here in the winter, when northern species have come down for their off season. For example, of the 9 duck species we saw, 7 are winter-only. The same can be said, to a lesser extent, for the shorebirds, New World sparrows, warblers, and many other families.
- Wetter: The length of my list is greatly influenced by the presence or absence of water. My #2 species-rich site also includes a good-sized body of water.
- And better… together: As I mentioned above, having an extra pair of eyes really made a difference.
It also really helps when the birds opt for inclusion, and hang out in mixed flocks. So modern of them.
For example, these may all technically be Blackbirds, but there are Red-winged and Yellow-headed Blackbirds and a Brown-headed Cowbird in this one photo.
Dowitchers, Teals, and Wigeons, oh my!
Sure, the dog didn’t count for our eBird list. But I must say, those are some very tolerant Long-billed Dowitchers!
We didn’t really see that many unusual species; we just saw more of them. In fact, that is what I love about birding in January. Even the most common species still seem like an event the first time I see the in the year. Still, there were a few unusual ones:
This Ring-necked Duck was the first one I had ever seen on Lake Cuitzeo, or indeed, anywhere in Michoacán.
A Willow Flycatcher is a reliable bird at lower altitudes, but this was only the second time I had seen one at the lake. (Feel free to correct me if I got this Empidonax ID wrong. It definitely happens.)
The north shore of the lake is my only spot in the state in which to reliably see Northern Cardinals. But, for some reason, they are always in the middle of dense brush:
And, of course, there was a majestic Hook-billed Kite. But I have already written about the excitement of seeing this beauty.
Here are a few others, more common but still lovely:
This female Blue Grosbeak blended in well with her surroundings.
This Yellow-rumped (Audubon’s) Warbler checked us out in the morning light.
An immature Northern Harrier seemed to have some sort of bird in its claws. Which is not my idea of how to see two birds at once, actually.
So there you have it, 100 species in a single day. I would love to have you comment below, mentioning your normal birding region, and how many species you can hope to see in a single day of “normal” birding. It would help me to manage my expectations, should I ever be in a similar region.