It seems that almost none of the major storylines in my life were the result of any planning on my part. I studied music in an American college, but ended up devoting myself to church work in Mexico. While in Mexico, I made a very intentional decision to not seek any music ministry; I would only accept one if it found me through no effort of my own. It did. People told me I had to record the songs I was composing. So that happened. (You can hear any of my four albums on YouTube, by looking up Pablo Lewis — I’m the guy with the mariachi outfit.)

I felt sorry for an American family that couldn’t understand anything said in our church services, so I started interpreting for them. Interpreting then turned into yet another, rather lucrative, side career. I wrote a book just to see if I could; it’s still in print.

The fact that I don’t make five-year plans, and yet, major developments have always come my way, drives my very intentional wife kind of crazy. But I should clarify that getting married to her was definitely the result of a plan of mine.

Eleven years ago, I noticed that the House Sparrows that nested in our yard were nibbling on the rather pathetic lettuces I had planted; thinking it must be for the water, I put up a birdbath as an alternative. Then I got hooked on all the beautiful birds that started visiting the birdbath, and ten years later, here I am, writing for 10,000 Birds.

So it comes as no surprise to me that I now seem to have formed an informal birding club, as a quite spontaneous development. After years of birding alone, three biologists sought me out to learn about our local birds and my favorite sites. And now, after my participation in a birding festival, four newer birders (and counting) have also started going out with our merry band. They ask on Saturday where we are going on Monday. Why Monday? Because everyone adjusts to my odd pastor’s schedule, where weekend birding is impractical.

The first Monday out after the festival, I took six people to Las Mesas, because it is almost within the city of Morelia, but offers a wide collection of habitats and species. We saw 72 species, although in winter we could have found 30 more. This Monday we went to the path to Triquillo, to check out a burnt-out forest that might offer the Aztec Thrushes my biologist friends lust after. Alas, these highly unpredictable birds seem to have moved on. But not to worry, all but my oldest birding buddy finished the day with multiple lifers. As always, the Chestnut-sided Shrike-Vireo was the belle of the ball, almost making up for the Aztec Thrush’s absence. And nobody was dissatisfied with the day’s total of 52 species.

Unfortunately, for the purposes of my blogging “career”, when I am an informal guide I tend to take less, and poorer, photos. The above photo is evidence of this tendency. (I froze, to let everyone else get their first views of the bird.) When I bird alone, I’m more likely to get a shot like this one:

Our new companions also got a few good looks at local species that are more often heard than seen, close-up. The very endemic Transvolcanic Jays are almost always seen flying far overhead, in groups of 5-8, while giving their raucous calls. And the long, descending trill of the White-striped Woodcreeper rarely guarantees a visual.

In contrast, Slate-throated Redstarts are very easy to see in our pine-oak forests. Still, their tail displays delight all observers who first see them. (These tail displays have earned them the Spanish name pavito, or “little turkeys”, as they remind one of turkeys with their tails open.) To give you an idea of how hyperactive these displays can be, this sequence of photos was taken at half-second intervals:

They also got to see some interesting bird behaviors. A male Hepatic Tanager, named for its brownish-red color, showed up with food for its babies. Then the female came to stand guard, while the male continued tending to their children. How modern!

A Hairy Woodpecker was quite tolerant of our presence. You might want to look closely at the second photo; it’s an action shot.

I’ll include a final photo, which shows the benefits of birding with a botany professor. He noticed a tejocote, or Mexican Hawthorn, which was covered with fruit — as it should be. These fruits, however were themselves covered with fungal fruiting bodies. They were fascinating and even beautiful. But I hope not to see them again, especially on the tejocotes I have planted on our church lot.

So there you have it. It seems we have a new birding club in Morelia. No rules, no name, no membership list; but a club nonetheless. Don’t worry; if you ever come down here, you can join our club as well.

Written by Paul Lewis
Paul Lewis moved from California to Mexico in 1983. He lived first in Mexicali, and now lives in the historic city of Morelia (about halfway between Guadalajara and Mexico City), where he and his wife pastor a small church. He is the author of an internationally distributed book in Spanish about family finances and has recorded four albums in Spanish of his own songs. But every Monday, he explores the wonderful habitats and birds found within an hour of his house, in sites which go from 3,000 to 10,000 feet of altitude. These habitats include freshwater wetlands, savannah grasslands, and pine, oak, pine/oak, pine/fir, cloud, and tropical scrub forests.