Coa, coa, coa, coa, coa, coa. The plaintive whistles ring through the montane forest in Jalisco, West Mexico. All heads turn to eagerly search the moss- and epiphyte-shrouded pines for a splash of color-a bird perched upright, scanning the forest for fruit or insects.
"All' esta!" "There it is!" "Hay, que bonita!" At once we forget our practice of point counts to admire the Mountain Trogon (Trogon mexicanus). Known as the Coa, or "La Bandera Mexicana" ("Mexican Flag") for the green, white, and red bars across its breast, the trogon has been adopted by the Sierra de Manantlan Biosphere Reserve as a charismatic symbol of the importance of protecting this beautiful park.
I have come to Las Joyas Biological Station, Jalisco, as co-coordinator and instructor in the First National Training Workshop for Monitoring Birds in Protected Natural Areas. With 30 participants from Mexico's system of Protected Natural Areas, as well as graduate students in ornithology from the University of Guadalajara, we have set up camp in the spacious pine and oak forests of the Sierra de Manantlan.
This ten-day workshop marks a major advance for bird conservation in Mexico: for the first time, the training program has official support from the Mexican Government. What's more, cooperators (see box below) have assured the financial resources to actually implement monitoring programs in Protected Natural Areas, the equivalent of National Parks in the United States. At Las Joyas we are providing the theoretical background and practical experience that participants need to develop their own avian monitoring programs at their Protected Areas.
One of the workshop participants, Sandra Flores Hernandez, is a biologist in charge of the avian monitoring program at the Ria Lagartos Biosphere Reserve on the Yucatan Peninsula. She takes careful note of different methods for counting colonial-nesting and roosting egrets, herons, and flamingos, as well as techniques for monitoring neotropical migrants during their migratory stopover. Ria Lagartos holds internationally important habitats for these species.
|A workshop participant, NohemíVillalpando Navarrete, measures a bird's wing while learning avian monitoring techniques.|
Another, Nohemi Villalpando Navarrete, is a graduate student at the University of Guadalajara. She pays particular attention to mist-netting techniques, which she will use in a study of agricultural pesticides' effects on birds near Sierra de Mananatlan Reserve.
In the field we practice nest-finding, mist-netting, measurement of habitat structure, and much more. Each morning, in fog-shrouded hills, we are out early opening nets and practicing the patient art of untangling and extracting birds and the careful consideration of molt patterns, feather shape and wear, and the colors of plumage and bare parts.
Out of the nets and back to our base we bring a rainbow of birds: the Slate-throated Redstart, known for impatient fluttering and tail-fanning; the orange-yellow of the locally endemic Golden Vireo; the skulking Green-striped Brushfinch, denizen of thick blackberry patches; the Blue Mockingbird that incessantly mocks and mimics; and the unforgettable indigo of the Amethyst-throated Hummingbird that tours the flowering shrubs in the second-growth scrub we are working. Each is a thrill, reminding us why we struggle to protect these habitats and monitor their populations.
With our Las Joyas workshop, the seeds have been sown in Mexico to develop avian monitoring efforts with a level of national coordination. And this is just the beginning, for with continued support from PRBO and other cooperators, Mexico appears committed to training personnel and implementing monitoring of birds at all of its Protected Natural Areas.
Our hope at PRBO is that we will indeed be able to work with our partners in Latin America to monitor and conserve bird populations, so that we can always thrill to the call of the Coa and the region's many other avian spectacles.