Mexico – Central Veracruz, August 2007

Trip Report for Central Veracruz, August 2 – 11, 2007

Participants: Kim Garwood, Jim Brock, Bill Berthet, Nelson Dobbs

Author: Kim Garwood

Bob Straub, recently with Pronatura Veracruz and now the Eagle Optics representative for Mexico, was very helpful w/arranging our trip. Buy his book, Where to “Find Birds in Veracruz”, available through Pronatura Veracruz, www.pronaturaveracruz.org. They also do birding tours if you don’t want to do it all yourself, especially in Sept/Oct for the River of Raptors migration. Most of the locations we went to, and all of the hotels/cabins, (except Veracruz) are in Bob’s book.

This trip was mostly in the highlands of central Veracruz, up in cloud forest between 1,000 – 1,300 meters. We did not go to the lowlands around Catemaco.

Aug 2 – Jim and I took the UNO bus from Reynosa to Veracruz, an overnight trip of 16 hours, leaving Reynosa at 8pm, getting to Veracruz around 11- noon the next day. Cost 998 pesos each way. Nelson and Bill flew into Veracruz from Houston, arrived about 11:30pm and got a hotel for the night, the Hotel Suites Mediterraneo for 620 pesos. It was on the beach, south of Veracruz city in Boca del Rio. A simple but adequate hotel, one of the cheaper ones on the beach, used mostly by Mexican families on their beach vacation. Jim and I took a cab from the downtown bus station to their hotel, where we then took off for Xalapa in our rental car from Hertz. The car cost about $1,000 for 10 days, including insurance.

Aug 3/6 – We stayed 4 nights at the Posada del Cafeto in Xalapa, (1,250 meters/4,000′) a nice little hotel for 450 pesos/night for 2 people. The only problem is it’s in downtown Xalapa, so parking is tough and it can be intimidating to drive in. But it was very quiet, rooms around a nice courtyard. Phone 228-817-0023, they speak very little english.

Another potential hotel, much easier access, is Hotel El Valle in Perote, 2300 meters/7000′, about 20 miles west of Xalapa. This hotel is a block or two off the main highway, much smaller town, so no traffic problems. But one advantage of staying in Xalapa is you have many great restaurants to choose from, as Xalapa is a university town and a real city, while Perote is an upgraded village.

We had 3 full days out of Xalapa. First day we drove up to Las Minas for the morning, a great road along the edge of a large canyon. We had several good skippers, including Roever’s Skipperling/Piruna roeveri, Snowball Skipper/Paratrytone aphracoia, and Oyamel or Monticola Skipper/Poanes monticola. The Mexican Pine Satyrs/Paramacera xicaque were abundant, and we were hoping for Cloud-forest Pine Satyr/P. chinanteca, but didn’t find any.

Then we continued to the west, through Perote and out into the desert to Los Humeros. Totally different habitat, large joshua tree like yuccas, very pretty but few bugs. We did see 2 different checkerspots, got good looks & photos at Black Checkerspot/Chlosyne cyneas. Jim had 2 females he thought were Fulvia Checkerspot/Chlosyne fulvia, which would be a long way from their known area, but he couldn’t catch them. If you go, look for orange-ish checkerspots. Late in the day we drove up Cofre de Perote, where we found the rare Guatemalan Hairstreak/Callophrys guatemalena.

The 2nd day, Sunday Aug 5th, Bob Straub joined us and suggested we check out Atorón, a coffee plantation close to Xalapa. We hiked up a truck track through the coffee to a small pass and had a good selection of butterflies, but not as many as the habitat looked like should be there. It was a nice sunny morning, but there wasn’t lots of stuff flying. We did get our first looks at Orange Cracker/Hamadryas fornax, a Veracruz specialty. Also there were lots of Mimic Whites, Enantia jethys and E. albania, as well as lots of Frosted Mimic Whites/Lieinix nemesis, both males and females. We also went to the waterfall at Xico, but it was packed w/visitors, as it was Sunday afternoon. Better visit this place during the week. Lots and lots of Anna’s 88′s/Diaethria anna.

Bob also strongly recommended Chavarrillo, see his book, but we never made it. Another good spot is the Macuiltepetl Park in the middle of Xalapa. This is a large wooded park on the slopes of an extinct volcano, closed to cars, with a 5+ km road you can walk that winds around up to the top. It’s very good for birding, motmots, trogons, blue mockingbird, and has good cloud forest butterflies. I’ve seen Star Satyr/ , Mountain Longwing/Heliconius hortense, and a couple of species of clearwings there.

Our last full day in Xalapa we went looking for some spots Jim had visited a few years ago, out from Coatepec back towards Hwy 140. We found the spot, about 10 km west of 140, taking off about 5 km east out of Xalapa. One field of weeds had been turned into a baseball diamond, but just next to it was a great dirt road that ran up into coffee plantations again.

This morning was cool and drizzly, and we had a number of great skippers basking on top of the grasses and posing very nicely for photographs. We dodged the rain all morning and early afternoon, and probably had some of the best photography opportunities of the trip. Not just skippers, as Brilliant Metalmark or Carousing Jewelmark/Anteros carausius also posed with wings open, something you rarely see. Lots of tigerwings also, Variable Tigerwing/Mechanitis menapis being the most common, but other Mechanitis were there too, along with a number of satyrs. But the skippers were the stars; there were more False Mottled Skippers/Codatractus hyster than I’ve ever seen before. Lots of skippers were collected by Jim and will hopefully be id’ed accurately by the experts in Mexico.

Aug 7 – On Tuesday Aug 7 we moved to the Mullers’ old hacienda, El Mirador, for 2 nights. This was a couple of hours from Xalapa outside the town of Totutla off Hwy 125. Jorge Muller was a very gracious host, and his daughter, Eileen, a biologist, made us very welcome. Jorge’s email is jorgecucsi@hotmail.com, and he speaks english well. It was like staying w/the family. The food was excellent and the bugs were exciting! And it cost $60 or 600 pesos/day per person, including all the food. We had over 170 species on our one full day. Wish we could have spent a couple of days more; I’m sure there was much more to find.

This is another coffee finca or plantation, about 1,000 to 1,100 meters. They have over 300 acres, much of it in coffee but some good forest as well, so you get a variety of habitats. This was cracker heaven, we had 6 species of Hamadryas. Plus you could get up to some hilltops, where there was a lot going on. 2 species of Theritas hairstreaks and Probetor or Champion’s Metalmarks/Symmachia probetor lekking up top along with Myrtea Jewelmark/Sarota myrtea in several places on the trails, and scads of gaudy Nymphalids all over.

This is a great spot! The only downside is the 3 bedrooms share one bathroom, and you have to walk through 2 of the bedrooms to get to the bathroom. But assuming you’re all friends, that shouldn’t be a problem; it wasn’t for the 4 of us. The middle bedroom has french doors that open out onto a lovely wide verandah where we had several meals and watched Owlets/Opsiphanes lay eggs on the palms at dusk, along with White-spotted Satyrs/Manataria hercyna fighting over territory on the trunk of a large tree right next to the verandah. My favorite was a gorgeous little bright orange metalmark, Zebra-tipped or Margaretta Metalmark/Mesene margaretta, found in the coffee by Jim late in the day.

Aug 9/10 – On Thursday Aug 9 we reluctantly moved on to Ruiz Cortines, which turned out to be yet another great location. This is a good paved road up from San Andres Tuxtla to about 1,100 meters, ending at the small village of Ruiz Cortines. The local people have built a simple rustic cabin where we stayed, 500 pesos/night for all 4 of us. It’s a great location, but they were still working out some of the kinks. The shower didn’t work, but they provided us with a nice bucket of cold water.

The people were very friendly and tried to please. And again the bugs were fabulous. Their specialty is the beautiful White Morpho/Morpho polyphemus luna. This is a different subspecies from the one found on the west coast, and it was spectacular to watch them float through the dark forest. They were common in the tall forest, often we would see 2 or 3 chasing each other through the trees. I think this may be a July/August happening, however.

The next day we spent the full day working the road up to Ruiz Cortines, especially at the transition zone between the tall forest and the scrubby brush. There were more butterflies in the scrubby zone, as there was more sun, but the morphos were only in the forest. Right at the transition zone we got great shots of a most cooperative Edocla Redring/Pyrrhogyra edocla, and there were lots of Chestnut Crescents/Anthanassa argentea, both males and females, up in a large meadow surrounded by forest, as well as more new clearwings.

But the stars of the road were the hairstreaks coming to the cordia flowers, small white bell-shaped flowers on long branches that tended to grow right next to the road. I’ve seen cordia down by Catemaco, but this may have been a different species as it was up a little in elevation. The hairstreaks loved it, we probably had more than 25 species, and so did the skippers, as well as the Daggerwings. We had dozens of Many-banded Daggerwings/Marpesia chiron, as well as a number of Ruddy Daggerwings/Marpesia petreus. For the hairstreaks we had several Neora Hairstreaks/Brangas neora, lots of greenstreaks of various kinds including Erora and Chalybs, at least one, maybe two species of Lamprospilus, and a beautiful female Petelina Hairstreak/Ocaria petelina laying eggs. One of my favorites, of which there were many, was the White-striped Groundstreak/Calycopis clarina. We called it the hairstreak highway. I suspect we had more than 200 species on this one day there.

Aug 11 – On the last day we had to head back to Veracruz before noon, much to our regret. From there we caught the bus back to Reynosa, leaving Veracruz at 3:30pm to arrive about 7 or so the next morning.