February 01, 2020

What These Five Birds Say About Bard CEP21’s Trip to Oaxaca

From January 12th to the 25th, Bard Center for Environmental Policy’s class of 2021 flew to the Mexican state of Oaxaca on the Pacific coast. We visited Oaxaca to dialogue with policy stakeholders about water access, indigenous land rights, and other environmental issues.

While there, we visited an indigenous Zapotec community who had elected to voluntarily conserve their land to prevent extensive deforestation. We interacted with an NGO called Mbis Bin whose staff are helping various groups, from schoolchildren to avocado farmers, work towards sustainability in the state’s rural and mountainous south.

In many ways, the whole experience served to galvanize what we had learned in our first semester courses—policy, science, law, economics—by interacting with policy stakeholders on the ground. Meeting with these powerfully inspirational groups left many of us searching for ways to understand and communicate our trip other than with words. (Okay, maybe that’s just me.)

As a CEP student with a background in ecology, as well as a passion for wildlife, I kept my eyes open for Mexico’s famously colorful avian residents. By noting and photographing the feathered denizens of the locations we saw in Oaxaca, I felt that I gained an additional layer of understanding to our site visits. These five species, in particular, helped me—and might help you!—think about my two weeks in Oaxaca differently.

Neighborliness: Townsend’s Warbler in San Miguel Suchixtepec

Townsend’s Warblers are small, insectivorous, migratory songbirds that breed in the Pacific Northwest. These cheerful little birds spend their winters in Mexico, where they feed on small insects and caterpillars before trekking hundreds of miles north to breed in the spring. When our group visited a shade-grown coffee plantation in the lush mountains of the Oaxacan Sierra Sur, the calls of Townsend’s Warblers filled canopy which shaded the coffee plants. In a tapestry of hillside habitats which included swaths of low biodiversity value cornfields, the warblers found food and refuge above the coffee trees. This Townsend’s Warbler and its many compatriots showed me that the sustainability efforts of Oaxacan coffee farmers have implications for international biodiversity conservation—more evidence of the care that the farmers had for their downstream neighbors, whether the next town over or hundreds of miles northward.

Resilience: Rock Wren at Zona Arqueológica Monte Albán

Rock Wrens are a species I’ve seen many times before: when I lived in Colorado, these boisterous birds were common mountain denizens, calling cacophonously from prominent perches. At Monte Albán, a pre-Columbian civilization outside the city of Oaxaca de Juárez, the sonorous sounds of this wren echoed against the ancient walls. I imagined that this little guy—or at least his ancestors—had been singing their songs at Monte Albán since the civilization’s earliest days in the fifth century BCE. To me, this very bird represented resiliency. We encountered resilient communities all across Oaxaca who were readying themselves for the threat of climate change, water insecurity, and extreme weather events. Especially vulnerable indigenous communities are preparing harder, and I felt their spirit was embodied by this Rock Wren: atop the most historic point in Oaxaca, proudly announcing its presence and preparation to stay.

Sustainability: Ash-throated Flycatcher at Mezcal Real Minero

Despite their subdued looks and dull colors, Ash-throated Flycatchers like this one carry a subtle air of beauty. I spotted this individual utilizing the plants around the complex of Mezcal Real Minero, a mezcaleria near San Miguel Tilquiapam outside of Oaxaca de Juárez, to hunt and roost. During our visit, the mezcaleria’s staff talked our group through the rigorous undertaking of preserving the many species of agaves that they brew into mezcal for the commercial market. While this flycatcher is another example of tailoring agricultural practices to the benefit of birds—like the Townsend’s Warbler at the coffee plantation—it also represents something deeper. The folks at Mezcal Real Minero have a deep connection to not only the complex process of processing mezcal, but also to the agaves they cultivate. These flycatchers are a part of that, as the service they provide by eating pesky insects which can harm the agaves is connected to the mezcal making process.

4 and 5. Common resources: Gray Silky-flycatcher and Red Crossbill in San Jose del Pacifico

At our home base in the Sierra Sur—a cluster of cabins in the small mountain town of San Jose del Pacifico—rich birdlife was everywhere. I had a few unique chances to view interspecies interactions, including these Gray Silky-flycatchers feeding side-by-side with a Red Crossbill. To me, these species perfectly encapsulated the cooperation and collaboration between different parties with different goals that are necessary for communities in the mountains. While the silky-flycatchers were foraging for grubs, the crossbill was hunting for seeds to pry out of cones using its specialized bill. Those different stakeholders in mountain communities have different needs and goals, they must share land and other resources collaboratively.

Posted on February 01, 2020 14:12 by dchernack dchernack | 5 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 31, 2020

Oaxaca Trip 2020!

Here are some of the birds (and lizards and plants) that I observed with BCEP21 while in Oaxaca!

Posted on January 31, 2020 20:22 by dchernack dchernack | 84 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

August 28, 2017

NY to CO Road Trip!

Here are all the critters I got to photograph on my 3372-mile journey from Hyde Park, New York, to Denver, Colorado!

Posted on August 28, 2017 23:14 by dchernack dchernack | 64 observations | 1 comment | Leave a comment

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