Willets are large shorebirds that nest throughout Central Alberta. They look nondescript while walking

Willets are large shorebirds that nest throughout Central Alberta. They look nondescript while walking

Mexico’s Snowbirds

Like many other winter-weary Albertans, I had the recent good fortune to savour a week of sun in Mexico. Our destination was Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa on the Pacific coast.

Like many other winter-weary Albertans, I had the recent good fortune to savour a week of sun in Mexico. Our destination was Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa on the Pacific coast.

While large sections of the coastline in this area have been developed into resorts and marinas, there are still pristine beaches and protected mangroves, and a large tract of native habitat has been protected in the Aztlán Ecological Park. We were pleasantly surprised to discover a freshly resurfaced path near our hotel which led through the park. This path enabled us to explore the park’s remarkable lagoon system and diverse forests.

In addition to marveling at the crocodiles and iguanas, we were soon able to identify many of the common birds, including roseate spoonbill, cinnamon hummingbird, rufous-crowned motmot, citreoline trogon, yellow-winged cacique and streaked-back oriole. We were also fortunate to see the less common ferruginous pygmy owl and a squirrel cuckoo.

While it was fascinating to see these tropical birds and add some new species to my (randomly maintained) life list, what I found most interesting were the “familiar” species; species that either breed in or migrate through Alberta.

Some, like yellow warbler, great crested flycatcher, American redstart, willet, marbled godwit and black-necked stilt, nest here and overwinter in Mexico and farther south.

Others, like the whimbrel, nest in the far north but travel through eastern Alberta each spring on their way back from their southern wintering grounds.

Yet others, like the black-crowned night-heron and great-blue heron, have ranges that encompass the entire continent.

Both resident and overwintering populations of these species are found in Mexico during the winter.

While the warmth, the beach, the food and the spectacular sunsets provided a welcomed break from our relentless Alberta winter, it was the birds — both new and familiar — that really made this holiday memorable.

Myrna Pearman is the biologist/site services manager at Ellis Bird Farm. She can be reached at mpearman@ellisbirdfarm.ca.