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By Nic.Korte

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Dry Leaves
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Flycatcher, Flammulated
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Chachalacas Chuckling

     While on the staff at the University of Arizona, too many years ago, I worked for a major professor who was nearing retirement. In his spare time, he wrote Haiku about the Sonoran Desert. (Haiku is a form of poetry favored by the Japanese ) He even published a book (Roadrunner: American Haiku of the Desert Southwest). I haven’t written poetry since my lovesick adolescence but a few weeks ago, I was in Jalisco, Mexico chasing a flammulated flycatcher in a dry forest. In the background, chachalacas were calling back and forth.

     Haiku that works, instantly puts me in a “place.” It can be a physical place or a very specific state of mind. What is remarkable is how the transformation can occur with such an economy of words.

     My attempt at haiku, except for colleagues who accompanied me to Jalisco, probably needs some explanation. First, it helps explain why I am a birder. My hobby can take me to exotic places and sights. This trip, a fund-raiser for the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory (, was designed to find as many endemics (birds found nowhere else in the world) as possible. Our trip leaders were making a valiant effort to give everyone a look at an elusive flammulated flycatcher. The bird was located by its distinctive call, but it is somewhat nondescript and likes to perch in the understory. That was the problem. We would see it move, find it, not get a good look, hunt for it, find it again, lose it. This went on for nearly an hour until all of us had sufficient, if not completely satisfying, views. Sneaking around in the brush also introduced a few chiggers —and in my case—a tick—which latched on several hours later. (The bite still itches.) But, it was worth it to see a new species—a species that can only be seen by journeying to this specific area in Western Mexico.

     While we searched for the flycatcher, chachalacas were calling. 

     There are 15 species of chachalaca. The Plain Chachalaca, whose range includes South Texas, has a call that sounds to some like CHA-cha-LA-ca----Cha-cha-La-ca. The variety I was listening to, the West Mexican Chachalaca (a West-Mexican Endemic), makes a different sound—not exactly like a turkey’s gobble, not exactly like quail chattering-- more of a rolling chuckle. That’s what inspired my haiku.

     While we hunted for endemics, most of the birds we saw were Neotropical migrants such as this McGillivray’s warbler who may spend next summer in an aspen grove on Grand Mesa.

     Here we compare the 2nd and 3rd smallest birds in the world. The one with the blue gorget (2nd smallest) is a Bumblebee Hummingbird—a West Mexican endemic.

     The other is a Calliope Hummingbird--an uncommon but regular Neotropical migrant in the Grand Valley.  One little guy stays home; the other is the smallest, long-distance avian migrant in the world. 

    Researchers with the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory (RMBO) and their colleagues in Mexico are doing some important work. Their mist netting and banding program is a small part of their efforts to examine the life histories of species such as these.  Clearly, protecting the habitat of Mexican Endemics also protects "our" migrants.  You can learn about and support RMBO's activities through their website ( Maybe you can go to Mexico next year and see a flammulated flycatcher while the chachalacas chuckle. This post provided by Nic Korte, Grand Valley Audubon Society. Send questions/comments to To learn more and to participate in the activities of Grand Valley Audubon, please see our website at and “like” us on Facebook.



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