THE LITTLE PARK - Copyright matters


^ THE LITTLE PARK

One morning, just a block from the apartment-camp, I'm astonished to discover a little park with wonderful trees, the most impressive of which are large Royal Palms, with thick, columnar THE LITTLE PARK - Copyright matters trunks and broadly flourishing crowns. Graceful, almost black Baldcypresses rise like pagodas above garden plots planted with red-blossomed Cannas, now in full bloom. Also there are purple-blossomed THE LITTLE PARK - Copyright matters Irises and pink-flowered Rose-of-Sharons, and ash trees with naked branches just now issuing new leaves as if it were April, not early November.


Two one-way, four-lane thoroughfares intersect at THE LITTLE PARK - Copyright matters the park's southwestern corner, so traffic is always stopped in the red light's direction, perpetually fogging the park with diesel fumes. The constant rumble is overwhelming. Nonetheless, this morning, there must THE LITTLE PARK - Copyright matters be thirty joggers running circles in this little park, and several people are doing calisthenics.


Not even hoping to see interesting birds in such an harassed little park I THE LITTLE PARK - Copyright matters nonetheless take a bench, pull the binoculars from my day pack, and for three or four hours watch for birds.


***

^ OFFICIAL BIRDLIST #9

November 7: latitude 19º23'N, longitude 99º07'W

MEXICO: Federal District, Mexico City THE LITTLE PARK - Copyright matters; half-block wide park at NW corner of junction of Eje 5 Sur and Andrés Molina; elev. ±2,240 m (±7,350 feet)


1. Rock Dove (Pigeon)

2. Inca Dove

3. Berylline Hummingbird

4. Broad-billed Hummingbird

5. Bewick's Wren

6. Rufous-backed THE LITTLE PARK - Copyright matters Robin

7. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

8. Ruby-crowned Kinglet

9. European Starling

10. Wilson's Warbler

11. Yellow-rumped (Audubon's) Warbler

12. American Redstart

13. House Sparrow

14. Bronzed (Red-eyed) Cowbird

15. Great-tailed Grackle

16. House Finch

17. Song THE LITTLE PARK - Copyright matters Sparrow
^ THE CACTUS DESERT AT ZAPOTITLÁN
November 11, 1996


On Monday, November 11, with profound relief, I take a bus from Mexico City toward the southeast, to Tehuacán in Puebla State. I choose a THE LITTLE PARK - Copyright matters window seat on the bus's right side so during the first part of the trip I can gaze at the gorgeous 5452-meter high (17,887 ft) volcano Popocatépetl issuing its steady plume THE LITTLE PARK - Copyright matters of steam. Crossing the range from which Popocatépetl rises, at Río Frio, frost whitens the landscape. Doting fields along the road are picturesque teepees of machete-cut corn plants. It's THE LITTLE PARK - Copyright matters a frost-killed, early winter scene, all gray and brown, and what a spectacle a lone Vermilion Flycatcher presents perching on an electrical line.


In Tehuacán I take a bus THE LITTLE PARK - Copyright matters southwest to a place I've often visited but never was able to stay for long. Of all the spots on Earth I know, this has the greatest variety of succulents THE LITTLE PARK - Copyright matters, particularly cacti, and I'm hoping the birds there will be spectacular, too. After climbing a good distance into a very rugged, arid and pretty landscape, late in the day I disembark THE LITTLE PARK - Copyright matters at Zapotitlán Salinas, usually just called Zapotitlán, near a roadside booth selling local onyx. The elevation here is about 1550 meters (5115 feet).


As the sun approaches the horizon, for about an THE LITTLE PARK - Copyright matters hour I hike into the windswept desert not only looking for a good camping spot but also simply rejoicing in being back on the land. The cactus-filled landscape is a THE LITTLE PARK - Copyright matters pure wonderland. A Phainopepla, a slender, crested, black bird, flashes white wing-patches as it darts about catching flying insects. How alert-looking this bird is, gracefully cocking its head this way and that THE LITTLE PARK - Copyright matters.


It's that unsettled time of the evening when the desert's boulders reradiate heat stored up all day, but the wind itself is getting chilly, and that wind is THE LITTLE PARK - Copyright matters a stiff one. All around me rises a vast community of unbranched, columnar, Saguaro-like cacti rising as high as the rooftops of one-story houses, as shown on the previous page. Locally called Órganos THE LITTLE PARK - Copyright matters, botanists know them as Cephalocereus hoppenstedtii. And here's something majestic: With the deep-shadowed, dark landscape behind them, these tall cacti appear as pale, greenish-gray, vertical streaks THE LITTLE PARK - Copyright matters rising all around, and in the stiff wind they are all swaying together, as in a ghostly, rhythmic dance.


Finally I reach a small canyon with a silvery strand of water flowing through it THE LITTLE PARK - Copyright matters. The canyon's walls rise only five or six stories high. A good arm could throw a rock from one canyon rim to the other. The stream averages only about THE LITTLE PARK - Copyright matters a meter across (yard) but in this desert it's obviously a major presence, affecting life all around it. There's another Vermilion Flycatcher atop a rock at water's edge. Several Rough THE LITTLE PARK - Copyright matters-winged Swallows perform acrobatics above the stream. Turkey Vultures land to roost among the naked branches of a small tree at the canyon wall's summit. When they land they look very THE LITTLE PARK - Copyright matters unsteady and for five to ten seconds keep their wings open as if balancing, and they close their wings circumspectly, as if expecting to tip over.


I want to camp next to the stream THE LITTLE PARK - Copyright matters. However, the walls are steep and where the walls meet the stream's floodplain thorny mesquite and other bushes form impenetrable tangles. I follow several wildlife trails, but each THE LITTLE PARK - Copyright matters peters out inside spiny brush where going with a backpack is impossible. Several times I retrace my steps and try again.


With barely enough light to see, one wildlife trail finally leads THE LITTLE PARK - Copyright matters onto the canyon floor. Wind streams down the canyon, cold wind now, and when finally I get the tent pegged beneath a mesquite the small tree's feathery leaves rustle pleasantly, the THE LITTLE PARK - Copyright matters stream trickles softly just a few steps away, crickets chirp from leaf litter all around the tree, and frogs croak from a nearby pool of water. There is no traffic rumble, and no neurotic THE LITTLE PARK - Copyright matters Doberman Pinscher barking.


"Escaped once again, " I whisper into the wind.


***

^ AN ECOLOGICAL ISLAND

The Zapotitlán desert is an ecological island in the sense that it is completely surrounded by non-desert THE LITTLE PARK - Copyright matters biological communities. It occupies only a small section of the southeastern corner of Puebla State, and the northwestern corner of Oaxaca State. It owes its presence to the fact that right THE LITTLE PARK - Copyright matters across the Tehuacán Valley to the east, the Eastern Sierra Madres rise high enough to block prevailing winds carrying moisture off the Gulf.


Similar to many oceanic islands, its inhabitants THE LITTLE PARK - Copyright matters are often strange and unique. One of the most eye-catching is the Mexican Poneytail, Beaucarnea gracilis, shown at the right. Poneytails are sold as succulents in many North American garden shops, but THE LITTLE PARK - Copyright matters the one sketched here has a trunk big as a full-sized refrigerator.


Botanist C.E. Smith Jr. writes that some 29 percent of the plant species found here are endemic -- found THE LITTLE PARK - Copyright matters nowhere else on Earth. In fact, there are several endemic genera here. Some of those genus names look and sound wonderfully exotic: Oaxacania, Pringleochloa, Setchellanthus, Solisia...


I can't find literature about the birds THE LITTLE PARK - Copyright matters. Who knows what I'll find here?


***

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