Parque Nacional Cumbres de Monterrey: July 21, 2018

The Maroon-Fronted Parrot is endemic to northeastern Mexico. It is present from April to October in Cumbres de Monterrey National Park, inhabiting pine forest ranging from 1500-2500 meters above sea level. In his Bird-Finding Guide to Mexico, Steve Howell describes a site two hours to the southwest of Monterrey called the Highrise, a well-known nesting spot of the parrot. I visited the site previously without success. Howell's driving directions to the Highrise are still accurate, and the views of the mountains are stunning on a clear day. Given that Howell researched his book over twenty years ago, it is not surprising that there is now a better and more accessible site in the area for observing the parrot.

Mesa del Oso is a private lodge in the area of Cumbres de Monterrey National Park, located 15 km beyond Laguna de Sanchez. The access road first climbs up to a spectacular mountain pass and then descends to a narrow plateau, where a few cabins are located at 2200 meters above sea level. Along the pass rising above the road, there is an impressive cliff where a colony of two-dozen Maroon-Fronted Parrots is nesting. The site is remote enough to discourage casual visitors but still accessible for determined birders with a high-clearance vehicle. The parrots seem to be habituated to human presence, perhaps because of a handful of domestic animals grazing in the surrounding area, and we observed them easily at close range.

Of course, this pristine and beautiful area has plenty more to offer birders. We stopped along the road at several points to sift through small mixed flocks, finding Olive and Crescent-Chested Warblers, White-Breasted Nuthatch, and Bridled Titmouse. Near the cabins in a stand of pines, we spotted Rivoli's Hummingbird and used playback to call in a male Mountain Trogon, the underside of its tail clearly distinguishing it from the Elegant Trogon. Beyond the cabins, we descended an old logging road on foot, finding Western Tanager, Black-Headed Grosbeak, Rufous-Capped Brushfinch, and Audubon's Oriole. In the scrub outside Laguna de Sanchez, we found Spotted Towhee, Cassin's Kingbird, and Bewick's Wren, among others.

Notable birds seen: Band-Tailed Pigeon, Red-Tailed Hawk, Rivoli's Hummingbird, Maroon-Fronted Parrot, Mountain Trogon, Hairy Woodpecker, Mexican Jay, Greater Pewee, Cassin's Kingbird, Bridled Titmouse, White-Breasted Nuthatch, Bewick's Wren, Hutton's Vireo, Crescent-Chested Warbler, Painted Redstart, Olive Warbler, Rufous-Capped Brushfinch, Spotted Towhee, Hepatic Tanager, Western Tanager, Black-Headed Grosbeak, Audubon's Oriole.

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