Once again I am getting up at an ungodly hour of the morning to cover another Bird Count story.
This particular event, however, is unusual because it’s taking place for the first time, not somewhere on the outskirts of the big city, but in the Sierra del Águila, a mountain range near Ahualulco, where the world-famous Piedras Bola or Great Stone Balls are located (60 kilometers west of Guadalajara).
Julio Álvarez is a resident of Ahualulco and a self-made bird watcher – “the very best birder in Jalisco,” several people have told me. So, it’s no wonder Álvarez worked hard to set up an official Bird Count in the Sierra del Águila (the mountain range of the eagle), a place he has been in love with all his life.
“I was happy to participate in the counts near Guadalajara,” he told me, “but the mountains near my home are filled with an amazing variety of bird species and really deserve a place in the Conteo de Aves.”
The annual bird register was started in 1900 by U.S. ornithologist Frank Chapman in response to a custom hunters had in those days of shooting as many birds as they could for Christmas. Last year, the National Audubon Society listed 2,505, 24-kilometer-wide bird observation circles around the world with 76,669 observers out in the field, and they counted 58,878,071 birds of 2,607 species. Álvarez’ circle in the Sierra del Águila brings the total number of bird-counting circles in the state of Jalisco to six.
I found Álvarez and 19 other birders wrapped in winter coats and shuffling their feet to keep warm in the plaza of Ahualulco. “We’re going to break up into three groups,” Julio announced. “One to the area of the Piedras Bola, one to Arroyo El Carrizal and the other to Las Pilas.”
Since I had never visited Las Pilas, I joined that team, headed by birder and nature photographer Carlos Contreras. “Every bird we see along the way counts,” announced Carlos once we were on a dirt road heading west into the hills.