Mexico Field Course 2019

Origins, patterns, and conservation of diversity in Western Mexico

Month: March 2019

Saturday March 2nd – Departing Mexico

The Boom Chachalacas are back on the scene, except this time we aren’t as cheery as usual. Why you might ask? Well, because today is the day we leave Mexico, that’s why! We awoke in the wee hours of the morning with our bags packed and our minds (mostly) prepared for the lengthy day of travel ahead of us. You know it’s an early day when you’re awake and active before the chorus of birds begin to ring in the new day for you. After getting everyone’s belongings sorted out and tied down, we all climbed into the van for the last time and set off towards Guadalajara. Did we say that we all climbed in for the last time? We meant almost the last time, as we inevitably had to make (multiple) stops for everyone to grab food and relieve themselves along the way – it was a five-hour bus ride after all. Mountainous scenery gradually transitioned to flat plains, with numerous agave and banana plantations surrounding the highway. Kettles of vultures were seen circling high above with cows dotting the fields below them. As we made the lengthy journey to Guadalajara International, almost everyone on the bus completely passed out. During our waking moments, snacks which had been purchased prior, such as animal crackers and fruit loops were shared amongst the group. We all knew no one was getting on a plane with a giant bag of animal crackers in their carry-on.

The relatively laid-back drive was interrupted only when Steve exclaimed “volcano!” Just like children at a zoo, we all hugged the windows of the van searching the horizon for any sign of it. Finally, we all spotted it off in the distance: Volcán de Colima (also known as Volcán de Fuego or Volcano of Fire). There it stood, menacingly looming over the lands below with a certain peacefulness. It is only in doing some research now that we realize that it is considered one of the most active volcanos in Mexico and North America, which is slightly unsettling.

Once (finally) arriving to the airport, we began the difficult task of saying goodbye to our new Mexican friends. Javier, Hector, Hera, and Yanet were truly incredible people to meet, and we all became close friends within our short two weeks together. We hope to see them again one day!! We made our way into the airport, and out of the Mexican sun for the last time. Most of made it through security without hassle (Jamie) and onto the plane. Our nearly empty flight to Houston allowed us to spread out, which was ideal for Sean and Evelyn who were transporting their BIG hats on their heads (see picture of Leah below for reference). A short while later, we touched down in Houston, and breezed through customs. Leah and Claire (regrettably) ate their bodyweight in American food, and we all boarded the last flight of our journey. A few hours later we touched down in YYZ, collected our bags, and for those of us headed back to Kingston that night, boarded the van. One Tim’s stop later, we made it back to where it all started two long weeks ago – the street behind BioSci.

After almost exactly 24 hours of travel, our incredible experience came to an end. The two-week trip was filled with learning, fun, and friendship. We had a great time and think we can speak for everyone when we say that this trip won’t be forgotten anytime soon.

Friday March 1st – Last full day in Chamela

Bueno Días from group 3 on our last full day in Mexico!

Today we woke up at sunrise and ate a delicous breakfast of scrambled eggs and hibiscus juice (called Jamaica – this is a beverage made with an infusion of hibiscus flowers) to prepare for the longest hike of the trip. After eating, we hit the Tejón trail from the main roadway and began a very sweaty 5 km hike. The trails were naturally disturbed from a hurricane causing branches and other vegatation to be tossed about the trail making our hike more intense than expected. Along the walk, we noticed the succesion of the clean-up progress on the trails being completed by the excellent field staff and other researchers at Chamela. Along Sendero Tejón, we saw a Mexican Pink Tarantula, Lilac-crowned parrots (Amazoa finschi), a red breasted chat (Granatellus venustus), and a Gray Hawk (Buteo plagiatus). After successfully completing the hike, we all took some much needed showers and headed down to the kitchen to enjoy lunch enchilladas. While eating, we were surprised with plans for a marsh and beach visit as the final outing from the field station. Prior to getting in the van at suited up for the ocean, we completed student evalutations giving positive notes and feedback on the course. Our first stop was at a local wetlands, where we were able to walk along the shoreline as the water was quite receded in the middle of the dry season. The wetlands were teeming with birds such as black-necked stilts (Himantopus mexicanus), willets (Tringa semipalmata), blue-wing teal (Spatula discors) and American avocets (Recurvirostra americana). We also found the bright pink feathers of roseate Spoonbill (Platalea ajaja) who previously inhabited the pond, only to see one flying above us a few minutes later! We then loaded back into the vans to make one last trip to the beachfront at Punta Perula. We took a final dip in the Pacific Ocean and ordered some delicious fresh fruit such as coconuts and pinapples from some local vendors (Yum!). Once it was time to go, we loaded into the vans to return to the field station and watch the sunset one more time from the roof of the residence. We then headed down for the last supper of the trip, enjoying some delicious enchilladas and thanking the kitchen staff for all the delicious food they prepared for the week. Just before bed, we gathered in the library to watch a heartwarming slideshow of all our trip highlights. We then finished packing and headed to bed nice  and early, and to prepare for the long journey home back to Canada. What a fantastic day and close to this once in a lifetime experience. We will miss you Mexico – a biodiversity hotspot and so much more!


En Español

Viernes 1 de Marzo

¡Buenos Días del grupo 3 en nuestro último día completo en México!

Hoy nos levantamos al amanecer y comimos un delicioso desayuno de huevos revueltos y jugo de jamaica para prepararnos a la caminata más larga del viaje. Después de comer, llegamos al sendero Tejón desde el camino principal y comenzamos una caminata de 5 km que nos hizo sudar como nunca. Como resultado del huracán, provocó que las ramas y árboles cayeran sobre el sendero, y nuestra caminata fue más intensa de lo esperado. A lo largo de la caminata, notamos el progreso de la limpieza en los senderos realizado de manera excelente por el personal de campo y otros investigadores de Chamela. A lo largo de nuestra caminata por Tejón, vimos una tarántula rosada mexicana, loros de corona lila (Amazoa finschi), un chipe de pecho rojo (Granatellus venustus) y un halcón gris (Buteo plagiatus). Después de completar con éxito la caminata, ya en la estación todos tomamos una ducha muy necesaria y luego nos fuimos a comer y disfrutar de enchilladas. Mientras comíamos, nos sorprendieron con planes de hacer una visita a una marisma y a la playa como salida final del curso de campo. Antes de subir a la camioneta para ir a la playa, hicimos la evaluación del curso llenando notas positivas y comentarios sobre el mismo. Nuestra primera parada fue en una marisma local, donde pudimos caminar por la orilla ya que estaba la laguna seca en gran parte por estar en la estación seca. Los humedales estaban llenos de aves como zancudas de cuello negro (Himantopus mexicanus), los chorlos (Tringa semipalmata), y cercetas de alas azules (Spatula discors) y avocetas americanas (Recurvirostra americana). También encontramos brillantes plumas rosadas de la espátula rosada (Platalea ajaja) que se observó anteriormente en el humedal, pero al fin vimos una volando sobre nosotros unos minutos más tarde! Luego regresamos a las camionetas para hacer nuestra última visita a la playa en Punta Perula. Nos dimos un último chapuzón en el Océano Pacífico y luego pedimos algunas deliciosas frutas frescas como cocos y piñas de vendedores locales (¡Sabroso!). Ya finalmente regresamos a la estación para aprovechar y ver la puesta de sol una vez más desde el techo de los dormitorios. Después bajamos a nuestra última cena del viaje, disfrutando de unas deliciosas enchilladas y agradeciendo al personal de cocina por la deliciosa comida que prepararon toda la semana. Justo antes de acostarnos, nos reunimos en la biblioteca para ver una presentación de diapositivas reconfortante y divertida de todos los puntos destacados de nuestro viaje. Luego terminamos de empacar y nos fuimos a dormir para prepararnos para el largo viaje de regreso a Canadá. Qué fantástico día y cierre de esta experiencia única en la vida. Te extrañaremos México, ¡un punto de acceso a la biodiversidad y mucho más!




Thursday February 28th – Chamela

Group 3: Sean, Hector, and Chenxi.


Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, we had a quick breakfast of nachos at Chamela before making our way to the coast for an island excursion. From the coastal village of Punta Perula, we chartered some locals to bring us to Lougheed Island, where they dropped us on a secluded sandy beach. From the beach we hiked through (or under) thick and brushy species and columnar, and Opuntia (prickly pear) cacti, to the South side of the island, where we observed an abundance of brown-footed boobies (Sula leucogaster), shore crabs, chitins/sea cockroaches, ring-billed gulls (Larus delawarensis), and American oyster catchers (Haematopus palliatus). We spent some time skipping over rocks, watching boobies, and investigating intertidal pools, before making our way back to the island beach for a swim while we awaited our transport back to Punta Perula.

Back at Punta Perula, we relaxed on the beach and enjoyed the giant frigate birds (Fregata magnificens), brown pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis), and a few Coronas. We left the beach after having more than our fair share of sun, to make it back to the station for lunch and some afternoon siestas and some much needed individual study time. The sunset was particularly spectacular today!

After dinner, some of us went for an evening walk along El Central, and found a milk snake (Lampropeltis triangulum) and a giant tree frog (Agalychnis dacnicolor)!

Sean, Hector, and Chenxi


En Español

Grupo 3: Sean, Hector y Chenxi.

Con ojos achispados y cuerpo energizado, tomamos un desayuno rápido de chilaquilies en Chamela antes de irnos a la costa para nuestra excursión a la isla. Desde el pueblo costero de Punta Perula, contratamos lanchas de los lugareños para que nos llevaran a la isla, donde nos dejaron en una playa aislada de arena. Desde la playa caminamos a través de un matorral denso con cactus columnares y nopaleras (Opuntia, muy espinoso), llegando hacia el lado sur de la isla, donde observamos una gran cantidad de pájaros bobos (Sula leucogaster), cangrejos costeros , quitones / cucarachas de mar, gaviotas de Herman (Larus hermanii), y ostreros (Haematopus palliatus). Pasamos un rato saltando sobre las rocas, observando a los pájaros e investigando las charcas intermareales, poco después regresamos  a la playa de la isla a nadar mientras esperábamos nuestro transporte de regreso a Punta Perula.

Ya de vuelta en Punta Perula, nos relajamos en la playa y disfrutamos de las fragatas gigantes (Fregata magnificens), los pelícanos cafés (Pelecanus occidentalis) y algunas Coronas. Salimos de la playa y después de disfrutar de un merecido baño de sol nos fuimos de regreso a la estación para comer y tomar una siesta y también para aprovechar para estudiar. ¡La puesta de sol fue particularmente espectacular hoy!

Después de la cena, algunos de nosotros fuimos a dar una caminata nocturna por El eje Central, ¡y encontramos una serpiente falsa coral (Lampropeltis triangulum) y una rana gigante (Agalychnis dacnicolor)!

Wednesday February 27th – Chamela Biological Station

Hi everyone! This is Jamie, Sydney, and Gerardo with day 12 of the Mexico field course.

Today was our third full day at the Chamela field station. It was a quiet day, waking up to a beautiful orange sunrise and a breakfast of toast with beans, cheese and veggies. We took advantage of the cool temperatures in the morning to gather some data for our research projects. In our case, that involved a stroll down the main road of the station looking for the cactus Opuntia excelsa, our study species. We looked at the orientation, temperature, colour, and light incidence of cacti along the road to look for evidence of phototropism, which is the orientation of a plant during growth to maximize its photosynthetic capacity. As we took measurements, we noticed that the cacti under more intense heat often had smaller/fewer spines, so we decided to make some follow-up measurements on spine length to test this as well. We stayed out until it got too hot before heading back down to the station. On the way, Gerardo spotted some parrots and a gray hawk. We haven’t analyzed any results yet, but we’ll keep you posted!

We staved off the strong midday heat with a well-timed siesta before a lunch of tortillas with potatoes and cheese. The afternoon was dedicated to research projects while the fourth years were diligently working on their thesis posters. During the afternoon, Hector and Gerardo found a pair of Mexican mud turtles. We escaped in the early evening to watch the sun set over the Pacific on the roof over the library.

We had a dinner of fish, rice, and salad with some tortillas and veggies for the vegetarians. After dinner, Hector presented his seminar on habitat use of bird communities in ecological units of a mining district of Mexico. It was a fascinating topic and we learned much about bird surveying methods and how they can be used to determine species richness and diversity. Finally, we spent the rest of the evening relaxing before calling it a night, looking forward for the next exciting day!

Thanks for reading!



En Español

Hola a todos! Les saluda Jamie, Sydney y Gerardo en el día 12 del curso de campo en México.


Hoy fue nuestro tercer día completo en la estación de campo de Chamela. Fue un día tranquilo, despertando con un hermoso amanecer anaranjado y un desayuno de tostadas con frijoles, queso y verduras. Aprovechamos las temperaturas frescas de la mañana para recopilar algunos datos para nuestros proyectos de investigación. En nuestro caso, eso implicó una caminata por el camino principal de la estación en busca del cactus Opuntia excelsa, nuestra especie de estudio. Registramos la orientación, la temperatura, el color y la incidencia de luz de los cactus a lo largo del camino para buscar evidencia de fototropismo, que es la orientación de una planta durante el crecimiento para maximizar su capacidad fotosintética. Cuando tomamos medidas, notamos que los cactus con calor más intenso a menudo tenían menos espinas y más pequeñas, por lo que decidimos realizar medidas adicionales del tamaño de las espinas para probar esta hipótesis también. Nos quedamos trabajando hasta que el calor ya fue demasiado caliente y decidimos regresar a la estación. De regreso, Gerardo vio algunos loros y un aguililla gris. No hemos analizado los datos todavía, ¡pero los mantendremos informados!


Evitamos el calor fuerte del mediodía tomando una siesta antes de la comida donde nos dieron un guiso de papas con queso y tortillas. La tarde la dedicamos a trabajar en nuestros proyectos de investigación, mientras que los estudiantes de cuarto año trabajaron diligentemente en la preparación de sus carteles de tesis. Durante la tarde, Héctor y Gerardo encontraron un par de tortugas terrestres mexicanas. Escapamos a primera hora de la tarde para ver la puesta de sol sobre el Pacífico desde el techo de la biblioteca.


La cena consistió en pescado, arroz y ensalada con algunas tortillas y verduras para los vegetarianos. Después de la cena, Hector presentó su seminario sobre el uso del hábitat de las comunidades de aves en unidades ecológicas de un distrito minero de México. Fue un tema fascinante y aprendimos sobre los métodos de observación de aves y cómo se puede utilizar para determinar la riqueza y diversidad de las especies. Finalmente, pasamos el resto de la tarde relajándonos antes de irnos a dormir, esperando el próximo día igual de emocionante.


¡Gracias por leer!

J / S / G