Slate-throated Redstart at Hotel Rancho San Cayetano
Bob and I traveled to Zitacuaro in the State of Michoacan, Mexico, for the purpose of seeing the Monarch Butterflies that had completed their winter migration. It was an added bonus to come across a good selection of interesting birds such as this Slate-throated Redstart, and we didn’t even have to leave the property of Hotel Rancho San Cayetano.
After leaving behind a cold and snowy Ontario, it was a delight to share breakfast on the patio despite cool morning temperatures. On our first day at Hotel Rancho San Cayetano, we braved the early-morning nip in the air to dine al fresco. We were joined by Pablo and Lisette’s dogs who thought of us as their newest best friends.
The hotel property was embraced by a series of shady bowers behind which stood an age-old stone wall that once protected the inhabitants from marauders. Ample sunshine filled the open spaces around the many different buildings dotting the acreage where we were free to roam and explore.
Pablo learned of our interest in birds so promptly suggested an early-morning walk to the river deep within the valley that borders their property. After hours spent in transit the day before, we welcomed the opportunity for some exercise despite our need for some R&R.
Not ones to rush when it comes time to look for birds, animals or even interesting wildflowers, Bob and I soon spotted a flash of red in the upper canopy with which we were inline when we first entered upon the trail. Thinking it to be another Vermilion Flycatcher, Bob prepared to take a photo, but then I pointed out that this bird, a Slate-throated Redstart, did not have a black mask.
These birds are more accurately referred to as Slate-throated Whitestarts because the underside of their tails is largely white. “Staart” is the Dutch word for tail, and since this bird’s tail is black and white, Whitestart is a more apt name. Although it appears that the head is uniformly coloured, in fact, the greyish-blue plumage is contrasted by a chestnut cap.
Because of this bird’s constant hopping and flitting about, photographic opportunities were few and far between. In this particular picture, where the Slate-throated Redstart takes wing, you can just make out the white tip on the tail…
whereas the white vent is barely visible from this point of view. These birds are unique in that they flash the white underparts of the tail to startle insects into flight, making it easier for the Redstarts to snatch them up. In these aerial pursuits, Slate-throated Redstarts resemble flycatchers, but they are just as likely to probe dead leaf matter for arthropods.
Slate-throated Redstarts are year round residents in areas from northern Mexico southward to northern Bolivia. They can be found in humid mountainous terrain including Pine-Oak forests or cloud forests where they forage for flying insects in the upper understory and lower canopy.
Bob and I were challenged by the thick tangle of branches and leaves and the quick movements of the Slate-breasted Redstart, but it was easy to linger on the rocky trail and absorb the sounds of bird song and distant babbling of the stream.
It is interesting to note that there is considerable variation in this species between the northern and southern populations. In South America, Slate-breasted Redstarts have a bright yellow breast, and in a cross-over range, the birds have orange breasts.
It was a pleasure to mark off another bird species on our life list without really even trying. This long-tailed Slate-throated Redstart had no idea how happy it had made us that day.
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