Vermilion Flycatchers At Hotel Rancho San Cayetano
Bob and I arrived at Hotel Rancho San Cayetano in Zitacuaro, Mexico, late in the afternoon after having landed in Mexico City that morning, so it wasn’t until the next day that we set out for a walk to explore the extensive landscaped grounds surrounding the well-kept resort. That is when we came upon a Vermilion Flycatcher that was frequenting a bench in one spacious area of open lawn.
We began our day with breakfast on the patio despite cool temperatures. We chose to dine outdoors to take advantage of the crisp, fresh air and to enjoy a view of the lush surroundings that spread outward from the main hotel building. Dappled shade from myriad trees and tidy gardens soon had us thinking about the day ahead. Bob and I planned to rest and relax after the previous long day of travel, and the early-morning chill was soon forgotten as the sun rose higher in the clear blue sky.
An alluring pathway enticed us to work off our hefty breakfast by wandering to the outer reaches of the resort property, which was bordered along one side by a substantial valley where a sheltered river coursed over a sandy bottom littered with smooth, round stones.
We were caught off-guard by a flash of red and found ourselves ill-prepared to photograph a striking red male Flycatcher. We had not expected to see any birds of note but later learned from Pablo, our host, that the proximity to the stream and wooded slopes encourages quite a variety of songbirds to make their home in the shady valley and in the tall trees clustered around the perimeter of their acreage.
I was so excited to have this beautiful red bird to add to my lifer list. Vermilion Flycatchers are the exception amongst flycatchers because of their vibrant plumage. Most flycatchers have subtle coloration making them rather drab, whereas the bright vermilion colour of Vermilion Flycatchers’ feathers is downright splendid.
One could spend hours investigating the grounds of San Cayetano, especially if you are prepared to follow the steep, rocky trail down to the river.
Pablo had warned us about the long series of rough-hewn steps fashioned from stones and set into the forest floor where it slopes towards the riverbank.
Before we crossed the threshold into the shadows, a female Vermilion Flycatcher graced us with her presence on a vacant lawn chair just waiting for someone to settle into the seat and stay awhile. The plumage of this bird had us thinking that it is an immature female because of the yellowish posterior underparts. An adult female would show a more noticeable pale salmon, orange or red on the lower belly.
Bob and I didn’t get very far into the forest before we became aware of other Vermilion Flycatchers flitting about the canopy. There was no missing the frequent glimpses of red. These birds spend little time on the ground preferring instead to watch for prey from an exposed perch and then sallying forth to nab insects on the wing.
In an open area along the riverbank, another female Vermilion Flycatcher sat perched in a tree, and from our vantage point, we could see a more noticeable orange wash on her lower belly than that on the previous female we had observed. Male and female Vermilion Flycatchers retain the same coloured plumage all year long with no change during breeding season.
Vermilion Flycatchers rarely make forays over water when pursuing prey, and this female seemed content to preen her plumage with the soft sounds of babbling water in the background. Both the male and female birds of this species preen frequently during the day and are even known for wiping their bills on branches to clean them after feeding.
Being fairly tame birds, the Vermilion Flycatchers were not deterred from their activities by our presence, and this one, like ourselves, seemed to be enjoying the sunshine.
Vermilion Flycatchers have a large range, and those that inhabit Mexico and southwards to Argentina in South America remain in the same region year round. Birds of this species that summer in southern regions of the American southwest migrate to the Gulf Coast of Mexico and interior regions of South America for the winter.
Vermilion Flycatchers always live in a habitat that is near water. Their preference is for areas of shrubland, savannah, or forest where a constant supply of water is available in the form of a stream or pond. There, in Zitacuaro, the riparian woodlands were perfectly suited to the needs of these birds.
Bob and I spent about two hours hiking down to the stream and back, with much time taken to photograph birds and flowers. At the top of the valley again, we found that the resort’s resident pair of Vermilion Flycatchers were still making forays in search of food. Both the male and female repeatedly darted into the air or dropped down to the short grass to nab insects. It seemed that they never sat still, but those vacant lawn chairs were beckoning to Bob and me. It was time for us to sit a spell for some well-earned relaxation.