Posts Tagged ‘books’

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New Birdwatching Book Touts Puebla’s Diversity

Tuesday, January 1st, 2013

Mexico ranks fifth among the world’s nations in biological diversity, with nearly 29,000 plant and animal species living in its deserts, rainforests, mangroves, and mountains. The state of Puebla, known for its mild climate and varied ecosystems, is home to large percentages of this flora and fauna — including more than half of the country’s 1,100 different species of birds. A new e-book in English, The Birdwatching Hotspots of the State of Puebla, Mexico, provides a free field guide for novices and experts alike.

Common Yellowthroat, ValsequilloHerons and Egrets, ValsequilloRed Warbler, La MalincheCooper's Hawk, Valsequillo

All About Puebla asked author Jajean Rose-Burney, a Peace Corps volunteer from New York who recently finished a two-year assignment here, how he got started as a birdwatcher, why he decided to write the book, what he’d like readers to get out of it, and where he likes to go birdwatching in Puebla. Here’s what he had to say.

AAP: How did you end up studying birds in Puebla?

Rose-Burney: My wife and I joined Peace Corps, a program of the U.S. federal government that has volunteers all around the world. We are both urban planners and were looking for a little break. During training in Queretaro, we were told that our assignment would be SEMARNAT, Mexico’s federal environmental agency, in the city of Puebla. I was devastated. I didn’t want to live in a big city, and I didn’t want to work in a big government planning office.

Fortunately, I got everything that I didn’t want — and am incredibly lucky. During the past two years, I’ve worked on some great conservation projects, including the establishment of a new natural protected area at the Valsequillo Reservoir. I’ve met and worked with great people. I had the opportunity to travel throughout the state and most of southern Mexico. And I have been able to turn my love of birdwatching into my work.

When did you start birdwatching?

I have been birdwatching as a hobby since before I started walking. My parents worked at nature reserves and ran a summer camp when I was little, so I grew up around the outdoors. I always brought my binoculars on family camping and hiking trips. Before coming to Mexico, I had never done birdwatching for work. It was always just a hobby. I have actually done more birdwatching while in Puebla than at any other time in my life. When we travel, whether it be to Cholula or to Tulum, we go birdwatching.

I helped start and was a guide for a recreational bird club, called the Club de Observadores de Aves de Puebla, which goes on monthly field trips to parks and nature reserves in the city and throughout the state. To sign up for the tours, you can contact the club.

What prompted you to write the book and, more specifically, focus on Puebla?

Many other places in Mexico are well-known for birdwatching. Although there are a few dedicated birdwatchers in Puebla, the state has been practically ignored by the outside world. Fortunately for me, Puebla is an awesome state to go birdwatching in.

As you will see in the book, Puebla is one of the most diverse states in Mexico, and trails only Chiapas, Veracruz, and Oaxaca in total bird species. Puebla has many migratory species, those that nest in the U.S. and Canada and winter in Mexico, Central America, and South America, like the ducks and herons in Valsequillo. Puebla has numerous endemic species — species that only exist in Mexico — like the Red Warbler in La Malinche and the Paso de Cortes. Puebla also has many really beautiful and attention-grabbing species, like the Blue-crowned Motmot in Cuetzalan.

What are your favorite places to go birdwatching in Puebla?

The Valsequillo Reservoir is my favorite place to go birdwatching within city limits. The large reservoir attracts thousands of ducks, grebes, herons, and other birds. On any given day, especially during the winter migration, you can cross the reservoir on the ferry boat (known locally as la panga) in San Baltazar Tetela and see at least 60 species of birds. Ease of access, diversity of birds, and beautiful views of the reservoir and surrounding volcanoes makes Valsequillo a must-see.

Picking a favorite place to go birdwatching in the surrounding state of Puebla is difficult. Rather than chose one site, I would say that the entire Mixteca region in southern Puebla is the most fascinating. Tropical deciduous forests and cactus forests — both more colorful in the dry season — reach as far you can see, while the river canyons are lined with majestic ahuehuetes, or Mexican cypress, a tall evergreen that is also Mexico’s national tree.

The Mixteca is home to numerous species that are endemic not only to Mexico, but also to the Mixteca itself, meaning that they exist nowhere else in the world. These include the Dusky Hummingbird, Grey-Breasted Woodpecker, Boucard’s Wren, and Bridled Sparrow, among others. There are also many emblematic species, like the ruby, emerald, and white Elegant Trogon, or the large, rufous-colored Squirrel Cuckoo, or the sparrow-sized Ferruginous Pygmy Owl. And then there are the beautiful people, the food, the languages, and the history…

What do you hope that readers will take away from the book?

I am a conservationist at heart, and everything that I do is aimed at promoting the conservation of nature. Low-impact, sustainable ecotourism — like birdwatching — can have positive impacts on conservation. When tourists visit a place, pay for a hotel, or a guide, or even just lunch, they demonstrate to a community that protecting natural resources can have greater benefits for them than using them up.

I want this book to inspire people to love nature, the outdoors, and birdwatching the way that I do. And I think that in order to love nature, you have to experience it, to touch it, to smell it and see it. When someone reads my book, whether a novice or a seasoned birdwatcher, I hope that they get the urge to visit some of these places and experience them for themselves. The places and birds that I describe in this book are so spectacular, so beautiful, and so unique, that anyone lucky enough to see them will have no choice but to fall head over heels for them.

To download the free book, which includes maps and other helpful information, click here.

Text by Rebecca Smith Hurd / Photographs by Ana Hernández Balzac (homepage) and Jajean Rose-Burney

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The Palafox Library: A Bishop’s Legacy in Puebla

Monday, May 30th, 2011

Juan de Palafox y MendozaIt’s been a long road to beatification for Juan de Palafox y Mendoza. The Catholic priest, who served as bishop of Puebla from 1640 to 1655, became a candidate for the church’s official blessing shortly after his death some 350 years ago. But due to one roadblock after another — mostly opposition from Jesuits who argued that honoring Palafox would discredit them (because he’d policed misconduct in their ranks) — confirmation stalled for centuries. It will finally happen this Sunday, June 5, at a ceremony in Osma, Spain, the last place that he ministered to the faithful.

Palafox is known for being a prolific writer, a political thinker, a defender of the Mexico’s indigenous people during Colonial times, and a fair yet deeply religious man. “Historians highlight Palafox’s intelligence, integrity, activity, intellectual preparation and will, defining him as ‘one of the most brilliant men of his generation,’” says Jorge Fernández Díaz, third vice president of the Congress of Deputies, the lower house of Spain’s legislature.

“[Palafox is] probably the most interesting and maybe the most important figure in the whole history of 17th century Mexico.”

In Puebla, Palafox made his mark in both church and state affairs. He established the Dominican convent of St. Agnes, the colleges of St. Peter and St. Paul, and the girls school Immaculate Conception. He pushed for administrative reform within the diocese and for the completion of the city’s Cathedral, which was dedicated 1649. He also held several political offices, including that of the viceroy of New Spain in 1642.

“He was a superior man for his century, a classic in our language [Spanish] whose numerous texts were written with an elegant and eloquent style and have resulted in twelve thick volumes,” notes University of Salamanca researcher Águeda Rodríguez Cruz in a 2010 bulletin for the International Institute for Higher Education in Latin America and the Caribbean. Quoting her colleague, professor Antonio Heredia, she adds: “[Palafox] was robust in his work, although of a sensitive condition; a spender, but mean with it; legalistic, while with an ascetic of sensitive piety; an expert and executor in law and politics, while at a mystic at the same time; a man of war and noise, while pacific and fond of silence; active, while contemplative; indebted, while punctual with his duties … a man of great contrasts, like life itself.”

His greatest legacy is a secular one: the Palafox Library in Puebla. Founded in 1646, the Biblioteca Palafoxiana was the first public library established in the Americas. Located inside what was once the seminary of St. John’s College — now home to Puebla’s cultural center — the library preserves 45,058 volumes dating from just before until just after the Colonial era. Many of its works are of global importance. These include original copies of Hartmann Schedel’s Nuremberg Chronicle (1493), which charts human history according to the Bible in words and more than 2,000 illustrations; Andreas Vesalius’s On the Fabric of the Human Body (1555), a seven-volume tome that revolutionized the study of anatomy with detailed diagrams based on actual observation and dissection; and books printed in Mexico before 1600, including Alonso Molina’s Vocabulary in Castilian and Mexican, essentially the earliest New World dictionary.

The bookshelves consist of finely carved cedar, wild sunflower, and white pine.The library is also noteworthy for its sheer beauty. The bookshelves, commissioned by Bishop Francisco Fabián y Fuero in 1773 (and expanded to include a third level in the 1800s), consist of finely carved cedar, wild sunflower, and ayacahuite, a native white pine. A three-story gold altar at the far end of the room features an oil painting of Virgen of Trapani, which is believed to be modeled after the 14th-century sculpture attributed to Italian sculptor Nino Pisano.

In 1981, the Mexican government declared the library a historic monument. In 2005, UNESCO added the Biblioteca Palafoxiana to the Memory of the World list, formally recognizing its international significance. In 2010, after five years of work by 30 specialists, the first digital catalog of the library’s complete contents was released; some 3,000 copies of the interactive disk were distributed to other libraries, universities, and research institutions. At the time, Elvia Carrillo Velázquez, a director for ADABI, the national book-preservation group that helped to create the archive, told El Universal newspaper that the interactive disc “provides access to culture and, above all, makes public knowledge part of the history of the printed word.”

This seems to be exactly what Palafox intended. A sign at the library’s entrance bears his words from 1646: “He who finds himself benefiting without books finds himself in solitude without comfort, on a mountaintop without company, on a path without a walking stick, in the darkness without a guide. This gave me the desire to leave the library of books I’ve collected since I served his majesty the King, which is one of the best I’ve seen in Spain, ancillary to those of the church and in part and in public form, so that it may be used by all professions and people.”

The Biblioteca Palafoxiana is located on the second floor of the Casa de la Cultura, 5 Oriente #5, in the city’s historic center. Hours: Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Image credits: Bicentenario México/Wikipedia Commons (portrait) and Agencia Enfoque (library interior)

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