Photos with this report (click to enlarge)
Report compiled by John Ward with assistance from Manuel Grosselet on the species list, notes on Guerrero, and the photographs.
Planning for this trip started in April 2008. There were obviously a lot of good birds to be found in Mexico so where would a good place be to choose? After several evenings and weekends reading Steve Howell’s guide, I decided on the state of Oaxaca. I had travelled previously through Mexico in 1965, but that was a leisurely journey a long time ago - this time I wanted an intensive two week trip to see as many of the endemics and regional specials as possible plus the numerous migrants passing through during springtime. Later on in the planning stages, the tour would be extended a further week to include Guerrero.
A ground agent and guide were going to be essential and after sending off a number of enquiries, I decided I would try to get Manuel Grosselet of Tierra de Aves, http://www.tierradeaves.com. Manuel is a French ornithologist based in Mexico carrying out research and conservation work and guiding. We agreed a price and worked on an itinerary that would maximize our time.
And so, after a few emails to friends and friends of friends, a group of five was formed and the trip was up and running.
Oaxaca is well served with frequent flights from Mexico City, flight time about one hour. Allan and John D flew in from two weeks in Cuba and encountered an annoying bureaucratic glitch at Mexico City airport but luckily were able to get onto their Oaxaca flight OK. The rest of us had trouble-free journeys from Dublin and London.
The birding was very comfortable, mainly from the roadside or from good trails. The boat for the pelagic was ideal, and fortunately (for me at least) the sea was calm.
Regarding field guides, other than Ber Van Perlo’s, none of those listed below include illustrations of all the birds of Mexico which resulted in some long-winded checking at times. There seems to be an opening for someone to produce a good quality all inclusive guide…..any volunteers out there?
Our group number of five was perfect for the eight-seater Dodge Ram mini-bus, with plenty of spare room for bags, scopes, water and food etc – and rapid exiting was easy at the numerous stops. We were an ideal size too for the narrow trails and confined spots but big enough for plenty of good banter between everyone, including Manuel whose sense of humour was great.
A word or two about our guide – Manuel’s identification skills were excellent, and he made absolutely every effort possible to get everyone onto every bird. He constantly searched for new birds and worked hard to keep us well fed and watered and looked after all our general welfare needs – his services were of the highest order and I can heartily recommend him for anyone thinking of a birding trip to Mexico.
The accommodation was fine, varying from cabins to very comfortable hotels and family houses.
We ate well and the food was mostly very tasty – although the black beans soon lost any popularity they may have had at the start of the trip! The local beer was incredibly cheap and tasty, and we pretty well OD’d at times on jug after jug of freshly made fruit-juice - it was so refreshing, the best I’ve ever tasted. But certainly some care needed to be taken with food. Because of the remoteness and being well off the tourist routes for a good bit of the time, often the only eating places available were those used just by the local people - the odd tummy up-set was going to be inevitable.
Mosquitoes weren’t too much of a problem, in fact some of the group dispensed with their malaria pills halfway through. Other biting/burrowing insects were present though. I got a lot of chigger bites.
High in the mountains the temperature fell close to zero at night (or at least it felt like it). In the eastern lowlands it was hot and humid and in the Central Valley and the west it was mostly very hot and dry. The two Aussies took the heat in their stride of course but the rest of us were feeling it at times. We had no rain at all.
On occasions we were pulled over at security road blocks – correction, we were always pulled over – a couple of the group did look suspicious. The vehicle and one or two of our bags would be searched but soon we were on our way with minimal delay.
Very little English was spoken by the Mexican people once off the beaten track but everyone was extremely friendly and very welcoming towards us. We had good fun trying to converse with the few words we knew. Manuel spoke fluent Spanish so we had no problems and JD also helped out especially when ordering at mealtimes, although it would often be a ‘hope for the best’ sort of choice which usually turned out just fine.
I was anxious about how the trip would turn out but I needn’t have been - we had no serious hitches and everyone agreed it went off extremely well.
The total trip list was a very respectable 437 species seen plus 18 heard. These included 31 hummingbirds, 40 flycatchers, 16 wrens, 8 jays, 40 warblers, 21 sparrows and 11 orioles. We all added hugely to our life lists and had refreshingly new sightings of previously seen species.
Apart from the amazing birding experience, it was a huge privilege just to be in this part of Mexico - the pine and oak forests of the high Sierra Madre, the cloud and tropical forests of the lower eastern slopes, the more arid terrain of the interior and Pacific slope, and to be among the rural people for a glimpse into their very hard way of life.
Finally, I would like to give my thanks to Allan, Brian, both Johns, and Manuel for making this trip so enjoyable, successful and memorable
American White Pelican
Great Blue Heron
Little Blue Heron
Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture
West Mexican Chachalaca
American Herring Gull
Great Horned Owl
Western Long-tailed Hermit
Eastern Long-tailed Hermit
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Southern House Wren
Black-throated Gray Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
White-fronted Bush Tanager
Sierra Madre Sparrow