By Mark Sutton
This report covers a birding trip made by Mark & Linda Sutton and their 7 year old son Brent to the Mexican states of Oaxaca and Chiapas, over the Christmas and New Year period. This was our third visit to Mexico, previous trips being Yucatan & Palenque in 1996 and NW Mexico in 1997.
20/12 Arrive Mexico City 20.00 and transfer to Hotel.
21/12 Collect car & drive to Oaxaca, which took 4.5 hours. Birded around hotel before going to Monte Alban, arriving too late in the evening to do much birding.
22/12 am - up at 5.30 and drove to Mount Alban. Birded the fields by the gate for the first half hour, seeing Beautiful Hummingbird and White-throated Towhee. When the gate was opened we drove to the ruins and spent the next couple of hours on the scrub-covered hillside outside the ruins, this produced a party of Boucard's Wrens and several Dusky Hummingbirds. We then entered the ruins, which by this time were hot and busy, but well worth a visit.
pm - Black Tank. Birded the wooded gully, by the "black tank" to the NW of the road, picking up our first Bridled Sparrows and my only Dwarf Vireo and Pileated Flycatcher of the trip.
23/12 am - La Cumbre. After paying 60 Peso to enter the Northwestern-logging trail we drove for about 3Km and parked by the side road on the left. We birded this trail for a couple of Kms. A good mixed feeding flock produced about 6 Grey-barred Wrens and a similar number of Dwarf Jays amongst the commoner Steller's.
pm - Black Tank. On this visit I birded the riverside scrub on the nearside of the river, around the derelict buildings.
24/12 Am - Teotitlan del Valle. After a brief stop at the reservoir, I drove on for a further 2Km or so before parking, then birded the next 2Km section of road. I picked up my first Grey-breasted Woodpeckers but could not locate any Oaxaca Sparrows.
pm - left for Puerto Angel at 12.00. After a couple of hours a loud banging started to come from the front right wheel. This proved to be a badly dented wheel rim, which was hitting the wheel strut. We swapped the wheel for the spare "space saver wheel" and carefully continued on the journey. We stopped briefly at the White-throated Jay site and arrived at the hotel at 7.00.
25/12 am - opening presents & chilling out on the beach (and ticking Red-billed Tropicbird). Unable to get wheel fixed due to Christmas holiday.
pm - birded the track to La Boquilla, which is off the main road back towards Pochutla.
26/12 am - spent the first couple of hours on a fruitless sea watch from the lighthouse, and then birding the track back towards the main road. Drove to San Pedro to get the wheel repaired.
pm - chilled out around the town and beach.
27/12 am - drove to the White-throated Jay site near El Porvenir, starting out several hours before dawn. Birded El Porvenir for a couple of hours scoring on the Jay and drove back to Le Soledad. Spent an hour around here, late morning but the birding was very quiet.
pm - drove back to Puerto Angel arriving at 14.00, met Linda & Brent and drove on to Tehuantepec, stopping just outside town for half an hours birding. Found a decent hotel just situated on Route 190 on the Western edge of town.
28/12 am - headed west along Route 190 to Km post 244, where I birding the scrub to the south of the road. After a couple of hours I was finally rewarded with good views of a single Sumichrast's Sparrow. Headed back to the motel for a late breakfast & started the journey to Tuxtla at 11.00.
pm - Stopped at Km post 10 on Route 190, just beyond Tapanatepec and the junction with Route 200. After a couple of attempts at playing the Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl tape, two female/imm Rosita's came in, but regrettably no males. Arrived in Tuxtla at 17.00, a journey of 254 Km.
29/12 Spent the whole day in the El Sumidero National Park. The highlights being: male Blue Seedeater feeding on seeding bamboo between the track to mirador La Coyota and Km 17. A pair of Singing Quail watched feeding in undergrowth near Km 19. Thicket Tinamou near Km 21. Belted Flycatcher, 1 seen plus another heard at Km 17.1. This bird was surprisingly skulking, keeping to the under story and only showing well once. All the upper sections were shrouded in low cloud, Lunch was taken at the mirador at the end of the road, but no views could be obtained on the valley.
30/12 am - after breakfast we went to Tuxtla Zoo. Several species of supposedly wild? Cracids roam freely here, Plain Chachalaca and Great Curassow were common and two parties of Crested Guan were seen, but no Highland Guan, which can also apparently be seen here.
pm - left the zoo at 13.00 for the 2 hour drive to San Cristobal.
31/12 Am - birded the Ocosingo Road site, but failed to find any Pink-headed Warblers, the only highlight being a party of Black-capped Swallows.
pm - birded the Cerro Huitepec reserve, the highlights being a pair of Rufous-browed Wrens by the stream at the start of the trail. As the reserve closed quite early we spent the last hour on the Cerro Huitepec microondas track.
1/1 am - returned to the Ocosingo Road site, realising that I had not birded the best area for Pink-headed Warbler (should have paid more attention to the gen. the previous day!) After about half an hour I finally connected with the warbler eventually seeing at least 5 birds in a couple of hours. Returned to the motel late morning, breakfasted.
pm - drove the 85 Km to Comitan, which took about 1.5 hours.
2/1 Left the hotel at 5.30 and spent the whole day around Lagos de Montebello, the day started with heavy rain slowly turning to continual drizzle in the afternoon.
The first stop was by Laguna Pojoj were a Green-throated Mountain-gem, was found sitting in bushes by the car park, whilst watching this from the car Brent noticed a Highland Guan in trees by the lake.
We then stopped at a café by Laguna Tziscao, before continuing on to the remnant cloud forest mentioned in Howell, disappointingly the forest had been completely cleared. We then returned to the road near the entrance and drove to the café at the end. I spent a couple of hours birding the pine forest around here, but it was hard going due to the continual rain.
We spent the last couple of hours out of the park at the Chinkultic ruins, by this time the rain had given way to light drizzle which made birding more enjoyable. The highlight here was Blue & White Mockingbird, seen briefly near the base of the main (high) ruin.
3/1 Left the hotel at 5.45 for the 420Km drive to Puerto Arista, stopping several times on route, arriving at 2.30. I Spent the last couple of hours birding just inland of the town, at the junction of the Cabeza del Toro road, but failed to find any Giant Wrens. The highlight of the day was finding a Common Potoo roosting on top of a telegraph pole in the middle of Puerto Arista, whilst looking for a hotel.
4/1 am - First light was again spent around the Cabeza del Toro junction, but still no Giant Wrens. Drove down the road, for a couple of Kms beyond the village, this section of road produced 3 parties of Giant Wren's on of which was nest building in a shaded paddock by a house. Late morning I drove to the costal village of Boca del Cielo, where I found a first winter Lesser Black Backed Gull. This gave ma a feeling of deja vu as I had seen this species on my pervious two visits to Mexico.
pm - birded the lagoon to the West of the Tonala road.
5/1 am - spent an hour at first light birding the road between Puerto Arista & the Cabeza junction before returning for breakfast and starting the 450Km journey back to Oaxaca. (6 hours driving time)
pm - Stopped for lunch at the Motel in Tehuantepec and spent the evening birding Teotitlan del Valle. Arrived back in Oaxaca just after dark.
6/1 am - returned to Black Tank and birded the scrub across the stream, to the East of the road. Managed to pull out 2 Slaty Vireos, but still could not find any Oaxaca Sparrows.
pm - returned to Teotitlan del Valle, to do some craft shopping & to try again for Oaxaca Sparrow, which I failed to find. I was obviously destined to miss this species.
7/1 am - a 4am start saw me driving on the slow and often pot holed Route 175 to Valle Nacional. I initially birded the section of road between Km posts 85 to 95, but it had already been daylight for about two hours when I reached here and bird activity soon ceased. This was not helped by it being a beautiful sunny day. Although I did not have long here I did manage to pick up a few new species such as Bumblebee Hummingbird, Slate-coloured Solitaire and Blue-crowned Chlorophonia. On the return journey a stop in a large lay-by, with shrine above Km 100, produced a male Black Thrush.
pm - a couple of hours was spent at La Cumber on the return journey, where a Dwarf Jay was seen, in the same location as two weeks earlier.
8/1 am - The morning was spent around Monte Alban.
pm - left the hotel at 12.30, for the 450 Km drive back to Mexico City and flight back to the UK.
The majority of rooms had TV and air-conditioning, not that it was always needed. Costs are per night, for a room suitable for two adults & child.
The first night's accommodation at the JR Plaza Hotel was booked, by e-mail from the UK. The hotel was found through the Internet and it was chosen because it was only about 1 mile from the airport and had free transfer from the airport. The e-mail address is: email@example.com 1 double room cost $68 and included a basic breakfast.
Many of the hotels were full, due to the Christmas festival. We booked into a new hotel "Hotel Villas Del Sol" which is situated on the main road into Oaxaca from Mexico City. The room cost 500 Pesos' per night, breakfast included. The hotel also had a swimming pool and a decent restaurant where we ate most evenings.
Hotel Siraya. 450 Pesos' per night, pleasant but basic quite shabby hotel with restaurant. To ensure we had accommodation over Christmas, we had pre booked this hotel, by phone, from the UK, we had found it from a web site covering coastal Oaxaca.
Hotel Guiexhdba a very pleasant, modern hotel with excellent restaurant situated on Route 190 on the Western edge of town, West of the river on the main junction with the Salina Cruz road. Cost 270 Pesos.
Hotel Palace Inn situated on the main road a couple of Km to the West of the city centre, just before Mac Donalds. Pleasant modern hotel with good restaurant and pool (but too cold to use). Cost 299 Pesos
There is plenty of choice with hotels here, we stayed at the Hotel Nora costing 300 Pesos (with cable TV, 265 without).
Hotel Lagos de Montebello, situated on the main road through town. This hotel was a little shabby compared to the others, but was clean, comfortable and had a restaurant. Cost 320 Pesos.
Hotel Lucero situated on the eastern edge of town. The hotel has 3 swimming pools (essential here) and a restaurant, but the rooms were very basic. Cost 500 Pesos.
We flew with Air France via Paris, the outward journey took 11.5 hours due to a strong headwind, the return 9 hours. The flight was booked through Wildwings
On our last day, just before reaching the airport, we were stopped by police, who demanded $100, claiming we had gone through a red light (which we hadn't). On several occasions he asked to look at my passport, I always showed it to him, at arms length, but never, gave it to him (in case he refused to give it back). He did get rather annoyed at times but seemed unsure how to handle the situation and kept going back to his colleague in the car. After about 20 minutes of arguing and playing the ignorant tourist, I finally gave him $20 and 45 Pesos claiming that that was all the money I possessed. He reluctantly accepted and left without giving out a ticket. This is a known police scam on tourists in Mexico City.
We booked a Nissan (Tsuru?) with Thrifty, through the Internet from the UK. This cost £585 for 19 days and included all taxes, insurance and unlimited mileage.
It was dry throughout except for a short thunderstorm in Oaxaca and at the Lagunas de Montebello where it rained / drizzled all day. Temperatures varied from high 90's on the coast down to freezing in the mountains around San Cristobal and over to Valle Nacional. Mornings around Oaxaca and San Cristobal were cold, requiring jumper, coat (even gloves) etc.
Birding Equipment etc
I packed the following: Bins, Scope & lightweight tripod, Dictaphone with external speaker and microphone, pre-recorded tapes of birdcalls, a good torch e.g. a Maglite.
We took a combination of Pesos, US Dollars & US Dollar travellers cheques .
A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America - Howell and Webb; Where to Watch Birds in Mexico - Howell (Invaluable site guide); Lonely planet Guide Mexico.
Various trip reports from the Internet and Steve Whitehouse (FBRIS) & notes from Andy Goodwin.
Malaria is apparently not a major problem, but we did take anti-malarial treatment. We experienced no problems with insects etc.
Food was generally very good, although being vegetarians we were rather restricted and it did get a little boring. Breakfasts were usually excellent with hot cakes and various egg dishes usually available
This popular tourist site is only about a 15-minute drive from Oaxaca. The scrub-covered hillside beyond tomb 107 produced the best birding, early morning
This site is named after on old tarmac tank, left over from when the road was constructed. The tank is not that obvious from the road as it is hidden by vegetation. The best landmark is a graffiti covered cliff face just above the lay-by, which is fairly obvious when approaching from Oaxaca. The lay-by is about 8Km from the start of Route 175. The derelict buildings have good tracks leading down to them as these are used by locals to access the stream, in order to wash their vehicles. You need to paddle across the stream in order to reach the path running alongside the pipeline.
The entrance fee to the logging trail varied from 60 to 80 Pesos. If nobody is around, sound your horn & somebody should appear. All our birding was done along the sidetrack situated about 3Km from the main road.
Teotitlan del Valle
Teotitlan del Valle is a popular tourist destination, as the village is famous for it's weaving.
The area around the reservoir is good for birding, but the main interest is in the scrub-covered hillside, which holds a number of endemics such as Grey-breasted Woodpecker, White-throated Towhee, (which I saw) and Ocellated Thrasher, Oaxaca Sparrow (which I didn't see).
El Porvenir, White-throated Jay site
Be careful parking your car here, Andy Goodwin had his car broken into when he visited the site the previous year, I only found this out when I returned home. I parked my car in the entrance to the track without any problems. The habitat is heavily logged forest, with many felled areas. The track is approx 300 meters from Km post 159, with just enough room for a car to pull off the road. The jay was a 200 to 300 meters from the road.
Ocosingo Road - San Cristobal
Park in litter filled lay-by approx 2 Km from main San Cristobal to Comotan road.
click here for species list