Durango - Mazatlan Highway, Mexico, August 10th - 15th 2002

Published by Surfbirds Admin (surfbirds AT surfbirds.com)


By Oscar Carmona

I spent August 10 - 15, 2002 on a birding trip from McAllen, Texas to Mazatlan, Mexico for the sole purpose of finding some of the endemics of the area. Trip participants included Harold and Linda Johnson and Gary and Sonja Starnes from the Dallas-Fort Worth area and Ariel Carmona and myself from Huntsville, TX.

The birding was slow at times due to the end of the breeding season. We also encountered early morning and afternoon rain showers. We used Howell's "A Bird Finding Guide to Mexico" as a reference for the birding locations.

August 10th - Rented a Nissan Quest Van (Numerous problems with this vehicle as we will later find out) from National Car Rental in Reynosa, Mexico and picked it up at the McAllen International Airport. Today we drove to Saltillo, Coahuila, Mexico. Not much birding along the way. We spent the night at the Hotel San Jorge in downtown Saltillo. Fairly decent accommodations at a fairly old hotel near the town plaza. Rooms averaged around $47.00 per night. For dinner, we enjoyed some Tacos al Pastor from a small taqueria near the hotel.

When we departed the following morning it was a nightmare to find the way back to the outskirts of town and the highway. Some of the birds seen en route from McAllen to Saltillo included: Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Harris's Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, White-winged Dove, Mourning Dove, Inca Dove, Common Ground Dove, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Western Kingbird, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Chihuahuan Raven, Northern Mockingbird, Northern Cardinal, Pyrrhuloxia, Red-winged Blackbird, Great-tailed Grackle, Bronzed Cowbird, Brown-headed Cowbird, House Sparrow.

August 11th - Finally managed to find our way back to the highway and started en route towards Durango, Mexico. We drove through the high desert between Saltillo and Torreon that once used to be a large lake. We made a brief stop near Parras, Coahuila, Mexico to visit San Lorenzo, one of the oldest wineries in the Western Hemisphere. Nice tour of the winery complete with tasting of some delicious red wines. Headed back on the road towards Torreon where we had lunch (very spicy, but tasty tortilla soup) at the Hotel Palacio Real Restaurant.

En route to Durango, the tread on the right side rear tire came off causing some damage to the vehicle. We stopped and had to change the tire with the assistance of a good Samaritan who stopped by to help out. After a 30 minute delay, we were back on the road to Durango. The rear shocks on our vehicle wore out and we had to endure a lot of bumps on the road, making it quite uncomfortable for the folks that were sitting in the back above the rear axle. Overnight accommodations at the Hotel Florida Plaza. Nice rustic accommodations priced at about $40.00 per room. Had dinner at a cozy little pizza joint. Food was fairly good with pizza crust resembling a flaky pie crust, but cold beer saved the evening. All the highly recommended restaurants were closed.

Birds seen today on the road included: Cattle Egret, Mexican Duck, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Harris's Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Peregrine Falcon, White-winged Dove, Mourning Dove, Inca Dove, Common Ground Dove, Greater Roadrunner, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Cave Swallow, Chihuahuan Raven, Northern Mockingbird, Black-throated Sparrow, Canyon Towhee, Varied Bunting, Great-tailed Grackle, Bronzed Cowbird, Brown-headed Cowbird, House Sparrow.

August 12th - Rather than get an early start, we had to wait till 9:00 a.m. for the tire stores to open in order to buy a spare tire since we were headed for the windy road between Durango and Mazatlan. A new tire that included mounting and balancing cost about $91.00. We set out on the road at about 10:30 a.m. Made a couple of stops here and there, including the awesome overlook at the Espinaco del Diablo (Spine of the Devil) where Rufous-capped Brushfinches complemented the scenery, but our main priority was to make a stop at the Barranca Rancho Liebre for the Tufted Jays. We got there in the afternoon and started making the long hike up the canyon.

We stopped in places to see Golden-browed Warblers, Red Warblers, Red-headed Tanager, White-striped Woodcreeper, Tufted Flycatcher and Pine Flycatcher until it started pouring down rain. Nevertheless, we forged ahead. As our luck turned out, we did not see any Tufted Jays, but I did find a feather laying on the trail. Perhaps a sign of things to come.

We made a run into Mazatlan where we stayed at the Playa Mazatlan resort. Really nice resort with ocean view rooms. We ate dinner at Pancho's. Very close to the hotel and very good seafood and drinks at reasonable prices-highly recommended.

Birds seen today included: Brown Pelican, Neotropic Cormorant, Magnificent Frigatebird, Cattle Egret, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Crested Caracara, Heermann's Gull, Rock Dove, Mourning Dove, White-tipped Dove, Vaux's Swift, Acorn Woodpecker - many seen in the high pines, White-striped Woodcreeper, Tufted Flycatcher, Greater Pewee Pine Flycatcher - great looks at 2 birds, Social Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Barn Swallow, Sinaloa Crow - very common in the lowlands, Common Raven, Brown Creeper, Cactus Wren, House Wren, Grey Silky - seen flying over in the high pines, Red Warbler, Golden-browed Warbler, Red-headed Tanager, Rufous-capped Brushfinch, Yellow-eyed Junco, Hooded Oriole, Yellow-winged Cacique, Hooded Grosbeak.

August 13th - We took advantage of the breakfast buffet at the hotel before we departed for the La Noria Road to look for some Pacific Lowland species. La Noria Road is about 15-20 minutes outside of Mazatlan. We stopped about a half mile in on the La Noria Road and called in an Elegant Quail to about 12 feet that perched on top of a fence post and called incessantly. Hopefully the other birds would be as cooperative.

We made a few stops along the way towards La Noria, where we stopped for snacks and a cold drink. We then backtracked towards Mazatlan in order to see any species that had escaped us. Some of the highlights along the La Noria Road included Russet-crowned Motmots, with one in full scope view for well over 5 minutes, Black-throated Magpie-Jays, Purplish-backed Jays, Yellow-winged Cacique, numerous Plain-capped Starthroats and Broad-billed Hummingbirds engaged in aerial warfare, and Golden-cheeked Woodpecker.

In the early afternoon when we got back to Mazatlan, we looked for a boat to take us out to the Booby Rocks. My wife negotiated a total price of $30.00 to take 6 people out for 1 hour with one of the local fisherman. We had excellent views of the Blue-footed and Brown Boobies. Other birds we saw while on the boat included Heermann's Gull, Brown Pelican, and Magnificent Frigatebird. We spent a second night at the Playa Mazatlan resort. This evening we had dinner at the locally highly recommended La Costa Marinera. It was a big disappointment. The food was more expensive than Pancho's and not nearly as good.

Birds seen today included: Blue-footed Booby - many at the Booby Rocks, Brown Booby - many at the Booby Rocks, Brown Pelican, Neotropic Cormorant, Magnificent Frigatebird, Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Grey Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, Crested Caracara, Elegant Quail - very close looks, Heermann's Gull, Rock Dove, Red-billed Pigeon, White-winged Dove, Mourning Dove, Inca Dove, Common Ground-Dove, Ruddy Ground-Dove - listed as possibly rare by Howell, White-tipped Dove, Groove-billed Ani, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, Broad-billed Hummingbird, Cinnamon Hummingbird, Plain-capped Starthroat, Elegant Trogon, Russet-crowned Motmot - awesome scope looks at one bird, Golden-cheeked Woodpecker, Gila Woodpecker, Northern Beardless Tyrannulet, Nutting's Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Barn Swallow, Black-throated Magpie-Jay - a group of about 6 birds-absolutely gorgeous, Purplish-backed Jay - very skittish group of about 9 birds, Sinaloa Crow Happy Wren, Blue-grey Gnatcatcher, Northern Mockingbird, Greyish Saltator, Yellow Grosbeak, Blue-black Grassquit, Streak-backed Oriole, Yellow-winged Cacique, House Sparrow

August 14th - We departed from Mazatlan at 5:00 a.m. in order to get to the Barranca Ranch Liebre fairly early in order to make the hike up the canyon for the Tufted Jays. We arrived at the head of the trail at about 7:00 a.m. and began our ascent in some early morning rain. The birds were fairly quiet. We got up to the edge of the Barranca at about 8:00 a.m. and heard some jays off in the distance and soon we saw some movement high in the pines. We were able to see at least 15 Tufted Jays moving through the pines on the north side of the Barranca. They were fairly skittish and only allowed a couple of looks through the scope. I believe they had young in tow. Nevertheless, everyone got fairly good looks at the birds. Other species we saw while at the edge of the Barranca included: Grace's Warblers, Painted Whitestart, Olive Warbler, Yellow-eyed Junco, Hairy Woodpecker, House Wren, Red-shafted Flicker, Greater Pewee, Tufted Flycatcher, Mexican Chickadee, Brown Creeper, American Robin, and Hepatic Tanager.

We worked our way down back towards the vehicle and had excellent looks at Green-striped Brush Finches and Golden-browed Warblers. We drove towards Torreon and stopped in Durango to try to have lunch at the famous La Fonda de Tia Chona, but it was closed. We had heard rave reviews about this restaurant from many sources. We ended up having a nice lunch at a small restaurant. Our party feasted on chiles rellenos, asado de puerco, enchiladas, and some caldo (soup). We headed on to Torreon where we spent the night at the Hotel Palacio Real, an old but nice hotel located across the street from the Plaza de las Armas. Rates were $45.00 per room. Ate dinner (Mexican Pizza with chorizo, jalapenos, ground beef, and onions) at the Domino's Pizza across the street and had a coconut (paleta) ice cream from La Michoacana for dessert.

Birds seen today included: Mexican Duck, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk, Willet - one out of range bird in a pond between Durango and Torreon, Black Tern - fishing in a pond just south of Durango, Rock Dove, Band-tailed Pigeon - one bird seen flying over a canyon in the mountains, White-winged Dove, Mourning Dove, Inca Dove, Common Ground-Dove, Mountain Trogon, White-striped Woodcreeper, Tufted Flycatcher, Greater Pewee, Barn Swallow, Tufted Jay - a group of about 20 birds at the Barranca Rancho Liebre, Common Raven, Chihuahuan Raven, House Wren, Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush, Northern Mockingbird, Grace's Warbler, Red Warbler, Painted Whitestart, Hepatic Tanager, Green-striped Brushfinch, Yellow-eyed Junco, Hooded Grosbeak, House Sparrow.

August 15th - Made our way back to McAllen from Torreon. We did not make any birding stops along the way, but we did stop in Saltillo for lunch at La Canasta. This place had to be one of the culinary highlights of the trip. It is a very nicely decorated restaurant that serves regional cuisine near the center of Saltillo. Some of the dishes we feasted on included a baby shrimp and cactus pad salad in a vinaigrette, pork enchiladas, cochinita de pibil, steak, Oaxacan mole, and flan and pastel de tres leches for dessert. The restaurant also featured wine from the winery in San Lorenzo, which we visited earlier in the trip.

We did see some things as we drove back to McAllen including: White-tailed Hawk - 1 seen just north of Monterrey. Well away from the coastal plain. Swainson's Hawks - At least 2 individuals. And the usual cast of doves, House Sparrows, Chihuahuan Ravens, and Northern Mockingbirds.

A last word on the rental vehicle. We decided to vacuum it out and wash it before we turned it in. During the course of the wash, water began to leak profusely from the sunroof and drench us in the front. In the course of this drenching, we noticed that the seal that was supposed to keep water out was not there. The water leaked in through most of the ceiling of the vehicle interior shorting out the front ceiling lights and the sunroof controls. All in all, the trip was successful and fun. I would much rather go in April or May when the birds are in song and territorial, plus there is less vegetation on the trees and shrubs. We were there during the rainy season and the vegetation was pretty thick. I highly recommend this area as a birding destination. The roads are good, but somewhat windy, the accommodations are nice and reasonable, and the food is good.

Oscar Carmona hookbilledkite@hotmail.com