Participants: Marcus Roening, Heather Ballash, Washington StateComments
This was our second trip to the area, with the primary target birding being focused on the second half of the itinerary around the Volcanoes of Colima. The first half was a combination of birds and beach time based out of Barra de Navidad. The weather for the first portion was beautiful and then when we began the inland portion of the trip, we had to deal with four days of heavy and almost non-stop rain. This dramatically impacted access off the main roads. This will be an update on current access with a few good sightings mixed in.
Prime resource remains Howell’s (1999) ‘A Bird Finding Guide to Mexico’. The route outlined still works well, although the cities have grown since publication. For identification we used Howell and Webb (2005) and National Geographic’s Field Guide to Birds of North America (2006) for the migrants that are not illustrated in Howell & Webb.
We flew into Manzanillo, took a taxi to Barra de Navidad (430 Pesos out, 350 Pesos return), used taxis for the first half of the trip and rented a car for the Colima portion. Holiday note: If your trip coincides with the week of December 25 – January 1 on the coast, that is the week for Mexican nationals to vacation on the coast, along with human North American migrants. Every hotel room can be sold out and rental cars too. If picking a car up in this window time (and the first week of January), confirm with the location directly that they will have the car you requested. When we arrived at the airport to pick up a car, the kiosk was closed and when we called the manager, we were informed that no cars would be available until the end of the week. The story was the same for 3 out of 4 agencies. We were able to rent the last car left in the airport from Sixt, who closed the kiosk behind us.
Barra de Navidad – Hotel Delphin – 700 pesos, run by a Mexican couple fluent in English & German
Autlan – Hotel Autlan – 600 pesos
Ciudad Guzman – Quinta del Sol – 560 pesos
Colima – Motel Los Candiles – 640 pesos
North of Colima – Laguna la Maria – 400 Pesos
Cuyutlan – Hotel Fenix – 600 pesos
27 December 2012 – 1 January 2013 Barra de Navidad
We used the Hotel Delphin as our base for the beach portion of the trip. It is a lovely family run hotel, now being run by the next generation. Plenty of solar heated hot water, wi-fi and Stefan speaks English & German and has worked with birding groups. From the top of the hotel, you can watch the birds of estuary fly into the lagoon to roost at sunset. The largest concentration of water birds was on the NW corner of the Bahia de Navidad and the town of Melaque, especially where the pungent stream enters the bay at the very edge of town. Amongst the 100s of Brown Pelicans, Neotropical Cormorants and Royal Terns, we were able to pick out Brown & Blue-footed Boobies, Elegant & Forster’s Terns. For the terns, there was an oyster platform they liked to roost on at the end of the promenade going towards the point. There was also an RV park here with several hummingbird feeders that were attracting Black-chinned and Cinnamon Hummingbirds.
28 & 29 December 2012 Barranca de Choncho
We arranged with a taxi driver the afternoon before to take us and retrieve us from the Barranca (250-300 pesos). As long as the personal connection has been made in advance, we have never had an issue with being picked back up at the spot we were left off. Negotiate the rate in advance and pay upon return. The access is still as outlined in Howell and the birding in the Barranca quite active. What has changed is that the Thorn forest at the top of the Barranca is now primarily cow pasturage with small copses of forest. There is still Thorn forest near, but on the next ridge over. Of the specialties, we saw West Mexican Chachalaca, Lilac-crowned Parrot, Golden-crowned Emerald, San Blas Jay and a glimpse of a likely Rosy Thrush-Tanager (what else is that pink!). With limited Thorn forest, we missed those specialties.
1 January 2013 Highway 80 to Autlan
As referred to in Howell, there is still a good pond/pasturage area at KP 59 on Hwy 80. Everything prior to that is now sugarcane. In the pouring rain, we estimated over 500 Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, along with White-faced Ibis and Black-necked Stilts.
Puerto Los Mazos – there is now a rather solid fence along the whole access area from the highway. We talked with a young man from the family that lives there, who said we could access it on foot and that a family member would open the gate. For car access, prior permission would need to be obtained according to the sign. We did not bird this area because of the substantial rain then and throughout the next morning.
2 January 2012 Microondas de San Francisco
This access road, north of Autlan, is in regular use and in very good shape. The birding was quite good in the first 3 km and we had many good looks at our target bird, the Black-chested Sparrow.
Upon arriving in Ciudad Guzman, we stayed at the Quinta del Sol, which is well located on the SW side of the city and a better experience than the Motel Colon. After coming over the pass from Autlan, turn left (North) on Highway 54 (Libre). This is the main road into town. After about ½ mile, take a left after the major PEMEX station, go one block west and take a right north on Constitution. Continue 3 long blocks and the hotel will be on your left. This location has on-site parking and provides relatively easy access to going to the Volcano, or for getting on the Periferico (ring road) to get to Laguna Zapotlan – which avoids the long slog through town.
3 & 4 January 2012 R.M.O. Viboras Road on the pass
The rain became a major hassle at this point in the trip. The best road up the Volcanoes is the road up Volcano Nevado off of the main highway from the pass and to the west of the prison. It is well signed from both directions. We were greeted with 3 sets of various officials all telling us quite clearly that we were not allowed on the road with the sedan we were driving, not even the lower portion. Only four wheel drive was allowed. This was the case for both days, so we birded on the pass. The road to Floripondio was also closed (not permanently), so we continued a few hundred feet to the R.M.O.Viboras road access into the Park. This road was open and appeared drivable, for the portion we walked, with a high clearance vehicle or a rental car with dry roads. There were a lot of road wide potholes and rain gullies through the road. While the dripping rain made birding difficult, we saw White-striped Woodcreeper, Mountain Trogon, Gray-barred Wren, Blue Mockingbird, Gray Silky-flycatcher, a nice mix of the migrant and Mexican resident warblers – Red, Red-faced, Crescent-chested, Golden-browed and Slate-throated Redstart, Collared Towhee and a singing Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer.
LAGUNA ZAPOTLAN CENTRO CAMINIERO – this was a big surprise. If you look on the map in Howell (Site 7.7), there is a major road shown going north out of town. On our last visit, this was underwater. On this visit, we encountered a public project on an amazing scale. Started in 2010, there is now a complete road sized walking promenade that extends across the entire lake south to north, tiled in cement pavers. There is a waterside restaurant, a water front activity center and various docks for boats and fishing. With the rain, there was no real edge, but the docks were good first thing in the morning for roosting gulls, terns and American White Pelicans. As you continue from the promenade to the west, watch for a permanent ancient Coca Cola billboard and park there. Across the road is the best pond we found for herons and waterfowl. The best blackbird flocks were found just before the Glorieta as you continue SW and on the southern portion of the ring road just before it joins up with Hwy 54. Blackbirds included: ‘Bi-colored’ Red-winged and Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Brown-headed and Bronzed Cowbird.
4 January 2013 evening Microondas La Cumbre, Colima
Per the Howell guide, we stayed at the Motel Los Candiles in Colima, which is still easy to find and well located to the bypass. We drove up to the Microondas La Cumbre in the evening for an unsuccessful look for Balsas Screech-Owl and Nightjars. While the rain had stopped the winds were still quite high, which made night birding a real challenge. Our big find of the night was limited to Mottled Owls. We didn’t even get to see any bats fly out of the Virgin. We were there on a Saturday night and the place was absolutely hopping with locals hiking up the steep 3.2 km for the sunset. At the gate, we were informed that for a ‘little cooperation’ we could drive to the top and that the gates would stay open until 8:00 pm (sunset was at 7:00 pm). We translated this request to 20 pesos and a big smile.
5 January 2013 (Sat.) Colima to Laguna La Maria
Getting through the city before sunrise was fast and Howell’s directions were quite clear. The first stop was at El Jacal de San Antonio (Km 15.5). It is now open for events on Saturdays and Sundays, but at sunrise, there were no issues with birding along the road or the large parking area. We had a nice feeding flock that included Black-capped and Golden Vireo, Brown-backed Solitaire, lots of North American migrants and Berylline Hummingbird.
We stopped at Barranca de Agua, but did not locate the Slate-blue Seedeater. The pull-off spot mentioned in Howell is still the best spot along this busy road.
LAGUNA LA MARIA – This is a lovely location that was also quite popular with the locals on a sunny Saturday. We enjoyed it so much, that we decided to stay in the newly completed (December 2012) hotel style rooms for 400 pesos. There are also Cabanas available for 4 people for 750 pesos. At this point, they were certainly new and clean and did include hot water. There is a restaurant on site that, according to the family that lives on site and runs it, is open 7 days a week all year from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. We told them we’d be back for dinner and had a minor scare when the restaurant was all dark upon our arrival. After a quick trip to the office, we found that they were just waiting for us, and they opened up the restaurant. Thirty minutes later we were enjoying Gorditas, one of the better meals of the trip.
Since the picnic areas were hopping with people, we worked the road just past the football area along the flooded willows and into the shade grown coffee area. The following Sunday morning, we had the whole place to ourselves and worked the trails around the picnic area, as well. Highlights included West Mexican Chachalaca, Wilson’s Snipe, Mottled Owl, Elegant Trogon, Ladder-backed & Gray-crowned Woodpecker, Collared Forest-Falcon (calling dusk and dawn), Ivory-billed Woodcreeper, Masked Tityra, Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush, Rusty-crowned Ground-Sparrow, Bright-rumped Attila, and our life Long-tailed Wood-Partridge.
6 January 2013 Laguna La Maria to Cuyutlan
From Colima to the coastal town of Cuyutlan is about 1 ½ hours by the cuota or 2 hours via the libre. Cuyutlan is a simple beach town and due to the high heat and humidity, we stayed in the only hotel with air conditioning – Hotel Fenix. It is a worn, but clean hotel with a really good restaurant. We had one of the best Huachinango (whole Red Snapper) Veracruzana ever, made with fresh tomatoes and whole springs of fresh Oregano. Olivia also makes a great green salsa for her Chilequiles.
At 2:30 pm, we went to the Cuyutlan Tortagario, to arrange a private boat ride into the Palo Verde estuary in the morning. We went with Federico who charged 400 pesos for an hour in the boat. He really knew his waterbirds and spent an additional 20 minutes checking out all the favorite spots of the Boat-billed Herons until he found some for us. There are also standard trips into the estuary available for 40 pesos each and the boat goes when there are enough people for about a 40 minute trip. This is an active education center and contains pools with full grown Black & Olive Ridley Sea Turtles, Crocodiles and Iguanas. The entrance fee is $35 pesos to support their work. You do not need to pay an entry fee a second time for the boat trip. We experienced the added bonus of being there at the same time as a class that was going to release baby Black Sea Turtles. We all lined up above the surf with baby sea turtles in hand and then released them. As they made their mad dash to the sea, we were soon joined by another interested party – Frigate birds. They were quite adept at also picking up the young sea turtles in the surf, with entirely different motives.
7 January 2013 Boat trip on Palo Verde Estuary in Cuyutlan
Nice looks at all the expected wading birds, with the Boat-billed Heron, Roseate Spoonbill and Anhingas being a few of the highlights. On the previous trip 8 years ago, we had seen Masked Duck and Least Bittern in this estuary.
8 January 2013 Cuyutlan to Manzanillo Airport Marsh
As you exit Cuyutlan to get on the coast highway there are some temporary ponds that you can access just after you cross the bridge over the highway. We had 24 Roseate Spoonbills fly over at dawn, Mexican Mallard Ducks, Black-necked Stilts, White Ibis and Varied Buntings.
MANZANILLO AIRPORT MARSHES – the pond areas are definitely reduced in scope and have been replaced by extensive agriculture. The best area starts at end of the guard rail coming out from the airport. We had a calling White-throated Flycatcher at this location.
For a full list of bird sightings, I entered all my sightings in eBird by site.