This was a very targeted birding trip designed to try and see about 120 species missing from our list. We saw all but a handful of our targets. December seems to be a very good time to visit this part of Mexico, the weather was generally pleasant, there was no rain, but it had not dried out too much. Many of the North American migrants were very conspicuous.
As well as Howell’s (1999) ‘A bird finding guide to Mexico’ we relied for forward planning and help during the trip on quite a number of trip reports including: Bushell (2008), Davies (2001), Sargeant (2005), Prevett (2004) and Van der Pluym (2008.
For identification we used Howell and Webb (2005 version) and for the many migrants not illustrated in that book “Field Guide to Birds of western North America by C. Sibley (2003), plus various papers in the scientific literature. For navigation we used the ITMB (Vancouver) maps plus various detailed ones downloaded from the internet, and a GPS.
We flew into Guadalajara from London via Mexico City. Guadalajara Airport is relatively small and friendly and we had no difficulties there. We had pre-booked a car from Avis which we collected at the airport. An ordinary car was adequate for all the places we visited except for the upper Volcan de Fuego road. In the narrative we have named the hotels and graded them, based on our experience and biases, as poor, adequate, good, very good or excellent. Prices ranged from. US$25 – 80. Most hotels had secure parking and even the cheapest ones had hot water. People everywhere were helpful and pleasant and Tessa’s fluency in Spanish was a definite asset in all aspects of the trip. On the main routes we mostly used the ‘libre’ roads rather than the ‘cuotas’ (toll roads) because stopping and birding is much easier.
Hotels used and price per night:
Ciudad Guzman – Quinta de Sol – 470 pesos
Colima – Motel Los Candiles – 640 pesos
Cihuatlan – Hotel Posada Agua Escondida – 300 pesos
Autlan – Hotel Autlan – 500 pesos
El Tuito – Oasis Hotel – 300 pesos
Miramar – El Paraiso Miramar – 580 pesos
Tepic – San Jorge Hotel – 581 pesos
Copala – Daniel’s Hotel – 250 pesos
Tepic – Hotel Bugamvillas – 800 pesos
Tala – Hotel La Hacienda – 250 pesos
Guadalajara – El Tapatio – Australian$104 (pre-paid)
4 December 2008 Guadalajara Airport to Ciudad Guzman (Route 54)
Clear of airport by about 11.30 – straightforward drive to Ciudad Guzman on the toll road. A stop at a pull-off about 40 km south of Guadalajara produced our first new bird – Lucy’s Warbler. The lakes on the way had large numbers of common wader and duck species, but nothing startling. We reached C. Guzman at about 2.30 pm and after investigating the various choices settled on the “Quinta del Sol” hotel (very good) on the west side of town and a good base for birding the volcanoes because exits to the volcano routes are quick and easy from here. We had no problems finding any of the roads up the volcanoes and spent the late afternoon on the lower part of the Nevado de Colima road. A landscape of grazing land, thornbush and hedges with lots of birds. Notable species were: Curve-billed Thrasher, Rufous-backed Thrush, Western Warbling Vireo, Cassin’s Kingbird, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Lark sparrow, Loggerhead Shrike, Northern Mockingbird and White-naped Swift.
5 December 2008 – all day on Nevado de Colima road
Started birding at first light at the 4km mark by an orchard surrounded by forest. Large numbers of migrant warblers as well as Dwarf Vireo, Painted Redstart, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Grey-crowned Yellowthroat and Collared Towhee. Moving up to about 5.3 km in mixed pine/oak we had breakfast and found Grey Silky, Chestnut-sided Shrike Vireo, Grey-barred Wren, Abeille’s Oriole, Grace’s Warbler, Colima Warbler, Russet Nightingale Thrush, Grey-collared Becard, Tufted Flycatcher, and a flock of Grey-breasted Jays. Flower banks of Salvia in this area were alive with White-eared Hummingbirds and Green Violet Ears. Continuing to about 5.7 km along a track turn-off to the left we found a pair of Long-tailed Wood-Partridge as well as Crescent-chested Warbler, Red-faced Warbler, Hairy Woodpecker and Buff-breasted Flycatcher. Further up again, at 8.9 km a pair of Mountain Trogons responded immediately to the tape and good views were also had at 9km in the firs of Plumbeous Vireo, Mexican Chickadee and Olive Warbler. Green-striped Brush Finch was common along the road edges at this altitude, although patience is needed to get good views. From about 13 km Yellow-eyed Juncos were common on the road and at the large flower banks at 14 – 15 km (10400 feet by GPS) Magnificent, Bumblebee, Broad-tailed and Rufous Hummers and Green Violet Ear were all recorded together. A magical area! We drove to the gate at 17 km but by this time it was too late to proceed further so we returned to C. Guzman.
6 December 2008 all day on Nevado de Colima road (again)
The previous day was so productive we couldn’t keep away from this area! The 1 km mark produced House Finch, Nutting’s Flycatcher and Hutton’s Vireo and at 4 km we found our first Rufous-capped Warbler and a Pine Flycatcher (distinctive call). At 5.5 km Golden-browed Warbler, and returning to the flower banks at 14.4 km we located Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer as well as another hummer – Calliope. On the way down in the afternoon the oaks at 7km produced Slate-throated Redstart, Swainson’s Thrush, Ruddy-capped Nightingale Thrush and lots of Brown Creepers.
We investigated the Floriopondo route up the mountain as described in Howell and various trip reports, but this is now closed off and we were unable to access it.
7 December 2008 all day on Volcan de Fuego road
Started at first light on the lower road (not far from the highway) of fields, thornbush and hedges – alive with birds! Spotted Wrens, Stripe-headed Sparrows, Rusty Sparrow, Painted Bunting, Blue Mockingbird, Streak-backed and Baltimore Orioles, and Blue-hooded Euphonia to name a few. Further in, although before climbing, we found White-striped Woodcreeper and a flock of Banded Quail in the cornfields. At about 8km the mixed forest gave us Varied Bunting, Fantail Warbler and Golden Vireo. We stopped for lunch at the turn-off to the micro-ondas. A walk up the cobbled road produced Berylline Hummingbird as well as many of the species previously seen on Nevado de Colima. The road became impassable to cars beyond this point and we birded our way back to C. Guzman.
8 December 2008 C. Guzman to Colima (route 54 libre)
Travelled on the libre to Colima, which gave the opportunity to bird the lower part of the Volcan de Fuego road again, although we saw nothing different. Great views of Fuego ‘smoking’. Following the advice of many birders before us we checked into the Motel los Candiles in Colima (Excellent and easy to find on the main road into town). In the afternoon went out to Micro-ondas La Cumbre – a 20 minute drive from the hotel. Unfortunately an ‘event’ of some sort was in progress with large numbers of people at the summit, barbecues, music etc and large numbers of police to control the crowds! Birding under these conditions was difficult, but we did find Orange-breasted Bunting, Broad-billed Hummingbird, Black-chested Sparrow and Rufous-naped Wren just below the summit. Returning to the hotel in the late afternoon we decided to return after dark to look for the owls.
Unfortunately at 8 pm the gates at the bottom of the road were locked and no-one around!
9 December 2008 all day at Laguna La Maria
Following the directions in Howell and several trip reporta we drove straight to Laguna La Maria reaching there at about 7 am. There is an 8 peso per person entry fee. A very pleasant area of lake, forest and scrub land and very few visitors that day. Notable species included Brown Solitaire, Happy Wren, Grey-crowned Woodpecker, Black-headed Siskin, Elegant Trogon, Pale-billed Woodpecker. On the lake we were surprised by 3 Snow Geese. The picnic sites were deserted except for the birds and many squirrels and after lunch we drove back, stopping at the El Jacal site, where the overgrown gate is still visible and the old cobbled road very weedy. Here we found among others, a group of West Mexican Chachalacas in the thick forest and a Cordilleran Flycatcher on the forest edge.
10 December 2008 Colima to Cihuatlan (route 110/200)
Took a side road near Teco to Ruinas Caxitlan, a peaceful enclave in farming country, where we found our first Golden-cheeked Woodpecker – they were common from here on – and a pair of Sinaloa Wrens. Decided to stay at Cihuatlan (Hotel Agua Escondida - good) as much nearer to Manzanillo airport marshes and Playa del Oro than the resort of Barra de Navidad. Spent the late afternoon at the airport marshes. Nothing much at the bridge near the airport, but about a km before this, there is a gate and track down in to the old shrimp ponds area.
Consultations with a local fisherman revealed that it was ok to walk around the area, but beware of the caimans! Lots of water birds, noteworthies were Limpkin and a Boat-billed Heron (standing on the bund). Lesser Nighthawks appeared late in the day, but we could not locate any jays or orioles other than Orchard Oriole. Checked the location of the start of the Playa de Oro road before returning to Cihuatlan – distance stated by Howell exactly right, but it is inconspicuous and there is no longer a sign on the main road.
11 December 2008 Playa de Oro road all day
Arrived at first light and drove past the crest of the hill before stopping and walking. Good birding: Citreoline Trogon, Flammulated Flycatcher, Lilac-crowned Parrot and Yellow-winged Cacique were new species for us, but many others such as Rose-throated Becard, Masked Tityra, Blue Bunting, White-bellied Wren and Orange-breasted Bunting. We birded our way to the coast, seeing several West Mexican Chachalacas, a Plain-capped Starthroat and an Orange-billed Nightingale Thrush. There was not much around on the beach area – a peregrine was found on the cliffs and a Brown Booby flying close to shore. The heat haze made identifying birds around Piedro Branca Island impossible, but most appeared to be boobies.
Stopped off again at the airport marshes on our return and picked up Ruddy-breasted Seedeater. Also several Sora were calling but did not show themselves.
12 December Cihuatlan to Autlan via Barranca el Choncho (route 80)
Arrived at the Barranca at first light. Birding slow to start with but soon picked up and we got our first group of San Blas Jays as well as Bell’s Vireo, Golden-crowned Emerald, Red-headed and Flame-coloured Tanagers. Other notables were Cinnamon Hummingbird, Cassin’s Vireo, Blue Bunting, Flammulated Flycatcher, Sinaloa Wren, and Ivory-billed Woodcreeper. There is no gate at the entrance by the highway although there is a locked gate about 1 km along the road. However, the best birding seemed to be in that first km. There is no apparent impediment to walking beyond the gate, but there is a notice on it saying that for permission to enter contact the local council.
After leaving the Barranca we stopped at the lakes at 56-58 km on the road to Autlan, but could not locate anything unusual. Checked into the Hotel Autlan (Very good). Later in the afternoon we went up the Micro-ondas San Francisco road as suggested by Howell, but there was little activity, quite a few people and an unaccountable amount of gunshots. Notables were Rufous Hummingbird and Nutting’s Flycatcher.
13 December 2008 Puerto los Mazos
The gate on the cobbled road was locked and the caretaker told us we could not drive in without the permission of the new owners who lived near Autlan (the previous owner has died) and permission was unlikely. However, there was no objection to walking in. The lower road was alive with birds, particularly migrant warblers, but also Bridled Titmouse, Greater Pewee, Tufted Flycatcher, Blue Bunting, White-striped Woodcreeper, Ivory-billed Woodcreeper, Spotted, Happy, Sinaloa and White-bellied Wrens, Flame-coloured, Hepatic and Western Tanagers, San Blas Jay, Barred Forest Falcon, Rufous-capped Brush-Finch and Rose-throated Becard. The higher parts of the road in the oak forest were very quiet.
Later in the day after returning to Autlan we drove 10 km SE of El Grullo as suggested by Howell and located the fig trees and large numbers of our first Mexican Parrotlets. On the same road but at about 20 km in dry thornbush we located Stripe-headed Sparrows and Banded Quail
14 December 2008 Autlan to El Tuito (via Barra de Navidad) (routes 80/200)
Retracing our steps we stopped once more at the 56-58 km lakes. More lively than 2 days earlier and we found Cinnamon-rumped Seedeater, Hook-billed Kite and Painted Bunting. Long drive to El Tuito where we located a hotel (Oasis – poor/good). Late afternoon drive out on the dirt road towards the coast as far as the Hacienda Divisadora (has accommodation) but birding quiet – got our first Thick-billed Kingbird – they became common from here on.
15 December 2008 El Tuito to Miramar (mostly route 200)
Early morning stop along a new dirt road 0.5 km before 179 km marker after El Tuito.
Here we found our first Orange-fronted Parrots. Other species along here included Spotted Wren, Rufous-capped Warbler and Black-headed Siskin.
Stopped in the fishing village of La Penita de Jaltemba where large numbers of Blue-footed Boobies, Magnificent Frigates and Brown Pelican gathered around the beach, diving for fish and scavenging. Drove on towards San Blas and after some searching located the delightful El Paraiso Miramar Hotel, now seemingly much used by birders instead of going into the rather noisy and grubby San Blas. It is also much more convenient for an early start at La Bajada. In the late afternoon visited the Shrimp Ponds at San Blas – lots of waders and herons including 2 new ones for us – Marbled Godwit and Stilt Sandpiper, as well as our first Reddish Egret. Sinaloa Crows were everywhere in this region. Sundowners on the beach at Matanchen produced only a solitary Whimbrel and a Ring-billed Gull.
16 December 2008 La Bajada, Lower Singayta, Shrimp ponds and Matanchen
Early start at La Bajada – easy to find – signposted off highway – just stay on the metalled road through La Palma and also go right through La Bajada to where the forest begins. We parked here in a banana plantation and birded up the cobbled road all morning. Birding here was excellent. Highlights for us were Rosy Thrush Tanager and Violet-crowned Hummingbird. The forest seemed full of birds including Red-crowned Ant-Tanager, Happy Wren Laughing Falcon, Nutting’s Flycatcher, Plain-capped Starfrontlet, Cinnamon Hummingbird, Elegant and Citreoline Trogons, Golden-cheeked Woodpecker, Grey-capped Woodpecker, Orange-fronted Parrot and Brown Solitaire. We heard Rufous-bellied Chachalacas but could not locate them.
In the afternoon visited the Lower Singayta site – disappointing and habitat much modified. Located White-throated Flycatcher by call, also Grayson’s Thrush and Gila Woodpecker were new ones for us.
We revisited the shrimp ponds at San Blas, but the only additions to yesterday were a Great Black Hawk and a Northern Waterthrush. The Matanchen mangroves were also quiet except for Mangrove Vireo.
17 December 2008 La Bajada then to Tepic on road from Miramar
Another early morning visit to La Bajada forest gave us Rusty-crowned Ground Sparrow, Lineated Woodpecker, Lilac-crowned Parrot , San Blas Jay and Russet-backed Nightingale Thrush plus many of the commoner species. By mid-morning we were on the winding road up to Tepic from Miramar, stopping briefly for a late lunch at the Cerro de San Juan road. Stayed at the San Jorge Hotel (very good) in central Tepic. Visited Museo Regional de Nayarit (35 pesos entry).
18 December 2008 Cerro San Juan road
Spent most of the day along this road. The first stop was at about the 2 km mark where flowering trees and shrubs alongside fields and orchards attracted many hummingbirds: Bumblebee, Costa’s, White-eared, Berylline and Rufous were seen. A party of Green Jays was also conspicuous in this area, together with Dickey’s Oriole and many warblers. The avifauna of this area was quite similar to the highland areas we had already visited, but high up in the mixed forest we found our first Mexican Woodnymph at the spot suggested by Howell. Night at hotel in Tepic.
19 December 2008 Tepic to Durango Highway (route 15 and 40))
We used the Cuota highway to make sure we got to the Durango Highway as quickly as possible. No problems but relatively birdless and expensive (US$60 in tolls). A new bypass off the end of the Cuota goes straight up to the Durango highway avoiding Concordia. We saw our first flight of Black-throated Magpie Jays as we turned off the Cuota. Good bush in this area – mainly dry thorn. Stopping at Cerro de Elefante we picked up Northern Raven. Stopped for lunch at Daniel’s at Copala and decided to stay at the rambling hotel there (excellent) and use this as a base for the next few days. It is a bit far from the Tufted Jay Reserve but is very close to Panuco Road, which we visited for the first time in the afternoon. Birding was quiet but Black-capped Vireo was an exciting new one.
20 December 2008 Panuco Road and Barranca Rancho el Liebre
Dawn found us at Panuco Road. Colima Pygmy Owls responded to the tape, but would not show themselves in the thick thorn bush. Good views of Black-throated Magpie Jays, Gila Wood peckers and a flock of 7 Military Macaws. Green Violet Ear, Violet Crowned and Berylline Hummingbirds were common as were Elegant Trogon.
We reached Barranca Rancho el Liebre after about 2 hours on the winding Durango Highway – magnificent vistas but the large numbers of very large trucks made driving a challenge – their length forced them to be on your side of the road on the many hairpin bends! We followed the directions in Howell for the Barranca and walked up the track from what was once a restaurant, now a dwelling, but checked with people there who said it was fine to use the parking area. Birding was good and we located a party of Tufted Jays (the target species) after about an hour. Plenty of birds in the mixed forest but nothing new for us other than the jays. We were pleased to have found them on this visit as it meant we had no need to brave the up highway again! On the way back we also tried a road about 1 km before the Barranca stop which we believed led to the Tufted Jay reserve, there were various bird conservation signs, but there were few birds around and we turned round after about 5 km.
21 December 2008 Panuco Road and Pantitlan Road
On this early morning visit to Panuco Road we spent most of the time on a track which starts directly behind the old farmhouse and animal pens about 0.8 km from the highway. This track winds slowly downhill through thornbush and fields. This morning it gave us three new ones: Yellow Grosbeak, Five-striped Sparrow and Blue-throated Hummingbird. We also saw Rufous-capped Ground Sparrow and Red-billed Pigeon on this track. Birds very active as the first rays of the sun bathed the area.
Driving back towards Concordia we stopped again at Cerro de Elefante to look for Red breasted Chat – walked the creek, but nothing doing.
The Pantitlan Road now runs the few km from Highway 40 just west of Concordia (well signposted) across to the new bypass. Birding here was excellent and there was no traffic. We had our first good views of Rufous-bellied Chachalaca here. Also a good spot for Lucy’s Warbler. Dinner in Concordia as Daniels Restaurant is not open after about 4 pm.
22 December 2008 Durango Hwy to Tepic
We again visited Pantitlan road on our way back, still early in the morning and so much cooler than the previous afternoon. Good views of Northern Beardless Tyrannulet and a Ridgway’s Pygmy Owl. Also flocks of Blue Grosbeaks. We used the libre road this time on our return to Tepic, and stopped off at the wetlands on the coastal side of Escuinapa. (road from Escuinapa to Teacapan on the coast) No lifers, but very large numbers of ducks, waders and herons. Other notables were a Harris Hawk and Black Phoebe. An area that would repay closer investigation. We reached Tepic by about 3 pm and checked into the Hotel Bugamvillas on the edge of town (good but pricey, excellent restaurant). Quick late afternoon visit to Cerro San Juan road was worthwhile as we found a covey of Elegant Quail along the road at about the 2 km mark.
23 December 2008 - travel day from Tepic to Tala on libre roads.
Stayed at La Hacienda Hotel in Tala (very good).
24 December 2008 Tala to Ciudad Guzman
Once again booked into Quinta del Sol Hotel (we had phoned ahead the previous day to book) and then explored the Zapotlan lagoon complex near town. All the usual suspects plus our first Mexican Ducks (mallards?). In the afternoon went up the Nevado de Colima road to the flowerbanks at 14-15 km where two new hummers showed up: Sparkling Woodstar and Amethyst-throated Hummingbird – a total of 7 hummer species present. We returned to the 5 - 6 km area and stayed till after dark hoping to call up owls/nightjars. No luck – not a single response from any of the expected species!
25 December 2008 Laguna Zapotlan and then to Colima
Early morning around Laguna Zapotlan where good views of Sora and Marsh Wren.near the rowing jetty. Other notables were Common Snipe as well as the huge flocks of Yellow-headed Blackbirds. Drove back to Colima on the libre, stopping briefly at the lower Volcan de Fuego road, plenty of birds but nothing different from previous visits. Checked into the Motel Los Candiles (had phoned ahead) and spent the afternoon at Micro-ondas La Cumbre – what a contrast to our first visit. Very quiet with few people. Good views of West Mexican Chachalacas, Bullock’s Oriole and Greenish Elaenia. Colima Pygmy Owls were calling, but would not reveal themselves!
26 December 2008 La Cumbre and back to C. Guzman
An early morning return to La Cumbre netted us a fine Lucifer Hummingbird – a lifer – as well as White-throated Magpie Jay, Cinnamon and Broad billed Hummingbirds, Orange-breasted and Varied Buntings, a group of 5 Citreoline Trogons, Western Tanager and Greenish Elaenia. Driving back to C. Guzman we stopped at the bottom of the V. de Fuego road and found a pair of Canyon Towhees – our first. Stayed again at Quinta del Sol.
27 December 2008 C. Guzman to Guadalajara
Another early morning search around Laguna Zapotlan gave us our first Louisiana Waterthrush as well as more sightings of Sora. Other birds of interest were a Peregrine and a Purple Gallinule. Drove back on the Cuota to Guadalajara where we had pre-booked two nights at the Hotel el Tapatio, near the airport. Birding from our verandah at the hotel was very rewarding and this day and the next we recorded more than 25 species, including our first Black-vented Oriole. The garden was full of birds and gave great views of Curve-billed Thrasher, Bewick’s Wren, Blue Mockingbird, Canyon Towhee, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Rufous-backed Thrush, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Blue Grosbeak, various flycatchers and Bullock’s Oriole. A great place to end the trip!
29 December 2008
Flew out of Guadalajara to Dallas and then LA, finally arriving back in Australia on 31st Dec.
We saw a total of 277 species of which 112 were new. A really good trip. We missed out on some of the night birds and dipped on Purplish-backed Jay and Red-breasted Chat, but otherwise were most satisfied. Christmas in Mexico is to be recommended!