This report covers a 16-day birding road trip to west México by 6 other college-aged birders and myself. Using Howell's excellent bird-finding guide and online trip reports, we were able to see a great majority of our target species and visit several locations in a relatively short amount of time. Although I regret not being able to thoroughly enjoy the scenery (and full avifauna) of some regions, I know I will eventually come back on a non-hardcore birding trip. This was my second road trip into México with friends, and it only reinforced my love for cheap road trips into the tropics over expensive tours that involve plane tickets and everything else. I'll wait until I'm older and richer before I do those.
Michael Andersen - Baldwin, NY
Nicholas Block - Houston, TX
Nick Laviola - Islip, NY
Chris Merkord - Austin, TX
Mel Piñeda - Brownsville, TX
Jennifer Reidy - Bastrop, TX
Michael Retter - Bloomington, IL
Our nights were spent camping wherever we could, except when otherwise mentioned. For the most part, we stuck to snack/camp food like peanut butter and jelly or pasta, but we did eat at some excellent restaurants mentioned in the report. We did much of our driving during the first part of the trip at night and never encountered any problems. In fact, we believe this saved us a lot of valuable birding time and would definitely do it again. All prices mentioned in the report are in pesos, and the exchange at the time of the trip was around 9.20 pesos per dollar. Bold species in the trip report are Mexican endemics or near endemics.
States: Chihuahua, Coahuila, Colima, Durango, Jalisco, Nayarit, Nuevo León, Sinaloa
Howell Chapters: 2.7, 3.1, 3.3, 5.2-6, 6.1-2, 7.1-6, 7.8-10
General Route: Barranca del Cobre à Durango Highway à Mazatlán à San Blas à Jalisco & Colima à Saltillo
Using taxonomy based mostly on Howell's ideas in his bird-finding guide, our total trip list was 394 species, including 76 species endemic to México. Based on the current AOU checklist, we recorded 393 species and 72 endemics. The following differences affected the list numbers:
1) Mexican Hermit - Considered by Howell (and us) to be a distinct endemic species, the AOU considers it a subspecies of Long-tailed Hermit. Result: One less endemic on AOU trip list.
2) "Western" Flycatcher - AOU treats this complex as two species (Cordilleran and Pacific-slope Flycatchers), but we consider it one. We encountered birds indicative of both AOU species. Result: One more species on AOU trip list.
3) "House" Wren - Considered by AOU as one species, we treat it as four species, of which we saw two: Northern House Wren and Brown-throated Wren. Result: One less species on AOU trip list.
4) "Yellow-rumped" Warbler - Considered by AOU as one species, we treat it as two species in this report: Myrtle and Audubon's Warblers. Result: One less species on AOU trip list.
5) Rufous-capped Warbler - AOU considers it one species, but we treat the population in México (Rufous-capped Warbler) as specifically distinct from the Central American population (Chestnut-capped Warbler). Result: One less endemic on AOU trip list.
6) Godman's Euphonia - Considered by Howell (and us) as a distinct endemic species, the AOU treats it as a subspecies of Scrub Euphonia. Result: One less endemic on AOU trip list.
7) Cinnamon-rumped Seedeater - The AOU considers it a subspecies of White-collared Seedeater, but Howell (and we) treats it as a distinct endemic species. Result: One less endemic on AOU trip list.
27 December 2001
Starting at Chris Merkord's house in Austin, we first drove to Ciudad Acuña, across from Del Río, to take care of all our paperwork because we doubted we could do it in Presidio when we crossed in the middle of the night. This took much longer than expected because of long lines, but at least a SHARP-SHINNED HAWK and OSPREY were seen while waiting. From here we drove to Presidio, crossed the border, and drove all the way to Ciudad Chihuahua. We camped at an empty RV park behind a Pemex just west of the city.
28 December 2001
The focus of today was birding the Cascadas de Cusárare trail in Barranca del Cobre (Copper Canyon; Howell 2.7) to look for Eared Quetzal (Trogon). Interesting birds seen in the grasslands on the drive between Cuauhtémoc and Creel included SANDHILL CRANE, WESTERN SCRUB-JAY, a flock of about 75 McCOWN'S/CHESTNUT-COLLARED LONGSPURS, BREWER'S SPARROW, and at least one BAIRD'S SPARROW. Our luck at Barranca del Cobre didn't seem to be good at first. We birded the entire distance to the falls (which were partly frozen and absolutely gorgeous) and the side canyons but did not find any quetzals. In the late afternoon on the walk back, however, a male/female pair of EARED QUETZALS (TROGONS) were seen very well next to a small corral-like structure about halfway to the falls. They were calling and singing readily to each other, and excellent recordings were obtained. Other species seen in the canyon included COMMON SNIPE, AMERICAN DIPPER, STELLER'S JAY, BROWN CREEPER, PAINTED WHITESTART (REDSTART), and many MEXICAN [YELLOW-EYED] JUNCOS.
Driving back to Creel, some ducks seen on the lake next to the road included BUFFLEHEAD, AMERICAN WIGEON, CANVASBACK, and RING-NECKED DUCK.
We ate dinner at a good, small, chicken place in Creel where it was only $100 for two whole chickens. The night was spent at the same convenient RV park west of Ciudad Chihuahua.
29 December 2001
The entire day was spent driving south to Barranca Rancho Liebre (Howell 5.6) on the Durango Highway. We chose to take the free route via Hidalgo del Parral rather than the cuota (tollroad) further east and were very pleased with the driving time. Species seen along this very long drive through Chihuahua and Durango included GREEN HERON, SNOW GOOSE, RUDDY DUCK, FERRUGINOUS HAWK, HARRIS'S HAWK, PRAIRIE FALCON, WHITE-THROATED SWIFT, SAY'S PHOEBE, PHAINOPEPLA, PYRRHULOXIA, BLACK-THROATED SPARROW, and LARK BUNTING.
We finally reached Barranca Rancho Liebre and camped along the highway at a very large pullout just west of the entrance to the Barranca. At least three MOUNTAIN [NORTHERN] PYGMY-OWLS were heard near camp, but we were only able to obtain a very brief glimpse of one bird.
30 December 2001
Just after midnight and again at about 6:45 AM, we were fortunate enough to be awoken by at least three calling STYGIAN OWLS very close to our campsite! None were seen, but they continued calling for quite some time. This was definitely a species on our list of hoped-for-but-not-expected birds. Awesome!
The entire morning was spent birding the beginning of the Barranca Rancho Liebre trail and the nearby area. The highlight (and main target species) of this spot was the flock of about 20 TUFTED JAYS, which we encountered on the trail right next to the highway - definitely a great way to start the day! The flock stayed in the general area for most of the time, and excellent looks were had by all. Further up the trail, we found a small open area on the left which produced several sought-after species. Birds which moved through the area included a pair of MOUNTAIN TROGONS; many WHITE-EARED HUMMINGBIRDS; WHITE-STRIPED WOODCREEPER; TUFTED FLYCATCHER; PINE FLYCATCHER; RUSSET NIGHTINGALE-THRUSH; a brilliant gray-eared RED WARBLER; OLIVE, RED-FACED, and GOLDEN-BROWED WARBLERS; SLATE-THROATED and PAINTED WHITESTARTS (REDSTARTS); several RED-HEADED TANAGERS; and several wintering U.S. species. Upon returning to the cars, a pair of RUFOUS-CAPPED BRUSHFINCHES was found in the tangles across the road from the trailhead. Spotted overhead at this time was a large flock of VAUX'S SWIFTS as well as a light-morph adult SHORT-TAILED HAWK being harassed by a single WHITE-NAPED SWIFT, which proved to be the only one of the trip. It was pretty cool watching a swift going after a hawk, especially when the swift's wingspan is over half that of the hawk's!
From Barranca Rancho Liebre, we backtracked toward El Salto on a successful search for Striped Sparrow. At KM 114, just east of some large boulders on the north side of the road, there was a large patch of bunch grass north of the road. Many sparrows could be seen in the grass and feeding on an adjacent stubble field. We were easily able to identify them as STRIPED SPARROWS from the road because of their large size and striking marks. When we walked out into the field, close study was obtained, and at least two luecistic or partially albino birds were also found in the flock (which numbered up to 200 birds)! Other species in the field included CHIPPING SPARROW, SAVANNAH SPARROW, and PINE SISKIN.
Just across the road from the large boulders mentioned above, we birded a stand of pines on the south side of the road. Some species seen here included HAIRY WOODPECKER, WILLIAMSON'S SAPSUCKER, RED-SHAFTED [NORTHERN] FLICKER, PYGMY NUTHATCH, HUTTON'S VIREO, BROWN-THROATED [HOUSE] WREN, EASTERN and WESTERN BLUEBIRDS, and OLIVE WARBLER.
From here, we headed south toward Panuco Road and briefly birded the road toward La Petaca. Due to recent roadwork, this road is now paved and the flower banks mentioned in Howell were virtually nonexistant. There was nothing too interesting here, but we did see the trip's only GRACE'S WARBLER and our first VIOLET-CROWNED and BERYLLINE HUMMINGBIRDS, BROWN-BACKED SOLITAIRE, BULLOCK'S and HOODED ORIOLES, and BLACK-HEADED SISKINS.
We made it to Panuco Road (Howell 5.5) at dusk in time to see a single RUFOUS-BELLIED CHACHALACA and a MEXICAN WHIP-POOR-WILL on the side of the road (low elevation?). We also heard a single COLIMA PYGMY-OWL.
We ate dinner and spent the night at the well-known Hotel Villa Blanca in La Capilla de Taxte. Dinner was approximately $45 per plate plus drinks, and a room with four beds (3 singles, one double) cost $200.
31 December 2001
We went back to Panuco Road at dawn and birded there for the majority of the morning. We thoroughly enjoyed birding this road as it produced many new species. A pair of RUSSET-CROWNED MOTMOTS perched in an open tree for a few minutes and ended up being the only ones seen on the trip. Two male GOLDEN-CROWNED EMERALDS were seen; one was seen near the creek a ways down the road, and the other was only a few hundred meters off the highway. Other hummingbirds seen were BROAD-BILLED, BERYLLINE, CINNAMON, and VIOLET-CROWNED. The first BLACK-THROATED MAGPIE-JAYS were seen here, with at least 20 present. Other species of interest seen on the road included ORANGE-FRONTED PARAKEET, ELEGANT and CITREOLINE TROGONS, CHESTNUT-COLLARED SWIFT (at least 200), SINALOA WREN, BLACK-CAPPED GNATCATCHER, TUFTED FLYCATCHER, RUFOUS-BACKED ROBIN, BLACK-CAPPED VIREO, PLUMBEOUS VIREO, GOLDEN VIREO, YELLOW GROSBEAK (common), RUSTY-CROWNED GROUND-SPARROW, FIVE-STRIPED SPARROW (two), and YELLOW-WINGED CACIQUE. Additionally, upon review of a tape recording made here, a FLAMMULATED FLYCATCHER was identified in the background.
Our next stop, Cerro el Elefante (mentioned in Howell 5.4), did not produce much because of the high temperature and time of day. Species recorded here included COMMON BLACK-HAWK, PLAIN-CAPPED STARTHROAT, NUTTING'S and ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHERS, and BLACK PHOEBE. Although the birding was relatively slow, this was probably the best butterflying spot of the trip, with many species in very large numbers along the creek.
In the late afternoon, we stopped briefly at the start of the Pantitlan Road (mentioned in Howell 5.4) but decided not to bird it further. We saw a RUFOUS-BELLIED CHACHALACA, VIRGINIA'S WARBLER, and YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT, among others. A FERRUGINOUS PYGMY-OWL was also heard.
We made it to Mazatlán with a bit of light left and spent some time on one of the beaches. While not busy feeding the MAGNIFICENT FRIGATEBIRDS by hand with fish guts from local fishermen, we managed to find an adult BLUE-FOOTED BOOBY, BROWN BOOBY, CRESTED CARACARA, SINALOA CROW, HEERMANN'S GULL, and others. We also found a young, hybrid WESTERN X GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULL (first-basic or second-basic), which apparently is quite unusual this far south.
We decided to spoil ourselves since it was New Year's Eve and all, so we ate dinner at the fairly well-known El Shrimp Bucket restaurant. Prices ranged from $100-200 for a plate not including drinks. We stayed (and partied) at the Hotel Belmar, where we got a room with two queen beds for $240.
1 January 2002
Needless to say, we were a little late to rise today. We headed over to the Booby Rocks (Howell 5.2) first and were rewarded with many BLUE-FOOTED BOOBIES, a few BROWN BOOBIES, at least three RED-BILLED TROPICBIRDS, and hundreds of MAGNIFICENT FRIGATEBIRDS and BONAPARTE'S GULLS. It was interesting to note the white-headed, gray-billed males of the brewsteri race of Brown Booby.
The main site of the day was La Noria Road (Howell 5.3). Birding along the road and on tracks off the road produced species such as RUDDY GROUND-DOVE, ELEGANT QUAIL, the only LESSER ROADRUNNER of the trip, GOLDEN-CHEEKED WOODPECKER, BLACK-THROATED MAGPIE-JAY, HAPPY and SINALOA WRENS, BLACK-CAPPED GNATCATCHER, VIRGINIA'S WARBLER, BLUE BUNTING, YELLOW GROSBEAK, SPOTTED TOWHEE, and GREEN-TAILED TOWHEE. A rufous-morph RED-TAILED HAWK was also observed here.
From La Noria, we drove south to San Blas and camped on the beach near Las Islitas.
2 January 2002
We spent the entire day in the San Blas area (Howell 6.1) birding Lower Singayta (6.1h) and Peso Island (6.1b). We spent the morning along the Lower Singayta road and recorded at least 97 species in about three kilometers - incredible place! It's hard to name certain highlights because there were so many, but some of the more exciting moments were watching a pair of adult BARE-THROATED TIGER-HERONS through the scope right next to the road, a flock of about 25 MEXICAN PARROTLETS right above our heads, several close CITREOLINE TROGONS, at least one WHITE-THROATED FLYCATCHER in the marsh, several FAN-TAILED WARBLERS (including one feeding on the ground only feet from us!), and our first RED-BREASTED CHAT (an immature male). Other species seen along the road included WOOD STORK, CRANE HAWK, ZONE-TAILED HAWK, LAUGHING FALCON, NORTHERN JAÇANA, GOLDEN-CROWNED EMERALD, IVORY-BILLED WOODCREEPER, GREENISH ELAENIA, WILLOW FLYCATCHER, ROSE-THROATED BECARD, MASKED TITYRA, ORANGE-BILLED NIGHTINGALE-THRUSH, TROPICAL PARULA, YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT, BLUE-BLACK GRASSQUIT, and STRIPE-HEADED SPARROW. The most out-of-place species found here was a female ANNA'S HUMMINGBIRD. We relaxed a bit in San Blas and ate a great lunch at McDonald's Restaurant (no, not what you think) for about $50-80 per plate.
Still missing Purplish-backed Jay, we decided to head out to Peso Island for one last try. We were definitely not disappointed. After walking through the thorn forest and emerging into an open, cleared area, we spotted a family of PURPLISH-BACKED JAYS feeding in a palm tree, and we were able to get pretty good looks at both juveniles and adults in the scope. Other species recorded on or from the island included COMMON LOON, BLUE-FOOTED and BROWN BOOBIES, REDDISH EGRET, YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON, RUFOUS-BELLIED CHACHALACA, ELEGANT QUAIL (heard only), BLACK-BELLIED and SNOWY PLOVERS, AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER, WHIMBREL, SANDERLING, BLACK SKIMMER, HAPPY WREN, AMERICAN REDSTART, CINNAMON-RUMPED [WHITE-COLLARED] SEEDEATER, and YELLOW-WINGED CACIQUE.
That night, we camped on the road above La Bajada.
3 January 2002
Most of the day was spent birding the La Bajada area (Howell 6.2), and then we drove south to Jalisco. At least two MOTTLED OWLS were heard around dawn as we were waking up. The trees right above our campsite seemed to be a popular hummingbird hangout, and the highlight was a young male SPARKLING-TAILED WOODSTAR (HUMMINGBIRD) that made a brief appearance. Unfortunately, it was never seen again. Other hummingbirds seen here were GOLDEN-CROWNED EMERALD, PLAIN-CAPPED STARTHROAT; a flyover MEXICAN [LONG-TAILED] HERMIT; and BROAD-BILLED, CINNAMON, BERYLLINE, a female ARCHILOCHUS, and BROAD-TAILED HUMMINGBIRDS. The other main highlight of this area was probably the several ROSY THRUSH-TANAGERS. This species was seen and heard in at least three different areas, including three males singing in one small spot. Views were hard to come by, unfortunately, but they were incredible when obtained. Other species were CRESTED GUAN (heard only), a flyby RUDDY QUAIL-DOVE, a pair of GRAY-CROWNED WOODPECKERS, BRIGHT-RUMPED ATTILA, GOLDEN VIREO, BLACK-THROATED MAGPIE-JAY, FAN-TAILED WARBLER, and RUSTY-CROWNED GROUND-SPARROW. Perhaps the most unusual find here was at least two and possibly three KENTUCKY WARBLERS.
A PEREGRINE FALCON was the most exciting species seen on the drive between Tepic and Guadalajara.
The night was spent at an excellent campsite near the start of the RMO Viboras road up Volcán Nevado (AKA Volcán de Nieve in a few books, but all Mexican references call it Volcán Nevado).
4 January 2002
The morning was spent birding the RMO Viboras road up Volcán Nevado, and then we went over to Volcán de Fuego in the late afternoon. The RMO Viboras road is a cobblestone road leading up to some microwave towers on Volcán Nevado. Drive west from Ciudad Guzmán toward El Grullo and, just after the pass, you will see the road, which is well-signed, to the left.
Hummingbirds were abundant along this road, especially at an obvious meadow (past the house and corrals) full of flowering bushes. The meadow produced the only BUMBLEBEE HUMMINGBIRD of the trip (a female), and other hummingbird species seen in the meadow and/or along the road included GREEN VIOLET-EAR; AMETHYST-THROATED MOUNTAIN-GEM (HUMMINGBIRD); and WHITE-EARED, MAGNIFICENT, LUCIFER, CALLIOPE, BROAD-TAILED, and RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRDS. The meadow also provided excellent looks at CINNAMON-BELLIED FLOWERPIERCER, and it was here where we heard the closest LONG-TAILED WOOD-PARTRIDGE of the trip. Many other new species were seen in the pines, including GRAY-COLLARED BECARD (an immature male), BUSHTIT, GRAY-BARRED WREN, GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLET, RUDDY-CAPPED NIGHTINGALE-THRUSH, CHESTNUT-SIDED SHRIKE-VIREO (female), COLIMA WARBLER, CRESCENT-CHESTED PARULA (WARBLER), white-eared RED WARBLER, GREEN-STRIPED BRUSHFINCH, COLLARED TOWHEE, and the trip's only ABEILLE'S [BLACK-BACKED] ORIOLE.
Between the RMO Viboras road and Ciudad Guzmán, we saw VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOWS, VAUX'S SWIFTS, and a few thousand YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRDS.
We still had plenty of light left to bird the beginning of the road up Volcán de Fuego (Howell 7.8). In this drier habitat, we found, among others, a covey of BANDED QUAIL, ACORN WOODPECKER, CASSIN'S and WESTERN KINGBIRDS, SPOTTED WREN, GRAY SILKY-FLYCATCHER, STRIPE-HEADED SPARROW, LARK SPARROW, LAZULI BUNTING (female), SCOTT'S and BLACK-VENTED ORIOLES, and LESSER GOLDFINCH.
We spent the night in an excellent spot around KM 18.5 (mentioned in Howell), where we heard a MOTTLED OWL and two NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWLS.
5 January 2002
Most of today was spent birding the Volcán de Fuego road before heading over to the Microondas La Cumbre area (Howell 7.10). We saw at least 73 species along the road, and, although almost all were species we had seen earlier on the trip, the birding was excellent overall. Species recorded included HOOK-BILLED KITE, CRESTED GUAN (three seen), LONG-TAILED WOOD-PARTRIDGE (heard only), seven hummingbird species, MOUNTAIN TROGON, WHITE-STRIPED WOODCREEPER, OLIVACEOUS WOODCREEPER, PINE FLYCATCHER, GRAY-COLLARED BECARED (immature male), GRAY-BARRED WREN, RUSSET and RUDDY-CAPPED NIGHTINGALE-THRUSHES, DWARF VIREO (female), CHESTNUT-SIDED SHRIKE-VIREO (two males), COLIMA WARBLER, white-eared RED WARBLER, OLIVE WARBLER, FLAME-COLORED TANAGER, RUFOUS-CAPPED and GREEN-STRIPED BRUSHFINCHES, COLLARED TOWHEE, CINNAMON-BELLIED FLOWERPIERCER, and BLACK-HEADED SISKIN.
After Volcán de Fuego, we headed south and birded the beginning of the road to Piscila and the Microondas La Cumbre road (Howell 7.10). At the junction of the Piscila road and Highway 110, there is a small gate on the east side which opens to a small track through the thorn forest. We found at least two BLACK-CHESTED SPARROWS and several ORANGE-BREASTED BUNTINGS along this track, and the buntings were also seen elsewhere along the beginning of the Piscila road along with a pair of LUCY'S WARBLERS. The Microondas La Cumbre road is currently locked, and you are not allowed to drive up to the statue at the top. However, it is perfectly fine for you to walk the road. Although it was quite windy, we obtained very brief looks at a couple BUFF-COLLARED NIGHTJARS along the road at dusk and heard one very distant BALSAS SCREECH-OWL. We were able to talk to the owners of the land here, and they allowed us to camp next to a small house just past the entrance to the microondas road. We considered driving to the coast instead but ended up staying here, and we were greatly rewarded when we were woken up in middle of the night by at least three BALSAS SCREECH-OWLS calling around us.
6 January 2002
We woke up well before dawn so we could make it to the Playa de Oro road (Howell 7.2) at first light. The birding was quite good along the entire road, and the beach at the end is absolutely gorgeous. A handful of new species were seen here, including LILAC-CROWNED PARROT (two flyover pairs), FLAMMULATED FLYCATCHER (at least three heard and one seen well), SAN BLAS JAY (a couple distant birds), WHITE-BELLIED WREN (common), MANGROVE VIREO (one seen in the magroves near the beach), OVENBIRD, and GODMAN'S [SCRUB] EUPHONIA. All four expected Myiarchus
flycatchers were seen, as well as BRIGHT-RUMPED ATTILA, TROPICAL and THICK-BILLED KINGBIRDS, and ROSE-THROATED BECARD. Two ROSY THRUSH-TANAGERS were heard. This was easily the best place to see RED-BREASTED CHAT; we found at least six individuals and had excellent looks at adult males. The most unexpected bird here was probably a female COSTA'S HUMMINGBIRD seen toward the end of the road. Some species seen at the beach while relaxing included BROWN BOOBY, ANHINGA, WHIMBREL, LAUGHING GULL, CASPIAN and ELEGANT TERNS, WANDERING TATTLER, and SPOTTED SANDPIPER.
Driving back toward Manzanillo, we couldn't help but stop and enjoy lunch on a patio overlooking Bahía Santiago. We picked the El Tablao restaurant, which was quite good for $40-80 per plate plus some rather strong daiquiris. Some species seen in the area included BROWN BOOBY, SHORT-TAILED HAWK (dark-morph adult), ZONE-TAILED HAWK, LAUGHING and HEERMANN'S GULLS, BLACK-CHINNED HUMMINGBIRD (female), and a male YELLOW WARBLER.
From here, we went to the Power Station Outflow in Manzanillo (Howell 7.3). No pelagic species were seen, unfortunately, but COMMON LOON, BROWN BOOBY, GREAT BLUE HERON, GREAT and SNOWY EGRETS, WILLET, WHIMBREL, LAUGHING GULL, ROYAL and ELEGANT TERNS, GROOVE-BILLED ANI, and YELLOW-WINGED CACIQUES were all seen. One of the Brown Boobies appeared to me a male of the Clipperton Atoll population as it was almost toally white-necked.
The group split up for the night since we wanted to do different things the following day. Some stayed at a nice bungalow in Manzanillo, and the rest camped at Laguna La María, north of Ciudad Colima.
7 January 2002
Spots birded today included Laguna La María and the road from there to Ciudad Colima (Howell 7.9), the Playa de Oro road (Howell 7.2), a marsh near Las Brisas, and the Manzanillo Airport Marshes (Howell 7.1).
Laguna La María is a pretty little lake, but we did not bird here long as we wanted to spend most of our time on the road toward Ciudad Colima. New species recorded in our brief stay included LEAST GREBE, WEST MEXICAN CHACHALACA (heard only), GREEN KINGFISHER, WHITE-THROATED MAGPIE-JAY (a group of four seen flying at a distance across the lake), and LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH. ORANGE-BILLED NIGHTINGALE-THRUSH was observed fairly easily here, and we heard a SORA. At least four MOTTLED OWLS were calling around our campsite next to the lake, and one was came in to playback and gave excellent views.
The road just south of Laguna La María toward Ciudad Colima was pretty productive overall, although some spots were kind of dead. As long as we stopped fairly regularly, we were able to find some good mixed species flocks. The highlight of this area was a singing SLATY VIREO, which eventually gave us incredible views out in the open and right next to the road. What an awesome bird! The bird was seen at a sharp bend between KM markers 15 and 16, closer to 16. Also seen here was an apparent female SLATE-BLUE [BLUE] SEEDEATER in the seeding bamboo. She proved to be quite uncooperative, unfortunately. Other birds seen at this spot included a flyby MEXICAN [LONG-TAILED] HERMIT, an adult male GRAY-COLLARED BECARD, a very cooperative male DWARF VIREO, a female BLACK-CAPPED VIREO, SWAINSON'S THRUSH, and a flock of approximately 50 GRAY SILKY-FLYCATCHERS. We birded for a short time at the cobbled track mentioned in Howell between KM markers 16 and 17. A flyover DOUBLE-TOOTHED KITE was the highlight here, and a female RED-HEADED TANAGER was also seen. Just outside Laguna La María in the more open, drier habitat, we recorded CATTLE EGRET, SPOTTED WREN, GRAY-CROWNED YELLOWTHROAT, LESSER GOLDFINCH, and others. Further toward Ciudad Colima, where it opens up into mostly grazed hillsides, we found a large flock of swifts and swallows right above the road which included WHITE-COLLARED SWIFT, VAUX'S SWIFT, TREE SWALLOW, VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOW, and NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOW. On our way back, we stopped for a wonderful free lunch in Comala (which is included with a beverage purchase at the restaurants lining one side of the zócalo; this experience is highly recommended as you can not find it anywhere else in México).
On our way toward the coast on the cuota south of Ciudad Colima, we stopped to bird at a pond on the west side of the road and just north of a tollhouse. Some species recorded here included WOOD STORK, BLUE-WINGED TEAL, GREEN-WINGED TEAL, CINNAMON TEAL, RUDDY DUCK, AMERICAN AVOCET, BLACK-NECKED STILT, STILT SANDPIPER, GREATER and LESSER YELLOWLEGS, and LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER.
A marsh near the Las Brisas glorieta provided a good birding stop and produced species similar to those at the Colima cuota pond mentioned above. Additional species recorded here included BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON, ROSEATE SPOONBILL, NORTHERN SHOVELER, KING RAIL, and LEAST SANDPIPER.
Back at the Playa de Oro road, we ran into an incredible army ant swarm on the side of the road. Not too many species were accompanying it, but it was a lot of fun to watch. Another pair of LILAC-CROWNED PARROTS were seen, and this proved to be the only spot where we ever saw them. RUDDY GROUND-DOVE, SQUIRREL CUCKOO, WHITE-THROATED MAGPIE-JAY, SAN BLAS JAY, RED-BREASTED CHAT, GODMAN'S [SCRUB] EUPHONIA (heard only), STRIPE-HEADED SPARROW, and BLUE-BLACK GRASSQUIT were also seen. Here we noticed that the distinctive subspecies of Squirrel Cuckoo (P.c. mexicana) sounded quite different than the one in eastern Mexico and Central America. Has anyone else observed this, or did we likely just pick up on a normal variation in the bird's repertoire?
The birding at the Manzanillo Airport Marshes was kind of slow, though several new species were recorded, and the mosquitos were quite bad at dusk. Species observed included LEAST GREBE, nine heron species (including BOAT-BILLED HERON), WHITE and WHITE-FACED IBIS, BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING-DUCK (heard only), KING RAIL (heard only), SORA, PURPLE GALLINULE, LIMPKIN, LESSER NIGHTHAWK, RINGED KINGFISHER, YELLOW WARBLER, NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH, CINNAMON-RUMPED [WHITE-COLLARED] SEEDEATER, ORANGE-BREASTED BUNTING, and RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD.
From the marshes, we drove to Barranca el Choncho (Howell 7.4), where we found an excellent campsite on the track just before the creek crossing.
8 January 2002
Spent a relaxed and enjoyable morning birding Barranca el Choncho before heading inland to Puerto Los Mazos (Howell 7.5). The highlight at Barranca el Choncho was probably the large flock of SAN BLAS JAYS which hung around the campsite for the entire morning. We were even able to obtain excellent pictures while feeding them crackers, bread, and tortillas on the ground. The juveniles were especially fun to see with their small, forward-curving crests. The juveniles' bill color was different than illustrated in Howell and Webb, however. Webb illustrates the juvenile bill color as bright yellow, like Purplish-backed Jay, but these juveniles had grayish or horn-colored bills with some slight pinkish tones. Does anyone know if this is a normal variation? Either way, they were a lot of fun to watch. Some other species seen right at the campsite included GOLDEN-CROWNED EMERALD, PLAIN-CAPPED STARTHROAT, LINEATED and PALE-BILLED WOODPECKERS, BRIGHT-RUMPED ATTILA, two LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSHES (including a male that sang twice), a noisy female RED-CROWNED ANT-TANAGER, YELLOW GROSBEAK, BLUE BUNTING, and STREAK-BACKED ORIOLE. More species recorded futher up the track included WEST MEXICAN CHACHALACA, a well-studied FERRUGINOUS PYGMY-OWL, MASKED TITYRA, a noisy male RED-CROWNED ANT-TANAGER, BLACK-VENTED ORIOLE, and ORANGE-BREASTED BUNTING. The most unusual bird found here (and probably the rarest of the trip) was a female HOODED WARBLER seen well up the track.
On the drive toward Puerto Los Mazos, we spotted a dark-morph adult HOOK-BILLED KITE at Laguna del Rosario, and a NORTHERN JAÇANA north of there. Upon arriving at Puerto Los Mazos, we found the gate up to the microondas towers closed but unlocked, so we opened it and drove to a good campsite past both towers. Some species seen just before dusk included COLLARED FOREST-FALCON (a silhouette flying through the trees), CRESTED GUAN, and MEXICAN WHIP-POOR-WILL. Note: The official name for this site is the Rancho El Mojo section of the Reserva de la Biosfera Sierra de Manantlan, according to the sign just inside the gate.
9 January 2002
We spent the morning birding around the microondas towers above Puerto Los Mazos before starting the long drive home. The only main target species here was Mexican Woodnymph, since we did not try for Eared Poorwill the night before. We were not disappointed as we found a cooperative male MEXICAN WOODNYMPH hanging out in some shaded flowers right next to the road below the microondas towers. At least two more MEXICAN WOODNYMPHS were observed (but not so well) near the campsite in more open habitat. Other hummingbirds were BERYLLINE, CALLIOPE, and BROAD-TAILED HUMMINGBIRDS, and AMETHYST-THROATED MOUNTAIN-GEM (HUMMINGBIRD). Some other species recorded on the road were WHITE-COLLARED SWIFT (a large calling flock of at least 125 birds which came loudly zooming over a ridge); ARIZONA WOODPECKER; OLIVACEOUS WOODCREEPER (heard only); TUFTED, DUSKY, "WESTERN", and DUSKY-CAPPED FLYCATCHERS; BRIDLED TITMOUSE; WHITE-THROATED ROBIN; DWARF VIREO; GOLDEN-CROWNED and RUFOUS-CAPPED WARBLERS; GREEN-STRIPED BRUSHFINCH; and RUSTY-CROWNED GROUND-SPARROW. One member of the group also was lucky enough to get good looks at a COLLARED FOREST-FALCON.
From here, we decided to drive all the way to the Saltillo area. We ate dinner at the Restaurant El Pilar on the outskirts of Zacatecas, which was decent for a gas station restaurant, and camped next to the road just west of Tanque de Emergencia (Howell 3.3).
10 January 2002
The goal of today, of course, was to find Worthen's Sparrow and then to bird elsewhere in the area to see some new species for the trip. We started the morning near Tanque de Emergencia as described in Howell and birded mostly the area north of the road between the old concrete water tank and the cattle guard on the road to the west. Sparrows were everywhere, and we were successful in finding at least two flocks of WORTHEN'S SPARROWS totaling at least 100 birds. Other species seen in this area included FERRUGINOUS HAWK (light-morph and dark-morph adults); SCALED QUAIL; SAY'S PHOEBE; HORNED LARK; CACTUS WREN (heard only); CURVE-BILLED THRASHER; AMERICAN PIPIT; PHAINOPEPLA; CANYON TOWHEE; CASSIN'S, BREWER'S, VESPER, and SAVANNAH SPARROWS; LARK BUNTING; and WESTERN MEADOWLARK.
We then birded the highway through Los Lirios and San Isidro from west to east, which included the Highrise area (Howell 3.1). As expected, we didn't have any luck with Maroon-fronted Parrot, but we did see BAND-TAILED PIGEON, ACORN WOODPECKER, BRIDLED TITMOUSE, WESTERN BLUEBIRD, AUDUBON'S ORIOLE, and PINE SISKIN. The gorge mentioned in Howell is absolutely stunning, especially with hundreds of WHITE-THROATED SWIFTS flying into roost.
We debated returning to the U.S. tonight but instead decided to bird one more morning, and so we camped next to the highway at the Cascadas Cola de Caballo.
11 January 2002
On our last day in México, we just wanted to spend a little more time enjoying the different (from what we had been experiencing) avifauna and hoped to see some more new trip species.
In the Cola de Caballo area, we recorded ZONE-TAILED HAWK, BLUE-HEADED VIREO, many GREEN JAYS, SPOT-BREASTED and CAROLINA WRENS, LONG-BILLED THRASHER, CLAY-COLORED ROBIN, CRESCENT-CHESTED PARULA (WARBLER), BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLER, many RUFOUS-CAPPED WARBLERS, and AUDUBON'S ORIOLE.
Our final stop was at Presa Rodrigo Gómez and Santiago. Birds here included PIED-BILLED GREBE, DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT, AMERICAN COOT, and many BREWER'S BLACKBIRDS.
click here for full trip list
and detailed location sightings.