18 - 25 January 2001
by Don Lewis
Ed Hall and I spent a week in Manzanillo and the city of Colima, Mexico, January 18-25, 2001. There are a number of very helpful trip reports available and we will not repeat much here. This report is intended to supplement existing reports, both with bird-finding details and (hopefully) improved driving directions. References to Howell are to “A Bird-Finding Guide to Mexico” by Steven N. G. Howell, the sine qua non for anyone birding in Mexico. A complete list, with locations, of the 229 birds we saw is available from firstname.lastname@example.org.
In Manzanillo, we were fortunate to be able to stay with a friend of Ed’s. In Colima, we stayed at the clean, modern Hotel Los Candiles, on the main road out of town to the northeast. Arriving without reservations (they said), we paid a high 680 pesos plus tax for each better-class room. Birding late each day, we did not investigate Colima’s restaurants. One night we ate at the mediocre dining room at the motel; the other two nights at the nice outdoor restaurant, with somewhat better food, at the hotel next door.
Near Manzanillo, we birded the airport road, the Playa de Oro road, the Microondas de Toro road, and Julupan Lagoon. Directions to the first three elsewhere are good. The Julupan Lagoon, at the northwest end of the two Manzanillo bays, had an excellent selection of very accessible waterbirds, although nothing very unusual to California birders except Brown Booby and Magnificent Frigatebird. It is reached via the Club Santiago entrance on the main road west from town, about a kilometer before the junction with the Colima cuota (toll road). Although the Club Santiago road is gated, it is open to the public. Tell the guard that you want to go to the beach. Then proceed straight through the condos until you see the Playa access sign and continue on a gravel road to a set of beach “restaurants”. You will then have the bay on one side and the fresh-water lagoon on the other. Bring your scope.
The Playa de Oro road (Howell chapter 7-2) yielded good birds along its entire length. Perhaps the best single spot was between the two short roads/trails which lead off to the right as you go seaward, perhaps 4 or 5 km in from the highway. At the low spot in the road, where it crosses a swale, there is a small stone wall to the right (you may not see this as you drive by but it is between the two side roads, which are only a couple hundred meters apart and neither of which goes far before turning into trails). Spending time at this spot and along the nearby short trails, we were treated to a lot of goodies, including Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush, Rosy Thrush-Tanager, Blue Mockingbird, Rose-throated Becard, Colima Pygmy-Owl, Masked Tityra, and heard Vermiculated Screech-Owl at dawn.
Our rental car was a low-clearance Dodge. Moving inland, we therefore decided not to try the Volcan Fuego road north of Colima, based on the many reports describing the road. Instead, we went for the reportedly much better and newer road on the north side of Volcan Nieve, to the north of Fuego. This road is well described by David Ferry in a non-BirdChat trip report dated April 2000. Although both volcanoes are closer to Ciudad Guzman than to Colima, we chose to stay in Colima because of the Laguna de Maria and Piscila Road-La Cumbre areas near Colima. This proved wise, because some of the best birding of the trip was at Laguna de Maria (see Howell’s chapter 7-9) and along Piscila Road (Howell 7-10).
The directions given by Ferry to reach the Volcan Nieve road from Colima definitely need clarification. We got lost following them. Here is our suggested improvement: Exit the Colima to Guadalajara cuota at the Atenquique/Tuxpan exit. Start looking for this exit to the right just after you cross a couple bridges after passing the papermill town of Atenquique, which is below the cuota to the left. There is no warning sign before the exit and you can whiz by it in the dark. It goes up a hill to the right. At the end of the exit ramp, there is a stop sign. Do NOT take the road to the right labeled Colima Libre (unless you want to go to Atenquique and Volcan Fuego). Proceed forward to the traffic circle and go all the way around it until you are almost facing the way you came in. Proceed across the bridge with the yellow rail on its left side, labeled Colima Cuota (even though you don’t want to go back to Colima). Take this road, which starts next to and parallel to the exit you just took from the cuota. It goes down to the right and shortly splits into an on-ramp for the Colima Cuota to the right and Guadalajara Libre to the left. This is the first time you will see the Guadalajara Libre sign. If you are confused at the traffic circle, ask for directions at the Pemex station.
Take the Guadalajara Libre road, which runs north beside the Guadalajara cuota road. It is not shown on any of the maps we had. This Libre road finally crosses over the cuota road near Ciudad Guzman. The road soon ends at a four lane highway from Ciudad Guzman. Turn left here and soon turn left at a “Technologico” sign. This Technologico road passes a Technological College and then a large unused prison on the right. A couple kilometers after that it curves right, to the north, toward El Grullo. Shortly after that curve, turn left at a gravel road, signed National Park (Parque Nacional). Excluding getting lost, it took 60-65 minutes from the Los Candiles to the turnoff at 6:30-7:30 AM.
We spent a great day on this newish but deteriorating road up Volcan Nieve. No problem with our Dodge on this road. The next day, we decided to try the second road mentioned by Ferry. It is a beat-up cobblestone road leading to a microonda (microwave tower) at about 9500 feet elevation. It starts from the paved El Grullo road, 15 km past the turnoff to the first, above-mentioned “National Park” road. It takes off somewhat obscurely a few dozen meters after the house at the top of a pass, several kilometers after you have entered trees. This road looks bad right at the start, crosses a very short but tricky metal bridge, and then improves as it goes downhill before crossing a drainage, turning to cobblestone, and heading uphill. Our car rental agency would have fainted if they had seen us nursing the Dodge up this road. We finally had to abandon the car about three miles from a hummingbird flower field discussed glowingly by Ferry. We walked up and thoroughly enjoyed the flower area, although there were just dozens of hummingbirds, not hundreds, on January 23.
At this “meadow”, we had a long, close-up look at a Long-tailed Wood Partridge. Unfortunately, it was in the hands of a local hunter, defunct. We never saw another.
On the way back from this road, toward Ciudad Guzman on the paved El Grullo road, we found a nice cobblestone road which meets the paved road 8 km from the last-discussed cobblestone road, or 7 km north the “National Park” turnoff. We parked along the highway and walked up this road past fields and a farm, about 5-6PM. There were lots of birds on this walk, quite different from the mountain birds and we recommend it. The road appears to go several km more toward the mountain and would be worth driving to see where it goes.
It can be cold on the volcano. On January 22, there was still a small bit of frost in the shade at 1PM at around 10,000 feet elevation and the next day the first (fenced) meadow was totally frost covered at 10 AM. No bugs, though. At this time of year, it got light enough to bird around 7:15 AM, with good light about 7:30.
Back near Colima, the La Cumbre road has a closed gate, discouraging non-walkers. However, in mid-day, we were getting ready to walk it when a telecom employee drove up and let us through. The gate is not locked and I think that the gatekeeper in the shack to the right would let any birder pass through. In early afternoon, we saw and heard virtually nothing along the entire road, which we walked down in relays. The Piscila road, contrastingly, yielded a close-up Balsas Screech-Owl at 8 PM and lots of good birds in the early morning. It is nicely situated at the lower edge of thorn forest, overlooking a river with riparian growth.
Updating Howell’s directions, if you are on the cuota (bypass) road skirting Colima on the east, going for Piscila/La Cumbre, you exit the bypass at the 110 Jiquilpan exit and go down and around the ensuing, well-signed, traffic circle. There is not a four-way stop.
I would be happy to supply more information if requested.