by Howie Nielsen
My trip to Jalisco and Colima was an attempt to create a birding tripwhiletaking a family vacation with my wife and daughter. We chose our April dates in order to accommodate our thirteen year old's spring school break. Going at this late date put us deep into the dry season. The coastal thorn forest along El Oro road was essentially defoliate and the oak forests were desiccated with some trees losing their leaves. I found myself questioning whether these conditions were impacting bird activities and habitat choices. Had I more time, I think exploring the north slope of Volcan Colima after my two days on the south side could have proven interesting. As it was, higher elevation pine/oak humid forests had much flowering and fruiting attracting good numbers of hummingbirds and thrushes. If I have the good fortune to return to SW Mexico, I think a trip in Oct. or Nov. would provide some good contrast to this trip.
April 13, 14 El Oro road, Colima.
This is a 7 km. cobble road thru the coastal hills from the coastal highway to the beach passing thru dry thorn forest. Two trails can be found about half the distance to the shore opening on your right as you enter.
Thicket Tinamou voice
Laughing Falcon pair
Collared Forest-falcon voice
West Mexican Chachalaca
Red billed Pigeon
White tipped Dove
Lilac crowned Parrot 3 pair/2 pair
N. Beardless Tyrranulet
Empidonax abundant and unidentified, "seeoit" call was common
N. Rough-winged Swallow
Black and white Warbler
Our first two nights were spent in the town of Melaque, three hours south of Pto.Vallarta. Birds seen near town include:
Great Blue Heron
Common Black Hawk
Eight miles inland from Melaque on the road to Autlan lies a wooded canyon beyond the village of Lazaro Cardenas. About a mile beyond LC, there is a right-hand curve with a guard rail. Just beyond the rail on the left side of the road is a gravel road running up into the canyon. There was water in the stream with resulting bottom vegetation being green. The hillsides were leafless thorn scrub. As a result, birds were concentrated in the canyon. There were a number of large fruiting trees with olive-sized fruits attended by a large variety of species including squirrels. The first mile is the best as the canyon vegetation suffers from human activities increasingly beyond.
Zone-tailed Hawk probable
W Mexican Chachalaca (fig tree)
Pygmy-owl sp. (lima?)
Mottled Wood-owl pair taped in
Mexican Hermit 1
Golden-crowned Emerald 1
Plain-capped Starthroat 2
Citreoline Trogon fig
Golden-cheeked Woodpecker fig
Ladder-backed Woodpecker(thorn scrub
N Beardless Tyrannulet
Pacific Slope Flycatcher
Bright-rumped Attila voice
Nutting's Flycatcher fig
Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher fig
Rose-throated Becard fig
San Blas Jay fig
Rufous-backed Thrush fig
N Mockingbird scrub
Golden Vireo fig
Warbling Vireo fig
Scrub Euphonia fig
Streak-backed Oriole fig
Yellow-winged Cacique fig
On the 15th, we headed inland toward Autlan and the highland trail of Puerto los Mazos. The lower section of trail passes thru some desicated oak woods that seemed low in numbers of birds. As one climbs,the forest turns into a more verdant humid pine-oak type with much more avian activity. Between the coast and the Autlan hills, we passed thru wide cultivated valleys and stopped at a roadside pond.
The following list is from the Puerto los Mazos trail on the eve of the 15th and the 16th:
Black Hawk sp
Mottled Wood-owl voice
Eared Poorwill, voice, 1 flushed
White-eared Hummingbird #
Bright-rumped Attila, lower oaks
Bridled Titmouse open oaks
Spotted Wren, clearing - lower oaks
Brown-backed Solitaire 3 nests found in banks of road cuts, 2 eggs/nest, rusty spots on cream
Cedar Waxwing flock ridge top
Grey Silky # nest mid-story branch
Black-throated Gray Warbler
Black and White Warbler
Stripe-headed Sparrow, scrub
I went into the scrub covered base of the foothills before dawn to look for Black-chested Sparrow. Two Buff-collared Nightjars were calling too far up the hillside to reach them.
Later that morning, we took off for Atenqique (4-17). The road caries you across the northern slope of Volcan Colima and its pine forests. There is a road that invites you into the national park here. Due to the total lack of water on the southern slope, I think it would have been of interest to have visited this area and compare the avifauna on the two sides of the mountain.
Alas, my request for another day here was turned down by L and K.
En route we found:
We reached the Cerro Alto road just north of Atenqique at 2 pm. The first 8 to 10 km. is a straight run thru scrub habitat used for grazing cattle. We ran into three Brits working the roadside shrubbery and stopped to chat. They had spent the previous 2 days on the volcano and tore a hole in their gas tank. This was hardly welcome news as we were beginning our trek up the mountain. It turned out that with care we could slowly navigate the most treacherous stretches of road with only a few rocks scraping our bottom. As the road started climbing, we first passed thru scattered pine, then oaks began to dominate with the density of trees increasing with our climb. At around 8000 ft., the forest begins to look like cloud forest, still pine-oak in nature but mossier and laden with aerial growth of cacti, bromeliads,and orchids. This was it, where this whole trip was designed to get to.
Our first night we spent at 9000 ft for fear of taking the car further. We hiked up the road before dusk into a lovely steep walled canyon. It had been a long day and Karen and Li decided to turn back to camp. Too bad for them,as five minutes more would have brought them out of the canyon and face to face with the smoldering cinder cone rising another 2500 ft above. I spent an hour at dusk alone in the open pine-fir parkland at its base chasing flickers, Am. robins, pine siskins, juncos, orange-crowned and yellow-rumped warblers, Lincoln's and chipping sparrows. This is Mexico?
Our tent was placed in the middle of a Mexican whip-poor-will's territory, so we found ourselves pestered much of the night by our new neighbor. Dawn chorus was a mix of raucous and sublime with long-tailed wood-partridge, crested guan, and chachalaca making sure no one slept in. The counterpoint came from the thrushes and solitaires.
I spent the entire day walking the road in the humid pine-oak zone. I did lose about a half hour mid-morning when a truck of local men, presumably loggers, passed. The first thought that surfaced along with a wave of paranoia was to run back to camp and protect my women. I was furious with myself for becoming agitated by this. As I was too far from camp to get back in time and knowing I was indulging in a paranoid fantasy, I forced this from my mind as best I could. The sight of the two of them later that day was especially sweet. No matter how deep into the bush I go, I manage to pack along my fears.
Our second night was spent at the base of a vertical wall polished by a waterfall in the wet season that drops a good 75 ft. Lovely. A mottled owl kept us company there. I was interested in the ecotone between the humid and lower oak forests, so the morning was spent hiking this lower elevation area.
Birds I was missing included red-headed tanager, white-striped wood-creeper, aztec thrush, eared trogon, yellow grosbeak. I felt my coverage of the various habitats I had spent the last week to be thorough by my standards. Where were these species? I began to wonder if the northern slope might not be a bit more verdant, therfore supporting more resources for some of these mystery birds. I presented my thesis to my family and proposed a third night on the mountain. They could co-author the paper.
Sorry Charlie, 2 to 1 beach wins again.
If I had spent 3 nights, I'd have asked for four. It was that kind of place where one goes for the birds, then the beauty and solitude of the mountain infects you. A week would be easy.
Birds of Cerro Alto road, Volcan Colima:
W Mexican Chachalaca
Squirrel Cuckoo low scrub
Lesser Roadrunner low el scrub
Mottled Owl Mexican
White-eared Hummingbird #
Grey-breasted Jay open oaks
Bushtit open oaks
Brown-backed Solitaire, common
Grey Silky humid and open oak probable
Hutton's Vireo oaks
Black-throated Grey Warbler
Townsend's Warbler #
Black and white Warbler
Wilson's Warbler ##
Golden-browed Warbler understory
Olive Warbler open oak
Black-headed Grosbeak #
Indigo Bunting low el scrub
Rufous- capped Brush-finch 2
Green-striped Brush-finch #
Rusty-crowned Ground-sparrow oaks
Collared Towhee ##
Chipping Sparrow near treeline
Lark Sparrow low el scrub
Streak-backed Oriole oaks
Bullock's Oriole oaks
House Finch low el scrub
Long-tailed Wood-partridge 4
I talked the girls into a mid-afternoon visit to La Cumbre and Our Lady of the Bats, a large statue that disgorges bats from her eyes at dusk. Lianna was intrigued by this one. I wanted to find black-chested sparrow and this was reputedly the spot. This is also good for Balsa's screech-owl, but my tape deck ate my one and only tape on day 3.
This 2700 ft hill looks over Colima. It seemed dead at 2pm. I left K and L at the feet of the virgin and started my descent. I immediately ran into a pair of rufous-naped wrens, the only ones I'd find on the trip. One hundred feet beyond, two birds popped into a roadside bush. Bingo, a bit of pishing brought two striking black-chests into view. Felt a bit lucky on that one. Only a few other species were seen including:
I promised Lianna more beach time, so we returned to Melaque. We tried a bit of snorkeling, but found the water chilly and turbid. Ate fried octopus and salsa and got a dose of heartburn. I'd rather be birdin'. So I finished up the stay poking around the canyon at Lazaro Cardenas. Still hoping for a motmot or yellow grosbeak there, I returned in the morning. A pair of motmots were calling up the hillside, so I spent the next couple hours using cow paths to try and access them. No luck as the birds quit calling and the terrain made treacherous hiking.
We packed up and departed for Pto. Vallarta. En route we stopped at a couple of ponds, yielding:
Little Blue Heron
After eating lunch at Chico's Paradise, I dropped L and K into P V and turned back south 40 km where the highway climbs into the coastal mountains. At km 174.6 there is a gravel road going east that climbs farther into these pine-oak forested hills. As soon as I stepped from my car, 2km off the highway, I heard what I was seeking. Military macaws were screaming in the valley below. It was only 5 pm, so I decided to walk the road and adjacent logging trails until the parrots flew to their roost at dusk. Based on the valley's shape and the bird's location, I made some assumptions about their flight path. Two pair flew by me with the sun at my back. I expected green, but ended up with electric turquoise and red as well. Nice way to top off the trip.
Pacific Slope Flycatcher
N Roughwinged Swallow
Adding house sparrows and rock doves gave me 201 species seen and an additional 5 more heard. 23 life birds seen and 1 heard with 2 subspecific forms that may be split in the future.