by Jim Hully
I just spent ten days birding the beautiful states of Colima and Jalisco in western Mexico. Thanks to all the help from other birders I was able to plan a very successful trip based out of Manzanillo, Colima. Having been to Mexico before I concentrated on the more localized endemics. I saw or heard 216 (give or take a few splits), of which 53 were lifers.
May 24th : Flew non-stop from San Francisco to Puerta Vallarta on Alaskan Airlines. Picked up rental car and headed south on highway 200. Stopped at El Tuito (174km), a roadside pond and a couple of burnt out/dry thorn forest areas.
May 25th : Morning around Palma Real. Afternoon at Playa del Oro and the lagoons near the airport.
May 26th : Early morning at Playa del Oro and the lagoons near the airport. Evening returned to the lagoons.
May 27th : Morning at Larenzo Cardenas Canyon.
May 28th : Morning and early afternoon at Puerta los Mazos. In late afternoon visited La Cumbre.
May 29th : Morning around Palma Real. Afternoon explored the mangroves around Laguna de San Pedrito.
May 30th : All day at Volcano de Fuego.
May 31st : Early morning at Larenzo Cardenas Canyon.
June 1st : Morning at the mangroves along Laguna de San Pedrito. Drove up to Puerta Vallarta stopping at the Biological Station in Chamela and the macaw site at El Tuito.
June 2nd : Explored areas west of Puerta Vallarta and along highway 200. Returned home to San Francisco.
El Tuito Quarry Road
Look for a turning east at about km 174.5 on route 200 just north of the town of El Tuito. The dirt road has a number of illegible signs. Drive through the derelict guard post and continue past a small warehouse. Most people stop at about 2 km (marked) where the habitat is a mixture of pine and oak with a good scrub understory. We birded higher up but because of the time of day saw very little.
Playa del Oro Road
This deteriorating cobblestone road, clearly sign-posted off highway 200, goes through some prime thorn forest before reaching the ocean. Drive for about 3.5 km and look for overhead power cables that cross the road perpendicularly. On the right side there should be a dirt track. This descends into a dry creek bed and heads north towards the airport. The further I walked the greener the trees and the better the birding.
Lagoons near Manzanillo Airport
These man-made features within 200 meters of the airport were an aquatic oasis. The rest of the area looks marshy but was dry during our visit. Waited for Boat- billed Herons at dusk. Saw a silhouette of one flying with the Night Herons in the fading gloom. I wanted to use my 800,000 candlepower "batfryer" but felt it might prove distracting to the landing planes! Probably better to wait for the boat-bills at dawn.
Mangroves near Manzanillo
Despite the large lagoons around Manzanillo access to them was limited (too many palm plantations). There are a few places to pull off and scope the edges on the new toll road just east of Manzanillo. However, the sulfurous fumes emanating from the local power station make it unpleasant. I explored the mangroves that border the road to downtown Manzanillo as it crosses Laguna de San Pedrito. On the south side there are numerous tracks leading off into prime mangrove habitat. There had to be a Rufous-necked Wood Rail lurking in these mangroves but only found Clapper Rails! Bonus birds were a Mangrove Vireo and Boat-billed Herons coming into roost just as it was getting light.
Road to Palma Real
In El Naranjo turn west next a bus stop and school onto the only paved road heading towards the coast. Follow the signs for Palma Real. After a couple of kilometers the lagoon opens up on your left and you begin to enter thorn forest. We did see a good selection of thorn forest endemics but there is considerable development in this area. Better to drive north to Playa del Oro or even the road to the microwave towers just a few kilometers north of El Naranjo.
Larenzo Cardenas Canyon.
This woody canyon lies about 1.5 km north of Larenzo Cardenas. Look for a curved bridge over the canyon marked with a black and white barrier or curb. The entrance is immediately past the bridge on the left. The first km was the most productive. I heard and saw Mottled Owl at a pull off just past the bridge on the right.
Puerto Los Mazos.
This site lies at the pass on highway 80 about 15 km west of Autlan. At the highest point there are a couple of buildings including a small shop and a shrine to the right. Park there and follow the track between the buildings. I was greeted by a pack of howling dogs but they proved quite friendly. The gate was sign-posted as private but unlocked. Mottled Owls were calling at the entrance. The dirt track skirts a dry creek before slowly ascending into open pine-oak forest. Birds were at all levels. I saw the Mexican Emerald by walking the creek bed.
Volcano de Fuego, Colima National Park.
Head south out of Atenquique on highway 110 (the old highway). The exit off the toll road is just north of the town. There is a well marked sign for the microwave towers (microondas). The dirt road runs through a variety of different habitats. After farmland (now burnt) it enters pine (mostly burnt) and then oak at about 6,000ft. Just before the turn off for the microwave towers (about 13 km) we came across a recent landslide. In the darkness it did not seem that bad but I managed to get the car well and truly stuck. My girlfriend proved better than me at digging out the car but we had lost the best part of the morning. As if to mock our misfortune we could hear a variety of calls which I attributed to Long-tailed Wood Partridges. We birded the area around the microwave turning seeing White-striped Woodcreeper, Tufted Flycatcher, the black-eared form of Bushtit, Crescent-chested Warbler, Blue-hooded Euphonia, Crescent-chested Warbler, Olive Warbler, Rufous-capped Brushfinch, Green-striped Brushfinch, Collared Towhee, and the stunning Chestnut-sided Shrike-Vireo. I worked hard for Dwarf Vireo here without success. At about 8,000ft the forest begins to look like pine-oak cloud forest. Here, we saw Mountain Trogon, Gray-barred Wren, Gray-breasted Wren, Orange-billed Nightingale Thrush, Russet Nightingale Thrush, Blue Mockingbird, Painted Warbler, Golden-browed Warbler, and the beautiful Red Warbler. We drove up to 9,700 ft but could have continued on as the road was in good condition even with my general disregard for rental cars. Unfortunately for my girlfriend we only had distant views of the smoky volcano.
This highly visible statue (part of a church) with it's attendant microwave towers lies at the northern end of a range of hills just southwest of Colima. If approaching on the toll road take the bypass east of Colima (sign-posted Guadalajara if coming from the south; Manzanillo from the north). Follow signposts for Jiquilpan, this is also highway 110 but obviously not the toll road. After about five kilometers there is a sign and entrance to La Cumbre on your right. At the top you get a spectacular view through the smoke of the Colima area. We visited in the late afternoon but quickly saw plenty of birds such as West Mexican Chacalaca, Red-breasted Chat, Black-chested Sparrow, Golden-crowned Emerald, & Rufous-naped Wren. The habitat is dry thorn forest cover in trash! After dusk we waited for the owls with no luck but as compensation Buff-collared Nightjars started calling. Although similar in cadence, their call is more rapid that those recorded in SE Arizona.
Biological Research Station near Chamela.
This is well sign-posted on route 200. We did not have much time here but this is probably the best area of dry thorn forest. Maybe the local rangers know where to find the elusive Rosy Thrush-Tanager and Red-headed Tanager?
I wish I had done more homework on birding sites for this area as well as the southern parts of Nayarit. I only had a morning nd proceeded to waste most of it exploring the area west of the airport leading out to Punta Villeta. Despite the obvious signs of impending hotels and condominiums there were Elegant Quail everywhere. Staying on highway 200 for a few more kilometers took me up into the Sierra de Vallejo and a surprisingly lush, unspoiled forest. Here I did see a good selection of warblers, vireos, and great views of genuine Black-throated Magpie Jays.
Least Grebe (Podiceps dominicus)
Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps)
Brown Booby (Sula leucogaster) - Common along the coast.
White Pelican (Pelecanus erthrorhynchos)
Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis)
Neotropical Cormorant (Phalacrocorax olivaceous)
Anhinga (Ahinga anhinga)
Magnificent Frigatebird (Fregata magnificens)
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) - Most were of the white phase.
Great Egret (Ardea alba)
Snowy Egret (Egretta thula)
Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea)
Tricolored Heron (Egretta tricolor)
Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis)
Green Heron (Butorides virescens)
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax violaceus)
Boat-billed Heron (Cochlearius cochlearius) - Saw individuals at the lagoons near the airport and at Lagunas de San Pedrito.
Wood Stork (Mycteria americana) - Large flocks near the airport.
Roseate Spoonbill (Platalea ajaja)
White Ibis (Eudocimus albus)
White-faced Ibis (Plegadis chihi)
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck (Dendrocygna autumnalis)
Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis)
Black Vulture (Carthartes atratus)
Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)
White-tailed Kite (Elanus leucurus)
Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus)
Harris's Hawk (Parabuteo unicinctus)
Gray Hawk (Buteo nitidus) - Commonest hawk.
Roadside Hawk (Buteo magnirostris) - One near El Tuito.
Short-tailed Hawk (Buteo brachyurus) - After seeing two at El Tuito never saw another one.
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)
Crested Caracara (Caracara plancus)
Laughing Falcon (Herpetotheres cachinnans) - We were treated to a great view of a calling bird at Playa del Oro.
Collared Forest-Falcon (Micrastur semitorquatus) - Disturbed a (roosting?) female at Playa del Oro. Much larger thanI
expected. Heard one at Larenzo Cardenas.
West Mexican Chacalaca (Ortalis poliocephala) - Heard chacalacas almost everywhere but saw two belonging to this race
(species?) at La Cumbre.
Rufous-bellied Chacalaca (Ortalis wagleri) - Great views of a pair at Larenzo Cardenas. Generally darker than the previous
species with chestnut belly and tips to the tail. This location is further south than the range shown in Howell's book.
Long-tailed Wood Partridge (Dendrortyx macroura) - Heard on the volcano.
Elegant Quail (Callipepla douglasii) - Common around Puerta Vallarta.
Clapper Rail (Rallus longirostris) - At least two in the mangroves near Manzanillo.
Common Gallinule (Gallinula chloropus)
American Coot (Fulica americana)
Limpkin (Aramus guarauna) - Surprise bird at the lagoons near the airport. According to Howell's maps they should only occur
as far north as the Isthmus on the Pacific side.
Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus)
American Oystercatcher (Haematopus palliatus)
American Avocet (Recurvirostra americana)
Black-necked Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus)
Northern Jacana (Jacana spinosa)
Willet (Catoptrophorus semipalmatus) - Very pale individual.
Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus)
Spotted Sandpiper (Tringa macularia)
Marbled Godwit (Limosa fedora)
Long-billed Curlew (Numenius americanus)
Wilson's Phalarope (Stegnopus tricolor) - 1 at the lagoons near the airport.
Laughing Gull (Larus atricilla) - Large flocks of adults along the coast.
Heermann's Gull (Larus heermanni) - Commoner near Puerta Vallarta.
Royal Tern (Sterna maxima)
Gull-billed Tern (Sterna nilotica)
Forster's Tern (Sterna forsteri)
Black Tern (Chlidonias nigra)
Least Tern (Sterna antillarum)
Black Skimmer (Rhynchops nigra)
Feral Dove (Flying rattus)
Red-billed Pigeon (Columba flavirostris) - About the only birding calling in the thorn forest.
White-winged Dove (Zenaida asiatica)
Inca Dove (Scardafella inca)
Common Ground Dove (Columbina passerina)
Ruddy Ground Dove (Columbina talpacoti)
White-tipped Dove (Leptotila verreauxi)
Orange-fronted Parakeet (Aratinga canicularis) - Saw a flock just south of Puerta Vallarta.
Military Macaw (Ara militaris) - At least 6 at El Tuito.
Green Parakeet (Aratinga holochlora) - 1 at Cobano exactly where Dick Palmer previously reported seeing them!
Mexican Parrotlet (Forpus cyanopygius) - Flocks at the airport, along highway 200, and Larenzo Cardenas.
Lilac-crowned Parrot (Amazona finchi) - Two at Playa del Oro.
Squirrel Cuckoo (Piaya cayana) - Seen a couple of times in the greener parts of the thorn forest.
Groove-billed Ani (Crotophaga sulcirostris)
Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus)
Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium brasilianum) - Common in the thorn forest.
Mottled Owl (Strix virgata) - Heard most mornings. Seen at Larenzo Cardenas and Puerto Los Mazos.
Lesser Nighthawk (Chordeiles acutipennis)
Pauraque (Nyctidromus albicollis)
Eared Poorwill (Nyctiphrynus mcleodii) - Heard and seen at Puerto Los Mazos.
Buff-collared Nightjar (Caprimulgus ridgwayi) - Heard and seen at La Cumbre.
Whip-poor-will (Caprimulgus vociferus) - Heard on the volcano. Destined to be a different species?
Vaux's Swift (Chaetura vauxi)
White-collared Swift (Streptoprocne zonaris) - Large flock seen near Cuautitlan.
White-throated Swift (Aeronautes saxatilis)
Golden-crowned Emerald (Chlorostilbon auriceps) - Eventually proved to be quite common in the dry thorn forest.
Broad-billed Hummingbird (Cynanthus latirostris)
Mexican Woodnymph (Thalurania ridgwayi) - Lucky to see this endemic at Puerto los Mazos.
White-eared Hummingbird (Hylocharis leucotis)
Berylline Hummingbird (Amazilia beryllina) - Commonest hummingbird.
Cinnamon Hummingbird (Amazilia rutila) - Very common in the thorn forest and neighboring vegetation.
Plain-capped Starthroat (Heliomaster constantii)
Citreoline Trogon (Trogon citreolus) - Seen or heard often in the thorn forest
Mountain Trogon (Trogon mexicanus) - One at the volcano
Elegant Trogon (Trogon elegans)
Ringed Kingfisher (Ceryle torquata)
Green Kingfisher (Chloroceryle americana)
Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus)
Golden-cheeked Woodpecker (Melanerpes chrysogenys) - Very common around Manzanillo.
Ladder-backed Woodpecker (Picoides scalaris)
Strickland's Woodpecker (Picoides stricklandi)
Gray-crowned Woodpecker (Piculus auricularis) - Only seen once when we were lost!
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus)
Lineated Woodpecker (Dryocopus lineatus) - Seen at Palma Real and Larenzo Cardenas.
Pale-billed Woodpecker (Campephilus guatemalensis) - Pair at Larenzo Cardenas.
Ivory-billed Woodcreeper (Xiphorhynchus flavigaster)
White-striped Woodcreeper (Lepidocolaptes leucogaster) - Seen at Puerta Los Mazos and on the volcano.
Northern Beardless Tyrannulet (Camptostoma imberbe)
Greenish Elaenia (Myiopagis viridicata) - Seen well at El Tuito.
Tufted Flycatcher (Mitrephanes phaeocercus) - Common in the pines at Puerta Los Mazos and on the volcano.
Greater Pewee (Contopus pertinax)
Western Wood Pewee (Contopus sordidulus)
White-throated Flycatcher (Empidonax albigularis) - And I though all the pesky Empidonax had gone north! Saw one fitting the
description given by Howell; the only problem was it was along the lagoon near Palma Real, it's winter habitat.
Pine Flycatcher (Empidonax affinis) - Seen at El Tuito.
Cordilleran Flycatcher (Empidonax occidentalis) - Very common at the higher elevations on the volcano.
Vermilion Flycatcher (Pyrocephalus rubinus)
Bright-rumped Attila (Attila spadiceus) - Common and noisy at Larenzo Cardenas
Dusky-capped Flycatcher (Myiarchus tuberculifer) - This group proved difficult because they were reluctant to call.
Nutting's Flycatcher (Myiarchus nuttingi) - Only seen once at Playa del Oro because it called!
Brown-crested Flycatcher (Myiarchus tyrannulus) - Commonest Myiarchus.
Ash-throated Flycatcher (Myiarchus cinerascens) - Seen a few times in open woody areas.
Flammulated Flycatcher (Deltarhynchus flammulatus) - Seen at Playa del Oro and one seen well at the Biological station at
Great Kiskadee (Pitangus suphuratus)
Boat-billed Flycatcher (Megarhynchus pitangua)
Social Flycatcher (Myiozetetes similis)
Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher (Myiobius sulphureipygius)
Tropical Kingbird (Tyrannus melancholicus)
Thick-billed Kingbird (Tyrannus crassirostris)
Rose-throated Becard (Pachyramphus aglaiae) - One female in Puerta Vallarta.
Masked Tityra (Tityra semifasciata) - Heard often but only seen once.
Sinaloa Martin (Progne sinaloae) - Saw this beautiful martin at El Tuito.
Gray-breasted Martin (Progne chalybea)
Mangrove Swallow (Tachycineta albilinea)
N. Rough-winged Swallow (Stelgidopteryx serripennis)
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)
Black-throated Magpie-Jay (Calocitta colliei) - Three north of Puerta Vallarta with the black cheeks, throat and long central tail
White-throated Magpie-Jay (Calocitta formosa) - All the magpie jays in Colima and Jalisco resembled intermediates with
variable amounts of black on the throat and face. None had the long tail typical of Black-throated. See illustrations in
San Blas Jay (Cyanocorax sanblasianus) - Common in most wooded habitats at lower elevations.
Mexican Jay (Aphelocoma ultramarina)
Northern Raven (Corvus corax)
Bridled Titmouse (Parus wollweberi)
Bushtit (Psaltriparus minimus)
White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis)
Gray-barred Wren (Campylorhynchus megalopterus) - Seen on the volcano
Rufous-naped Wren (Campylorhynchus rufinucha) - Common and vocal at La Cumbre.
Spotted Wren (Campylorhynchus gularis) - One at El Tuito.
Happy Wren (Thryothorus felix) - This and the next species were fairly common in the thorn forest. Responded well to pygmy
Sinaloa Wren (Thryothorus sinaloa)
White-bellied Wren (Uropsila leucogastra) - Seen only a couple of times in the thorn forst
House Wren (Troglodytes a don) - Brown-throated form was common on the volcano
Gray-breasted Wren (Henicorhina leucosticta) - Brief view of one on the volcano.
Golden-crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa)
Black-capped Gnatcatcher (Polioptila nigriceps)
Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis)
Brown-backed Solitaire (Myadestes obscurus) - Abundant the higher the elevation.
Orange-billed Nightingale Thrush (Catharus aurantiirostris) - Common at Puerta Los mazos and on the volcano.
Russet Nightingale Thrush (Catharus occidentalis) - Heard and seen on the volcano. Voice and plumage similar to the
Ruddy-capped Nightingale Thrush which also occurs there.
White-throated Robin (Turdus assimilis) - Seen at Puerta Los mazos and on the volcano.
Rufous-backed Thrush (Turdus rufopalliatus)
Blue Mockingbird (Melanotis caerulescens) - Surprisingly hard to find on the volcano.
Curve-billed Thrasher (Toxostoma curvirostre)
Gray-Silky Flycatcher (Ptilogonys cinereus)
Golden Vireo (Vireo hypochryseus) - Seen in the oak-pine forests. Responded well to pygmy owl tapes.
Solitary (Plumbeous) Vireo (Vireo solitarus)
Hutton's Vireo (Vireo huttoni)
Warbling Vireo (Vireo gilvus)
Mangrove Vireo (Vireo pallens) - One in the mangroves around Lagunas de San Pedrito.
Yellow-green Vireo (Vireo flavoviridis) - Abundant and always in pairs!
Chestnut-sided Shrike-Vireo (Vireolanius melitophrys) - Probably the best bird of the trip. Has an evocative voice to go with
its stunning looks. Seen near the microwave towers on the volcano.
Crescent-chested Warbler (Vermivora superciliosa)
Tropical Parula (Parula pitiayumi)
Mangrove (Yellow) Warbler (Dendroica petechia) - Why isn't this a separate species?
Grace's Warbler (Dendroica graciae)
Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas)
Red Warbler (Ergaticus ruber) - Grayish-cheeked form common at the higher elevations on the volcano.
Painted Warbler (Myioborus pictus)
Slate-throated Warbler (Myioborus miniatus)
Rufous-capped Warbler (Basileuterus rufifrons)
Golden-browed Warbler (Basileuterus belli) - This endemic was common at the higher up on the volcano.
Red-breasted Chat (Granatellus venustus) - Common in the thorn forest.
Olive Warbler (Peucedramus taeniatus)
Blue-hooded/rumped Euphonia (Euphonia aureata/ elegantissima) - Seen at El Tuito and on the volcano. Very distinctive song.
Possible split from South American form?
Red-crowned Ant-Tanager (Habia rubica) - One singing at Larenzo Cardenas.
Hepatic Tanager (Piranga flava)
Grayish Saltator (Saltator coerulescens)
Yellow Grosbeak (Pheucticus chrysopeplus)
Black-headed Grosbeak (Pheucticus melanocephalus)
Blue Bunting (Cyanocompsa parellina)
Orange-breasted Bunting (Passerina leclancherii) - Incredible combination of colors. Abundant in the thorn forest.
Rufous-capped Brushfinch (Atlapetes pileatus) - This and the nexy species were common near the microwave towers on the
Green-striped Brushfinch (Atlapetes virenticeps)
Olive Sparrow (Arremonops rufivirgatus)
Rusty-crowned Ground Sparrow (Melozone kieneri) - Common at Puerta los Mazos.
Collared Towhee (Pipilo ocai) - Common near the microwave towers on the volcano
Canyon Towhee (Pipilo fuscus)
Blue-black Grassquit (Volatinia jacarina) - In every clump of grass...
White-collared Seedeater (Tiaris bicolor)
Ruddy-breasted Seedeater (Sporophila minuta) - Common near freshwater.
Black-chested Sparrow (Aimophila humeralis) - Just one at La Cumbre.
Stripe-headed Sparrow (Aimophila ruficauda)
Rusty Sparrow (Aimophila rufescens) - Puerta Los Mazos.
Yellow-eyed Junco (Junco phaeonotus)
Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoenicus)
Great-tailed Grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus)
Bronzed Cowbird (Molothrus aeneus)
Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater)
Black-vented Oriole (Icterus wagleri) - One near airport.
Streak-backed Oriole (Icterus pustulatus) - 99.9% of orioles were this species.
Black-backed Oriole (Icterus abeillei) - Seen twice near palm plantations.
Yellow-winged Cacique (Cacicus melanoicterus) - Abundant.
House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus)
Black-headed Siskin (Carduelis notata) - Flocks at El Tuito and on the volcano.
Lesser Goldfinch (Carduelis psaltria)
House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)
This was primarily a birding trip but as I was with my girlfriend, a non-birder, we came up with a successful compromise. I could spend the mornings birding but the rest of the day would be ours to relax, swim, shop, and perhaps sneak in some more birding! I pushed my luck on a couple of times but it worked very well as we only missed a few species that I expected to see (Mexican Hermit, Smoky- brown Woodpecker, Fan-tailed Warbler, Ruddy-capped Nightingale Thrush). I did suggest a night on the volcano but was outvoted! However, the one day we did spend on the volcano would have been much more productive had it not been for the landslide. So Colima/Jalisco is a place you could take a non-birding spouse/ friend and enjoy the vacation together.
We had a time-share at Palma Real, a luxury resort away from the town. It was expensive but it has all the amenities such as a lagoon on one side and thorn forest elsewhere! Although the list of endemics seen from the swimming pool or over the top of a cold cerveca reached 7 the dry thorn forest at nearby Playa del Oro is much better habitat. Late May is probably not be the best time for some of the birds, e.g. the tinamous were not calling, ditto most of the owls, and by 10am most birds were taking a siesta. However, nearly all of the pesky Empidomax have gone, the wood warblers are all those rare Texas/Arizona specialties, trees are leafless, and you can relax (really) in the afternoons.
Manzanillo makes an excellent base for birding. All the key sites (with the possible except of the north side of the volcanoes) are within a two to three hour drive on good to excellent roads so it is easy to be there before first light. You do need good directions as once you leave the main roads as it becomes a maize of dirt tracks with no signposts nor reliable maps. My expensive gazetteer map of Colima was wrong on many counts including the absence of a major freeway! Many birders will think of flying straight to Manzanillo or Colima rather than Puerta Vallarta but I think this is a mistake. Firstly, there are very few non-stop scheduled flights by US-based airlines to Manzanillo or Colima. I have heard unfavorable reports about the quality of maintenance of the Mexican airlines. Secondly, the habitat around Puerta Vallarta is different enough from the dry thorn forests of further south that there is always the chance of new birds (e.g. Elegant Quail, Black-throated Magpie Jay, or Sinaloa Crow). But best of all the drive down route 200 takes you through a variety of habitats including the only reliable site for the Military Macaw.
Manzanillo unlike Puerta Vallarta is not touristy with friendly locals, a few good shopping areas and lots of cheap beer. Oh yeah, the food and gas were pretty cheap. Biting critters were about average except for the ticks in the thorn forest. There is a major toll road connecting Manzanillo with Colima and on through to Guadalajara but because of the relatively high tolls ($2 to 7) there was very little traffic. This was a real bonus and proved to be the only quick way to get to Colima and the volcanoes. Despite what I have been told driving was easy and safe at night. However, Mexicans put on their left indicator when they want you to overtake!!
Special thanks to Duane Carmony, James Clements, Dave Fallow, Howie Nielsen, Dick Palmer, Carol Schumacher, and David Smith. If you need more details please don't hesitate to contact me.
Foster City, CA