by David Matson
Birding sites near Acapulco apparently are not well known in the birding community. I birded 3 days during a recent trip, of which 1.5 days was spent looking for good birding spots.
I headed to the hills. The rental car agent suggested the road to Mochitlan, which takes off east from the old Mexico City_Acapulco road about 5 Km south of Chilpalcingo. This road starts promisingly, running a narrow, heavily forested cleft that is undisturbed on the south side of the road. The north side, where the road runs, is more disturbed but is covered with dry scrub holding a number of hummingbirds, warblers, wrens, gnatcatchers, etc. as expected.
After a few Km the road opens out into an agricultural valley that runs about 40 Km total to the town of Quechultenango. Police at Quechultenango advised me a large number of assaults should discourage me from trying the trails beyond the town that might have led closer to the uncut forest on the hillsides. Because this was the first time in 20 years of birding in Mexico that police actually initiated assistance I birded the valley--adequate agricultural birds: Stripe-headed Sparrow, buntings, Happy Wren, Cassin's Kingbird, Grey-breasted Martin.
I tried the road to Zihuatenejo that leads west from Chilpalcingo. This is very dry scrub the first 15 Km, as far as I went. A road to a microwave tower provided freedom from the traffic. I birded one spot here and saw Lesser Roadrunner, a few hummers, and Beardless Tyrannulet.
Looking for a way into the oaks I drove around for about 2 hours. Finally, 2 Km north of El Ocotito, which is about 20 Km north of Tierra Colorada on the old Acapulco road, I found a turn-off to a microwave antenna situated high on the mountainside. The turn-off is well-marked coming from the north--the usual sign for a road to a microwave tower, in Spanish. From the south, the turn is not marked. The road to the antenna initially passes through a small village. In the village, about 300 m off the main road, is a town square. Proceed straight ahead, directly away from the main road. The road is quite beat up in the village, but can be negotiated carefully. Once out of the village the road improves greatly. The total distance to the antenna is 5 Km, proceeding through better and better forest. At the antenna, I parked and walked up a cattle path to intact oak forest with understory disturbed by cattle grazing. Birding here was good with a mixture of warblers, tanagers, vireos, tyrannids, hummers, woodpeckers, jays, motmot, wren, tityra, and saltator. The higher I walked the better the habitat, finally reaching a little hummingbird heaven loaded with flowers. Understory disturbed only a little by cattle intrusion was reached 1.5 hours above the antenna.
Getting into the montane forest is increasingly difficult in Mexico. This is surely one of the better sites near Acapulco. It is 1.5 hours from Acapulco by car using the tollroad to Tierra Colorada. Be sure to turn right (east) after exiting from the tollroad. The map is confusing here.
Just before the airport, on the east side of town, is a turn-off to Barra Vieja and Tres Vidas. A large statue marks this turn. This is the old coastal road, which rides the back of the dunes between the Laguna Tres Palos and the ocean. Access to the ocean is good, with nice beach, and a number of shorebirds and gulls roosting. On the ocean were Red-footed and Brown Boobies, Brown Pelican, an all-dark shearwater, tern, and frigatebirds. The road continues on to Barra Vieja, where the laguna opens into the ocean. A one-lane bridge crosses the laguna and the road continues on to Lomas de Chapultepec and the Rio Papagayo, where the bridge is washed out.
Several wet fields, lily-covered ponds, and clumps of dry scrub provided good birding, including Pale-billed Woodpecker, Solitary Sandpiper, Jacana, Purple Gallinule, Ruddy Crake, and Fulvous Whistling-Duck.
The highlight was rental of a flat-bottomed punt at the laguna bridge. (N side of road, W side of bridge, first white house along beach: Sr. Rogelio Sanchez). Within 5 min of his guiding I saw Boat-billed Heron (local name "Zacuaro"). I paid him 10 pesos for his time and effort--his price. A second trip with Sr. Sanchez went 20 min by motored boat up the laguna to a shallow backwater called "Isla de los Pajaros" by the locals. The locals said that birds come to roost and Boat-billeds fly out for hunting around 6 p.m. (December).
To bird some dry thorn scrub I took the main road east from the intersection at Puerto Margues. This passes through a semi-urban zone for about 7 Km then meets highway 200 to San Marcos. After the second river crossing on this highway (Rio Papagayo again) a turn-off to Barra Vieja is marked. This is the old road that receives little traffic because the southern bridge over the Rio, down at Lomas de Chapultepec, is washed out. This road passes through moderately disturbed scrub but has the advantage of having little traffic. Birds seen here include Cinnamon Hummingbird, Banded and Rufous-naped Wrens, orioles, warblers, gnatcatchers, Orange-breasted Bunting, and other stuff.
A couple of other comments. The only Psittacidae I saw were a few Orange-fronted Parakeets. These included two in the foothills and several (maybe 5) calling below the pine forest. The only mammals I saw were some "brown-headed" squirrels at the very highest reach of my climb. The Eared Poorwill was sitting on the road to the "pine-oak" microwave tower at 5:45 a.m., just near the top, as I drove up for a second half day.
Great Blue Heron
Black-crowned Night Heron
Yellow-crowned Night Heron
N. Pygmy Owl
Fork-tailed (Golden-crowned) Emerald
N. Beardless Tyrannulet
Pacific Slope Flycatcher?
N Rough-winged Swallow
David O. Matson