28 December 1996 - 5 January 1997
by Timothy Barnekov
This is a report of a trip that my wife and I made to Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo, Mexico, between December 28 and January 5, 1997. We recommend this trip for those who want to combine relaxing in the sun and sea with some reasonably good birding. This birding needs to be done along the coast because, much to our dismay, we discovered that any venturing into the foothills is extremely dangerous even for a sizable group. For those who are not familiar with the area, Zihuatanejo is a very old village which began to attract a small number of tourists in the 1960s. Ixtapa (about five miles north of Zihuatanejo) is a beautiful beach which was developed into a resort by the Mexican government in the 1970s. A jetport provides easy access by air.
Within Ixtapa, there are several good birding sites. The bay has beautiful rocky islands and lots of birds overhead including numerous Brown Boobies, Magnificent Frigatebirds, Brown Pelicans, Neotropic Cormorants, and an occasional Caspian Tern. We could see shearwaters offshore (probably Sooty but possibly some Pink-footed). Gray-breasted Martins circle over some of the hotels, particularly the Fontane.
The road in front of the hotels is divided by a grassy strip. Here we found Orchard, Hooded and Streaked-backed Orioles, Social Flycatchers, Yellow-winged Caciques, Great-tailed Grackles, Brown-headed Cowbirds, a few Bronzed Cowbirds, Rufous-backed Robins, Tropical Kingbirds (everywhere), Inca Doves, Turkey Vultures, Brown-crested Flycatchers, and a few House Sparrows. Grove-billed Anis are in the bushes at the corner of Paseos de las Grazas. Generally, we found bird activity to be fairly good up until 9:30 am or 10:00 am when it got to hot and then again from 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm. In early January, sunrise is about 7:00 am and sunset at 7:00 pm.
Starting at the south end of the town near the Hotel Aristos or the Sheraton, walk away from the beach several blocks along the road that passes the handicrafts market. On the right, there is a forested area with fairly tall trees. On the left are streets that pass through a series of undeveloped blocks. If you continue about 4-5 blocks to the point where the road ends, you will find a road that veers off to the right. This passes through the highway department's nursery and then out into an area of fields. We did not find this in time to bird it but it looks like it might be interesting.
Most of our time in Ixtapa was spent birding the undeveloped blocks that are located several blocks off the beach through the length of Ixtapa up to the marina golf course. In addition, the species found along the main road, we also found: Cattle Egret, Common Ground Dove, Citreoline Trogon, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee, San Blas Jay, White-throated Magpie Jay, Rufous-naped Wren, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, White-collared Seedeater, Stripe-headed Sparrow. On or near the Marina Golf Course we encountered Roadside Hawk, Cinnamon Hummingbird, Vermilion Flycatcher, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Wilson's Plover, Killdeer, and Whimbrel.
By far, the best birding area in Ixtapa is the golf course at the south end of the town. It is an easy walk from the Sheraton (a long block). Enter the golf course by a long driveway on the south edge of the course. Walk back through a gate (opening time is 7:00 am and closing time is 7:00 pm), past the clubhouse on the right and make an immediate left onto an asphalt path which runs along a fence and then curves right into the main part of the golf course. Ignore the sign that says "only golfers allowed on the course", or something like that, and just avoid disturbing the golfers. No one will bother you. Keep on the path and you will find numerous Golden-cheeked Woodpeckers, Yellow-throated Warbler and some other warblers that we could not identify, and White-winged and Ruddy Ground Doves. Stay on the path as it makes a big curve to the right and heads toward a lagoon. Just prior to the lagoon, we found a pair of Lineated Woodpeckers. The lagoon itself has Northern Jacana, Green Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Vaux's Swift flying overhead (in the evening), Purple Gallinule, Common Moorhen, American Coot, and Black-necked Stilt. Be careful of the crocodiles! I nearly stepped on a monster sunning itself at the edge of the lagoon. Also look for Iguana in the trees.
Walk around the edge of the lagoon and you will find the path curving back toward the direction you came and then almost immediately disappear. Keep going and in just about 20 to 30 yards look to your left where the houses are and you will see a path through the fence. This crosses a road and then reenters the golf course. Right as you enter the course again, there are some large trees and a lot of activity when we were there including Hooded, Streak-backed and probably Altimira Orioles, White-throated Magpie Jays, and various types of doves. The path then curves toward big trees and shortly before getting there we found a Rose-throated Becard. After passing through the large trees, look to your right across the fairway and you will see another small lagoon. We scoped it rather than crossing over to avoid disturbing the golfers. We managed to find a Belted Kingfisher, a Great Blue Heron, and a Black-crowned Night-Heron. Continuing along the path, we came up on a Gray Hawk, a Streak-backed Oriole, and a Common Yellowthroat. The path curves back to the right when it reaches the main Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo road, crosses a culvert and then curves back along the other side of the small lagoon. Here we found White-collared Seedeaters, Northern Jacana, Purple Gallinule, Black-necked Stilt, a Solitary Sandpiper, and a Little Blue Heron. We also had another nice view of an Iguana in the trees surrounding the lagoon. The path then curves to the left back to the clubhouse. There is also another part of the golf course across the main road next to the ocean. We did not try that area.
Another interesting place in Ixtapa is the Westin Hotel on the south side of town. Worth seeing on its own, the hotel is built on a hillside around a good deal of what looks like native seaside habitat. We were there at midday so not much was happening (except for a Citreoline Trogon) but it might be worth a look in the early morning.
A trip to Isla Ixtapa on the north side of the town is very rewarding. There is not much bird life on the little island but the snorkeling and barbequed fish, shrimp and lobster are outstanding. Take your binoculars, however, because at the place where you get the launch is a wonderful little lagoon where you will get good looks at crocodiles, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, White Ibis, Black Vultures, Neotropic Cormorants, Anhinga, and maybe even a Roseate Spoonbill (we had a brief glace at one).
We rented a car for two days and, with diminished expectations because of the inability to get into the foothills, took several trips along the coast. There is a very productive road to Barra de Potosi about 12 miles south of town. Proceed several miles past the turnoff to the airport and turn toward the coast at the sign to Barra de Potosi. We birded that road several times both morning and evening without a problem but always be cautious. There is a good deal of traffic along the road which runs about 5 to 7 miles to a fishing camp on the ocean next to Barra de Potosi. Along the road we found White-faced Ibis, Wood Stork, Blue-winged Teal, Grove-billed Ani, Mangrove Swallow, White-throated Magpie Jay, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Ruddy Duck (look for a large lagoon on your right--you will have to scope it because it is about a half mile away), Harris's Hawk, Swainson's Hawk, American Kestrel, Golden-cheeked Woodpecker, Lesser Yellowlegs, Squirrel Cuckoo, Blue-black Grassquit, Stripe-headed Sparrow, Northern Jacana, and a number of other species that are common in the area. At Barra de Potosi, there are hundreds of Brown Pelicans, Black Vultures, Great Egret, Tricolored Heron, Reddish Egret, Green Heron, Laughing Gull, Royal Tern, and Ringed Kingfisher.
We drove further south along the road to Acapulco but without much success. We also went north one afternoon (10 to 12 miles) and turned on to the short paved road to Troncones. From Troncones, there is a somewhat rough dirt road which runs for several miles along the coast through a thorn forest to Playa Majagua. We did not see much there, except for a Cinnamon Hummingbird, because of the time of the day, but it could be very productive in the early morning. At Playa Majagua, there is a thatched roof eating establishment and a nice beach. From there we traveled over a rough dirt road back to the highway. What makes this road interesting is that it climbs up through a very forested region for several miles. Again, we failed to find much except a Crested Caracara with road kill but this area provided very different habitat from what we had seen elsewhere. Try it in the morning.
We hope that this report might prove useful to others who happen to find themselves in the delightful area of Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo. We would be grateful to hear from anyone who follows up on our visit. We can be reached at:
Tim and Chris Barnekov