Birding the Americas Trip Report and Planning Repository
Return to the Main Index

Return to the North America Index

Return to the Mexico Index
Return to the Nayarit Index
Return to the Jalisco Index

MEXICO -- NAYARIT & JALISCO
Based in Marina Vallarta, near Puerto Vallarta

24 April - 1 May 2007

by Chris Drysdale

One week trip to Jalisco, staying at Puerto Vallarta (in Marina Vallarta, 20 minutes drive north of the city centre), with side trips just across the state line to Nayarit, April 24th to May 1st 2007.

I have followed, albeit with some shuffling of sections, the report format used by Blake Maybank. If you are not reading this on his excellent site, you may wish to check http://maybank.tripod.com/Mexico/Jalisco-Nayarit-01-2006.htm#TRIP. I am sincerely indebted to Blake for the wealth of information he has provided on the Internet pre-departure. I will never leave home without a Google Earth map again.

Note - in my undeniably short, but adventurous, birding life (4 years, 37 countries), I have formed the clear impression that trip reports tend to fall into two categories:

1. a souvenir account of what was seen, for the record – nice to read, but of limited practical use; and

2. logistics, geographical details, local insight, plus what was seen, where, when, and how, with hands-on details of how you can see the same.

This report is very much of the latter type, of which I wish there were more on the Internet.

Birding from the hotel

- Marina Vallarta. The Melia will never win any locations for its spectacular setting, least of all from a birding perspective. But it’s fun to watch the endless procession of Magnificent Frigatebirds, Brown Pelicans and Heermann’s Gulls, interspersed with Northern Rough-winged Swallows and the odd Neotropic Cormorant. But it will provide little in the way of real interest, although does endow one with that great feeling of smugness which comes with the knowledge, as one approaches the bar, that the booze has already been paid for on an in-inclusive deal.

Melia Hotel Species List (not in systematic order):

Magnificent Frigatebird
Great-tailed Grackle
Hermann's Gull
Barn Swallow
Brown Pelican
Great Kiskadee
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Black Vulture
Neotropic Cormorant
Inca Dove
Common Ground-Dove
Brown Booby
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck


Vista Vallarta hill climb


- Inland from Marina Vallarta. By using Google Earth, I identified what looked like a good hill track approx 8 km due inland (East) from Marina Vallarta, starting at the new Vista Vallarta Golf Club (golf fans with considerable cash, see www.vistavallartagolf.com). By calling ahead to the Club, I was able to confirm that this was a public-access track.

The Club is at an elevation of approx. 250-250 feet ASL. The access road continues past the grounds, and is in good condition, though un-surfaced. 4WD is not necessary in the dry season, but walking is more fun. After about 2 km, there is a T junction: left will take you back towards the city and an area of construction, right up into the mountains. Needless to say, right is the option you will wish to take.


You will need a taxi to reach the Club. I made two visits. Leaving the marina at 06.45, I was at the end of the road to the clubhouse by 07.10; a little too early for sun-rise in late April (taxi 180 pesos). I was so enervated to be back in a sub-tropical environment, that I birded slowly with the advancing light, thrilled to be back in a place where the roadside weeds were the same plants I had seen a week earlier in Wal-Mart for $8.99.


However, I learned that this was not the optimum strategy. On my second visit I had the taxi drive past the club to the T junction, dropping me at 06.45, whereupon I walked east (uphill) at a good pace for about 5km, reaching the first crest on the road at an elevation of 1090 feet by exactly 07.30, coinciding exactly with the first hint of sun over the mountains further east. I would recommend this strategy – arrive early, hike the road, and bird back down after dawn.

An early sighting was a good Mottled Owl, and Pauraque was calling incessantly from the roadside (visible with good night binoculars) by the T junction before I started my climb. The walk affords superb views down to the Bahia de Banderas, and, at closer range, down onto the canopy of the lower elevations. With early sun, approaching Lilac-crowned Parrots are easily identified below the onlooker; White-fronted more by voice. Military Macaw was heard only.

Hummingbirds are occasionally so omni-present that it is hard to separate individuals for identification: include Cinnamon, Berylline, Broad-billed and Plain-capped Starthroat, with Golden-crowned Emerald for good measure. Rufous-bellied Chacalaca was seen (clearly) and not heard…a novel twist to almost all of my previous sightings of this family.
I also became accustomed to many of the more frequent species that I was to see in the region – Rose-collared Becard, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, Yellow-winged Cacique, the fabulous Golden-headed and Cheeked Woodpeckers, Greyish Saltator, Flame-coloured Tanager and Sinaloa Wren.

The road continues far beyond the first crest at which I stopped, and is undoubtedly worth further exploration. The habitat is tall dense thicket and complete (eg not cleared, or grazed) tangled scrub, with occasional taller trees creating a broken canopy. There are few clearings from 300 feet upwards, although some rather disappointingly roughly-hacked out farmland not far beyond the golf club. The road is driveable even without 4WD, although, sadly, it does seem to attract the all-terrain vehicles and Jeep ‘safari’ trips out of Marina Vallarta (there is a zip wire contraption at the first ‘peak’), so every so often you might find yourself stepping off the track to allow those less-inclined towards environmental sustainability to roar past.


In the area around the golf club (entrance road eastwards – e.g. inland), which I explored at just past daybreak on one visit, the more notable sightings included clear Russet-crowned Motmot, many vocal Black-bellied Whistling-ducks, Golden-cheeked WP, Blue Grosbeak, Citreoline Trogon and my one, though good, sighting of Black-capped Gnatcatcher.


Vista Vallarta Species List (not in systematic order):

Pauraque
Mottled Owl
Bell's Vireo
Hooded Oriole
Warbling Vireo
Lilac-crowned Parrot
Orange-fronted Parakeet
Squirrel Cuckoo
Groove-billed Ani
Sinaloa Wren
Blue Grosbeak
Plain-capped Starthroat
Rufous-bellied Chacalaca
Military Macaw (HO)
Vaux's Swift
Golden-headed WP
Golden-cheeked WP
Mexican Cacique
Streak-backed Oriole
Great Swallow-tailed Swift
White-collared Swift
Ladder-backed Woodpecker
Broad-billed Hummingbird
Great Black-Hawk
Golden-crowned Emerald
Greyish Saltator
Varied Bunting
Flame-coloured Tanager
Dusky Flycatcher
Blue-black Grassquit
Grey Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Inca Dove
Common Gound-Dove
Stripe-headed Sparrow
Masked Tityra
Tropical Parula
(38 species)


Rio Pitillal

- area between Marina and downtown Vallarta
. The Rio Pitillal is a major drainage from the PV foothills into the Atlantic, though was almost dry, and made a very walkable river bed, in late April. It runs East - West through the area just south of Marina Vallarta. Locals told me that in the wet season the rio was a true rio, and therefore likely to attract a richer diversity of riverine and aquatic species than those I saw. However, should you be short of options in the outskirts of central PV, then it makes for a decent urban escape. Even in full flow there would be access, as there are clear, unpaved tracks along each bank.

The river cuts under the main highway, just south of the new Peninsular shopping and residential development. The nearest hotel landmark is the NH Krystal. By any standards, it’s difficult to miss if you are travelling along the main road. I can’t comment about parking for vehicles, but hopping off nearby from one of the multitude of public buses is easy. Access is equally simple: just walk under the bridge or cross the highway and follow the tracks which run alongside the river/riverbed on either side. I took a couple of hours to wander the same amount of kilometres, though the riverbed, and the tracks on each bank clearly continue for a few more, at least.

If you have little time from your hotel, this is a good place to pick up many of the local favourites, such as Mexican Cacique, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, Orioles (Streak-backed and Audubon’s), Elegant Quail, Happy Wren, the common ground doves, Groove-billed Anis, Warbling, Solitary, Cassin’s and the endemic Golden Vireo, BH Cowbird and plentiful, though oddly hard-to-see White-collared Seedeaters. Northern Jacana was a surprise, considering the lack of water, and White and White-faced Ibis allowed me to approach to within 20 feet. 

Lark Sparrow was a good last bird, coming in at fading light to drink from a shallow pool.

Rio Pitillal Species List (not in systematic order):

Great Kiskadee
Inca Dove
Western Kingbird
Common Ground-Dove
Pacific Slope Flycatcher
Groove-billed Ani
Happy Wren
Turkey Vulture
Black Vulture
Cattle Egret
Snowy Egret
Warbling Vireo
Sulphur-breasted Flycatcher
Rose-throated Becard
Plumbeous Vireo
Golden Vireo
Cassin's Vireo
Dusky-capped Flycatcher
Bank Swallow
Barn Swallow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Bronzed Cowbird
Audubon's Oriole
MacGillivray's Warbler
Great Egret
Streak-backed Oriole
Elegant Quail
White Ibis
White-faced Ibis
Solitary Sandpiper
Great-tailed Grackle
Red-billed Pigeon
Northern Jacana
Stripe-headed Sparrow
Lark Sparrow
Yellow-winged Cacique
White-collared Seedeater
(37 species)


Airport perimeter and ‘Zona Ecologico’

- coastline from Marina Vallarta to just north of the airport. Feeling really cut off from decent birding sites one afternoon, I struck out along the beaches heading north from Marina Vallarta. Be sure to check the tide timetables, as whilst most of the sand remains exposed, there are a couple of places (eg the Melia Hotel) where the water comes right in to the sea wall. This makes continuing tricky – I just cut inland and walked confidently across private (resort) land and past security guards, though this is not a terribly comfortable thing to have to do.

Nothing to report but Common Tern; ubiquitous, though lovely Heermann’s Gulls, and the odd Laughing Gull until I reached the perimeter of the Marina golf-course. Check for migrating waders (I only saw Short-billed Dowitchers and a Solitary Sandpiper, but I am sure there would be more passing by the shallow inland pools). Also great views of Roseate Spoonbill, especially since my only previous sighting had been from a canoe, of one individual perched over 100m away. Semipalmated Plover also a notable on the grass of the course.


Immediately north of the golf course, you pass by the airport perimeter fence. This might be productive in early morning, but I had to wait until the northern corner of the fence before I noticed that there was a small sign declaring the lagoon inland a ‘zona ecolgica’. The trees ringing this water were weighed heavy with hundreds of Little Blue Herons and Snowy Egrets, with the odd Anhinga. Superb spot for close-up photography, though the lagoon is full of crocodiles, as I almost found out to my cost, so keep a distance from the water.


Restricted for time, I took the track inland, alongside the lagoon, through dense but low dry sea woods. Found it quiet, but wished I had had more time to explore at daybreak - San Blas Jays were again photographable within 10 feet in the low trees. Look out for the huge red-legged Land crabs. This track continues 1km or so inland, and then splits: left heads across a field to a similar wooded area; whilst right will take you alongside the runway across farmed land for several kilometres. I would love to have been able to explore more.

Airport Species List (not in systematic order):

Killdeer
Semipalmated Plover
American Coot
Black-necked Stilt
Little Blue Heron
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
Anhinga
Laughing Gull
Snowy Egret
San Blas Jay
American Redstart
Heermann's Gull
Solitary Sandpiper
Short-billed Dowitcher
Roseate Spoonbill
Streak-backed Oriole
Great-tailed Grackle
Streak-backed Oriole
Common Ground-Dove
Western Kingbird
Common Tern
Brown Pelican
Magnificent Frigatebird
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
Yellow-winged Cacique
(25 species)


El Guamuchil

- inland wooded area in the southern region Nayarit. Reference, and acknowledgements, must be made to Blake Maybank for his previous trip reports referencing EG (see http://maybank.tripod.com/Mexico/Jalisco-Nayarit-01-2006.htm). I made two visits;

Visit #1.

Taxi from Marina Vallarta (250 pesos, 40 minutes, arriving at 07.20). It was still almost fully dark. I walked straight through the village at a fair clip, (good news: the previously-mentioned ‘dilapidated’ children’s playground has now been renovated and is fresh and sparkling), then birded UP the road to the communications tower, arriving there at about 10.30.


As I climbed, distracted by the sounds around me, I gradually realised that I was following the wrong tactic. When I reached the top, I could have kicked myself: I strongly recommend a dash for the peak (approx one hour or less), then birding DOWN. Here are the reasons:

- the lower elevations, which include some high canopy trees, are very tricky in the early half-light. I found it extremely frustrating–there was a great deal of dawn movement, but pin-pointing the culprits was challenging. I spent a lot of time missing out of movement in poor light

- the higher elevations gain great early light (including flyover parrots/parakeets), and allow exceptional views. Species hard to identify in the forest (woodpeckers, woodcreepers, flycatchers etc.) are much simpler up here.

My error was that I hadn’t realised that this was generally very open, fairly mature forest; I was expecting lower growth, and, consequently, earlier light. Distances between viewer and bird can be great. The light didn’t get great until about 09.00, so I’d get high early and appreciate the view; then descend with time.

On the track to the tower, the gates that are described on Blake’s site still exist. They are still easy to get around. I met no-one at all on my ascent and descent – over 4 hours of prowling.

Highlights included: Rose-throated Becards and Scrub Euphonias nesting clearly, Ivory-billed Woodcreeper within 4 metres (which, with no voice recognition aids, helped marginally with ID), a raucous but hard-to-see Lesser Ground-cuckoo and lots of Yellow Grosbeaks. White-throated Thrush made an appearance just as I was about to depart the site, as interesting birds often seem to do.

El Guamuchil Visit #1 Species List (not in systematic order):

Bright-rumped Attila
Stripe-headed Sparrow
Lilac-crowned Parrot
Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher
Cinnamon Hummingbird
Happy Wren
Rose-throated Becard
Yellow Grosbeak
Bank Swallow
Black Vulture
Elegant Trogon
Black-throated Magpie Jay
Red-billed Pigeon
Common Ground-Dove
Ivory-billed Woodcreeper
Northern Beardless Tyrannulet
Bell's Vireo
Plumbeous Vireo
Masked Tityra
Great Kiskadee
Western Kingbird
Orange-fronted Parakeet
Squirrel Cuckoo
Lesser Ground Cuckoo
Streak-backed Oriole
Western Tanager
Golden-cheeked Woodpecker
Tropical Parula
Yellow Grosbeak
Scrub Euphonia
Blue Bunting
Orange-breasted Bunting
Bronze-headed Cowbird
Berylline Hummingbird
White-throated Thrush
(35 species)


Visit #2.

Having learned from my first visit, my second taxi dropped me off earlier at 07.00 in the middle of the village. I made it to the tree where the road splits, and this time took the left fork. I suspect that I inadvertently discovered the finca belonging to Octavio (see
http://maybank.tripod.com/Mexico/Jalisco-Nayarit-01-2006.htm ), though note that I only made this at sun-rise (approx 07.30) by running. At the very edge of the cleared finca lands, I met a fence, beyond which further travel would have been difficult. However, I could see Lilac-crowned Parrots feeding in the valley below, which I thought made the jog worthwhile.

The finca itself was hummingbird central, and I counted Violet-crowned, Cinnamon, Berylline Hummingbird, and Mexican Woodnymph – though the open space makes ID tricky. I only seemed to see female Orange-breasted Buntings, though the more spectacular male Indigo Buntings were also present.

On the track back to the town, I didn’t add many new species, though found identification a lot easier with the better light. Pale-billed Woodpecker was the only really good addition for me.

El Guamuchil Visit #2  - new Species List (not in systematic order):

Violet-crowned Hummingbird
Common Poorwill
Mexican Woodnymph
Rusty-crowned Ground-Sparrow
Varied Bunting
Golden Vireo
Swainson's Thursh
Hermit Thrush
Mourning Dove
Ruddy Ground-Dove
White-tipped Dove
White-winged Dove
Berylline Hummingbird
Pale-billed Woodpecker
Black-throated Magpie Jay


Accommodations

As I was on a family vacation, I stayed in the Melia all-inclusive resort in the Marina. I would not hesitate to recommend this place to those wishing to combine a sun/pool style holiday with birding. Service, rooms, pool, food, environment, and the overall feel of the place exceeded my expectations. I am accustomed to arriving in a place via a tortuous liaison between several competing local bus companies, each offering wildly different and generally fictitious ‘timetables, then to have to pitch a tent; hence this all-inclusive thing was a revelation for me. But if you need to occupy family whilst sneaking out to bird, this place is pretty darned good.

Transportation

I used taxis when I left my hotel early in the morning, as buses before 6am were unreliable, though I am sure that they would have been frequent from 7am onwards. Don’t accept the first price the cab driver gives you if it feels too high – I generally found that most taxi drivers in the area stuck to an agreed fare, and those who quoted over the price weren’t trying to rip you off, they just didn’t know the ‘agreed’ price.

Full Trip Species List

Stripe-headed Sparrow
White-fronted Parrot
Painted Bunting
Black-throated Magpie-Jay
Inca Dove
Western Kingbird
Great Egret
Great Kiskadee
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
San Blas Jay
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
Greyish Saltator
Yellow-winged Cacique
Yellow Warbler
Rufous-backed Thrush
Golden-cheeked Woodpecker
White-collared Seedeater
Blue Grosbeak
Masked Tityra
White-winged Dove
Red-billed Pigeon
White-tipped Dove
Grey Hawk
Elegant Quail
Russet-crowned Motmot
Sinaloa Wren
Streak-backed Oriole
Citreoline Trogon
Northern Beardless Tyrannulet
Black-capped Gnatcatcher
Bronzed Cowbird
Black Swift
Yellow-green Vireo
Cinnamon Hummingbird
Orange-fronted Parakeet
Lilac-crowned Parrot
House Finch
Great Black Hawk
Common Ground-Dove
Pacific Slope Flycatcher
Groove-billed Ani
Happy Wren
Cattle Egret
Snowy Egret
Warbling Vireo
Sulpur-breasted Flycatcher
Rose-throated Becard
Plumbeous Vireo
Golden Vireo
Cassin's Vireo
Dusky-capped Flycatcher
Bank Swallow
Barn Swallow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Bronzed Cowbird
Audubon's Oriole
MacGillivray's Warbler
White Ibis
White-faced Ibis
Solitary Sandpiper
Great-tailed Grackle
Northern Jacana
Lark Sparrow
Bright-rumped Attila
Yellow Grosbeak
Bank Swallow
Black Vulture
Elegant Trogon
Red-billed Pigeon
Ivory-billed Woodcreeper
Northern Beardless Tyrannulet
Bell's Vireo
Plumbeous Vireo
Great Kiskadee
Squirrel Cuckoo
Lesser Ground Cuckoo
Western Tanager
Tropical Parula
Scrub Euphonia
Blue Bunting
Orange-breasted Bunting
Bronze-headed Cowbird
Berylline Hummingbird
White-throated Thrush
Killdeer
Semipalmated Plover
American Coot
Black-necked Stilt
Little Blue Heron
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
Anhinga
Laughing Gull
American Redstart
Heermann's Gull
Short-billed Dowitcher
Roseate Spoonbill
Common Tern
Brown Pelican
Magnificent Frigatebird
Pauraque
Mottled Owl
Hooded Oriole
Plain-capped Starthroat
Rufous-bellied Chachalaca
Military Macaw (HO)
Vaux's Swift
Golden-cheeked Woodpecker
White-collared Swift
Ladder-backed Woodpecker
Broad-billed Hummingbird
Great Black-Hawk
Golden-crowned Emerald
Varied Bunting
Flame-coloured Tanager
Dusky Flycatcher
Blue-black Grassquit
Violet-crowned Hummingbird
Common Poorwill
Mexican Woodnymph
Rusty-crowned Ground-Sparrow
Swainson's Thursh
Hermit Thrush
Mourning Dove
Ruddy Ground-Dove
Pale-billed Woodpecker
Neotropic Cormorant
Brown Booby
(130 total species seen)


chris drysdale
<riotambopata@yahoo.co.uk>


Birding Top 500 Counter