Late May, 1996
by Jim Hully
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.
Jim Hully Foster City, CA