April 27 - 30, 1997
Garry George & Joseph Brooks
Howell & Webb, A Guide to the Birds of Mexico
Roland H. Wauer, A Naturalist's Mexico
Peter Alden, Finding the Birds in Western Mexico (out of print)
Trip report of Jim Hully
We flew from LAX on Aero California ($116 round trip) and were met at the airport by Antonio Martinez, referred to us by Sergio@aviles.com.mx in answer to my query on BIRDCHAT, a taxidermist who works for Natural Resources Dept of the State of Sinaloa in Culiacan (phone #5267-14-08-60) who had agreed to guide us to some birding locations. He speaks little English. We set the rental car companies competing against each other until we were left with one 6 cylinder Chrysler Stratus for $66/day including tax (15%). We put the car on American Express for the insurance. We climbed in the vehicle and headed for Hwy 40 toward Durango and drove around 2 hours up into the mountains until we came to a white house with the word "Comedor" at km 201. We parked and walked into Barranca Rancho Liebre trail and played the tape for the Tufted Jay, our target bird. A flock of curious jays came in pretty fast and we watched them in delight. We wandered around on the trail for a little while watching some North American warblers and a Red-headed Tanager but it was already late so we drove to El Palmito for breakfast supplies of bananas, pastries and water.
In El Palmito, Antonio went to find someone he knew about who lived in El Palmito and claimed to have seen the Thick-billed Parrot in December. His name was Antonio and he invited us to a friends house to see their caged Miliary Macaw. We pretended to be amused and began feeling unsure about this local guide but we had read about the birders who had been robbed at Rancho Liebre in the 80s and had heard rumors about birders being killed there so we wanted as many locals around us as possible. We agreed to meet in the morning and drove back down Hwy 40 until we found a little motel across the street from another Comedor (I forgot to note the kilmoter marker) and got two rooms for 130 pesos (around $17), tried to eat some machaca (dried beef) and beans served by a very stern faced woman who made even Antonio uncomfortable and went to sleep. The mountain was freezing cold by this time and we didn't bring the right clothes.
We woke at 5:00 am, went across the road and got some Nescafe and ate our pastries and bananas and drove to El Palmito, picked up the other Antonio, and drove to a logging road across the street from a house. We asked the woman at the house if we could park our car behind her house and we did. We birded the logging road for a little while seeing Mountain Trogons and Black Headed Grosbeaks when a truckful of men going to work in a government truck stopped and gave us a lift up the road. We jumped off and found ourselves in a pine forest to the entrance of the Barranca (canyon) Rancho Liebre (jackrabbit), with steep cliffs of rock to our right and a trail down to our left. We were eye level with a habitat of wild magnolias, oaks, pine and sage, filled with warblers.
We started down the trail and saw lots of White-eared Hummingbirds on the blooming sage, heard and saw a Blue Mockingbird, were serenaded by many Brown-backed Solitaires and saw empid after empid. We kept asking the local Antonio about Thick-billed Parrot, showing him the drawings of Lilac Crowned, Military Macaw and Orange Chinned Parakeet to make sure that he was talking about the same bird we wanted. He referred to the bird as "guacamaya" meaning "macaw" and kept insisting there were two guacamayas - one big and one small - in this location. While talking we heard some squawking sounding like parrots, but it stopped.
We descended down the trail a little further and went off trail to find a rock outcropping to sit on and look down over the barranca. A pair of parrots flew in below giving us clear views of a red front on the crown, long pointed tails, long pointed wings, and they disappeared as they landed. We played the Thick-billed Parrot tape and they flew again toward us and then landed and disappeared. We didn't have our Howell & Webb with us (too heavy) and the Petersen illustrations were'nt very thorough so we couldn't get too excited until we could eliminate all the other possibilities.
We walked back through the dry pine forest seeing great eye level views of a pair of Blue-hooded Euphonias, and another male later singing next to his cache of mistletoe, more Tufted Jays, Gray Silky Flycatchers, Rufous capped Brush Finches, Black-headed Siskin and warblers, warblers, warblers. We heard an Eared Quetzal which we wanted to see. We played the tape but it stopped calling and Antonio kept telling us "mas alta" so we kept looking over the side of the barranca when we could get a view and looked up and down the forest but no Quetzal and no more Parrots.
When we returned to the car at lunch we pulled out the book and ruled out all the other possibilities. We had seen Thick-billed Parrots which we thought were extirpated from this area. We celebrated with good looks at some Steller's Jays by our car, and drove to the comedor at kilometer 201 for lunch of scrambled eggs with chorizo and Coca Cola for $5 for three. We took Antonio home to El Palmito, thanked him with a tip of 100 pesos (around $13), and then drove down to Loberas where we were given permission to park the car in front of one of the three houses and we walked back up Hwy 40 about 2 kilometers, took a trail into the pine forest, found a fruiting madrone tree and watched Hepatic Tanager, Western Tanagers feed, walked around discovering Aztec Thrush, Common Raven, Yellow-eyed Junco, Spotted Towhee and warblers, warblers, warblers.
We went back to the car and drove down to a restaurant in a curve in the road with a billboard advertising "buena comida" that Antonio from El Palmito recommended. The owner was a gringa and kept hummingbird feeders. We ate scrambled eggs and beans and watched a Violet crowned hummingbird fight for his territory over two feeders, and listened to a Canyon wren sing below. We drove down to La Capilla del Taxte around kilometer 235 after the owner of the restaurant told us the motel we stayed in the night before was dangerous. We stayed in the Villa Blanca which is very run down but had a hot water and we welcomed a shower.
We drove back to the Barranca Rancho Liebre and parked in front of the Comedor waving hello to the kind woman who watched our car the first day. We hiked into the Barranca again, stopping just at the place where the habitat changes to the drier pine and watched warblers, hummingbirds and Mountain Trogons at eye level. We took the trail that went behind and above the Barranca hoping to get the Eared Quetzal to call again with our tape. We never heard him but saw Aztec pines (they weep like willows and the tar was used by Aztec royalty as incense), Mexican chickadees, Strickland's Woodpecker and lots of warblers.
We walked back down to the Barranca trail and stopped where a moist seep must have been just above the dry pine forest and excitedly watched a pair of Hooded Grosbeaks feed on a wild magnolia, spotted a male Gray-collared Becard, a Greenish Elaenia in the Northern end of its range and searched through three species of hummingbird looking for the Bumblebee hummingbird, which we didn't see. We walked back to the Comedor for some chicken soup, scrambled eggs, and beans and while we were waiting on the porch watched Tufted Jays come into the trees above the house and a bright Hepatic Tanager sit on a limb about ten feet away from us at eye level.
We drove all the way down Hwy 40 toward Mazatlan and asked Antonio for a location for the Purplish Backed Jay which had eluded us in San Blas. He knew a friend who lived near a thorn forest and we could go there but it was far and we would have to spend the night there, sleeping outside on the ground, and there would be only beans. We agreed, stopped and bought eggs, canned tuna and some pastries and bananas for breakfast and drove to the Cuota (Toll Road) from Mazatlan to Culiacan. We drove just past 52 kilometers and turned right on a dirt road just before an overpass/bridge. We drove into a little camp of adobe brick buildings and found Antonio's friend's son Sergio. His father had gone into the city. We showed him the pictures of the Purplish Backed Jay and he said the bird was not there but agreed to take us into the thorn forest even though there wasn't much time since it was already late afternoon.
We walked down a road through dense thorn forest and played the tape. Four Purplish Backed jays few over us and perched nearby. We watched them, then walked on spotting Gila Woodpecker, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Varied Bunting, Common Ground Doves and a pair of calling Elegant Trogons. Joseph played a Ferruginous Pygmy-owl tape and a Ferruginous Pygmy-owl called back, then flew in, then was mobbed by a pair of Black-capped Gnatcatchers, the only other bird we needed in this area. We hiked through the thorn forest and came out into a field above a lush oasis that was like a snake of green up into the hills, obviously a river and the only water around. On the right on the edge of the thorn forest we could see a Gray Hawk on a nest watching us carefully.
We hiked down to the beginning of the green and found a fruiting tree with around seven Rufous-bellied Chachalacas, four White-fronted Parrots, six or seven Western Tanagers, an Aztec Thrush, Streak-backed Oriole and Yellow- Winged Caciques. We listened to Elegant Quail in the underbrush, stirred up three Cinnamon Hummingbirds, a Happy Wren and a Sinaloa (Bar-Vented) Wren with the owl tape and reluctantly headed back too soon as it was beginning to get dark. We could have stayed there for two days. We were on the edge of the San Ignacio Reserve that we had seen from the Barranca and Antonio told us there were around 70 jaguars in the reserve. We had learned in Venezuela that jaguars have a territory of around 60 miles so that gave us some idea of the size of the Reserve. We felt sure that we would have a chance to see a jaguar or some other interesting mammals and plenty of birds if we could follow the river up into the hills. Sergio and his family invited us to join them for dinner of barbequed rabbit and an overnight stay, and offered to take us by truck directly to the oasis for early birdwatching.
When we checked our tickets we realized that the flight left three hours earlier than we thought and we had to decline their invitation but promised to come back. We gave them the eggs, tuna, pastries and bananas and gave Sergio 20 pesos (around $2) as a tip at Antonio's suggestion. We drove 1 ½ hours back to Mazatlan, dropped Antonio off at a hotel on Olas Altas Blvd where he would catch a car to Culiacan, paid him $90 U.S. for the 3 days (it was around the same that he makes at his job) and drove to the old section toward El Faro Lighthouse to the La Siesta Hotel above the Shrimp Bucket restaurant which Antonio recommended. We got a third floor ocean view air conditioned room for 160 pesos ($20) and had a great dinner below for around 150 pesos (less than $20) and went to sleep with the air conditioning off and the windows open, listening to the ocean. We woke up at 2 a.m. when the mosquitos began feasting on us, pulled our mosquito netting, and went back to sleep.
After a leisurely delicious breakfast we watched Magnificent frigatebirds, Laughing gulls, Heerman's gulls, Brown pelicans and Gray-breasted Martins from the room, then drove to the airport, returned the car with no problems (a rarity in Mexico), had some lunch while our flight was delayed, boarded, stopped in La Paz where we cleared immigration and saw a female Hooded Oriole on a yucca, searched for shade, boarded our flight to LA and arrived around 3:30 pm.
Species @ Barranca Rancho Liebre; Loberas; the Durango Highway
|COMMON NAME||SCIENTIFIC NAME|
|Black Vulture||Coragyps atratus|
|Turkey Vulture||Cathartes aura|
|Red Tailed Hawk||Buteo jamaicensis|
|Sharp-shinned Hawk||Accipiter striatus|
|Band-tailed Pigeon||Columba fasciata|
|Thick-billed Parrot||Rhynchopsitta pachyrhyncha|
|White-throated Swift||Aeronautes saxatalis|
|White-eared Hummingbird||Hylocharis leucotis|
|Berylline Hummingbird||Amazilia beryllina|
|Violet-crowned Hummingbird||Amazilia violiceps|
|Rufous Hummingbird||Selasphorus rufus|
|Eared Trogon (Heard Only)||Euptilotis neoxenus|
|Mountain Trogon||Trogon mexicanus|
|Acorn Woodpecker||Melanerpes formicivorus|
|Strickland's Woodpecker||Picoides stricklandi|
|White-striped Woodcreeper||Lepidocolaptes leucogaster|
|Greenish Elaenia||Myiopagis viridicata|
|Tufted Flycatcher||Mitrephanes phaeocercus|
|Greater Pewee||Contopus pertinax|
|Pine Flycatcher||Empidonax affinis|
|Dusky-capped Flycatcher||Myiarchus tuberculifer|
|Ash-throated Flycatcher||Myiarchus cinerascens|
|Tropical Kingbird||Tyrannus melancholicus|
|Gray-collared Becard||Pachyramphus major|
|Steller's Jay||Cyanocitta stelleri|
|Tufted Jay||Cyanocorax dickeyi|
|Common Raven||Corvus corax|
|Hutton's Vireo||Vireo huttoni|
|Plumbeous Vireo||Vireo plumbeous|
|Warbling Vireo||Vireo gilvus|
|Gray Silky-flycatcher||Ptilogonys cinereus|
|Aztec Thrush||Zoothera pinicola|
|Brown-backed Solitaire||Myadestes occidentalis|
|Russet Nightingale-Thrush||Catharus occidentalis|
|Swainson's Thrush||Catharus ustulatus|
|White-throated Thrush||Turdus assimilis|
|American Robin||Turdus migratorius|
|Blue Mockingbird||Melanotis caerulescens|
|Brown Creeper||Certhia americana|
|Canyon Wren (Heard Only)||Catherpes mexicanus|
|House Wren (Brown Throated form)||Troglodytes aedon|
|Barn Swallow||Hirundo rustica|
|Ruby-crowned Kinglet||Regulus calendula|
|Mexican Chickadee||Parus sclateri|
|Black-headed Siskin||Carduelis notata|
|Hooded Grosbeak||Coccothraustes abeillei|
|Nashville Warbler||Vermivora ruficapilla|
|Crescent-chested Warbler||Parula superciliosa|
|Townsend's Warbler||Dendroica townsendi|
|Hermit Warbler||Dendroica occidentalis|
|Grace's Warbler||Dendroica graciae|
|Wilson's Warbler||Wilsonia pusilla|
|Red-faced Warbler||Cardellina rubrifrons|
|Red Warbler||Ergaticus ruber|
|Painted Redstart||Myioborus pictus|
|Slate-throated Redstart||Myioborus miniatus|
|Golden-browed Warbler||Basileuterus belli|
|Yellow-eyed Junco||Junco phaeonotus|
|Chipping Sparrow||Spizella passerina|
|Spotted Towhee||Pipilo maculatus|
|Rufous-capped Brush-Finch||tlapetes pileatus|
|Hepatic Tanager||Piranga flava|
|Western Tanager||Piranga ludoviciana|
|Red-headed Tanager||Piranga erythrocephala|
|Blue-hooded Euphonia||Euphonia elegantissima|
|Black-headed Grosbeak||Pheucticus melanocephalus|
|Yellow-winged Cacique||Cacicus melanicterus|
|Bullock's Oriole||Icterus bullockii|