14 April - 28 May 2001
by Dave Klauber
COAHUILA, NUEVO LEON, TAMAULIPAS, VERACRUZ, OAXACA, D.F., GUERRERO, COLIMA, JALISCO, NAYARIT, SINALOA, DURANGO, CHIHUAHUA
From April 14 through July 6, 2001, I went on a 17,600 mile road trip through Mexico and the USA. My starting and finishing points were Long Island, New York. The Mexico trip was mostly hard-core birding, as was the majority of the USA portion. The usual routine was to get into the field around dawn and bird all morning, drive during midday, and bird the afternoon till dusk.
In this report I will describe the Mexican portion of the trip, which was from April 19 – May 28, with about 6,000 – 7,000 miles driven. This report is meant as a complement to the Howell guide, hopefully providing some useful information that is not in the guide. I was solo from April 19-May 17. On May 17 a non-birding friend, Dennis Dipietrantonio, joined me for the next 18 days. Amazingly he survived and we are still friends (but he hasn’t bought any bird books yet).
I encountered many police and military roadblocks, but all were professional and courteous. The majority either waved me through or asked where I was going. At no time was I solicited for a bribe. On one occasion a police officer helped me change a flat. I had no problems regarding crime, threats, or bribes. The Mexican people are friendly and helpful, and the trip was very enjoyable. I did not drive to Mexico City, although I did stay in Guadalajara, Mexico’s 2nd largest city. I am fluent in Spanish, but I don’t believe this has any effect on bribes or crime.
TIP – I always had the Howell book in the front seat. When I was viewed with suspicion at a checkpoint in Guerrero I showed them the book, the maps, and exactly where I was going, along with comments about how beautiful the country was (no crap since I meant it). This seemed to work fine.
TOLL ROADS CAVEAT – The toll roads are obscenely expensive. I entered through Texas, McAllen / Reynosa, and drove all the way to Saltillo on toll roads. This cost me between $40 and $50 US, which is about four or five times the rates of the New York State Thruway. The toll roads are excellent, fast, and efficient, but out of the price range of most Mexicans. The problem is you have no idea how far the toll goes. During the 3-4 hour drive mentioned above I paid a series of $8-$10 tolls, with one nasty stretch of about $20 in 20 minutes near Monterrey. For the majority of my trip I used local roads with no problems, although they are slower due to speed bumps (topes) in the numerous towns. In less populated regions they were probably just as fast as the toll roads.
One comment about driving through Mexican cities and large towns: there is often no reference to the route number, and there is merely a sign to a town in the direction of the road. The possible town(s) indicated are sometimes not at all obvious from looking at a map. Try and have the navigator check out several of the towns in the direction in which you want to go in advance, so that you are prepared when the inevitable fork or turn arrives, often quite suddenly.
I used Steve Howell’s A Bird-Finding Guide to Mexico, and found it to be
very good, with few errors. The book is well written and excellent, and was
my primary source of information, supplemented by a few trip reports. For
accommodation I used Howell and the Lonely Planet Mexico book, 7th edition,
September 2000. I had the AAA map and the Nelles map of Mexico and Central
America. I used the Nelles almost exclusively. Good, detailed maps like DeLorme
atlases are difficult or impossible to find. A good tape to bring is the
Bird Songs of Belize, Guatemala, and Mexico by Dale Delaney.
I drove my Subaru Forester, which is all wheel drive, and had no trouble. Rarely, if ever was the extra traction needed. More important is high clearance in certain off road areas.
I brought traveler’s cheques, American Express, US dollars. These can be difficult to change outside major cities or tourist areas. When a bank was found (look for the major Mexican banks), I usually changed $300-400 at a time. Changing money takes at least 15 minutes, excluding time spent waiting on line. There are cash machines in large cities – I didn’t look for them, so am not sure of their availability.
The exchange rate was slowly falling during my stay from just over 9 pesos to the dollar to about 8.8
Gas is more expensive than in the US. I’m not sure of the exact conversion rate, but I believe it averaged about $2.25 a gallon. I generally stayed in low budget hotels, and slept in the car one night. Room prices ranged from $7-$45, with the majority being in the $15-$25 range. Most of the places listed as costing $15 in Lonely Planet were actually about $25. I needed a place for the car, which precluded a few low budget places, especially in Oaxaca city, a parking nightmare. I usually ate in local restaurants and roadside truckstops, with no problems. I always drank bottled water, but was generally casual about the places I ate in. The food in general was good and cheap – I think I put on a few pounds – and all the Mexican beers that I tried were good. Fresh orange juice is cheap and available in many places, and the licuados (like a milk shake without the ice cream, generally fruit juice and milk) are very good.
Howell chapters 3-11, excepting most of chapter 8, and one area in chapter
2, 2.7. I went south along the eastern side of the country, then crossed over
and worked my way north from Acapulco. I did not go to the Yucatan – that’s
a separate trip for August. Southern Chiapas and Oaxaca were covered with
Dennis Rogers in October 2000.
The trip sequence is roughly Howell chapters 3,4,10,11,8,9,7,6,5,2.
I saw 486 species, and heard another 11, for a trip total of 497. I saw
many target endemics and got 67 lifers, with another 7 new North American
birds. All target warblers and sparrows were seen. I have not yet generated
an electronic trip list, but any queries will be answered regarding specific
species. Two species that were hard to find were Gray Collared Becard (finally
seen in Jalisco) and Aztec Thrush (Durango highway).
Biggest miss – Military Macaw, even though I went to all major sites and waited many hours. Other misses were Collared Forest-Falcon, Aplomado Falcon, Mexican Parrotlet, Thick Billed Parrot, Short-crested Coquette, Beautiful Hummingbird, Nava’s Wren (heard only), and Sinaloa Martin.
Inquiries about specific species will gladly be answered at:
April 19 – Site 3.3
I had been to site 3-1 previously while on a business trip, so did not go there this time. I crossed the border at McAllen. I had previously purchased car insurance through AAA in Texas. Border formalities took about an hour. You have to buy a temporary import permit for the car, which costs about $20. Total border costs were about $40. I spent about half an hour trying to find a bank that would change traveler’s checks in Reynosa. You can also do this in Texas, but I’m not sure if the exchange rate is the same. It would certainly save time. I then drove straight towards site 3.3 – Tanque de Emergencia - for Worthen’s Sparrow. Note the caveats section about the outrageously high tolls on the toll roads - $40-$50. I arrived at Tanque de Emergencia about 4 PM, after about 4-5 hours driving. I saw a Worthen’s just behind the tank. There were other birds with white outer tail feathers (Vesper Sparrow, Sprague’s Pipit?) but I was in a hurry to get to the next site before dark, so kept moving. I did see 2 other Worthen’s a few miles further up the road from the tank, along the fence that parallels the road. Getting out of this area is very confusing after Las Esperanzas – many dirt roads and small villages with no signs – and I took a few wrong turns. I arrived well after dark in Galeana, near site 3.5. Hotel Jardin near the center – 250 pesos. Basic, but OK. It’s on the left as you pass the main square
April 20 - Sites 3.5, 4.4
Attempt of Cerro El Potosi. This was an unproductive day. I wanted Hooded Yellowthroat, so I tried the Laguna de Labradores. I must have taken the wrong turn here. After the lagoon, I went straight, opened a gate and drove along some fields until the road descended and deteriorated into a gully. I gave up, and tried for the Cerro. It was now about 10 or 11 AM. About 2 km up the hill a guy stopped me and said I had to pay a toll. I discussed it with him and refused, and turned back without going up the mountain, since there were no birds there that I couldn’t find elsewhere. I don’t know how much he wanted. I drove towards Linares. A cop stopped me because I had no plates (I had removed them on the advice of a friend). He said it was illegal, but was satisfied when I reattached one. As I drove away I had a flat, and he pulled me over again. He then helped me change the flat, and told me where I could fix my spare. He was very professional and courteous, an honor to his country, and typical of what I encountered during the rest of my stay. I continued south on 85 towards Gomez Farias, site 4.4. I stopped briefly at a bridge mentioned in some trip reports as a spot for Sungrebe (I forget the exact location, but it is close to the Gomez Farias turn, and is a large metal bridge), but there was construction and people partying, so I didn’t stay long.
Note: Howell references a major junction with route 247. I couldn’t find any route 247. He also says the turnoff is 52 km south of Victoria. It is actually 96 km south, at km post 132.
I stayed in a hotel about a mile past the zocalo, on the right for 2 nights. It was about 250 pesos after negotiation. Basic, but OK. There are limited dining options in Gomez Farias, just roadside stands. There are very basic cabins up at Alta Cima, a beautiful location. The rooms I looked at were dark with the roof not meeting the walls. However, maybe there would be a better chance of finding the macaw by staying there. There is a restaurant in town also. I drove up to Alta Cima in the afternoon.
April 21 - Site 4.4
The day was spent hiking slowly to Alta Cima and back. This was excellent habitat, one of my favorite spots. Birds of note: Thicket Tinamou, Tamaulipas Pygmy Owl (very responsive to a tape), Bronze-winged Woodpecker, Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush, Hooded Grosbeak, Crimson-collared Grosbeak, Spot-breasted Wren. In the afternoon I birder just on the outskirts of town, with little of note other than Thicket Tinamous calling very close to the road – couldn’t see them, though.
April 22 - Site 4.5
I drove to El Naranjo, spending 8-10AM in the marsh, returning again at 5:30 to look for the Yellowthroat. The day was spent in the mountains on route 80 as far as Agua Zarca. One grassy area near El Platanito was the worst for chiggers on the whole trip. A two minute walk in waist high brush resulted in chiggers all over my pants.
Birds of note: Altamira Yellowthroat – one bird only, pretty hard to find
-, Wedge-tailed Sabrewing (km 13.3 track), Tamaulipas Crow, Crimson-collared
Hotel in El Naranjo – Hotel El Valle 162 pesos with fan, 200 with AC
April 23 – Site 4.5
Early AM up the El Salto road – bad looks at parrots, Ferruginous Pygmy Owl – then back up 80 to Las Abritas. After I drove to site 8.11, Tlanchinol, arriving late in the day in thick fog. Stayed in either Hotel Gloria or Victoria. 70 pesos, basic, alleged hot water
April 24 – Site 8.11
I birded the path 5 km north of Tlanchinol. Excellent cloud forest habitat, but was rained out after about 3 hours. Birds of note: Azure-crowned Jay, Unicolored Jay, Crested Guans, Amethyst Throated Hummingbird, both solitaires, 2 nightingale thrushes, Hooded Grosbeak, Golden-browed Warbler.
Brief stop at km 63 – Spotted Wren, Abeille’s Oriole
Then a long drive to Tecolutla, site 10.1. I forgot the hotel I stayed in. There are many hotels at reasonable prices. This is a very nice town, with probably just enough tourist traffic (although not when I was there) to make it interesting without being a tourist trap.
April 25 – Site 10.1
AM in marshes just outside Tecolutla. I had to climb a fence or two. Saw Altamira Yellowthroat well, also Ruddy Crake(used tape) and Sora, but no Yellow-breasted Crake. Further along the road out of Tecolutla were Tamaulipas Crow, Green Parakeet and White-fronted Parrot. There was a flock of dickcissels several km outside town along the road and many swallows flying over the marsh.
April 26 – Site 10.1
AM at the river mouth – no activity, then outskirts of Tecolutla and a drive to Coatepec in the rain. Stayed in a hotel a few blocks (east?) of the zocalo. Very basic, about 100 pesos.
April 27 – Sites 10.2, 10.3
I had made arrangements to go out in Coatepec with Pedro Mota, the bird trapper mentioned in Howell. He agreed to go out with me with only a day’s notice. He is a very kind man, who spent the whole morning with me trying to find the Bearded Wood Partridge. Although we heard a covey, and one bird calling from 20 feet, we could not see one. Pedro has captive birds in his back yard, along with some quail-doves. Birds seen were Bumblebee & Azure-Crowned Hummingbird, Wedge-tailed Sabrewing. I drove south to Cordoba through a back highway that went through Tatutla. It was a beautiful drive, with one section passing over a river gorge with swifts flying over. I spent an hour in light rain around 5 PM trying to find Sumichrast’s Wren in Amatlan, but only heard one. Montezuma Oropendula is there. Night in Cordoba. Hotel Palacio – 2 blocks west of the zocalo, around 250 pesos. Quite nice
April 28 – Sites 10.3, 10.5, 10.6
AM in Amatlan. This time got an excellent, tape-assisted look at Sumichrast’s Wren. Quarry activity there was stopped about 3 years ago. Incidentally, Bob Packard, mentioned later, tried 3 separate times without success to see the wren. Left about 7:30 for Las Barrancas, site 10.5. Was there from about 10-11:30. Saw Grassland yellow Finch, Grasshopper Sparrow, Bobolink, and apparently territorial Fork-Tailed Flycatchers. Then drove towards Sierra de Las Tuxtlas, site 10.6. Around km 79 there were flooded fields with a huge assortment of waders and shorebirds, including Stilt & Pectoral Sandpiper, Wilson’s Phalarope, Limpkin, and ibises. Portions of this highway pass near the shore and the scenery is great.
I arrived in Catemaco early afternoon and decided to continue through towards Playa Escondido. I turned onto the dirt road at 6.3 km to the remnant patch of rain forest, about 4 km. Parts of this road have deep wheel ruts, and I touched bottom on my SUV a couple of times. Most of it can probably be handled by driving with one wheel in the center and the other along the edge. This afternoon I didn’t see very much, but later it proved to be good (Tody Motmot!!). I continued to Playa Escondido and the hotel Playa Escondido, along a bumpy cobblestone road. The hotel is in a beautiful secluded spot overlooking the bay, but the hotel itself is very basic. Cold water only with weak pressure, and a non-functioning toilet for 150 pesos plus 40 pesos for dinner, which was good.
April 29 – Site 10.6
I should have birded the hotel area in the morning, as Howell mentions it as a good area for certain endemics and the habitat is good, but I hurried to get to the biological station, which proved disappointing. I went to the biological station and wasted the best hours walking along the laguna road, which is mostly deforested. There were many White-fronted and Red-Lored Parrots, though. Keel Billed Toucans were near the station, along with US warblers including Golden-Winged. The buff-throated race of the Black Headed Saltator was here, too. I ran into a birder from Massachusetts named Bob Packard who was working In Mexico and birding on his weekends. We took a boat ride from Sontecomapan at midday, but managed to see a pair of Sungrebes and a glimpse of Rufous-breasted Spinetail. I returned solo to the remnant patch of rain forest and saw Tody Motmot. At first I thought its call was a pygmy owl. I went to William Schaldach’s house next to the hotel Playa Azul. The hotel looked nice but cost about $80 a night. On the grounds were Green-breasted Mango and White-bellied Emerald. William Schaldach is a very nice old gent, but is getting on in the years and is hard of hearing. He has done a lifetime of research in the area. Jeffrey Glassberg, the Butterflies Through Binoculars author, was also there looking for butterflies.
I stayed in Catemaco on the waterfront at the Hotel Brujo for 200pesos. It was OK.
April 30 – Sites 10.6, 10.8
I tried to go to Bastonal, but was told by two groups of locals that the road was unpassable, so I gave up and went back to the cloud forest road at km 6.3. I saw the Tody Motmot again. I then drove towards Las Choapas, site 10.8, for the nightjar. I went out before dusk and went along the right fork, indicated in Howell at km 7.4. I did glimpse a nightjar after dark, along with Pauraques. About 2.5 miles further up this road, just before you cross a bridge over a paved road, there were several Spot-tailed Nightjars in the field to the right, allowing me good looks. Night in Las Choapas, Hotel El Dorado, 225 pesos, hot water and AC.
May 1 – Site 10.7
Drive to Uxpanapa road to look for Nava’s Wren. This road is in terrible condition, with many potholes along the first 20 km or so. I arrived in good habitat late, around 11 AM. I tried the Amaca turnoff, but with little luck. I continued further along the road and spent the rest of the day, and night there. I slept in my car in prime habitat, just a few yards off the main road in a limestone cliff area. Around dusk Mealy Parrots flew in nearby. Surprisingly there was a fair amount of traffic on this road, and I ate a lot of dust. Birds of note seen in this area were Great Antshrike, Blue Ground Dove, Aztec Parakeet, Band-backed and Spot-breasted Wrens, Rufous-breasted Spinetail, Black-faced Grosbeak, Collared Aracari, Keel Billed Toucan. Nava’s Wren was only heard. Saw gray fox also.
May 2 – Sites 10.7, 11.7
I woke up at dawn to a monkey in the overhead trees. I spent the whole morning here, but did not see a wren. I then drove to Valle Nacional in Oaxaca through route 147. The first 15 km or so were in terrible condition, but after that the road was OK. I spent a couple of hours birding a few kilometers west of Valle Nacional. Best bird here was Crimson Collared Tanager. Night in Hotel Valle, 1 block north or west of the main drag. 80 pesos, very basic, cold water and noisy fan.
May 3 - Sites 11.7, 11.6, 11.4
Birded north/west of Valle Nacional, site 11.7. Areas birded were km 70-73 from 6:30-9 (heard Pheasant Cuckoo in the distance), then km 79-80 a bit later – Bumblebee and 2 unidentified hummers. I went through the cloud forest and most of this road quickly, having seen most of the target species the previous October. Just past the summit there is a large brushy area where I was able to see Hooded Yellowthroat with the help of a tape. Along route 175 Unicolored Jay and White-eared Hummingbirds were seen. I drove straight to the outskirts of Oaxaca to try and find the endemics I had missed last October. I stopped at a pullout around km 203 (?) next to a stream. I finally saw the Oaxaca Sparrow.
I tried returning to Oaxaca City to a hotel where we had stayed previously, but their prices had risen to about 350 pesos. There was a low budget hotel on the left side of the main road approaching the center, mentioned in Lonely Planet, for about 150 pesos or less, but no parking for the car. Parking on the streets was impossible, car parks close from 9 PM to 9 AM(!!), so I gave up and stayed in the Hotel Jardin del Lago. This is on the outskirts of town, quite near the 175 turnoff. Rooms were extremely nice, but expensive at 400 pesos. There was a huge king bed and many mirrors, so maybe it catered to transient clientelle, but it was clean, quiet, nice, and well-situated.
This marked exactly 2 weeks in Mexico, and over 300 species seen.
May 4 - Sites 11.4, 8.4
This was a very lucky and productive morning. I returned to route 175, km 204-207. I saw Oaxaca Sparrow and Ocellated Thrasher from the roadside, then managed to get Slaty Vireo (tough) and Pileated Flycatcher with the help of tapes up the hillsides. The vireo was on the left (north?) and the flycatcher on the right (south?), on the hillside past the stream. Other nice birds were Blue Hooded Euphonia, Greenish Elaenia, and Boucard’s Wren, the later building a nest. Oddly enough, I did not see Bridled Sparrow, which was fairly common the previous October. I was here from 6-9 AM. Then I drove all day (a long day) to La Cima, site 8.4. I arrived about 45 minutes before dark and saw Sierra Madre and Striped Sparrow – both Oaxaca and Sierra Madre Sparrows on the same day! I spent the night at the Paraiso Hotel at km 68.3 just outside Cuernavaca. This was another short stay type place, but clean, quiet, with great hot water for 140 pesos. No fan or AC, but it was cool and comfortable
May 5 – Sites 8.8, 9.2
Early morning drive to Lerma marshes, site 8.8. The drive through the forest passed interesting habitat, but I hurried to the marsh for the yellowthroat. This was a great marsh. I saw Black Polled Yellowthroat easily, at the first patch of marsh that you can walk to, a couple of hundred yards in on the dirt road that goes around the marsh. This road is in fairly good shape. Also seen were the dark race of Song Sparrow, Striped Sparrow, Sora, Sedge Wren, and many shorebirds and waders. I spent about 3 hours there and drove the rest of the day to Guerrero, arriving about 3 PM outside Chilpancingo. I checked into the Oasis Hotel, in I believe, Zumbago, outside Chilpancingo - 150 pesos, hot water. I then drove to the northern part of the Sierra de Ayotac, site 9.2. Note that the turn off is several kilometers past , not at, Milpillas, and the road sign is not for Xochipala. I forget the exact name, but it’s a major turn, hard to miss. Near the first village I ran into a checkpoint of armed men in black without uniform. One eyed my “new” car suspiciously. When his superior approached, I showed him the Howell book and map, explained what I was doing, and there was no problem. I ran into 2 more checkpoints between that afternoon and the next morning, all without incident. One group assured me they were working for my safety. I think I went as far as km 35 or so, birding from 3:30 – 7:30 PM. Black Chested Sparrow was fairly common, and Thick-billed Kingbirds were in the pines area. I stayed until after dark and tried the Balsas Screech Owl tape, but only heard one or two in the distance, along with a pygmy owl.
May 6 – Site 9.2
Returned up the Sierra Road, going to Fila de Caballo and further. It took almost 2 hours to get there from the hotel. I birded from 7:45 – 11:45. I explored a couple of logging tracks on foot near km 60-62. This is great habitat, and I added some trip birds like Pine Flycatcher, and the main target – the White-Throated Jay - about 1km in at an overgrown logging road clearing. I then spent the day driving all the way through Acapulco to the other side of the Sierra. I took the toll road to Acapulco, and it was $20 (180 pesos) for 105 km. They make you pay an 80 peso toll right before the exit for Acapulco. Driving through Acapulco was confusing, and I wasted some time trying to find the highway north. I arrived in Atoyac at dusk. It’s not much of a town. Hotel Alameda next to the zocalo, 100 pesos, cold water, not so clean, but only 1 other (worse?) option.
May 7 – Site 9.2
Drive to Sierra de Atoyac, also site 9.2 – spent 7:45-12 in the cloud forest above Nueva Delhi. It’s a long drive to get there (2-3 hours?), but passable with a regular car. Note that above Paraiso there is a fork at about 2 miles; bear right here. This whole area is another of my favorites for the trip, especially between Paraiso and Nueva Delhi and beyond. The cloud forest area was one of the best for me regarding hummingbirds – Mexican Hermit, Violet Sabrewing, Berryline, Garnet-throated, White-tailed (several in different locations), and Sparkling Tailed Woodstar. I did not see the coquette. Beware similarities between the female woodstar and coquette. Just before the entrance to the sprawled out settlement of Nueva Delhi was a flowering bush in front of a house that was full of hummingbirds. Unfortunately the local teenager was trying to hit them with his slingshot. Other good birds were several White Faced Quail-Doves seen well, Crested Guan, Golden Vireo, Chestnut-sided Shrike-Vireo, Eye-ringed Flatbill, among others. I returned to Paraiso to spend the night. There is really nothing official. I found a crummy boarding house for 60 pesos where the water didn’t work (temporary?) and the gate was no narrow up the stairs that I could barely fit. I would recommend camping somewhere.
May 8 – Site 9.2
Arroyo Grande track above Paraiso in an unsuccessful search for the coquette. Note that Howell says at 5.2 km there is a minor track to the left. This in fact is a major track, at least as big as the main road that continues straight. The coffee plantations were full of Berryline hummingbirds and one female woodstar, but no coquette. I spent 6-8 AM here, then went slowly down the road below Paraiso, and was rained out at 10:15. Collared Trogon and Nutting’s Flycatcher were the best birds. I then drove along the coast road, which is a beautiful drive in many areas, passing unpopulated coast. I took a break and spent the night in the quiet, nice fishing village of Caleta de Campos in Michoacan (It’s not even on my Nelles Mexico map). I stayed at the Hotel de Arcos for 150 pesos with hot water, and an ocean view. There’s even a laundromat in town.
NOTE – There are very few gas stations along this whole coastal route, all the way to San Blas. You can drive for many hours with no towns, only scattered houses. Gas up when you are leaving Ayotac or any other towns with a Pemex en route. In a pinch some of the larger of the small villages sell 10 or 20 liter containers at inflated prices, about 150 pesos for 10 liters, I think.
May 9 – Site 7.10
I slept in and took a leisurely drive to Colima, stopping at a few coastal spots for gulls and shorebirds. I saw Sinaloa Wren en route, and this bird was seen many times later in the trip. This is a nice drive, but gas up when you can, because you can go for hours without a gas station. I stayed at the Flamingo Hotel on Av Rey Coliman, near Jardin Nunez in Colima. I think it was about 200 pesos. They had a nice restaurant. I went to the Microwave towers La Cumbre, site 7.10 from 6:30-9:45 PM. Due to a traffic fatality where someone’s brakes failed and they drove off the road, you cannot drive to the top. It can be walked in an hour or less, each way. I got a great look at a Lesser Roadrunner in a tree just near the summit. Around dusk I heard and saw Buff Collared Nightjar, just a few hundred feet from the summit, while it was still light enough to see well. Orange-breasted Bunting and “Godman’s” Scrub Euphonia were seen on the way up. I heard Balsas Screech Owl, Colima Pygmy-Owl, and probable Mottled Owl in the distance, but did not see them.
May 10 – Site 7.9
Early start for road through Comala to Laguna La Maria. I stopped at km 15.5-16, and 19.6. Roadside birding here was excellent. Good birds were Golden Crowned Emerald, Banded Quail, Long-tailed Wood-Partridge, Slaty Vireo, Red-Headed Tanager, Rusty-Crowned Ground Sparrow, Spotted, Happy, and Sinaloa Wrens, among others. I continued to Laguna La Maria. There are now cottages here in a very nice setting. Prices vary by size, but I had one for 250 pesos with kitchenette and refrigerator. The ground sparrow is common here, and I also saw Varied Bunting.
Milestone here was 3 weeks in Mexico and 400 trip birds, 392 seen.
May 11 – Sites 7.9 and 7.7
AM in Laguna with no new birds, except a singing Fan-Tailed Warbler. There was a group of researchers looking for Cassin’s Kingbirds, but none were around. I took a few hours to update my bird list, and checked an internet café outside Colima before driving to Ciudad Guzman. I stayed 2 nights in the very nice Hacienda Hotel for 270 pesos – good hot water, fan, and roomy with a good restaurant. From 5-6:45 I birded at Laguna Zapotlan, site 7.7 There were a few waterbirds, with Fulvous Whistling Duck, Cinnamon Teal, and Ruddy Duck providing a chestnut/cinnamon feast, King Rail and the “Chapala” Common Yellowthroat.
May 12 – Site 7.8
I left early and spent the whole day on Volcan de Fuego. I did not see a single person, except in the lower portions where there were a few residences. I heard Eared Poorwill in the distance before dawn from the road, just before the pines started. I drove to about mile 13, where some soft sand and deep ruts prevented me from driving any further. I stopped at several places, including km 13 and 19. This was excellent habitat, and although I did not see Aztec Thrush or any parrots, was very birdy. Interesting birds were: Long-tailed Wood-Partridge (quite a few in the early morning, and excellent looks), Elegant and Mountain Trogons, White-Striped Woodcreeper, Mexican Chickadee, Sinaloa and Spotted Wren, Gray Silky, Crescent-Chested, Red, Rufous-Capped, and Golden-Browed warblers, Rufous-Capped and Green-Striped Brushfinch, Collared and Canyon Towhee, Stripe-Headed, Rusty, and Rufous-Capped Ground Sparrows.
May 13 – between Sites 7.6 & 7.7, 7.5
I spent the morning driving up the national park mountain – I think it was national park de Nevado? The entrance was a signed left turn several kilometers up the highway to Autlan de Navarro, which I got from a trip report on Blake Maybank’s website. This road is wide and easy to drive, and you can drive all the way above treeline to a small building/observation tower at the top of the volcano. It’s a beautiful drive with impressive scenery, but the last 2 km or so were a bit hairy, with hairpin turns on a sandy, frost covered road. This was not quite as birdy as the previous site, but I did see some interesting high altitude birds, like Red Crossbill, Olive & Red Warblers, Black-headed Siskin, and both kinglets. Along the way were Magnificent and White-eared Hummingbirds, Cinnamon Flower-Piercer, and Green-Striped Brushfinch. In the afternoon I drove towards Autlan, through a heavy hailstorm, stopping at km 20, where I walked along the northern side of the river. Good birds here were Rufous-Backed Robin, a covey of Banded Quail, and Black-Throated Magpie-Jay. I went to the microwave towers San Francisco from 6:15-7:15, and pished up a Black-Capped Gnatcatcher and Plain-Capped Starthroat. Night in Autlan – Hotel El Palomar, 130 pesos, fan, hot water.
May 14 – Site 7.5
In the morning I drove to Puerto Los Mazos microwave towers, a very good birding spot. It was windy and cold at first, but it subsided. There were white flowering trees with many hummers, including Mexican Woodnymph, Amethyst-Throated, and Berryline. Golden Vireo, Red-Headed Tanager, Singing Quail, and finally, a female Gray Collared Becard. Many birds were at the top of the road where the towers are, but there is also a path that continues down a little and across the hillside that was productive. In my notes I have 6,700 miles driven at this point, including the New York to Texas portion, probably about 1700 miles or so. I drove to Guadalajara where I picked up Dennis at the airport in the evening. Night in Guadalajara – I forget where
May 15 – Sites 7.4 & 7.5
Leisurely drive back down route 80 past Autlan, stopping again at the Puerto Los Mazos towers, where a Red-Crowned Ant-Tanager was seen on the way up, then to Barranca el Chocho, arriving after 4:00. Right after arriving we were treated to a flock of San Blas Jays and a Citreoline Trogon. A tape brought out a Flammulated Flycatcher. We only walked up a half km or so. Near the beginning, off to the left (south?) we heard something noisily moving through the dry leaves which turned out to be Beaded Lizard, a large Mexican equivalent of the Gila Monster, which was one of my trip highlights. Night in Barra de Navidad, Hotel Delfin, 250 pesos a double, with bargaining.
May 16 – Sites 7.2, 7.0
Early morning on the Playa de Oro road. This was a productive spot, at least until it got hot by mid-late morning. Birds of note were: Cinnamon Hummingbird, Citreoline Trogon, Bright-Rumped Atila with nest material, Black-Capped Gnatcatcher, Red-Breasted Chat (my last target warbler), Orange-Breasted and Blue Buntings. We took a brief and unproductive drive on the Manzanillo airport road near noon, then stopped at km 174-175, site 7.0, waiting in vain for Military Macaw from 5:15-8:30. Night in Puerta Vallarta at Café/Hotel Frankfurt, on the first road to the left as you enter town. It was overpriced at 250 pesos a double for a small, basic room
May 17 – Sites 6.0, 6.1f
Late start for Laguna de Quelele, arriving 8:45. A few shorebirds were there, but otherwise not much. NOTE – Howell mentions a playing field at km 0.9, but he omits that 0.5 mile after that there is a fork where you bear left, which then takes you to the brick archway. The rest of the day was spent driving to San Blas. Note that gas stations are few and far between here. From about 4 to 7 was spent on the Shrimp Ponds road in San Blas. Sinaloa Crow is common here, and also seen were Wilson’s Plover, Least Tern, and Clapper Rail. Leaving San Blas, after the bridge, there are 2 ponds on the right about a mile(?) outside town. This was productive for shorebirds and waders, including Roseate Spoonbill and Mangrove Swallow. In San Blas we splurged and stayed at the Hotel Hacienda Los Flamingos, which is on the main road that you enter town, about 3-4 blocks past the zocalo.
The price was 530 pesos (just under $60), but it was a beautiful colonial building with a large interior courtyard, swimming pool, and very big rooms with fan and AC, but no TV (TV is in the lounge). We had gone to Hotel Las Garzas, but they wanted over $80, and when I asked them specific questions about birds and boating excursions, I received vague answers from staff who clearly knew very little. Some birder’s hotel! I would highly recommend Los Flamingos, as it’s cheaper, closer to town, and walking distance from one of the boat trips. They only have 5 or 6 rooms, though. Armando Santiago found us in the hotel, and we made arrangements to go to Roca Elefante and a lagoon the next morning for about 1000 pesos. During our 4-day stay in San Blas, we ran into him several times, and he always expressed genuine interest in our birding results, and was in general a really nice guy. His English is excellent.
May 18 – Boat trip to the lagoon, Virgin Rock, and Roca Elefante, about 5-6 hours.
We met Armando at the dock, less than a 5 minute walk from the hotel. We spent a lot of time in the estuary mouth trying unsuccessfully for Rufous-Necked Wood-Rail, then went out to Virgin Rock and Roca Elefante. Unfortunately the tropicbird was not there, although it had been seen recently. There were excellent looks at Bridled Tern, Blue-Footed and Brown Booby, including the Brewsteri race of Brown. Also seen were Rufous-Bellied Chachalaca and Bare-Throated Tiger Heron in the estuary. We took a siesta at midday after lunch, then tried the Lower Singayta road about 4. It was very thick with mosquitoes, so we gave up and did the Upper Singayta road. There were a few good birds here, but also a fair bit of traffic. Scrub Euphonia (Godman’s) and Citreoline Trogons were along the road. We found Chencho near the bridge in town and arranged for a boat trip the following afternoon
May 19 - Site 6.2
We spent the morning at La Bajada, one of my favorite and most productive birding spots on the whole trip. We got lost following Howell’s directions. What we did was in La Palma, bear right at km 1 (as opposed to go straight, which got us lost), then passed a square and basketball court on the right, and 2-3 blocks after that went left, then took the second right to La Bajada. You can drive up this road for a ways after the outskirts of La Bajada. The first half a km goes through open areas of lesser interest until you see a road to the left, where the birding activity was good, both left and straight. We must have heard 6 or 7 Colima Pygmy Owls that morning, although seeing one proved very difficult. Birds here were Black Throated Magpie Jay, Colima Pygmy Owl, Fan Tailed Warbler, Yellow Grosbeak (with an orange head), Rusty Crowned Ground-Sparrow and others. Again a siesta after lunch, as it’s too hot to bird anyway, then La Tovara river trip with Chencho from 3:30-8:30 (500 pesos, price fixed by the commune). We saw a young Northern Potoo in daytime, along with many types of herons, including Boat-billed, but still no Rufous-Necked Wood-Rail. A brief outing along a trail provided a quick look at San Blas Jay. The trip is great, passing through mangroves and open lakes within the river system, and Chencho is an excellent boatman with good eyes. Sensing my disappointment in the rail, he offered to take us out the next morning to try for the rail
May 20 – Rio San Cristobol, Sites 6.1a, 6.1h
Early morning boat ride up the Rio San Cristobol with Chencho, taking the route that passes under the bridge and up the lagoon. Finally we saw a pair of Rufous-Necked Wood-Rails, as well as Bare-Throated Tiger-Heron, Crane Hawk, Mangrove Cuckoo, White-Throated Flycatcher, Mangrove Yellow Warblers, and heard-only Mangrove Vireo. From 4 to 5:30 we returned to Upper Singayta, seeing nothing new, then to the sewer ponds trail in San Blas from 6-7:30. We only walked a mile or so, seeing and hearing Elegant Quail, and tried to return in time to see birds (parrotlets) at the fort – also it was starting to get buggier as the day was ending. We arrived at the fort too late to see anything other than a beautiful sunset and view over the town. Last night in San Blas.
May 21 – Sites 6.2, 6.3, 6.4
We returned early morning to La Bajada, site 6.2. This time I got a decent look at the Colima Pygmy Owl, and bird of the morning was a stunning male Rosy Thrush-Tanager along the trail about a half mile (?) past the first major road to the left, on the left side of the trail. Next we drove to Mirador La Aguila, site 6.3. Arriving at a bad time, we tested Howell’s assertion that Military Macaw can be seen at almost any time of day (key word in that sentence is can). We spent many hours listening to traffic roar by, from 12:15-12:45, 1:30-2, and 5-7:20. Occasionally a raptor would pass; the ones I could ID were Hook-billed Kite and Red Tailed Hawk, with a probable Gray Hawk. Not a macaw to be seen or heard, in spite of an excellent vista. We then drove into the Cerro San Juan, staying at Cabanas La Noria, about km 8-9. Cabins with refrigerator were 320 pesos, in a lovely mountain meadow ranch setting. We arrived at dusk. A walk about 9:30 resulted in hearing only Eared Poorwill, Whiskered Screech-Owl, and a probable Barred Owl.
May 22 – Sites 6.4, 6.3, 5.3
I went out at 5:15 am and managed to get an Eared Poorwill flying around me in response to a tape. The Whiskered Screech was heard again. After daylight an hour or so was spent further along the Cerro San Juan road, but we did not spend much time as there were few target birds here and we had to drive towards Mazatlan. Another brief stop at the macaw spot, then on towards Mazatlan, birding the La Noria road, mostly around the second track near km 2 and 3. Night at a hotel a couple of hundred feet on the right of the La Noria road. 250 pesos for hot water, AC, and a bright green frog that stayed in the bathroom.
May 23 – Sites 5.3, 5.4
We returned to the km 2-3 area, this time exploring the first of the two tracks. Near the beginning we finally saw one Purplish-Backed Jay. Further along was Elegant Quail calling on a fencepost. Driving up the La Noria road gave a distant look at Lilac-crowned Parrot, and possibly Military Macaw. I was driving fast, and when I stopped they (suspected macaws) disappeared behind a mountain, never giving me much of a look. We spent 6-9 at La Noria road, then went to Mazatlan to change money, and hit the Durango highway late morning. We stopped briefly en route, but it was hot and quiet, so proceeded to the Hotel Villa Blanca in the village of La Capilla de Taxte, about 61 km up the highway. It was nice but the highway noise was sometimes annoying, as the big trucks would hit their brakes or change gears here. We bargained down to 180 pesos per night for 3 nights, and meals were 30 pesos for breakfast, 50 for dinner. There was hot water and the staff was very friendly. After lunch and a siesta, we spent 4-7:30 at the Panuco road. Needless to say, no macaws, but there were Orange-fronted Parakeets.
May 24 – Sites 5.4, 5.6
Early start to Barranca Rancho Libre. En route we had a flock of Tufted Jays along the road. We were at the rancho area from 7-11:30. The hike isn’t too bad, but there weren’t as many birds as hoped. Tufted Jay was also seen here, along with White-eared, Berryline, and Blue-throated Hummingbirds, Greater Pewee, Pine Flycatcher, Grace’s and the melanauris Red Warbler. The La Petaca road was birded from 5-6:15, and we birded the hotel roof from 6:30-7:30, where White-Naped Swifts flew overhead.
May 25 – Site 5.4
We birded the Panuco road from 6:15-10:15. The best bird was a close-up Colima Pygmy Owl. Also there were White-Naped Swift, Golden Vireo, Scrub Euphonia and Yellow Grosbeaks. We also returned from 5:45-7 PM – still no macaws. From 3-5:30 we returned to La Petaca, seeing little of note. Incidentally, gas can be bought at fairly expensive prices from a local storeowner; I think it was about 140 pesos for 10 liters. Even though we filled up at Mazatlan, we did a lot of driving over the 3 days in the area, so more gas was needed. The only gas station is well up the highway at El Salto.
May 26 – Sites 5.4, 5.6
On the way out we returned to Barranca Rancho Libre. The main bird of note was a glimpse of Hooded Grosbeak. In general I was disappointed with this location, having read in trip reports that it is worth several days – not in my opinion. Fortunately, based on a trip report that I downloaded from Blake Maybank’s website, we stopped at a track at km 185.7. Finally we were treated to a pair of Aztec Thrushes about a hundred yards or so up the track. This particular stretch of the Durango Highway passes through stunning scenery. The rest of the day was spent driving to the town of Gomez Palacio, with a short stop before the town in desert scrub for some trip birds like Pyrrhuloxia and Cactus Wren. Night in Gomez Palacio, Motel La Siesta, 290 pesos, AC, hot water.
May 27 – Site 2.7, mostly driving
We slept in and did some brief desert birding before spending the day driving to Creel. The non-toll highway was fast, as there are few towns along the way. We arrived in Creel just before dusk. A few km before the town a Prairie Falcon flew past the road. Night in Creel at Margarita’s Plaza Mexicana, a bit pricey at 400 pesos, although it included dinner. Rooms were very nice, clearly catering to their many foreign visitors.
May 28 – Site 2.7
Last day in Mexico
We walked the Cusarare waterfall trail, a very pleasant walk along a stream to the waterfall, from 6:15 – 11:15. Several Eared Trogons were calling at the junction of the first canyon, and a couple could be seen flying in the distance. I did get a fairly close look at one. Birds here were similar to SE Arizona – Slate Throated (I know, Arizona rarity) and Painted Whitestarts, Red-Faced and Olive Warblers, and others. Up a canyon path we saw a “Mountain” Northern Pygmy Owl. We then drove out to Texas, where we stayed in Presidio, continuing on to Big Bend the next day. The border crossing at Ojinaga/Presidio was very easy. The whole process took about 20 minutes, at about 8 PM. It was very efficient and pleasant, and little traffic.
Any comments or questions will be gladly answered. I originally was not
planning to do a trip report, so some information is not as complete as it
would have been had I been keeping good notes throughout the whole trip.
As of this point I have not generated an electronic bird list, which would
involve manually typing in 500 species, but I hope to do so at a future date.