22 December 1999 - 1 January 2000
by Barry Levine
A nine day journey took us through the states of Guerrero, Michoacán, Morelos, and Mexico from Dec. 22, 1999-Jan 1, 2000. We had three goals that we were hoping to accomplish: visit "El Rosario" (the Monarch butterfly sanctuary) near Angangueo, bird and spent some restful time on the beach. As often is the case, the third goal suffered due to lack of time.
The Monarch Sanctuary located near Angangueo (about a 2 1/2- 3 hour drive from Mex. City) is a simply amazing sight. Millions of Monarchs decend on this area in the mountains (over 10,000 feet) during the winter. Trees are literally dripping with these insects, in some cases bending branches from the weight and obscuring tree trunks due to the large numbers. When a gust of wind would pass through it would kick up thousands of the Monarchs and fill the air with these beautiful animals . We approached the site from Zihuatenejo where our plane landed. All in all about a 10 hour drive over very windy roads. We had researched another route which was more direct (maps show a road that goes from the Zihuatenejo/Ixtapa area directly to the reserve). We had even called ahead to the natiuonal travel service in Mexico City and were told this direct route was the way to go. Luckily we talked to the locals and they said no way. Too dangerous both as far as condition of the road and the out of the way location. So our trip instead took us first east through Cardenas Lazaro, then north to Uruapan-Patzcuaro-Angangueo. We birded sporatically along the road (Highway 37). In many places there was no real spot to turn off. Birds that were seen of note were: LESSER ROADRUNNER along the road, WHITE-TAILED and HARRIS' HAWKS and at Las Canas there is a large lake that we stopped at that had a nice sampling of warblers, hummingbird, ducks.
We had an enjoyable stay in Patzcuaro. We found it to be a very charming inexpensive city. We stayed at a hotel just outside of one of the 2 central squares for 250 pesos a night (about $27 U.S.) and had a great 4 course meal, featuring the best tortilla soup we've ever had, at a hotel in the square for 35 pesos. The next morning we tried with no luck for the Black-polled Yellowthroat at two locations on Lake Patzcuaro. Both of sites were close in to town. By the way, hotels don't have heaters in this neck of the woods and it was fairly cold at night (low 40's Fahrenheit, or about 5 degrees Celcius). Hotels do offer woolen blankets which certainly help and some have fire places in the room.
From Patzcuaro we took the cuota toward Mexico City and exited at Maravatio . From there we headed south on Hwy 122 and and came to a junction where there were helpful signs directing us to the butterfly sanctuary (there's also a restaurant at the junction that doubles as a tourist information center). A short 25 minute drive took us to Angangueo. Angangueo is a lovely town that stretches across a half moon expanse of mountain. The hotel that is most often used, is the Don Bruno. We found it to be expensive (450 pesos) and so chose another hotel directly across the street (250 pesos). The ambiance was not as nice as the Don Bruno, but the rooms were better. I would recommend it with the following proviso: don't eat dinner at this hotel. We were appalled at the service. We were ignored for quite a while while other late comers were served. We received only part of the meal and were overcharged. We let the owner know our displeasure and wouldn't allow him to charge us for the wood for our fire place. He then took about 1/2 of it back. Maybe ultimately it would have been better to be at the Don Bruno. By the way, there is another hotel in the center of town for 80 pesos, some late arrivals also got put up in a persons home for 80 pesos each.
While in town one will want to locate a truck to take you up to the site. The cost is 350 pesos for the return trip, so the more participants the lower the cost. Birds of note seen in town and at the site were: WHITE-EARED HUMMINGBIRDS, RED WARBLERS. With the first goal accomplished we were ready to set out to do some birding. We wanted to visit the Lerma Marshes first. This is a site that is in Howell's great book "A Bird-Finding Guide To Mexico". We followed his directions and wanted to add that when you make the left hand turn onto the road to Mexicalzingo you will then have to make a left at a junction in the first town. If you follow the road signs you'll be fine. Also when you get into Almoloya it's a little confusing. There's a road off to your right when you enter town, it's best to pass that up and head into the center and then head out of town (still on the main road) to the turnoff explained in Howell. We got there early in the morning and the fog obscured the causeway. It took us about 1/2 hour to locate it. There is a chain across the access to the causeway. Even though some of these marshes have been drained, they are still a fabulous place to bird. Aside from seeing the hoped for BLACK-POLLED YELLOWTHROAT, there were 40-50 SORA, KING RAIL, BLACK-CHESTED SPARROWS and a wide variety of the expected marsh species. This was as good a spot as we saw on the trip. There is supposedly a new hotel in the Almoloya area that we heard was good. We ended up staying in the Fiesta Inn ($84 U.S.) hotel near the airport in . Quite luxorious, with all the amenities.
From the marshes we headed to La Cima and the sight for the Sierra Madre Sparrow. Along the way we had an experience that had only to this point been other people's tale of woe -having to bribe a cop. At the crossroads of the road heading north out of Tianguistengo and the road south toward Chalma I was a little unsure of the turn and my indecision probably set the stage for the policemen, who were sitting at the crossroads, to take advantage. I was approached and told that I didn't have a pollution sticker on the back of our windshield. My Spanish is serviceable enough that I usually get what's being asked, but this was a little beyond my grasp. Finally when we realized it wasn't our license plate that was being checked and that the policeman wanted 1,200 pesos (about $130 U.S.) , we knew we would have to try to offer what we could and then wait him out. Rather than go through the sordid details of the 20 minute ordeal, suffice to say we were on our way 420 pesos lighter. I must say, through all my time in Mexico, I have found people to be wonderful and the police to be very helpful. On our return of the car I told Thrifty about the experience and they said that a sticker was needed, but that the amount the policeman was requesting was outrageous. Of course they told me if I could reproduce a receipt that they would reimburse me. I wasn't about to try to get the license number of the police car or a receipt. Hopefully no one will have a similar experience.
At La Cima (site 8.4 in Howell) we were able to see three SIERRA MADRE SPARROWS, though there was not much else there. From this spot we headed down the road to the close location that is 1.5 kms south of LA Ci ma (again cited in Howell). Many CHIPPING SPARROWS, STRICKLAND'S WOODPECKER and tons of warbler's in the woods We then headed into Cuernavaca for the evening. As the sun was just about setting we arrived at the hotel that we picked out of the Lonely Planet. For $40 U.S. we found ourselves in a ramshackled room that was unacceptible. We left and tried a few other hotels along the road back out of town. Most were cheaper, but also not very nice. Trying not to break our don't drive at night rule , we decided to try the outskirts of town and take the first place that was close to being acceptible. A flashing hotel sign that proclaimed the Royal Hotel seemed to be to good to be true. 150 pesos (U.S. $16) for the night. Large immaculate room with cable TV,garage and quiet. Though it did seem strange that there was a maid cleaning a room at 7:30 at night, we didn't expect that we had landed in the local brothel. Cars came and went all night long. Strange place.
The next morning found us heading to Coajumulco. The directions from Howell were perfect , Seen here were large numbers of warbler's, and ABEILLE'S ORIOLES (Bullock's).
We then headed to Chilpancingo on the cuota road and a great stay at the Jaguarundi Hotel (290 pesos, or U.S. $31). From here we followed Howell's directions to the Filo de Caballo road. It took us about 20 minutes to locate the road, as it is not directly out of the town of Milpillas, but instead is a 5 kilometer drive farther north. Keep going until you come to some curves in the road (at kilometer marker 190, I believe) and then turn left. There is a road sign at the junction. Note that there is extensive logging occuring and when we reached the road at 5:30 it was too late. We did hear a BALSAS SCREECH-OWL. It didn't respond to a tape, but did respond to my pygmy owl impression. We slowly worked our way up this incredibly beautiful road. The bottom portion did not yield large numbers of birds. Still nice species were seen all along this well paved route. Only the last part after you leave Filo is unpaved and that was definitely the best. WE birded this section at the end of our first day and the beginning of the second. There was an amazing cacophony of sounds. One of the best places we've seen in Mexico.
Seen there were MEXICAN HERMIT, DUSKY , WHITE-EARED, GREEN-FRONTED, AMETHYST-THROATED, GARNET-THROATED, BUMBLEBEE HUMMINGBIRDS, WHITE-THROATED JAY, BROWN-BACKED SOLITAIRE, BLACK THRUSH, GREY SILKY, CHESTNUT-SIDED SHRIKE-VIREO. I would try to spend two days in this section. The first day I would head up to the top and bird the morning up there and then the second day birding the bottom in the morning with a possible second trip to the top for late afternoon birds. There is a hotel in Zumbago that would get you closer to the mountain. From here we took the cuota toward Acapulco and branched off to the road to Zihuatenejo for a nights stay in Atoyac. Two choices of hotels with the one by the square (170 pesos) seemingly better. At 5 the next morning we were on our way up to Paraiso, which was a fairly quick drive. The next 12 klicks took us 2 hours and that's without birding. Rough boulder strewn road which probably shouldn't be done in a Tsuru (bottom of the line Nissen). Luckily we got out without destroying the vehicle. There are 3 really rough spots that can be handled with skillful driving. The last one we didn't try going through, though one could make it. This spot involves going through a creek bed that is pock marked with nice sized rocks.
We walked through the village of Nueva Delhi and headed into the rain forest. The following were seen in those areas: WEST MEXICAN CHACHALACA, SHORT-CRESTED COQUETTE , SPARKLING-TAILED WOODSTART, RUDDY FOLIAGE-GLEANER, UNICOLORED JAY, RUFOUS-CAPPED and GOLDEN BROWED WARBLERS, RUFOUS-CAPPED BRUSHFINCH and CINNAMON-BELLIED FLOWERPIERCER. We had been told that this might be a dangerous part of Mexico to visit. Instead we found the people to be very friendly and interested in the birds we were looking for. One woman told us how the Short-crested Coquette visited her rose bush daily. As we got ready to leave the village, we were approached by a young man who wanted a ride down to Paraiso. I told him we were birding and it would probably take 4 hours to get there. He said it would take 4 hours to walk. I told him the extra weight might cause the car to bottom out. He told me he'd get out at the rough spots. I was ready to say no when Kate said we've got to take him and so Omar joined us for the birding expedition. As often happens when one helps someone out, they get something in return. As we were birding, Omar who was shy at first started pointing out birds that he was seeing. These included a pair of BAT FALCONS, a BLACK HAWK-EAGLE, a COLLARED TROGAN, A MOUNTAIN TROGAN, a singing BROWN-BACKED SOLITAIRE, A WHITE-FACED GROUND-DOVE. Seemed he had walked this road quite a bit and knew the calls and spots to see the birds. Quite fortunate for us and he was ecstatic to be home with his family for New Year's Eve. After dropping him off we proceeded down the road looking for White-tailed Hummingbirds, but it was getting late and we ended up missing them.
That same evening found us back in Zihuat after a long drive along hwy 200. A long New Year's Eve celebration supposedly ensued. I say supposedly, because I was asleep by 12:10. We flew back to Seattle on the first.
The following is the list of birds seen with locations .
B= Barra de Potosi/Zihuat/H 200
H 37=Highway 37
U=Ubiquitous (seen numerous places)
|Am. White Pelican||H 37|
|G. B. Heron||U|
|Cattle Egret||H 37|
|Wood Stork||H 37|
|Green-winged Teal||H 37|
|N. Harrier||H 37|
|Common Black Hawk||M|
|Harris Hawk||H 37|
|White-tailed Hawk||H 37|
|Zone-tailed Hawk||* P|
|Red-tailed Hawk||H 37|
|W. Mexican Chachalaca||CM|
|Least Sandpipier||H 37|
|Forster's Tern||H 37|
|Orange-fronted Parrot||H 37|
|Squirrel Cuckoo||H 37|
|Lesser Roadrunner||*H 37|
|Balsas Screech-Owl||(H) M|
|Mottled Owl||(H) M|
|Mountain Trogan||* P|
|Collared Trogan||* P|
|Rudd y Foliage-Gleaner||* P|
|Eye-ringed Flatbill||* P|
|Black Phoebe||H 37|
|Say's Phoebe||H 37|
|Masked Tityra (Banks)||P|
|Violet-Green Swallow||H 37|
|N. Rough-winged Swallow||B|
|White-throated Jay||* P|
|Western Scrub Jay||CM|
|Banded Wren||* M|
|Black Thrush||* M|
|Gray Silky Flycatcher||M|
|Chestnut-sided Shrike-Vireo||* M|
|Yellow-rumped (Audubons) Warbler||CM|
|Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle)||CM|
|Black-throated Gray Warbler||CM|
|Black-throated Green Warbler||CM|
|Black and White Warbler||CM|
|Black-polled Yellowthroat||* LM|
|Blue-hooded Euphonia||* M|
|Cinnamon Bellied Flower-piercer||P|
|Rufous -crowned Sparrow||P|
|Sierra Madre Sparrow||* LC|
|Mexican Yellow-eyed Junco||CM|
237 species seen, 2 others heard.
In response to my RFI, many of you requested that I post an in depth trip report that included information on places to stay, time allowances and the such. If you are interested in that information, please E-mail and I'd be willing to forward that to you.