10 - 17 January 1999
by David and Linda Ferry
We wanted to see Rosita's Bunting and Cinnamon-tailed Sparrow while getting some January R&R. We chose the relatively new resort of Huatulco on the southern Oaxaca Coast.
We flew from LAX to Huatulco on Mexicana Airlines without difficulty. We rented a Geo-Tracker from FAST car rental in the airport. The Tracker was essential for the pot-holed roads of the area and the dirt roads of the mountains. It was expensive (about $500 per week) but there was no practical alternative, as other cars are not much cheaper and the high clearance and heavy suspension is a must. Even if one wanted to drive only on the paved lowland roads, the potholes would destroy an ordinary car unless you drove no faster than 25 mph.
We stayed at the Camino Real Zaashila. It is beautiful but not cheap. We had previously stayed at the Sheraton, but found it too noisy and crowded for our taste. The Sheraton, Club Maeva, and Club Med are all near by and offer all- inclusive packages (as the Camino Real does not). There are also several condos for rent in the area, and less expensive hotels off the beach. Check a good search engine e.g. Yahoo for "Huatulco" for more details. (I hope this info does not put me out of bounds for commercial endorsements on BIRDCHAT, but I think this is useful stuff).
An excellent map of Oaxaca is the Guia Roja map of the state. This map can be ordered through a bookstore or obtained on the web from Galaxay Maps (another BIRDCHAT no no?)
A trip report from Greg Jackson "Summer Notes from Oaxaca" was very useful. (Check the archives of MEX-BIRD).
West Mexican ENDEMICS are in all caps:
Day 1— arrived Huatulco
Day 2— birding around the Camino Real grounds. There is an excellent short paved road up the hill to a radio tower immediately across from the hotel. We had 56 birds in a few hours on this road and on the hotel grounds. Highlights included COLIMA (Least) PYGMY OWL, DOUBLEDAY'S (Broad-billed) HUMMINGBIRD, Plain-capped Starthroat, Citreoline Trogon, GOLDEN-CHEEKED WOODPECKER, Russet- Crowned Motmot, Nutting's Flycatcher, ORANGE-BREASTED BUNTING (many), and YELLOW-WINGED CACIQUE.
Day 3— another trip up the radio tower road in the early morning, then we hit the beach! We added Lesser Ground-Cuckoo and Streaked-backed Oriole.
Day 4— the long trip to the mountains. We drove west on MX 200 to MX 175 and turned north. This road was hit hard by 20 inches of rain from the hurricanes last fall. It is passable but is undergoing extensive repair. As described by Greg Jackson, the well-marked road to Pluma Hidalgo is 44.2 km from the beginning of MX 175. This excellent dirt road heads east through good montane habitat and can be birded for hours. We saw BLUE-CAPPED HUMMINGBIRD several times among the coffee fincas, and recorded one buzzing a calling Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl. Other good birds included LONG-TAILED WOOD-PARTRIDGE, GOLDEN- CROWNED EMERALD, Emerald Toucanet, Red-legged Honeycreeper, and Spot-crowned Woodcreeper. We returned to MX 175 and went another 40 km or so farther north. Just past kilometer marker 141, beyond a road sign that says "El Manzanal", is a large turnout on the left with a big white sign with lots of black lettering. In the fine print at the bottom one can discern that the dirt road that originates here goes to San Augustin Loxicha. This is another marvelous road which could be birded all day. In the pine forest we saw MEXICAN CHICKADEE, Crescent-chested Warbler, RED WARBLER, Slate-throated Redstart, CHESTNUT-CAPPED BRUSHFINCH, and Black-vented Oriole. Red Warbler likes the edges of clearings, and one such meadow is 1.9 km out this road. We could not find WHITE-THROATED JAY, in spite of much searching. We had 62 birds from the mountain roads. We had heard reports that the local Zapotec Indians might be unfriendly, but everyone was very pleasant once we waved and said "hola".
Day 5— a beach day with an evening trip to the dry forest along the Copalita River, about 10 km east of the hotel. We added Crane Hawk, Laughing Falcon, Banded Wren and RUFOUS-BACKED ROBIN.
Day 6— the long drive to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. We drove east form Huatulco on MX 200 to Salina Cruz and turned north on MX 185 to Santo Domingo Tehuantepec. The road joins MX 190 there and turns east. At La Ventosa, the road splits and MX 185 continues to the north. MX 190 continues east to the Chiapas border. A well-marked dirt road to La Mata is 4.8 km north on MX 185. We had many Orange-breasted Buntings and one female ROSITA'S BUNTING on this road. We were there reasonably early in the morning (7:30 am), so there must not be many Rosita's Buntings around. They have been reported from Juchitán (between Tehuantepec and La Ventosa, north on MX 185 to Matias Romero, and east into Chiapas along MX 190. Some have reported them easy to find along the Chiapas border. We turned back to the west and retraced our journey. West of Salina Cruz, there was an excellent dirt road to the south which is signed Playa Azul. In the thorn scrub here we saw one CINNAMON-TAILED SPARROW, even though it was very hot at 2 pm. We had heard their song several times earlier in the morning along MX 200 both west and east of Salina Cruz, but we were in a hurry to get to the Rosita's bunting site. We saw 53 birds on this day.
Day 7— a beach day after the long hot Tehuantepec trip
Day 8— morning on a dirt road west of the hotel, then the flight home. As per Greg Jackson's report, we found this road by heading west from the hotel on the four laned highway (!) through the town of Santa Cruz Huatulco south of the newer town of La Crucecita. (See a local map if you get confused). Turn left (west) onto Avenida Oaxaca at the Binniguenda Hotel to the end of the paved road. A dirt road leads west for several kilometers and, at first, parallels a concrete culvert. This is a superb road that I wish we had tried sooner. Most of the thorn forest birds of the area were well represented here, including WHITE-BELLIED CHACHALACA, Rufous-naped Wren, White-lored Gnatcatcher, and Red-breasted Chat.
Conclusions: lots of good birds are easily found in and around Huatulco. Much of the thorn forest is intact and will probably remain so, according to the Mexican tourist agency FONATUR. Huatulco is less expensive than other Mexican resort areas because it has not gained the popularity of, say, Cancun. The Isthmus of Tehuantepec is a long drive from Huatulco and might be better explored from a hotel in the area. The Tehuantepec area will not win any prizes for beauty, however. We had three life birds (the bunting, sparrow, and the Blue-capped Hummingbird).
Bird List (West Mexican ENDEMICS are
in all caps):
American White Pelican
Great Blue Heron
Little Blue Heron
COLIMA (LEAST) PYGMY-OWL
Cypseloides sp. Swift
BEAUTIFUL HUMMINGBIRD (probably)
Black-throated Green Warbler
ROSE-BELLIED (ROSITA'S) BUNTING
David R Ferry