July 1-13, 2001
by Judith Lamare
Not a great time to go birding, but you do what you can! Our plan was to fly into Huatulco, which seemed to have the best price, and drive all the birding areas recommended by Howell¹s A Bird Finding Guide to Mexico for Oaxaca. Once there, of course, we said, "why spend our vacation driving?" We plan to go back to Oaxaca and spend another couple of weeks in the highland and east coast areas. The book we most used for our logistics was Oaxaca Handbook, by Bruce Whipperman, Moon Travel Handbooks. By the way, we did not try to bargain our prices down and probably could have gotten at least another 10 percent off if we tried in some locales.
It is kind of scary to be in a place where a bird never sits on a wire. There were only a couple of places where we saw a bird on a wire. Overall, we didn¹t see anything unexpected,[consult Howell for bird list of the area] and our bird list isn¹t spectacular. Besides the bird list got soaked in bug repellant and isn¹t readable. The high quality bug juice is mandatory, day and night. However, we saw 17 species that we hadn¹t seen before. The place is blanketed with white-fronted magpie jays, kingbirds, grackles, yellow-winged caciques, vultures, and social flycatchers. On the coast the weather was very hot (over 95 or 100 every day), very humid and though it was rainy season, the rains were not hitting the coast.
Huatulco. Can you imagine a Mexican town with handicapped access cuts in the curbs at every corner? Wide sidewalks? Roads that aren¹t congested and jammed with buses full to overflowing? The 7 Bays of Huatulco is a newish tourist development set in a national forest -?said to be planned to maintain 70 percent in natural lands.
Warning: it is hot and humid. A friend told me that she visited in April. It was so hot, she had a heat rash and couldn't do anything. We were there in July and the heat did not stop us from doing anything we wanted to do. Still, birding time is restricted and heat sensitive folks should be aware.
There are three communities, high end, middle and low. We stayed in the low end, Crucecita, at the Hotel Pousada Michelle [Gardenia 8, Cruceita, Oaxaca 70980], in a simple, small room with a hammock hung porch just outside ($28). English speaking Jose Aussenac, proprietor,[958-705-35 ] runs eco-Tours, and took us to the Rio Copalito wildlife refuge and environs. We saw the orange breasted bunting near a microwave tower or water facility up one of several service roads up hill from Highway 20. He also arranged a kayak trip down the Rio Copalito river for a very pleasant outing. [green kingfisher, green parakeets.] Breakfast was available down the street in the early hours (it doesn¹t get light til 7 a.m. though) for about $4 each (with very large fresh orange and coffee). Aussenac¹s tour manager is Saul Rodriguez at email@example.com; he speaks English and enthusiastically can arrange things.
If you are concerned about human rights and environmental protection, Jose can tell you some stories about local conflicts with powerful absentee landowners. There is also reportedly a local conservation group working to maintain the integrity of the plan.
The City Park in Crucecita is a delightful spot for birding and views of the town. We saw many golden cheeked and golden fronted woodpeckers, rufuous naped wren, and Altamira orioles. On the third day, we rented our car from Budget around the corner from the Pousada, and continued our exploration of the area with a trip to the Bocana, where the muddy Rio Copalito meets the sea. This is an enchanting place of blues, browns and whites, with snowy egrets, skimmers, pelicans and others enjoying the mix of fresh and salt water. We again explored the roads up to water tanks and microwave towers. We heard from others staying in the high end area that they had easy views of Chesnut browed mot mot and Citroline trogan close to these hotels.
Puerto Escondido. We moved our base camp north to Hotel Arco Iris at Zicatela Beach in Puerto Escondido and stayed for four nights at about $64 a night. Here we had a large comfortable room on the beach, with large porch (hammock rings but no hammocks), kitchen and good restaurant close at hand. Saw no birds here! However, this the third best surfing beach in the world, but not a beach for family swimming. Snorkeling beach is a short drive away (plenty of taxis around here) with lovely swimming conditions (Puerto Angelito). From here we launch three birding expeditions. We note that the beaches are bereft of wildlife, compared with California where we see seals, sea lions, gulls, pelicans, shorebirds. Here there are waves, surfers, families.
Laguna Manatialtepec is a wonderful outing. We stop at Isla de Gallo where we engaged a boat for the lagoon tour of one-and one-half hours, returned for lunch and lagoon watching, then napped in the hammocks, took a walk down the road, and left about 4. The Isla is nesting area for green backs, boat bills and others, and we saw baby herons. Along the edge of the mangrove lined lagoon are olivaceous cormorants, brown pelicans, various egrets and hawks. From the lunch area we watch bare throated tiger heron, tri-color, little blue, and green backs in completely relaxed conditions. While there, we overhear a conversation about regulating eco-tourism to protect the resource. We are here in the very low season, and it is frightening to think of the potential pollution (noise, water, air) from lagoon tours in the high season. There are numerous lagoon side facilities offering tours.
Up Road 131. We follow Howell¹s instruction but actually find little around km 31-32 but more at 36, where a road goes off to the right side. We enjoy a walk down the road and also a walk along a parallel path on the western side of the road. A flock of green parakeets, scrub euphonia, citroline trogan, cinnamon hummingbird and magpie jays. We see lots of disturbance, slash and burn agriculture, on this drive.
Lagunas de Chacagua. A national park but no maps, very few signs, no fees, no rangers, though we do see the army at the entrance and also a truckload goes by while we are birding a road inside. This park is a very big disappointment in part due to dry conditions, maybe the wrong season to go here, and also due to misjudgment on my part. Our guidebook was sketchy on this area. It noted that the lagoon tours here are run by ex-fishermen who have fished out the lagoon, and they have little understanding and provide little support for birdwatching. So we chose to go to the farther entrance and take our chances there. Since it was more remote and less of a tourist destination, we figured it would have more birds. When we reached the Lagoon it was muddy, and we did not see any path to the ocean beach; there were no birds, and the village was not inviting. There¹s supposed to be a crocodile farm here but we can¹t figure that out either, and are very hungry at this point, so we head back to the highway. After a very long drive in, stopping at a market on the highway for a snake, and a long drive out, we re-entered by the first entrance and visited the more populated area. We passed by the lagoon and went out to Cerro Hermosa Beach where the lagoon meets sea. While folks were swimming in the lagoon, we passed on that noting the likelihood that it served as sewer outlet for the village. The first entry is about one hour from Puerto Escondido, and the drive in is about one-half hour. The second entry is about 90 minutes from Puerto Escondido and the drive in is at least an hour through a mostly agricultural area. We found one good birding spot during that drive and saw citroline trogan. Also saw a pair of osprey at the Cerro Hermosa Beach. Tour buses and vans serve the Cerro Hermosa area. Not a happy day.
San Jose Pacifico/ Highway 175. About four hours of bad road up to 7400 feet to a cloud forest. The last hour in an intense thunderstorm. [Rains in the afternoon.] Birding the road is possible at various spots, but we enjoyed the birding more in San Jose. Once at San Jose, you are only 2 1/2 hours from Oaxaca and staff says the road is much better on that end. So from Oaxaca, it is probably a much nicer trip to San Jose Pacifico. We enjoyed meeting Eron Garcia; his family is managing Puesto del Sol for eco tourism. [www.sanjosedelpacifico.com; email firstname.lastname@example.org; phone, 957-2-01-11.] The room was $22 in a glorious setting. Cabanas are available. Menu limited but adequate. [Bring your favorite foods.] Eron reports that birders are coming to the site, and lets us know that we could have gotten a boy to show us the back roads and natural areas.
We birded the grounds, the path on the other side of the highway, and a road out of town into the less disturbed area. On the grounds, there is a field full of wildflowers, abuzz with white-eared hummingbirds and cinnamon flower-piercers, and a burro chomps away all day. The white earred hummingbirds were a constant source of entertainment, chattering wildly and leaping from flower to flower, and all very beautiful with their colorful pink bills and neon green breasts and brilliant blue crowns. Other birds on the grounds included, black-headed siskins, yellow-eyed juncos, slaty redstart, lots of cinnamon flower-piercers, red faced warbler, spotted towee, pine siskin, swainson¹s thrush, brown towee, American gold finch, rufuous capped brush finch, brown creeper, blue-capped hummingbird. Just off the road, the silky flycatcher, Mountain trogan. Further out of town, crescent chested warbler, stellar jay, southern variety, Huttons vireo, possibly Slaty vireo (endemic).
Going back down the road to the coast, we have better luck and better weather. Hairpin turns, waterfalls, bromeliads, cows, burros and goats, landslides, wash-outs, and cave-ins make one lane spots, but traffic is not heavy. Cornfields on vertical hillsides; rocks on the road. Pine/oak and agave forest. We see red-legged honeycreeper (all blue) and sulphur-bellied flycatcher and rufuous capped warbler.
Puerto Angel is at the bottom of the hill and it¹s a popular beach town. We did not have much time or much luck in birding this area. Saw a lot of orioles, and the usual yellow-winged cacique, grackle, magpie jay crowd. We do see the white-collared swift and an all dark swift here and enjoy the town and Villa Florencia restaurant. We stay high on the hillside looking down on Puerto Angel in a large, nice room at a discount price ($33) Hotel Angel del Mar. Our time is limited and the birding isn¹t fruitful. We hear citrolines. There¹s a lot to explore in this area, though, including the Turtle Museum.
La Gloria. We had arranged with Saul Rodriguez (for $150; probably about a third more than we needed to pay) to stay one night at La Gloria organic coffee plantation, with three meals. We left Puerto Angel just after 9 am and drove back up the coast highway (200) to a road 7 miles east of Copalito, signed for Santa Maria Xadani 13 miles away. La Gloria is another 5 miles. It takes about 1 1/2 hours to travel this 18 miles if you don¹t stop for birds. It is about 45 minutes to travel the distance between the airport at Huatulco and the road turning off 200 to get to La Gloria.. This is definitely a trip highlight, and we would have loved to stay at least two nights. There is a trip to a waterfall that is part of the package that we were not able to do, and likely to be other trails in the area to explore. We plan to go back. Food is excellent, accommodations very comfortable and rustic, set in the forest and birds abound. We birdwatched from the cabin porch with great success. Granddaughter Herta, aged 12, gave us a tour in English; she spends her summer holiday on the finca. Dona Maria Isabela, the grande dame, made us very welcome [does not speak English]; she serves 70-100 visitors a day who come in tourist vanas for lunch and a tour. This is a popular day trip from Club Med in Huatulco during the tourist season. The plantation was begun about 1942 by a German immigrant [Sherenberg] and Dona Maria Isabela married and moved here about 45 years ago. She¹ll sell you a kilo of excellent roasted "expresso style" coffee (or something milder) for $13.00.
We were delighted with the nature trail, and birding along the road and saw more citroline trogans, lilac fronted parrots, orange fronted parakeets, bar-winged oriole, altamira oriole, chestnut browed mot mots, and others we couldn¹t id. You can reach the Sherenberg-Noyola Family at La Gloria by email (but I carelessly misplaced their card and can't give you the email address at the moment) or phone 958-706-97. You can find them featured at the following website: http://www.tomzap.com/lagloria.html. This is an interesting site about Mexico that we found after the trip.
Jude Lamare and Jim Pachl