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Quick Trip to San Carlos and Alamos

November 2001

by George West

For the illustrated version, click here:

A group of 10 tourists drove south from Green Valley, Arizona into Sonora, Mexico for a quick getaway from November 1 to 5, 2001.  Less than half of the group was birders.  Access to Sonora is relatively easy as you can get a car permit in Tucson that only needs to be stamped at 21-kilometer on Route 15 south of Nogales.  From I-19 south take exit 4 (Mariposa Road) that leads west and then south across the border into Sonora.  There usually is no inspection here for passenger cars.  Continue to 21-kilometer where you must stop and obtain a car permit and a personal visitor permit.

First go to the Immigration office and with your passport, fill out the “Migratory Form for Foreign Tourist” and have it stamped.   You will have to pay a tourism fee at any bank at your destination.  The bank will stamp your permit and you may have to verify that you paid this fee when returning.  The tourist permit is good for six months anywhere in Mexico.  Next go to the “Only Sonora” office and get your car permit.  (If you are going out of Sonora, you must get a different permit from a nearby office.) For this you need your title, current registration, and driver’s license.  The person whose name is on the title and registration must be the same as the driver and that person must be there.  If you do not own the vehicle outright, you must have a notarized letter from the lien holder or lease holder that permits you to take the vehicle into Mexico.  The Only Sonora permit is good only for the number of days you tell them you will be in Sonora!  They will give you a permit and a sticker for your windshield.  Upon return to 21-kilometer you must return the permit and the official will remove the sticker.  You should have purchased Mexican insurance before leaving the United States and changed enough dollars into pesos as well as you will need pesos for toll road charges and gasoline.

It took about six hours to drive from Green Valley to San Carlos taking into account the time spent at 21-kilometer, toll booths, gas stations, and making our way through Hermosillo where some directional route signs were missing.  Very few birds were seen on power polls along the way.  We did not stop for birds as we were in a caravan of three cars.  Also the toll roads, although four-lane have no shoulders and there are few places to pull over for any reason, much less look for birds.  We did see a few Harris’s and Red-tailed Hawks, and Crested Caracaras.

San Carlos is a paradise for sport fishermen and well-to-do vacationers from the north.  Winter there can be pleasant with no rain but humid conditions.  The town is small, but has all the necessary amenities for a lengthy stay.  We only spent one night down and one on the way back at the Fiesta Motel, the first one you see on the left when entering San Carlos.  Birds of interest seen there included Magnificent Frigatebird, Blue-footed and Brown Booby, Double-crested Cormorant, Brown Pelican, Snowy and Great Egret, Little Blue and Great Blue Heron, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Spotted Sandpiper, Willet, American Oystercatcher, Heermann’s and Yellow-footed Gull, Caspian and Royal Tern, and a few passerines common to southeastern Arizona such as Curve-billed Thrasher, Cactus Wren, Verdin, Chipping Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Rufous-winged Sparrow, Green-tailed Towhee, Hooded Oriole, Great-tailed Grackle, and Western Meadowlark.

There are relatively few birds on the water and shore in San Carlos at this time of year.  We took an evening boat ride on the bay but saw only a few Blue-footed and fewer Brown Boobys.  One would have to go farther off shore to find shearwaters.  The areas just beyond San Carlos looked interesting for passerines, but development of condos and time-shares is progressing rapidly.

The next day we continued south to Navojoa and then east to Alamos, a delightful small village at 1,300 feet elevation in the foothills of the Sierra Madre Occidental.  We had made reservations at Solipaso, an excursion and tourist center in Alamos run by Jennifer and David MacKay.  David is a bird guide who works with High Lonesome Tours and also runs his own tours in Mexico.  He is writing a birder’s guide to Sonora.  Jennifer is a gourmet cook and in charge of their accommodations at the Citadel in Alamos.   Their two daughters are attending the local school and much of the MacKay’s efforts are devoted to improving conditions at the local school as well as other aspects of the village.

Birders on the trip wanted to take a river birding trip on the Rio Mayo, but unfortunately the river was too low.  The farmers have control of the dam above and apparently wanted to conserve water in the reservoir.  Normally the river is flowing well enough for the float trip after November first.  Instead, we decided on the all-day estuary trip.  David told me of a good birding location nearby, the Aduana Arroyo where I went in the late afternoon on the day we arrived.  Here I found Common Ground-Dove, Gila and Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Curve-billed Thrasher, Northern Mockingbird, Cassin’s Kingbird, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, House Wren, Yellow-rumped (Myrtle), Blackpoll, and Grace’s Warblers, Streak-backed Oriole, Hepatic Tanager, and a flock of Black-throated Magpie-Jays.  As light faded, streams of Black Vultures moved overhead to the south to roost.

The next morning we stopped again in the Aduana Arroyo and continued along it into the old silver mining town of Aduana.  On this brief visit, in addition to the above, we found Gray Hawk, a flock of Elegant Quail, Red-billed Pigeon, a flock of Mexican (Blue-rumped) Parrotlets, Broad-billed Hummingbird, Northern Flicker, Least Flycatcher, Thick-billed Kingbird, Orange-crowned and Black-throated Gray Warblers, Lark Sparrow, Western Tanager, House Finch, and Lesser Goldfinch.

.  From here, it is almost a two-hour drive west to the estuary through Navajoa and south almost to the Sinaloa border towards Los Mochis.  The Adiabampo estuary is about 70 miles north to south along the Gulf of California and contains islands of mangroves.  To get there, you have to know your way across farmlands and cactus forests of etcho and organ-pipe cacti to the tiny settlement of Agiabampo and then to the even less-populated area on the shore of the estero.  Here we met a couple from Colorado who resided here in adobe huts and helped the local Mexicans eke out a living through their arts and crafts as well as fishing in the estuary.  Few can make a living fishing anymore.  Much of the nearby estuary area has been cleared and will be flooded to raise shrimp.

One fisherman took the six of us out on the estero in his ponga, an open fiberglass boat with a 40hp Yamaha outboard, to look for birds.  It was a two-hour trip in very shallow water where we found roosting Magnificent Frigatebirds, Brown Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, Surf Scoters, Red-breasted Mergansers, Reddish, Snowy, Cattle and Great Egret, Little Blue, Great Blue and Green Heron, Black-crowned and Yellow-crowned Night Heron, White Ibis, Osprey, Willet, Whimbrel, Caspian, Royal, and Forster’s Tern, Broad-billed Hummingbird, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Mangrove Swallow, and Mangrove (Yellow) Warbler.

We were treated to a gourmet lunch back in one of the palapas with locally caught shrimp and fish, ratatouille, beans, and salad.  On our way back along agricultural fields we found many Crested Caracara, American Kestrels, Vermilion Flycatcher, Common and Chihuahuan Ravens, Sinaloa Crows, Loggerhead Shrike, and Lark, Brewer’s, and Vesper Sparrows.

The next morning I returned to the Aduana Arroyo and added Inca Dove, Cordilleran Flycatcher, Wilson’s Warbler, Lincoln’s Sparrow, and Northern Cardinal to the list.  Half way down the 53-kilometer road from Alamos to Navojoa is a fruit inspection station.  Just east of there a beautiful White-tailed Hawk flew along by the road and soared over the power lines.  David MacKay told me that he had seen this bird there in the past.  And overhead was a flock of soaring White Pelicans.

Our return to San Carlos for an overnight was uneventful.  After our sunset boat ride, we returned to watch the final game of the World Series in the hotel bar – great for Arizona fans!  The next morning we drove back north stopping at 21-kilometer to return our car permits and then north to GreenValley.   Customs at the U.  S.  border was efficient and did not delay us despite added security

For information on Solipaso, their accommodations and excursions, contact them at: Solipaso, #15 Calle Cardenas, Alamos, Sonora, Mexico 85760; phone 011-52-642-80466; e-mail:; web site:

Dr. George C. West
Wildlife Clip Art and Wildlife Jewelry
Green Valley, AZ