Birding the Americas Trip Report and Planning Repository
Return to the Main Index

Return to the North America Index
Return to the Mexico Index
Return to the Colima Index

MEXICO - COLIMA  -  Manantlan Biosphere

19 February 2007

by Bob Cecil

Birding the Manantlan Biosphere in Colima
My wife Mary, son John, and I just returned from Western Mexico on a pretty much non-birding trip but did manage to do a little exploring.  This year, we decided to check out the Manantlan Biosphere between Colima and Manzanillo.  This is the same Biosphere that includes Puerto Los Mazos near Autlan de Navarro, Jalisco, site 7-5 in Howell's A Bird-Finding Guide to Mexico.

We got to the entrance road to El Terrero on Feb 19 at about 8:30 AM and headed up the bumpy but passable rock road.  We made the trip in our Saturn Vue, the front wheel drive, small engine version, and had no trouble.  An experienced driver could probably make it up in a sedan. The turnoff is near kilometer marker 38, about 24 miles west of Villa De Alvarez, a suburb of Colima. If coming from Manzanillo, it is a few kilometers past the town of Minatitlan.  If coming from there, check out the El Salto falls near kilometer marker 48 according to the Pacific Mexico Guide (Whipperman).  Either way, watch for the sign to El Terrero.  After about a kilometer, there is a fork with one road heading to El Sauz and the other on to El Terrero. Since it was the dry season, the over-grazed scrubland and the thorn forest on the early stretches of the road was nearly leafless. Occasional splashes of flowers brightened things up.

We had actually driven a short ways up this road several years ago, but didn't know where it went and found only overgrazed scrub and a single Rusty-crowned Ground Sparrow before turning back.  This time, proceeding beyond the scrub, we came into high-quality thorn forest.  These habitats, however, yielded relatively few birds except the expected migrant warblers, vultures, and lots of White-eared Hummingbirds.

As we reached the transition zone between the thorn forest and the oak woodlands, the bird numbers increased dramatically, including large mixed feeding flocks.  Bouncing on up the road, we came to patches of cedar, occasional lush stream valleys, and some green forested areas.  We made frequent stops, seeing good numbers of birds at most.  Finally, after 15 kilometers, and at about 7,500 to 8,000 feet (my GPS unit shot craps so I am going by local lore here), we came to the tiny village of El Terrero, nestled among some surviving Mexican pines.  We went though the town and to the right (east?) on one of several roads past a very well maintained and empty campground and down a small hill.  Scattered alongside it were the remains of a once magnificent forest – some of the stumps were five feet or more in diameter, but fortunately, some of the smaller mature trees remained.  Much other land had been permanently cleared for grazing or crops. This area, too, seemingly had birds everywhere.

We had read that you could proceed upwards past El Terrero but could not find the road (trail?) so went back to town.  We had seen signs along the road for cabins there and saw another in town, pointing generally up a short, very rough road.  Dodging its gashes, after about a block we came to a little thatched-roof, outdoor restaurant.  We decided to support the local economy and stopped in.  The most gracious hostess wasn't serving food (Wed through Sun as I recall) but did sell us some coffee from a big electric pot she had going and a small glass of especially potent ponche, flavor undetermined but possibly a blackberry-type fruit. 

She also had three cabins to rent, so we checked them out for future reference.  Set back in the trees and well separated, they were rustic and appealing, and offered from one to four beds depending upon the unit. Water supply is a serious issue for this mountainside town, and supply for the cabins may be iffy.  300 or 400 Pesos per night as I recall.  This would be a great place to stay a night or two for exploring the area.  The hostess gave us a phone number for reservations:  044-312-31-73597.  (This seems like an odd combination for Mexico but it was she who wrote it down).  She said that her customers were usually Mexicans from Manzanillo – ! very few if any Gringos.  Food, water, and beverages should also be self-supplied. Earplugs would probably be a good idea – dogs, roosters, and burros probably make up a major part of the morning serenade, typically starting at about 4:00 AM.

A guy in town asked us, in Spanish, if we needed a guide.  We didn't, but such an individual would be helpful in exploring/not getting lost, even if he didn't speak English, which he probably wouldn't. A guide might also help you find what has been described as the West Coast counterpart of cloud forest, alleged to be on up the mountain. Talking to a couple of other guys, John got what he thought was a convincing description of Eared Quetzals, including the white undertail.  We both have yet to see one in Mexico.

We continued to bird and explore the area until about 3:00 PM, when we headed back down.  Overall, we found that the short trip from Colima or Manzanillo to El Terrero offered excellent birding, comparable in some ways, we thought, to Volcan de Nieve, a much longer drive from Colima. Curiously, though, we did not find a Red Warbler, a species common on the volcano. As with most areas, another birding day would have probably produced many more species than what we saw, highlights listed below:
Gray Hawk
Short-tailed Hawk
Beryline Hummingbird
Magnificent Hummingbird
Acorn Woodpecker
Smoky-brown Woodpecker
Tufted Flycatcher - several
Greater Pewee
Pine Flycatcher
White-throated Magpie-Jay
White-bellied Wren
Gray-breasted Wood-Wren
Brown-backed Solitaire - many
Orange-billed and Russet Nightingale-Thrushes
White-throated Robin
Blue Mockingbird
Cedar Waxwing – several flocks here and elsewhere on the trip.  Must be their year.
Gray Silky - many
Golden Vireo - several
Tropical Parula – overall, lots of warblers<
Crescent-chested, Black-throated Gray, Townsend's, and Red-faced Warblers
Slate-throated Redstart
Red-crowned Ant-Tanager - several
Flame-colored Tanager
Yellow Grosbeak
Rusty-crowned Ground-Sparrow
Yellow-eyed Junco
Black-headed Siskin
We also took some time to check out the road past La Maria (Site 7-9 in the Howell Guide), a well-know birding spot.  The road continued on to the tiny hamlet of Yerbabuena, which sometimes makes international news by being evacuated because of the rumblings of Volcan de Fuego, towering over it.  Picking the correct of a couple of roads continuing towards the volcano, you will come to an iron gate, which you may open and go through (remembering to close it behind you).  There is some beautiful forest along this road.  Continue on to a second gate where you may park or go through and on for a few more meters.  Hiking on will take you higher, and closer to the volcano, but be careful not to get lost. Not only did this short trip offer spectacular views of the volcano, but had large number of birds, especially warblers but also woodcreeper sp. and Blue-hooded Euphonia among others.

We left Colima on Friday morning and headed back to Iowa.  Near Cd. Guzman, Jalisco, we were treated to swirling clouds of Yellow-headed Blackbirds moving out the fields to feed.  On towards Guadalajara, we passed the vast, shallow lagoons.  Much was dry but there were also large expanses of shallows inhabited by tens of thousands of water birds, although we did not have time to stop and estimate their numbers.   This was heartening since last year, they were almost completely dry.  According to the locals, they are increasingly going dry due to water diversion projects, irrigation, and drought.  

Bob Cecil
Des Moines, IA

Birding Top 500 Counter