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November 1995

by Peter Lonsdale

Finding myself at the end of a business meeting in Puerto Vallarta with 72 free hours and a rental car, and having birded northward in the nearby San Blas region earlier this year, I went southeast and made a quick circuit of eastern Jalisco and Colima. My route was PV-Barra de Navidad(overnight at Hotel Delfin)-Autlan-Ciudad Guzman (overnight at Hotel Flamingos --- central,clean,and cheap at $6/single)-Manzanillo (overnight at one of many $6 motels) -PV. Dawn was 0700;dusk 1830. Principal birding stops were Sierra de Autlan, Colima Volcanoes, and the coastal scrub west of Manzan -illo.

For the last two areas I was guided by David Smith's Colima and Manzanillo Trip Report and Carol Schumacher's Manzanillo report ( vo_95_06.html), and my notes may be useful as a supplement to those very helpful postings, and to Chapter 14 of Wauer's "A Naturalist's Mexico"(1992). 15km S of Autlan I spent 0800-1300/16 Nov walking the (gated) gravel road that climbs SE from where Hwy.80 crosses a saddle in the sierra at Km169 to the Manzos microndas station at 1700m. With high expectations from the old reports of Wauer and Edwards, I was mildly disappointed with my results: the forest habitat seems to have suffered recently by clearing for grazing and coffee, plus construction of several microwave repeaters. Apart from abundant HEPATIC TANAGERS, HUTTON'S VIREOS, BLUE-GREY and BLACK-CAPPED GNATCATCHERS, YELLOW-RUMPED, WILSON'S and BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLERS, and (at the microwave station) RED-HEADED TANAGERS, visible birds were fairly sparse, though I did see COLIMA WARBLER,WHITE-STRIPED WOODCREEPER, STRICKLAND'S {ARIZONA} WOOD- PECKER, YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER, ZONE-TAILED and RED-TAILED HAWKS, BRIDLED TITMOUSE, BUSHTIT, SPOTTED and SINALOA WRENS, and AMETHYST-THROATED HUMMIGBIRD.

Between Autlan and Ciudad Guzman a newish highway crosses dry pine-oak forestat 2100-2500m on the N flank of the twin Colima Volcanoes (inactive 4240m Volcande Nieve to the N, active 3820m V. de Fuego to the S). I had only a couple of hours before dusk in this region, along the main road and two gravel roads climbing 3-5kms S up the mountain. Abundant birdlife was reminiscent of a good summer day in SE Arizona: mixed flocks of MEX CHICKADEE, PAINTED and SLATE-THROATED REDSTARTS, RED-FACED and OLIVE WARBLERS and YELLOW-EYED JUNCO; clouds of MAGNIFICENT,WHITE-EARED,CALLIOPE, RUFOUS and BUMBLEBEE HUMMERS; SPOTTED and BROWN-THROATED {HOUSE} WRENS; ACORN WOOD- PECKER; CURVE-BILLED THRASHER; BLACK-HEADED SISKIN (large noisy flocks); BUFF-BREASTED and TUFTED FLYCATCHER. About 10km east of the highest part of the Autlan-Guzman road, near the village of Fresnito, the main gravel access road to the upper slopes of V. de Nieve takes off S, at a 'Parque Nacional Volcanes de Colima' sign, but I had no time to explore it.

For Volcan de Fuego I followed the advice of David Smith's Trip Report, getting to the foot of the dirt road (1200m elev,) just S of Atenquique at dawn. I crawled up the "road" for an hour, then parked at 2100m, 16km from the main road and about 3km past the turn-off to a microwave station. My parking spot was on a ridge just before the "road" gets very rocky and damaged by recent slips as it traverses left up a cliff face; I didn't think Mr. Avis would want me to proceed further in the very low clearance Nissan sedan he had rented me, especially as small apparently nonessential metal and plastic pieces had already been torn off the car's belly by rocks and mid-road gullies. 4WD tire tracks continued up another maybe 6km, to where the "road" had been completely demolished by slips and major tree-falls --- it is no longer possible to drive to the ash slopes above the treeline, as described in Wauer's book.

On my way up to Km16 I was distracted from the necessarily close attention to driving only by a pair of LONG-TAILED WOOD-PARTRIDGES in the middle of the "road", and a noisy flock of GRAY-BREASTED JAYS. From my parking spot I walked uphill,unlike the Smiths; in the next 4 hours good birds I saw additional to those in their Trip Report were DWARF VIREO,RUFOUS-CAPPED BRUSHFINCH,CRESTED GUANS (3 groups of 2 and 3 birds, flushed at close range from tree-tops along the "road" at 2400-2500m, and glided off across the wooded canyon to the S), AMETHYST-THROATED HUMMERS (abundant at a flower bank at a small clearing near 2400m, where I also saw GREEN VIOLET-EAR and SCALED ANTPITTA; ABEILLEI {BULLOCKUS} ORIOLE, GREY-BARRED WREN, CINNAMON-BELLIED FLOWER-PIERCER, RED, RED-FACED,GRACE's and OLIVE WARBLERS in mixed-species flocks near where the "road" crosses the canyon axis at 2500m (Red Warblers became common above this point); EARED TROGON (a pair on the west side of the canyon at 2700m.(MOUNTAIN TROGONS were also common above 2400m).

I had intended to walk on up to the boundary between moss-draped forest and the young ash slopes of Fuego's cone (at 3200m, 30km from the main road according to Wauer) but at about 2900 and noon the clear blue sky changed to a violent thunderstorm with drenching rain and lightning crashing around the smoking cone, which is now in a typical phase of continuous low-level volcanic eruption. Since I could no longer see or hear anything and had growing concerns about new landslips sweeping away the "road" below my car, I reluctantly retraced steps downhill. It rained for the next 5 hours, preventing my birding the lower piney slopes (covered by the Smiths).

My too-brief trip to Fuego was near the end of the rainy season, when the "road" may be in its worst state if it gets annual repair. More likely, the "road" has been degrading steadily since it was last used by logging trucks feeding the large Atenquique sawmill. If so, its decrepit state is a good sign, and I daresay it will always be kept driveable up to the microwave station. As it is, the "road" within the Parque Nacional has a small wandering herd of cattle, and is littered with a distressing number of shotgun cartridges, presumably from guan hunters; I wouldn't want to improve access for them.

0700-0830 the next morning in the orange groves and heavily trashed scrub beside the 6km-long Naranjo to Las Palmas Real road west of Santiago Bay (Manzanillo) I saw flocks of YELLOW-WINGED CACIQUES and SAN BLAS JAYS, CINNAMON HUMMER, GOLDEN-CHEEKED WUPECKER, SUMMER TANAGER, ORCHARD and STREAK-BACKED ORIOLES, SINALOA WREN and GREEN KINGFISHER. Plus lots of the common herons and shorebirds (incl. AM OYSTERCATCHER and COLLARED PLOVER). I enjoyed more the less developed Playa de Oro road, further west near the airport.

This good-cobblestone road cuts through 6km of thorn forest and scrub between the main road and the beach; from 0900 to 1000 I saw ORANGE-BREASTED, BLUE, and PAINTED BUNTINGS, RED-BREASTED CHAT, GREY-CROWNED YELLOWTHROAT, FLAMMULATED and NUTTINGUS FLYCATCHERS, BLUE MOCKINGBIRD, GREY HAWK, WEST MEX CHACHALACA and flocks of RUFOUS- BACKED THRUSH. At the end of the road I watched an OSPREY successfully surf-fishing by plunging from a cliff-side perch into the breaking waves on the spectacular deserted beach.

Peter Lonsdale,
0205 Scripps Institution of Oceanography,
La Jolla, California, 92093