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23 - 30 November 2006

by Russ Namitz

The primary purpose of this trip for me was to locate some target endemic bird species, but the primary purpose of the 9 other group members, including my wife, was to surf.  The group was stationed out of Troncones, a surfing destination located about ½ hr north of the Ixtapa/ Zihuatanejo region.  I was able to use the rental car for a long day trip up the west slope of the Sierra Madre de Sur (Sierra de Atoyac) and also for an overnight trip to the east slope of the Sierra de Atoyac.  

Thursday, November 23:  Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa/Troncones

We flew into the Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo airport in the afternoon and spent over an hour haggling with car rental companies. We had reservations with Thrifty rental car agency (, but they did not honor our reservations and said that they had no cars available.  We had to check around with other agencies to see if they had rental cars.  We settled on Budget rental car agency which was more than DOUBLE the cost of our original reservation.  We drove 35 minutes north to Troncones, checked into our palapas and went in search of surf boards to rent. 


Friday,  November 24: Troncones/Zihuatanejo/Ixtapa

I woke up while it was still dark and birded the 3 km road between Troncones and the main coastal highway (Hwy 200).  Along this stretch of road, I heard 3 pairs of MOTTLED OWL that were all spaced about 1 km apart.  I also heard PARAQUE, BUFF-COLLARED NIGHTJAR, THICKET TINAMOU, COLIMA PYGMY-OWL & COLLARED FOREST-FALCON.  Passerine birding was a bit slow, but managed to see STREAK-BACKED & ORCHARD ORIOLE, PALE-BILLED WOODPECKER, RUFOUS-NAPED WREN & STRIPE-HEADED SPARROW.  At Hwy 200, I drove north for a kilometer or two and then took the first exit (Lagunillas) which quickly leads to a left turn to the Majahua beach.  This 6 Km dirt road leads back to Troncones through farm fields, orchards & scrub habitat. 


I returned to Troncones to pick up the surfers and enjoyed looks of nearshore species like GREAT & SNOWY EGRET, BROWN PELICAN, BROWN BOOBY & NEOTROPICAL CORMORANT.  After lunch, we had to drive to the airport and change rental cars.  We checked out the Playa Linda area north of Ixtapa for surf and then stopped for some sunset birding on the way back to Hwy 200.  At an open field, we saw WHITE-WINGED DOVE, CATTLE EGRET, CRANE & GRAY HAWK, BRONZED COWBIRD, ANHINGA, ROSEATE SPOONBILL & other previously mentioned species.

Saturday, November 25: Sierra de Atoyac – west slope

I slept through my 3am watch alarm and woke up at 4:18am.  I frantically packed and drove south 2.5 hours to Atoyac.  I had to ask for directions several times to get on the right road to Paraiso into the Sierra de Atoyac.  About 35 minutes up the mountain from Atoyac, I had my only looks at LILAC-CROWNED PARROT.  I also saw YELLOW-WINGED CACIQUE, RUSSET-CROWNED MOTMOT, WEST MEXICAN CHACHALACA & CINNAMON HUMMINGBIRD before hurrying up the mountain to San Vicente at Km 32.  I made several stops between here and Km 45 (Paraiso) looking for endemic species with an emphasis on hummingbirds.  Sadly, I only saw 1 hummingbird all day above San Vicente, including later when I traveled above Paraiso.  It turned out to be a WHITE-TAILED HUMMINGBIRD feeding next to a large mature patch of bamboo about 3 km above San Vicente.  It was the only “old growth” bamboo that I noticed along the road between San Vicente & Paraiso and there was a small shack up the hill from the bamboo. 


Another kilometer further, on top of an open ridge, I saw 2 WHITE-NAPED SWIFTS circling with a flock of WHITE-COLLARED & VAUX’S SWIFTS.  I continued on to Paraiso and beyond with the hope of birding above Nuevo Delhi & also at Arroyo Grande as described in Howell & Webb’s site guide.  Access to Arroyo Grande is still impossible by vehicle due to a huge landslide that washed the road away about 1 km from the turnoff mentioned in Howell.  There was heavy construction with multiple dump trucks hauling dirt & rock away.  I tried birding the road between Paraiso & Nuevo Delhi with limited success, probably due to the midday lull.  The road was muddy, but passable to a 2-wheel drive car.  I did not make it all the way to Nuevo Delhi & beyond as I needed to make the 5hr drive back to Troncones and arrive by 8pm.  Other than ornamental species, I saw no flowers or flowering trees and not a single individual hummingbird. 


I made a stop about 3 km below San Vicente on the way home and picked up a few new species like PILEATED FLYCATCHER, FERRUGINOUS PYGMY-OWL & COLLARED TROGON.  Wintering flocks of Neotropical migrants were common along the entire stretch of road and commonly consisted of BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER, NASHVILLE, BLACK-THROATED GREEN, TOWNSEND’S & ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER, BLUE-HEADED & WARBLING VIREO.
It was a disappointing drive home having not seen the endemic SHORT-CRESTED COQUETTE.

Sunday, November 26:  Zihuatanejo/Troncones

This morning I arrived at dawn at a microwave tower hill located just southeast of Ixtapa on the old road to Zihautanejo.  To get to it, take Hwy 200 towards Ixtapa, and up at the top of the hill, take the turn towards Ixtapa (this is the southern most exit).  Immediately take the "Retorno" to loop back towards Zihuatanejo.  At this point, instead of taking the "Zihuatanejo Directo,” curve off to the right (which is also labelled "Zihuatanejo").  At this point you don't need to drive too far (maybe a km or two?), you'll pass a tower on your left, but you'll look for a road labelled "RMO Mazahuita" on the right.  Drive up this gravel road to a flat parking area just past the junkyard with crushed cars.  There is a system of gravel roads that traverse the hillside and an adjacent gulch through good thorn scrub habitat. 

New birds species seen include BUFF-COLLARED NIGHTJAR, WHITE-FRONTED PARROT, DOUBLEDAY’S HUMMINGBIRD, CITREOLINE TROGON, SQUIRREL CUCKOO, plus a good mix of other thorn scrub species.

At around 9:30 am, I continued south on the old Zihuatanejo road until I came to stone wall on the ocean side of the road indicating a housing development.  There is one entrance to this development that is gated and has a security guard.  This is the “police box” mentioned by Nick Lethaby’s report.  The housing development is no longer abandoned as there are villas for rent and more being renovated.  I asked to bird the grounds and was granted permission.  I was specifically looking for RED-BREASTED CHAT & WHITE-LORED GNATCATCHER, but only found the gnatcatcher and heard a LESSER GROUND-CUCKOO.  This housing development is located at the bottom of the same hill that the “good” microwave tower is on.
After lunch, I birded the 6 Km dirt road between the beach village of Majahua & Hwy 200.  Majahua is located about 4 kilometers north of Troncones via a dirt road.  A few surfers joined me and we finally got good looks at a pair of COLIMA PYGMY-OWL.


Monday, November 27: Sierra de Atoyac – east slope

Today I left at 5am and drove 4 hours south to Acapulco and then 1.5 hours north to Chipalcingo.  I was trying to get onto the eastern slope of the Sierra de Atoyac and bird the villages of Filo de Caballo & Carrizal de los Bravo, but I had a little trouble finding the road.  To reach “Milpillas” in Howell’s book, follow the signs for Iguala on Hwy 95 at the north end of Chilpancingo.  This is the old 95 highway that Howell talks about.  Drive about 30 kilometers (not 38 like stated in Howell) to the sign for Filo de Caballo.  Take this left and it takes you to the town of Xochipala at around Km 12.  Follow the directions in Howell’s book from here on out.  There is a military presence along this road, both with the police & army.  I was warned not to get out of sight of my rental car or it might get stolen.  I heeded this advice, but asked locally in 2 different villages if there were dangerous people around.  They said “No” both times.  The road was quite busy with local traffic and didn’t seem isolated or dangerous to me.
Stopping to bird above Xochipala (Km 16/17) yielded BLACK-CHESTED SPARROW, WESTERN KINGBIRD & DUSKY HUMMINGBIRD.  As I drove higher (Km 25), I saw BOUCARD’S WREN, PILEATED FLYCATCHER, BLACK-VENTED ORIOLE, GRAY SILKY, RUFOUS-CROWNED SPARROW, WESTERN SCRUB JAY & DWARF VIREO.  I made a brief stop after the village of Mirabel (Km 33) and saw RUSTY SPARROW, ACORN WOODPECKER, BRIDLED TITMOUSE and YELLOW-RUMPED & BLACK-THROATED GRAY WARBLERS.  Upon reaching the village of Filo de Caballo, one can look over and see Carrizal de los Bravo a few kilometers away.  What a change in the amount of flowers and hence, hummingbirds there were on this side of the mountains.  In the fading light driving to Carrizal de los Bravo, I was able to see CALLIOPE, WHITE-EARED & BERYLINE HUMMINGBIRD as well as PAINTED & SLATE-THROATED REDSTART.

I drove past Carrizal de los Bravo about 1-2 kilometers and turned right at a fork, heading up a hill following a sign for Textla (Yextla).  After about 3-4 kilometers, there was the inactive lumber camp (I think) mentioned in Howell’s book.  There were no buildings, but there was a clearing on the left side of the road with many large boulders that were painted white and the mileage corroborated the location.  I camped here, but before I went to sleep I drove around playing tapes for MOUNTAIN PYGMY-OWL & EARED POORWILL.  I did not hear either species, but I did hear a MOTTLED OWL down a canyon and I also called in and saw a pair a STYGIAN OWLS right above where I camped.

Tuesday, November 28:  Sierra de Atoyac – east slope

I woke up at dawn and started walking the side road into the forest.  The main road between Textla & Carrizal de los Bravos was actually quite busy for an isolated mountain road.  As I birded into the forest on the side road from the lumber camp, I began seeing high elevation species and hummingbirds were everywhere.  GREEN VIOLET-EAR, WHITE-EARED & BUMBLEBEE HUMMINGBIRD were the most common species, but I also saw 3 other species including a single GARNET-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD.  About a kilometer or two down the side road, there is a fork.  Both forks had good birding although if you take the right fork, be prepared to ford a stream and get your shoes wet.  In this general vicinity, I saw 3 of my target species.  First, a covey of 9 WHITE-FACED QUAIL-DOVE nearly exploded at my feet.  Second, as I turned around a covey of 6 LONG-TAILED WOOD-PARTRIDGE crossed the road while calling.  And lastly, I watched a single WHITE-THROATED JAY come to feed with a flock of STELLER’S JAYS at the same spot the wood-partridges crossed the road.  Other species recorded included CHESTNUT-CAPPED BRUSH-FINCH, RUSSET NIGHTINGALE-THRUSH, GOLDEN-CHEEKED, HERMIT & RED WARBLER, CINNAMON-BELLIED FLOWERPIERCER and COMMON BUSH-TANAGER.  Back at the car in the clearing, I saw HAIRY WOODPECKER, RED-TAILED HAWK & PINE FLYCATCHER.

Unfortunately, I had to zoom down the mountain at 11:30am to arrive back in Troncones at a decent hour (7 p.m.), but this area could certainly warrant another whole day of birding.  Oh yeah, on the new cuota freeway between Acapulco & Mexico City there are tolls every once in awhile for about $9 a pop.  There is a toll at the north end of Chilpancingo, but if you take the correct turn on the old Hwy 95 towards Iquala, you should miss that toll at least.  I made a few wrong turns and got dinged twice, once going & once coming.

Wednesday, November 29: Troncones

I was scheduled to take a pelagic trip on a deep-sea fishing charter run by an ex-patriot by the name of Ed Kunze.  He was going to let me tag along on a fishing trip for $30!  My wife had misplaced my alarm clock, so I used my watch and unfortunately I slept through it.  This was a major blow to my birding trip as I REALLY enjoy pelagic birding.  The Middle America Trench is nearest the west Mexican coastline off the state of Guerrero and I was hoping to rack up species like CHRISTMAS, AUDUBON’S, TOWNSEND’S & WEDGE-TAILED SHEARWATER, GALAPAGOS (WEDGE-RUMPED) STORM-PETREL and possibly even a COOK’S PETREL. I was literally dumb-founded and sat on the couch with my head in my hands for about 15 minutes.  

Slowly I gathered myself up and as the sun still was quite up yet, I decided to head out locally.  I birded around Troncones on the road past Majahua and out to the highway (Hwy 200).  There weren’t too many new birds, but I did log ZONE-TAILED HAWK, BLACK-CAPPED VIREO, WILLOW FLYCATCHER, RUFOUS-BACKED ROBIN & RED-BILLED PIGEON.  After lunch, I took some of the surfers out and showed them the common birds along the same stretch of road and took some photographs.

Thursday,  November 30: Zihuantanejo

I birded the microwave tower hill between Zihuatanejo & Ixtapa this morning before I flew out.  I saw all the “regular” thorn scrub species that I saw previously.  I was concentrating mostly on getting photos, but I did manage to spot a fly-by of a pair of YELLOW-HEADED PARROTS.  This was a significant sighting as this is a very scarce species due mostly to poaching & illegal pet trade.  There were plenty of WHITE-FRONTED PARROTS flying around with which to compare.  I had the best looks yet (5 minutes each) of COLIMA PYGMY-OWL, RUSSET-CROWNED MOTMOT, CITREOLINE TROGON & LESSER GROUND-CUCKOO.  I was tempted to try for the RED-BREASTED CHAT in the housing development, but the time was late and I had to fly home.  Seas la vida.

SPECIES DETECTED ~ 201 seen, 4 heard (* = life bird)

Thicket Tinamou (heard)
Least Grebe
Brown Pelican
Brown Booby
Neotropic Cormorant
Magnificent Frigatebird
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Little Blue Heron
Snowy Egret
Cattle Egret
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
Wood Stork
White Ibis
Roseate Spoonbill
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper’s Hawk
Crane Hawk
Common Black-Hawk
Gray Hawk
Roadside Hawk (heard)
Broad-winged Hawk
Short-tailed Hawk
Zone-tailed Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Black Hawk-Eagle
Crested Caracara
Laughing Falcon
Collared Forest-Falcon
American Kestrel
Bat Falcon
Peregrine Falcon
*West Mexican Chachalaca
*Long-tailed Wood-Partridge
Common Moorhen
American Coot
Semipalmated Plover
Spotted Sandpiper
Wandering Tattler
Western Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
Laughing Gull
Gull-billed Tern
Caspian Tern
Royal Tern
Brown Noddy
Rock Pigeon
Band-tailed Pigeon
Red-billed Pigeon
Ruddy Ground-Dove
Inca Dove
White-tipped Dove
*White-faced Quail-Dove
Orange-fronted Parakeet
White-fronted Parrot
*Lilac-crowned Parrot
*Yellow-headed Parrot
Squirrel Cuckoo
Groove-billed Ani
Lesser Ground-Cuckoo
Mottled Owl (heard)
*Colima Pygmy-Owl
Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl
*Stygian Owl
Lesser Nighthawk
*Buff-collared Nightjar
*White-naped Swift
White-collared Swift
Vaux’s Swift
Green Violet-ear
White-tailed Hummingbird
Dusky Hummingbird
*Doubleday’s (Broad-billed) Hummingbird
White-eared Hummingbird
Cinnamon Hummingbird
Berylline Hummingbird
Garnet-throated Hummingbird
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Black-chinned Hummingbird
Bumblebee Hummingbird
Calliope Hummingbird
Citreoline Trogon
Collared Trogon
Ringed Kingfisher
Russet-crowned Motmot
*Wagler’s Toucanet
Acorn Woodpecker
Golden-cheeked Woodpecker
Ladder-backed Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
*Gray-crowned Woodpecker
Pale-billed Woodpecker
Olivaceous Woodcreeper
Ivory-billed Woodcreeper
Spot-crowned Woodcreeper
Greenish Elaenia
*Pileated Flycatcher
Greater Pewee
Willow Flycatcher
*Pine Flycatcher
Pacific-slope Flycatcher
Vermilion Flycatcher
Dusky-capped Flycatcher
Ash-throated Flycatcher
Nutting’s Flycatcher
Brown-crested Flycatcher
Great Kiskadee
Boat-billed Flycatcher
Social Flycatcher
Tropical Kingbird
Cassin’s Kingbird
Thick-billed Kingbird
Western Kingbird
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
Rose-throated Becard
Masked Tityra
Gray-breasted Martin
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Gray Silky-flycatcher
Rufous-naped Wren
*Boucard’s Wren
Happy Wren
*Sinaloa Wren
Northern Mockingbird
Brown-backed Solitaire
Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush
Russet Nightingale-Thrush
Swainson’s Thrush
White-throated Thrush
Rufous-backed Robin
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
White-lored Gnatcatcher
Bridled Titmouse
Brown Creeper
Steller’s Jay
White-throated Magpie-Jay
Green Jay
*White-throated Jay
Western Scrub-Jay
House Sparrow
Black-capped Vireo
*Dwarf Vireo
Plumbeous Vireo
Blue-headed Vireo
Hutton’s Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Yellow-green Vireo
Red Crossbill (heard)
Lesser Goldfinch
Orange-crowned Warbler
Nashville Warbler
*Colima Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Gray Warbler
Golden-cheeked Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler
Townsend’s Warbler
Hermit Warbler
Yellow-throated Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
MacGillivray’s Warbler
Wilson’s Warbler
Red Warbler
Painted Redstart
Slate-throated Redstart
Golden-crowned Warbler
Rufous-capped Warbler
Golden-browed Warbler
Common Bush-Tanager
Hepatic Tanager
Summer Tanager
Western Tanager
Godman’s (Scrub) Euphonia
Blue-black Grassquit
Ruddy-breasted Seedeater
*Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer
Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch
*Black-chested Sparrow
Stripe-headed Sparrow
Rufous-crowned Sparrow
Rusty Sparrow
Lark Sparrow
Black-headed Saltator
Northern Cardinal
Black-headed Grosbeak
Orange-breasted Bunting
Great-tailed Grackle
Bronzed Cowbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
Streak-backed Oriole
Hooded Oriole
Bullock’s Oriole
Orchard Oriole
*Black-vented Oriole
Dickey’s (Audubon’s) Oriole
Yellow-winged Cacique

Russ Namitz

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