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MEXICO -- Puerto Vallarta Area

State of Jalisco (Los Juntas de los Veranos)
State of Nayarit (Bucerias, Laguna de Quelele, El Guamuchil, San Blas)

28 Dec 2004 – 10 Jan 2005

by Blake Maybank

I recently travelled to the Puerto Vallarta area (hereafter PV) to attend my sister’s wedding, and while there I managed to free some time most days for birding, photography, and exploration.  PV seems to be best known as the most economical area in Mexico for all-inclusive resort package vacations; it is certainly a bargain compared to Cancun and the Mayan Riviera. 

There are few detailed birding resources for Puerto Vallarta and Bahia de Banderas, and despite receiving a few tips from others who had visited the area, I was mostly improvising.  I discovered, to my surprise and delight, that there is very good birding to be had.


I took many photos during the trip, and a selection of bird and other faunal photos is available by clicking here.  Once at the site just click on the two Mexico albums.  If anyone can put a name to the anonymous butterfly and dragonfly photos, I would be most grateful.


My sister chose the Royal Decameron Complex (RDC) for her wedding, and it turned out to be a savvy choice.  She wished to be based outside the city of Puerto Vallarta, and the RDC lies on the south end of the town of Bucerias, 30 minutes north of Puerto Vallarta on Hwy 200.  It is north of the long strip of hotels and resorts in Nuevo Vallarta, and so feels unconfined.  It provided the right mix of isolation with reasonable access to other areas.  It is a large resort, and fills its rooms via package holiday suppliers, mostly based in Canada.  The resort's web site is here.


Highway 200 is but 750 metres to the east of the resort, from where there is regular bus service south to Mezcales, the airport, and Puerto Vallarta, northwest to Punta de Mita, and north to Sayulita.  I took buses, taxis, and rode once with a California birder who had his own vehicle.

The road immediately to the east of the resort (and which passes through the easternmost section of the resort) is Lázaro Cradenas, and it runs NW from the RDC for 1 km to a bridge over a small river – the main shopping area for Bucerias is on the NW side of the bridge.  To the SE the road becomes dirt, and soon passes through scrub land (to the east), with a large cement wall to the west.  The road ends within 300 metres at a traffic circle, vegetated in the centre, and surrounded by undeveloped land.   See the photo.

One road leads south from this circle, past a guarded gate, and arrives in one km at the north end of the hotel strip of Nueva Vallarta.  The guard at the gate ignores all gringos, and apparently everyone else as well.  Another dirt road runs NE of the circle towards Highway 200.  There is good vegetation on both sides of this dirt road.

The resort is on the beach, of course, which seems to extend without end to the NW and SE, with the Bahia de Banderas to the west.

The RDC area


There is rather little information regarding birding sites in and near Puerto Vallarta.  Howell’s “Birding Guide to Mexico” lists only one site in detail in his book, the Laguna de Quelele, and a bit more was available in trip reports on the “Birding the Americas” site, and from private communications. 

When I visited the office of an eco-tour company in Puerto Vallarta, near the Sheraton, I discovered a pamphlet there for sale, “The Birds of Paradise – The Guide & Checklist of the Birds of Puerto Vallarta”, by Dennis W. Boddy, published by Alejandro Martinez Rodriguez, and endorsed by the National Audubon Society Latin America and Caribbean Program.  It is in its 2nd edition, and the ISBN is 970-92278-0-7.  The 48 page booklet has a complete regional checklist, six decent colour plates of the commoner species, and a short site guide.  If you can locate a copy, it is worth having along.


Bahia area

Bucerias, near Royal Decameron Complex

Most days I took advantage of the scrub thorn forest adjacent the resort, and birded the area somewhat methodically.  I also frequently watched whatever birds passed by on the Bahia de Banderas. 

To reach the thorn forest I walked SE on Lázaro Cardenas Avenue, which passes between Blocks 4 and 5 of the resort complex.  Once clear of the resort there is a high concrete wall on the west side of the road, while the scrub appears on the east side.  This remains the case until the road reaches the “traffic circle”.  On the south side of the traffic circle there is a patch of more mature forest, very enticing, and this may be explored by passing through gaps in a chain-link fence, and then carefully walking several unofficial tracks. 

The road leading south from the traffic circle, past the guard hut, is divided two lane, with trees planted on the dividing island, with a sidewalk running the length of the divider.  Someone clearly intends future development along here, but for now there is little traffic, and reasonable scrub forest adjacent, but fenced off.

On the west side of Lázaro Cardenas Avenue, just before you reach the “traffic circle”, an obvious path runs NE through the scrub forest, and it continues all the way to Hwy 200 at the junction with Ave. Las Palmas, the road that leads to the resort.   I walked this path a number of times, and only once encountered anyone else using it, but it is utilised often enough that the path is clear of debris and easy to follow.  There are side paths as well, one of which leads down the south side of Block 5 of the resort complex.   The main path was my preferred birding route, as there was no traffic to disturb the birds, and I was able to explore carefully and at leisure.

The dirt road leading NW of the traffic circle runs to Hwy 200.  There is decent forest to the east, behind a chain link fence, and with no obvious entry point.  A short cement wall lines much of the west side of the road, with thorn forest behind.  Some small ephemeral pools of water left behind after some locals washed their pick-up trucks attracted a variety of bathers.

The entire area was surprisingly productive, and should be visited by anyone staying in Bucerias or Nuevo Vallarta.   Here is my cumulative species list for the area.

Species Seen in Bucerias - 27 Dec 2004 to 09 Jan 2005

76 species


[c] = common, observed daily or almost daily
[u] = seen more than once, but not daily
[1] = seen once

American White Pelican   [1]
Brown Pelican   [c]
Blue-footed Booby   [c]
Neotropic Cormorant   [c]
Magnificent Frigatebird   [c]
Turkey Vulture   [c]
Cooper’s Hawk   [1]
Common Black-Hawk   [u]
Great Black-Hawk   [1]
Gray Hawk   [u]
American Kestrel   [u]
Elegant Quail   [1]
Whimbrel   [c]
Willet   [u]
American Herring Gull   [u]
Laughing Gull   [c]
Caspian Tern   [u]
Royal Tern   [c]
Rock Pigeon   [c]
Common Ground-Dove   [c]
Ruddy Ground-Dove   [c]
Inca Dove   [c]
Squirrel Cuckoo   [1]
Groove-billed Ani   [c]
Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl   [1]
Cinnamon Hummingbird   [u]
Ruby-throated Hummingbird   [1]
Golden-cheeked Woodpecker   [c]
Tufted Flycatcher   [1]
Willow Flycatcher   [1]
Pacific-slope Flycatcher   [u]
Bright-rumped Attila   [1]
Nutting’s Flycatcher   [u]
Flammulated Flycatcher   [1]
Great Kiskadee   [c]
Boat-billed Flycatcher [u]
Social Flycatcher   [c]
Tropical Kingbird   [c]
Cassin’s Kingbird   [c]
Gray-breasted Martin   [c]
Northern Rough-winged Swallow   [c]
Happy Wren   [u]
Sinaloa Wren   [u]
House Wren   [u]
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher   [c]
Black-capped Gnatcatcher   [1]
Black-throated Magpie-Jay   [1]
Bell’s Vireo   [1]
Plumbeous Vireo   [u]
Cassin’s Vireo   [u]
Warbling Vireo   [u]
Golden Vireo   [1]
Orange-crowned Warbler   [c]
Nashville Warbler   [u]
Lucy’s Warbler   [u]
Yellow Warbler   [c]
Black-and-white Warbler   [u]
MacGillivray’s Warbler   [c]
Yellow-breasted Chat   [u]
Summer Tanager   [u]
Blue-black Grassquit   [u]
White-collared Seedeater   [c]
Stripe-headed Sparrow   [c]
Lark Sparrow   [1]
Lincoln’s Sparrow   [1]
Grayish Saltator   [u]
Blue Grosbeak   [u]
Varied Bunting   [u]
Painted Bunting   [1]
Great-tailed Grackle   [c]
Bronzed Cowbird   [u]
Streak-backed Oriole   [c]
Hooded Oriole   [u]
Orchard Oriole   [1]
Yellow-winged Cacique   [u]
House Sparrow   [c]

2) Laguna de Quelele

The Laguna de Quelele is the only site in the PV area detailed in Howell [page 110, Site 6.0], and it is still a worthy destination, but there are some changes since the book was published.  To reach the site go first to the town of Mezcales, on Hwy 200, between the airport and Bucerias.  There is one significant intersection in the town (with traffic lights), where a secondary road runs east to Valle de Banderas.  Go to the SW corner of the intersection, and continue S along the feeder road that parallels Hwy 200.  The first road (dirt) to the right along this feeder road is Avenida Mexico (the sign is inconspicuous, and on a building).  Continue down Avenida Mexico 300 metres to the SE corner of the town square.  Follow the road around to the NW corner of the square, and continue west out of the town.  The road winds through farmland, and arrives at the entrance to the Laguna 1200 metres from the town square.  There is but a single sign over a stone archway, “Rancho de la Laguna”.   The restaurant is no longer in operation, and the property owner is rarely present, but I visited three times with no questions asked.

Walk or drive to the mangrove channel mentioned in Howell.  There is a fence, with a closed (but not locked) gate through which you may walk.  Follow the mangrove channel until you obtain a view of the Laguna proper, and then continue around the edge of the mangrove, until you finally loop back to where you began.  The path is not well-maintained, particularly those side tracks that lead into and under the mangrove.   Both observation towers (if you can find them) are in dangerous disrepair, and should not be used.

Since the observation towers are out of action, there are only a couple of spots where one can obtain a view of the laguna; careful explorers may discover more.  A scope would be very helpful, but I did not have one, unfortunately.   The laguna itself is excellent at low tide, and very quiet at high tide. 

One wonders at the future for this amazing laguna.  There is, as yet, no development along its shores, but the mangroves that formerly existed at Nuevo Vallarta are now gone, and while I was at the laguna I could easily hear the sounds of various all-inclusive resorts in the distance.  The laguna’s days may be numbered, though it could be developed as a remarkable eco-tourism destination, if it was carefully planned. 

Even though I did not have a scope, I still saw plenty of birds, and was especially pleased to find 5 Boat-billed Herons along the mangrove channel.   I heard the birds calling on my first visit, but did not know what they were, and did not have time to investigate.   I managed to see them on my third (and last) visit.

A few hundred metres further west on the road from the entrance to Rancho de la Laguna there is a second stone archway, with a Rancho de Quelele sign.   On my first visit I went there by mistake (as that is where the taxi drove me).   The gate was staffed, but I was easily given permission to visit, and there were several kilometres of nice trails, and several ponds and mangrove channels.  There was some clearing suggestive of future developments.  It was a birdy area, but there were no views of the laguna proper.  Still, I recommend it to anyone also visiting the laguna.

For those birders without a car, the bus from Bucerias to Mezcales was only 70 pesos, leaving a 1.5 km walk to the laguna.  A taxi from Bucerias was 1000 pesos, a reasonable option for a group of three or four birders, and this eliminated the walk through the farmland.

Note: there is a superb small family-run tequila factory in Mexcales, the Leyva Tequila Factory, at 197 Puesta del Sol.  They make an excellent 100% organic Blue Agave Tequila, and offer a nice tour (with samples).  This is a great way to end a visit to Laguna de Quelele.

Of my three visits there were two at low tide (one morning and one evening), and one morning visit at high tide.  Here is my cumulative species list:

Species Seen in Laguna de Quelele ~ 29 Dec 2004, 7 & 9 Jan 2005.

71 seen

Brown Pelican
Neotropic Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Tricolored Heron
Little Blue Heron
Snowy Egret
Cattle Egret
Green Heron
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
Boat-billed Heron
Wood Stork
White Ibis
White-faced Ibis
Roseate Spoonbill
Fulvous Whistling-Duck
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
American Wigeon
Green-winged Teal
Blue-winged Teal
Cinnamon Teal
Northern Shoveler
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Common Black-Hawk
Gray Hawk
Rufous-necked Wood-Rail
American Coot
Black-necked Stilt
American Avocet
Short-billed Dowitcher
Long-billed Dowitcher
Marbled Godwit
Long-billed Curlew
Greater Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs
Spotted Sandpiper
Western Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
Baird’s Sandpiper
Red-billed Pigeon
White-winged Dove
Common Ground-Dove
Ruddy Ground-Dove
Inca Dove
White-tipped Dove
Groove-billed Ani
Belted Kingfisher
Green Kingfisher
Golden-cheeked Woodpecker
Great Kiskadee
Tropical Kingbird
Cassin’s Kingbird
Thick-billed Kingbird
Gray-breasted Martin
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Northern Mockingbird
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Orange-crowned Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Palm Warbler
Wilson’s Warbler
White-collared Seedeater
Vesper Sparrow
Blue Grosbeak
Great-tailed Grackle
Streak-backed Oriole
Yellow-winged Cacique

3) San Blas

My wife and I took an organised tour to San Blas, to go on a boat tour of the mangrove swamp. 

[Note for anyone staying in all-inclusive resorts – any tours organised from staff within the resorts are considerable more expensive than if you book them outside.  In Bucerias, everyone in the know uses Scott, an expat Canadian, who runs a booking business out of a small office on the west side of Lázaro Cardenas Avenue, just south of the foot-bridge over the river.  He offers many more tours than any one resort, and his commissions are lower, such that we typically saved 20-40% compared to resort prices – and often for the identical tour.  Such was the case for our San Blas tour].

Our tour bus left early in the morning, and drove through some nice lowland fairly-mature tropical forest, which I was anxious to explore at a future time.  I learned from our guide that there was a bus stop at El Guamuchil that might provide a possible base for exploration (more later).  On our tour our first stop was in Rincón de Guayabitos, where Sinaloa Crows were numerous.   It was then on to San Blas, for just a taste of what this area has to offer, and our boat trip. 
This wasn’t, of course, a birding tour, but I managed to convince our boat driver to quit impersonating a formula one driver, and instead stop for any and all wildlife.  As his tip was on the line, he obliged.  There weren’t many species available with only 2 hours on the water, but I was pleased with Bare-throated Tiger-Heron and Lesser Nighthawk (thanks to those on Birdwg01 for their ID help of my nighthawk photo).

Species Seen in Nayarit State (especially San Blas magroves) - 30 Dec 2004

26 seen

Least Grebe
Brown Pelican
Magnificent Frigatebird
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Green Heron
Bare-throated Tiger-Heron
Wood Stork
White-faced Ibis
Roseate Spoonbill
Common Black-Hawk
American Kestrel
Northern Jacana
Black-necked Stilt
Greater Yellowlegs
Caspian Tern
Lesser Nighthawk
Great Kiskadee
Cassin’s Kingbird
Western Kingbird
Mangrove Swallow
Bank Swallow
Yellow Warbler
Northern Waterthrush

4) El Guamuchil

I noticed this village when we drove by it on our way to San Blas.  I first returned to it using public bus from Bucerias.  Buses go every 30 minutes between PV and Sayulita, but on this particular Saturday morning I had to wait 90 minutes for the first bus to arrive, so I didn’t get to El Guamuchil until 1000 hours.  But the trip only cost 70 pesos, a bargain.

At the bus stop you walk east into the village, first crossing a stout stone bridge over a river, which was itself but a trickle in the dry season.  There was a loud chattering of Mexican Parrotlets in the overhead trees, and lots of other bird activity.  Once over the bridge the dirt road swings north, with the river bed to the east.  You pass through some of the village for a couple of hundred metres, until the road crossed the river at a ford.   As it was dry season, this was not a problem.   There was a bit of water in the river, and the pools attracted a parade of bathing birds, including my first Rufous-backed Robins.  The dirt road continues north, past a rustic playground, when it fords the river again.  The river here was dry, and I chose to leave the dirt road and walk along the river bed.  I continued north for 100 metres, and just past an obvious clay excavation site on the east bank of the river, there was a wooded narrow valley leading east, with the valley mouth fenced and gated.  A farmer was coming out of the gate, and I asked his permission to walk up the valley to watch birds.  Permission was kindly given.

There was an easy to follow cattle path up the shaded valley, and the habitat was in pretty good shape.  The path led for at least 2 km steadily uphill before becomming untenable, and was there was a lot of bird activity, but much of it was vocal, or high in the canopy, and so presented a challenge to me.  Also, I was not present at the ideal time of day.  On my first visit I was present from 1000 to 1230, and on my second visit (with a birder from California I met at the Laguna de Quelele) we were also only present late morning.  With more time, and by visiting earlier in the day, many more bird should be present.  Still, I was pleased with Red-breasted Chat, White-naped Swift, and Black-throated Magpie-Jay.  This is a site that should reward a more intensive visit, and it is isolated, yet handy to PV, only 45 minutes away.

Species Seen in El Guamuchil ~ 2 & 7 Jan 2005

36 seen

Gray Hawk
Inca Dove
Orange-fronted Parakeet
Mexican Parrotlet
Squirrel Cuckoo
White-naped Swift
Vaux’s Swift
Lucifer Hummingbird
Elegant Trogon
Golden-cheeked Woodpecker
Lineated Woodpecker
Pale-billed Woodpecker
Ivory-billed Woodcreeper
Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet
Pacific-slope Flycatcher
Boat-billed Flycatcher
Social Flycatcher
Masked Tityra
Happy Wren
Sinaloa Wren
Rufous-backed Robin
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Black-throated Magpie-Jay
Black-capped Vireo
Orange-crowned Warbler
Nashville Warbler
Tropical Parula
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Gray Warbler
Louisiana Waterthrush
Wilson’s Warbler
Red-breasted Chat
Ruddy-breasted Seedeater
Stripe-headed Sparrow
Audubon’s Oriole
Yellow-winged Cacique

5) Los Juntas de los Veranos, Jalisco

Before my trip I had corresponed with Alfredo Herrera <> regarding a couple of birding outings.  Alfredo does not have a vehicle, and neither did I, so we used buses to get to our first day’s outing.  We met him in PV, and then went south to Los Juntas de los Veranos, an area he often finds productive of birds.  The bus ride was most scenic, and we got off at the village, opposite the entrance to one of the popular canopy tours in the area.  We birded for several hours in and beyond the village, and although the bird activity was not especially great, we did enjoy ourselves, and saw some interesting species.  Alfredo is a most amenable companion, is quite fluent in English, and knows the local species well.  He doesn’t have a scope, though.  His fee was most reasonable, and I did see new species, and I can recommend him as a guide for the PV area.  Alfredo also leads whale-watching trips, and in fact spends more time doing these, as most visitors seek whales, not birds.  He has a web page.

Species Seen in Los Juntas de los Veranos - 4 Jan 2005

37 seen

Great Blue Heron
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
American Kestrel
Heermann’s Gull
Laughing Gull
Red-billed Pigeon
Common Ground-Dove
Inca Dove
Orange-fronted Parakeet
Lilac-crowned Parrot
Groove-billed Ani
Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl
Russet-crowned Motmot
Golden-cheeked Woodpecker
Ivory-billed Woodcreeper
Greater Pewee
Least Flycatcher
Dusky-capped Flycatcher
Brown-crested Flycatcher
Great Kiskadee
Cassin’s Kingbird
Rose-throated Becard
Masked Tityra
Sinaloa Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
San Blas Jay
Nashville Warbler
Black-throated Gray Warbler
Wilson’s Warbler
Ruddy-breasted Seedeater
Stripe-headed Sparrow
Varied Bunting
Great-tailed Grackle
Streak-backed Oriole
Orchard Oriole
Yellow-winged Cacique

6) Whale-watching trip in Bahia de Banderas

With family and friends attending my sister’s wedding, a whale-watching trip was almost inevitable.  We didn’t go with Alfredo, as the family wanted a short half-day trip, and so we didn’t have time to explore very much of the bay.   We saw Humpback Whales and Bottle-nosed Dolphins, as expected, and the various sea-birds were routine; Blue-footed Boobies, Brown Boobies, frigatebirds, pelicans, Laughing Gulls, Royal Terns.  I’d seen all from shore at the resort, except for the Brown Boobies.


The Puerto Vallarta area has much more to offer for birders than it is given credit for.  I wasn’t birding intensively, and did not have my own transportation, yet I managed 161 species during my stay.  San Blas is within easy reach for an overnight trip, and if you arranged a trip into the mountains, many more species should be possible.  I hope this report assists others who stay in the PV area.

Blake Maybank
White’s Lake, Nova Scotia, Canada
maybank AT

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