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May 1996

by Jack Stephens

We spent a little over a week in Mexico, with most of the trip spent in Puerto Vallarta with side trip to San Blas.  I had been advised prior to our trip to not bother birding PV as it just wasn't worth the trouble.  While the San Blas trip was great, I found PV surprisingly productive.

We stayed at El Presidente hotel, which is on the coast road south of town.  Use the public buses to get around, they are cheap and will let you off right at the hotel.  Form the hotel lobby looking out over the water there were lots of BROWN PELLICAN, HEERMAN'S GULLS, LAUGHING GULLS, and MAGNIFICENT FRIGATEBIRDS and occasional BROWN BOOBIES and LEAST TERN.  VAUX'S SWIFTS, BLACK VULTURES and TURKEY VULTURES soared overhead.  Soon after we checked in I decided to look around to see what I could find.  Just across from the hotel there is an abandoned basketball court with scrub and trees surrounding it.  I didn't expect much, but within minutes I had seen YELLOW-WINGED CACIQUE, SAN BLAS JAY, GREAT KISKADEE, WEST MEXICAN CHACHALACA, GRAYISH SALTATOR, BLUE BUNTING, STREAK-BACKED ORIOLE, BAR-VENTED WREN, WHITE-COLLAARED SEADEATER, GREAT-TAILED GRACKLE and RUSSET-CROWNED MOTMOT.  There's nothing like traveling to enhance your life list!

Later that week I explored the area around our hotel.  Walking up the road towards town there were RUFOUS-BACKED ROBINS and GOLDEN-CHEEKED WOODPECKERS in the trees.  About a quarter mile towards town there was an entrance to a residential area on the east side of the road.  Unfortunately I can't remember its' name, I believe it had "del Mer" in it.  It is hard to miss however, look for a large white arched entry with iron gates and a guardhouse on the right.  Hoping I could play dumb in case they didn't appreciate gringo tourists, I ventured in.  A short way past the entryway the road T's left and right at a gully.  Just at the T there were a flock of ORANGE-FRONTED PARAKEETS working the trees.  Screaming jays heralded the arrival of a COOOPER'S HAWK, that flew to the ground not 10 feet from me and then flew off.  Taking this as a favorable omen, I walked up the left fork of the road, keeping towards the right so as to be able to see into the gully.  The trees around the houses yielded SULPHUR-BELLIED FLYCATCHERS, TROPICAL KINGBIRDS, MASKED TITRAS, YELLOW GROSBEAKS and YELLOW-GREEN VIREOS.  As I climbed uphill the road ended at a cul-de-sac by a water pumphouse.  A trail lead further up into the woods.  I decided to try it, and was rewarded with looks at IVORY BILLED WOODCREEPER, GREEN JAYS, WHITE-THROATED ROBIN, ROSE-THROATED BECARD and CRESTED GUAN!  I did return one morning to this spot, but there were guards at the gates so I didn't chance it.  Mid-day however seems like a good time to go.

We rented a car and drove the 2 1/2 hours to San Blas towards the end of our trip.  On the way I saw a REDDISH EGRET of the side of the road, wings spread while fishing.We stayed at the Garza Canella (re-named from Las Brisas) and went on a boat trip through the mangrove swamps with Chencho (this was arranged through the staff at Garza Canella).  This part of the trip exceeded all expectations, it was a lovely day, no bugs, beautiful scenery and great birds.  Checho does not speak English well at all, but he knows the birds and was a great guide.  He took us from swamps through marsh to open grassland.  We saw: NEOTROPIC CORMORANT, ANHINGA, GREEN HERON, GREAT EGRET, SNOWY EGRET, TRICOLORED HERON, LEAST GREBE, BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON, YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON, WOOD STORK, WHITE IBIS, BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING DUCK, COMMON BLACK-HAWK, COMMON MOORHEN, PURPLE GALLINULE, WHITE-TIPPED DOVE, RED-BILLED PIGEON, WHITE-WINGED DOVE, GROOVE-BILLED ANI, ELEGENT TROGON, GREEN KINGFISHER, RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD, BARE-THROATED TIGER HERON, BOAT-BILLED HERON, CINNAMON HUMMINGBIRD, CITREOLINE TROGON, and BLACK-THROATED MAGPIE-JAY.  Even this list doesn't fully convey what a great trip this was, and I didn't even mention stopping for beer while we watched alligators in the swamp.

The next morning I went out with Chencho on foot to some farm land not far from San Blas.  This was not as spectacular a trip, it was hot and humid, lots of mosquitoes, and the language barrier became more of an issue.  Often Chencho would see a bird but could only point towards it, I would stare at the canopy only to see the bird fly away some time later.  In all fairness, locating birds for someone else is often very hard even in English.  We did however get reasonable looks at GILA WOODPECKER, MEXICAN CROW, LESSER NIGHTHAWK, PARAQUE, YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT, SQUIRREL CUCKOO, LINEATED WOODPECKER, SOCIAL FLYCATCHER, and BRIGHT-RUMPED ATTILLA.

Mexico was a great trip, the boat trip in San Blas was a real life experience.  I found Puerto Vallarta to be surprisingly good.  There are some ponds north of town, just beyond the airport that should be productive, but I didn't make the time to go out there.  I also saw parrots every morning flying overhead at El Presidente, but the light was not sufficient to allow an ID.  In total we saw 72 species, with over half as life birds.

Jack Stephens