9 February - 3 March 1998
by Andre van Kleunen
We departed from Amsterdam Schiphol airport to Mexico City at 10.45 am. We arrived in Mexico City at 7 PM local time after a change in London-Gatwick. We had reserved an Opel Corsa at AVIS, but this car was no longer available at the local office at the airport. They offered us a Dodge Neon for a cheaper price. We accepted this offer and searched a hotel in the southern part of the city.
We left hotel Duque at 7.30 am and comparatively easily found the southern circulation which leads to the old highway 95 to Cuernevaca. We quickly found the site for SIERRA MADRE SPARROW along route 95 north of Tres Marias. In the habitat of grass bunches and scattered pine trees AMERICAN ROBINS, CHIPPING SPARROWS, YELLOW-EYED JUNCOS and STRIPED SPARROWS were abundant. It took us about three hours to get reasonable views of at least three Sierra Madre Sparrows. We were even able to make some pictures.
The next destination was a pine forest about 1.5 km south of this area. During a short walk we were rewarded by A STRICKLAND'S WOODPECKER and a RED WARBLER. After a stop for quesodillas in Tres Marias we continued our birding activities in the hills west of this village. The pine-oak forest was rich of warblers like SLATE-THROATED REDSTART, HERMIT, NASHVILLE, GOLDEN-BROWED and one more RED WARBLER. The ENDEMIC RUSSET NIGHTINGALE-THRUSH and GREEN-STRIPED BRUSHFINCH were welcome additions to our lists.
We arrived at the marsh area between Alomayo del Rio and Tenango in the late afternoon. North American dabbling ducks, like CINNAMON and BLUE-WINGED TEAL were abundant on the lake. We had only an hour before sunset and quickly went to the riparian vegetation to search for the endemic BLACK-POLLED YELLOWTHROAT. Besides three of them we saw two COMMON YELLOWTHROATS, a lot of MARSH WRENS and SONG SPARROWS and two AMERICAN BITTERNS, but a tame VIRGINIA RAIL and a SORA. After it had become dark we drove about 150 km to the south to Tazco, where we spent the night in hotel Los Arcos.
Today's destination was the Sierra Madre del Sur south of Chilpancingo. We underestimated the distance. It took us a whole morning to reach the hamlet El Ocotito along route 95. From here a dirt track leads to a microwave tower and some nice pine-oak forest. Workers had just started digging a new sewage canal in the track through the village. Helpful local people guided us to a deviation. It immediately became clear why almost everyone here was driving a pick-up car. This deviation was the first attack on the shock absorbers of our car. On our way to the microwave towers we observed a large flock of CHESTNUT-COLLARED SWIFTS. Birdlife in the forest above the microwave tower was rather quiet. Interesting observations were some GRACE'S WARBLERS and a RUSSET-CROWNED MOT-MOT. We were hoping for WHITE-THROATED JAY, which had been observed here, but we didn't see one. In the late afternoon we continued driving to Acapulco. We birded for a short while in the coastal scrub east of Acapulco, without finding a lot of birds.
We managed not to get lost in Acapulco and eventually arrived at hotel Parador de los Reyes in Pie de la Cuesta, just west of Acapulco.
The day of Mexico's most wanted endemic: the SHORT-CRESTED COQUETTE. We drove to Atoyac in the foothills of the Sierra Madre del Sur early in the morning. From here the road continues higher up to the indian village Paraiso. During a stop north of Atoyac we noticed that the car was loosing water from the cooling-circuit. We had to return to a garage in Atoyac. Fortunately the problem was solved in about 30 minutes. We returned to Paraiso. Just south of Paraiso the road gets un-paved, although it is still passable with a two wheel drive. We made the mistake to drive into the village and ask there for the road further north to Nueva Dehli (where most people find the Coquette). The road through the village to Nueva Dehli is not passable in a normal car. We drove back to the junction to Paraiso, where an initially passable dirt-track continues to the north and as was later proved also to Nueva Dehli. The road gets worse and worse and it sometimes looked like we were in a car-trial contest, but we managed to reach the junction to Nueva Dehli. We parked our car just north of the junction and birded on the track. The first flower-bank was bingo! A splendid male SHORT-CRESTED COQUETTE made our day. We continued our walk in a good mood and found some more interesting birds in the beautiful cloud-forest: SINALOA WREN, RUDDY FOLIAGE-GLEANER and AUDUBON'S ORIOLE. On our way back to the car we found a female SHORT-CRESTED COQUETTE. This bird was videoed extensively. We drove back to Paraiso where we spent the night in a nameless hotel. While trying to sleep in this 'comfortable' accommodation... we enjoyed the indian open-air disco.
We left the hotel at 5 am and headed for the cloud forest above Nueva Dehli. This day started promising. Even before dawn we found a female AZTEC THRUSH and a SCALED ANTPITTA in the headlights of the car. We drove five kilometres over the horrible track beyond Nueva Dehli. We parked the car and birded on the track till late in the afternoon. Although even in this remote area some hills were deforested, large parts of the cloud forest looked undisturbed. The birding was great. High-lights of this day were: another male SHORT-CRESTED COQUETTE, several WHITE-TAILED HUMMINGBIRDS, BUMBLEBEE HUMMINGBIRDS, four EMERALD TOUCANETS, two GREY-COLLARED BECARDS, two CHESTNUT-SIDED SHRIKE-VIREOS (great species!!), two male RED-HEADED TANAGERS and two UNICOLORED JAYS. The only important misses were WHITE-FACED QUAIL-DOVE and WHITE-THROATED JAY. Because of the bad road conditions we decided not to return to Paraiso but to go to the Pacific lowlands. The ride back to Atoyac was exhausting. In the dark we almost squeezed a CORAL SNAKE. We spent the night in hotel Jardin.
We spent most of the day driving to the north at the pacific slope. In Guerrero we made stops at random for DOUBLEDAY'S HUMMINGBIRD. We were successful in some orchards along the road to Ojo de Agua. RUFOUS-NAPED WREN was rather common here too. In the surroundings of Ixtapa we found an other endemic hummer: the GOLDEN-CROWNED EMERALD. In the scrub forest BLUE BUNTING and SINALOA WREN were present too. We wanted to reach Colima the same day, but we underestimated the size of Michoacan. In the evening we ran almost out of fuel and had to stop for the night in a village called La Placita, where we spent the night in hotel La Costa.
The local PEMEX ran out of fuel too. Fortunately the local fuel dealer had stored some fuel in his fire-proof shed... Probably one day El Placita will be blown up by him completely. We made some stops along the road to Colima. We were rewarded by several ORANGE-BREASTED BUNTINGS and two BLACK-VENTED ORIOLES.
We arrived in Colima at noon and visited the marshes at Ciudad Guzman during the dull part of the day. The species diversity was relatively low, but the flocks of tens of thousand YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRDS above the marsh were impressive. We observed about five CLARK'S GREBES and found at least one CHAPALA (COMMON) YELLOWTHROAT in the littoral vegetation. The late afternoon was spent birding along the first three kilometres of the dirt road to Volcan de Fuego. We saw amongst others our FIRST BLUE MOCKINGBIRD, SPOTTED WREN, RUSTY-CROWNED GROUND-SPARROW and VARIED BUNTING.
We spent the night in hotel d'Mendoza along the road to Tuxpan, situated about 10 km north of the dirt road to the volcano. We arrived in the forest on the slopes of the volcano at dawn. LONG-TAILED WOOD-PARTRIDGES were calling frequently, but we did not even manage to see one flushing away. We birded the whole day in the forest and saw many new species. Some high-lights: DWARF VIREO, GREY-BARRED AND HAPPY WREN, AMETHYST-THROATED, BLUE-THROATED and MAGNIFICENT HUMMINGBIRD, four CRESTED GUANS, GREY-COLLARED BECARD, RED-FACED and RED WARBLER and a HOOK-BILLED KITE. After sunset we listened for BALSAS SCREECH-OWL and EARED POORWILL, but we only heard MOTTLED OWL. We returned to hotel d'Mendoza again.
In the morning we birded in the agricultural land on the slope of the volcano. Till then we still missed GREY SILKY FLYCATCHER and BANDED QUAIL. This morning we found tens of the former species but only heard the quail. Around noon we drove to La Cumbre, a hill with on top a church close to Colima City. We easily found some BLACK-CHESTED SPARROWS and a VIRGINIA'S WARBLER in the scrub on the hill. We waited till dark and tried FOR BALSAS SCREECH-OWL again. This time with success. We also observed a BUFF-COLLARED NIGHTJAR sitting on the track and a spectacular 'tiger-print' BIRD SPIDER.
In the early morning we drove from Los Flamingos in Colima City to the Pacific coast. We birded in the forest scrub along the road to Playa del Oro road and heard several WEST MEXICAN CHACALACAS. The marshes at Manzanillo airport were not rich of species. The observation of at least three LIMPKINS is worth mentioning. In the afternoon we drove to the Colima hills again. We found the track to the microwave towers at Puerto los Mazos, where EARED POORWILL has been observed, closed. By birding along the main road we were rewarded by a Golden Vireo. The late afternoon was spent at Lazaro Cardenas. We observed several LILAC-CROWNED PARROTS, SAN BLAS JAYS, LUCY'S WARBLERS and ORANGE-BREASTED BUNTINGS here. In the evening we drove to Puerto Vallarta where we spent the night.
We tried to find ROSY THRUSH TANAGER in a garden just south of Puerto Vallarta, but without success. We did better in the pine hills at El Tuito, where we saw two MILITARY MACAWS and two BLACK-HEADED SISKINS. A visit to Punta del Mita, north of Puerto Vallarta produced BROWN and BLUE-FOOTED BOOBIES and HEERMANN'S GULLS. These species proved to be common at the coast later during the trip. The next destination was the San Blas area. In the late afternoon we observed a CRANE HAWK, about 30 WHITE-FRONTED PARROTS and several SINALOA CROWS here. We found good accommodation in San Blas: Hotel El Bucanero.
Highlights of a productive morning visit to the jungle of Singayti were: about 40 MEXICAN PARROTLETS, two TROPICAL PARULAS, five CITREOLINE TROGONS, one ELEGANT TROGON and one ZONE-TAILED HAWK. Las Bajadas south of San Blas is one of the few sites where the MEXICAN WOODNYMPH has been seen regularly. We didn't find the species. At the time of our visit there were little flowerbanks. A dull afternoon visit to this site and the El Coro road only produced two RUSSET-CROWNED MOTMOTS.
We made a boat trip through the San Blas mangroves. BOAT-BILLED HERON proved to be rather common. We observed about 30 ex. Other highlights: a male MUSCOVY, two BARE-THROATED TIGER-HERONS and four WAGLER'S CHACALACAS. During a short stop for a walk in the jungle we were rewarded by a MEXICAN HERMIT. In the afternoon we tried for MEXICAN WOODNYMPH again. This time at Cerro San Juan, but again without success. After sunset we went with some guides in the mangroves again to spot NORTHERN POTOO. We missed the species this morning. This time we found seven of them. After the boat trip we left San Blas and moved north in the direction of Mazatlan. We spent the night somewhere halfway between San Blas and Mazatlan in Acaponeta in motel Cadenales.
Just north of Acaponeta we drove into a flock of about 35 WHITE-NAPED SWIFTS. This would turn out to be our only observation of the largest swift species in the world. We survived an extortion at a checkpoint south of Mazatlan without paying extra money and arrived in Mazatlan at noon and bought tickets for the ferry to Baja California. The ferry leaves at 3 PM. Till the time of departure we birded in the harbour and observed amongst others two WANDERING TATTLERS. From the ferry we watched some seabirds: BLACK-VENTED SHEARWATER, BLACK STORM PETREL and thousands of GREY PHALAROPES. A HUMPBACK WHALE gave reasonable views close to the boat.
After a long and almost sleepless night on a cold floor, we were present on deck at dawn. We were already close to the coast of Baja California, thus saw little real seabirds, but this was compensated for by three RED-BILLED TROPIC-BIRDS. YELLOW-FOOTED GULLS were common in the harbour of Pichilingue. We rented a car in La Paz and drove to the southern end of Baja. The coastal scrub in San Jose del Cabo was rich of birds. It took some time to find the endemic GREY THRASHER. BELDING'S YELLOWTHROAT was easy in the reedy vegetation at the estuary. XANTUS' HUMMINGBIRD proved to be a hard one in San Jose del Cabo. We didn't find the species this day. We stayed for the night in San Jose del Cabo in hotel Colli.
In the morning we tried for XANTUS' HUMMER in the foothills of the mountains in southern Baja. We almost immediately found the species. We tried to find a road leading higher up into the mountains for BAIRD'S JUNCO and SAN LUCAS ROBIN. We didn't get information about finding these species in advance, so we didn't even find a road leading into the mountains and decided to return to La Paz and take the ferry to the mainland.
We arrived in Mazatlan at 9 am and continued by car to Durango and reached the site for TUFTED JAY along the Durango highway early in the afternoon. The pine forest was rich of American warblers. Among these we found some MEXICAN CHICKADEES, WHITE-STRIPED WOODCREEPERS, BRIDLED TITMICE, RED-FACED and CRESCENT-CHESTED WARBLERS. MOUNTAIN TROGON was common. Due to bad site descriptions in travel reports it took us till dark to find Barranco Liebre, the site for the Jay. We found accommodation (hotel Yadira) about 25 km south of Barranco Liebre.
We went to the viewing point over the barranco again and waited for a glimpse of the TUFTED JAY. After some hours four skulky TUFTED JAYS appeared in the bush close to the viewing point and they showed well for a short while. Additional observations: BAND-TAILED PIGEON, LILAC-CROWNED PARROT and RED WARBLER (grey-cheeked subspecies). Around noon we departed for a long drive towards north-eastern Mexico.
After having spent the night in Torréon in hotel Arriga, we left early to Saltillo, where we searched for Tanque d' Emergencia, the site of the WORTHEN'S SPARROW south of Saltillo. We didn't manage to solve the site description puzzle. We also hit the cut-out on the bad track and had to go to a garage. Luckily this was repaired quickly. We decided to try an alternative site for the WORTHEN'S SPARROW at La Esperanza where it has only been reported from summer. On our way to the site we passed good sparrow habitat. We checked some flocks of CHIPPING SPARROWS and found one WORTHEN'S amongst them! Later we found a small flock of the species at the same site. So we did not need to go to La Esperanza and spent the afternoon on the same track, where we enjoyed the PRAIRIE DOGS and where we also found a flock of SCALED QUAILS. We spent the night in hotel Saade in Saltillo.
We visited the mountain area east of Saltillo. MAROON-FRONTED PARROT was not a real option in this season and thus we concentrated on CRIMSON-COLLARED GROSBEAK. We comparatively easily found a pair and another male in a valley west of Montemorelos. A RUFOUS-CAPPED BRUSHFINCH was a good bonus. Other highlights: BURROWING OWL, GREATER ROADRUNNER, about 30 CHIHUAHAN RAVENS and ROCK WREN.
We found one male ALTAMIRA YELLOWTHROAT in El Naciemento close to Ciudad Mante. Next we visited the mountains west of El Naranjo in south-western Tamaulipas. We found RED-CROWNED PARROT, BRONZE-WINGED WOODPECKER and even a TAMAULIPAS PYGMY-OWL by daylight. Unexpected was the observation of a roosting NORTHERN POTOO in the same mountain area. In a scrub area along the road in El Naranjo we got short views of an immature male HOODED YELLOWTHROAT.
Last day of this trip. We spent the night in hotel Noriega in Pachuga in Hidalgo. We wanted to have a go for BEARDED WOOD-PARTRIDGE. Unfortunately the site was not on our route to Mexico City and we were short in time. Thus we decided to return to Mexico City and watch birds in the highlands close to the city. In down-town Mexico City we got some problems because the license of the car had expired. We had to change the car at a local Avis office. We only had some time left to visit the botanical gardens of the university (UNAM), where we spent the afternoon. The only highlight were better observations of HOODED YELLOWTHROAT and we identified a DUSKY FLYCATCHER. Finally we visited a handicraft market in downtown Mexico City and took a flight back to Holland early in the evening.
Andre van Kleunen
Roland van der Vliet
Andre van Kleunen
3705 ZE Zeist