November 27 to December 1, 1995
Participants: Joseph Brooks, Garry George, Cosmo Bloom, Ed Craven, Dorothy Poole, Pete Shen.
Wed Nov 27
Dorothy and I took a 7:30 am Continental airlines flight from Newark to Houston, where we met Ed, and connected to a flight that arrived in Guadalajara around 3 PM. After getting a car from Avis, we were on the road by 4 PM. The Periferico road took us to the Rte 15 cuota road towards Nogales. The cuota roads are nice, fast, safer than libre roads, but expensive; about $20 each way. At one point along the cuota road, we were surrounded by wetlands. Roadside birding along the narrow shoulder produced lots of ducks, waders, shorebirds, Snow Geese and more. It was hard not to notice the trucks and buses breezing within a few feet of the car though. We arrived at San Blas after dark, about 4.5 hours from Guadalajara; 7:30 PM local time, one hour ahead of Guadalajara time. We stayed at the very comfortable La Garza Cannela. Here we met Cosmo, Joseph and Garry (Cosmo et al.) who had arrived three days before. We also met Jim Hully, a fellow BirdChatter (Hi Jim!), who told us about his recent forays on the Durango Highway. We had originally planned to fit the Tufted Jay into our schedule, but the 12-hour round-trip gave us pause.
Thurs Nov 28 Happy Thanksgiving!
We started at 6 AM for the Mirador, in search of Military Macaws. On the outskirts of San Blas, we picked up Chencho, a local guide who can be reached through the hotel personnel. Less than an hour later we arrived. Apparently, distant views of the macaws can be had from the Mirador, though a real detraction is the very loud truck traffic on this road. Therefore, we opted for the long hike (about two hours) around the canyon. I think a guide is necessary since arrangements were made to cross private property boundaries.
The birding was not great in this disturbed habitat, with farm fields and coffee plantations, but we still saw some birds. On the way in, we heard a Lesser Ground-Cuckoo calling a frustratingly 20 feet away, but it would not appear. Joseph saw a Black-capped Vireo, but I missed it. All saw a Rufous-crowned Ground-Sparrow, but I missed that one too. A Short-tailed Hawk flew by, and we had great scope views of a Gray Hawk. When we got to the overlook, we could occasionally hear the macaws below, but we didn't have an angle to see them. I wandered off higher up the hill to get a better angle, sometimes on all fours, sometimes in the mud. Finally I spotted the macaws, or rather, they spotted me, and noisily flew up from the trees. Cosmo and I got good looks as the birds flew off. A whistle brought the rest of the gang clawing their way up the hill, where they got decent looks of flying macaws and distant scope views of perched birds across the canyon.
With Military Macaws in the bag, so to speak, Dorothy and I headed to Singayta; the others went for an afternoon siesta. We saw very few birds in the afternoon lull, and got eaten alive by mosquitoes - enough said. At 3:30 PM, Dorothy, Ed, Jim and I took the mangrove boat ride with Chencho guiding. Cosmo et al. had done this trip a couple of days earlier. Right off, we found a Bare-throated Tiger-Heron, which allowed close approach, so that we could study every feather. Simply fabulous! Soon afterwards, a couple of San Blas Jays vocalized and jumped up from the mangroves to perch conspicuously.
The mud flats exposed by the low tide held a good variety of shorebirds and waders. The low tide was also prime time to search for the Rufous-necked Wood-Rail in the shadows of the mangroves. Dorothy spotted one, and the others saw it before it waltzed off into the depths of the mangrove. Once again, only I couldn't see the bird - my vision must be going. Well after some perseverance, and high blood pressure, we refound the bird. As it happens, the bird found a spot it liked, and just sat there quietly observing us. The plumage of chestnut and olive blended beautifully with the sun-dappled, leaf-strewn understory of the mangrove.
We then came across a snoozing Boat-billed Heron. With the light failing, we headed for the Northern Potoo stakeout. Sure enough, we found one perched on an thin broken stump. The bird surprised us in its huge size, preposterously large eyes, and ridiculously small feet. It was being harassed by hordes of bugs, and retaliated by eating a few of them. The Northern Potoo sighting was my favorite. The rain started pouring moments after, and we returned to the dock in the dark, soaking wet, but thrilled as kids.
Fri Nov 29
Dorothy and I started just before dawn at the duck ponds just outside of town at the intersection with the road to Puerto Vallarta. Lesser Nighthawks swirled around us. We were hoping to hear Mangrove Vireo sing at dawn, but that didn't happen. We then joined the others on the way to the Cerro de San Juan Ecological Reserve. After a 90 min drive in the rain, we staked out a flowering tree in which Cosmo et al. had seen a Sparkling-tailed Woodstar a couple of days ago, but no luck this morning. The rain had stopped, so we dropped off one of the vehicles near the bottom of the mountain, and ferried ourselves up near the crest. Basically we spent the rest of the day walking the dirt road downhill. With very light traffic on the road, the birding was pleasant and, when we encountered flocks, birding was frenzied. Highlights included Red-headed Tanager, White-striped Woodcreeper, Rufous-crowned Ground-Sparrow and a huge flock of 17 warbler species. In total this trip yielded 25 warbler species. In the late afternoon, as Cosmo and I were shuttling a vehicle, a male Aztec Thrush flew up from the roadside. We quickly got out of the car, but we couldn't find the Aztec Thrush in the foraging mixed flock, which included White-striped Woodcreeper, Blue Mockingbird and more. A gorgeous sunset over the mountain topped off the day.
Sat Nov 30
We (Pete, Dorothy, Ed and Cosmo) started off at 5:30 am. Dawn began at Singayta with Laughing Falcon calling; mosquitoes were brutal. A flock of about 30 Mexican Parrotlets obligingly landed in a nearby tree, affording great views. Later, we also had good looks at perched Orange-fronted Parakeets. A few days before, Cosmo et al. had seen a Lilac-crowned Parrot flying by here, but no such luck today. In the swamp, on the left side of the dirt track, were many herons and egrets, though we missed Wood Storks that were seen by Cosmo et al. the other day. There was a gigantic roost of Red-winged Blackbirds in the swamp, however, with Yellow-headed Blackbirds mixed in. I heard what could have been a singing Black-capped Vireo, but I wasn't absolutely sure. It was a good morning for hawks; seeing Crane Hawk, Common Black-Hawk, Gray Hawk, Zone-tailed Hawk, and hearing Laughing Falcon and Collared Forest-Falcon.
Cosmo and Dorothy lagged behind searching for Fan-tailed Warbler and other skulkers, finding a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl instead. Ed and I forged ahead looking and listening for mixed-species flocks. We came across a small flock of warblers in the understory which held Hooded Warbler, Wilson's Warbler, and *two* Fan-tailed Warblers! By the time Cosmo and Dorothy caught up, the flock had vanished into the thicket, leaving two disheartened birders. In this area a few days ago, Cosmo et al. found a Rosy Thrush-Tanager. As Cosmo and Dorothy walked up to us, Cosmo noticed that the Rosy Thrush-Tanager had begun singing loudly. After taping and about 5 seconds of playback, we had crippling views of this awesomely beautiful bird, singing his heart out.
By this time, it was approaching 10 am and 75 degrees, accompanied by a decline in bird activity. After a relatively birdless two-hour hike back to the car, we headed further up the main road above Singayta. On the right side of the road, at a sign warning of an upcoming left-hand curve, was a pullout where, yesterday, Jim Hully had seen Gray-collared Becard and Collared Forest-Falcon, as well as heard Mottled Owl. The others felt like having their packed lunches at this point. I headed up a small trail on the opposite side of the road, where I came upon a Kentucky Warbler in the path. While watching it, and it watching me, a Fan-tailed Warbler hopped into view, doing its tail fanning thing. I quickly went back to summon the others; success, as they refound the birds! We then birded on a dirt track that began behind our parked car. Soon, we flushed a Ruddy Quail-Dove which, regrettably, only Ed and I saw well.
With the sun beating down the birding, we headed for the hills and cooler temperatures - La Bajada was our choice for the afternoon birding. On the way we stopped at a couple of sites along the beach, looking for boobies, but spotting none. Huge flocks of Magnificent Frigatebirds, a Whimbrel, Laughing and Heermann's Gulls, Caspian Terns, an Olivaceous Cormorant, and Brown Pelicans were all we could turn up.
We met up with Joseph and Garry at La Bajada, where the birding was slow; painfully so given the continuous uphill climb. We did find White-tipped Dove, White-throated Thrush, Gray-crowned Woodpecker, Elegant Trogan, lots of Orange-fronted Parakeets, and a calling Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl to name a few. A quail got away - I ran in after it, to no avail. It was probably an Elegant or Montezuma; either would've been new to me. The afternoon birding effort finally was rewarded by finding a Mexican Woodnymph (thanks again Garry!). The hummer put on a show, giving us excellent views as it defended its territory against a Cinnamon Hummingbird. With that, the day's birding ended as the sun melted into the ocean, producing another spectacular sunset.
Sun Dec 1
We left at midnight, thinking we would drive through the night to arrive at dawn at Colima Natl Park, only a three-hour drive from the airport. Well, luck turned against us. At about 3:30 am, just before the turnoff for Colima, the car's transmission quit without warning. Luckily, we had just refueled a quarter-mile back, so we were within walking distance to a phone. Unluckily, the Avis hotline did not answer until 7 am. Luckily, we were able to push the car to a nearby pullout, avoiding the possibility of getting rear-ended by a speeding truck. Unluckily, it was freezing cold. Luckily, the engine still worked so that we could use the heater. Un...... you get the picture...
Before dawn, on one of the several hikes to the phone, a Barn Owl appeared as it worked the agricultural fields alongside the highway. At dawn, Dorothy and I birded the farmland adjacent to the car, as Ed and Cosmo caught up on sleep. It was pretty birdy, considering the circumstances, and we ticked a few species that we hadn't seen in the San Blas area. I enjoyed studying a Clay-colored Sparrow feather by feather. We got picked up by Avis at around 9 am, at which point we had no realistic option, other than be taken to the airport six hours before our flight. So, we lost a morning of birding - these things happen; possibly more often to some than others... If anyone knows of a good birding site within an hour's drive of Guadalajara, I like to know for future reference.
The people at Avis wanted us to pay for the lost day's rental. We refused. They also wanted to know if the gas tank was full - I guess we were lucky to have it filled just before the car broke down. Is there a PROFESSIONAL rental car company operating in Mexico? My bad experience with National Rent-a-car in Mexico City last April prompted us to try Avis this time around. Though seemingly less dishonest than National, Avis' service left something to be desired.
Back to the birds. In less than four days we saw around 220 species, about 30 of them endemic to Mexico or Northern Central America. Eighteen species were new to me.
The San Blas area lived up to its reputation as a birder's paradise. I'd guess 300 species could be found by the eager birder in about a week. I hope to give that a try sometime soon.
I have a day-by-day species list in Excel format. I believe it will only be legible to Mac users, though I could be wrong about that. Anyone interested, just email.
Following is a birdlist for the trip. Nomenclature based on Howell and Webb.
Uppercase = endemic or near-endemic as judged by myself.
American White Pelican
Great Blue Heron
Little Blue Heron
Feral Pigeon (Rock Dove)
MEXICAN (BLUE-RUMPED) PARROTLET
ARIZONA (STRICKLAND'S) WOODPECKER
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
BLACK-THROATED MAGPIE -JAY
SAN BLAS JAY
Northern (Common) Raven
SINALOA (BAR-VENTED) WREN
Brown-throated (House) Wren
White-throated Thrush (Robin)
RUFOUS-BACKED THRUSH (ROBIN)
Plumbeous (Solitary) Vireo
Audubon's (Yellow-rumped) Warbler
Black-throated Grey Warbler
Bronzed (Red-eyed) Cowbird
AUDUBON'S (BLACK-HEADED) ORIOLE
Pete Shen firstname.lastname@example.org