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Crypturellus cinnamomeus

Morococcyx erythropygus

Geococcyx velox

Nyctibius sp.

by Peter Browne

Last fall (1998) I was planning a trip to Mexico and requested information about birding in Nayarit State on the Pacific Coast, around the towns of San Blas and Tepic.  Garry George, Lynea Hinchman, J. R. Hully, Nick Jackson, Peter Lonsdale, Pat O'Donnell, Dick Palmer, and Paul Pratt were kind enough to reply and below is a compilation of their responses to three questions.  Many thanks for these replies.  As explained in another posting I could not use this information this year but am passing it on in the hope it is useful to others.

1.  How to see the Thicket Tinamou?

"Regarding Tinamous, it is pretty much a matter of luck.  I have memorized their calls, found myself among a calling group of them, very cautiously approached the sound of one and felt I had to be within a few feet of it, yet failed to see it.  Sometimes imitating their calls seems to get a response, but they still don't show themselves!  The times I have seen them, I wasn't particularly looking for them, but happened to seen them walking across a road or the forest floor.

You have to get lucky and have one cross the trail or walk ahead of you on the trail.  Sometimes when they are calling they respond to tape but they don't come all the way in so it doesn't always work

The best way to see Tinamous in Mexico is to go to Bonampak, Chiapas in southern Mexico.  All four of the Tinamous are present there in good numbers.  Most are easily heard but hard as heck to see.  There are no motels or hotels in the area so camping is required or stay at Palenque some 60 kilometers away.  Indian trail guides are available for little cost but you will have to find the birds yourself.  The Thicket Tinamou is not common at all in Western Mexico.  I have never heard or seen one and have been there many times.  You would have to go to some out of the way place to get one I would suspect.  They are hunted for food down there and very shy.

I've often heard but never seen Thicket Tinamou; in this secretive family they seem even more elusive than the several species I have seen.

When first visiting San Blas in 1995, I expected Thicket Tinamou to be present in the forest at Singayta, but locals dont know it, and I've never heard of it being reported form there.  Perhaps this species frequents forest at slightly higher elevations- like along the old road at the Military Macaw mirador spot.  Expect to use a tape on that one and pretend you are looking for a Rail.  Where Tinamous arent persecuted, they can be seen by the very observant, patient birder.  Where they are hunted, however, seeing a calling bird even with use of a tape can be very frustrating.  I think that you will probably have better luck with these species in areas of thorn forest at elevations halfway between San Blas and Tepic.  Actually, the best thorn forest is found along the highway closer to Mazatlan.

I haven't been to San Blas since I attended their CBC in 1988.  As I recall motmots were pretty easy and Thicket Tinamous almost impossible (I've heard dozens in Mexico, seen none).  I have seen other species of tinamous, mostly by luck, when I've heard their footfalls in dry leaves.  Your chances would also improve if you could find an area where the birds aren't hunted.

Unless they are calling in the spring you will need a great deal of luck stumbling across one.  I have birded along the west coast of Mexico with no luck.  Yet I found them easy in Costa Rica even when they were not calling!"

2.  Any tips on locating Lesser Ground-Cuckoo and/or Lesser Roadrunner?

"We saw Lesser Ground-Cuckoo at the coffee plantation on Mecatan road near Ban Blas - a family of them

Seeing a Lesser Roadrunner is similar to seeing our Greater Roadrunner.  Just spend some time in the right habitat, and hope you spot one hunting.

The best place to see Lesser Gound-Cuckoo is at La Cumbre just a few kilometers from Ciudad de Colima.  I had 6 there last September.  Once again easy to hear but hard to see.  Using a tape is the easy way to get them to pop up where you can see them.  They sound like a police whistle.  I have never had them at San Blas.  Lesser Roadrunner is in the same area of Colima.  We studied two at a canyon 1 mile south of the turn off for Volcan de Colima National Park from old highway 54 which runs between Guadalajara and Colima.  Also saw one two days ago near Yecora, Sonora.  Not as easy to see as the Greater Roadrunner as they are more secretive and use a habitat that is more dense than that used for Greater Roadrunner.  I have never had them at San Blas.

I don't remember seeing Lesser Roadrunner in this region, though I've often seen them just crossing dirt roads further E in Guerrero and Oaxaca.  You have to be plain lucky to happen on L Ground-Cuckoo.

I have definitely heard Lesser Ground Cuckoo at the mirador but not lower down at Singayta.  To see the Ground Cuckoo can be a real challenge- expect to use a tape on that one and pretend you are looking for a Rail.  Thorn forest is also the place to look for Lesser Roadrunner ( which can be skulky ) and is also habitat for Black-capped Gnatcatchers, Purplish-backed Jays, Red-breasted Chat, Rosy Thrush Tanager ( also found at Singayta- tough to see without a tape ), and Flammulated Flycatcher.

I am the last person you should want to ask about Lesser Ground-Cuckoo.  I spent a whole day at a stakeout near San Blas.  I heard them and got them to respond to a play-back but they did not want to show themselves.  Anywhere there is thorn forest you have a chance.  I have no information on Lesser Roadrunner except they are commoner further south."

3.  How strong a flashlight to see Potoos along the river near San Blas?

"Strong and you have to be in a boat.  I strongly suggest you go with the local guide Chencho because 1) he is amazing and 2) it supports local bird guides for conservation

I haven't been to San Blas, but the stronger the flashlight the better.  You want to be able to spot the eye-glow from a distance and approach.  Try to find a fairly compact version of one of the million-candlepower rechargeable spotlights.  This will be good for Boat-billed Heron as well.

Take the boat trip south from the highway at San Blas with a good guide and he will show you a Potoo.  Leave about 4:00 PM and that way you will see other birds but return in the dark.  A normal flashlight with a krypton bulb should be sufficient to see the potoo.  The guide will also have a flashlight.  Before you hire him ask him if he can show you a potoo for sure.  Also ask about Rufous-necked Wood-Rail which are in the area.

Potoos are best seen, and guaranteed, by taking the up-river boat tour from near San Blas, leaving near sunset so as to return in the dark.  This is a lovely ride, well worth taking anyway, and on the way back you will coast within a few feet of probably 6-12 Potoos; their eyeshine is visible at maybe 50 yards with even the most pathetic flashlight

Although I have never taken the night trip for Potoos, while doing extensive night birding in the tropics, I have found a flashlight that uses a 6-volt battery to be sufficiently bright ( although a bit heavy).

There was a local chap in San Blas that guided birders when I was down their.  He had a great potoo trip.  You boated up a small creek through the mangroves late in the afternoon to a popular spring at the head of the creek.  Along the way he would pull the boat up beneath roosting Boat-billed Herons.  After dusk you would head back down the creek.  We had great views of potoos sitting up in the tops of bushes along the more open, marshy portions of the creek.  You need a flashlight but a good 9V light with a concentrated beam would be fine.

I am not sure what you mean by strength.  Unless you take a boat out with one of the local guides (their names seem to change each year) you could use a stadium light and still not see anything.  When in San Blas ask about guides, they will show you potoo, Boat-billed Heron, White-throated Flycatcher, black hawks, and the wood rail."

Peter Browne
Ottawa, Canada