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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
West-Central Mexico, December 2004,
(Sinaloa, Nayarit, Jalisco & Colima)
Mexico's birds and places to see them are quite well known to birders, thanks in part to Steve N G Howell's outstanding A Bird-Finding Guide To Mexico and the many trip reports housed in various repositories on the internet. Inevitably, conditions at some sites have changed somewhat since the 1999 publishing date of Howell's guide book. This report provides brief updates for some of the familiar birding sites in the 3 west-central regions (5, 6, 7) of the country, reflecting changes we noted that might have relevance for visiting birders. We also give an overview of the birds we saw. Throughout, we use Howell's site names and numbering system. Our trip encompassed 22 days from November 18 to December 9, 2004.
Day 1/Nov 18 - Travel to Mexico. Puerto Vallarta to San Blas (6.0) by rental vehicle, taking 3-3.5 cautious hours but after a few days driving experience it could be done in 2.5 hours. No real time for birding.
Day 2/Nov 19 - AM: Lower Singayta (6.1h). PM: Sewer Ponds trail (6.1a).
Day 3/Nov 20 - AM: La Bajada (6.2). PM: Fabulous night boat ride through mangrove channels from the bridge to La Tovara (6.1d).
Day 4/Nov 21 - AM: Sewer Ponds trail (6.1a). PM: Peso Island (6.1b).
Day 5/Nov 22 - AM: Upriver boat ride from bridge at San Blas to Laguna de los Pajaros (6.1d). PM: Drive to Mazatlan; view Booby Rocks (5.2).
Day 6/Nov 23 - AM: La Noria Road (5.3). PM: Drive to La Capilla de Taxte, birding awhile along road from Potrerillos to La Petaca (included in 5.4 by Howell).
Day 7/Nov 24 - All day at Barranca Rancho Liebre (5.6).
Day 8/Nov 25 - AM: Drive back to entrance of 5.6 for 1+ hours, then return down Durango Road to Panuco Road (5.5), 08:45 to 11:45. PM: Drive to San Blas.
Day 9/Nov 26 - AM: Lower Singayta (6.1h). PM: Matanchen Bay (6.1g)
Day 10/Nov 27 - Early AM: Sewer Pond trail (6.1a), then pretty much a full days drive from San Blas to Barra de Navidad.
Day 11/Nov 28 - AM: Barranca el Choncho (7.4). PM: Drive to Autlan, then bird @2 hours on road to Microondas de San Francisco (in 7.5 of Howell).
Day 12/Nov 29 - AM: Puerto de Mazos (7.5). PM: Drive to Ciudad Guzman, stopping along the highway at El Floripondio (part of 7.6) and a little while at the Cd Guzman lakes/marshes (7.7).
Day 13/Nov 30 - Most of day on the RMO Viboras road up Volcan Nieve from El Floripondio (in 7.6 of Howell).
Day 14/Dec 1 - AM: The new Parque Nacional road up Volcan Nieve (a new access road since Howell's book). PM (part): Lake/marshes at Ciudad Guzman (7.7).
Day 15/Dec 2 - All day on road up Volcan Fuego (7.8).
Day 16/Dec 3 - Same, but different sections of road. Late PM: Drive to Colima.
Day 17/Dec 4 - AM: El Jacal/San Antonio area and Laguna La Maria (7.9). PM: Microondas La Cumbre (7.10).
Day 18/Dec 5 - AM: Road to Piscila and a nearby farmers' track (part of 7.10 of Howell). PM: Drive to Barra de Navidad.
Day 19/Dec 6 - AM: Playa de Oro Road (7.2). PM: Watch water birds in lagoon behind the beach in Barra de Navidad while sipping drinks and munching snacks.
Day 20/Dec 7 - AM: Road into the El Tamarindo resort near Barra (not covered by Howell). PM: Much the same as yesterday, and every bit as enjoyable.
Day 21/Dec 8 - Drive to El Tuito (7.0) and bird @2 hours at Rancho Primavera near there (not in Howell) then continue to Bucerias @15 km north of Puerto Vallarta.
Day 22/Dec 9 - AM: Laguna de Quelele (in 6.0 of Howell) for 2+ hours. PM: Fly home.
The Country and its People: Great on all counts. We had very few problems, none too serious. We never felt threatened or uncomfortable. Everyone treated us in a helpful, friendly manner. The closest we came to getting ripped off was when a young gas station attendant apparently thought he would just pocket some change, amounting to 70 pesos (only around $6.25 US) but he readily forked it over when we brought the omission to his attention.
It goes without saying that Mexico has a very distinctive cuisine. Not everyone likes it, but we certainly did. In the past Mexico has taken a bad rap by those experiencing gastrointestinal problems of one sort or another. Happily, both of us had almost nothing of the kind and certainly less than on any other trip we've taken to various places in the world. I think there has been a big change in food preparation procedures since, for example, an early trip I took in 1970. Even in out-of-the-way non-tourist areas we saw kitchen staff wearing rubber gloves, hair coverings and face masks (although the latter maybe partly to ward off irritating fumes from hot chillies?). As a rule we did not eat at street-side taco stands. Near the coast we gorged on shrimp, usually large portions for very reasonable prices. Further inland we favored traditional Mexican food. Mexico is renowed, even within Latin America, for its hot, spicy foods. Something we did not appreciate beforehand, however, is that, to a considerable extent, this is self-inflicted since much of the heat is added to the meal by the diner from little pots of sauces and garnishes brought to the table separately, at least in the areas we visited. In any case, we did not find overly hot foods to be a problem.
Although we could have got by without knowing much (or any) Spanish near the coastal resort areas, the introductory conversational course we took before leaving was a tremendous help. I followed up on a tip and prepared 7 small flash cards with key phrases for situations we knew we would encounter regularly (eg, for hotels, restaurants, stores, when meeting people at birding sites and so on). What a godsend! I carried them in my shirt pocket and could whip them out for a very quick review before heading into a hotel or whatever. Almost without exception I could make myself readily understood, although deciphering long and rapid-fire responses was a bit of a problem at times.
Car Rental and Travel: As noted in many trip reports vehicle rental is expensive, but I think this is somewhat understandable given the workout cars get on steep, twisty mountain roads, and particularly by birders on very rough access tracks. The highways themselves were great, at least on a par with back home (in Ontario, Canada). We decided we wanted a 4WD SUV to lessen the general anxiety level on the roads we had read about that ascend, for example, the twin volcanos Nieve and Fuego in Colima state. We did so on-line before we left (via Expedia.ca) but found that the Ford Eco (whatever that means) Sport is not a 4WD as advertised. However, it had decent clearance and also front wheel drive, so we took it anyway, and in the event we went everywhere we tried to go. But Im pretty sure we would not have made it past some of the rougher places on the mountain tracks in a regular sedan type car, even if we'd tried, which we would not have done. I should mention that we were offered a 4WD Jeep Wrangler when we complained, but we declined because the upper body work was that impractical combination of plastic and fabric, not metal, and we would always have had to worry about leaving anything in the vehicle when parking near birding sites - definitely a no-go situation for us.
The Ford had manual gear shift, no particular problem for us but clutches really get stressed, and ours packed it in on the very busy Highway 200 on Day 10. The good news was that, of all the terrible places it could have happened, we were actually within 10 km of the Puerto Vallarta airport where we had rented it on Day 1! So, cutting through a longish story involving friendly assistance from onlookers, we were back on the road with a replacement in 2 1/2 hours - pretty good service from Avis I think. No more problems for the rest of the trip. We asked about renting a cell phone for just such an emergency but people at Avis, at least, could not seem to offer any helpful advice on this. Thus, we were in fact very lucky. Total cost of the vehicle came to $1400 US.
Highway travel was easy and usually quite straightforward. Roads to most of the towns we were looking for were well signed. We had read that Mexican drivers were prone to speed and questionable manouvres, but really we found this aspect to be much exaggerated. The drivers are fine, not much different than at home and not even remotely as terrifying as, say, in Jamaica. Driving and navigating in cities and larger towns (such as Autlan and Ciudad Guzman), however, took some getting used to, and remained a challenge to the nerves for the duration of our trip. They are normally set up on a grid of mostly one-way streets. Main thoroughfares typically diverge as the highway enters a town, then continue one-way through its heart on either side of the center square (zocalo). One-way side streets run in alternating opposite directions off the main street (though they often not signed as such). But not always - there are two-way streets. Checking the direction in which parked cars are facing will usually help. Stop signs are rare and it was usually not apparent to us who had right of way at intersections except that when on the main street you can usually proceed, even if it takes all your nerve. Traffic is regulated more by viscious topes (speed bumps) than signs and you absolutely must keep a sharp lookout for them. Plus, town streets are often roughly cobbled rather than paved, with lots of potholes. All in all, a very effective way to control speed.
By contrast, out on the highway stop signs (Alto) appear frequently near road merger points, but apparently seldom actually mean Stop, instead indicating that a stop might be required ahead if oncoming or merging traffic is near. Again, pedestrians in nearly every hamlet are well protected by topes. It is all too easy to miss seeing them driving into or out of a town while concentrating on following directions. They will surely capture your instant, undivided attention if you are going too fast. They actually come in 5 or 6 versions, ranging from mini mountain ranges to series of fairly tame vibrator strips.
Gasoline was more readily available than we had anticipated based on comments in various trip reports, but even today it is worth keeping a wary eye on fuel levels and topping up when opportunities present themselves. Twice we had to ask about fuel sources in small towns and both times we were directed to roadside stalls where gas was siphoned into our tank from hand-held containers, much to our relief.
Accomodations: With only a couple of minor exceptions we were quite happy with the hotels we stayed at. We briefly summarize the places we stayed in hopes someone will find the information useful. Bear in mind that our costs reflect low season prices. After December 1 (in most cases) room prices increase by 20 or 25% at most coastal locations but I dont know about the inland venues. Also, bear in mind that we dont look for luxury because we are seldom actually in the rooms anyway. We want clean, reasonably comfortable rooms in convenient locations and at reasonable cost.
Mazatlan: We paused 1 night en route from San Blas to the Durango highway sites. We stayed at Hotel Siesta located on the attractive old-town portion of the waterfront, and were quite taken by its somewhat funky, almost Art Nouveau flavor. There is a market to buy supplies 6-8 blocks from the hotel off the waterfront, near the cathedral and the Plaza Principal. The Booby Rocks were directly offshore, but too far away to see much in the pervasive tropical haze. The front desk will mark directions on a photocopied street map to get out of the city most quickly, either to La Noria Road or the Durango highway, or south to San Blas. English spoken. Cost: @$42 US.
La Capilla de Taxte: It is practically an axiom that birders will stay at La Villa Blanca, and so we did. It is a convenient base for Durango Highway sites, but one suspects it is becoming progressively rougher around the edges. The beds were saggy and uncomfortable and light sleepers will hear the loud drone of big trucks gearing up and down on the highway all night. We were shown into "el comedor", a tiny vestibule of a room with a single table and 6 chairs. Menus were set before us containing perhaps 10 or a dozen choices. We began to study these when the proprietor (we think, though somewhat bizarrely we dealt with a different person every time we had to transact something!) pointed out the 3 items actually on offer. Candy and I chose differently, equally bad (materializing as salted pork with sauerkraut, and an awful sweet pepper deep fried in batter with a bit of cheese inside). The next night we asked for scrambled eggs, a marked improvement. All this was amusing, even charming in its own way. However, though we do not like to report it, our luggage was opened and the contents moved about when we were out birding. Later on the trip Candy found that a few items had disappeared from her bag, but we dont know for sure where they went missing. Somebody should perhaps try staying at Daniel's at Copala, further back down the highway (towards Mazatlan). Many people (including tourist buses) stop there for lunch (fine) and the cottages looked alright too from the outside. Although conveniently close to 5.5 Panuco Road, staying here would have the undesirable effect of placing the birder a good hour or slightly more from the very prime 5.6 Barranca Rancho Liebre site up the highway (already @35 minutes from the Villa Blanca at La Capilla de Taxte). A few words of English spoken. Total cost for 2 nights, including dinner and a packed sandwich for lunch: $69 US.
San Blas: El Garza Canela is also used by very many birders, but it is at the opposite end of the spectrum from the above establishment. In short, it is great, with a fine dining room (although expensive relative to nearly all other places we ate on the trip), good rooms, a nice pool and so on. Josefina at the front desk was extremely efficient and helpful, arranging boat trips with knowledgeable boatmen and dispensing other useful travel advice. There were very few other guests while we were there but we were told that the place is full of birders in January. Many trees were destroyed and other damage sustained in the 2002 hurricane but the grounds have been painstakingly restored. Fluent English spoken. Cost $84 US per night ($101 Dec-Aug).
Barra de Navidad: Based on user reviews posted on one of the on-line travel sites, we chose El Delfin and were very pleased - at the risk of perhaps over-hyping it, a little gem. We like places like this: small, maybe a bit oldish with a cosy, homey, kind of settled feel, but still up to snuff. There are 4 floors with only 6 rooms per floor. It is worth toting your bags up to the top floor so you can sit on the balcony or sun roof and watch lovely sunrises over the lagoon (if you are ever there for them) and superb sunsets over the ocean. There is a nice little pool in an enclosed leafy courtyard. We were able to sample 1 very good breakfast served in a courtyard adjacent to the pool which cost $4.95. Dozens of decent restaurants are very close at hand. Helpful staff fluent in English. Cost: @$35 US (and a bargain). We also liked the compact and friendly little town.
Autlan: We had trouble finding the Motel Autlan so were happy to dive into the Maria Isabel as we passed it on a busy, rough, nerve-jangling city streets - in this case the main one-way street going northeast through the city, and after passing the zocalo at city center. It was perfectly adequate for the night. Little English. Cost: @$24 US.
Ciudad Guzman: The hotel of choice for birders seems to be Hotel Colon. But to us it could not have been more inconveniently situated for quick exits to either of the Volcan Nieve roads, or Volcan Fuego. Actually, if you leave before dawn the traffic isnt that bad, but the return at night took us right through the city at rush hour. In our case the situation was exacerbated by much extra in-city traffic due to the ring road linking the coast with Guadalajara being closed because of flooding (at site 7.7, the marshes). We also found the Colon somewhat annoying for a variety of other reasons: we always had to ask for the hot water to be turned on (3 times 1 night!); the credit card machine was not working for us but was being operated when I walked back down to the office to ask for hot water (again); we had to ask for bottles of drinking water to be replaced; the chamber maid insisted on moving and repositioning all our stuff around the room, every day; a light fixture was non-functional; and, we could find no restaurants nearby, although a little eating place next door connected with the hotel opened up the second night so we then ate there. It was pretty much limited to 3 kinds of tacos but they were good and the cook was a fun young fellow. This helped turn around our initial unfavorable impressions. Also there was a terrific bakery only 1-2 blocks away where we loaded up on good stuff (in the evening) to take with us in the mornings for breakfasts and lunches. Little English except for a friendly young lady who was working in the restaurant 1 night and at the front desk another. Cost: @$36 US.
Colima: Quite a big busy city, so we were very happy to take Howell's recommendation of the Hotel Los Candiles, and even happier to find it with a minimum of fuss for once. It was fine. Howell seems to show it as being near the edge of town, but it has been largely enveloped by urban sprawl. However, it was reasonably handy to sites 7.9 and 7.10 so we dare not complain. We found a nice outdoorsy place to eat nearby that is patronized by local people and we enjoyed it - walk to the right when exiting the hotel, go to the corner and cross the street (carefully) with the traffic lights, then go right half a (long) block to Mi Ranchito. Some English spoken at the hotel. Cost: @$48 US
Puerto Vallarta: We needed a place for the last night fairly near the airport but not in PV itself (disliking its downtown traffic). So we drove through the city to Bucerias, @15 km north of the city and airport, and it was convenient. We picked the Palmeras (formerly Serena) out of the Lonely Planet Guide and it was OK, even though this general area was more touristy than we would ordinarily have chosen. Apparently run by US owners. Cost: @$50 US.
We enjoyed ourselves, but this will not go down in our log book as one of the more successful birding trips we have taken. We saw many good birds, but also missed many, including a lot of our most highly-targetted species. Such is life and this is not meant to reflect negatively on the area but was perhaps attributable to a combination of factors. In general we found forest and field birds hard to find and then see well, particularly resident species (which of course includes the endemics) - many were either skittish or downright skulkers. We did not use tape playback and hence, I think more than anything else, this severely handicapped our ability to lure out shy species. Most birds did not seem to respond well to squeaking or pishing, but Candy's whistled pygmy-owl imitation worked pretty well at times. I dont know if the November-early December time slot might enter into it? Bad luck in the form of cars, cattle or people happening by at precisely the wrong time seemed to keep repeating itself. Perhaps it was just us.
In total we recorded 297 species, of which 58 were endemic to the area defined by Howell in his A Guide To The Birds Of Mexico and Northern Central America. We would be happy to send our annotated list (in spreadsheet format) to anyone who wants to take a look. We also have a blank multi-day checklist which includes nearly all species apt to be seen in the 3 regions.
In regions 5 and 6 (Sinaloa and Nayarit) there was not enough light enough to use binoculars effectively until nearly 06:30, particularly in forest situations, and it became too dark to see by about 17:30. In region 7 (Jalisco and Colima) the clocks were an hour later.
A word about the identification guides. There is a problem here. First, we did not have the Edwards guide so cannot comment on it. We took Peterson and Chalif, and Howell. And also a North American guide because both of the preceeding chose not to illustrate many (but not all) species found in NA books. I understand this, but it is a real nuisance. Howell's book is just too heavy and cumbersome to tote around on long hikes, and we did not tear out the plates like some people do. This left us carrying Peterson and Chalif, then consulting Howell and/or the NA guide back at the car or hotel. Thus, we had to go back and forth between 3 books, each written and illustrated in different styles and quality, and covering different subsets of species. The experience for us was not satisfactory. We loved Howell's bird finding guide, but were quite a bit less enthusiastic about the identification guide.
SITE NOTES AND COMMENTS ON THE BIRDS
Sites are discussed according to the numbering system and sequence employed in Howell's site guide rather than in the order we visited them. The regions are arranged from north to south. A few places mentioned here are not covered by Howell.
Region 5: Mazatlan and Durango Highway (Sinaloa State and just into Durango)
5.2 - The Booby Rocks at Mazatlan
Site: This is an incidental site probably included by Howell in case people happen to be in Mazatlan with a bit of time on their hands. We did not try go on the bay by boat, nor did we check out the town-edge areas mentioned in Howell, thinking that by now they were likely non-existent based on urban sprawl and development wed seen to date.
Birds: We set up the scope on the esplanade outside our hotel, and we could see birds wheeling around and what looked like a couple of thousand boobies on the rocks, but we could not make much out. The problem was the tropical haze so prevalent in these lowlands. It was no big deal though as wed seen both boobies aleady at San Blas and would see both again, very close, at Barra de Navidad.
5.3 - La Noria Road [elevation @ 150 meters]
Site: We had no problems getting there using Howells directions. Note again that if you are staying in Mazatlan the desk at the Hotel Siesta, at least, will save you time and bother by providing a map indicating the best way out of the city. The overall aspect is a dirt road or track through farm fields and pastures with roadside trees and tangles.
Birds: We arrived just at dawn and parked at the first spot indicated in Howell. Candy immediately heard what we thought were Elegant Quail clucking in the adjacent field, then a man on horeseback came by, starting his day's work. We explained what we were up to ("Buscamos los pajaritos") and he readily recognized the quail in the bird guide. He passed on and we never heard the quail again, nor could we find them when we walked into the fields (but we did flush 3 of the peculiarly colored Antelope Jackrabbits here). The road became progressively busy, mainly pickup trucks carrying farm workers, and so together with the uninspiring habitat, we lost our enthusiasm for the site by @10-10:30. The only birds we saw of any note were 15 Rufous-bellied Chachalacas; 2 each of Broad-billed and Violet-crowned Hummingbirds; Gila Woodpecker; a likely female Rosy Thrush-Tanager (seen poorly); Green-tailed Towhee; 15 Five-striped Sparrows; Yellow Grosbeak; and a couple of Varied Buntings.
5.4 - Durango Highway including La Petaca Road [1200 m]
Site: This designation is a catchall for various possible stopping places along the road en route up to the major birding site of 5.6 Barranca Rancho Liebre. The highway is very good and finding the sub-sites straightforward. We will note here that throughout the trip we usually found the roadside kilometer posts to be extremely useful for zeroing in on sites, and actually a better reference point than odometer readings between sites. The odometer on our vehicle differed somewhat from figures in Howell, sometimes we forgot to set it to zero where we should have, and also when we left a road, to go into Copala for lunch as an example, it obviously messed up the odometer reading. We stopped and walked a track with fairly decent thorn scrub/forest habitat leading off to the left from the Durango Highway, less than 1 km further from the La Noria road cut-off. About noon we set off up the Durango highway again, stopping to eat lunch at Daniels in Copala (pleasant). Then, after reaching and checking into the hotel at La Capilla de Taxte, at much higher elevation, we drove on a very few km to Potrerillos where we turned right on the signed road to La Petaca, soon stopping to walk for @2 hours before dark. Not too much traffic, just then anyway. Part of the road was paved and additional construction was in progress.
Birds: On the un-named track, right at the highway, we found our only 2 Purplish-backed Jays of the trip and @ 25 of the truly fabulous Black-throated Magpie-Jays but not a lot more, although the habitat suggested it might be good first thing in the morning. Daniel's restaurant is situated on a hillside with a pleasant overlook that seemed promising although all we actually saw was a flock of Mexican Parrotlets. It is the type of place where hummingbird feeders should be hung near the tables, and I wish we had mentioned it. A lot of the natural vegetation along the La Petaca road has been converted to agriculture but we saw birds here as well as in the remnant treed areas. Worthwhile typical mountain birds included the endemic White-striped Woodcreeper, Tufted Flycatcher, Greater Pewee, our first Grey Silky-Flycatchers of the trip, a nice Brown-backed Solitaire, Black-capped Vireo, the only Black-headed Siskins of the trip, several warblers including Grace's and Painted Redstart, and a probable Collared Towhee.
5.5 - Panuco Road [600 m]
Site: We birded here most of a morning (@09:30-12:00) on the way back down the Durango highway from 5.6 and La Capilla de Taxte. The road is signed and easy to find. For the most part it hugs the side of a deep and often steep barranca (providing nice panoramic views), with good thorny type vegetation on both sides. There certainly was traffic but not all that bad, and we were able to find a half-decent place to pull off at the side. It gets hot in such places by mid morning so we learned to leave our car windows down a crack if it was likely to receive full sunlight, which was normally the case because there were very few shady spots to park. We should also mention that although we sometimes found traffic and the natural curiosity of the people a bit disconcerting at first we soon got accustomed to it, and in any case we never felt under any sort of threat. A wave, a smile and our best rendition of "Buenos dias" were always returned in friendly fashion. We left La Panuco road just after noon and made the return journey to San Blas.
Birds: As we were now beginning to realize was the case with most lowland/foothill sites, we did not see a great number of birds, nor were these easy to spot. Without much doubt the best bird was Military Macaw, a flock of 16 that appeared from behind us, calling, and continuing to fly high over the barranca, obviously on a fairly lengthy commute to somewhere or other. Other enjoyable birds: Elegant Trogon, Masked Tityra, and more terrific Black-throated Magpie-Jays.
5.6 - Barranca Rancho Liebre [elevation somewhat less than 1900 m?]
Site: This was my favorite birding site of the trip (perhaps other than the night boat ride), partly because of the birds, and partly the lovely, still largely undisturbed, mountain forest with its interesting vegetation zones. It was easy to find the entrance at the highway using Howell's directions, but note that it is at about km 201.5, not 200.5. Although only 33 km from the hotel at La Capilla de Taxte, it took a good 40+ minutes to get there on the steep, very curvy road. Also, an important safety tip: when you get near km post 215, where Tufted Jays can now be expected, do not stop or even slow down too much when you see them or Steller's Jays, which are often found in company with Tufted Jays. The highway is busy, especially with large, heavily loaded transport trucks, which cannot slow quickly on down-slopes. I made this mistake and had to gun the car ahead to avoid a rear-end collision. There are numerous places to pull off, so find one of these then walk back to the Jays.
Birds: The last first. We were extremely disappointed not to find the Tufted Jay on Day 7. Steller's Jays were along the road (where I had the near brush with a truck), but no Tufteds. This meant that we had to change our schedule a bit by returning very early the next morning, and happily we found the Jays without difficulty. We had no luck at our first stop at km 204 so moved on to park near the entrance to the barranca. After a few more anxious minutes, we saw movement on the road back in the direction we had just come. Up with the binos, and there they were. We mostly ran to where we got extended views of 8 of these fabulous birds (along with 4 Steller's Jays). They were very active, making sorties out onto the highway and into the ditches, as well moving about in the trees. They are big birds! One Jay with a large food item was chased by another for 4 or 5 minutes. Eventually they drifted downslope from the highway, and out of sight. So then it was into the car for our return trip to check out of the hotel. Just above km post 215 (very close to some obvious communications towers and a sign indicating 1990 m elevation) we ran into another party, this time 13, and we had an essentially identical encounter. So, 21 Tufted Jays in all and I think anyone would agree they are sensational.
Now the Barranca itself. Birds were abundant, and because it was basically our first mountain site even fairly common species were new for us so we really enjoyed the day: 2 lovely Mountain Trogons; 10 White-striped Woodcreepers; at least 1 likely Pine Flycatcher; Russet Nightengale-Thrush; 10 Mexican Chickadees; Plumbeous, Cassin's and Hutton's Vireos; several really nice endemic or otherwise notable (for us) parulid warblers - Crescent-chested, Black-throated Grey, Townsend's, Grace's, Red-faced, Red, Rufous-capped, Golden-browed and more Painted Redstarts. Also: no fewer than 10 (including some out on the highway) unexpectedly lovely Red-headed Tanagers; 2 Rufous-capped Brush-Finches; 12 Yellow-eyed Juncos; and more Varied Buntings to name only a few. And it was so nice to have repeat and/or prolonged views. I was particularly happy to see the Red-faced Warbler given that I'd somehow missed it 30 odd years ago; we ended up seeing them at several sites. Also, I should note that an owl was calling at the hotel @05:30 as we got ready to head out to the barranca (just as promised by the hotel propreitor the previous evening). Although perhaps somewhat iffy to identify from written song descriptions, we think it was the Stygian Owl.
Region 6: Nayarit State, principally San Blas area, plus 1 site near Puerto Vallarta
6.0 - Laguna de Quelele just north of Puerto Vallarta
Site: Actually the last site we visited, on the morning of Day 22 before we returned the car to the Puerto Vallarta airport prior to departure for home. We overnighted at Bucerias, a few km north of Mezcales where you need to turn west. Things have changed since Howell's book. The road through town is now a major divided 4-lane highway. You have to get off the main road before the traffic lights and onto the parallel street on the west side in front of the town's shops. We asked for directions and by driving south from the light on this street bordering the highway (what we might call a collector lane back home) we actually did find the sign for Avenida Mexicana painted on a store wall but not any of the other signs mentioned by Howell. This is where you turn west. The "zig right-zag left" in Howell actually just takes you around the zocalo and out of town where the rest of the directions worked alright. We had our difficulties, though, because the streets around the zocalo were clogged with big trucks loaded with carnival-type rides, now being installed there for some festive occasion. At Laguna de Quelele no one was around so we parked and tried to bird the area. When we got back to the car a sign was on the windshield asking us to leave $3 each at a nearby house (which we did) and also requesting us not to leave the barbed wire gate open (these things are all over and you will soon get used to opening and closing them).
The trail around the mangrove-fringed lagoon was indistinct, in several places obliterated or reconfigured by cattle making their own trails, but you will be OK by just keeping near the mangroves. The 2 observation platforms have deteriorated to the point where they are unuseable, and it was impossible to get decent looks out into the lagoon.
Birds: This might well have been a good birding site at one time, but it certainly is not now, at least to us. We saw very little. I could mention a beautiful Yellow-crowned Night-Heron at close range, and it is always great to see large numbers of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, although for the most part they had to be glimpsed in bits and pieces by ducking through the mangroves. They knew we were there, were very nervous and kept flushing, something I don't like to cause. There were just a few immature buntings and Blue-black Seedeaters in the weedy field/pasture. Unless we missed something this site is no longer worth the time.
6.1 - Vicinity of San Blas
6.1a - Sewer Ponds trail
Site: Basically this is a dirt/grass track at the edge of town that leads for perhaps 1 km through mostly cleared pasture (and garbage) to a sewage treatment pond. You can proceed <1 km further past a barbed wire gate through thick scrubby growth (with pastured animals), ending at some mangroves where you can see a bit of mud and water depending on the tide. It starts from an apparently fairly new subdivision of small houses, many still in various stages of construction, and we were told that this spot has consequently deteriorated as a birding site. One or 2 trip reports we read suggested the area might be unsafe but we had no indication of it. The only people we met had animals in the pastures and, as always it seems, they were friendly. As to directions, we were shown a more direct route from El Garza Canela than given in Howell, but his directions are easiest to follow and will still work OK.
Birds: Although the esthetics leave a lot to be desired it is a handy site (easily covered in 2-3 hours), and after 3 visits we gradually found many of the species indicated by Howell. Our main target was Elegant Quail and we did not see it. Some of the species along the track: a Zone-tailed Hawk, Laughing Falcon (very vocal), Mexican Parrotlets, Lesser Nighthawk, Elegant Trogon, Russet-crowned Motmot (the only place we found this endemic!), Lineated and Pale-billed Woodpeckers, Bell's Vireo, Painted Buntings, and several other commonly encountered species. Part of the adjacent pasture area is wet and a variety of herons, ibises and Wood Storks were often seen in flight. At the sewer pond itself there were Least Grebes, Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks (with young), a few sandpipers, many Northern Jacanas and so on. Birds can be difficult to see well in the thick scrub past the sewer pond but we did eventually get good looks at Happy and Sinaloa Wrens, and several species of migrant warblers including Grace's, MacGillivray's andYellow-breasted Chat, and it was interesting to watch a party of White-nosed Coatis climb, head-downwards, straight down a tall palm tree. Perhaps the best bird for the site was at the very end where Candy saw a Rufous-necked Wood-Rail run under the mangroves towards the water, of course when I was looking someplace else. A long time visitor to San Blas told us that wood-rails have been very scarce to non-existent around here since the hurricane of 2002.
6.1b - Peso Island
Site: Everything in Howell still applies, except that it now costs 20 pesos round trip. When you reach the island arrange for a pickup time, or more likely wave your arms from the landing area and the boatman will soon be there. We paid him when we got back to the San Blas dock.
Birds: The island is mostly low scrub but with open areas where cattle and horses are pastured. We made a quick 2-3 hour visit in late afternoon, not a great time. Again, Elegant Quail was the main attraction for us, and again we failed to see it. In fact we saw few land birds at all. However after walking across the island we did see both Brown and Blue-footed Boobies on the rocks offshore from the lighthouse. The view is distant and you need a scope although atmospheric heat shimmer and haze made viewing difficult. On the vast expanse of sand beach, today washed by a fairly gentle Pacific Ocean surf, we saw a few sandpipers, 3 species of terns, and our first Heerman's Gulls, which were quite attractive.
6.1d - River Boat Trips
Site: Howell describes 5 different venues for boat rides on the river, estuary/lagoon and offshore waters at San Blas. It seems that different boatmen have permits to run out of either the San Blas dock or from the bridge where the main road leaves San Blas (and boats also run out of Matanchen). And it also seemed that there are fixed prices, or at least a mandated minimum. Josephina at the Garza Canela arranged our trips by telephoning Chencho. We took a 5 hour late afternoon trip which extended well past sunset (roughly 3 to 8 PM) and an early morning trip upriver of similar length starting not long after dawn until @10:30. On the afternoon/night trip we were the only participants and our cost was 600 pesos (@$54 US) plus a healthy tip. There were 2 other couples on the morning trip and we paid the minimum, 300 pesos. The other people were not birders and although they chattered away quite loudly at times I doubt this had a serious effect on what we saw. Chencho knew where to stop for the specialties most birders want to see, and the particular birds we were after, although we didnt see them all.
The late afternoon and evening trip took us through an intricate maze of channels, in places becoming narrow and with a thick canopy of mangrove branches overhead so that we were actually wending our way through grey-green tunnels. After dark it was a magical world of fantastic shadows and shapes as we slowly navigated the twisting channels using Chencho's powerful spotlight. The morning trip went upriver from the docks at the bridge. Except for checking out a few side channels this trip was more of a conventional river boat ride, rather broad at the beginning, becoming narrower as we proceeded upriver but then eventually broadening out into what amounts to a lake at the bird sanctuary (Laguna de los Pajaros).
Birds: Both trips were great, perhaps the most enjoyable outings of our entire trip. There is always something both peaceful and exciting about boating slowly through a marsh or swamp especially when stocked chock-a-block with terrific birds. Both trips served up a very impressive array of water birds, pretty much everything listed by Howell for San Blas and most of them in sizeable numbers - eg, 100+ Anhingas, 20 Yellow-crowned Night-Herons. We saw 11 species of herons and egrets, including 10 Boat-billeds and 3 Bare-throated Tiger-Herons on the upriver trip, as well as Wood Storks, Roseate Spoonbills, White and White-faced Ibises, both Brown and White Pelicans, Northern Jacanas and more. At the sanctuary area a sub-group of 15 Fulvous Whistling-Ducks mixed with a large flock of around 500 Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, and we saw 2 Muscovies. I was surprised when Chencho called out Snail Kite since it was not in Howell's site list, but we ended up seeing at least 10 of them. Both Common and Great Black-Hawks were perched on tall trees along the river. Somewhere around 25, many quite large, iguanas were spotted, several of them also well up in trees, presumably to warm up in the morning sun, but perhaps to eat leaves as well?
Apart from the lovely atmospheric backdrop of the mangrove swamp there were also several bird highlights of the afternoon and night trip. A Pygmy-Owl was first heard, then briefly seen perched, finally darting across the creek past the boat. Chencho called it a Colima. In the spotlight we had 4 Northern Potoos as well as perched Pauraques and a Lesser Nighthawk. A special treat for me was several of the beautiful Mangrove form of Yellow Warbler. We tried but could not come up with a Mangrove Vireo or another Wood-Rail.
6.1f - Shrimp Ponds Road
I would think this is included by Howell as a secondary site to be checked when in the vicinity or going and coming from other sites. Although we took a quick look at some of the ponds, and also had to drive the road going to and returning from Mazatlan (the region 5 sites), we saw very little and have nothing useful to report.
6.1g - Matanchen Bay
Similarly, we took the road past Matanchen to the coast for a couple of hours one day. We had been told about a track leading off this road into the mangroves where Wood-Rails have been seen, but we could not find it. We did walk along the beach to the estuary of the creek, which is still closed off from the ocean by silt and sand deposits. There were a few shorebirds resting here including a Red Knot, Whimbrel, 2 Long-billed Curlews and 2 Marbled Godwits, and we saw another nice Mangrove Yellow Warbler.
6.1 h - Lower Singayta:
Site: We made 2 visits here, easily finding the site using Howell's directions. The first day we parked close to the animal corral after asking permission from a young man there and the second time we drove to where the road is bisected by a lesser track, the left branch seemingly signed to a type of ecological reserve, although there was no further explanation when we walked the few metres to where it ended at the mangroves. Judging from Howell's 1999 description it seems that the site has continued to deteriorate due to more clearing of native vegetation and subsequent planting to various tree crops or conversion to cattle pasture. Basically this is a dirt track bordered by scrubby vegetation through pasture and crops with a few small remnant patches of trees. As Howell indicates you can access wet pasture or weedy marsh by crossing gates in the barbed wire fence on your left.
Birds: This site is where we began to realize just how difficult birds were to get on without tape playback. Gradually we found some of our targeted birds, but many others remained elusive. One early highlight was a Bare-throated Tiger-Heron at the first wet grassy spot and small creek on the left, and it was at the same place a week later. Four Muscovies flew over the marsh/swamp area. A pair of beautiful and loud Laughing Falcons went through their intriguing vocal repertory as they perched together in one of the remnant tall trees. Some of the commoner resident birds were: Red-billed Pigeon, Common Ground, and White-tipped Doves; Mexican Parrotlet; Groove-billed Ani; Cinnamon Hummingbird; both Citreoline and Elegant Trogons; Gila and Golden-cheeked Woodpeckers; several species of flycatchers; Happy and Sinaloa Wrens; Rufous-backed Robin; several migrant wintering warblers; Five-striped Sparrow; Streak-backed Oriole; and Yellow-winged Caciques. We also saw Pale-billed and Lineated Woodpeckers, a Black-capped Vireo, 2 Black-vented Orioles, a spectacular male Painted Bunting feeding in plain view on the road, and by walking out into the wet pasture we found 2 White-throated Flycatchers.
6.2 - La Bajada [200 m]
Site: Howell's directions still work perfectly for getting to the site from San Blas. However, once there we were disappointed in the habitat and birds seen. Indeed, we were told by an old San Blas hand that the amount of forest recently converted to bananas, papayas and other crops has, to a considerable extent, ruined the site. We parked near a patch of remaining forest then walked the main track for much of the morning, with very mediocre results. From what we could see on steep rocky slopes and ravines the site must once indeed have been a very lovely spot.
Birds: We were delighted to hear the strident, garrulous calling of, and then see, up to 20 Rufous-bellied Chachalacas clambering around in the canopy of remnant tall trees. Among the few other highlights were 5 perched Orange-fronted Parakeets; Squirrel Cuckoo; Violet-crowned Hummingbird and Plain-capped Starthroat; fine looks at Ivory-billed Woodcreeper; Masked Tityra; and Black-capped and Golden Vireo.
Region 7: Colima and Jalisco States
7.0 - El Tuito area at Rancho Primavera (not specifically treated by Howell)
Site: Somewhere, we had read about birders visiting this place but we were not able to find out anything about it on the internet. By asking in El Tuito we were directed to the ranch, not far out of town. It is more of a private residence than a lodge although it sometimes caters to organized birding groups, and we were told that arrangements for individual birders could also occasionally be made. We thought it would make a convenient location to stay the night as we travelled from Barra de Navidad back to Puerto Vallarta at the end of our trip before departing for home next day. In the event, however, we might have got dates mixed up because no one was there when we stopped by, so we looked around the grounds for a couple of hours before driving on to PV. The immediate site appeared to be predominantly dry ranch land (rough pasture) with some forest patches.
Birds: We walked the entrance road, capably guided by 2 very hospitable dogs of the 5 that lived in the household. We spent an hour at a large fruiting tree that was pretty much full of bird activity. Among the birds we saw: Green Heron by a pond; Inca Dove; @40 Orange-fronted Parakeets wheeling around and feeding in the tree; many Social Flycatchers and Great Kiskadees; 10 White-throated Thrushes and 5 Rufous-backed Robins; 5 Black-throated Magpie-Jays; our only Scrub Euphonia of the trip; Stripe-headed Sparrows; 8 Orchard and 1 Black-vented Oriole; and the usual gangs of Yellow-winged Caciques.
7.2 - Playa de Oro Road
Site: We went here for a morning using Barra de Navidad as a base. The turnoff was at km 31.3 according to our odometer and it took us 35-40 minutes to drive. The road, quite rough in places, wends its way through really good looking thorn forest from the highway to a secluded beach where we only saw 2 other people. We spent most of the morning along the road and then had a great time body-surfing at the beach for about an hour. Until we noticed 5 or 6 dorsal fins projecting above the water's surface only a few meters offshore from us. Without knowing all the possibilities we wondered if they might actually be sharks, so we edged a bit closer to the beach, into the inner surf zone. We asked about this at Barra and were told that the fins most likely belonged to the Dorado, a quite large bull-headed fish decked out in attractive light blue and yellowish livery that is a popular quarry of fisherman in this part of the coast. One cautionary note - we were also told that the beach is somewhat notorious for its undertow during periods of high waves, and we certainly could feel it the morning we were there.
Birds: We arrived before dawn and set out down the road in the dark. Several nightjars were seen resting on the road in the headlights. Although we did not get great looks, at least 2 of 6 appeared not to have white in the wings when they flushed, suggesting that they likely were Buff-collared Nightjars, while those showing white wing flashes would have been Pauraques. We got decent looks at 4 West Mexican Chachalacas, which seemed to have much more tawny underparts than depicted in the Howell guide. Other birds along the road: 5 Citreoline Trogons, Northern Beardless Tyrannulet, 2 White-bellied Wrens, 2 White-throated Magpie-Jays, Bell's Vireo, Tropical Parula, Blue Bunting, and in a very dry open area with huge clumps of cacti part way to the coast there were a couple of Stripe-headed Sparrows and at least 20 of the very beautiful Orange-breasted Buntings, including several brilliant males.
7.4 - Barranca El Choncho [215-350 m]
Site: We arrived at the entrance before dawn, easily following Howell's directions. There was barely enough room to park near the entrance without blocking the track, which was important because at least 2 or 3 trucks came up the track while we were there. An owl was calling gruffly in the distance, sounding more like a grunt or distant barking dog than a hoo sound. We think it was the Mottled Owl. It was a pleasant, slow morning's walk up the track following a ravine with a dry stream bed until the rather nice forest gave way to open rough pasture near the top. At one point we encountered workers herding cattle and after attempting some conversation in Spanish one of them informed us in English that he had spent 2 years on a cattle ranch in British Columbia, Canada.
Birds: As we waited at the highway near the entrance track until it got light enough to see with binoculars we saw a roving pack of 14 terrific San Blas Jays . Birds seen during the walk up the track included: Golden-crowned Emerald; 6 Ivory-billed Woodcreepers; Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet; Greater Pewee; a likely Cordilleran Flycatcher; Brown-crested Flycatcher; Rose-throated Becard; Happy, Sinaloa and White-bellied Wrens; Fan-tailed Warbler; and 6 Blue Buntings.
7.5 - Puerto Los Mazos [1270-1950 m] near Autlan [850 m] and Microondas de San Francisco
Site: We left Barranca El Choncho around noon for the relatively short drive to Autlan, stopping briefly by a roadside pond and marsh as noted by Howell. We also stopped at the small cluster of stores/food stalls and other buildings at the entrance to the track leading up to the Puerto Los Mazos microwave towers in order to check out the status of the gate, which reportedly has been subject to considerable change over the years. We eventually were directed to a man in one of the stores who seemed to be in charge of access and he said it would be OK to open the gate (unlocked at this time) and drive up the track early tomorrow ('manana, muy temprano'). This we did, driving up for 3.8 km and then walking 1-2 km more to very near the top. The track was steep in places but not terribly rough, perhaps just passable with a standard sedan car. The forest was quite lovely, laid out in typical vegetation zones, but though we tried our best we saw very few birds.
Howell also includes the Microondas San Francisco, 7-8 km to the far side of Autlan, under this site 7.5. After checking into a motel in Autlan we drove out there around 15:00. It was very hot and the habitat on the microwave access road was a particularly dry, stunted form of thorn forest. We saw next to nothing, although of course it was definitely the wrong time of day to be there.
Birds: At the roadside pond we saw a small selection of typical water birds. There were in the region of 2000 Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks with a few Blue-winged Teal and Ruddy Ducks. Also at the pond and in the rank grass and rushes around the edge were: a Least Grebe, Northern Jacanas, several Orchard Orioles, and our only White-collared Seedeaters of the trip (but which did not seem very cinnamon-rumped). A pair of White-tailed Kites flew over the adjacent field.
On the Puerto Los Mazos track itself we scraped to find Mexican Parrotlets, Beryline Hummingbird, Ivory-billed Woodcreeper, Rose-throated Becard, 35 Grey Silky-Flycatchers, Cassin's and Warbling Vireos, a few common warblers, 1 Red-headed Tanager, Black-headed Grosbeak and very little else. Quite disappointing.
7.6 - Autlan to Ciudad Guzman, in particular roads up Volcan Nieve [2270-@2500 m]
Site: A certain amount of confusion has developed about access to Volcan Nieve. In fact, though there are at least 4 roads/tracks ascending the mountain, we found the situation to be quite straightforward. Coming as we did from Autlan the 2 entrances indicated by Howell at El Floripondio were very obvious - there is a sign with a couple of small food shops and pull-off area. The road up to the telecommunications towers is clearly signed RMO Viboras and the second road, no more than 100m further along towards Ciudad Guzman (but at the same pull-off area) is also obvious. As a trip report by Don Lewis indicates there is a third track 8 km further along towards Cd Guzman which we saw but did not check out. And there appeared to be even more tracks heading up the mountain along this section of the highway. Then there is yet a fourth road, apparently fairly recent, much closer (15-16 km closer) to Guzman which is a parque nacional access road and is so signed from the highway.
Here is how we got to these roads coming from the Hotel Colon in Ciudad Guzman: Because the ring road was flooded at the north end of town, preventing us from driving this way from the hotel, we were forced to drive through the city instead. Thus, we had to take the major one-way street heading back south into the city (but first it was necessary to go a few blocks north on the one-way street from the hotel then cross over via a side-street to get access to this soutbound street). Passing the zocalo (main square) we went right at Reforma street (at the first set of traffic lights). This goes west to the ring road where navigating and travel is easier, but, there was an additional minor complication: 2-3 blocks after the right turn at the zocalo the street separates just before the cathedral into 2 one-way streets, which means that you must bear right around the church and then left at the first main intersection. This will lead you to the westbound street that proceeds to the ring road. At the ring road go left and follow it around to Highway 54 (there are traffic lights). Turn right here and then quickly right again, signed to the technological college (many students heading to class at 06:00!). You pass the college and a prison (described as abandoned in many reports but now seemingly a going concern). This takes about 18 minutes. It is another 22 minutes to the El Floripondio pull-off area on the road to El Grullo/Autlan, a total distance of 31 km from Hotel Colon. At the risk of being totally confusing, we could initially have driven south from the hotel past the zocalo and right through the entire city (basically on the no. 54 libre) to hook up with the ring road, but we did not want to try this. Having arrived at El Floripondio, now you have to drive up the track! As might be expected it alternates between pretty good and rough. People go up it in regular sedan rental cars but we would not have gone very far ourselves - too hard on the nerves. As it was we proceeded 8.3 km, parked and walked farther, right up into the high, cool fir zone and the hummingbird meadows (we assume) mentioned in David Ferry's trip report. Then we drove, parked, walked, etc. our way back down to the highway. There were several tracks crossing the main access road, used for extracting logs. We walked on most of them, for variable distances, in the vain hope of catching sight of a Long-tailed Wood-Partridge. It is a lovely forest, and we can say that the logging, at this time anyway, appeared to be quite selective and relatively carefully done.
In following these directions you will have passed the new Volcan Nieve road, at 17.5 kms from the Hotel Colon, and taking @20 minutes. There is a Parque Nacional sign here though it is not really too obvious - however, keep a lookout to the roadside on your left in this area and you will see it. So, although much closer to Ciudad Guzman than El Florpondio, it is another 17 km to the first park buildings where you must stop to check in. There are camping facilities just beyond. A few tracks branch off on the way up where one could potentially go wrong, and somewhat peculiarly there were no more Parque Nacional signs after the highway turn-off, only signs indicating Reforestacion and Refugio de Montana. However, we just followed these signs and it worked out OK. The road itself is, relatively, in very good shape, easily navigable I think in a regular car.
Birds: (1) Along the highway at El Floripondio and on the RMO Viboras track: Green Violet-ear; White-eared (up to 20), Blue-throated, Magnificent, Broad-tailed, Rufous and Bumblebee (10) Hummingbirds; 5 White-striped Woodcreepers; 10 Tufted Flycatchers; Golden and Ruby-crowned Kinglets; 6 Grey-barred Wrens and at least 5 of the distinctive Brown-throated race of House Wren; Blue Mockingbird; Brown-backed Solitaire; Russet Nightengale-Thrush; Bushtit; Mexican Chickadee; Plumbeous, Cassin's and Hutton's Vireos;Crescent-chested, Red-faced, and Red Warblers plus at least 10 of the beautiful Slate-throated Redstarts as well as several migrant warblers; Summer Tanager; 3 Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercers; Rufous-capped Brush-Finch; and 20+ Yellow-eyed Juncos.
(2) On The New Parque Nacional Volcan Nieve Road:
We set off up this road very early and with high hopes, but the birds on the mountain proved very disappointing. There were several repeats from the day before but little different or new for the trip. I will mention Arizona and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, Orange-billed Nightengale-Thrush, and a flock of 50+ American Robins buzzing around fruiting bushes with other birds. As mentioned above, however, this road at first traverses only slightly ascending dry agricultural land before it climbs more steeply up the mountain. It was in this section that we saw our best birds. For example, it seemed strange to see at least 200 Grey Silky-Flycatchers swarming around one pasture, nervously settling into patches of shrubs that presumably were fruiting. And it was here that we saw our first Spotted Wrens, easily viewed along the roadside, as well as Curve-billed Thrasher, a lovely Green Jay skulking in the dense foliage of a tree at the edge of a field, a single Pine Siskin (I would have expected it considerably higher), 50 or so Lesser Goldfinches, several Canyon Towhees, hundreds of Chipping Sparrows with Clay-coloreds mixed in, and 50+ nifty looking Lark Sparrows.
7.7 - Marshes and Lakes at Ciudad Guzman [1450 m]
Site: The marshy lakes and ponds on the north side of Ciudad Guzman are very handy to the Hotel Colon, except at the time we were there access was restricted due to road flooding. The ring road was blocked by water just west of its junction with Hwy 54 (the libre) and 54 itself was closed at this junction (towards Guadalajara). This meant that we were limited to viewing only from the ring road and we had to approach the marshes and lakes from both sides of the flooding. Certainly this looked like great wetland habitat and we likely would have seen a lot more birds under more normal circumstances.
Birds: Mentioning a few species - Least and Pied-billed Grebes; White-faced Ibis; Black-bellied Whistling-Duck; 14 Mallards of the Mexican Duck subspecies (quite distinctive here); Blue-winged and Cinnamon Teal; Northern Shoveller; Osprey; Common Moorhen; American Coot; Northern Jacana; Black-necked Stilt; Long-billed Dowitcher; Caspian and Forster's Tern; Marsh Wren; Loggerhead Shrike; the Bicolored race of Red-winged Blackbird, and a few thousand Yellow-headed Blackbirds were quite a spectacular sight.
7.8 - Road up Volcan Fuego [1150 m at start of road up to @2700 m at park]
Site: We cannot comment concerning the apparently ever-confusing (as discussed in many trip reports) turn-off from the toll highway from Colima to Atenquique, and thence the road beyond to Volcan Fuego. We chose to commute from Ciudad Guzman because it was both shorter and the directions seemed easier. We did it twice in the dark with no real problems, basically using Howell's directions with a little supplementary help from various trip reports. We did have to look closely for the dirt road road leading to Volcan Fuego to the right off the paved because rank, high vegetation on the shoulders of the highway partially obscured the sign, and exit.
Howell's descriptions relating to the Volcan Fuego road and habitats were still accurate. On our first day we spent some time birding the agricultual area then drove and birded our way up to the side road to the communications towers at km 12.8. The second day we drove up the mountain mostly in the dark to km 14.9, almost to a barbed wire barrier, and walked farther up from there. Not far past the barrier (< 1 km) the road became essentially impassable to ordinary vehicles anyway, with very deep ruts caused by water erosion. Even a full-fledged 4WD with winch, and using plenty of shovel work would be problematical here. Somewhere in the order of 2-3 km above the barrier there was a parque nacional sign and we walked farther still. As Howell states the forest is much different on Volcan Fuego than Volcan Nieve, much drier and with vegetation tending towards low broad-leaved forest with fewer pines, almost scrubby in character in comparison to the rich, cool, moist oak and pine-fir forest on Nieve. However, once past the parque nacional sign it changed noticeably into a more pleasing, moister site type. We started to descend in the vehicle around 14:00 and spent some more time in the fields near the bottom before heading to Colima city. The volcano was rather sedate while we were there, although not long after sunrise on the first day it suddenly burped a cloud of smoke and/or steam up into the sky. We were shown pictures from October, 2004 showing streams of glowing lava flowing down its slope.
Birds, in the lower dry fields and scrub: White-tailed Hawk; Mourning, Inca and Common Ground-Doves; Groove-billed Anis; Ferruginous Pygmy Owl (heard); the ubiquitous Golden-cheeked Woodpecker; Vermilion Flycatcher; Spotted Wren; Northern Mockingbird; Curve-billed Thrasher; Loggerhead Shrike; Lesser Goldfinch; Canyon Towhee; Black-headed Grosbeak; Stripe-headed, Rusty, Chipping, Clay-colored, Lark, Grasshopper and Lincoln's Sparrows; Greyish Saltator; Varied Bunting; Streak-backed and Bullock's Orioles; and best for me, a male Grey-crowned Yellowthroat.
On the track up Volcan Fuego: Of course we saw birds, but we continued to be rather disappointed in the overall birding, particularly in terms of finding target species. I suppose the highlight was 2 (likely a duetting pair) Long-tailed Wood-Partridges that blasted out their raucous, rollicking songs about 0.5 km past the parque nacional sign. They could not have been more than about 25-35 m off the track, and we admit to feeling deflated that we were not able to catch a glimpse. Some other sightings: Rufous-bellied Chachalaca; Squirrel Cuckoo; Mexican Woodnymph? (we think so, but the elevation would appear to be too high according to Howell); White-eared, Beryline, Magnificent and Bumblebee Hummingbirds; 3 Mountain Trogons; Acorn, Ladder-backed and Arizona Woodpeckers; White-striped Woodcreeper; Tufted, Buff-breasted, Dusky (likely) and Boat-billed Flycatchers plus both Rose-throated and Grey-collared Becards; Grey Silky-Flycatcher; Grey-barred and Happy Wrens; Brown-backed Solitaire; Russet and Ruddy-capped Nightengale-Thrushes; Bushtit; Common Raven; just one (and our only) Chestnut-sided Shrike-Vireo; several by now quite familiar warblers including Crescent-chested, Red-faced, Red, Golden-crowned, Golden-browed and Slate-colored Redstart; Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer; Rufous-capped and Green-striped Brush-Finches; Collared Towhee; and Black-vented and Audubon's Orioles.
Ciudad Guzman to Colima City [450 m]
A word here about entering Colima en route from Ciudad Guzman on the highway 54 libre. Fairly small but potentially confusing changes ("progress") have occurred in and around Colima since Howell's book. In particular, portions of the map on page 152 are a bit dated. The Colima bypass now actually is that portion of the toll (cuota) highway 54 that skirts Colima. You will merge onto it automatically from the libre coming from Guzman (though you won't have to pay anything). If you want to stay at the Los Candiles Hotel exit the highway at the sign for the city center (el centro) and it is also signed for the university. And it might be signed no. 54 too (ie, the old 54) which is confusing because you are already on 54 (but the cuota). You will eventually see from street signs that this is Boul. Camino Real. It seemed that we drove along this bustling city street for quite a distance. We began to think we were lost when, magically, there was the hotel on our right, just before traffic lights at Ave. Felipe Sevilla del Rio which is a major divided street. So all we had to do was pull in (gratefully).
7.9 - Colima to El Jacal de San Antonio and Laguna La Maria [1200 m]
Site: leaving the Los Candiles turn right onto the Camino Real and then immediately turn right again at the traffic lights onto the broad divided boulevard Felipe Sevilla del Rio. Go @4.8 km to the first and only round-about (glorietta) and exit it to the right, signed to Comala. Early in the morning this was simple and quick. On our odometer it read 15.1 km when we reached the brick pillars which mark the entrance to the trail at El Jacal de San Antonio. We had been advised to go up to a mirador with a nice view. The trail looked great for awhile then abruptly ended. I followed a steep, rough hint of a trail to the top of the hill but really never found much of a lookout. Traffic was heavy along the road itself and by this time we were not in the mood to try to bird any more next to zooming vehicles.
Continuing along to Laguna La Maria there were more changes from Howell's notes. The road is now paved all the way past the road into Laguna La Maria, and there is a bridge across the stream. The road is well signed past the bridge where you turn right, arriving at the entrance on the left side in < 1 km.. The entrance fee to this private park is now 8 pesos. It was a pleasant enough place but by 10:00 it was already getting hot and we saw few interesting birds, and nothing new. If we had done this day again we would have gone directly to Laguna La Maria. There is a rough trail most, but not all, of the way around the lake. Another trail was signed to a mirador, but gave out in steep loose gravel and rock, fallen tree trunks, vines, etc. and we turned back.
Birds: I have a feeling that we missed the boat at these 2 sites. In particular we wanted to see Banded Quail and Lesser Roadrunner, and trip reports prove that they are there, but we saw very little indeed: Green Heron, Osprey, West Mexican Chachalaca, Squirrel Cuckoo, Ringed Kingfisher, Ivory-billed Woodcreeper, Greenish Elaenia, Tufted Flycatcher, Greater Pewee, 7 Spotted Wrens, Happy Wren, Blue Mockingbird, Orange-billed Nightengale-Thrush, White-throated Thrush, Plumbeous Vireo, Fan-tailed Warbler, Slate-throated Redstart and several other of the commoner migrant warblers.
7.10 - La Piscila Road and Microondas La Cumbre (and an adjacent farmers' track)
Site: Leaving the Hotel Los Candiles you must first turn right onto the one-way divided street. Immediately turn left at the traffic lights just ahead (Felipe Sevilla del Rio), proceed for perhaps 1 km and exit (not particularly well signed) to the right onto the highway 54 cuota (which as mentioned above serves as the by-pass or ring road around the east side of Colima). Quite soon take the highway 110 exit which is clearly signed to Jiquilpan. The exit goes down to a roundabout where you turn to Jiquilpan and from here directions follow Howell exactly. We went to the Microondas La Cumbre on the afternoon of Day 17 and La Piscila Road on the morning of Day 18. Even before it became light enough to bird properly trucks and buses were moving along this minor road, early on a Sunday morning. Below us and across a river valley we could see a rough farmers' track that we thought might be more tranquil and so a bit later we parked near the entrance and birded it also. We had planned to bird the tower road again but because it was Sunday there was a lot of traffic going up to the shrine and chapel at the top (with a great view over Colima and countryside), including people walking (some actually marching backwards) up the steep incline, presumably as some sort of religious penance or maybe just hoping for special brownie points. Anyway, there was too much commotion for us so we skipped it. At all of these locations the habitat was more or less thick scruby thorn forest which made visibility difficult - I dont know how anyone could spot a Lesser Roadrunner!
Just after noon we drove to Barra de Navidad, using the toll road (which cost 80, then another 37 pesos) in order to miss the heavy traffic around Manzanillo. The toll road ended a bit west of Manzanillo.
Birds at Microondas De Cumbre: Hardly worth mentioning: Our first White-throated Magpie-Jays and Black-chested Sparrows, and also Blue Bunting and many Yellow-winged Caciques.
Birds at La Piscila Rd and the Farm Track: As we started to walk along the road a scruffy dog emerged from a small house, clearly in charge of security there. He stood on the road eyeing us warily, periodically giving a series of gruff barks. Until we started to pish and squeak at a skulking bird in the roadside scrub. His ears were too long and floppy to perk up into a really proper quizzical expression; they just stuck straight out from his head as he tried to puzzle out what we were up to, edging closer and closer. Finally his curiosity became too much and he was soon companionably rubbing against our legs and nosing around the shrubbery where we were still trying to see the bird. Candy offered some one- or two-day-old lunch items which he proceeded to inhale in a gulp or two. Birds we saw: Sharp-shinned, Grey and Roadside Hawks; Crested Caracara; Golden-crowned Emerald; Thick-billed Kingbird; more White-throated Magpie-Jays; an apparent Golden Vireo but with a peculiar and obvious tawny or russet crown; an extremely plain immature Lucy's Warbler; Yellow-breasted Chat; terrific looks at 3 handsome Black-chested Sparrows; 4 Stripe-headed and 25+ Lark Sparrows; and Blue, Varied and Orange-breasted Buntings. The best birds were what we think was a Dwarf Vireo in the scrub along the La Piscila road (although it is not listed for this site by Howell) and a nice party of 4 Rufous-naped Wrens at the farm track. This was our last realistic chance for 3 much hoped for birds - Banded Quail, Lesser Roadrunner and Lesser Ground-Cuckoo - and we failed with all (although Candy thinks she heard a Ground-Cuckoo call).
7.ba - The immediate vicinity of Barra de Navidad
Barra was an excellent base for visiting sites 7.2 Playa de Oro Road and the road into the El Tamarindo resort, and as a stoppover place en route between the Colima/Ciudad Guzman and Puerto Vallarta areas. We liked the town because it is pleasant, with a nice hotel (see notes on the excellent El Delfin) and many restaurants, and it is still compact enough that you can walk everywhere. The town is largely on a sand spit and consequently faces both the ocean and a spacious lagoon fringed with mangroves. After a morning's outing we found it extremely pleasant to spend a good part of the afternoon sipping a beer and munching guacamole and tostadas (delicioso!) in one of the many restaurants beside, or even over, the waters of the lagoon while watching the activities of fishermen and birds. A variety of typical species are habituated to people and thus are easy to observe closely. Examples are Brown Pelican, Neotropic Cormorant, Magnificent Frigatebird, several heron species including Reddish Egret (and large numbers of herons and ibises also fly directly over the town evening and morning while travelling to/from roosting sites in the mangroves), a few waders such as Whimbrel, Royal Terns, and best of all Brown and Blue-footed Boobies wheeling around the lagoon and diving for small fish just a few metres from the tables. At night the restaurant lights attract several species of interesting fish, and we found that left-over broccoli and shrimp tails provoked a real feeding frenzy.
7.et - The road into El Tamarindo resort near Barra de Navidad (not covered in Howell)
Site: We appreciate the tip given us by David Ferry. This is a super plush, and extremely expensive, golf resort a few km north of Barra. A longish road (completely paved with bricks!) leads into the resort through excellent and extensive coastal thorn forest. Our plan was to book lunch by telephone (kindly done for us by staff at El Delfin) but go there early to spend most of the day birding. However, the restaurant was completely filled up with some sort of large delegation. We went anyway, not knowing what to expect. The security booth at the highway was unoccupied so in we drove, eventually coming to a dirt road to the left where we parked and walked through really nice habitat. Later in the morning a security person on an ATV paid us a visit, but after finding out what we were doing he was fine with it, even offering us a ride back out to the entrance road. When we left around noon (hot!) we first drove further in towards the resort and came to a closed gate with a fully manned security booth. If we'd had another day we definitely would have visited again, this time for lunch and to bird the area closer to the resort itelf past the gate. The resort's website (www.starwood.com) incorrectly gives the distance from Barra to the entrance road as 7.5 km. This is actually the distance from the junction of highway 80 (to Autlan) with coastal highway 200, already some 5 km or more out of Barra.
Birds: We saw a reasonable selection of birds which would have been larger if we'd had more time, and tape playback. As always, when birding this habitat it can be tough getting on birds you can plainly hear right beside the track. Some of what we saw: Great Black, Grey and Roadside Hawks; Rufous-bellied Chachalaca; Inca, Common Ground- and White-tipped Doves; 6 Lilac-crowned Parrots in flight; Vaux's Swift; Golden-crowned Emerald; Citreoline Trogon; Pale-billed Woodpecker; Ivory-billed Woodcreeper; Greenish Elaenia; Happy and Sinaloa Wrens; Black-capped Gnatcatcher (finally); 35! San Blas Jays; Black-capped Vireo; Tropical Parula; Fan-tailed Warbler; 3 fine Red-breasted Chats; 5 Blue Buntings and 5 Orange-breasted Buntings. We also saw what seemed to be a family party of at least 5 White-nosed Coatis. One youngster fell out of a tree when a slender branch broke, but it was OK, if a bit dazed at first, and soon scrambled away after the others.
We frankly found the larger towns and cities a bit intimidating to navigate, particulalrly in the typical maze-like grids of one-way streets, so it is quite possible that we got something wrong. If our directions cause anyone to go astray we apologize. Also, our sincere thanks go to all the birders who have taken the time to write and post accounts of their trips on the internet; these reports are an essential aid to us in planning and implementing do-it-yourself trips to many far-flung places. We would be happy to try to answer any questions.
Excel Bird List (183KB)
Paul Prevett and Candy McManiman, Union, Ontario, Canada.