After weeks and weeks of discussions between a small group of us about going abroad and then the UK government barely putting anywhere on the Green List, we decided we’d try and sneak off for a few weeks. Well the few weeks led to a full month away, with our main destination of a mid-west USA clean-up trip being thwarted as we were not allowed to travel directly into the states. No problem though as we quickly came up with a fortnight’s birding in Mexico and then the rules stated we could enter the USA. Simple!

So we began with a whistle-stop tour of The Yucatan, kicking off in Cozumel Island where we cleaned up with Ruddy Crake, Yucatan Woodpecker, Cozumel Emerald, Cozumel Vireo and Western Spindalis. Following an overnight stop we frove right to the south and visited the fabulous Calakmul Mayan ruins, notching up an awesome nightbirding session with Yucatan Poorwill, Yucatan Nightjar, Middle American Screech-Owl, Northern Potoo and Common Pauraque, with a
Central American Tapir as a bonus. Daytime birding was much more relaxed with 50+ Ocellated Turkeys along the road, a single Great Curassow and Mayan Antthrush. Heading north towards Valladolid we nailed Rufous-breasted Spinetail, Green-backed Sparrow and Rose-throated Tanager. Rio Lagartos was brilliant with Mexican Sheartail, Yucatan Bobwhite, Yucatan Wren, Lesser Roadrunner and Yucatan Gnatcatcher to round off a wonderful 5 days. 

Our next area after a couple domestic flights was Chihuahua and more specifically the dry valleys centred around Madeira, with the ultimate prize of a pair of Eared Quetzals performing admirably after giving us more that a few nervous moments. Our other major target bird was more easily found,  with several pairs of nesting Thick-billed Parrots seen in the hills. 
Other birds were numerous and we enjoyed many marvellous mixed feeding flocks containing such delights as Olive and Red-faced Warblers, Mountain and Elegant Trogons and many others.  A very bold Whiskered Screech-Owl was the highlight of our night birding session here. A bonus spot of desert birding en-route back to Chihuahua saw us nail a highly unexpected Aztec Rail with chicks, along with Scaled Quail and Greater Roadrunner. 

West Mexico is choc-full of great birds and none more so than Tufted Jay. Noteable species are many and varied but include a good selection of Mexican endemics and specialities: Elegant Quail, Military Macaw, Mexican Parrotlet, Colima Pygmy-Owl, Stygian Owl, Mexican Whip-poor-will, Golden-crowned Emerald,  Grey-crowned and Golden-cheeked Woodpeckers, Citreoline Trogon, Russet-crowned Motmot, Happy and Sinaloa Wrens, Pine Flycatcher, grey Silky-Flycatcher, Blue Mockingbird, White-striped Woodcreeper, Black-throated Magpie-Jay, Purplish-backed Jay, Golden Vireo, Red-headed Tanager, Yellow Grosbeak, Striped Sparrow, Black-headed Siskin, Rusty-crowned Ground-Sparrow, Green-striped Brush-Finch and Hooded Grosbeak.

Our final destination was Baja, California and in our almost 3 days we again cleaned up, seeing  Least Storm-Petrel, Yellow-footed Gull, Elf Owl, Baja Pygmy Owl, Common Poorwill, Gilded Flicker, Xantus's Humingbird, Grey Thrasher, California Towhee, Belding's Yellowthroat, California Gnatcatcher, San Lucas Robin, California Scrub Jay and Baird's Junco.

Phew! It was a blast, a crazy journey visiting four distinctly different regions, taking in 7 domestic flights and seeing 326 different species, including at least 44 Mexican endemics. 

Grey-breasted Sabrewing


We flew on the direct British Airways flight to Cancun, picked up our rental car and headed out in the 30 degree heat to a place about half an hour away. The satnav I brought proved brilliant as my iPhone wouldn’t load the GPS coordinates i’d painstakingly been marking over the previous few weeks into Google Maps and it seems my phone doesn’t want to work in Mexico! Anyway, this minor logistical hitch didn’t matter as the satnav took us perfectly to a narrow dirt track through what seemed like a pretty extensive patch of dry forest. Despite the mid afternoon heat we began picking up birds steadily and I can’t begin to describe the feeling of birding overseas again. A few Lesser Greenlets appeared, followed by our first major target bird, Yucatan Vireo. A duller version of Red-eyed Vireo is how i’d describe it and it was rather common here, giving numerous and repeated views. Several Wedge-tailed Sabrewings followed, and other hummers include Buff-bellied Hummingbird and a female Canivet’s Emerald. Despite the lack of preparation and revision time we were doing ok with our identifications so far and this was a big learning curve for all of us. A few orioles were seen in the treetops but definitive views took a while to get, and eventually Orange Oriole made it onto our lifelists. Some noisy Spot-breasted Wrens were nice, but another smaller wren defied definitive i.d and remained only a possible White-bellied Wren. A little group of Red-throated Ant-Tanagers showed nicely, a restless Trilling Gnatwren showed repeatedly but was a little too hyperactive for it to remain on show for more than a second or two, some Yellow-throated Euphonias were seen and a few Vaux’s Swifts soared overhead. By 5.30pm tiredness kicked in so we drove back up the dirt track, stopping to look at a calling Lesson’s Motmot on our way to the main road. In half an hour we’d made it to the hotel where we discovered that a new rule of a few days ago in the state of Quintana Roo meant there was no alcohol served on weekends! Not sure what that has to do with Covid but there you go!

With a planned stay on Cozumel Island tomorrow and us wanting to take the car ferry, you may or may not be surprised to find out what a nightmare it is! The timetable on the website bares nothing to the real world and the website doesn’t work very well, so you have to ‘wing it’. Just bowl up and hope for the best, but my fear of being marooned on Cozumel is becoming a very real fear now. I actually got a taxi to the the ‘ferry port’ or as i’d describe it more of a waste ground really, at 3.45am only to be told it’s no problem and just bring your car at 6am for the 8.30am ferry (despite the official website time of 7am departure on a Sunday!). And there you have it. Who knows what will happen?!

Ruddy Crake


I left at 03:45 in a taxi to get the car ferry tickets, which proved to be pointless and upon arrival some 10 minutes later was told to simply bowl up at 6am and take our chance. So that’s what we did and it was all fine as we made the ferry easily, despite the chaotic nature of wrong timings on the ferry companies website, and being unable to book online, changing schedules seemingly every hour etc etc. Whilst in the ferry queue we saw a few Hooded Orioles, Magnificent Frigatebirds, Brown Pelicans and not a lot else. We arrived in Cozumel after a shortish 90 minutes sailing and headed to the abandoned housing project around 11am, in the heat of a very, very hot day. Of course things were slow, activity zero, hopes not high but we were not to be thwarted. We spent an hour and half seeing numerous Black Catbirds, Yucatan Woodpecker and numerous Yucatan Vireos. There were a few other species seen such as Green-breasted Mango, White-tipped Dove and Ruddy Ground Dove, but not a lot else. As it was so quiet we drove towards the Water Treatment Plant, totally passing it by and parked up on the bumpy, pot-holed dirt track in the shade of some trees. Amazingly a Western Spindalis was calling as soon as we exited the car and despite the 100+ degree heat had awesome views after a bit of a run around. What a bird. Our persistence was rewarded with the one and only Cozumel Emerald of the trip feeding for several minutes nearby. With the lure of an air-conditioned hotel room at a diving resort and some cold beer we jumped back in the car and headed out of this hostile environment. Another random stop really showed our luck was in, as we got a Ruddy Crake feeding in some dense vegetation, although it did come out in the open for a second or two. Oh yeah!

So we found the resort, ate lunch and chilled for a couple of hours before setting out to look for the one species still missing - Cozumel Wren. Ok it’s is lumped in House Wren by IOC but everyone sees it and we didn’t want to be ‘those guys’ who couldn’t find a dumb wren! The first site we checked drew a blank and the realisation set in that it might happen. But at the next stop back up near what we know now is the Water Treatment Plant, produced the goods and we heaved a huge sigh of relief. A cute little Yucatan Woodpecker at its nest hole made for a nice photo but even better was to follow when a pair of Ruddy Crakes began bathing and calling in an open pool right next to us. What the…? They just did their thing for upwards of ten minutes as we stood and watched from a few metres away. They really didn’t care. And that was our lot, apart from a Cozumel Racoon and a Lesser Nighthawk flying around in broad daylight. Cozumel rocks! The only thing to do now was celebrate with some cocktails and work out how to get on the return car ferry, as apparently it’s a big secret!

Yucatan Vireo


Well it wasn’t too hard as it turned out to get on the ferry and despite being told we had to join the queue at 6.30am and miss our 3rd breakfast in a row, we unanimously agreed to throw caution to the wind and have a 7am sit-down breakfast and get to the ferry for 7.30am. Rebels or what! And whatta you know…. it was fine and we weren’t going to be marooned on the tropical paradise island of Cozumel! Reaching the mainland at 11am we headed out on the 6 hour drive south towards Calakmul, making a detour to the Vigia Chica Road in searing heat proved futile apart from White-bellied Emerald, Brown Jays, Black-headed Trogon and another Red-throated Ant-Tanager and more Yucatan Vireos. Cutting our losses and bemoaning the lack of any lifers so far today we continued south, arriving at the Chicano Eco-Resort at 5.15pm. A large flowering tree was buzzing with Velasquez’s Woodpecker (lumped in Golden-fronted Woodpecker by IOC), Streaked Flycatcher, Black-crowned and Masked Tityras, Rose-throated Becard and plenty of common stuff too. Driving along a dirt track we staked out an area of thorny scrub and dense low trees and struck gold with a couple stonking  Grey-throated Chats, which proved tough to get prolonged views of but tickable looks nonetheless. Fist pumps and joy all around for one of our prime target birds. A couple of Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls were also seen, along with flyby Aztec (Olive-throated) Parakeets and a Yellow-backed Oriole. Nice huh?

The Eco resort was pleasant enough and we enjoyed the best meal so far, supped cold beer and discussed tomorrow’s lightning visit to Calakmul.

Middle American Screech Owl


Our whole plan for the next few days would be so much easier and relaxed if we could nail at least one of the two endemic nightbirds. So with that in mind we left at 3:30am and drove for just under an hour to the start of the 60km long road leading to Calakmul Mayan ruins. All the trip reports I read said you could just drive in and go searching for poorwills & nightjars and then return to the entrance gate to purchase tickets. Well that was a bust as there’s a brand new huge padlocked giant gate blocking the road! Expectation turned to exasperation and we began coming up with alternatives like driving along the main road and hoping for a side track or to sneak around the gate and walk along the entrance road. Fortunately, two ladies were woken by our commotion and after some negotiating we bought entrance tickets and they let us in at 04:30 - result! A random stop produced a calling Yucatan Nightjar that remained deep inside the forest, so we drove on. I had GPS co-ordinates to a stakeout but they were past the second gate and the guard was much less amenable, so we turned around and drove back up the road a short distance. Trying a Yucatan Poorwill call elicited an immediate response and following a tense wait it flew high over our heads and into the canopy. Oh yes! We saw it several more times as it circled us, always being high overhead but good enough. With time passing too quickly we drove back to the nightjar spot and this time, amazingly we had repeated views of Yucatan Nightjar. Fist pumps all round and let the celebrations begin, but not before a Middle American Screech Owl appeared right next to us. Our lucky streak continued as a Northern Potoo called its eerie, rasping screech nearby and we tracked it down quite easily. Add a couple of Common Pauraque sightings and we’d scored five nightbirds already. And just in time as the crystal clear star-lit sky was paling rapidly as day dawned. But the excitement didn’t stop as some splashing in a pool next to us turned out to be a Central American Tapir swimming by. Holy cow! And so it proved to be we were having ‘one of those days’!

With the day getting rapidly lighter we drove on, past the second gate and stopped along the road when I heard a Mayan Antthrush calling. Sure enough we had superb views of one walking along a horizontal log some way inside the forest, with a Keel-billed Toucan also perched up nicely. And this seemed like a nice spot to eat our breakfast before continuing along the road, where the star performer is Ocellated Turkey - and we probably saw 50+ of these stunningly plumaged birds, along with a single Great Curassow. With windows open, we continued driving and listening for anything new and that proved to be a good plan as we found White-bellied Wren, followed by White-browed Wren, which is usually lumped in Carolina Wren. And then we drove straight to the ruins to have a look, but me being culturally shallow was relatively underwhelmed by the whole thing. However, our walk was enlivened by sightings of Crested Guan, Limpkin, King Vulture, Collared Trogon, Pale-billed Woodpecker, Northern Royal Flycatcher, Eye-ringed Flatbill, Ivory-billed, Ruddy and Olivaceous Woodcreepers. And that was our lot as we had to get back to the eco-lodge by midday to get our luggage and checkout.

It was another long drive but we were buoyed by our success and had a series of planned stops to mop up a few missing specialities. The first stop along the road was to find Rufous-breasted Spinetail, which despite the murderous heat we actually found much to my surprise, and boy what a bird. At the same spot were a few Morelet’s Seedeaters, Slaty-headed Tody-Flycatcher and Rufous-tailed Hummer. A short drive away along a side road to the middle of nowhere for Green-backed Sparrow resulted in….. a Green-backed Sparrow singing right next to where I parked the car. And thirdly i’d found a site on the internet that seemed good for Rose-throated Tanager, but it was another 3+ hours drive away. So with air-con blasting we settled down for a drive in the cool and comfort of our rental vehicle, got to the site along a bumpy dirt track and began our search. Within 10 minutes a pair of Rose-throated Tanagers flew in and lolled around in the shade in front of us. Along a 100m metre stretch of road we also had another Grey-throated Chat, Yellow-olive Flatbill, a yellowish tyrannulet that defied identification, and a Yucatan Jay a bit further up the road. After a lot of searching we eventually found the Blue Eco-Lodge near Valladolid, and this was a great little place to stay. The owner even took us to an Irish Pub in the town for bevvies!

Yucatan Wren


We were away at 5am and it took 90 minutes to get to San Felipe Road near Rio Lagartos. There’s a number of endemics up here on the north Yucatan coast and just where I parked the car proved to be home to a pair of Yucatan Wrens who immediately began singing from a bare bush right next to us. A good start but the following hour proved to be frustrating with numerous Yucatan (Black-throated) Bobwhites calling on either side of the track but none were visible. A Lesser Roadrunner called from a dense area of trees and bushes but never showed, much to our disappointment. So we tried a few other spots along the road with similar blank results, drove back to the roadrunner spot and continued seeing nothing so tried yet another spot a few kilometres further along the road. We walked along a side track and finally struck gold with a pair of Yucatan Bobwhites showing in an area of sparse vegetation - they hadn’t obviously read the bobwhite handbook of remaining invisible to frustrate desperate birders like us! Nearby we found a couple Yucatan Gnatcatchers, a recent split from White-lored Gnatcatcher, Ladder-backed Woodpecker and a Cinnamon Hummingbird. Buoyed by our success we drove further in pursuit of Lesser Roadrunner, but only managed to find Vermilion Flycatcher, lots of Morelet’s Seedeaters and a few Blue-black Grassquits. However, we did see several Mexican Sheartails and watched a male in display flight shooting straight up into the sky before plummeting down to its perch. And so a quick decision to try the same spot where earlier we had heard a roadrunner calling proved to be the right decision as we enjoyed pretty much point-blank views of a bird sat in a fallen dead tree, preening and occasionally calling!

A short stop for coffee in Rio Lagartos made for a nice break but also gave us the chance to see Cabot’s and Royal Terns, Laughing Gull and a few Magnificent Frigatebirds. It was sad to see how quiet the normally thriving coastal town was, due to Covid and we were approached by several chaps desperate for us to book their boats to go see American Flamingo’s. We didn’t have any time to spare really and had already seen a few along the road. So we had cleaned up and made a rather arbitrary decision to drive a couple of hours south and attempt to find Singing Quail - yes, in the midday heat! Our previous attempts, or should i say ‘stabs in the dark’ at various species had proved fruitful, but it wasn’t to be on this occasion. But our route was good for White-tailed Hawk, Short-tailed Hawk, many Yellow-green Vireos, and our last new bird turned out to be a pair of Barred Antshrikes

And that was our birding in Yucatan over, pretty successfully I may add. And with little preparation time but a lot of enthusiasm and very good luck, a sprinkle of skill, and blind chance thrown in for good measure we hadn’t let ourselves down. So we drove to an airport hotel in Cancun via a torturous route thanks to the satnav only to find the hotel we had booked was horrible, so we relocated to the rather splendid Fairfield Marriot and ended our Yucatan adventure in style.

Whiskered Screech-Owl


This was just a travelling day as we flew from Cancun to Monterrey and then onwards to Chihuahua, where we met our guide Manuel Jurado (email: [email protected]) and set off on the nearly 4 hour drive to our cabins about 10kms north of Cuidad Madera. Along the way across the Chihuahuan desert we did see Chihuahuan Raven, American Kestrel, Say’s Phoebe and Cassin’s Kingbird. So we didn’t arrive until around 9pm and a short owling session produced absolutely nothing.

Eared Quetzal


Our main reason for coming here was to see Eared Quetzal, a species new for all four of us and is potentially bird of the trip - if we see it! Well, let me tell you that by midday we still hadn’t and our resolve and enthusiasm was failing rapidly in the 39 degrees heat. But more about that in a bit. 

The start of the day was again, absolutely spectacular as we were on site by 6.30am and watching many Myrtle & Audubon’s Warblers, Townsend’s & Olive Warblers, stonking Red-faced Warblers, cute Painted Whitestart, Pygmy & White-breasted Nuthatches, numerous Mexican Chickadees, a few American Bushtits, one or two Yellow-eyed Juncos and a Brown Creeper all coming into my pygmy owl call. It was a spectacular start I can tell you. Other birds around were Mountain & Elegant Trogons, Russet Nightingale-Thrush, Hermit Thrush, a superb Tufted Flycatcher, Western Wood Pewee, Hammond’s Flycatcher, Slate-throated Whitestart, Rivoli’s Hummingbird, Northern Flicker and many, many American Robins.

The other main reason to come to Madera is to see the range-restricted Mexican endemic Thick-billed Parrot, and boy did we see them well. There were two main reserve areas and each had several birds present and they gave incredibly superb views. What a bird this is!

But back to the quetzal. All morning we had been checking certain areas, but as the country up here is so dry most of the creek was dry and quetzals like to be near water. It wasn’t looking good and as the day wore on we hadn’t had a sniff of one, no call, no glimpse, absolutely nothing. It was getting hotter and hotter and as midday approached we sat in the shade and ate our lunch. We just had to tough it out as we only had tomorrow morning to look for it before driving back to Chihuahua. We decided to check the few pools of water lower down the valley and as we headed lower down the dirt track in the minivan Manuel said he had one! Chaos ensued as we got out of the vehicle, only for the bird to fly away. But we needn’t have worried as we had two birds perched on many occasions. Never close but repeated views in amongst the conifers. Oh yes! Let the celebrations begin.

Driving back to the lodge we saw Blue Grosbeak, Loggerhead Shrike and Lark Sparrows. And for a change we had a little rest before checking out the surrounding area, which in our case overlooked a large reservoir. A bit of list padding ensued with Eared Grebe, American Coot, 4 American Avocets, Black-crowned Night-heron and some Mexican Ducks. Around the cabins we found Bewick’s Wren, Western Bluebird, Curve-billed Thrasher and a few Mexican Jays. Heading back out towards the valley we stopped along the fields where an Eastern Bluebird and Canyon Towhee were also new padders for our burgeoning lists. And then we hit our selected nightbird stop and sure enough came up trumps with Mexican Whip-poor-will, Buff-collared Nightjar for one lucky sod, and a very close and confiding Whiskered Screech-Owl for everyone to cap off a marvellous day.

Aztec Rail


We decided to spend the first couple of hours around the cabins, which extended to a walk below the dam. In the nice cool early morning air we notched up Acorn Woodpecker, Black-headed Grosbeak, Black Phoebe, Grace’s Warbler, Cassin’s Vireo, Woodhouse’s Scrub Jay and a tricky empid-type flycatcher that was mooted as a Pine, but to me looked more like the NW Mexico race of Buff-breasted Flycatcher. All were new for the trip so far and made the walk immensely worth it, and we also saw a bunch of previously seen species to boot. 

Then Manuel came up with a new site to visit 70kms south of Chihuahua city and dangled the carrot of Aztec Rail being present with chicks - a long way outside its known range. So it didn’t take long to think about and everyone was in agreement. We were off on another little detour on our Mexican adventure! The 3.5 hour drive to Chihuahua was followed by another 90 minutes drive south of the city, with just a quick stop along a dry river bed in the middle of the Chihuahuan desert. But boy was it super hot (37 degrees) yet a Bell’s Vireo was seen well, there was a colony of American Cliff Swallows nesting under the road bridge, a pair of Pyrrhuloxias were appreciated and we also found a Lesser Nighthawk on its day roost. Pretty soon after we dropped our driver Edel off at his home and Manuel took over the driving, we visited a wetland along the Rio San Pedro River where the Aztec Rail had been seen earlier today. It was around 4pm and still crazily hot and unsurprisingly there were zero rails on view, so we drove along the road to an area of flowers that has been good for a variety of hummers but all we had was a female Black-chinned Hummingbird. A return visit to the wetland kicked some serious butt as we had one Aztec Rail skulking in a dense area of sedges, followed by an adult feeding out in the open with a small black chick. And another adult was also present. Wow! This was a totally unexpected bonus and you just can’t beat that adrenalin surge a major bird gives you. 

Leaving here we headed back out into the desert to try and add a few more bonus birds to the list and desert birding hadn’t been part of our initial plan but the lure of some goodies was all we needed. And our last Brucie bonus birds were found along a dirt road running alongside a drainage ditch that was full of water - Greater Roadrunner, a pair of Scaled Quail and a Burrowing Owl right at the death. Then it was a mad dash to get to our hotel in downtown Chihuahua to prepare for tomorrows 7am flight to Mazatlan and the third leg of our adventure.

Purplish-backed Jay


We flew at 7am to Mexico City and onwards to Mazatlan, experiencing Aero Mexico’s best efforts to derail our journey with a technical fault on the runway that fortunately only delayed us an hour. Upon arrival the rental car i’d booked with Thrifty turned into a fiasco as they couldn’t provide the SUV vehicle we needed with high clearance to get along the road up to our cabins along the Durango Highway, so after meeting up with our guide Mark Stackhouse, it took a further hour or so to find another rental company who could provide what we wanted. As we were sorting this out, a Citreoline Trogon appeared beside the car compound, unfortunately the other three guys were still at the terminal! Anyway, once the formalities were sorted we headed out to a private reserve and spent an enjoyable 3 hours birding the dry scrub habitat. 

There were lots of new trip birds but nothing new for me, but it was just great birding and I think I probably appreciate things a lot more these days. Our main target was Purplish-backed Jay and we saw several of these cracking endemics, along with Happy & Sinaloa Wrens, Golden-cheeked & Gila Woodpeckers, Black-throated Magpie-Jay, Yellow Grosbeak, Mexican (Yellow-winged) Cacique and Cinnamon-rumped Seedeater. What a great bunch of birds that was, but on top of that we also saw Bare-throated Tiger-heron, Cinnamon & Broad-billed Hummingbirds, Yellow-green Vireo, and a superb Mangrove Cuckoo. Dinner in an outdoor restaurant followed before we drove to our hotel and it felt wonderful to retire to an air-conditioned hotel room tonight and escape the humidity for a few hours.

Golden Vireo


Our assault on the famous Durango Highway provided a feast of great birds and we racked up an incredible list throughout the day. Starting on the Panuco Road, this used to be THE place to go birding in this area before the new highway was finished. But it still provides great birding amidst dry, thorn-scrub habitat and holds species we wouldn’t get higher up. Judicious use of a pygmy-owl call brought in a whole bunch of new trip birds including Black-capped Gnatcatcher, a stonking Golden-crowned Emerald, superb Golden Vireo, Rusty-crowned Ground-Sparrow, Sinaloa & Happy Wrens, Nutting’s Flycatcher and some more common birds. Phew! Overhead, noisy Lilac-crowned Amazons and Orange-fronted Parakeets added a touch of the exotic to proceedings. Although none of this was new for me, the quality of birding is outstanding and you just can’t fail to be impressed. More birds came over the next hour such as Elegant Quail, Colima Pygmy-Owl, Russet-crowned Motmot, Citreoline Trogon, Mexican Parrotlet, Berylline Hummingbird and a few Yellow Grosbeaks. We’d been searching the whole time here for Five-striped Sparrow, a much-wanted bird for me, but we didn’t get a sniff. 

Once we climbed higher the habitat changed to conifer forest and there’s a whole new list of species that came our way. We had one crazy session with stunning Red-headed Tanagers, several Grace’s Warblers, Plumbeous & Warbling Vireos, Blue Mockingbird, Greenish Elaenia and more Golden Vireos all remonstrating loudly to the sound of our pygmy-owl imitations.  The star bird up here is undoubtedly Tufted Jay and we found a flock of them feeding quietly beside the road, and whilst watching this stunning endemic a Grey-crowned Woodpecker, White-striped Woodcreeper and Hutton’s Vireo were also seen. 

After a late lunch or more like an early dinner in a nearby town we headed to the cabins where we were to stay for the next 2 nights. It’s a long, bumpy drive in on a dirt road but worth it when you get to stay in the middle of nowhere in the Tufted Jay Reserve. The drive in gave us a perched Blue-throated Mountain-Gem and once we’d put our belongings in the cabins we were ready to go birding but the weather had other ideas and the low cloud or mist came in putting a stop to proceedings for a while until around 6.30pm it cleared sufficiently to have a short walk around the immediate vicinity where we saw an Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush and Spotted Towhee to end what was an epic day.

Tufted Jay


There’s nowhere quite like birding amidst the fine forests along the Durango Highway and our full day here was barely enough to find everything we wanted but we made a decent stab at it. Just after dawn we walked along one of the tracks that branches out from the cabins and head to what I can only describe as a truly spectacular viewpoint. It took a while for birds to become active but once the sun had lit up the hills and trees around us, we quickly notched the first of several Rufous-capped Brush-Finches we were to see this morning, followed by the first of two pairs of Green-striped Brush-Finches we saw this morning. Best of all was a Pine Flycatcher perched on a branch overhanging the precipice, a lifer for yours truly!

After a DIY breakfast back at our cabins we drove lower into the forest and walked a few hundred metres view some fruiting trees that had held a group of Aztec Thrushes recently. We staked this spot out for several hours but didn’t get a sniff of them. However, we did get absolutely stonking views of groups of Military Macaws flying past and nice looks at several Brown-backed Solitaires.

So reluctantly we dragged ourselves away from here and spent the rest of the day birding along the old Durango Highway, seeing a fantastic array of great birds. We began with Mountain Trogon, Greater Pewee, Northern Tufted Flycatcher, Arizona and Grey-crowned Woodpeckers, a few White-throated Swifts, Plumbeous and Hutton’s Vireos, and many Grey Silky Flycatchers. By the time the afternoon arrived we had driven a fair way along the highway but couldn’t make the viewpoint due to dense fog, so had to retrace our steps. Scanning a fairly open slope above us produced a pair of stunning Hooded Grosbeaks, another lifer! And we experienced more flocks than this morning with species such as the surprisingly common Bridled Titmouse, Spotted Wren, Thick-billed Kingbird, Elegant Euphonia, Crescent-chested and Olive Warblers, superb Golden-browed Warblers, Painted & Slate-throated Whitestarts, Hepatic and Red-faced Tanagers and even a lovely, eye-level Red Warbler. Other goodies we picked up along the road included a group of Black-headed Siskins, Blue-throated Mountain-Gem, Orange-billed and Russet Nightingale-Thrushes, and several corking Rufous-backed Thrushes. It was some day and we ended it by spotlighting a calling Mexican Whip-poor-will close to our cabins.

Stygian Owl


We had a few hours to kill before heading back to Mazatlan airport and our afternoon flight to Baja, California. So we staked out the Aztec Thrush site again, this time hearing them but for some reason we just couldn’t lay eyes on them. It’s a bird i’d dearly love to see but that will have to wait for another time. Birding along the road produced some of the same birds as before, but we were all thrilled to see a Stygian Owl peering down at us from its day roost. With a little time spare, Mark said he knew of a place we could see the Mexican endemic Striped Sparrow, the sole member of the genus Oriturus. Well, we drove along the extraordinarily busy new highway, which I can only describe as a cross between a formula one race and something out of Judge Dredd. It was a nail-biting, terrifying high-speed race of a journey that took an hour but amazingly we made it the the right fields with all of our limbs attached and our cars still in one piece! There were several Striped Sparrows sat up on grassy tussocks waiting for us as soon as we piled out of the cars and we spent 10 minutes admiring these not-so-delightful birds before taking a deep breath and heading back to the new highway. Fortunately it was a lot quieter than on the upward drive and we got to Mazatlan airport without any fuss. Due to the crazy airline schedule we had to fly back to Mexico City before heading over to Los Cabos, right at the bottom tip of Baja. We picked up the hire car and drove 20 minutes to a lovely hotel but just missed the bar being open by a few minutes!

Grey Thrasher


Once again, that old feeling of excitement and nervous tension about finding new birds & lifers never leaves you. We were at Estero San Jose just after 6am, only a 5 minute drive from the hotel. It was a beautiful sunrise accompanied by Belding’s Yellowthroats calling and watched taking food to recently fledged young. Least Terns were nesting on the beach behind us, whilst Scott’s Orioles flew around. Our second Baja endemic, Grey Thrasher really wanted to be seen as we walked back to the car, as did a Cactus Wren perched beside the path. As we tried to get to a California Gnatcatcher site my satnav had a major stroke and tried to take us 112 miles in the wrong direction and a great deal of irritable driving ensued around the back roads of San Jose del Cabo until we made it back to the hotel, where wifi kicked in and Google Maps on my iPhone showed us the way! In great desert-scrub habitat overlooking the Pacific Ocean we easily found the gnatcatcher, followed by California Scrub Jay, California Towhee, Verdin, and 3 Gilded Flickers. A great start to the day! So we decided to return to the very nice hotel i’d booked on the beach and thoroughly enjoyed only our second sit down hotel breakfast of the trip so far! And it was sooooo good! With check-out not until noon we had a bit of R&R, a swim, air-con and wifi. 

After checkout we drove 90 minutes north to a guest house in La Ribera, and as we sorted out luggage out the endemic Xantus’s Hummingbird appeared in the garden. Nice! We had a little rest before going to a nearby restaurant for a late lunch/early dinner and enjoyed some of the best food of our time in Mexico. A drive north of just over an hour took us to a dirt road heading all the way up into the Sierra La Laguna Mountains, but we only drove 7kms looking for a good place to try for Elf Owl and Common Poorwill as soon as the sun set. As luck would have it I decided to turn around and drive back a couple of kilometres and fortunately this spot proved to be a good choice. As the light eventually faded enough, an Elf Owl (our 8th owl of the trip so far) began calling and in no time at all a pair were perched at head height right in front of us. Wow! And as we walked back to the car a Common Poorwill started calling and we had a bird circling us before landing on a bare patch of sand just 5 metres away. Fist pumps all round and a fast drive back to the digs got us there by 10.15pm and as we weren’t being picked up until 6.30am tomorrow, we had the rare chance of a bit of extra sleep.

Baird's Junco


An extraordinarily tough hike for 3h 20mins steeply uphill into the Sierra La Laguna Mountains today in extreme heat resulted in close views of a pair of endemic Baird’s Juncos. My memory of this day is one of terror as it was by far one of the toughest hikes i’ve ever done in blistering heat. But we got the bird and that’s what matters, and we also added a very brief view of a calling Baja Pygmy-Owl as well. Oh and one decent look at San Lucas Robin, a proposed split from American Robin. So we had a much easier afternoon and evening - and a well deserved rest.

Least Storm-Petrel

Day 15   LA PAZ – THE END   

Drove two hours north to La Paz, where we would fly out to Mexico City later this afternoon. Arriving at 06:45 in the marina we hopped onto a prearranged dive boat and headed out towards Isla Espirito Santo in the Gulf of California with the crazy idea of finding a Craveri’s Murrelet. Well that didn’t work out but we had a great 3.5 hours nailing Yellow-footed Gull, a lifer for all of us. And we also had a few Blue-footed and one or two Brown Boobies, and best of all 4 Least Storm-Petrels seen rather well. A couple of distant unidentified dark-looking shearwaters defied identification as well. Then it was a race to get back to the marina, hotfoot it to the airport for our pre-departure Covid-19 test and get on the plane to Mexico City - and the end of our Mexican adventure. 

Well the flight went well, and we got a taxi to the old city centre of Mexico City and a nice hotel where we enjoyed more fine food and a chance to prepare for the exciting two weeks of birding in the USA to come.

La Laguna Mountains