West Mexico 2019 - San Blas, Colima and Jalisco

Wednesday 27th February – Thursday 14th March 2019

  

This tour is a specialised itinerary designed to concentrate our efforts in finding as many of the endemic and specialty bird species of Western Mexico as possible. 
Red Warbler copyright Kim and Cindy Risen 001Western Mexico holds a large number of endemic bird species, some of them among Mexico’s most spectacular birds. Many of these taxa are concentrated in several ‘endemic regions’ spread around the country. It is our goal to visit three of these regions over a two week period. While we will visit areas in Sinaloa, along the Durango Highway and San Blas, the majority of our time will be spent in the bird rich areas of Colima and Jalisco and the twin volcanos that are home to a staggering array of bird diversity.
 
Entering Mexico via Mazatlan shortens our route along Mexico’s Pacific Coast allowing us more time in the field. While our first morning is spend birding nearby scrubby foothills, we’ll soon begin our journey uphill via the Durango Highway. Turning inland toward Durango, habitats change from brushy, secondary thorn forest margins separated by fields and houses to hillsides covered with beautiful thorn forest. Rufous-bellied Chachalaca, Elegant Quail, Mexican Parrotlet, Lilac-crowned Parrot, Colima Pygmy-Owl, White-naped Swift, Golden-crowned Emerald, Berylline and Sparkling-tailed Hummingbirds, Citreoline Trogon, Russet-crowned Motmot, Black-throated Magpie-Jay, Purplish-backed Jay, Happy and Sinaloa Wrens, Black-capped Gnatcatcher, Blue Mockingbird, Fan-tailed and Rufous-capped Warblers, Blue Bunting and Rusty-crowned Ground-Sparrow top the list of specialties. As spectacular as this list may appear, the real objects of our search here are found in the pine woodlands at higher elevations—Tufted Jay and Eared Quetzal—certainly two of Mexico’s most impressive and interesting birds. Although the jay can be conspicuous at times, the quetzal is quite the opposite. Mountain Trogon, Gray-crowned Woodpecker, Mountain Pygmy-Owl, White-striped Woodcreeper, Pine Flycatcher, Gray-collared Becard, Spotted Wren, Russet Nightingale-Thrush, Aztec Thrush, Gray Silky-flycatcher, Crescent-chested and Red Warblers (here the ‘gray eared’ form), Red-headed Tanager, Rufous-capped and Green-striped Brush-Finches, Hooded Grosbeak and Black-headed Siskin are a few of the endemics we expect to find. We have two days to fully explore this beautiful area, with vistas from a perch overlooking Barranca Rancho Liebre sure to take your breath away. At least one evening will be spent looking for owls as Stygian Owl has been found near the barranca.
 Cinereous Owl - West Mexico 2017 by Nick Bray
Our time in San Blas will be necessarily shorter than our usual stay of a week or more. A fine birding area, compared to other areas on our schedule San Blas holds far fewer of the specialty birds we are seeking. During our first afternoon here we’ll look for Military Macaw, Colima Pygmy-Owl, Mexican Hermit, San Blas Jay, Sinaloa Crow, many of the same specialties we searched for near Mazatlan and an evening outing for Buff-collared Nightjar if we were unsuccessful on previous outings. Our first morning here is spent aboard small boats gliding quietly through coastal mangroves. After exploring the estuary admiring numerous waterbirds, especially Rufous-necked Wood-Rail, Boat-billed Heron and a huge variety of herons, egrets and raptors, we’ll circle a pair of offshore rocks searching or Blue-footed and Brown Boobies and perhaps a pelagic species cruising close to shore. We’ll also be birding areas that hold a number of new birds for our group. Species that I expect to see include Rufous-bellied Chachalaca, Elegant Quail, Lesser Roadrunner, Colima Pygmy-Owl, Mexican Woodnymph and Bumblebee Hummingbird (as well as a host of wintering northern hummers for our Mexican lists), White-striped Woodcreeper, Spotted, Happy and Sinaloa Wrens and Red-headed Tanager.
 
One night along the Pacific coast enroute to Colima gives us a chance to explore some of our favorite, lesser-known locales. Impressive wetlands, thick thorn forest and vast agricultural areas may yield Rufous-necked Wood-Rail, Mexican Parrotlet, San Blas Jay and Yellow-winged Caçique among the more common species. Thorn forest habitat is much disturbed along Mexico’s Pacific coast. Two relatively undisturbed expanses of this thick, dry scrub provide ample opportunity to complete our list of desired species. While these sites are our primary areas for Flammulated Flycatcher, Rosy Thrush-Tanager and Red-breasted Chat, the complete list of endemics we expect to see is full of spectacular birds. Banded Quail, West Mexican Chachalaca, Lilac-crowned Parrot, Lesser Roadrunner, Colima Pygmy-Owl, Golden-crowned Emerald, Citreoline Trogon, San Blas Jay, Happy, Sinaloa and White-bellied Wrens, Black-capped Gnatcatcher, Fan-tailed Warbler, Blue and Orange-breasted Buntings, Black-vented Oriole and Yellow-winged Caçique are the primary members of this list. Similar habitat inland offers back-up support in case any species are missed while providing our most reliable areas in Colima/Jalisco for Banded Quail, Balsas Screech-Owl, Colima Pygmy-Owl and Buff-collared Nightjar. 
 
Lesser Roadrunner - Volcan de Nieve 2017 by Nick BrayThe bulk of our time during this birding adventure will be spent in the well known birding states of Colima and Jalisco. This area possesses some of the finest birding to be found in tropical America. The quality and number of birds found in this habitat rich area is truly amazing. My favorite single birding location in all of Mexico is found here, Los Volcanes de Colima. And, as the birding is so spectacular, we are allowing three full days to fully explore this one site! Home to a wide variety of endemics, Volcan de Fuego is an experience that needs to be savored slowly. And after visiting a number of other memorable birding spots that is exactly what we will do. We begin along the Jalisco coast in thorn forest, move inland to fields, ponds & wetlands, visit more dry forest and then climb through changing habitats on the volcano that include scattered oaks, dry oak/pine forest, humid oak/pine forest and finishing with pine/fir forest just below timberline. This diversity of habitats in such a small geographical area is the reason the birding here is so spectacular. Many endemics, beautiful scenery and comfortable lodging provide an unbeatable combination. 
 
The twin volcanos Volcan de Fuego & Volcan de Nieve (literally Volcanoes of Fire and Ice) that dominate the skyline above Colima are, in my opinion, the single best birding area in Mexico. Due to changing habitats draped across these magnificent volcanos, fields and thorn scrub on the lower flanks through pine/fir forest near treeline, the variety of birds to be found here are truly amazing. Here we have our best chance of seeing Long-tailed Wood-Partridge, Singing Quail, Thick-billed Parrot (found in the winter season only), Bumblebee Hummingbird, White-striped Woodcreeper, Gray-collared Becard, Spotted Wren, Aztec Thrush (present here in wintertime flocks), Russet Nightingale-Thrush, Dwarf Vireo, Chestnut-sided Shrike-Vireo, Green-striped Brush-Finch, Collared Towhee and Black-backed (Abeille’s) Oriole. Night birding on the volcanos has its prizes to be uncovered as well. Whiskered Screech-Owl, Mountain Pygmy-Owl, Stygian Owl, Mexican Spotted Owl, Eared Poorwill, Buff-collared Nightjar and Mexican Whip-poor-will top our list of possibilities. It is our intent to find ALL of these specialty nightbirds, thus our five night stay in the area. 
 
Our return home is from the international airport at Puerto Vallarta giving folks the largest selection of departing flights possible.
 
 

Targets:

  
  • Boat-billed Heron
  • Elegant Quail
  • Banded Quail
  • Long-tailed Wood Partridge
  • Rufous-necked Wood Rail
  • Rufous-bellied Chachalaca
  • Military Macaw
  • Mexican Parrotlet
  • Lesser Roadrunner
  • Colima Pygmy Owl
  • Eared Poorwill
  • Buff-collared Nightjar
  • Golden-cheeked Woodpecker
  • Grey-crowned Woodpecker
  • White-naped Swift
  • Mountain Trogon
  • Citreoline Trogon
  • Eared Quetzal
  • Russet-crowned Motmot
  • Mexican Woodnymph
  • Golden-crowned Emerald
  • Green-fronted Hummingbird
  • Bumblebee Hummingbird
  • Amethyst-throated Hummingbird     
  • Black-throated Magpie-Jay
  • White-striped Woodcreeper
  • Rosy Thrush-Tanager
  • Blue Mockingbird
  • San Blas Jay
  • Tufted Jay
  • Purplish-backed Jay
  • Flammulated Flycatcher
  • Grey-collared Becard
  • Spotted Wren
  • Aztec Thrush
  • Rufous-backed Thrush 
  • Grey Silky-Flycatcher
  • Chestnut-sided Shrike-Vireo     
  • Golden Vireo
  • Collared Towhee
  • Red Warbler
  • Colima Warbler
  • Golden-browed Warbler
  • Fan-tailed Warbler
  • Crescent-chested Warbler
  • Black-chested Sparrow
  • Red-headed Tanager
  • Orange-breasted Bunting
  • Rusty-crowned Ground-Sparrow     
  • Rufous-capped Brush-Finch
  • Green-striped Brush-Finch
  • Yellow-winged Cacique        
 
 
 
Day 1   Arrival Day in Mazatlan - 27th February 
Orange-breasted Bunting copyright Kim and Cindy Risen
Red-breasted Chat 2 - West Mexico 2017 by Nick Bray
Durango Highway - West Mexico tour 2017 by Nick Bray
Colima Pygmy-Owl by Kim and Cindy Risen
Tufted Jay by Kim and Cindy Risen
Elegant Quail by Kim and Cindy Risen
Boat-billed Heron- San Blas River Trip 2017 by Nick Bray
Northern Potoo - San Blas 2017 by Nick Bray
Mexican Woodnymph - Cerro de San Juan 2017 by Nick Bray
Sinaloa Wren - Puerto Vallarta 2017 by Nick Brayjpg
Blue Bunting (male) - Puerto Vallarta 2017 by Nick Bray
Blue Mockingbird - West Mexico 2017 by Nick Bray
Rufous-bellied Chachalaca - San Blas 2017 by Nick Bray
Balsas Screech Owl - West Mexico 2017 by Nick Bray
Golden-cheeked Woodpecker - Puerto Vallarta Botanical Gardens 2017 by Nick
Red-headed Tanager - Cerro de San Juan 2017 by Nick Bray
Volcan de Fuego - West Mexico Tour 2017 by Nick Bray
Chestnut-sided Shrike-Vireo- Volcan de Fuego 2017 by Nick Bray
Spotted Wren by Kim and Cindy Risen
Plain-capped Starthroat - Puerto Vallarta 2017
San Blas Jay 1 - Puerto Vallarta Botanical Gardens 2017 by Nick Bray
Russet Nightingale-Thrush - Volcan de Nieve 2017 by Nick Bray
Rusty-crowned Ground Sparrow - Puerto Vallarta Botanical Gardens 2017 by Ni
White-throated Thrush - West Mexico Tour 2017 by Nick Bray
Russet-crowned Motmot by Kim and Cindy Risen
Rufous-necked Wood-Rail by Kim and Cindy Risen
Yellow-winged Cacique b - Puerto Vallarta Botanical Gardens 2017 by Nick Br
Rufous-capped Warbler - Cerro de San Juan 2017 by Nick Bray
Citreoline Trogon - West Mexico 2017 by Nick Bray
 
 
 

This is purely an arrival day in Mazatlan, which may necessitate departing the day before if travelling from UK or Europe. We will then drive a short distance eastwards with a little time for some birding in the surrounding thorn forest before checking into our hotel. Night Copala.

Day 2   Durango Highway - Barranca Rancho Liebre - Sierra Madre  
We'll visit nearby thorn forest habitats in the cooler early morning hours and hoped for species include Flammulated Flycatcher, Red-breasted Chat and Orange-breasted Bunting. Other commoner species could include Ruddy Ground-Dove, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, Gila Woodpecker, Streak-backed Oriole, Curve-billed Thrasher, Long-billed Starthroat, Cinnamon Hummingbird, Nutting’s Flycatcher, Black-capped Gnatcatcher, Lucy’s Warbler, Bell’s Vireo, Green-tailed Towhee and Pyrrhuloxia. After lunch we will drive during the heat of the day along the scenic Durango HIghway to our lodging in the mountains at Copala. Birding along the way in tropical deciduous habitat could produce Sinaloa Crow, Harris’s Hawk, Yellow-winged Cacique, Black-throated Magpie Jay, Purplish-backed Jay, Red-breasted Chat, Fan-tailed Warbler, Rufous-backed Robin, Blue Mockingbird, Thick-billed Kingbird, Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush and maybe even a Black-capped Vireo. Once at Copala, and with some luck, we may even find a superb Tufted Jay or even Military Macaw this afternoon! Then we take to the trails near the barranca followed by an after dark owling expedition. Woodland species we hope to find include White-striped Woodcreeper, Eared Quetzal, Aztec Thrush and Green-striped Brush-Finch. Owling targets for this area include Whiskered Screech-Owl, Mountain Pygmy Owl, Northern Saw-whet (for us Mexican listers!) and Stygian Owls. Night in Copala.

Day 3   Durango Highway
Sunrise will find us driving slowly through the region's spectacular pine forests of the Sierra Madre foothills, followed by some walking on trails near the barranca and high elevation pine-oak forest. This is one of Mexico's famous birding localities and apart from the stunning scenery it also holds a wealth of localised and sought-after species. Although scenery will compete with the birds for our attention throughout the day, the birds are pretty amazing by themselves and primary species of interest remain Tufted Jay and Eared Quetzal, so the bulk of our efforts are to be spent locating these very local species. Other possibilties include many stunning species and most of them endemic or near-endemic such as the stunning Red Warbler, Golden-browed Warbler, Pine Flycatcher, Russet Nightingale-Thrush, Grey-collared Becard, White-striped Woodcreeper, Green-striped and Rufous-capped Brush-Finches and Mountain Trogon. With luck we may come across a mixed feeding flock that could be ablaze with colour and hold such species as Eastern Bluebird, Hepatic Tanager, Painted and Slate-throated Redstarts, Crescent-chested Warbler, Red-faced, Olive, Grace’s, Townsend, Hermit, Audubon's, Nashville, Rufous-capped and Black-and-white Warblers. At lower altitudes and back down the slope to some drier oak and transitional tropical forest habitat we will search for Military Macaw and a host of other spectacular birds such as Colima Pygmy-Owl, Arizona Woodpecker, Rusty-crowned Ground-sparrow, Rusty Sparrow, Grey Silky-Flycatcher, Hammond’s and Cordilleran Flycatchers, Golden, Black-capped, Bell’s, Hutton’s, Cassin’s and Plumbeous Vireos, White-throated Robin, Brown-backed Solitaire, Mexican Chickadee, Pine Flycatcher, Brown-throated Wren, Black-vented Oriole, Western Tanager, Black-headed Grosbeak, Blue Bunting, Yellow-eyed Junco, Black-headed Siskin and hummingbirds such as Violet-crowned, Berylline, Rufous, White-eared and Blue-throated. We even have our first chance at finding Bumblebee Hummingbird, Aztec Thrush, and the gorgeous Red-headed Tanager. We also have another outing to look for nightbirds after dinner, with a chance to find Vermiculated Screech-Owl and Colima Pygmy-Owl amongst others. Night Copala. 

Day 4   Sierra Madre - Panuco Road 
One last morning birding arid scrub and riparian areas near our hotel. Dawn along the nearby Panuco Road is likely and these bird rich habitats may produce Rufous-bellied Chachalaca, Elegant Quail, Mexican Parrotlet, Lilac-crowned Parrot, Colima Pygmy-Owl, Golden-crowned Emerald, Berylline and Sparkling-tailed Hummingbirds, Citreoline Trogon, Russet-crowned Motmot, Black-throated Magpie-Jay, Purplish-backed Jay, Happy and Sinaloa Wrens, Black-capped Gnatcatcher, Blue Mockingbird, Fan-tailed and Rufous-capped Warblers, Blue Bunting, Rusty-crowned Ground-Sparrow and Five-striped Sparrow are a few possibilities. This will be treated as a ‘clean-up’ morning and if we have no holes in our want list we may have a predawn departure allowing us to bird some of the thorn forest areas closer to Mazatlan just after sunrise. Our afternoon will be spend driving to Tepic where we can enjoy an afternoon siesta before our after dark search for Mottled, Cinereous and Whiskered Screech-Owls, Mexican Whip-poor-will and Eared Poorwill. Night Tepic.

Day 5   Cerro San Juan - San Blas 
We’ll return to Cerro de San Juan for sunrise and the opportunity to watch this beautiful forest become ever more active as daybreak occurs. Of primary interest to us are a few birds which seem to be more easily found here than any other location we visit on this itinerary. Rufous-bellied Chachalaca, Elegant Quail, Colima Pygmy-Owl, Mexican Woodnymph and Bumblebee Hummingbird are members of this group. Birding Cerro San Juan is a pleasant local to spend a morning and the variety of habitats we visit insure a fun and productive birding outing. We’ll enjoy picnic breakfast and lunch during breaks in our birding activity. Our afternoon will see us traveling west to San Blas. We plan to visit a scenic overlook to scan for Military Macaws and a late afternoon bird walk near town after checking into our hotel. Common birds we may encounter include Sinaloa Crow, San Blas Jay and Yellow-winged Caçique.

We'll thoroughly explore this charming part of Mexico that is still, surprisingly, untouched by 'Tourist Zones'. One morning we'll visit a low range of hills inland that are covered by more humid forest. The impressive dawn chorus here may be led by the hollow chants of a Collared Forest-Falcon while Lilac-crowned Parrots fly overhead. Afternoon visits here and neighboring wetlands may result in Crane Hawk, Spotted and Ridgway’s Rails, Purplish-backed Jay, Citreoline Trogon, Stripe-headed Sparrow and a host of wintering songbirds. Night San Blas.

Day 6   San Blas
First rays of morning sun finds us in small boats gliding quietly through bird laden mangroves. We’ll thoroughly explore the estuary searching for its many waterbirds, especially Rufous-necked Wood-Rail, Boat-billed Heron and a huge variety of herons, egrets and raptors. If the tide is favorable, we may exit the river into the open ocean. We’ll circle a pair of offshore rocks searching for Blue-footed and Brown Boobies and perhaps a pelagic species or two cruising close to shore. 

We’ll also be birding a few inland locations that hold a number of new birds for our group. Species that we hope to see include Rufous-bellied Chachalaca, Elegant Quail, Lesser Roadrunner, Colima Pygmy-Owl, Mexican Woodnymph and Bumblebee Hummingbird (as well as a host of wintering northern hummers for our Mexican lists), White-striped Woodcreeper, Spotted, Happy and Sinaloa Wrens and Red-headed Tanager. Night San Blas.

Day 7   San Blas - Singayta 
The many wetlands, rivers and estuaries in the region beg to be explored and we'll do so from the comfort of our small, open boats. Photography is at a premium on these boat trips as many of the birds allow close approach. We'll hope for Rufous-necked Woodrail in the mangroves, virtually all the herons & egrets that visit Mexico including the odd looking, and even more bizarre sounding, Boat-billed Heron. On one such trip we'll return after dark, searching for Mottled Owl and the truly unique Northern Potoo. On past trips we've recorded as many as 18 potoos! We're likely to do a morning boat trip to an offshore island that's home to Brown & Blue-footed Boobies and Red-billed Tropicbirds. We've always a chance to see pelagic birds and it's likely we'll encounter whales and/or dolphins which are surprisingly numerous in these waters. Night San Blas.
 
Day 8   San Blas - Puerta Vallarta 
As dawn’s light reaches the tropical forest clad hillsides near San Blas, we’ll be searching for those species that are of most interest to us before moving southward. Elegant Quail, Rufous-bellied Chachalaca, Purplish-backed and San Blas Jays, Rufous-backed Robin, Blue Mockingbird, Golden and Black-capped Vireos and a host of wintering migrants are always enjoyable. We’ll enjoy lunch enroute to Puerto Vallarta, and hope to arrive at our hotel with time for a late afternoon outing. Night Puerto Vallarta.
 
Day 9   Puerto Vallarta - Cabo Corrientes - Playa Mayto
An early morning departure to visit a series of canyons/valleys holding Military Macaw and a nice mixture of habitats & birds. This relatively small area is always a fun one to visit. In addition to the macaws, we’ll search for Lilac-crowned Parrot, Rufous-capped and Grace’s Warblers and Black-headed Siskin before our trip to the botanical garden. Puerto Vallarta’s Botanical Garden has much to offer visiting birders. The many flowering plants/shrubs/trees attract a nice variety of hummingbirds topped by Plain-capped Starthroat, Cinnamon and Broad-billed Hummingbirds and Mexican Hermit. The fruit feeders below the restaurant (where we’ll enjoy lunch!) draw Rufous-bellied Chachalaca, Golden-cheeked Woodpecker, San Blas Jay, White-throated and Rufous-backed Thrushes, Yellow-winged Caçique to the trays while Rusty-crowned Ground-Sparrow, wintering Macgillivray’s Warblers and others feed on the spillage below.
 
After lunch we’ll have a leisurely journey westward through some truly magnificent thorn forest habitat. West Mexican Chachalaca, Lilac-crowned Parrot, Colima Pygmy-Owl, Mexican Hermit, Flammulated Flycatcher, Red-breasted Chat, “Godman’s” Euphonia, Blue Bunting and a relaxing hike before dinner are to be expected. Night Cabo Corrientes.
 
Day 10   Cabo Corrientes - Barra de Navidad - Barranca El Choncho 
We will have ample time for exploring the beautiful habitats of Cabo Corrientes this morning. This remarkable area holds a great variety of birds of interest to us as the thorn forest here is expansive, relatively intact and incredibly productive. Raptors like Hook-billed Kite, Gray, Roadside, Short-tailed and Zone-tailed Hawks, Lilac-crowned Parrot, Colima Pygmy-Owl, hummingbirds swarm flowering shrubs and we’ll search for Golden-crowned Emerald, Broad-billed, Cinnamon and Black-chinned Hummingbirds, Happy, Sinaloa and White-bellied Wrens, Blue Mockingbird, Golden Vireo and a mass of wintering warblers, sparrows and buntings. A highlight from last year’s tour was a small roadside puddle with bathing Blue, Orange-breasted, Varied and Painted Buntings side-by-side!
 
Our travels will soon turn southward, with several birding areas likely to be visited as time and conditions allow. A favorite thorn forest spot has always been productive for me on previous visits and some of the wetlands along our journey can hold absolutely amazing numbers of birds with which we can pad our lists. If time allows, an afternoon visit to nearby Barranca el Choncho is planned. A winding tendril of tropical forest surrounded by thorn forest, El Choncho is an island of habitat offering an interesting assortment of birds. West Mexican Chachalaca, Lilac-crowned Parrot, a nice assortment of hummingbirds and songbirds like Flammulated Flycatcher, San Blas Jay, Fan-tailed Warbler, Rosy Thrush-Tanager and the West Mexico race of Red-crowned Ant-Tanager to name but a few. Night Barra de Navidad.
  
Day 11   Playa del Oro Road - Colima - La Cumbre
Today we visit one of the better thorn forest areas to be found during our trip. The habitat found along the Playa del Oro road is an unbroken expanse of thorn forest that holds a great number of our desired species. Topping this list are Flammulated Flycatcher, West Mexican Chachalaca, Mexican Parrotlet, Lilac-crowned Parrot, Golden-crowned Emerald, White-bellied Wren, Black-capped Gnatcatcher, Red-breasted Chat, Orange-breasted Bunting and Cinnamon-rumped Seedeater. This has proven to be one of the most reliable location for Flammulated Flycatcher found along our tour route and we will make a concerted effort for this retiring endemic. We plan a picnic lunch near the beach as we search for Brown Boobies, Red-billed Tropicbirds and perhaps a pelagic species or two.
 
Following lunch we leave the coast behind us as we turn inland on our drive to Ciudad Colima. After getting checked into our hotel I plan to visit some of the nearby birding areas, staying out until after dark. Of particular interest is a small patch of thorn forest on the flanks of a hillside near town. I have never missed Colima Pygmy-Owl here and it serves as our best back-up location for this species. At this point all of the birds we are seeing should be old friends to us. At least until the sun sets. After dark this area is haunted by the presence of two of our highly desired nightbirds—Balsas Screech-Owl and Buff-collared Nightjar. I hope to find both of them before we return to the city for dinner. Night Ciudad Colima. 
     
Day 12   Comala - Laguna La Maria - Volcan de Fuego
The exact daily itinerary for today and the following three depend entirely upon weather conditions and which bird species we hope to find. That caveat in mind, expect our days to follow the basic agenda described here. Early morning departure for areas on the north and northwest slopes of Volcan de Fuego first, then explorations along the south and southeast slopes followed by visits onto Volcan de Nieve’s eastern flanks.
 
Our winding route from Comala to Laguna La Maria passes through mixed agricultural areas and habitat patches that often hold an interesting array of birds for us to enjoy. Flower patches attract a nice variety of hummingbirds with Golden-crowned Emerald, Broad-billed, Berylline, Cinnamon, Amethyst-throated, Lucifer, Ruby-throated, Costa’s, Calliope and Rufous Hummingbird observed on past tours. 
 
Tropical forest shading coffee plantations and mixed woodlands provide cover for an impressive array of wintering warblers, vireos and flycatchers. Mexican specialties we’ve found in the area include Gray-crowned Woodpecker, Gray-collared Becard, Happy, Sinaloa and Spotted Wrens, Blue Mockingbird, Black-capped, Slaty, Dwarf and Golden Vireos, Slate-throated Redstart, Fan-tailed and Rufous-capped Warblers, Flame-colored and Red-headed Tanagers, Yellow Grosbeak, Rusty-crowned Ground-Sparrow and Streak-backed, Black-vented and Dickey’s Orioles. One area with bamboo covered slopes has held Slate-blue Seedeater on previous visits, and we’ll check any seeding bamboo areas for this bamboo specialist as we spend our entire day birding this bird rich environment.
 
We’ll have time for another nocturnal outing for Buff-collared Nightjar, Balsas Screech-Owl or Colima Pygmy-Owl if needed. Night Ciudad Colima.
 
Day 13   Volcanes de Colima
We first pass through agricultural areas with an opportunity to find Banded Quail and Lesser Roadrunner, then roadside flower banks with a variety of wintering hummingbird species and finish in a variety of more tropical type habitats. We should be birding all day with lunch in the field. Goal birds would include West Mexican Chachalaca, Mexican Parrotlet, Great Swallow-tailed Swift, Chestnut-sided Shrike-Vireo, Spotted, Happy and Sinaloa Wrens, Fan-tailed Warbler, Rusty-crowned Ground-Sparrow and Abeille’s (Black-backed) Oriole. Staying in the area until dusk for Eared Poorwill, Colima Pygmy-Owl and Mottled Owl is planned. Afternoon visits to Laguna Zapotlan and bordering marshes outside Ciudad Guzman provide an incredible number of Yellow-headed Blackbirds (present in wintering flocks that can number in the millions!) and a pleasant selection of waterbirds. For those working on Mexico lists, highlights may include Eared and Clark’s Grebes, Snow Goose, a variety of ducks, the “Chapala” Yellowthroat and, with luck, Sprague’s Pipit. Night Ciudad Guzman.
 
Day 14   Volcanes de Colima - Laguna Zapotlan
Predawn departure for the southern and southeastern slopes of Volcan de Fuego and eastern slope of Volcan de Nieve. These may well prove to be the most amazing birding days of the entire trip. Starting out on the lower slopes, we’ll work our way up in altitude covering a staggering array of habitats. Transitioning from fields and scrub to oak, pine/oak and through fir forest to near treeline. A complete list of the day’s possible birds would be far too long to include here. A partial list of the specialties include West Mexican Chachalaca, Long-tailed Wood-Partridge, Singing Quail, Banded Quail, Bumblebee Hummingbird, White-striped Woodcreeper, Gray-barred, Spotted, Happy and Sinaloa Wrens, Aztec Thrush, several nightingale-thrushes, Dwarf and Golden Vireos, Chestnut-sided Shrike-Vireo, Crescent-chested, Red, Rufous-capped and Golden-browed Warblers, Rufous-capped and Green-striped Brush-Finches and Black-vented, “Dickey’s” and Abeille’s or Black-backed Orioles. Another night outing will be offered for Eared Poorwill, Buff-collared Nightjar, Mexican Whip-poor-will and Whiskered Screech, Mountain Pygmy, Mottled and Stygian Owls. Our efforts to be concentrated once again on those species we still have not encountered. Another after dark excursion to look for any needed nightbirds is possible. Night Ciudad Guzman.
 
Day 15   Volcan de Nieve - Laguna Chapala
Today is scheduled as a ‘clean-up day’. By that we mean our itinerary is not preset, but instead is planned to allow maximum flexibility in areas to be visited. Any bird species that participants may not have yet seen will determine where we bird today. I expect that we may be glad we have the extra time in which to search for those more difficult or nomadic species. I include Long-tailed Wood-Partridge, Singing Quail, Banded Quail, Thick-billed Parrot, Aztec Thrush, Dwarf Vireo and Abeille’s (Black-backed) Oriole in this group of birds.
 
Afternoon brings us northward, visiting the nearly ephemeral Laguna de Sayula. If water levels are proper, we are likely to encounter a wonderful selection of wintering waterbirds, shorebirds and sparrows. We want to time our arrival at Laguna de Chapala for those magical birding hours of late afternoon. Our primary goal is to obtain close-up views of Aztec (King) Rail, Chapala Yellowthroat and a large list of waterbirds in the warm late afternoon light. We’ll return to Ciudad Guzman for our farewell dinner and drinks at a typico Mexican restaurant…a fine way to end our last full day in Mexico! Night Ciudad Guzman.

Day 16   Clean-up - Puerto Vallarta - End of Tour - 14th March 
Our final morning to search for any target species that remain before beginning our journey to Puerto Vallarta. Past experience has shown that most flights returning to the U.K. depart Puerto Vallarta in the early evening. We plan our return to Puerto Vallarta about 4:00 PM so that folks have plenty of time to shower, change clothes and repack before transferring to the airport. Timing is dependent upon each individual’s schedule, but we’ll get you to the airport with ample time before your departure flights. During your journey home, your mind can focus on memories of colourful birds, people and scenery. Hopefully, enough to last until your next visit to Mexico!
 
 
 
 
Leaders: Kim Risen and Nick Bray
 
Ground Price: £3350.00 - Mazatlan/Puerto Vallarta

Airfare: £550 - £650 - Mazatlan/Puerto Vallarta
 
Single supplement: £375.00

Deposit: £500.00

Group size: Minimum for tour to go ahead 5 with maximum 12 

Included in cost: Accommodations based on two persons sharing a two-bedded room. We select good hotels convenient to our birding destinations, but at times the only convenient accommodations may be rather simple. For single rooms a single supplement will be charged. We try to supply roommates when possible, but we cannot always find one. If we cannot find you a roommate, you will be charged the added cost of single accommodations. Expert guide service. All transportation, this may be by private or chartered car, station wagon, van, bus, ferry or private boat. Taxes & local fees, all group admissions and park entry fees are included in the tour price.

Not included: International airfare, transportation to or from Mexico, meals, tips for restaurant wait staff, laundry, personal tips, alcoholic drinks, soft drinks, juices, mineral waters and other beverages, room service charges, souvenirs, insurance of any kind, telephone calls and use of TV not included in the room rate, and overweight baggage fees.

Meal Costs: Meals ARE NOT included in the cost of this tour. For this tour we eat many meals ‘in the field’ like picnics for breakfast and lunch, although on occasion we may have breakfast in the hotel. Others are at convenient ‘typico’ restaurants while our final meal of the day is usually a sit-down dinner. As a person can eat very well for as little as $20 per day or you can choose to spend three or four times that amount for a single day, depending upon your menu choices. Zoothera Birding has a policy of NOT overcharging one person to cover another’s meal choices—which we would have to do if meals were budgeted expenses. Typical field breakfast is yoghurt, granola, fresh fruit, fruit juice, and fresh baked goods from a local bakery—if they're still open! Lunch has two options depending upon our location each day: 1) Picnic lunch - sandwiches, cheese & crackers, chips/crisps, fresh fruit, beverages, etc. OR 2) lunch at local restaurants if convenient to our birding location. Dinner will be at a restaurant close to our hotel where we can enjoy a drink, do the checklist and eat. In the smaller cities options can be quite limited i.e. Ciudad Guzman. Overall, we can eat very well for the entire tour on a cost of around $35 per day. Or...it could be twice that depending upon how much alcohol you drink with dinner and what your final menu choices are. Typical Mexican food is much less expensive than American/European menu selections. 


Pace of Tour: This is a standard birding tour with regular birding walks along roads and well marked trails, although we can get to around 10,000 feet around the volcanoes. As is typical with birding visits to tropical latitudes, in order to get the most out of the precious early morning hours, most days will consist of early starts with picnic breakfasts in our rooms or in the field. Lunches are often picnic style when we are far from ‘civilization’, such as birding on Cerro San Juan, or at conveniently located restaurants. Dinner will be our most relaxing meal of the day, usually at a better restaurant close to our hotel. Dinners often begin with a ‘cocktail hour’ as we complete a checklist of the days bird sightings.There is decidedly an emphasis placed upon seeing all of the endemic birds found in the areas we visit. We expect there to be at least five optional night outings to look for owls & nightbirds, so those days may be quite long. We have only a few long drives on our route and these are broken up by birding breaks or meals so that they shouldn’t prove to be too difficult - for the driver OR participants! Like most Zoothera tours, there is little time allocated for shopping as a group activity so your best chances of some ‘non-birding time’ are going to be found during our multiple-day stay at San Blas or upon return to Puerto Vallarta on our last morning (depending upon your departure time). As always, I will point out the options for those who wish to experience other facets of life in Western Mexico. And above all, be prepared for all eventualities!

Climate: Generally the climate will be warm and dry, particularly along the Pacific coast. The notable exceptions to this will be our visits to the highlands near Tepic, along the Durango Highway and on the volcanoes of Colima & Jalisco. Examples of average daytime high temperatures & nighttime low temperatures in Fahrenheit - average monthly rainfall for a few cities on our route are: Puerto Vallarta - 80ºF/62ºF  - .70 and San Blas - 82ºF/61ºF - .80. As stated above, the obvious exception to these quite pleasant temperatures is during our time spent birding at higher altitude where daytime temperatures will be in the 50ºF - 60º F range, with night-time temperatures potentially much cooler. Although rain is possible at anytime, our tour takes place during a time of reduced rain activity and is unlikely to occur away from the highlands. A raincoat, warm coat/sweater and hat are required equipment for this tour, particularly considering the amount of night birding that is planned.

 

Reading Material:

A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America, Steve N.G. Howell and Sophie Webb. Oxford University Press, 1995. The indispensable birding reference for Mexico. No person interested in the birds of Mexico should be without it. The text is authoritative and comprehensive, the plates are generally excellent, and although the size may be a bit cumbersome you should not visit Mexico without a copy in hand.

Mexican Birds, Roger Tory Peterson and Edward L. Chalif. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1973. Although the text is quite outdated, Peterson’s excellent plates and the guide’s compact size make this an attractive option for many birders. I will have a copy along for participants to refer to during the tour so feel free to leave your copy at home.

A Field Guide to the Birds of Mexico, Ernest P. Edwards. Self published, 1989. Although some may find this guide useful, in my opinion it is a waste of money. The text is outdated and, compared to that found in Howell & Webb, is horrendous. The plates are quite poor and depending upon them will result in many birds left unidentified.

A Bird-Finding Guide to Mexico, Steve N.G. Howell. Cornell University Press, 1999. As authoritative as his field guide, Steve Howell’s birdfinding guide describes in detail many of the birding locations we are to visit. The reference lists at the back of the book are also very helpful.

A Naturalist’s Mexico (Birder’s Mexico), Roland H. Wauer. Texas A & M University Press, 1992. Recently rereleased as “Birder’s Mexico”, this is a very good read for anyone interested in birding or natural history in Mexico. Each chapter is dedicated to a particular region of Mexico and the author’s birding adventures while visiting each of those regions. There are at least three chapters dedicated to areas we are to visit. I am certain you will enjoy reading about the author’s experiences and then comparing them with your own. Highly recommended.

Neotropical Rainforest Mammals, Louise H. Emmons, Francois Feer. University of Chicago Press, 1999. There is now a second edition of this fine reference in print. The plates remain the same and the format of the book is identical. A compact reference to all of the mammals we are likely to see during our trip.


 
 

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2013 Tour Report -
West Mexico report.

2017 Tour Report - West Mexico report.

2017 Photo Gallery - Tour Photos



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