West Mexico: Thorn Forest to the Sierra Madre : Jan 12—22, 2018

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Price: $3,495
Departs: Puerto Vallarta
Tour Limit: 7
Operations Manager: Erik Lindqvist
Download Itinerary: PDF (119.6 KB)

Route Map


Tour Leaders


Brian Gibbons

Brian Gibbons grew up in suburban Dallas where he began exploring the wild world in local cr...

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This departure is sold out! Add your name to the waiting list, or inquire about this tour by calling our office (1-800-328-VENT or 512-328-5221), or emailing us (info@ventbird.com).

Cinnamon Hummingbird

Cinnamon Hummingbird— Photo: Brian Gibbons


A comfortable and inexpensive introduction to the West Mexican avifauna begins with a stay at Rancho Primavera, a well-appointed guest ranch just south of Puerto Vallarta and a hospitable base for exploration of diverse habitats rich in endemic birds; the second half of the tour will explore the highland pine oak zone of the Sierra Madre Occidental rising above Puerto Vallarta.

Western Mexico has one of the highest rates of endemism in North America, and the foothill region of the Sierra Madre Occidental is one of the better areas to observe a good cross section of Mexican species. After our first night in Nuevo Vallarta, near the airport, we will seek out a few endemics before we head south to El Tuito where we will stay at Rancho Primavera. Accommodations at the ranch are comfortable, the food is delicious, and the grounds are awash in birds.

Our trip will focus on at least three distinct habitat types. We will explore coastal areas for herons, shorebirds, and waterfowl. The most unique habitat type is the West Mexican thorn forest, and many of the endemic species that we will seek most ardently make their homes here. This dry forest type can be surprisingly difficult to bird and is home to a number of secretive and inconspicuous species. However, with endemic species like Citreoline Trogon and Red-breasted Chat to tempt us, persistence is sure to pay off. While there are many beautiful birds in the thorn forest, we will search for the exquisite Orange-breasted Bunting until we’ve soaked in all the orange, yellows, blues, and greens of this fine endemic. The ranch itself is set in the foothills, where thorn forest gives way to pine oak forest, and one begins to see species such as Acorn Woodpecker and Grace’s Warbler, as well as specialties like Military Macaw and various hummingbirds.

Orange-breasted Bunting

Orange-breasted Bunting— Photo: Brian Gibbons


After exploring the thorn forest and lower elevation habitats around Rancho Primavera, we will go birding in the Sierra Madre Occidental. The moist canyons and the pine oak forests teem with North American migrants wintering alongside a variety of great Mexican birds. A Long-tailed Wood-Partridge might creep out onto the road, while Mountain Trogons call from fir trees. The higher elevations and moister habitats will enable us to seek another ten Mexican endemics, as well as a host of other fantastic birds like Chestnut-sided Shrike-Vireo. Our base for these explorations will be the charming colonial town of San Sebastián del Oeste. With its cobbled streets and colonial facades, San Sebastián is from another era. Endemics of this area include Bumblebee Hummingbird, Mexican Woodnymph, Gray-crowned Woodpecker, White-striped Woodcreeper, Green-striped and Rufous-capped brushfinches, Red-headed Tanager, and many more.

We expect our bird list to top 250 species, of which more than 30 should be Mexican endemics, and 60 or more will be lifers for those who have not previously ventured “south of the border.”

Very comfortable accommodations and excellent food; easy to moderate terrain, elevations to about 7,500 feet in the Sierra Madre (lodging at 4,500 feet), where we will spend four nights; midday breaks some days; dusty and sometimes bumpy van rides to reach birding locations; hot to mild, dry climate, chilly mornings with a shower possible in the mountains.