Short West Mexico Jan 06—12, 2007

Posted by Marshall Iliff


Marshall Iliff

Marshall Iliff, a lifelong nature lover, began birding at age 11 after attending a National Wildlife Federation Camp in the mountains of North Carolina. He attended VENT...

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Our Short West Mexico trip to Rancho Primavera is my favorite of all the tours I have led. Rancho Primavera is simply one of the most comfortable places I have visited on any VENT tour, thanks to superb meals, mid-afternoon limeade, balanced morning breakfasts, and excellent rooms. We are incredibly lucky to be invited to this family ranch (which is not a guest ranch under other circumstances) and owe it all to Pat and Bonnie, the mother-daughter team that keeps this ranch running. I can’t express how welcome and comfortable they make us feel, and hold them fully accountable for the great time that I have had on every one of my four trips to the ranch.

The birds and birding in the immediate Rancho Primavera area continue to impress me as well. In addition to large numbers of wintering Neotropical migrants, there is also a large selection of resident Mexican birds to entertain the visiting American. As a gauge of the area’s diversity, consider the following: 267 species in six days of birding; 132 species found on foot at Rancho Primavera in a single day (we tried even harder this year); at least 118 (max 142) species seen on all five full birding days; and 16 new additions to the cumulative VENT list which now totals 339! It makes your head spin.

This year our longest day turned out to be my favorite?our full day of birding from the ranch to the coast at Tehuamixtle (Tehua for short). We started early, hoping to see a couple of special owls before dawn. In fact we ended up seeing three species of owls, and hearing two more. As dawn broke, we crossed our fingers at a Crested Guan spot and almost immediately met with success, thanks to Father Tom’s sharp eyes. Scope views were had by all of this large (tasty!) bird that must be very rare in this area of heavy hunting pressure.

Our next stop was a spot where I had had good luck with Bright-rumped Attila the previous year, and we were instantly treated to a vocal response that was followed up with good scope views of this odd flycatcher with its improbable bill. I tried to set a quick pace after that to get to the thorn forest below Llano Grande, but the distractions were many. We couldn’t help but stop when a flock of magpie-jays, with their long tails trailing behind them like ribbons, crossed the road. Another stop yielded a bird that was new for the area for me: Gray-crowned Yellowthroat.

For the next couple of hours, every roadside stop produced masses of birds responding to our pygmy-owl imitations and team spishing. Especially memorable birds included a Lineated Woodpecker with its red crest aflame in the morning sun; an endemic Citreoline Trogon glaring yellow-eyed at us from the thorny canopy; two agitated Olive Sparrows responding to our tape; and two different male Red-breasted Chats?perhaps my favorite bird anywhere?one of which paused for scope views! More subtle but equally exciting were three different Flammulated Flycatchers, a thorn forest endemic that is very rarely seen, but which I have seen well on my past three tours here. Another surprise awaited us downslope?a pair of calling Great Black-Hawks?a new Mexico bird for me!

As the day got hotter and the bird activity died down (a little), we worked our way to the coast where Cande’s restaurant provided shady tables alongside a secluded cove where we enjoyed diving boobies of two species. While we waited for our food, several of us donned swimsuits and snorkels to check out the marine life, which was phenomenal?angelfish, parrotfish, damsels, urchins, and an amazing spotted moray eel were our rewards.

After a great meal and some relaxation, we headed back out to the estuary and sewage ponds, and to round up a Black-capped Gnatcatcher. My favorite moment of the day came when a Lesser Ground-Cuckoo suddenly announced its presence upslope. A quick dash back to the van for a tape and a scope, and we were quickly in position to try to get this shy bird out in the open. After a minute of tape the cuckoo suddenly flew into an exposed limb and sat still for 10 minutes of up-close scope views?the turquoise and yellow orbital ring vivid in the perfect light. After we’d had our fill, I tried a little more tape and the cuckoo dropped silently to the floor of the thorn forest, and then crept ever-so-slowly towards us, taking some five minutes to cover just 40 feet, and recalling a tiny dinosaur. Once it reached the forest edge it paused, reluctant to come fully into the open, and then glided across the road and disappeared. My best experience ever with that species.

The other highlights were far too many to mention (including a fun-filled afternoon of “tramping”), but I am anxious to return to this diverse and unique area, and anxious to again enjoy the hospitality that Pat and Bonnie shower upon all their guests at Rancho Primavera.