Short West Mexico 2 Jan 21—27, 2008
Posted by Brian Gibbons
January 21-27, 2008. It was a close race, but the amazing endemic Orange-breasted Bunting won. An improbable combination of blue, green, yellow, and orange, it is not hard to see why it was victorious. The bird of the trip was trailed by many equally spectacular birds. Red-breasted Chat, Russet-crowned Motmot, Lilac-crowned Parrot, and Elegant and Citreoline trogons rounded out the list of front runners. This amazing combination could only be found in western Mexico. I think the Rosy Thrush-Tanager was forgotten, as it was seen early in the trip. The fruiting figs along the ranch entrance road provided hours of enjoyment. The figs brought in Rufous-backed and White-throated robins, both trogons, orioles, flycatchers, and tanagers. These fantastic birds, along with the hospitality of our Rancho Primavera hosts Pat Morrow and her daughter Bonnie Jauregui, made for a spectacular week in Mexico.
Our first morning on the Bioto Road was great. The highlight was a fruiting tree that held our attention for more than an hour. Here we enjoyed scope views of most visitors. Yellow Grosbeaks, Red-crowned Ant-Tanagers, Boat-billed Flycatchers, Golden-cheeked Woodpeckers, Grayish Saltators, and others gorged themselves. Elsewhere along the road, Lilac-crowned Parrots squawked as they patrolled for their favorite foods in the forest. Blue and Varied buntings fed in the roadside vegetation as a female Golden-crowned Emerald sipped nearby. The poinsettias were in seed and we saw only a few past peak "flowers."
We pulled ourselves away for lunch at Altamira and an afternoon on the ranch. Rosy Thrush-Tanager finally cooperated for everyone—a stunning male. Margaret exclaimed, "Ohhh, I see it!" as the bird flung dead leaves aside, searching for its prey. Hot pink in the dark forest can be hard to see, but we did.
On day two, dawn came as we were driving south to the irrigated agricultural fields around the town of Cruz de Loreto. Our early arrival allowed us to find a cooperative Bare-throated Tiger-Heron stalking slowly through the grass. We also had a fly-by Limpkin, a few Roadside Hawks, lots of ducks, a male Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, and more than one hundred species for the day.
The Mottled Owl pair came in while it was dark. This cooperative pair gave us some great looks as they perched overhead. In the light we found ourselves in another totally new habitat, the pines and oaks of La Bascula. This was the realm of several more endemics such as Gray-crowned Woodpecker, White-striped Woodcreeper, and Black-headed Siskin. It is also inhabited by many widespread species like Painted Redstart, Berylline Hummingbird, Tufted Flycatcher, Blue Mockingbird, Grace's Warbler, and the amazing songster, the Brown-backed Solitaire. In the evening we were lucky to see one of the local Laughing Falcons on the ranch.
The thorn forest and its endemic-rich environs hosted us the following day. We had great fortune with our first couple of endemics, the Red-breasted Chat and Flammulated Flycatcher. We had stopped along the road simply to escape the dust storm of a truck. It was a rewarding stop, as the chat appeared for good looks, and then the flycatcher called to alert us to its presence. Yellow-winged Caciques were always around. This raucous bird is common along the Pacific slope of western Mexico.
Soon we were in the thorn forest home of the Orange-breasted Bunting. The dry season was advancing, and the trees and shrubs were losing their leaves. Finally, a stunning male Orange-breasted Bunting sat up right in front of us. After the initial round of oohs and aahs and gasps, we were able to enjoy this bird fully. We saw many more throughout the day. The thorn forest, with its blooming and fruiting trees and vines, is a mecca for overwintering warblers and hummingbirds of all kinds. We saw Black-chinned, Broad-billed, Violet-crowned, Rufous, and Ruby-throated hummingbirds. After a leisurely lunch at Tehua enjoying the Heermann's Gulls and frigatebird antics, we headed for the estuary at Aquiles Serdan. There we witnessed a lethargic Reddish Egret and some active Collared Plovers.
Our final full day was spent in the pines and oaks and on the ranch. Our best discovery was a male Hooded Warbler along a stream on the ranch (thanks Margo). The next morning we headed down to Puerto Vallarta, but we had plenty of birding to do before our departure. Carol and Jean spotted West Mexican Chachalacas right along the road. These cooperative birds had found a fruit tree on the side of the highway. It was great to see them so close, as we had heard their cacophony a couple of days earlier.
At the resort area of Nuevo Vallarta, the Elegant Quail came out to investigate us, with their rusty headdress plumes held high—another West Mexican endemic. Next was the set of fruiting fig trees where the Mexican Parrotlets had been feeding regularly for more than a week. They weren't there. Silence. I was a little concerned, as I was walking under the trees and all I could hear were distant chickens and grackles. Finally, I flushed a Cooper's Hawk; we would have to come back later. So we darted up to Laguna Quelele in Nayarit. As usual it was packed with birds; thousands of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, teal, and shorebirds loafed about. The star of this mangrove-lined lagoon was the roosting Boat-billed Heron.
We had a few minutes left and headed back to Nuevo Vallarta for one last shot at the Parrotlets. They were back. We walked under the fig and saw them feeding just overhead; our last endemic made the show before the curtain fell.