Short West Mexico 1 Jan 10—16, 2009

Posted by Brian Gibbons

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Brian Gibbons

Brian Gibbons grew up in suburban Dallas where he began exploring the wild world in local creeks and parks. Chasing butterflies and any animal that was unfortunate enough t...

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VENT's first trip to Rancho Primavera in 2009 began beautifully. After leaving the busy traffic of Puerto Vallarta, we wound up the highway into the mountains. Our first stop was mostly a leg stretch, but a Bat Falcon changed our plans. He sat on a prominent snag for the remainder of our time there. We would see a couple more during the week, but our scope views that first afternoon would not be equaled.

Pat and Bonnie and the usual horde of hummingbirds greeted us upon arrival at the ranch. The Plain-capped Starthroat was the crowd-pleaser today. While sipping our sangria, a pair of Military Macaws passed by, heading to their evening roost. A little later the more social Lilac-crowned Parrots passed by, 41 of them.

The next morning we had great scope views of a Lilac-crowned in a tree. The Russet-crowned Motmot also put in an appearance. The Bioto Road can be an overwhelming first morning; in just a few hours of birding we had Rosy Thrush-Tanager, Ivory-billed Woodcreeper, great looks at a female Golden-crowned Emerald, Rose-throated Becard, Masked Tityra, Red-crowned Ant-Tanager, and the endemic Golden Vireo. Regional endemics like Rufous-capped Warbler and Blue Bunting were around too. After a great meal at Hacienda Divisadero we took a short break. In the evening we birded the ranch ponds, which always provide a spectacle with hundreds of herons and egrets coming in to roost. We also saw American Bittern, Northern Jacana, and Sora around the pond.

The long, bumpy ride to Tehuamixtle is always worth it: Red-breasted Chat, Orange-breasted Bunting, Flammulated Flycatcher, White-bellied Wren, West Mexican Chachalaca, Citreoline Trogon, Laughing Falcon, and unsurpassed looks at Collared Forest-Falcon (while we often hear this tropical forest raptor, seeing it well is another matter—and we enjoyed a great study). A male Elegant Trogon showed himself briefly. Violet-crowned Hummingbirds, as well as Cinnamon, Broad-billed, Black-chinned, and Ruby-throated, were common in the thorn forest. Despite the leafless, desiccated look of much of the forest, flowers were abundant, as were the hummers, warblers, flycatchers, vireos, and orioles. Our afternoon check of the unusually dry estuary at Aquiles Serdan produced Collared Plover.

After a hot day at low elevations, we spent a cool day in the foothills of the Sierra Madre Occidental. We had great birding all along the road, and one of our first stops produced a female Mexican Woodnymph. Gray-crowned Woodpecker, Bright-rumped Attila, and Brown-backed Solitaire all came in for good looks. Rusty Sparrow and Buff-breasted Flycatcher showed up near Provincia. It wasn't until our return to this area a few days later that a Spotted Wren finally popped into view. Gray-collared Becard, Flame-colored Tanager, and stunning looks at a Fan-tailed Warbler followed. The star of the day had to be the male Sparkling-tailed Woodstar that fed in a flowering tree multiple times right in front of us! The female also delighted us with her very bee-like flight.

In the Cruz de Loreto area we saw very different birds. This open country agricultural zone hosted many waterbirds and North American wintering birds. Flocks of Dickcissels and Blue Grosbeaks call this their winter home. Roadside Hawks are just one of the many species of raptors found in the fields. Thousands of White-faced Ibis and Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks spend the winter here too. Perhaps the favorite winter resident is the male Painted Bunting, which can be common in the field edges. In the afternoon we visited Presa Cajon de Pena, where we had great scope views of a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl.

Our single owling outing produced a Great Horned Owl and a couple of possums. We also had a close encounter with a Common Pauraque that just sat in the driveway at Rancho Primavera. Our most interesting mammal sighting came during our drive to lunch when a tayra, a Neotropical weasel, crossed the road in front of the van.

For a half-day of birding, our last morning couldn't be equaled. We had a high-flying tight flock of White-collared Swifts over the waning gibbous moon. Just a short distance down the road we had a "tour first" flock of Great Swallow-tailed Swifts! North of Puerto Vallarta we saw a nice little group of the endemic Elegant Quail. The males with their rufous headdresses were stunning. The fruiting figs nearby held another west Mexican endemic, Mexican Parrotlets. We knew there were more than 30 in the tree, but we could find only a few in the scope. They are masters of sitting still and looking like fig leaves. Our last side trip was to Laguna Quelele where Boat-billed Herons roost; we found one in the dense mangroves. The lagoon was at low tide and loaded with shorebirds, ducks, herons, and egrets. This was a fitting final day to our first Short West Mexico tour of 2009. Our species total of 235 included 22 endemics and 11 regional endemics.