Short West Mexico Jan 22—28, 2012

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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No trip to Rancho Primavera would be complete without praising our wonderful hosts Pat and Bonnie. The amazing mother-daughter team did it again this year—cooking for us, feeding the birds, creating a welcoming environment with all the intangibles that make Rancho Primavera so special. The birds too were amazing; we tallied 292 species, including 35 Mexican endemics.

Our first morning in the forest of the Bioto Road found us 100 feet from the car after we had parked an hour earlier! The euphonias, buntings, warblers, and especially the odd couple, a male Elegant Trogon cavorting with a female Citreoline, kept us. The elusive endemic Flammulated Flycatcher, always a challenging bird, sat for scope views. Squirrel Cuckoos and Lilac-crowned Parrots brightened our morning too. A family group of Rosy Thrush-Tanagers popped into view along Bioto Road. During the course of our week at Rancho Primavera we had a couple of good flyovers of beautiful Military Macaws.

On our second morning we headed to the low elevation thorn forest, a favorite habitat of mine that was loaded with great birds like the endemic Red-breasted Chat. A Great Black-Hawk hunting the dry forest was a rare sight. Perhaps the most amazing single bird we found was the cooperative male Orange-breasted Bunting. I had dismissed the females and young males we'd seen earlier as mere chaff. This gem of grass-green, turquoise, and saffron with a smear of orange was simply spectacular. Fresh oysters at Cande's were the pot of gold at the end of the road. The White-fronted Swift, a very rare species known from a handful of specimens and sightings, cooperated brilliantly for good looks and photos! Late in the evening, our return to Rancho Primavera was interrupted by a couple of Crested Guans feasting in the Arrayan trees alongside their smaller cousins, the West Mexican Chachalacas.

The agricultural fields of Cruz de Loreto were loaded with waterbirds, wintering North American birds, and a few Mexican goodies. The numbers of Dickcissels, buntings, seedeaters, and sparrows were dazzling. A male Painted Bunting in the morning sun looked unreal in his suit of primary colors. Golden-crowned Emerald, Mexican Woodnymph, Plain-capped Starthroat, and Sparkling-tailed Hummingbirds were some of the top prizes of the week. Colima Pygmy-Owl was especially rewarding after waiting nearly an hour for him to show. Another endemic, the Golden Vireo, traveled in flocks with its look-alike from up north, the Wilson's Warbler. Black-throated Magpie-Jays and San Blas Jays were a couple of great endemics that were easily seen in the yard at Rancho Primavera. Right on the ranch we had some of our best looks at Blue Mockingbird and Rufous-backed Robins.

The Botanical Gardens held a wonderful surprise, an inquisitive Mexican Woodnymph, in a humid green barranca. Warblers were common, and in southwest Mexico we had an amazing mix of tropical, eastern, and western North American birds on their winter grounds; Black-throated Green, Yellow-throated, and Chestnut-sided mingled with Rufous-capped, Fan-tailed, Townsend's, and Hermit. No trip to west Mexico is complete without mention of the amazing palette of colors that is the Russet-crowned Motmot. We saw them on the ranch, along Bioto Road, and near Provincia. An early wake-up one morning yielded a wonderful chorus of Mottled Owls surrounding us, and one obliging enough to sit for good views.

On our final morning we birded through Puerto Vallarta and Nuevo Vallarta. The Elegant Quail came through at the last minute, strolling along a sidewalk for all to see. Laguna Quelele revealed its Boat-billed Herons croaking in the mangroves, while the whistling-ducks called from the laguna.

Next, we were off to the Sierra Madre Occidental. The cobbled streets and slow pace of life in San Sebastian del Oeste speak to a simpler era. Looming over town are the forested slopes that we scoured for two days searching for avian treasures, as the Spaniards sought silver and gold centuries before us. The silvery ear of the Red Warbler and the refulgent back of the Eared Quetzal were a couple of stunning examples of our treasure. On dirt and cobbled roads we ascended 3,000 feet in less than one hour. The drive provided stunning vistas and beautiful forest ranging from moist, nearly tropical greens to dry pine and oak. In the wet canyons the oaks were festooned with epiphytes and orchids whose blooms we'll never know. The pine-loving mistletoe was in bloom and garnered our amazement at each new flowering bunch. After birding all day we enjoyed fine chile rellenos and wonderful Italian food.

On our first day at nearly 8,000 feet we were scouring the pines for the rare Aztec Thrush among its American relatives; we got a nice male in the scope. Hummingbirds were not to be outdone. Blue-throated, Magnificent, Amethyst-throated, White-eared, Rufous, and a stunning display from a male Bumblebee hummer were enjoyed by all.

Early on day two, our predawn departure paid dividends with Russet Nightingale-Thrush and a pair of Singing Quail scampering through the undergrowth. We couldn't convince the chorus of Long-tailed Wood-Partridges to come out. We never grew weary of the Mountain Trogons around every bend of the sinuous roads. Chestnut-sided Shrike-Vireo came into view a few times, as did a molting male Gray-collared Becard. The newly declared Transvolcanic Jays were seen daily. Nearly all day long in town and in the mountains the Brown-backed Solitaire serenaded us with its amazing cascading song. The mega-flock that we witnessed for nearly an hour at Red Warbler corner left us mesmerized. Hundreds of North American warblers, vireos, flycatchers, tanagers, and orioles joined their Mexican counterparts to swirl around the drainage, confusing us as to which way to look. Among the most stunning warblers after the Red were Red-faced, Crescent-chested, and Painted and Slate-throated redstarts. In the flower banks the Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercers stole their nectar. The endemic Red-headed Tanager made itself available for viewing a couple of times. Sneakier were the Collared Towhees, Green-striped Brush-Finches, and Rusty-crowned Ground-Sparrows, each allowing only glimpses of their plumage. The orioles brightened every day with six species: Streak-backed, Scott's, Black-vented, Bullock's, Hooded, and Audubon's "Dickey's".

On our final morning we birded around the historic Hacienda Jalisco. The stonework of the old kilns, ore processing facilities, and the stunning hacienda itself reminded us of a different era. After an excellent lunch at the hacienda we left for Vallarta with just our memories (and some coffee and guava candy). The forest, the birds, the town, and the mountains will persist in our minds, unchanged in today's plastic world.