2013 Tour Narrative
In Brief: “There’s a motmot on the clothesline…” isn’t a phrase you hear every day, but there it was, a Russet-crowned Motmot in the sun and only a few blocks from our hotel! This was our first morning in San Blas, but it typified the birding in West Mexico - birds are simply everywhere and anywhere. Being within easy reach of so many habitats makes this a trip of contrasts, from sandy beaches to pine-oak forest and from shady coffee plantations to enchanted mangrove tunnels. From Collared Plovers and San Blas Jays on our first morning to a wonderful little Colima Pygmy-Owl and a giant fruiting fig tree literally dripping with birds on our last day, the birding was always varied and fun. From skulking Rosy Thrush-Tanagers to ‘familiar’ Squirrel Cuckoos, from a tiny Bumblebee Hummingbird to raucous Military Macaws, from Anhingas to Bat Falcons, and from bizarre Northern Potoos to Elegant Quail - so many birds in such a small area. Add to the birding the warm sunny weather and a very comfortable setting with great food and hospitality, and this all combines to make San Blas a tour to remember.
In Detail: All arrived from ‘the cold North’ in good time for an introductory meeting followed by dinner and a well-deserved sleep. The next day was a travel day, but with some early morning birding near Puerto Vallarta before making the drive to San Blas. Morning highlights included a trio of Collared Plovers and numerous Limpkins amid a diversity of waterbirds that allowed leisurely study and review, along with San Blas Jays and our first Great Kiskadees. After brunch we headed to San Blas, with stops for birding and sampling fresh fruit produce. Our visit to the fort overlooking town produced superb views of Short-tailed and Zone-tailed hawks, along with a male Painted Bunting, followed by some history, poetry, a cool drink, and sunset. Who knew San Blas was such a famous historic site?
The first morning in San Blas we simply walked from our rooms to areas around town. The great variety of birds here was typified by groups of buntings, seedeaters, sunlit Russet-crowned Motmots, displaying Great Black Hawks, plus anis, orioles, warblers, wrens, and on and on, all to cooing of White-winged Doves. And what about that crocodile! After lunch and a siesta we took a boat ride along the Río San Cristobal and then through surreal mangrove tunnels to La Tovara, staying out after dark in search of the bizarre Northern Potoo – of which we had point-blank views framed by a full moon! Birding from a boat is just fun: waterbirds were all around, with lots of ibis and egrets, Green Kingfishers darting into the mangroves, stunning Bare-throated Tiger-Herons and Boat-billed Herons, plus Mangrove Warbler and even a roosting daytime potoo. The next morning we traveled a little farther afield to a quiet road through forest and fields, which produced a good variety of birds “as usual,” starting with Elegant Quail, and followed by noisy Orange-fronted Parakeets, stunning Pale-billed Woodpeckers, elusive Fan-tailed Warblers, the popular Squirrel Cuckoo, and a dapper Black-capped Vireo. After lunch and a siesta we visited some marshes and farmland near town, where birds included a good selection of shorebirds, a Collared Forest-Falcon that spooked a tree full of parrotlets, a confiding young tiger-heron, and nice views of White-throated and Willow flycatchers.
A little farther inland the next day we spent the morning in tropical deciduous forest, where birds started with Rusty-crowned Ground-Sparrows littering the road alongside Painted and Blue buntings, then a flock of spectacular Black-throated Magpie-Jays, Citreoline Trogons, Golden-crowned Emerald, Squirrel Cuckoo, Black-capped Vireos, Crane Hawk, Bright-rumped Attila, Ivory-billed Woodcreeper, and on and on. A dead-in-road mouse opossum was also notable. After lunch and a siesta we took another wonderful boat ride, finding Rufous-necked Wood-Rail with some work, passing numerous crocodiles, and ending at a spacious lagoon alive with waterbirds, including nesting Wood Storks, plus Roseate Spoonbills, Anhingas, Limpkins, and Snail Kites.
An early start the next day saw us on the lower slopes of Cerro de San Juan, in beautiful pine-oak forests with very different birds from the nearby lowlands. Highlights were many in this bird-filled day, and started with Gray Silkies perched in the sun and a feeding fest of thrushes at a spilled load of avocadoes, followed by Nutting’s Flycatcher, Golden Vireo, a singing Brown-backed Solitaire, and lots of warblers including Red-faced and Crescent-chested. Other birds of note included the very local Mexican Woodnymph, confiding Spotted Wrens, and the tiny Bumblebee Hummingbird. We pulled away reluctantly and headed to the Mirador del Aguila where we watched Military Macaws and a sunlit pair of Bat Falcons in a spectacular forested canyon while trucks roared by behind us… ah, Mexico.
After a “long day” yesterday we took it easy the next morning with a quiet boat trip up the estero by the hotel before swinging “offshore” to Virgin Rock and some roosting Blue-footed and Brown boobies. The variety of birds along the river included lots of Common Black Hawks and Ospreys (the count tied at 18 of each in a team-building competition!), as well as Rufous-bellied Chachalaca, White-fronted Parrots, and another Boat-billed Heron. Lunch and a siesta were followed by the short trip across to Peso Island for a very pleasant beach walk with good studies of gulls and terns, plus Black Skimmers skimming and a Reddish Egret dancing in the surf.
Our last full day we birded in semi-evergreen shade-coffee forest, where new birds continued to appear, including a wonderful little Colima Pygmy-Owl, Gray-crowned Woodpecker, and Yellow Grosbeak, plus a HUGE fruiting fig tree swarming with thrushes, caciques, grosbeaks, jays, trogons, parakeets, vireos, orioles, tityras, and on and on… Butterflies were also common and colorful, and after lunch at a spectacular overlook we headed back to the hotel with time to relax and pack before a wonderful last night dinner. A sleep-in and leisurely breakfast were followed, reluctantly, by return to Puerto Vallarta and flights home after a great week of birds, beaches, mountains, and good company and fine cuisine. Thanks to all for making this such a memorable trip!
- Steve Howell
Updated: March 2013