Hawks, you said? Besides many other great birds on offer in Veracruz, the river of raptors is a breath-taking spectacle. Photo: Steve Howell
The Mexican state of Veracruz is a justifiably famous travel corridor. Cortés scuttled his ships on the coast of Veracruz before advancing on the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán. During the colonial era Veracruz was the only port allowed to manage trade through to Spain until 1760. Today the city still serves as one of Mexico’s principal ports. But centuries before Cortés arrived, many species of Neotropical migrants had already evolved migration strategies that cause them to flood through this coastal Mexican state every fall. Indeed, the hawk migration alone is so spectacular that locals in Cardel refer to the passage of migrant raptors as the ‘Río de Rapaces,’ or ‘River of Raptors.’ In a single day in Veracruz, it’s possible to see more raptors than you will see during an entire lifetime in the US or Canada! This tour is set to coincide with the peak of fall migration in Veracruz, while visits to tropical rainforest, pine-oak woodlands, fog-shrouded humid forest, coastal mangroves and other habitats will provide us with an excellent introduction to the birds of Mexico.
Day 1: The tour begins at 6 p.m. in Veracruz. Night in Veracruz (harbor).
Days 2-3: We will leave early our first two mornings, heading up the coast toward the town of Cardel. Here the hills, mountains and ocean come together, funneling millions of birds through a relatively small area. We should witness spectacular flights of tens of thousands of raptors in a single day, but even on a slow day (with “just” a few thousand birds) it will be easy to see why locals refer to this migration as a river. At times, the sky is peppered with immense kettles of swirling raptors stretching from horizon to horizon. Birds stream from kettle to kettle making the sky appear connected by aerial rivers of Broad-winged Hawks, Swainson’s Hawks, and Turkey Vultures. There is also a steady movement of Ospreys, Peregrine Falcons, American Kestrels, Sharp-shinned Hawks and Cooper’s Hawks. These are often joined by smaller numbers of migrating Hook-billed Kite, and Zone-tailed Hawk. A variety of wading birds use the same thermals and can often be seen in the same kettles—Wood Storks, American White Pelicans, Anhingas and White Ibis are usually particularly numerous. A bit closer to the coast in the early morning we should witness large flocks of migrating Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, White-winged Doves, Red-billed Pigeons, while the flatulent calls of Dickcissel come from high overhead. Did we mention the mass movements of several species of butterflies and dragonflies? All the while, colorful resident birds will vie for our attention including the familiar ‘South Texas specialties’ — colorful Altamira Orioles and stunning Vermilion Flycatchers. Raucous Great Kiskadees are joined by their similar appearing cousins, the Social and Boat-billed Flycatchers. Add Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, Rufous-naped Wren, Canivet’s Emerald and many species that rarely if ever reach the United States, and we are certain to have a feast for the eyes (and ears). Nights in Veracruz (harbor).
Day 4: This morning we’ll visit Playa Juan Angel, where a walk along the dunes and beach may produce Aplomado Falcon, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, and Mexican Sheartail. If conditions are right, this is also an excellent place to witness huge numbers of swallows and passerines. The mouth of the river sometimes has nice concentrations of shorebirds almost always including dapper Black-necked Stilts. As the temperature rises, we’ll tear ourselves away from the lowlands to the refreshingly cooler mountains around Xalapa—the culturally refined capital of Veracruz and our base for exploring the higher elevations. We’ll visit Parque Ecológico Macquiltépetl, a park on the side of an extinct volcano in the heart of Xalapa. Paved paths wind their way up the volcano, allowing us to see flocks of birds at eye level. Wedge-tailed Sabrewing and Berylline Hummingbird feed on the many flowering shrubs. Mixed flocks of warblers are common, and Rusty Sparrow, White-naped Brush-Finches skulk near ground level. Perhaps best of all, the park is an excellent place to find and actually see Blue Mockingbird. Night in Xalapa.
Days 5-6: We have two full days to explore the diversity of habitats outside of Xalapa. Fog-shrouded humid evergreen forest and pine-oak woodlands mix to provide a wonderful assortment of birds. Some species may be familiar to those of us from the north including Steller’s Jays, American Robin, Eastern and Western Bluebirds and flocks of wintering Black-throated Green, Hermit and Townsend’s Warblers. These are joined by Crescent-chested Warbler, Rufous-capped Brush-Finch, Collared Towhee and the unbelievable Red Warbler. There are also large numbers of hummingbirds including the tiny Bumblebee Hummingbird, Bronze-winged Woodpecker and Cinnamon-bellied Flower-piercer occur alongside superb butterflies such as Anna’s Eighty-Eight and Blue Morpho. One afternoon we’ll be sure to visit the impressive Texolo waterfall near Xico, featured in the movie Romancing the Stone. Though the dramatic scenery alone will make the short trip worthwhile, but we hope to see Bat Falcons there as well as White-collared Swifts, which nest behind the waterfall. American Dippers and Louisiana Waterthrush can be found far down on the river. Nights in Xalapa.
Day 7: We’ll spend our final morning in the highlands birding along less-traveled roads in La Joya. Mixed flocks of wintering warblers - Hermit, Townsend’s and Black-throated Green often occur together - are numerous while resident species include Black-headed Siskin, Collared Towhee and Rufous-capped Brush-Finch. As we descend toward Veracruz we’ll check in at Chichicaxtle (Chichi for short), the westernmost of the Cardel area’s raptor watch points. If it is a slow day for raptor movement and we haven’t yet birded in thorn forest, we’ll visit remnant patches where flowering shrubs sometimes yield Mexican Sheartail, Canivet’s Emerald, White-bellied Wren and Varied Bunting. Night in Veracruz (Playa Mocambo).
Day 8: Dawn will find us birding the coastal short-grass prairie just south of the city of Veracruz. Mornings can be grand with singing Eastern Meadowlarks and large numbers of wading birds often including Pinnated Bittern and Northern Jacanas. We search especially for the Double-striped Thick-Knee, a bird as bizarre as its name. Small patches of trees often host large numbers of Scissor-tailed and Fork-tailed Flycatchers, often side-by-side. Nice concentrations of migrant landbirds often stage in some of the isolated patches of trees where they are joined by such residents as Yellow-bellied Elaenia, and Common Tody-Flycatcher. As the day warms, we should see Lesser Yellow-headed Vultures cruising over the flooded fields while Aplomado Falcons hunt in the slightly drier fields. By noon we’ll need to tear ourselves away and head south to the isolated Sierra de Las Tuxtlas, home to some of the northernmost tropical rainforest in the Americas. Night in Catemaco.
Days 9-10: The Tuxtlas will provide us with a fine introduction to tropical rainforest birding. We’ll look for birds often associated with the tropics: spectacular species such as Keel-billed Toucan but also shy tinamous, Buff-throated Foliage-Gleaner and perhaps Tody Motmot. A boat trip along the rivers flowing into the mangrove-lined Laguna de Sontecompan may reveal Bare-throated Tiger-Heron, several kingfishers and Violet Sabrewing. Over the years, we have had even seen Great Currasow and Resident raptors may include the captivating White Hawk and Black Hawk-Eagle. This is a fine time of year to search flowers for the endemic Long-tailed Sabrewing and we’ve even seen the stunningly elegant Black-crested Coquette. The Tuxtlas are also a center of endemism and we’ll look for several species and subspecies found only in this region: Tuxtla Quail-Dove, a buff-throated subspecies of Black-headed Saltator and Plain-breasted (Chestnut-capped) Brush-Finch. As temperatures rise and activity diminishes in the afternoon, we’ll generally try to take a couple of hours off for a dip in the pool or even a nap. Die-hards, of course, can still bird near our hotel, where more than 100 species have been seen, including Mottled Owl and Lovely Cotinga. Nights in Catemaco.
Day 11: On our final morning we’ll drive to the coast and several remnant patches of rainforest. A particularly good patch is found near the UNAM biological station, where we may hear the tremulous calls of Great and Slaty-breasted Tinamous. The forest and forest edge still hold Spectacled and Black-and-White Owls, Black-throated Shrike-Tanager and Crimson-collared Tanager. If our visit corresponds with an early strong storm, we may find an elevational migrant such as Blue-crowned Chlorophonia or Slate-colored Solitaire. After a lakeside lunch we’ll head back to Veracruz. Night in Veracruz (Playa Mocambo).
Day 12: The tour concludes this morning in Veracruz.
Updated: 17 February 2012
- 2014 Tour Price Not Yet Available
- (2012 price about $3,250)
* Tour invoices paid by check carry a modest discount. Details here.
Maximum group size 12 with two leaders. Both leaders will accompany the tour regardless of group size.