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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Mexico: Colima and Jalisco

Under the Volcanoes

2016 Narrative

In Brief:  It all began with a neighborhood walk from our hotel, which gave us a taste of how bird-filled this region is, and ended with the sound of crashing surf as diving Brown Pelicans and Heermann’s Gulls fed off the beach outside our rooms. In between, the many highlights ranged from stunning Red Warblers and Mountain Trogons in beautiful, temperate pine-fir forest to Citreoline Trogons and the very local Balsas Screech-Owl in tropical thorn forest; from migrant Black-throated Gray Warblers and Painted Buntings to resident Happy Wrens and Black-chested Sparrows; from eye-burning Orange-breasted Buntings and Flame-colored Tanagers to subtle Dwarf Vireos and Zone-tailed Hawks; from ‘frozen’ Aztec Thrushes to dashing little Bat Falcons; from confiding Gray Silkies and grunting Elegant Trogons to explosive Banded Quail; and from a very impressive, blowing volcano to Mexican back roads, great food (chiles en nogada, camarones, etc.) and friendly people everywhere. 

In Detail:  All arrived in time for a short but bird-filled walk near our hotel, featuring Golden-cheeked Woodpeckers, Streak-backed and Black-vented orioles, numerous Painted Buntings, and great views of Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl. Our first morning was spent in thorn forest along the Playa de Oro road, where birds started with a wonderful pair of Lilac-crowned Parrots, followed by White-bellied Wrens, Golden-crowned Emeralds, Citreoline Trogons, great looks at Flammulated Flycatcher and Red-breasted Chat, and amazing White Morphos in the butterfly department; a roadside pond held Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, a handsome Purple Gallinule, and numerous families of Least Grebe. After lunch and a siesta we birded in and around town, where we found a good selection of herons and shorebirds, beautiful Mangrove Warblers, stunning Orange-breasted Buntings, Ridgway’s Rail, and that puzzling, white-capped leucistic Varied Bunting. Our second birding day started slowly but steadily added a suite of new birds, including San Blas Jays, Rose-throated Becards, perched Orange-fronted Parakeets, male Blue Bunting, a surprise Bat Falcon, and excellent views of Louisiana Waterthrush and Fan-tailed Warbler. After lunch we headed inland to Ciudad Guzmán, at the extreme southwest corner of the Mexican plateau, and our base for the next three nights.

Two-and-a-half days don’t really allow time to explore the diversity of birds and habitats on the Volcanes de Colima, but we made a good effort and didn’t miss much. Our first day found us high up in beautiful humid pine-oak-fir forest, home to shy Mountain Trogons, very overlookable (for different reasons!) Aztec Thrushes and Pine Flycatchers, flitting Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercers, cute Tufted Flycatchers, garrulous Gray-barred Wrens, numerous warblers including the stunning Red and Red-faced, and countless hummingbirds. Our second volcano day started in brushy fields whence we ascended into pine-oak forest. Despite the wind we found plenty of birds, including a dashing Bat Falcon, a covey of Banded Quail, the poorly known Dwarf Vireo, handsome Gray Silkies and Bridled Titmice, and a beautiful Elegant Euphonia. Oh, and then there was the volcano, definitely not sleeping. The lake at Guzmán in late afternoon offered contrast with a good variety of waterbirds, the elusive Aztec Rail, and a surprise vagrant Reddish Egret, far from its coastal habitat. The third morning we worked along a different road and enjoyed good views of both Green-striped and Rufous-capped brush-finches, a male Amethyst-throated Hummingbird, a stunning male Flame-colored Tanager, and a decidedly ‘fat’ Rusty Sparrow, before heading on to the tropical heat of Colima City.

The first afternoon outside Colima City featured the beautiful Black-chested Sparrow (which pulled our eyes away from the brilliant Orange-breasted Buntings!), with a supporting cast of migrants including Bell’s Vireo and Lucy’s Warbler. After a stunning sunset and cold beers we had great looks at the very local, brown-eyed Balsas Screech-Owl (or Seductive Megascops). Birds the next morning included numerous endemics and near-endemics such as Happy Wren, Rusty-crowned Ground-Sparrow, Golden, Dwarf, and Black-capped vireos, Blue Mockingbird, and Gray-crowned Woodpecker—oh, and those Elegant Trogons! After a restful siesta we headed out again, with highlights being good views of White-tailed and Zone-tailed hawks, plus scope views (!) of Great Swallow-tailed Swift. The next day, another bird-filled morning produced an amazing, point-blank singing Canyon Wren, explosive Banded Quail, the subtly attired Botteri’s Sparrow, numerous Vermilion and Tufted flycatchers, Spotted Wrens, a vagrant Black-throated Blue Warbler, and more of those pesky trogons!

The drive back to the coast featured ice creams and thousands of waterbirds, before a short siesta (or beach walk birding) and an optional late afternoon outing to the airport marshes. There we enjoyed watching some now familiar birds, and also found a few ‘new’ species, including Limpkin, Ringed Kingfisher, and the understated White-throated Flycatcher before the Lesser Nighthawks came out into the fiery sunset. A fine last night dinner to the sound of crashing surf concluded our trip—was it only a week of birding? Thanks to all for making it such a memorable and bird-filled experience. 

                                                                                                                                                                                                - Steve Howell

Created: 16 February 2016