Josh and I had the great pleasure of meeting and staying with Luis Morales and his beautiful family in San Pancho in southern Nayarit. Luis is the director and founder of San Pancho Bird Observatory. Luis is one of the most passionate people I have met. His enthusiasm and dedication to avian conservation are commendable.
Luis works endless hours (often without pay) to promote avian conservation in western Mexico. Currently the Observatory is housed at his home, but hopefully soon he will have a new beautiful place for the observatory to call home. Luis is working towards developing community-based education and conservation programs in western Mexico to increase awareness of the plight of birds and provide economic incentives to protect bird habitat. San Pancho Bird Observatory plans to work with 10 communities in Nayarit and northern Jalisco, teaching them how to identify and monitor bird populations, in hopes that communities will work towards protecting important bird habitat. Nayarit and Jalisco, like much of Mexico, are threatened by habitat loss (agricultural conversion), pollution, poisoning, and the illegal bird trade.
This area is also home to many birds that spend their summers in the United States and Canada like the Painted Bunting, Yellow-breasted Chat, Black-capped Vireo, and numerous other warbler species. Declines in some populations of Neotropical migratory birds in recent years has prompted many researchers to focus on the entire life-cycle of the bird, protecting both breeding habitat in the United States and Canada and wintering habitat in Mexico and points further south. Conserving wintering habitat in western Mexico could have a real positive impact for many species. The programs that San Pancho Bird Observatory are building are a valuable piece of the conservation puzzle and merit international support.
While in San Pancho Josh and I birded at the Estero de San Pancho and a road that heads from town up into the hills (Aguacatal – Las Calabazas trail). There are a few other birding trails in the area and there is a large preserve area that ought to soon be the home of the San Pancho Bird Observatory as well as hosting a few miles of terrific birding trails in coastal hills. For us, the highlight of what we saw in San Pancho was the Aguacatal – Las Calabazas trail along a riparian corridor into the hills. It starts in agricultural areas but quickly heads into a beautiful tropical canyon with largely intact forest.
We birded an entire morning and didn’t get anywhere near the end of the track nor did we bird the adjacent canyon and track which are apparently also excellent. We had great looks at the endemic Stripe-headed Sparrow all along the trail. Previously we have only seen a couple of these little guys so it was great to see a bunch of them again. This area is also a great place to see Orange-fronted Parakeets up close and personal as well as Elegant Trogon, Citreoline Trogon, Russet-crowned Motmot, Scrub (Godman’s) Euphonia, Ivory-billed Woodcreeper, Cinnamon Hummingbird, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Blue Bunting, and Pale-billed and Lineated Woodpeckers. We were also fortunate to spot two San Blas Jays, another western Mexico endemic that, as it turns out, is often easier to see the further south of San Blas you go. The geography of the San Pancho area is quite unique as the mountains come down to the ocean providing a really interesting mix of species. Some species that you often expect to encounter at higher elevations can be seen just outside of town. For example, Military Macaws can easily be seen around San Pancho . Golden Vireo, another species more frequently encountered at higher elevations, is quite common here at lower elevations. Parrots are fairly common and there are Thicket Tinamous here as well, though obviously easier to hear than see. Bat Falcons are also a guarantee around San Pancho as they have been nesting in the communication towers in town. If you are coming from Puerto Vallarta we highly recommend a stop in San Pancho and if you need a guide, be sure to get in touch with Luis Morales at San Pancho Bird Observatory. He is a great birder and you will not be disappointed. Moreover, his guiding business directly funds the San Pancho Bird Observatory and conservation in the region.
Unfortunately, on our last day in San Pancho it rained most of the day and Josh and I were both quite tired as well as a bit under the weather, so we only managed to get one solid day of birding in around the area. Regardless birding here is great – the coastal mountain range yields a really large list of species in a small area, and as a bonus the heat and bugs here are nowhere near as bad as they can be in San Blas.