San Sebastian del Oeste is a very idyllic and quaint town in the hills east of Puerto Vallarta. The town itself lies at about 1400 meters altitude in pine-oak forest.
Above the town a road climbs up to the peak of La Bufa, the mountain above town. This road continues to ascend through really great humid pine-oak forest and eventually into humid pine forest before the summit at approximately 2500 meters elevation. We found the habitat and the birding here to be notably better than that at Cerro San Juan/Rancho La Noria. Instead of just barely scratching the pine-oak habitat, there is extensive habitat and a greater variety and seemingly quantity of birds.
Birding here is pretty straightforward, you can bird the road up to town (which turns off of the Puerto Vallarta – Ixtapa Rd in the town of La Estacion), and you can bird the La Bufa rd above town. As the La Bufa rd climbs, it passes through terrific, intact humid forest up to a saddle with a junction. Left would go to Santa Ana, and a right turn heads up to La Bufa and eventually over the mountain and down to Mascota on the other side. We found tons of the expected birds in the pine-oak forest along the lines of Slate-throated Redstart, Red-headed Tanager, Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush, Russet Nightingale-Thrush (though not as common as at Reserva Chara Pinta), Crescent-chested Warbler, etc. As well, we found Collared Towhee from about 2000m up, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Rufous-capped and Green-striped Brush-Finch, Gray-collared Becard, Green Jay, Amethyst-throated Hummingbird, Transvolcanic Jay, Black-headed Siskin and Whiskered Screech-Owl. The highlight, however, was certainly finding 8 Aztec Thrush in a tall pine snag at about 2200 meters, in open pine forest high on the mountain. We started birding our way down from the summit in the early morning, stopping whenever we heard activity, though fog hampered our efforts. We decided to try to head down lower to get out of the fog, and just as we cleared the fog into sunshine I heard some squabbling and interesting noises so we pulled over and jumped out. In the otherwise quiet, open pine forest it was very easy to find the source of the noise and we both yelled out Aztec Thrush at the same time! It was terrific to find these guys after over a week’s time logged in their habitat looking for them. Even better, they were calling and generally making a bit of a ruckus which allowed us to make a fairly decent recording despite their distance up the hillside and atop a snag. A friend tells us that the last kilometer or so up to the junction with the road to Santa Ana is also a good location for Crested Guan, and various reports suggest the La Bufa Rd is good for Bumblebee Hummingbird and Sparkling-tailed Hummingbird though we didn’t have any luck there.
A couple of logistical notes: A local friend in Mexico recommended that we avoid the road to Santa Ana, apparently it’s a bit of a pot growing area and birders tromping around in the forest might not be looked upon kindly. You can freely camp up on the summit of La Bufa by the microwave towers. We actually camped 100m or so below the towers to avoid the noise of a generator that started up at dusk. Alternatively there are several moderately priced and cute hotels in town, Hotel La Puente was recommended to us by a friend. Additionally, just below town, there is a signed turnoff for “Hacienda Jalisco” which was recommended as a place to bird (approx. 1200 meters). We walked the road for a short ways and it was quiet mid-afternoon, but it could be a great spot earlier or later in the day.