8 – 16 August 2013
We left coastal Mexico and headed up the mountains. Our first stop was the Puerto Los Mazos road, which is on the crest of the mountains between Barra de Navidad and Autlán. The gate to the Puerto Los Mazos road is now locked (typically) and access is only by foot. Although the gate is locked we asked several people about walking the road including two private security guards who were patrolling the area. Everyone we talked to said access by foot is fine and driving is not permissible. Puerto Los Mazos was hummingbird heaven!
When we were there the banks along the road were in full bloom and we were constantly being buzzed by Amethyst-throated Hummingbirds, Berylline Hummingbirds, Mexican Woodnymphs, and Green Violetears. A good show indeed, especially considering until now we have not seen a lot of hummingbirds in western Mexico. For a complete list of species seen see our eBird report for Puerto los Mazos.
The next day we headed out towards Microondas San Francisco just outside of Autlán. As soon as we left the hotel it started to rain heavily, so back into town we went to wait out the rain. We checked out the local market and grabbed a bunch of amazing produce and enjoyed a coffee and a sweet treat at a coffee shop. Despite our late start up the Microondas San Francisco road, we encountered some really great birds and it was a very cuckoo day. I looked behind my shoulder and screamed Lesser Roadrunner, but the roadrunner jumped down and was gone before Josh had a chance to see it. Oh no! When it’s such a hard bird to see, it’s never fun when only one of us sees the bird. My fingers were crossed that we would see it again. As the day progressed there was no sign of the roadrunner but we had great looks at the endemic Black-chested Sparrow and were able to make some pretty good recordings of Orange-breasted Bunting and Varied Bunting, which were both very common and vocal.
Later we had another brief glimpse at a Lesser Roadrunner flushing from a tree but still not very satisfying. After a good bit of time walking the road and recording Buntings, as we were continuing up the road Josh yelled Roadrunner!! Yahoo! And we both got great looks. Better yet though, we witnessed Lesser Roadrunner courting behavior. The male had a large grub in his bill and was chasing the female along the roadside cocking his tail to and fro hoping to entice the female to settle down for the night 🙂 I only wish we had a video to share… a very cool encounter.
We headed further up, where the road enters a plateau with small fields and ranches. Josh yelled Quail and stopped the car in the middle of the road, flung the door open, left the car running, and ran down the road as 6 Banded Quail flush from the roadside. We ended up seeing Banded Quail twice in this area, definitely a good spot to check for them if you’re birding the area. Higher up, near the top of the hill, we also found a couple of Baird’s Sparrows in the agricultural areas. We celebrated our new birds with a beer and a view of Autlán at the top while we waited for dusk to try for the elusive Buff-collared Nightjar.
On our way back down the road, we heard a more elusive bird calling in the distance… a Lesser Ground-Cuckoo. These little guys are notoriously difficult to see as they skulk around in dense foliage. We could hear three Lesser Ground-Cuckoos calling around us, so we decided to try to call the bird out using playback. The Lesser Ground-Cuckoo came in very close to us but despite an hour or more of peering into the thick scrub, we never managed to see the bird. Ahhh… so it goes. As dusk approached we decided to try for the Buff-collared Nightjar and within seconds of dusk one flew in and landed right in the middle of the road. Amazing! These guys are hard to see as well. So in one day on the Microondas road we managed to see three fairly difficult species and had a good try at an even more difficult one. As a side note, we don’t use playback to attract birds very frequently, and we always consider the effects on the birds and try not to cause them too much distress. For a complete list of species seen, see our eBird report for Microondas San Francisco (one and two).
Next up, we headed towards Cuidad Guzman and the volcanoes. We planned to stop at the Floripondio road that is mentioned in the Howell Bird Finding Guide but the road is now closed. Access to the area can still be found on the RMO Viboras road which is a signed road just a few hundred meters before the unsigned Floripondio road (if you’re coming from Autlán). Per conversations with the locals, there is a large network of roads to explore up there and it’s fine to camp higher up on the Viboras road, though we did not. We headed up the RMO Viboras road in late morning and found the forest to be quite quiet until we found a couple of mixed species flocks of Gray-barred Wren, Red-faced Warbler (early migrant), Golden-browed Warbler, Red Warbler, Mexican Chickadee, White-striped Woodcreeper, Chestnut-sided Shrike-Vireo, Hutton’s Vireo, Slate-throated Redstart, and Pygmy Nuthatches. Further down the highway toward Cuidad Guzman is the official National Park Road that heads up to Nevado de Colima. The 16 km road heads through orchards and scrub up to oak and eventually to pine forest at 11,000 feet. There is a small fee to enter the park ($25 pesos per person) and there is primitive camping at the park. Since it was late afternoon by the time we reached the road up to the park the forest was mostly quiet; just a few mixed species flocks. See our complete species list for RMO Viboras on eBird.
When we arrived at the park entrance Volcan Nevado de Colima loomed in the distance for a brief moment before it was covered in clouds. We set up camp and went digging for our warm clothes before we headed out for an evening stroll. Even in August it can be quite cold at 11,000 ft. Collared Towhees greeted us at every step; we heard at least 15 of them calling during and saw several on our evening stroll. That night we were treated to an awesome thunderstorm and it rained and rained and rained, harder than I’ve experienced in quite some time. Thankfully everything stayed dry. In the morning we headed down the road early and were surprised to find 3 Long-tailed Wood-Partridges walking along the side of the road. What an incredible looking bird, those red legs and red bill really stand out. We thought we were lucky to have seen 3 Long-tailed Wood-Partridges along the road, but managed to see a total of 10 Wood-Partridges during our morning of birding! The area we saw them is an area of openings / meadows that were (at least in early August) full of fruiting Ribes. If you want to see a Long-tailed Wood-Partridge and a lot of Collared Towhees, the park road up to Volcan Nevado de Colima is the place to go!
We had planned to hike up the summit of the volcano mid-morning but the weather had different plans. The fog layer never disappeared and the clouds and rain came rolling in, so it was off to Cuidad Guzman.
After a little research in Ciudad Guzman we headed up the Volcan de Fuego road that is highlighted in Howell’s Bird Finding Guide. The road is not in the greatest condition these days, but is readily passable in a truck with good clearance, or better yet in a 4×4 for about 20km until it is blocked by a few downed trees. We talked to an avocado farmer on the way up the road and he said that it was still fine to camp up the road by the microondas and that no one would bother us. Indeed, we never saw a soul up there after we left the orchard areas that dot the lower portion of the road. In the scrub along the road we ran across Blue-hooded Euphonia, Olive-sided Flycatcher (early migrant), Curve-billed Thrasher, Rusty Sparrow, Canyon Towhee, Stripe-headed Sparrow, Eastern Bluebird, and Blue Mockingbird. Further up the road as we encountered oak we started seeing Acorn Woodpeckers, Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush, Rusty Sparrow, Rusty-crowned Ground Sparrow, Golden Vireo, Rufous-capped Warbler, Cordilleran Flycatcher, Black-and-white Warbler, and more. As we went further up into more pine-oak forest we started seeing Red Warbler, Tufted Flycatcher, Crescent-chested Warbler, Rufous-capped Brush-finch, House Wren, Transvolcanic Jay, Golden-browed Warbler, and Cinnamon-bellied Flower Piercer. Quite high up on the road, roughly around Kilometer 18, we saw three huge dark birds with long fanned tails flush from tree to tree above the road and then continue out of sight. They were clearly Crested Guans but we didn’t really get to see them well, what a bummer! Despite being fairly rare (due to hunting and habitat loss) and fairly secretive, they have a huge range in the Neotropics and we should have many more chances to see them. The highlight of the two days we spent on the Volcan de Fuego road had to be the Eared Poorwill! We got up at 5 am and headed down to the lower oak zone in search of owls and nightjars, particularly the Eared Poorwill , as it is one of those birds that is notoriously difficult to find and the Volcan de Fuego Rd is a known site for them. These birds are nocturnal, small, cryptically covered, and hunt from branches in thick oak and scrub. Needless to say, they are very difficult to see! We tried call playback to see if we could lure a bird out of its hiding spot. With just one call an Eared Poorwill responded, but we still had to find the bird, who was tucked deep in the scrub vegetation. It called from close by for a while before retreating further away. Rather than persist in disturbing that individual we moved down the road to a spot that had more open vegetation, to increase our odds of actually seeing a bird if we managed to lure one in. Again playback yielded an almost immediately response and an Eared Poorwill flew in and started calling persistently. It couldn’t have been more than 15 – 20 feet from us but we couldn’t find it for the life of us, it was buried in thick scrub oak. After much persistence and with a bit of luck we managed to finally see the Eared Poorwill flying across the road. Not great looks, but one that we will take given how difficult it is to see, and we were happy to leave the bird in peace. The following morning another early rise finally gave us great looks at Whiskered Screech-Owl, a bird we had heard at least 15 times before but had not yet had any luck seeing! Check out our eBird report for species seen.
Another early morning rise brought us to the La Cumbre Microondas just outside of Colima where the famed Balsas Screech-Owl occurs. The gate to La Cumbre closes at 8 pm making owling a bit difficult, but we talked to the people at the gate and they said it would be no problem to arrive early in the morning and head up the road. So we left the hotel at 5:15 am and headed to La Cumbre. When we arrived the gate was closed but unlocked and we headed a short ways up the road. As soon as we stepped out of the truck we heard a Mottled Owl and three Balsas Screech-Owls! In the more open thorn forest along this road, the Balsas Screech Owl was much easier to find and we soon had killer looks at one perched no more than 15’ away on an open branch. Success! The Balsas Screech-Owl has a small range in the Balsas drainage which extends south east from Colima through Michoacan and Guerrero to the edge of Puebla. Unlike other Screech-Owls this guy is a touch larger and longer, has dark eyes and a lighter face with a more prominent disk. Really a sharp looking bird! As dawn broke we found Rufous-naped Wren to be very common near the summit. However, morning rains soon began and thwarted another day of birding here, so we headed to Laguna La Maria.
On our way to Laguna La Maria we stopped in Comala for a late breakfast. Comala is a quaint town outside of Colima that is known for its ponche, an alcoholic beverage of many different flavors.
We left Comala with a full stomach ready to search for the Slaty Vireo and Dwarf Vireo that are frequently spotted at least during the winter in El Jacal de San Antonio (mentioned in Howell’s Bird Finding Guide). I visited El Jacal in 2005 and found both species there, so I was excited to take Josh back to El Jacal. Unfortunately when we got there the access road was marked as private property. There is a remnant patch of forest along a few kilometers of the road here, and we searched around the area for other access into the this habitat but unfortunately found none. So off to Laguna La Maria we went. Laguna la Maria is a popular destination for many in the Colima area, but the birding there can be fantastic and it’s a great place to spend the night. We spent the afternoon lazily birding around the lake and found a great diversity of birds, many not too common, along with a couple new migrants – two Louisiana Waterthrush and a Yellow Warbler! For a complete list of species see our eBird report.
Before leaving western Mexico we stopped at Lago Zapotlán on our way to Guadalajara. The wintering ducks have yet to arrive, but we did see hundreds of American White Pelicans and Clark’s Grebes on the lake. Birding around Lago Zapotlán was a bit difficult with traffic as the road around the lake is heavily traveled, but there is a pedestrian causeway that allows you to scope the distant side of the lake where the birds seemed concentrated.