Close to the border, a world of difference!
Northeast Mexico offers birders the opportunity to encounter many of the country’s endemic birds while traveling through habitats as diverse as high desert plateaus, tropical marshes, dry upland oak forests, lowland rainforests, and montane cloudforests. While birds like Mountain Trogon, Azure-hooded Jay, and Keel-billed Toucan are all undeniably tropical, this tour offers a taste of the Neotropics without overwhelming numbers of unfamiliar bird families, making it an excellent tour for first-timers to the tropics. A visit to the stunning pre-Columbian ruin of El Tajín makes for an especially memorable trip.
Day 1: Monterrey. After arrival you will be transferred to our hotel for the night.
Day 2: Tanque de Emergencia and San Antonio de las Alazanas. We start the day in the high desert along the Nuevo León-Coahuila border, searching through clouds of sky blue Mountain Bluebirds for the enigmatic and highly localized Worthen’s Sparrow. Other possibilities include Ferruginous Hawk, Mountain Plover, and Crissal Thrasher. In the afternoon we’ll bird high-elevation pine forest at San Antonio de las Alanzas where we hope to see Pine Flycatcher, Russet Nightingale-Thrush, Painted Whitestart, and Montezuma Quail. We may also cross paths with flocks of two highly nomadic Mexican endemics, Aztec Thrush and Maroon-fronted Parrot. We spend the night in Saltillo.
Day 3: The Highrise and Cola de Caballo. Yet another morning will be spent in the highest reaches of the breathtaking Sierra Madre Oriental. Birds hanging around the spectacular canyons include Colima Warbler, Black-chinned Sparrow, Mexican Chickadee, and Olive Warbler. Descending into the Gulf Slope foothills and lowlands, we’ll encounter our first truly tropical birds, like Elegant Trogon and ‘coeruliceps’ Blue-crowned Motmot. Night in La Pesca.
Day 4: La Pesca to El Cielo. Birding the thornscrub near La Pesca, we hope to find Tawny-collared Nightjars predawn, and Yellow-headed Parrots and Thicket Tinamous thereafter. By late morning, we’ll be headed to Gómez Farías, gateway to the El Cielo Biosphere Reserve. The rest of the day will be spent in tropical foothill and montane forest. Exciting birds found here include Ornate Hawk-Eagle, Crested Guan, and Blue Bunting. Night in Gómez Farías.
Days 5-6: El Cielo.Habitats are diverse here. Agricultural fields hold Gray-crowned Yellowthroat and Blue-black Grassquit. A short cruise up the Río Frío may produce Muscovy Duck, Amazon Kingfisher, Bare-throated Tiger-Heron, Boat-billed Heron, or even a Sungrebe if we’re lucky. Gallery forest along the Río Sabinas hosts Masked Tityra and Ivory-billed Woodcreeper. As we move up the road towards the village of Alta Cima, some of the possible birds include Fan-tailed Warbler, Squirrel Cuckoo, Mountain Trogon, Bronze-winged Woodpecker, White-crowned Parrot, and Elegant Euphonia. Nights in Gomez Farias.
Day 7: Tula-Ocampo Road. Today we’ll drive west up into the mountains in order to explore some new habitats. The humid, brushy upper slopes on the Gulf side of the divide harbor some hard-to-see skulkers such as Blue Mockingbird, Crimson-collared Grosbeak, and Rufous-capped Brush-Finch. Passing over the crest to the inland slope, the landscape changes drastically to desert scrub. Vermillion Flycatchers abound, as Canyon Towhees chatter and Lesser Goldfinches tinkle. A nearby reservoir is a magnet to a variety of ducks, grebes, and shorebirds. Night in El Naranjo.
Day 8: El Naranjo. We’ll carefully comb through mixed flocks here, and should see Crescent-chested Warbler, White-winged Tanager, and Rufous-browed Peppershrike. With some luck, we’ll come across a pair of Gray-collared Becards, an uncommon and nomadic Mexican endemic. Carefully checking the understory here is probably our best chance at finding a Thicket Tinamou, a Blue Ground-Dove, or a pair of the vocally-stunning Singing Quail. The xeric upland oak forest near Agua Zarca supports a disjunct population of Spotted Wren. Other birds we may come across include Pale-billed Woodpecker, Yellow-headed Parrot, Spot-crowned Woodcreeper, Bat Falcon, and Military Macaw. After dusk, we’ll look for Tamaulipas Pygmy-Owl.
Day 9: El Naranjo to Tlanchinol. After early-morning birding around El Naranjo, we’ll head to the most northerly accessible patch of true cloudforest in the Americas. Common birds at Tlanchinol include the ubiquitous Common Bush-Tanager, the striking Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch, and the spritely Golden-browed Warbler. Night in Huejutla de Reyes.
Day 10: Tlanchinol.We will begin at first light, hoping to catch a glimpse of elusive species such as Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush, Black Robin, and even Scaled Antpitta as they come out to feed on the wide trail. A keen ear should help us track down larger birds like Unicolored and Azure-hooded Jays, Emerald Toucanet, and Strong-billed Woodcreeper. Scrubby second growth offers a chance at Gray Silky-flycatcher, Hooded Grosbeak, White-bellied Emerald, and two eastern highland endemics: White-naped Brushfinch and Hooded Yellowthroat. All the while, we’ll hope to encounter one of the most endangered and least-known birds in Mexico, the endemic Bearded Wood-Partridge. Night in Huejutla de Reyes.
Day 11: Tlanchinol to El Tajín. After another morning at Tlanchinol, we head east to visit El Tajín, one of the most impressive ruin sites in the Americas. The 2,000-year-old pyramids soar upward from the rainforest, and the birding is great right on the grounds. With luck we may encounter Crested Guan, Montezuma Oropendola, and Canivet’s Emerald. Night in Tecolutla.
Day 12: Tecolutla to Xalapa. Outside Tecolutla we hope to see two endemics, Altamira Yellowthroat and Ochre Oriole. Rails abound in the marsh, and Gray-necked Wood-Rail, Spotted Rail, Yellow-breasted Crake, and Ruddy Crake are among the alluring possibilities. Other birds of note include Laughing Falcon, Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, and Bare-throated Tiger-Heron. The immediate coast and nearby estuaries sometimes hold Collared Plover. The afternoon will be spent driving to Xalapa. We spend the night in Xalapa.
Day 13: Xalapa to Córdoba. The beautiful colonial city of Xalapa lies along the eastern edge of the Sierra, and thankfully for us, offers easy access to high-elevation forest. We’re now far south enough to encounter stunning crowd-pleasers like Bumblebee Hummingird, Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer, and the highly-coveted Red Warbler. This evening we’ll stay to the south, in Córdoba.
Day 14: Amatlán and Las Barrancas. This morning we awake in the shadow of the massive 18,490-foot Pico de Orizaba. Ranked the world’s seventh most prominent peak, this glacier-capped volcano is literally an awesome sight. The endemic Sumichrast’s Wren is our main target as we bird near the village of Amatlán. Other birds living in the karst-strewn coffee plantations and rainforest fragments include Keel-billed Toucan, Aztec Parakeet, Violaceous Trogon, Golden-olive Woodpecker, and Collared Trogon. An afternoon trip to Las Barrancas will give us a shot at Pinnated Bittern and Rufous-breasted Spinetail. We could also see Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Grassland Yellow-Finch, and Double-striped Thick-knee in the surrounding grasslands. Night in Veracruz.
Day 15: Veracruz. The tour ends in the morning as you catch your flight home.
CLIMATE: Generally pleasant, but cold at higher elevations.
DIFFICULTY: Moderately easy. The trails at Tlanchinol are fairly steep, but only for short stretches, and we take them at a very slow pace. This tour does require several long drives.
ACCOMMODATION: Very good throughout.