Oaxaca: Legendary Birds and Temples
The endemics capital of Mexico and the mole capital of the world.
With nearly 700 species, Oaxaca has the biggest bird list of any Mexican state, and almost 100 of these are regional endemics. With impressive ruins, a bustling capital city rich in commerce and architecture, a vibrant native culture, and some of the world’s most beautiful beaches, Oaxaca offers even the non-birder much to write home about. If you’re looking for a trip that’s also good for a non-birding partner, we highly recommend this one. On many days afternoon birding is optional, and those wishing to take it easy or sight-see may do so.
Day 1: Oaxaca. After we meet you at the airport, you might want to walk to a nearby park (El Llano de Juárez) or relax at the hotel in preparation for tomorrow’s exhilarating morning of birding. Make sure you keep an eye out for Rufous-backed Robin and Dusky Hummingbird! The robin is epecially common at the park. The first four nights will be spent at a pleasant hotel in a quiet area of Oaxaca City.
Day 2: Teotitlán del Valle and Yagul. Birding the arid scrub above the village of Teotitlán del Valle will yield our first dry interior endemics: Ocellated Thrasher and Bridled and Oaxaca Sparrows are our main targets, but we’ll also keep an eye and ear out for Dwarf Vireo, Boucard’s Wren, and the odd-looking “Sumichrast’s” Scrub-Jay. After birding today, we will stop for lunch in Teotitlán and have an opportunity to shop within its world-famous rug market and even attend a weaving demonstration. The hand-woven tapetes are made of local wool and dyed with all natural, locally made pigments derived from materials as diverse as walnut hulls, indigo, and scale insects. In the afternoon, we’ll visit Yagul, one of the best sites for Gray-breasted Woodpecker and Beautiful Hummingbird.
Days 3-4: Cerro San Felipe. We have two days to explore this humid pine-oak site, the best place in the world to see the endemic Dwarf Jay, which occurs among noisy flocks of Steller’s Jays and Gray-barred Wrens. We also hope to see resident birds like Red Warbler, Slate-throated Whitestart, and Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer. Long-tailed Wood-Partridge is common but seldom seen.
Day 5: North to Tuxtepec. A dry interior valley along the way will give us more chances for Oaxaca Sparrow and Slaty Vireo. Eventually, we’ll hit the stunted scrub on the continental divide, where Hooded Yellowthroat lurks. We’ll descend into Gulf-slope cloudforest, where we’ll hope for birds like Emerald-chinned Hummingbird, Blue-crowned Chlorophonia, Bumblebee Hummingbird, and Azure-crowned and Unicolored Jays.The following two nights will be spent in Tuxtepec.
Days 6–7: Around Tuxtepec. These two days we’ll bird the lowland rainforest and humid foothills surrounding Tuxtepec. Keel-billed Toucans are always a favorite, and those who love colorful birds should not be disappointed: Slaty-tailed Trogon, Violet Sabrewing, Black-crested Coquette, Green Honeycreeper, and Crimson-collared and Golden-hooded Tanagers are all possibilities. More subtle beauty may be found in the form of Pheasant Cuckoo, Mexican Antthrush, White Hawk, and the endemic Sumichrast’s Wren.
Day 8: Back to Oaxaca.his morning we’ll bird the foothills and cloudforest on the way back to our hotel for a pleasant evening in Oaxaca City.
Day 9: Monte Albán to San José del Pacífico. Today, we stand in awe among some of the most exquisite native ruins to be found in all of the Americas, the Zapotec capital of Monte Albán. Rock and Canyon Wrens that have taken up residence in the ruins will keep us company as we search for White-throated Towhee, Blue Mockingbird, Gray Silky-flycatcher, Varied Bunting, and the unbelievable Slaty Vireo. Midday we’ll head south into the Sierra de Miahuatlán and spend the night in some nice mountain cabins, where White-throated Jay has been seen on the grounds. Night in San José del Pacífico.
Day 10: Sierra de Miahuatlán.Many endemic birds occur here. Wagler’s Toucanet is the most conspicuous, but we’ll also search for Red-headed Tanager, Mexican Hermit, Chestnut-sided Shrike-Vireo, and Blue-capped Hummingbird. We’ll spend the next two nights in the lazy beach town of Puerto Ángel.
Day 11: Zipolite and the Pacific Ocean.At dawn we’ll head into the thornforest around Puerto Ángel and the world-famous beach town of Zipolite. Here we find an entirely new avifauna: Doubleday’s Hummingbird, Citreoline Trogon, Red-breasted Chat, Happy Wren, Colima Pygmy-Owl, Golden-cheeked Woodpecker, and Orange-breasted Bunting are all found here, and those are just the endemics! Mid-morning, we’ll embark on a pelagic adventure. Our main target is the endemic Townsend’s Shearwater. Additionally, we hope to see Black-vented, Christmas, and Pink-footed among the more expected Wedge-tailed and Galápagos Shearwaters. Black, Least, and Wedge-tailed Storm-Petrels all occur in the deep waters just offshore, where we even have a chance at finding a petrel. Closer to shore, we should see Red-billed Tropicbird and Brown Boobies. Returning by mid-afternoon, those who wish may join any who didn’t go on the boat trip by lounging on the beach and feasting on seafood. Night at Hotel Soraya in Puerto Ángel.
Day 12: Puerto Ángel to San José del Pacífico. We have another morning of birding along the coast before heading back up into the cool forests. Night in San José del Pacífico.
Day 13: Sierra de Miahuatlán.We have one more day to bird this beautiful area before returning to Oaxaca City. If you’re only joining us for the extension, you should arrive in Oaxaca by today. We overnight again in Oaxaca City.
Day 14: Departure/start the extension.Those who are not continuing on the extension will be transferred to Oaxaca City airport for international departures.
Isthmus Extension (6 days)
This extension focuses on the endemic birds of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, which is surprisingly diverse in habitats. We’ll search for Rose-bellied (Rosita’s) Bunting in the arid foothills, Sumichrast’s Sparrow on the dry plains, Giant Wren in the lush Soconusco Plains, and Nava’s Wren in the mythical karst-strewn Gulf-slope rainforest. Other possibilities include Black Hawk-Eagle, Long-tailed Manakin, Black-throated Shrike-Tanager, Orange-chinned Parakeet, and Lovely Cotinga.
Day 1: Traversing the Isthmus.After a few hours headed southeast through beautiful cactus forest, we’ll have left the hills and reached the flat plain (and winds) of the Isthmus of Tehantepec, a significant geographic barrier that has encouraged speciation and created a distinct division between avifaunae in Mexico. Thankfully, the birds here seem to be used to perpetually windy conditions. Our main targets include Sumichrast’s Sparrow and Lesser Ground-Cuckoo. Proceeding southeast, the dry, windswept Isthmus gives way to the lush, humid, and verdant Soconusco Plain. Historically, this area was both lowland rainforest and part of Guatemala. Though hard to find, patches of tropical forest remain. By dusk, we hope to be watching dozens of parrots stream overhead to roost en masse. We’ll also probably see the first of many Turquoise-browed Motmots. Night in Mapastepec.
Day 2: Mapastepec.We start this morning hoping for a performance by male Long-tailed Manakins at a known lek. White-bellied Chachalacas and Prevost’s Ground-Sparrows occur in streamside scrub, and the aptly-named Giant Wren, Chiapas’s only endemic, lives in nearby farmed areas. We’ll drive to Tuxtla Gutiérrez this evening. The next two nights will be spent in Tuxtla Gutiérrez.
Day 3: El Sumidero.We have all day to bird the impressive El Sumidero Canyon. Birds here include Belted Flycatcher, Slender Sheartail, Singing Quail, Flammulated Flycatcher, and Blue-and-white Mockingbird. If we’re lucky enough to be there when the bamboo is seeding, we have a decent shot at Blue Seedeater and Maroon-chested Ground-Dove.
Day 4: El Ocote.This Gulf-slope foothills location is home to a tantalizing combination of birds: Nightingale Wren, Montezuma Oropendola, Slate-colored Solitaire, Lovely Cotinga, Barred Antshrike, Green Shrike-Vireo, Black-throated Shrike-Tanager, and the isthmus-endemic Nava’s Wren. Night in Arriaga.
Day 5: Arriaga to Oaxaca.We’ve saved the best for last. This is the morning we look for the unbelievably beautiful Rosita’s Bunting in the arid Pacific-slope foothills just above Arriaga. Green-fronted Hummingbird, Russet-crowned Motmot, White-throated Magpie-Jay, and Yellow-winged Cacique also live here. We’ll spend mid-day and the early afternoon driving back to Oaxaca. If we have time we’ll look for Green-fronted Hummingbird along the way. We’ll spend a final night in Oaxaca City.
Day 6: Departure.You will be transferred from the hotel to the airport for your flight home.
CLIMATE: Pleasant in most areas, with cold, crisp mornings in the highlands and hot afternoons in the lowlands. We may run into some rain on the Gulf slope.
DIFFICULTY: Easy. Almost all birding is done on roads and easily accessible trails. Early breakfasts are not always available, so field breakfasts are sometimes necessary.
ACCOMMODATION: Mostly good to very good. The hotels in Puerto Angel is somewhat basic and while we endeavor to book rooms with AC, they are not always available. Hot water is occasionally unavailable.