Mexico's Legendary Birds and Temples
12-25 January 2008
Tour leader: Michael Retter
photo at left: Orange-breasted Bunting
This is our most popular Mexican tour, and for good reason. Oaxaca (wah-HAH-kah) has the biggest bird list of any Mexican state (around 700). The group recorded 320 species, including 36 endemic to Mexico and 60 endemic to northern Middle America. 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 of the days, afternoon birding was optional, so those who wished went shopping, indulged in the local cuisine, and even simply took a siesta.
Day 1: Oaxaca City
Most of our participants arrived a day or more early, so what to do today other than bird? While enjoying drinks, we picked through mixed flocks that passed through the courtyard of our hotel. Nashville and Audubon’s Warblers made up the core of these flocks, but we also found Tennessee Warbler, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, and Wilson’s Warbler. We followed some muffled whistles and discovered that a Rufous-backed Robin had set up a territory in the hotel! The local and vibrantly crimson race of House Finch also paraded around for all to see. Some of us took a walk across the beautiful Paseo de Juárez, which yielded views of Summer Tanager and the ubiquitous Tropical Kingbird. We even saw our first local endemic, Dusky Hummingbird, feeding on the poker plants on the terrace. Not a bad start!
Day 2: Teotitlán del Valle
The day began birding the scrubby hillsides above town, and the first bird of the day was a great omen. Not far out of the van we heard a bird messing around in the leaves on the side of the road. It was elusive at first, but eventually everyone had excellent looks at a Oaxaca Sparrow mere feet away as it fed on the open ground. This bird is usually quite hard to see in the winter, so we were quite lucky to see one first thing on the first day! We also saw White-throated Towhees in the undergrowth, but our attention was pulled away from them by large overflying flocks of clucking birds. Gray Silkies! We saw literally hundreds, including amazing scope views. About the same time, someone asked what the odd green bird with the blue and orange head was. Buried in a mistletoe clump was a small flock of Elegant Euphonias. Though deep inside at first, over the next ten minutes we enjoyed their brilliant azures, metallic indigos, mossy greens, and rustic oranges in the scope as they scoured branches for berries. Nearby, a loud squawking sound started from within a dense stand of pipe cactus: it was a Boucard’s Wren. A little tape brought him and his mate to the top of the cactus for amazing views. While we were enjoying the wren, a small hummingbird appeared, feeding on the cactus blossoms. It was a female Beautiful Hummingbird! Downslope, we caught view of another pipe cactus specialist as a male Gray-breasted Woodpecker obligingly perched at the top of one. We all had views in the scope of its neat facial pattern, including the red cheeks. Wow--the birds were dripping off the trees . . . or cacti, this morning!
A bit further up the road we came across our first mixed flock, which included Virginia’s Warbler, Rose-throated Becard, Painted Whitestart, Bridled Titmouse, Crescent-chested Warbler, Western Tanager, Slate-throated Whitestart, Ash-throated Flycatcher, and Rufous-capped Warbler. While we were scouring the flock, a family of scrub-jays came by, and we admired this uniquely-plumaged southernmost subspecies of Western Scrub-Jay at length. Across the road, we heard the odd jangling sound of a pair of duetting Bridled Sparrows. We called them in without any difficulty and agreed that this is one exceptionally beautiful sparrow!
Later in the day, the flycatchers really picked up. Most of the morning, we were treated to comparisons of Cassin’s and Thick-billed Kingbirds, but at our lakeside lunch stop we were joined by very cooperative Tufted Flycatchers, Black Phoebes, and Vermilion Flycatchers. The skies were filled with hundreds of swallows, Violet-greens and Northern Rough-wingeds. There was a nice variety of waterbirds on the lake: Least Grebe, Ruddy and Ring-necked Ducks, Blue- and Green-winged Teal. The Ring-necks were quite a surprise, as there are few prior records in the Oaxaca Valley.
After lunch we’d planned to go straight into town to shop at the rug market, but the birding was just too good! So, we went back up the road a ways to view some blooming coral bean trees where we had views of Dusky and Berylline Hummingbirds. During this vigil, we were also witnesses to a somewhat exhibitionist pair of gorgeous writhing yellow snakes. A bit further up the road, we were shocked to see a flock of literally hundreds of passerines congregating around a stream. Just some of the more noteworthy birds included Grasshopper Sparrow, Black-vented Oriole, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Lark Sparrow, and Bullock’s Oriole. Finally, we had to pull our selves away to make it to the rug market in time to get back to Oaxaca for dinner, so we headed back down into town, but not before stopping for a roving band of adorable little “black-eared” Bushtits.
Once at the market in Teotitlán, we split up. Some went shopping; others were more interested in the rug-making process. Those who went to the women’s cooperative were treated to a very interesting demonstration, including how a simple acid-base reaction can yield many different colors in the cochineal dye: it’s naturally red, but adding lime juice turns it orange, while adding ash makes it purple! We then watched one of the weavers at work on a loom.
We ended the day having seen six of the seven local endemics. Add this to an enjoyable afternoon at the local tapete market, and the day (only the first full one) was a smashing success!
Day 3: Monte Albán and Teotitlán del Valle
This morning started out with good fortune, as we quickly heard an Ocellated Thrasher singing along the entrance road. The last local endemic! Unfortunately, only about half the group got to see this uncooperative bird, though some did see it extremely well. In the parking lot, another frustrating mimid, a Blue Mockingbird, offered only fleeting glimpses. A Gray-breasted Woodpecker flew in, giving us even better looks than the day before, while a Nutting’s Flycatcher called from the hillside above.
We strolled around inside the ruins, taking in this incredible site (and stopping to chuckle at the Rock Wrens that set up house in the decaying pyramids), and in the process we had great views of Western Kingbird, Cassin’s Vireo, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Hepatic Tanager, Vaux’s Swift, and Scott’s Oriole.
It was back to Oaxaca for lunch, and an optional afternoon of birding. Some chose to siesta or shop in Oaxaca, but the rest of us returned to the road above Teotitlán del Valle. We were hoping that we’d be able to locate the immense flock of passerines from the day before. We did find a large flock, but Audubon’s Warblers comprised the entire group. We did however have good looks at Canyon Wren, Louisiana Waterthrush, and a flock of Gray Silkies along the creek.
Day 4: Cerro San Felipe/La Cumbre
It was chilly this morning at dawn, but it was no wonder since we started out at 10,000 feet in fir-pine-oak forest! This was the location where we were all able to get acquainted with one of the most incredible birdsongs in the world, that of Brown-backed Solitaire. The species is widespread all over northern Middle America, and its song is the characteristic sound of the region’s highlands. We also were surprised to hear a Black Robin singing out-of-season. Most people got nice looks at a singing Gray-breasted Wood-Wren, a sure sign that we were in tropical highlands. A small group of Band-tailed Pigeons perched up in a dead snag. A White-tailed Hawk was quite a surprise at this altitude. We quickly learned the sounds of the locally ubiquitous White-eared Hummingbirds, and were treated to many views of breathtaking males as they fed in the roadside Salvia. Magnificent Hummingbirds were also present, including one on a massive, stories-tall blooming Agave. That particular Mag wasn’t around long though, as it was scared off by a very large White-nosed Coati with a sweet tooth! Meanwhile, a Russet Nightingale-Thrush flushed from the side of the road and sat motionless for a few minutes, long enough for us to study it in the scope and observe the diagnostic dusky tip to its mandible! We were starting to get worried that we’d not yet seen a Red Warbler, but shortly before lunch we ran into a mixed flock of warblers, one of which was a very responsive male “White-eared” Red Warbler. Hermit Warbler, Hutton’s Vireo, Mexican Chickadee, and Olive Warbler were also in the flock. During lunch we watched some “Mexican” Yellow-eyed Juncos as they fed on the road but were soon distracted the loud, high-pitched whistles of a Spot-crowned Woodcreeper. We finally found a flock of Gray-barred Wrens and Steller’s Jays but were unable to pick out any Dwarf Jays.
After dinner, some people opted to return for night birding. We were very successful right away in calling in a Mexican Whip-poor-will. It flew overhead in the lamp a few times, and we were able to compare and contrast the song of the form here with tape of the Northern Whip-poor-will found in the eastern U.S. We located a Mountain Pygmy-Owl singing down a hillside, but it never showed itself. While alternating between Northern Saw-whet, Whiskered Screech-, and Flammulated Owls an owl swooped literally inches over our heads, scaring us just slightly! We were unable to see or hear the culprit and determine its identity, though.
Day 5: Cerro San Felipe/La Cumbre
We hadn’t even entered the reserve before a flock of Steller’s Jays flew over the road. We piled out of the van and ran back down the road, sifting through the birds for Dwarf Jays. This particular flock turned out to be only Steller’s, but we were determined to continue the search. A good-sized flock of American Robins was a small consolation. Multiple Pine Flycatchers were seen today, including nice scope views which allowed us a textbook view of its field marks—always welcome with empids! Eventually, our persistence was rewarded: we found some Dwarf Jays associating with the flocks of Steller’s Jays and Gray-barred Wrens. The looks could have been better, though. Shortly after lunch we found a flock of small passerines, which contained Red and Crescent-chested Warblers and an eventually cooperative Golden-browed Warbler. A male Collared Towhee gave us quite a show as he sang from an exposed perch just above eye level in a fir. We’d just about called it a day when someone heard a Gray-barred Wren from inside the van. As we got out, a flock of jays and wrens materialized, including more Dwarf Jays. Most people got better looks at this group. After the wren-jay flock quieted down, we noticed a small flight of Scott’s Orioles (about 40 birds) overhead. A pair of inquisitive Common Ravens came to say goodbye as we loaded back up for our short drive back to Oaxaca.
Day 6: Oaxaca to Tuxtepec
A trip to the north was in store today. It’s only 200 km, but we took it very slowly, birding along the way. We hadn’t made it much past La Cumbre when we noticed a bright red trogon perched directly over the highway. We got out of the van at the first safe location and walked back to find a beautiful male Mountain Trogon. At the same location, we had better looks at Brown-backed Solitaire than we had the two prior days. At one point, three separate males surrounded us with birdsong.
Our next stop was the dry valley just below Gueletao de Juárez. A small flock of Cinnamon-rumped Seedeaters flushed off the side of the trail and included a couple nicely-plumaged males. Flycatchers were quite obvious in this arid habitat, and we spent a good deal of time admiring the cracking male Vermilion Flycatchers and more subtly beautiful Thick-billed Kingbirds. A Gray Flycatcher put in a brief but diagnostic appearance as well. In the scrub, we had glimpses of another Oaxaca Sparrow while a beautiful male Spotted Towhee sang nearby. A few people had a look at a bright orange male Hepatic Tanager. On the way back to the van, we flushed a different group of small finch-like birds, including Blue-black and Yellow-faced Grassquits. A quick stop at the river yielded Green Kingfisher and Black Phoebe.
A stop at the continental divide gave us an amazing view of the Gulf-slope lowlands and the clouds we were about to drive through. Before our decent, a Hooded Yellowthroat sang from the stunted bushes just below the summit, but he wouldn’t come out.
We had lunch in the humid pine-oak belt above the cloudforest. If was pretty quiet here, but a large flock of White-collared Swifts circled overhead, and we heard a Northern Emerald-Toucanet. Other stops in this habitat produced “White-eared” Red Warblers, a poorly-seen Garnet-throated Hummingbird, the first of many “Hidalgo” Common Bush-Tanagers, and a very angry male Bumblebee Hummingbird.
As we descended into the fog, a beautiful, haunting song left no doubt that we’d arrived in high quality cloudforest. Slate-colored Solitaires were serenading us, and we took a couple minutes to appreciate what may be Mexico’s most beautiful bird song. We also heard Crested Guan and Barred Forest-Falcon from deep within the mist. A small flock of Unicolored Jays flew over the road and landed in a tree, but only a few people were able to get on them before they took off.
The cloudforest was pretty socked in, so we decided to head on down to the subtropical and tropical rainforest in the foothills below. Our last stop of the day was incredibly birdy. A large band of passerines came into our whistling and included Spot-breasted Wren, Tropical Parula, Black-throated Green Warbler, American Redstart, Red-throated Ant-Tanager, White-winged Tanager, Yellow-winged Tanager, and Yellow-billed Cacique. At one point, a group of Spotted Wood-Quail started singing upslope. After a few minutes, a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl flew in, seemingly to approve of our imitation of its song. While all this was going on, a Ruddy Crake started calling from the tall grass alongside the road. We left the speakers on the road and walked back 40 meters or so, hoping that the bird would walk out onto the road, but it was not to be.
Day 7: Tuxtepec
It was overcast and just the tiniest bit misty, which proved perfect conditions for birding, as the birds were incredibly active until after 1 p.m.! A Green-breasted Mango shot over the group upon our arrival, but most were unable to get on it. Instead, we all had good looks at Rufous-tailed Hummingbird while a Laughing Falcon called in the distance. An odd sneezing sound from the tangle across the road led us to a singing Rufous-breasted Spinetail. With a little persistence we were able to get very nice views of the bird. Orioles proved to be the most obvious birds of the day, with roving flocks of them scouring the vine-covered hillsides for flowers to suck dry. Species seen include Black-cowled, Orchard, Yellow-tailed, and Altamira. Many other species joined the oriole flocks, including Melodious Blackbird, Clay-colored Robin, Groove-billed Ani, Rose-throated Becard, Violaceous Trogon, Band-backed Wren, and the breathtaking Crimson-collared Tanager. They had to work quickly though, because Black-headed, Grayish, and Buff-throated Saltators were working hard to eat the flowers just as quickly!
The hillside treetops above us made nice perches for a Crane Hawk, a Collared Forest-Falcon, and a pair of White-crowned Parrots. Even the weedy grainfields were full of birds. We combed through flocks of Indigo Buntings and Variable Seedeaters to find the scarcer Painted Buntings and White-collared Seedeaters. There were even warblers like Northern Parula and Yellow-breasted Chat feeding on the ground. Loud screaming drew our attention to a flock of about 40 Aztec Parakeets destroying a farmer’s corn crop. We also noticed a small group of Couch’s Kingbirds feeding in the stubble field across the road. It was noon by now, and this seemed to be cue needed for the loud and showy birds to come out. First, a flock of Brown Jays flew over. Then a Keel-billed Toucan started calling from up the hillside. Eventually, some judicious tap-played brought a pair down into view and we enjoyed the crazy bills patterns of these birds through the telescope. The same happened with flocks of Montezuma Oropendola and Collared Araçari. The oropendolas were especially nice, as they displayed for us, singing while simultaneously falling upside down on their perches!
After a late lunch back at the hotel restaurant, a few of us set out again, this time back up into the foothills. From the bridge just north of town we had amazing looks at both Ridgway’s Rough-winged and Mangrove Swallows. Our unique position allowed us to see things one might not normally, like the dark-tipped undertail coverts of the former and the white tertial edges of the latter. Driving into the foothills, we noticed that it was pouring almost everywhere except where we were headed. We kept our fingers crossed, and it seemed to have worked. At a large bend in the road, we found a flowerbank abuzz with hummers. White-bellied and Canivet’s Emeralds were new, as were Stripe-throated and Long-billed Hermits. Even a Bananaquit came by to sip from the flowers. Just up the road, a small fruiting bush attracted a pair of the unique-looking Olive-backed Euphonia. As we watched the euphonies, a small green bird with bright orange legs darted through. It was a female White-collared Manakin! Eventually, we had amazing looks at both sexes. We had nice studied of a flock on Brown Jays, including one light morph bird. The last bird of the day was a dull-colored but relatively rare one, Slate-headed Tody-Tyrant. The rain began later that night—we were being hit by a norte.
Day 8: Tuxtepec to Oaxaca
It was back over the mountains today. We’d originally planned to concentrate on the cloudforest, but the norte forced us abandon that plan and rendered the entire Gulf-slope miserably wet. Nevertheless, we started at the previous day’s manakin spot, and were rewarded with a repeat performance by the White-collared Manakins. A flashy male Violet Sabrewing put in a spectacular yet brief appearance. Next we witnessed one of the most memorable moments of the trip: a Stripe-throated Hermit flew up to an adult male Summer Tanager and proceeded to hover in front of and even follow the bright red tanager!
We were pretty much rained out for the rest of the Gulf-slope portion of our journey. A brief stop in the windy valley below Gueletao produced two new trip birds: a Lincoln’s Sparrow and a Violet-crowned Hummingbird, the latter at the very southern extent of its range.
Finally, we stopped in the dry scrub just above Oaxaca to try for Dwarf and Slaty Vireos. We did find one Dwarf Vireo singing up the hillside, but it was quite windy, and the bird wouldn’t show. We were determined to come back and try again for this bird in the morning.
Day 9: Oaxaca and Yagul
We started the morning looking for the Dwarf Vireo we’d located by voice the evening before. It was still singing but again refused to show itself. We did get brief views of another Oaxaca Sparrow, though. A very showy little Slate-throated Whitestart (of the unique red-bellied Mexican subspecies) made its way up a wash. Though it couldn’t really compete with the whitestart, we called in and had very nice looks at a Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet. Back at the van, a pair of Bridled Sparrows was singing away, and we enjoyed them in the scope at close range, even snapping a few photos.
Up the road, we stopped along the creek, where we found a “Russet-backed” Swainson’s Thrush feeding on the ground under a tree that held a gorgeous male Painted Whitestart.
On the way back to Oaxaca, we stopped at a grove of blooming coral beans to look for orioles. We were not disappointed, as we watched a flock of nearly 40 orioles for the next half hour. Hooded, Bullock’s, and Black-vented Orioles were joined by a Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Berylline and Dusky Hummingbirds. As the orioles were moving on, we noticed a mimid singing across a clearing. With just a little encouragement, we got to see a beautiful Blue Mockingbird singing on an exposed branch in the full sunlight!
After a leisurely lunch, some of us made the trip to the ruins of Yagul. Known for its cactus forest, we accordingly had wonderful views of Gray-breasted Woodpecker. White-throated Towhees seemed to be even more common than usual. A loud metallic call drew our attention to a Virginia’s Warbler in the scrub, and a Curve-billed Thrasher kept vigil over its territory from atop a cactus. We decided to wait a few minutes next to a blooming pipe cactus and were rewarded with close views of a Beautiful Hummingbird. Finally, we noticed what looked like beautiful orange and red jewels glistening in the sun; closer inspection revealed dozens of sap globules and reminded us why Mexico is famous for its amber.
Day 10: Sierra de Miahuatlán
Part of the Sierra Madre del Sur, this coastal mountain range runs along the Pacific (southern) coast of Oaxaca; it is very isolated and thus is an intriguing center of highland endemism. Our first stop was just over the pass on the Pacific side in high-elevation pine forest. The first thing we noticed was a large flock Western Tanagers flycatching in the tops of the pines. We saw over 50 of them in the next half hour. A handful of Tufted Flycatchers joined the tanager. A passing mixed flock contained Olive Warbler, Crescent-chested Warbler, Hutton’s Vireo, and Townsend’s Warbler. Hummingbirds were feeding on a flower-covered hillside above our heads. We found Green Violet-ear and Bumblebee, Rufous, and Broad-tailed Hummingbirds.
We stopped next in a moister and more temperate forest that was dominated by broad-leafed trees. We again found Tufted Flycatchers, and they were the most obvious birds at the location, as they made continuous sallies out over the trail. A Rufous-capped Brush-finch popped up in a bush, giving us good looks at this Mexican endemic. Hummingbirds were as numerous at this location as the last, but here we picked our first of the sierra’s endemics, the “Violet-throated” subspecies of Amethyst-throated Hummingbird. A displaying male Bumblebee Hummingbird was also fun to watch. A small group of Black-headed Siskins teased us as they jumped, singing, from tree to tree, but our persistence paid off. A very flitty Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer led us back to the van.
Lunch was enjoyed in the odd pine savannah/cloud-forest mosaic near La Soledad. A beautiful eighty-eight butterfly kept landing on the road while we ate, but it had to compete with a pair of Rufous-capped Warblers for our attention. A couple of us were lucky enough to see a female Red-headed Tanager, but she didn’t stick around. As we descended into a tongue of the denser cloudforest, we immediately located an Olivaceous Woodcreeper. While that was going on, one of us saw a Blue-capped Hummingbird feeding on a huge pink morning glory, but it disappeared before the rest could get on it. We then noticed a lot of activity at a bend in the trail. There were dozens of birds: White-throated Robins, Golden-crowned Warblers, Western Tanagers. We’d had the amazing luck of happening into a giant army ant swarm! Over the next hour we watched intently and had extremely close views of 22 different bird species, including Red-headed Tanager (gorgeous males), Greenish Elaenia, Ochre-breasted Flycatcher, Green Jay, Brown-backed Solitaire, “Russet-backed” Swainson’s Thrush, Nashville Warbler, Hermit Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Wilson’s Warbler, Fan-tailed Warbler, Golden-browed Warbler, Slate-throated Whitestart, “Guerrero” Common Bush-Tanager, “Northern” Hepatic Tanager, and Chestnut-capped Brush-finch. Eventually, the ants (and the birds) moved on, so we resumed the search for Blue-capped Hummingbird. We decided to wait at the large flower it had been seen at before, but we couldn’t find it. Then the culprit spoke up, as a Black-headed Saltator poked its head out from behind the morning glory vine, pink flower in beak. Still, we were confident the bird would return, and we were rewarded with incredible views of an adult male Blue-capped Hummingbird and his white tail, both perched and feeding. This is certainly the most-sought-after of the sierra’s endemics, so we continued downslope feeing very satisfied.
The plan was to continue on to the hotel, since we’d be birding the Pacific lowland thornforest habitat the next couple days, but a flock of White-throated Magpie-Jays ended that idea when they flew over the van. A brief stretch at this location also produced Plain-capped Starthroat, Orange-fronted Parakeet, and Yellow-winged Cacique.
We arrived at the hotel in Puerto Ángel at sunset and watched as Magnificent Frigatebirds and Gray-breasted Martins flew into roost against a gorgeous red sky over the Pacific.
Day 11: The Pacific Ocean and Zipolite
This was the morning slated for our big pelagic trip. The boat left the bay just after sunrise, and right away we started seeing the distinctive Pacific subspecies of Brown Booby as well as Wedge-tailed Shearwater and Black Tern. These were by far the most common birds of the day. The boat went around the white stack off of Zipolite, and there we found three beautiful Red-billed Tropicbirds among the thousands of boobies. We headed straight out to deep water, where we put out an oil slick. Before long, a Black Storm-Petrel flew in, offering close studies of its subtle plumage, structural, and behavioral field marks. A flock of Sterna terns wasn’t too surprising, but its make-up was. It consisted of both Common and Arctic Terns, the latter being far from their supposéd wintering grounds. An adult Pomarine Jaeger with full tail streamers flew behind, waiting for the terns to find it some food. Sea-turtles were common, showing what a success the Mexican government has had by protecting the nearby Mazunte nesting population. We then returned to inshore waters to look for more shearwaters. Our persistence was rewarded with 6 Townsend’s Shearwaters (a Mexican endemic) and 12 Galápagos Shearwaters. They all allowed close approach, and we tarried as long as we could, admiring their subtle beauty and comparing them to the Wedge-tails they were mixed in with. Finally, on the way back to shore, we were greeted by a friendly pod of a couple hundred common dolphins.
Back on land, those who opted not to take the pelagic trip were treated to close views of orioles at the hotel, including Altamira Oriole, as well as the dawn exodus of swallows, which included both Gray-breasted Martins and Mangrove Swallows.
After a mid-afternoon siesta, we traveled into the thornforest near Zipolite for some evening birding. Highlights included Lineated Woodpecker, Rufous-naped Wren, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Painted Bunting, and Doubleday’s Hummingbird. A flock of West Mexican Chachalacas created quite a racket across the valley, but they wouldn’t show. The most exciting bird of this venture was certainly a singing Lesser Ground-Cuckoo. It popped up in the top of a bush eventually, but only for a split-second. Better views were certainly desired.
Day 12: Zipolite and La Ventanilla
We returned to our ground-cuckoo location to give it another try. We found it difficult to tear ourselves away from the highway, as a flock of Yellow-winged Caciques played in the treetops. We also found Happy Wren, Streak-backed Oriole, Bell’s Vireo, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Banded Wren, and Golden-cheeked Woodpecker. Inside the thornforest, we were soon harassed by a troop of White-lored Gnatcatchers and later a family group of White-throated Magpie-Jays. Providing a stark contrast to the dry brown that surrounded us, a cracking adult male Orange-breasted Bunting fed on one of the paths. We scoped the white stack from a high bluff, so even those who didn’t come on the pelagic were able to see Red-billed Tropicbirds and Brown Boobies. Nearby, a male Citreoline Trogon was sitting quietly, but keen eyes picked him out. The ground-cuckoo wasn’t interested in playing this morning, but we were rewarded with an even more impressive bird. At the same location, we heard a muted whistling from within the tangles. After only seconds of playback, we were being treated to point-blank views of a singing male Red-breasted Chat—what luck to have one singing on its own! Though not as impressive, we were happy to find a pair of Olive Sparrows feeding next to the van as we returned to carry on to the next location.
The crashing surf at San Augustanillo beckoned, and we stopped to scope the beach and rocks. We found Elegant Tern, Brown Pelican, Laughing Gulls, Royal Tern, and Wandering Tattler.
We enjoyed lunch at La Ventanilla, which proved to be a great idea, as he restaurant is adjacent to a dripping pipe set in some bushes. For most of the meal, we were joined by a Rufous-backed Robin feeding in the mud. Other lunchtime visitors included Cinnamon Hummingbird, Yellow-winged Cacique, and Rufous-naped Wren.
With lunch over, we embarked on a leisurely canoe ride through the mangroves. Our knowledgeable captain knew the locations of the local roosting birds, and we were treated to very close views of Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Snowy Egret, Anhinga, White Ibis, and Boat-billed Heron. The mangroves are also home to a variety of smaller birds. We noted Yellow Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Great Kiskadee, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Willow Flycatcher, Green Kingfisher, and Northern Jaçana. At one point a very large crocodile swam frighteningly close to the canoe! A pair of squabbling green iguanas captured our interest for a moment. The last stop on the canoe ride was a coastal estuary. It was full of birds, including Tricolored Heron, Black-necked Stilt, Semipalmated Plover, Neotropic Cormorant, Green Heron, Spotted Sandpiper, and Blue-winged Teal. Right before we got back to the landing, a Common Black-Hawk screamed and soared overhead.
A quick trip into the foothills this evening produced stunning scope views of a Russet-crowned Motmot, as well as some flyover Scrub Euphonias. At dinner we were serenaded by a Colima Pygmy-Owl calling upslope from the hotel, but everyone wanted to rest for the travel day tomorrow.
Day 13: Puerto Escondido to Oaxaca
This morning we returned to Oaxaca, but via Puerto Escondido and Sola de Vega. In the lowlands, we had good looks at Ruddy Ground-Dove during a restroom break, and were continually entertained by flock-after-flock of White-throated Magpie-Jays. Once above Puerto Escondido, we started to get into some nice humid tropical forest. Our main target here was Cinnamon-sided Hummingbird, but it was not to be found. Still, the stop was very productive. We had another amazing view of Russet-crowned Motmot for starters! A fruiting tree provided food for Masked Tityra, Black-headed Saltator, Rufous-backed Robin, Red-billed Pigeon, Golden-cheeked Woodpecker, Yellow-winged Cacique, and Streak-backed Oriole. A little whisting brought in some small birds. Highlights included Painted Bunting, Warbling Vireo, Cinnamon Hummingbird, and Scrub Euphonia.
As we ascended the coastal range, we entered a large chunk of beautiful subtropical broadleafed forest. Our target was Wagler’s Emerald-Toucanet, and we heard one right away, but it didn’t come in to playback. We did find a pair of comical Acorn Woodpeckers, though. Then came what for many was the bird of a trip; we looked up to see a spectacular adult Black Hawk-Eagle circling literally feet over the treetops! It provided splendid views for a good minute before disappearing over the next ridge. A final stop on the coastal slope in some subtropical pine forest finally produced unobstructed scope views of Wagler’s Emerald-Toucanet, our last of the sierra’s endemics.
We pushed on to Oaxaca City, where we heartily enjoyed a final meal of delicious Oaxacan food tallied the list. Thus ended a very successful, not to mention fun, tour.
This list includes all the bird species that were recorded by at least one of us. Taxonomy and nomenclature closely follow Howell's Checklist of the Birds of Mexico and all subsequent AOU supplements. Quotation marks denote a possible future split. For instance, "Eastern" Blue Bunting means that the eastern form may one day be split from Blue Bunting. Brackets denote the larger taxon that a species has been split from. For instance, Galápagos [Audubon's] Shearwater means that Galápagos Shearwater was once considered a subspecies of Audubon's Shearwater (and may still be by some authorities). Parentheses denote an alternate name used by some checklists.
h = heard only
^ = endemic to northern Middle America
* = endemic to Mexico
(E) = endemic to the non-peninsular Gulf slope of northern Middle America
(SW) = endemic to interior southwestern Mexico
(W) = endemic to the Pacific (western) slope of northern Middle America
(SMS) = endemic to the Sierra Madre del Sur of Mexico