Mexico: Oaxaca and Chiapas - Birding Tour
With nearly 800 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, vibrant native culture, and some of the world’s most beautiful beaches, Oaxaca is hard to beat for a Mexican birding trip. A large number of North American breeding species winter in this area, and we can expect to see numerous migrant warblers, vireos, flycatchers, and other species as well. The optional extension takes in some of the best birding areas of the neighboring state of Chiapas, and targets some truly stunning species such as Rose-bellied Bunting and Pink-headed Warbler.
Main Tour: 2 -13 April ($4640; single supplement: $480)
Extension: 13 - 18 April ($2390; single supplement: $230)
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Other Tour Details:
Length: 12 days* (17* days w/ Ext.)
Starting City: Oaxaca City
Ending City: Huatulco (Tuxtla for Ext.)
Physical Difficulty: Moderate
Group size: 8 + 1 leader
Day 1: Arrival in Oaxaca
The tour begins this evening in Oaxaca City. If you arrive early enough, it’s worth taking a walk around the city, for sightseeing or birding. Nearby plazas can be surprisingly birdy with Rufous-backed Robin, Dusky Hummingbird, and wintering North American migrants.
Day 2: Teotitlán del Valle and Yagul
Birding the oak scrub above the village of Teotitlán del Valle should yield our first endemics. Bridled and Oaxaca Sparrows are our main targets, but we’ll also keep an eye and ear out for Dwarf Vireo, Boucard’s Wren, Ocellated Thrasher, West Mexican Chachalaca, Blue Mockingbird, White-throated Towhee, Golden Vireo, and White-striped Woodcreeper, along with many other more widespread species like Cassin’s and Thick-billed Kingbirds, Bridled Titmouse, Gray Silky-Flycatcher, Rufous-capped Warbler, Painted Redstart, and Black-vented Oriole. Teotitlán is world-renowned for its weavings, and we may a chance to have a look at them during a long and leisurely lunch in the heat of the day. In the afternoon, we’ll visit Yagul, an archaeological site surrounded by cactus, and one of the best sites for Gray-breasted Woodpecker and Beautiful Hummingbird.
Day 3: La Cumbre
We’ll spend the morning exploring humid pine-oak forest near La Cumbre Ixtepeji, 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 plan to leave early in order to have a chance to see Fulvous Owl before dawn. Numerous other birds are possible here like Collared Towhee, Northern (Mountain) Pygmy-Owl, Chestnut-sided Shrike-Vireo, White-eared and Rivoli’s Hummingbirds, Red, Golden-browed, and Olive Warblers, Mountain Trogon, Russet Nightingale-Thrush, Strong-billed Woodcreeper, and Rufous-capped Brush-Finch. In the afternoon, we may make some stops along the highway back to Oaxaca to look for anything we missed the previous day.
Day 4: North to Tuxtepec
We’ll keep our plans flexible this morning, targeting anything we may still need from La Cumbre or other nearby areas. We’ll spend the rest of the day driving north over the mountains, breaking up the journey with numerous birding stops. We’ll have our first chances at Rusty-crowned Ground-Sparrow and Hooded Yellowthroat before crossing the continental divide and descending into humid forest, eventually reaching the lowland city of Tuxtepec, where we spend three nights.
Days 5–6: Santa Maria Jacatepec, Valle Nacional, and Tuxtepec
We have two days to bird the lowlands and lower mountain slopes south of Tuxtepec. While the forest is quite fragmented, it is still exceptionally diverse and full of birds. Our primary target is the endemic Sumichrast’s Wren, restricted to limestone outcrops in hilly areas, but we’ll see many other species as well during our search. Some of the possibilities include Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, Green-breasted Mango, White-bellied and Canivet’s Emeralds, Black-headed and Gartered Trogons, Collared Aracari, Keel-billed Toucan, Golden-fronted and Pale-billed Woodpeckers, Red-lored Parrot, Olive-throated Parakeet, Rufous-breasted Spinetail, Yellow-bellied Tyrannulet, Black-crowned and Masked Tityras, Band-backed and Spot-breasted Wrens, Yellow-winged Tanager, Black-headed Saltator, Red-throated Ant-Tanager, Scrub and Yellow-throated Euphonias, Montezuma Oropendola, and Black-cowled Oriole.
Day 7: Gulf slope cloudforest and return to Oaxaca
We’ll make our way back south to Oaxaca today, spending much of the morning in lush cloudforest with a different set of birds from the lowlands. Various roadside stops will get us a nice selection of other birds which may include Azure-hooded and Unicolored Jays, Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush, Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer, Collared Trogon, Northern Emerald-Toucanet, Middle American Leaftosser, Spotted Woodcreeper, Ruddy and Scaly-throated Foliage-gleaners, Eye-ringed Flatbill, Gray-collared Becard, Elegant Euphonia, Blue-crowned Chlorophonia, White-naped Brushfinch, and Common Chlorospingus. A great set of hummingbirds is possible, but we’ll need some luck finding flowering trees and bushes. Possibilities include Azure-crowned Hummingbird, Bumblebee Hummingbird, Canivet’s Emerald, Violet Sabrewing, and others. We have a single night in Oaxaca.
Day 8: Monte Albán to San José del Pacífico
Today we’ll visit some of the most exquisite ruins to be found in all of the Americas, the Zapotec capital of Monte Albán. Before the gates open, we’ll bird the entrance road for two unbelievable vireos: Slaty and Golden, as well as Pileated Flycatcher, Blue Mockingbird, and other species. Once inside the ruins, Rock and Canyon Wrens will keep us company as we search for any other species we may still be looking for in the area (often Ocellated Thrasher). Later, we’ll drive a few hours south into the Sierra de Miahuatlán and spend the night in some nice mountain cabins. Here we’ll search from some difficult species such as Hooded Yellowthroat and White-throated Jay, though will see a number of the more common montane species in the process.
Day 9: Sierra de Miahuatlán
Several endemic birds inhabit the mountains here, and we’ll devote a morning to seeking them out. If needed, we’ll try again for Hooded Yellowthroat and White-throated Jay before heading downslope to look for Blue-capped Hummingbird, Gray-crowned Woodpecker, “Wagler’s” Northern Emerald-Toucanet, Red-headed Tanager, and Chestnut-sided Shrike-Vireo, along with other mode widespread species. We’ll spend the night in Pluma Hidalgo, a famous coffee growing region.
Day 10: Sierra de Miahuatlán to Huatulco
After looking for any other montane species we may have missed, we’ll drive south towards the Pacific. The habitat becomes drier and a new set of species will start to appear including the impressive White-throated Magpie-Jay and Russet-crowned Motmot. We’ll check a stakeout for Pheasant Cuckoo before continuing on to the coastal resort town of Huatulco, where we spend two nights. We’ll stay out late for some nightbirding, where we hope to see Northern Potoo and possibly an owl or two.
Day 11: Huatulco Area
We’ll spend the cooler early morning and late afternoon hours looking for the endemics and other specialties of the dry thorn forest. Some of the most beautiful and spectacular birds of the trip are found here, and gems like Red-breasted Chat, Orange-breasted Bunting, Citreoline Trogon, and Turquoise-crowned Hummingbird headline a long list of targets. Others include Happy Wren, Rufous-naped Wren, Colima Pygmy-Owl, Golden-cheeked Woodpecker, Flammulated Flycatcher, Cinnamon Hummingbird, Spot-breasted Oriole, Rufous-backed Thrush, Blue Bunting, Yellow-winged Cacique, Streak-backed Oriole, West Mexican Chachalaca, White-fronted Parrot, and “Long-crested” Northern Cardinal. It gets extremely hot in the middle of the day, so a long siesta is in order before heading back out in the afternoon to look anything we’re still missing.
Day 12: Departure or begin extension
If you are not joining the extension, the tour ends this morning with a transfer to the Huatulco airport.
Isthmus and Chiapas Extension
This extension targets numerous cool birds found around the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and in the nearby state of Chiapas. We’ll search for Cinnamon-tailed (Sumichrast’s) Sparrow in windswept scrub, Rose-bellied (Rosita’s) Bunting in the arid foothills, Giant Wren in coastal plains, and Nava’s Wren in the karst-strewn Gulf-slope rainforest. A couple of days in the highland forest around San Cristobal will give us a good chance at a number of species not found west of the Isthmus, such as Blue-throated Motmot, Black-throated Jay, and the truly gaudy Pink-headed Warbler.
Day 1: Traversing the Isthmus
If we still have any dry forest targets, we may look for them before driving east for about 2.5 hours to the Isthmus of Tehantepec, a significant geographic barrier that has encouraged speciation and created a distinct division between avifauna in Mexico. We’ll make various stops in the windswept scrub to search for Cinnamon-tailed Sparrow, Lesser Ground-Cuckoo, and Double-striped Thick-knee among the more common species before continuing on a few more hours, passing seemingly endless wind farms, to the town of Arriaga, where we’ll spend one night. The late afternoon will be spent in the foothills nearby for one of the most striking of all Mexican birds, the unique Rose-bellied (or Rosita’s) Bunting, though we also have chances to see a few other species such as Green-fronted Hummingbird and Banded Wren.
Day 2: Puerto Arista to San Cristóbal
We’ll begin the morning targeting Giant Wren and White-bellied Chachalaca in wooded ranches north of the beach town of Puerto Arista. Depending on water levels, the area can be pretty good for waterbirds such as White Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill Anhinga, various herons and egrets, and migrant shorebirds. We can also check nearby mangroves for Mangrove Cuckoo. In the afternoon we will drive about four hours to the highland town of San Cristobal, where we spend two nights.
Day 3: San Cristóbal Area
The mountains around San Cristóbal host a number of superb birds. Pink-headed Warbler is high on our “want” list and we have a very good chance of finding one. Other possibilities include Blue-throated Motmot, Rufous-collared Robin, Black-capped Swallow, Highland Guan, Mountain and Black Thrushes, Elegant Euphonia, Yellow-backed Oriole, Rufous-browed Wren, Garnet-throated Hummingbird, Amethyst-throated Mountain-gem, White-naped Brushfinch, Golden-browed Warbler, Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer, Blue-and-white Mockingbird, Black-throated and Uniform Jays, and Black-headed Siskin. We also plan to do some owling here – Unspotted Saw-whet Owl would be a coup, but requires “mucho” luck! Other possibilities include Bearded Screech-Owl and Northern (Guatemalan) Pygmy-Owl.
Day 4: San Cristobal to Tuxtla Guttiériez
We’ll spend another morning looking for anything else we still need around San Cristóbal, then head to Tuxtla Guttiérez in the afternoon, where we spend the final two nights of the extension. If time permits, we will have a first visit to Sumidero Canyon.
Day 5: Sumidero Canyon and Selva El Ocote
Sumidero Canyon is a scenic gorge is very close to Tuxtla and protected as a national park. A mixture of dry scrub, semihumid forest, and bamboo is easily accessible along the road through the park as well as at various lookouts along the way. Some of our targets here include Belted Flycatcher, Singing Quail, Canivet’s Emerald, Azure-crowned Hummingbird, Blue-and-white Mockingbird, Banded Wren, and Buff-bellied Hummingbird. With luck we may even locate a Bar-winged Oriole or Slender Sheartail, though the abundance of both seems to be erratic. In late morning, we will drive to El Ocote and bird an easy dirt road that skirts the edge of the reserve, targeting two birds in particular: "Long-tailed" Wedge-tailed Sabrewing and the limestone-loving Nava’s Wren. This area is also home to a high diversity of other species, and some possibilities include Black-faced Grosbeak, White-bellied Emerald, Olive-throated Parakeet, Stripe-throated Hermit, Smoky-brown Woodpecker, Green Parakeet, White-bellied Wren, Long-billed Gnatwren, Tropical Parula, Gray-headed Tanager, White-winged Tanager, Red-crowned Ant-Tanager, Olive-backed Euphonia, Montezuma Oropendola, Slate-colored Solitaire, and Green Shrike-Vireo. (Note: the tour leader may choose to visit Selva El Ocoto in the morning and Sumidero Canyon in the afternoon)
Day 6: Departure
The extension ends this morning with a transfer to the airport in Tuxtla Guttiériez.
PACE: Moderate. Most days will involve a at least a couple of hours of driving (sometimes more), and birding through a good portion of the day. There may be a few chances for a mid-day break, but these will be the exception rather than the norm. On one day of the main tour, and possibly one day on the extension, we will leave the hotel very early to look for owls; most other days have us leaving between 5am and 6am, and reaching the hotel between 5:00-6:00pm. All breakfasts and the occasional lunch will be taken in the field.
PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Mostly easy to moderate, with almost all the walking along flat or slightly inclined roads or easy trails. There will likely be a couple of short, more difficult trails, but these will normally be of limited duration, and typically done to pursue a calling bird that can’t be seen otherwise. On most days you can expect to walk around 3 miles (4.8 km) at a relatively slow pace.
CLIMATE: The highest elevations can be around 40°F/5°C early in the morning, and the coastal lowlands can get up to around 95°F/35°C on a hot day, but much of the tour will experience a pleasant climate with temperatures ranging from around 59°-77°F (15°-25°C). Some rain is possible, especially in the Tuxtepec area.
ACCOMMODATION: Good to excellent. All of the hotels have typical amenities, including Wi-Fi, though the Wi-Fi sometimes only works in the common areas.
PHOTOGRAPHY: This is a birding tour, but there are some good photography opportunities for casual photographers. These tend to be best in the drier forest in the Oaxaca Valley and near the coast. In the taller and more humid forests elsewhere, the photography can be difficult. Bird feeding has not caught on yet in Mexico. Only one or two places have feeders, and they are not good for photography.
TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS: A valid passport is required; it must be valid for at least six months past your intended stay. Citizens of the US, Canada, EU, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan, do not currently require a tourist visa. For other nationalities, please check with the nearest embassy or consulate, or ask our office staff if you are unsure. Travel requirements are subject to change; it is a good idea to double check six weeks before the trip.
WHAT’S INCLUDED?: Tips for drivers, local guides, and restaurants; accommodation from the night of day 1 to the night day 10, and to the night of day 6 of the extension if also taking the extension; meals from dinner on day 1 (unless you arrive too late for dinner service) to breakfast on day 11, and to breakfast of day 6 of the extension if also taking the extension (please note that if you have early departing flights you may miss the included breakfast on your departure day); reasonable non-alcoholic beverages with meals; safe drinking water only between meals; Tropical Birding tour leader with scope and audio playback gear from the evening of day 1 to the evening of day 10, and to the evening of day 6 of the extension if also taking the extension; ground transport for the group in a suitable vehicle from the morning of day 2 to the afternoon of day 10, and to the afternoon of day 6 of the extension if also taking the extension; one arrival and one departure airport transfer per person (transfers may be shared with other tour participants if they arrive/depart at the same time); entrance fees to the sites mentioned in the itinerary; a printed and bound checklist to keep track of your sightings (given to you at the start of the tour – only electronic copies can be provided in advance).
WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED?: Optional tips to the tour leader; tips to baggage carriers if you require their services; flights; snacks; additional drinks apart from those included; alcoholic beverages; travel insurance; excursions not included in the tour itinerary; extras in hotels such as laundry service, minibar, room service, telephone calls, and personal items; medical fees; other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included.
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