Day 5 – January 26
Due a stomach bug, I missed out on this day’s birding, however Luis and group went out to an area called Chacalilla where they had breakfast in the field. Some of the highlight
birds noted from this morning’s excursion include Elegant Quail (heard), American Avocet, Willow Flycatcher, Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush, Lucy’s Warbler, Fan-tailed Warbler, Blue-black Grassquit and Lazuli Bunting. The group returned to San Blas for lunch and then later headed down to the beach to look for shorebirds. They found some, including Black-bellied Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Whimbrel and Willet.
Day 6 – January 27
We awoke to a beautiful sunny day this morning and we decided to go and enjoy some pre-breakfast birding. We headed up to an historic area atop a hill, called Ruinas de la Contraduria. The birding here was very good. Almost as soon as we arrived, the group happened to split into two, with half of the folks following Luis and the other half with
me. I found a nice big tree that was quite birdy and several of us picked out birds in this tree including Summer Tanager, Happy Wren, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Plumbeous Vireo and the strange Squirrel Cuckoo. Both groups simultaneously got onto a noisy flock of Mexican Parrotlets, an endemic, as they fluttered about in some trees. Luis then called us over to see Black-vented Orioles, which we did see. It was time to head back to our hotel and have some breakfast.
After breakfast the real fun started as we loaded up the vehicles and were just about to set off on our 4 hour drive to San Sebastian del Oeste. I went to start the jeep, and there was nothing, not even any chugging. Luis and Andy and I headed into town in the van and found a mechanic who came back with us to the jeep and jump started it. The only catch is I wasn’t to turn it off until we got to our lunch stop a couple of hours away. I filled it up with gas, while it was running, which may or may not have been a good idea, but we survived. We got to our lunch stop a little restaurant in Bucerias where a friend
of Luis’ cooked us up some good grub. We were entertained by large Green Iguanas in the trees above the restaurant and every so often a loud thud would penetrate the air, as one of the iguanas dropped onto the metal roof. A male Wilson’s Warbler also kept us occupied as he foraged through the potted flowers around the table. After lunch, the replacement jeep arrived and we were back on track, making our way high into the mountains. On our way up the twisty mountain road, we encountered another problem. The transmission in Luis’ van died. This was not our day obviously. The van broke down on a curve where there were only two lanes, so at various points several of us took turns directing traffic like professionals. Luis flagged down a taxi and he went down the mountain to find cell phone coverage. Luckily he got a hold of the rental company a mere 5 minutes before they were closing down the office for the day. Luis returned to us about half an hour later and gave us the good news that another van was on its way. In
the meantime he had summoned three additional taxis to take everyone up to San Sebastian. Despite all this craziness, we saw some birds while we were stuck there on the mountain. Everyone saw the flocks of Lilac-crowned Parrots coming in to roost in the canyon at dusk. Some people had a great look as their taxi driver paused and let them see the spectacle. At one point an adult Peregrine Falcon arrived and sat in a tree next to the broken down van. Just as it was getting dark, Luis pointed out two Crested Guans to us as they glided down across the highway from the hill above. The replacement van arrived and off we went, up the winding highway, to San Sebastian where we found our group all eagerly awaiting our arrival. We had a much deserved dinner in a nice little restaurant with a room just big enough for our group. As was the case through most of the trip, the food was good.
Day 7 – Jan 28
This morning we departed early and began the climb up towards Cerro La Bufa, a mountain reaching approximately 2100 meters. The road was narrow, winding and bumpy, but the views were quite something. We stopped once or twice on the way up and found nothing much, though Barbara spotted a Red-faced Warbler, our only one for the tour. At a nice landing we stopped and had a picnic breakfast just as the sun was coming up over the trees. Bird activity was quite good here, and we saw one great bird after the other. One of the first birds of interest was an empidonax flycatcher, you know, the bird family that birders have frequent nightmares about. Luckily this bird gave a few
calls that solidified its identity as a Pine Flycatcher. Then, a gorgeous Slate-throated Redstart burst into view and flared its gaudy tail at us. In a pine tree nearby I spotted a gorgeous Red Warbler, and the bird flitted about amongst the needles while we studied it. Another nice warbler, this time in the form of a neotropical migrant, a male Hermit Warbler appeared. The odd Olive Warbler, a species that is in a family all of its own, also appeared in the form of a male staring at us from in a pine tree above. The cascading songs of Brown-backed Solitaires rang through the air this morning and we had a couple of great looks at this species. We had a brief encounter with a Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer and an equally brief view of a pair of Black-headed Siskins this morning.
After our lovely outdoor breakfast we began a stroll that took us up towards the top of La Bufa. Along the way, we saw a nice variety of birds, including some little gems of hummingbirds like Bumblebee Hummingbird, Rivoli’s Hummingbird and White-eared Hummingbird. Mixed flocks of passerines included Hutton’s and Cassin’s vireos, Hammond’s Flycatcher, Blue Mockingbird, Black-and-white, and Black-throated Gray warblers, Grayish Saltators and Black-headed Grosbeaks. It probably took about 45 minutes of searching, but I was determined to find the Mountain Trogon that was calling from the thick brush up a wooded hillside. I finally spotted the trogon nestled up to a large tree trunk and got the bird in the scope so the rest of the people who were with me could see the bird. Another excellent sighting today was of a Transvolcanic Jay that Barbara spotted. We enjoyed lengthy scope views of this fairly newly named Mexican endemic species.
Closer to San Sebastian, we made another stop to check out some birds high atop a roadside tree. They turned out to be Gray Silky Flycatchers, our first for the tour. Stopping here turned out to be a great idea since the area was aflutter with avian
activity. Blue Mockingbird hopped into view briefly to steal a piece of pear from a tree. Both Smoky-brown and Ladder-backed woodpeckers lurched up the thin pine trunks. Tufted Flycatchers snagged flies from roadside telephone wires. Two Grace’s Warblers showed off nicely as well, and overhead 45 Vaux’s Swifts passed by.
Day 8 – January 29
Under mixed skies and breezy conditions we headed from San Sebastian for some early morning birding. Unfortunately the area we wanted to visit was closed because of the filming of a Netflix movie, but Luis found us a good alternative area to visit called the Capilla de San Judas. Along the road here we found some nice new birds for the trip, including a male Flame-colored Tanager, a lovely Berylline Hummingbird and Golden-
crowned Emerald, for some. Green Jays finally made visual appearances rather than being heard. We had some fantastic looks at a West Mexican endemic this morning, a little group of 2 or 3 Rusty-crowned Ground-Sparrows perched for scope views. Also, it was nice to finally catch up with male Varied Buntings today, in with a mixed flock of Blue Buntings, and White-collared Seedeaters. A Spotted Wren remained hidden but uttered its loud song.
We had breakfast in San Sebastian before leaving town, en route to El Tuito. The drive took us from the mountains back into Puerto Vallarta and we headed south along the coast, before heading inland to El Tuito. We had lunch in a nice little restaurant here where an Orange-fronted Parakeet was being held captive in a cage. The food was nice, though we did not support the parrot being held in this manner either. We made our way to Rancho Primavera, nestled in a lovely setting where forest and ponds, as well as well stocked feeders, attract a wide array of bold and beautiful birds. Upon arrival today
we caught our first glimpses of species like Yellow Grosbeak, Plain-capped Starthroat and Russet-crowned Motmot. A Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl was incessantly calling next to the main house shortly after we arrived. We walked down to the pond and watched birds for a while racking up an impressive list including Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, Ringed Kingfisher, Green Kingfisher, Least Grebe, Wood Stork and Vermilion Flycatcher.
Day 9 – January 30
After breakfast we headed off up towards an area known locally as ‘the macaw preserve’. Along the way, the birding was excellent and we encountered a couple of mixed species flocks that were quite impressive. Birds mixed in with the flocks included
Squirrel Cuckoo, San Blas Jay, an endemic, the Gray-crowned Woodpecker, along with Masked Tityra, Citreoline Trogon, Ivory-billed Woodcreeper, Rose-throated Becard and Brown-backed Solitaire. The discovery of a Colima Pygmy-Owl provided one of the most memorable moments of the tour. The owl just sat there while all of its admirers gabbed away and snapped photos. We then began searching for the Military Macaws. We could hear them in the distance throughout the morning with their loud, raucous calls that carry long distances. It didn’t take us long to see our first Military Macaws and we enjoyed some great scope views of the birds. Other details withheld to protect the birds.
Next, we visited the Puerto Vallarta Botanical Gardens. Upon arrival I spotted a Hook-billed Kite soaring over a ridge, and this was our only sighting of the tour. We had lunch on the patio and while we waited for our food we watched the birds feasting below us. Fruit feeders were attracting many birds such as San Blas Jays, Yellow-winged Caciques,
Grayish Saltators, Yellow Grosbeaks, White-throated Thrushes, Rufous-backed Robins, Golden-cheeked Woodpeckers and ridiculously colored Green Jays. Flocks of Vaux’s Swifts suddenly filled the air and were gone just as quickly. The gardens here were quite good for hummingbirds and some of us caught a glimpse of the endemic Mexican Hermit as it fed from cactus flowers. Cinnamon Hummingbirds were quite common and several Plain-capped Starthroats visited feeders. Foraging down below the patio were both Sinaloa and Happy wrens for comparison. Some people saw Rusty-crowned Ground-Sparrow here as well. Before we left, we saw a female type Chestnut-sided Warbler, our one and only for the trip.
Back at Rancho Primavera, we headed down to the lake again for sunset. On the way, a Hooded Merganser on another pond halted our progress. This is apparently quite an
uncommon sighting in this area, so Luis was quite happy. It was beginning to get dark, but we still saw a nice variety here including Neotropic Cormorant, Green Heron, Green Kingfisher, Pale-billed Woodpecker, Black-throated Magpie-Jays, and Summer Tanager. Suddenly we could hear the high pitched buzzing of mosquitoes so we hurried off back to have dinner.
Day 10 – January 31
A little morning birding at Rancho Primavera bulked up our day’s list with the likes of Black-throated Magpie-Jay, San Blas Jays, Blue Mockingbird, Stripe-headed Sparrows, Cinnamon Hummingbird and more. After breakfast we headed off to a nearby roadside pond where after about 45 minutes of birding we had tallied close to 45 species. Some of the highlights included both adult and immature Gray Hawks, our only
Ruby-throated Hummingbird of the tour, a young male, and our one and only Nutting’s Flycatcher. Several of us saw a White-throated Flycatcher, another of the empidonax species. Other firsts appeared such as Greenish Elaenia, Lesser Goldfinch and Acorn Woodpeckers. Not a bad start! We carried on to the Bioto Road where we made many stops throughout the morning. The first few stops for Elegant Trogon did not yield the target species, but we did get nice views of Lilac-crowned Parrot. We encountered a couple of nice mixed species flocks that included birds like Golden Vireo, Squirrel Cuckoo, Citreoline Trogon, Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Happy Wren, Yellow-breasted Chat, Varied and Blue buntings and a Scrub Euphonia! Chris S and Chris C enjoyed watching a White Morpho, a large tropical butterfly that the locals call the ‘flying napkin’. Up to three different Colima Pygmy-Owls were seen / and heard today. Just a few of us were lucky enough to catch a look at the White-throated Magpie-Jays, but unfortunately by the time the folks from the van got back to the location, the jays had disappeared. We turned around and made our way back to El Tuito, where we had lunch
and then some of us went to a local gallery, and others made one or two more stops on the way back to Rancho Primavera. Those that carried on birding had a quick glimpse of a Black-capped Vireo along the access road to Rancho. This afternoon we had a couple of hours of free time before dinner.
Day 11 – February 1
This morning we had one last look at the feeders at Rancho Primavera, where the usual Black-throated Magpie-Jays, Yellow Grosbeaks, Streak-backed Orioles and Golden-cheeked Woodpeckers put on a show. We then loaded ourselves and started the 1.5 hour journey back to Puerto Vallarta where the tour would end late this morning. Thank you to everyone for coming along!