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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Mexico: Colima and Jalisco

2011 Tour Narrative

In Brief: From a mountain meadow coming alive at dawn with the sound of countless hummingbirds, to a field filled with eye-burning bright Orange-breasted Buntings; from a Lesser Roadrunner flashing his violet-blue face patches to a tiny male Golden-crowned Emerald flashing his crown; from a size-by-side “textbook” comparison of Golden Vireo and Wilson’s Warbler to “Christmas trees” packed with male Yellow-headed Blackbirds; from San Blas Jays to Aztec Thrushes haunting the trees; from Red Warbler in highland fir forest to Mangrove Warbler in coastal, well, mangroves; and from great guacamole picnic lunches to an “endemic” chocolate shop and friendly people everywhere – this year’s Colima and Jalisco tour was full of rich memories. And then, all too soon, it seemed like it was over.

In Detail: Everyone arrived on time in mid-afternoon – and stepped into pleasant warm air and sunshine. After some birding at the airport between arriving flights (30 species in 30 minutes, including Citreoline Trogon!) we headed to the hotel in Barra de Navidad in time for a leisurely but bird-filled walk around the neighborhood, featuring our first Orange-breasted Bunting, flashy Stripe-headed Sparrows and Streak-backed Orioles, and migrant Blue Grosbeaks and Grasshopper Sparrows. Our first morning was spent in thorn forest along the Playa de Oro road, starting with a great fruiting tree that held West Mexican Chachalacas, Citreoline Trogons, Mexican Caciques, and a pair of Summer Tanagers. A nice mixture of residents and migrants included Tropical Parula, Crane Hawk, Fan-tailed Warbler, Black-capped Vireo, a surprise White-throated Thrush, and 4 species of Myiarchus flycatchers! Off the deserted golden beach a large pod of Spotted Dolphins cruised by, attended by numerous Brown Boobies, tropicbirds could just be discerned at the offshore Peña Blaca islet, and a male Orange-breasted Bunting burned bright from a bare brushpile. After lunch and a siesta (or pool for some) we birded in and around town – with almost too many birds to look at, from Reddish Egret and Mangrove Warbler to Happy Wren and trees full of orioles and warblers. Ahhh, Mexico. Our second birding day started with a great Mottled Owl and then a Collared Forest-Falcon, and continued steadily with male Blue and Varied Buntings, San Blas Jays, tiny Golden-crowned Emeralds, Rufous-backed Thrushes, and perched Orange-fronted Parakeets. After lunch it was time to largely kiss Myiarchus goodbye and head inland to Ciudad Guzmán, at the extreme southwest corner of the Mexican plateau, and our base for the next four nights.

Two-and-a-half days isn’t really time to explore the diversity of birds and habitats on the Volcanes de Colima, but we made a good effort and missed little. Our first volcano day started with Crested Guan and Pine Flycatcher amid a chorus of hundreds of hummingbirds, and then an intense hour or so of activity as the sun brought to life warblers (Red Warblers are hard to beat!), orioles, flowerpiercers, wrens, and siskins. “If those Aztec Thrushes would just be quiet it would be easier to locate this male Bumblebee Hummingbird” – a statement that reflects the “hardships” of Mexico birding! The Bumblebee finally fed right in front of us, and birds kept coming – Colima Warblers, a red Mountain Pygmy-Owl, lines of Gray Silkies posing atop fir spikes, Mountain Trogon, flocks with the fancy-faced Chestnut-sided Shrike-Vireo, more warblers… and on and on. A memorable “quiet” moment after lunch featured Wilson’s and MacGillivray’s Warblers, a pair of Slate-throated Whitestarts, and a Russet Nightingale-Thrush feeding in the open sun – and on the ground only yards away! Our second day started at the “Superb (not OK) Corral” where there was lots of “stuff” – a farmyard loaded with brightly colored buntings (100+ male Lazuli Buntings “blue” us away) and grosbeaks, flocks of sparrows, orioles, warblers, a Blue Mockingbird, and some very obliging Banded Quail.  Other highlights included Russet-crowned Motmot, Lesser Roadrunner, Gray-collared Becard, and Dickey’s Oriole. Oh, and what amazing views of the volcanoes. The lake at Guzmán in late afternoon offered a contrast with a good variety of waterbirds and mind-blowing numbers of Yellow-headed Blackbirds. The third morning we worked our way from brushy fields into humid pine-oak forest. Birds varied accordingly and included scope-singing Brown-backed Solitaire, Acorn Woodpeckers, a “cute” Buff-breasted Flycatcher, and those elusive Green-striped Brushfinches, before it was time to head on to the tropical heat of Colima City.

Our first afternoon outside Colima City started with Passerina overload, if there is such a thing – 6 species in the genus (of 7 in the World) feeding together – Varied, Indigo, Lazuli, Painted, and over 100 Orange-breasted Buntings, with a liberal scattering of Blue Grosbeaks! The White-throated Magpie-Jays weren’t bad either. Handsome Black-chested Sparrows showed off nicely, but Balsas Screech-Owl was elusive – yet finally seen, much to our delight. Birds the next morning included Elegant Trogons, Black-capped and Dwarf Vireos, Gray-crowned Woodpeckers, and Rusty-crowned Ground-Sparrows, before a restful siesta. Afternoon birding featured our second motmot, and our only Laughing Falcon, and a delightful, tiny Colima Pygmy-Owl in its eponymous home state. Our second bird-filled morning around Colima included great views of Flame-colored Tanagers and Fan-tailed Warbler, spectacular flocks of Lilac-crowned Parrots, and a group of coatis which lurked along the ridge top! Our drive back to the coast featured a stop for squadrons of soaring White Pelicans and a cryptic Zone-tailed Hawk, before lounging on our balconies overlooking the warm Pacific waves. Our last afternoon at the airport marshes we enjoyed watching some now-familiar birds, including flashy Mexican Caciques and Great Kiskadees, and also found a number of “new” species, including Roseate Spoonbill, Snail Kites, and even Rose-breasted Grosbeaks home-from-home. All-in-all a wonderful trip, was it only a week of birding? Thanks to all for making this such a memorable and bird-filled (and humor-filled!) experience. Are there birds in Mexico?

Steve Howell

Updated: April 2011