The spectacular Magnificent Hummingbird is one of 23 species of hummingbird possible on this tour Photo: Rich Hoyer
The city of Oaxaca lies in an arid valley ringed by mountains in south-central Mexico. The site has been occupied for centuries, as evidenced by the old architecture and nearby pre-Columbian ruins, but the city remains rather small and retains a vibrant atmosphere. And although Oaxacan handicrafts offered in the colourful markets have lured travellers from all over the world, the visitors have not changed the town’s unique flavour. When Oaxaca celebrates the holidays, it is perhaps the most Mexican of all cities. The area has also acquired a reputation among birdwatchers, for in the immediate surroundings of the city one can find a variety of habitats, from desert and oak thorn-scrub to pine and cloud forest. Birds of at least three distinct faunal regions occur here, among them many of Mexico’s most notable endemic species. This trip departs somewhat from the normal pattern of our tours: mornings will be spent birdwatching, but some afternoons will be devoted to cultural events in Oaxaca City (such as the Noche de Rábanos), exploring a couple markets, or visiting ruins. The trip is designed for the person wanting to take a Christmas vacation, experience the holidays in the surroundings of a different culture, and see a number of Mexico’s rare endemic birds.
Day 1: The tour begins at 6 pm in Oaxaca City. Our comfortable hotel is perched on a hillside with a splendid view of Oaxaca City. A good restaurant, shuttle service to downtown, and a pool round out the important amenities. Night in Oaxaca City.
Days 2-5: Our explorations will begin the morning of Day 2. Each of our forays afield will concentrate on a particular habitat, with ample time to observe the common birds and seek out the rare or more retiring ones. Visiting thorn-scrub and arid oak forest north and southeast of town, we expect to see Dusky Hummingbird, Gray-breasted Woodpecker, Rufous-capped Warbler, Bridled Sparrow, and perhaps the very local Oaxaca Sparrow. Exploring the higher elevations on Cerro San Felipe north of town, with stops in pine-oak, fir, and cloud forests, we’ll look for Chestnut-sided Shrike-Vireo, Mountain Trogon, Gray-barred Wren, Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer, Collared Towhee, and Rufous-capped Brushfinch. Warbler flocks should include migrant species from the north mingling with the local Crescent-chested and Red Warblers and Slate-throated Redstart. And of course we’ll search for Dwarf Jay, the specialty of Cerro San Felipe.
We’ll also bird near and in the famous ruins of Monte Albán and Yagul. Located on lower hills near the main valley, species here might include Pileated Flycatcher, Boucard’s Wren, Beautiful Hummingbird, and Gray Silky-flycatcher. There will even be some time to bird on the hotel grounds, where White-throated Towhee, Tufted Flycatcher, and Slate-throated Redstart might mingle with the many migrant Nashville and Yellow-rumped Warblers.
Days 6-8: We’ll make a two-night, three-day side trip to Tuxtepec in the Gulf of Mexico lowlands. The distance to Tuxtepec is only 130 miles, but because of the winding mountain road and several birding stops along the way, we’ll reach our hotel in the late afternoon. The road above Valle Nacional passes through one of the finest stretches of cloud forest in Mexico. This road is rich in birds, virtually none of which can be found in the Oaxaca Valley. Here we may see White Hawk, Montezuma Oropendola, Slate-colored Solitaire, Azure-hooded and Unicolored Jays, Emerald-chinned Hummingbird, and many others characteristic of this more humid forest. Closer to Tuxtepec, we’ll enjoy birds of a rather tropical flavour, such as Band-backed and White-bellied Wrens, Yellow-tailed and Black-cowled Orioles, Keel-billed Toucan, Rufous-breasted Spinetail, and many other species that will boost our trip list. We even have a small chance of seeing the Mexico endemic Sumichrast’s Wren.
Days 9-10: We’ll have two nights and one final day based out of our Oaxaca City hotel to visit some new locations in the interior valleys or perhaps return to the pine-oak if any specialities still elude us. We usually drop down a few kilometres into the Tehuantepec drainage into a beautiful giant cactus woodland where White-lored Gnatcatcher, Nutting’s Flycatcher, Banded Wren, Rufous-naped Wren, or Elegant Trogon could be trip additions.
With the exception of our travel days to Tuxtepec, we finish birding most days with lunch and an afternoon stop or two to examine local rugs, textiles, and handicrafts in the open-air markets. On the way back to the hotel one of the days we’ll stop to ogle at a famously huge and ancient tree. On a couple days participants even will have time to honor the Mexican tradition of the afternoon siesta, or else take a personal trip to re-visit the nearby Monte Albán ruins or simply walk around town enjoying the architecture and absorbing the festive spirit of the season.
The tour concludes in Oaxaca City on the morning of Day 10.
Updated: 17 November 2020