Sunday, 29 May 2016

West Mexico - Feb/March 2017

This specialised itinerary is designed to concentrate our efforts in finding as many of the 40+ endemic bird species of Western Mexico as possible. While we will visit areas in Sinaloa, along the Durango Highway and San Blas, the majority of our time will be spent in the bird rich areas of Colima and Jalisco and the twin volcanos of Volcan de Fuego & Volcan de Nieve that hold a staggering array of bird diversity.

Volcan de Fuego

So our journey begins in Mazatlan, which shortens our route along Mexico's Pacific Coast allowing us more time in the field and we begin our first morning's birding amongst some nearby scrubby foothills, before travelling uphill via the Durango Highway. Turning inland toward Durango the habitat changes from brushy, secondary thorn forest margins separated by fields and houses to hillsides covered with beautiful thorn forest filled with birds. Rufous-bellied Chachalaca, Elegant Quail, Mexican Parrotlet, Lilac-crowned Parrot, Colima Pygmy-Owl, White-naped Swift, Golden-crowned Emerald, Berylline and Sparkling-tailed Hummingbirds, Citreoline Trogon, Russet-crowned Motmot, Black-throated Magpie-Jay, Purplish-backed Jay, Happy and Sinaloa Wrens, Black-capped Gnatcatcher, Blue Mockingbird, Fan-tailed and Rufous-capped Warblers, Blue Bunting and Rusty-crowned Ground-Sparrow top the list of specialties. 

Russet-crowned Motmot

Colima Pygmy-Owl

Elegant Quail

As spectacular as this list may appear, the real objects of our search are found in the pine woodlands at higher elevations - Tufted Jay and Eared Quetzal, two of Mexico's most impressive and interesting birds. Although the jay can be conspicuous at times, the quetzal is quite the opposite. 

Tufted Jay

Other endemics we hope to find here include Mountain Trogon, Grey-crowned Woodpecker, Mountain Pygmy-Owl, White-striped Woodcreeper, Pine Flycatcher, Grey-collared Becard, Spotted Wren, Russet Nightingale-Thrush, Aztec Thrush, Grey Silky-flycatcher, Crescent-chested and Red Warblers (here the 'grey eared' form), Red-headed Tanager, Rufous-capped and Green-striped Brush-Finches, Hooded Grosbeak and Black-headed Siskin. 

Spotted Wren

Red Warbler

We have two days to fully explore this beautiful area, with vistas from a perch overlooking Barranca Rancho Liebre sure to take your breath away and at least one evening will be spent looking for owls. We then move on to the superb birding sites around San Blas and during our first afternoon we will look for Military Macaw, Colima Pygmy-Owl, Mexican Hermit, San Blas Jay, Sinaloa Crow, and there's an evening outing to find our first Buff-collared Nightjars. 

Fancy a nice, slow cruise along the creeks...?

The following morning will be spent aboard small boats gliding quietly through coastal mangroves and after exploring the estuary and its waterbirds, looking especially for Rufous-necked Wood-Rail, Boat-billed Heron and a huge variety of other herons, egrets and raptors, we'll circle a pair of offshore rocks where Blue-footed & Brown Boobies are often present, and perhaps a pelagic species cruising close to shore. 

Northern Potoo

Boat-billed Heron

Bare-throated Tiger-Heron

Blue-footed Booby

Heerman's Gulls

Neotropic Cormorant

Rufous-necked Wood-Rail

We'll also be birding areas that hold a number of new birds for our list such as Rufous-bellied Chachalaca, Elegant Quail, Lesser Roadrunner, Colima Pygmy-Owl, Mexican Woodnymph and Bumblebee Hummingbird (as well as a host of wintering northern hummers for our Mexican lists), White-striped Woodcreeper, Spotted, Happy and Sinaloa Wrens and Red-headed Tanager. 

There's plenty of great scenery on this tour

One night along the Pacific coast en-route to Colima gives us a chance to explore some lesser-known locales that hold impressive wetlands, thick thorn forest and vast agricultural areas that provide further opportunities to find Rufous-necked Wood-Rail, along with Mexican Parrotlet, San Blas Jay and Yellow-winged Caçique.

However, the bulk of our time during this birding adventure will be spent in the well known birding states of  Colima and Jalisco and these areas possess some of the finest birding to be found in tropical America. The quality and number of birds to be found in this habitat rich area is just amazing. And as the birding is so spectacular, we are allowing three whole days to fully explore this one site! Home to a wide variety of endemics, Volcan de Fuego is an experience that needs to be savoured slowly and after visiting a number of other memorable birding spots that is exactly what we will do. We begin along the Jalisco coast in thorn forest, move inland to fields, ponds & wetlands, visit more dry forest and then climb through changing habitats on the volcano that include scattered oaks, dry oak/pine forest, humid oak/pine forest and finishing with pine/fir forest just below the timberline. This diversity of habitats in such a small geographical area is the reason the birding here is so spectacular.

Collared Towhee

Golden-cheeked Woodpecker

Grey-crowned Yellowthroat

Lesser Ground Cuckoo

Orange-breasted Bunting

Mottled Owl

Snail Kite

Orange-breasted Bunting

More great scenery....

Stripe-headed Sparrow

Many endemics, beautiful scenery and comfortable lodging provide an unbeatable combination. While these sites are our primary areas for Flammulated Flycatcher, Rosy Thrush-Tanager and Red-breasted Chat, the complete list of endemics we expect to see around the volcanoes is full of many other spectacular birds. Long-tailed Wood-Partridge, Singing Quail, West Mexican Chachalaca, Lilac-crowned Parrot, Thick-billed Parrot (found in the winter season only), Bumblebee Hummingbird, White-striped Woodcreeper, Lesser Roadrunner, Colima Pygmy-Owl, Golden-crowned Emerald, Citreoline Trogon, San Blas Jay, Happy, Sinaloa and White-bellied Wrens, Black-capped Gnatcatcher, Fan-tailed Warbler, Grey-collared Becard, Spotted Wren, Aztec Thrush (present here in wintertime flocks), Russet Nightingale-Thrush, Dwarf Vireo, Chestnut-sided Shrike-Vireo, Green-striped Brush-Finch, Collared Towhee, Black-backed (Abeille's) Oriole. Blue and Orange-breasted Buntings, Black-vented Oriole and Yellow-winged Caçique are the primary members of this list. 

Garnet-throated Hummingbird

Similar habitat inland offers back-up support in case any species are missed while providing our most reliable areas in Colima/Jalisco for Banded Quail, Balsas Screech-Owl,Whiskered Screech-Owl, Mountain and Colima Pygmy-Owls, Stygian Owl, Spotted Owl, Eared Poorwill, Mexican Whip-poor-will and Buff-collared Nightjar. Our return home will be from the international airport at Puerto Vallarta giving folks the largest selection of departing flights possible.

For full tour itinerary and info - click here.

All photos copyright Kim & Cindy Risen - NatureScape Tours.

One Last Dash for Trip Ticks...!

One final bash at finding some new birds didn’t start well down at the tip despite a change in the weather with much calmer conditions than we’ve had for many days. So we left after a short visit and drove up to the DeLaurier Trail which was also quiet before heading to the Route 33 wader pools as a Greater White-fronted Goose had been seen there and sure enough it was still present when we arrived. This is a late migrating bird and very scarce at this time of the year. There was also a pair of Solitary Sandpipers present as well.

Greater White-fronted Goose

From here we drove to Hillman Marsh and spent a pleasant hour checking out the wildfowl and waders. I’m not a fan of ducks generally but there was a nice assortment with Blue-winged and Green-winged Teals, American Black Duck, Greater Scaup, Redhead, Bufflehead and Canvasback all present. However the shorebirds provided the best excitement with a pair of smart Wilson’s Phalaropes on the far side looking rather sexy in the scope. 

Ruff - digiscoped by Lee Collins

Then a Ruff flew in and landed opposite the hide and caused a lot of excitement as it’s a real rarity here and proved to be our last trip tick, and also the rarest species we had seen on the tour! A Pectoral Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitchers, Ruddy Turnstone, Dunlin and Grey Plovers completed the cast and so we left at 10.30am for a short drive to the motel to pack and get ready for the 3.5 hour drive back to Toronto for our flights back to the UK and end of a thoroughly enjoyable tour. 

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Point Pelee to Hillman Marsh

This was a bit of a funny day as we’d pretty well cleaned up on almost all available trip ticks. It started in Tilden Woods first thing which was productive for a lot of the commoner breeding species, then at the tip which was very windy and birdless so we returned for coffee at the Visitor Centre. Then we walked the Woodland trail and had a pair of Blue-winged Teal, Yellow-throated and Philadelphia Vireos, and Blackpoll Warbler amongst others, but we were on the lookout for waterthrushes which just seemed to be eluding us.

Blue-winged Teal
Magnolia Warbler is getting commoner...
Swainson's Thrush

So we headed back to the Marsh Boardwalk and after a bit of effort we finally nailed Northern Waterthrush -thank goodness! There were lots of other goodies around and as well as the more commoner species there was a fine Bay-breasted and even more Cape Mays seen before returning to VC.

After lunch we returned to Tilden Woods and had a great time with the now long-staying Worm-eating Warbler watched feeding beside the trail. 

Worm-eating Warbler

Nearby a Mourning Warbler showed very well for this often tricky species but defied attempts at getting  photo, and this area was literally dripping with birds. There was Black-throated Blue, Chestnut-sided, Blackburnian, Nashville, Palm, Ovenbird, Grey-cheeked Thrush and a Winter Wren. The benefits of standing in one place and letting the birds come to us were plain to see and you really don’t have to keep on yomping around the woods….

Chestnut-sided Warbler has become ridiculously common now...
Nashville Warbler
Couldn't resist one final photo of Blackburnian Warbler

Then we left to go for an early dinner before heading to Hillman Marsh just 10 minutes away. It was getting late but shortly after we arrived a pair of Sandhill Cranes flew in – a great bonus.

Sandhill Cranes

There were also several Short-billed Dowitchers, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Dunlin, American Wigeon, Canvasback and Redhead. The lagoon behind us had a pair of Ring-necked Ducks and Wood Duck, and an immature Bald Eagle flew over. 

American Woodcock
And we saved the best for last, as at an open area on the way back to the motel we finished the day with acrippling views of several displaying American Woodcocks. Holy cow!

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Point Pelee - Snow, Wind and the wings of a Prairie...

A windy day of snow flurries (yes snow….) and temperatures hovering around 0 degrees and I can tell you that birding was really tough today - and being more used to steamy rainforests and tropical climes I did suffer this morning. We probably reached the point the earliest of our entire stay to see the waves crashing over the western side of the promontory and a howling gale making finding birds impossible. Nice!

Point Pelee today - bleak or what?

Hirundines were using the leeward beach to rest and hunt for insects and we had very close views of Cliff Swallows, and this bunch of Sand Martins looking very sorry for themselves as well. 

Cliff Swallow

Sand Martins (or Bank Swallows if you like)

There was also a flyover Western Osprey, Sharp-shinned Hawk and Cedar Waxwing, plus a few Bonaparte's Gulls of the point

Bonaparte's Gulls

Still we persevered and eventually after a wait a few of us had views of the female Prairie Warbler that had been found yesterday whilst we were at Rondeau (our 32nd species of warbler so far). But the high winds made it very tricky to see this bird and it soon disappeared, so we went for coffee and a chance to recover from the weather. Then we returned to the point and found the sun was out and even the wind had abated, so the Prairie Warbler had relocated to a more sheltered spot and showed very well indeed, along with Canada and Blackpoll Warblers practically in the same bush. 

Prairie Warbler - a scarce bird up here

We then took the tram to the midpoint stop and walked the Woodland Trail getting news of a Connecticut Warbler further along the trail, so of course we headed straight there but as it is ‘near-mythical’ and practically invisible and impossible to see – well we didn’t see it. 

Still not bored with Prothonotary Warbler yet...

But point-blank views of Prothonotary Warbler was a little compensation and the Great Horned Owl chick was a little more showy as well.

Yep - it's a Great Horned Owl alright...

So after lunch at the VC we tried again along the Woodland Trail and staked out the Connecticut Warbler spot, seeing Scarlet Tanager, Tennessee Warbler and Acadian Flycatcher before heading over to Tilden Woods where Lee found us a Grey-cheeked Thrush

Plenty of Scarlet Tanagers around today
Grey-cheeked Thrush - the only one seen on our tour..

Then we drove to the Route 33 wader pools but nothing new was on offer, but still nice to have a look at Semipalmated Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper and Short-billed Dowitcher before getting to the motel at 5pm for a nice long rest before dinner.

Eastern Phoebe

Lincoln's Sparrow