Monday, 27 February 2017

West Mexico Tour: Day 3

Breakfast was at 7am and then we headed towards the coast and a quiet country road that took us through rolling forested hills and into the thorn forest that is home to some very special birds. Along the way we stopped at an overlook where Lilac-crowned Amazons flew around us, Acorn Woodpeckers scolded from dead trees and cute little Tropical Parulas dazzled us in the morning sunshine. 

Tropical Parula

A burst of activity created by our owl tape brought in Berylline, Broad-billed and Cinnamon Hummingbirds, with our first Violet-crowned Hummingbird being particularly well received. Lower down the road and a pair of Military Macaws flew over calling raucously, a Bright-rumped Attila tried its best not to be seen despite calling constantly, and our first Happy Wren was seen pretty well. Our next stop proved to be a belter as we called in a Colima Pygmy-Owl and this bird came right in and perched up right beside us and continued to stay with us for ages, even when we became engrossed with scope views of Coppery-tailed Trogon – the split from Elegant Trogon. 

Colima Pygmy Owl (endemic to West Mexico)
Ferruginous Pygmy Owl

Next up was a Ferruginous Pygmy Owl just a little bit further along the road and then I was so pleased when Julie called the stunning Red-breasted Chat

The Mexican endemic Red-breasted Chat

What a performance we had as two males and a female appeared and over the course of the next 20 minutes we worked on getting better and better views. You might say we were pleased to see this bird!!! Even a very obliging Happy Wren failed to distract us from this vision of crimson and white dancing around the bushes in front of us. One last stop of the morning was also a corker with several Citreoline Trogons, Dusky-capped, Nutting’s and Brown-crested Flycatchers and Lucy’s Warbler, with White-tailed Hawk & 3 Grey Hawks flying overhead. 

Grey Hawk

Oh and one final, and I mean it, stop proved a fitting climax to an already amazing morning’s birding with a male Orange-breasted Bunting – and what a bird that is! A Pale-billed Woodpecker and Common Black Hawk were practically ignored as they just cannot compete with this vision of blue and orange!

Not a place for a lunch stop!

Lunch was at a beachside restaurant, complete with Royal Terns, Great Blue Heron, and American Oystercatchers. Leaving here we set off on the drive south to Barra de Navidad, seeing West Mexican Chachalaca and Vaux’s Swift on the drive. Some roadside wetlands were great as well on this route. The first one had a flock of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, a few Fulvous Whistling-Ducks, White Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill, Green Heron, Tricoloured Heron, Anhinga, Northern Jacana, Blue-winged Teal, Least Grebe and Ruddy Duck. The second one had a few Stilt Sandpipers, Western Willet, American Avocet, Black-necked Stilt, Lesser Yellowlegs, Mangrove and Tree Swallows, Steak-backed Oriole and a showy Pacific-slope Flycatcher. What a great couple of list building sessions. We eventually reached our hotel at 6.30pm and enjoyed some cold beers and margaritas over dinner.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Puerto Vallarta Day 2

After an 8am breakfast we drove maybe 15 minutes to a dirt road that took us up into the hills. Here amidst nice mixed pine-evergreen forest we spent an enjoyable couple of hours in perfect temperatures watching a real excellent cast of desirable species. We began with a pair of Rusty Sparrows, Tropical Parula, Black-headed Siskin, Acorn Woodpecker and an extremely obliging Grace’s Warbler that gave cripplingly close views. 

Black-headed Siskin- endemic to Central America

Grace's Warbler showed really well this morning

Driving higher the next stop was timely as we entered woodpecker heaven with Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, a pair of Arizona Woodpeckers, Lineated Woodpecker and at least 3 Grey-crowned Woodpeckers. Some flowering bushes held Bullock’s Oriole, along with a number of previously seen warblers and we also saw Squirrel Cuckoo and called in a Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet.

Arizona Woodpecker

Grey-crowned Woodpecker

By now it was mid-morning and we decided to return to the Botanical Gardens as there were still a couple of birds we needed there. It was hot by the time we arrived so we made our way to the restaurant to view the feeding station, but it was all quiet. So we walked around the gardens hoping for Mexican Hermit and during our time here a few people in the group managed to catch a glimpse of it. But we did get a couple of Short-tailed Hawks and an immature Red-tailed Hawk flying over, and over the course of lunchtime a pair of San Blas Jays came in, along with a White-throated Thrush

San Blas Jay - a Mexican endemic

White-throated Thrush

There were further reappearances of Plain-capped Starthroat, Rusty-crowned Ground Sparrow and MacGillivrays Warbler

Rusty-crowned Ground-Sparrow again...

Once we were done here most of us returned the short distance to our lodge for a rest, whilst Gary & Trevor remained behind and they managed a view of the hermit, along with a Lucy’s Warbler and an Orange-billed Nightingale Thrush.

Back at the lodge and a cracking male Blue Bunting showed well, as did a Sinaloa Wren that allowed some decent photo opportunities. 

Blue Bunting (male) - only found from Mexico to Nicaragua

Sinaloa Wren - a Mexican endemic

A last check around the gardens before dinner resulted in a pair of Black-vented Orioles and a White-collared Seedeater

White-collared Seedeater

Our first night-birding session drew a blank due to cool temperatures, light rain and low cloud! Go figure! But a Common Pauraque was found on its roosting branch in the lodge gardens before we retired for the night.

Common Pauraque

Saturday, 25 February 2017

West Mexico: Puerto Vallarta

Following an overnight flight via Mexico City we eventually arrived in the charming resort of Puerto Vallarta shortly after 8am. Everyone had decided to fly out two days early and get fully recharged before the tour officially commenced and so, of course, we began our birding immediately after meeting up with our excellent guide Kim Risen. Driving south out of the town we followed the coast road and made our first stop opposite a couple of large offshore rocks where lots of Brown Pelicans were nesting, several Magnificent Frigatebirds soared against the clear blue sky and we saw loads of Royal Terns fishing offshore. All of a sudden a Citreoline Trogon flew past us and landed in a nearby large tree. How bizarre! As we followed this beauty a pair of Greyish Saltators were found, followed by Nashville Warbler, San Blas Jay and an Ivory-billed Woodcreeper.

A short drive further along the coast road took us to the Botanical Gardens and this turned into a very productive session. Just below the car park we saw a large feeding flock containing Hooded Orioles, maybe 10+ stonking Varied Buntings (a bird I really wanted to see after missing it in west Texas & Arizona), several Nashville Warblers, Orange-crowned Warbler, a close Black-throated Grey Warbler, Wilson’s Warbler and the first of many Yellow-winged Caciques

Not a great photo, but it's my first Varied Bunting..

Nashville Warbler is very common here....

We headed down to the restaurant, where we were due to have lunch and spent a very enjoyable time watching the feeding station below us. Once some fruit was placed on the large ‘bird table’ a group of Yellow-winged Caciques flew in and provided us with much entertainment, although the presence of several superb Golden-cheeked Woodpeckers proved something of a distraction, as did a pair of Godman’s (Scrub) Euphonias

Godman's (Scrub) Euphonia

Golden-cheeked Woodpecker (endemic)

Yellow-winged Cacique

A MacGillivray’s Warbler decided to ponce around out in the open below the feeding station, a few Green Jays also put in an all-too brief appearance, and both Plain-capped Starthroat and Cinnamon Hummingbird were drawn to the hummer feeders here. 

Cinnamon Hummingbird

MacGillivray's Hummingbird

Plain-capped Starthroat

Lunch was very nice and during this time we could observe the feeders, as well as a fruiting “Gumbo Limbo” tree which drew in Orange-fronted Parakeets, Plumbeous Vireo, Social Flycatcher, several Rose-throated Becards, 5+ Masked Tityras, and a Lineated Woodpecker. Phew! But for me the best sighting was the obliging pair of Rusty-crowned Ground-Sparrows that appeared below the feeders, although my photo isn't the best...

Rusty-crowned Ground-Sparrow (another endemic)

Leaving here we walked along some of the trails and found a Golden-crowned Emerald and a cracking Grey-crowned Woodpecker. But by now it was well after 2pm so we decided to drive the 10 minutes to our wonderful lodge and just chill out for the remainder of the day. Needless to say the draw of new birds had us watching the surrounding forest and gardens from the verandah immediately upon arrival…! This was another cracking area and we had a fantastic view of the garden and surrounding forest and from the comfort of our chairs could observe our first Grey-crowned Becard, Bright-rumped Attila, Streak-backed Oriole, Thick-billed Kingbird, Golden Vireo, and also get closer views of the Orange-fronted Parakeets.  

Orange-fronted Parakeet

Things got even better once we began walking around the garden with the major highlights being an uncharacteristically showy Blue Mockingbird and a Russet-crowned Motmot perched on a large boulder in the middle of the stream. 

Blue Mockingbird (endemic)

Russet-crowned Motmot (near-endemic)

Other goodies along the river included several female Blue Buntings, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Louisiana Waterthrush, Sinaloa Wren, several Audubon’s Warblers and a close Wilson’s Warbler. In the garden an Ivory-billed Woodcreeper showed well, several Stripe-headed Sparrows gave their jangling song, and our first Rufous-backed Thrushes were much appreciated. There was also a Clay-coloured Robin, Yellow-breasted Chat, Greater Pewee, several Berylline Hummingbirds, and a Black-throated Grey Warbler

Blue Bunting (female and near-endemic)

The checklist on the veranda was continually interrupted by the ridiculously obvious Blue Mockingbird, some flyover Lilac-crowned Amazons, and a Rufous-backed Thrush. Oh and I forgot to mention the Green Kingfisher seen along the stream. Boy, I’m loving the birding here in West Mexico and it’s great to share this with such an enthusiastic group and an equally enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide. Can't wait for tomorrow…