Eastern Mexico: 3-17 Apr 1993
Section 1 - General information


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Overview

This report, originally wrirtten in collaboration with John Wall, is divided into five sections:

Section 1 - Introduction, logistics, itinerary and general information.
Section 2 - Birding sites (Nuevo León to Veracruz).
Section 3 - Birding sites (Oaxaca to Coahuila).
Section 4 - Annotated checklist.
Section 5 - Other references and bibliography.

Introduction

In the New World, Mexico ranks apparently second only to Brazil in the number of endemic birds, with a number of distinctive, endemic or near-endemic genera. Further, as the junction of the nearctic and neotropical regions, Mexico is both the northern limit of many widespread birds of Central and South America, and the home of numerous North American birds, some of which are easier found here, south of the U.S. border.

A recent survey by the American Birding Association indicated that Mexico is the foreign country most often visited by U.S. birders. With a modern, well-developed infrastructure, Mexico is a comfortable country in which to travel. It is now possible to drive the entire distance from the U.S. border to Acapulco on divided highways, and other main roads are in good condition. Accommodations may be found in most towns, and stores and gasoline stations usually open late, as well as on Sundays and public holidays.

There has been wholesale environmental destruction in Mexico, as is inevitable in an overpopulated country with an astronomical birth rate and no tradition of conservation. Probably no habitat of any type remains undisturbed. Conservation laws, including the Migratory Bird Treaty with the U.S. and Canada, are not enforced, and supposedly protected areas are in fact subject to logging, mining, burning, leaf-litter gathering, hunting and trapping. Parrots and other species valued for the cage-bird trade are under intensive pressure from commercial bird trappers. Most critically threatened by trapping is the Yellow-headed Parrot, which continues to be taken for the cage bird trade from its last few strongholds. Most of the Mexican endemics inhabit scrub or are tolerant of disturbance and still can be found without extraordinary effort. Unfortunately, Mexico's most spectacular bird, the Imperial Woodpecker, has declined to probable extinction within our lifetimes.

This Guide is far more than a report of our trip, and includes bird finding information for key birds that occur in all regions of Mexico (with the exception of offshore islands other than Cozumel). Our driving directions, chronological account, and site guides will provide virtually all the information needed for a birding trip over the Monterrey - Veracruz - Oaxaca - Cuernavaca - Saltillo loop. In addition, known recent sites for birds of special interest, not seen on our trip, are described in detail in the species accounts at the end.

For the first time, birders visiting Mexico can rely on a competent field guide; the new Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America by Steve Howell and Sophie Webb (Oxford University Press, 1995). We have keyed our report to Howell and Webb's book, since we anticipate that anyone birding in Mexico will have it close at hand. While we point out many of the species splits made by Howell and Webb in our species accounts, we have not otherwise incorporated the changes into the report.

Flights and Getting There

Most large cities in Mexico, including Mexico City, Monterrey, Veracruz, Oaxaca and Acapulco, are served by direct flights from the U.S. Visitors from Europe destined for Monterrey, Veracruz or Oaxaca will need to connect via Mexico City or the U.S. The airport departure tax is $12 per person.

Language

Spanish is the official language, although English is widely spoken near the U.S. border and in tourist areas. Anyone who goes birding in Latin America should spend some time studying the relevant language - usually Spanish - which is one of the easier foreign languages for a native English speaker to master.

Money

The official currency is the Peso, or more correctly, the Nuevo Peso (NP). Somewhat confusingly these are often written $ and N$ respectively. The Nuevo Peso, equivalent to 1,000 (original or old) Pesos, came into circulation on January 1, 1993. At the time of our visit, both old and new notes were in circulation, and the exchange rate was fixed at an artificially high level of NP3.05=US$1, pending passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Inevitable market forces have since forced a devaluation to a more realistic rate of about NP6=US$1, making travel in Mexico much less expensive. (The old Peso had declined from about 8 to the Dollar in 1970 to 3,000 to the Dollar in 1992, while the Dollar also lost about half of its value.) Banks will exchange foreign currency only during the morning, from opening until 12h30. However, casas de cámbio are open usually until 19h00. Credit cards and American Express traveller's cheques are well accepted, but we had considerable difficulty exchanging our Thomas Cook/MasterCard traveller's cheques. All of the supermarkets where we shopped, and most of the hotels in which we stayed, accepted MasterCard or Visa. Gasoline stations require cash, but they accepted U.S. Dollars (at a then-reasonable rate of 1:3) throughout the country, as did other merchants in northern Mexico.

Travel and Getting Around

General. In comparison to roads in other Latin American countries, Mexican roads are well maintained. In Mexico, the usual wheel-eating pot-hole is replaced by the ubiquitous tope or speed bump. These are found in almost all urban areas, and many are difficult to see and poorly marked. Others are of such a size that the bottom of the car is sure to scrape along them. At least these topes keep the roads free of the dangerously slow "low riders" favoured by many Mexicans in the U.S. Principal routes or highways are numbered on maps and road signs. Most are free, but some have small, compulsory tolls. Expensive new toll roads fan out in all directions from Mexico City, and a new toll road connects Nuevo Laredo and Monterrey. Where there is a choice, the free road is signed libre, and the tolled cuota. Local drivers avoid the tolls on some of the autopistas, such as the highway from Hermosillo to Mazatlán, by exiting just before the toll booths, then getting back on after missing the toll. We disagree with the warnings in the tourist guides against driving at night. Except when crossing the mountains in Oaxaca in dense fog, we made about as good time at night as in daylight.

Car Rental. Car rental in Mexico is expensive in comparison to rental in the U.S., and the cars can be in poor condition. A contemporaneous birding trip to Mexico reported 14 breakdowns in 5½ weeks in a Budget VW Beetle. Of the four major international companies, Budget offers the best rates. Even so, we paid $464/week plus 10% tax for a Ford Topaz (predecessor of the Mondeo/Contour) with air conditioning and manual transmission. We saved $10/week by prepaying more than 2 weeks in advance. In September 1995, Budget quoted a rate of $348/week with no prepayment for the same car. Collision Damage Waiver is irrelevant to most Americans, for whom free CDW is provided by their credit cards. For others, CDW was quoted at $17/day in 1995. The Ford had reasonably high clearance and a large trunk, and two tall people could sleep in it comfortably. However, it was not an easy car to drive on rough tracks due to lack of power. Similar cars rented by Budget in Mexico City have automatic transmission, rendering them even less suitable for mountain driving. There is a drop charge of $0.23 per kilometre if the car is returned to a location other than that from which it is rented. In a costly and misdirected effort to combat smog, which is caused chiefly by cooking gas, the government has banned vehicles from the roads of Mexico City on weekdays based upon the last digit of their licence plates. The restricted numbers are as follows: Monday 5 & 6, Tuesday 7 & 8, Wednesday 3 & 4, Thursday 1 & 2, Friday 9 & 0. The penalties for violating these rules, which are enforced against tourists and rental cars, are severe. Many Mexican City commuters maintain two sets of licence plates for their cars or a second, otherwise unnecessary car, so that they can drive every day. Similar restrictions are enforced in Guadalajara, but we have been advised that the Guadalajara regulations do not apply to tourists. The licence restrictions enabled us to obtain a better car from Budget than the one they had intended to provide, since only their newest Topaz (with only 5,900 km on the clock) had a licence number that would be legal in Mexico City on Thursday, the day we planned to (and did) drive through. Cars rented in Mexico City may come with "Renta" licence plates, which are not subject to these restrictions. However, we would prefer not to rent a car so easily identifiable to thieves and police as a rental vehicle. It is possible to rent a car from Dollar Rent-a-Car in McAllen, Texas and drive it into Mexico. There is a $14/day insurance charge for Mexican insurance and a $3/day charge for each additional driver. Dollar's cars come with unlimited mileage, but their 4 x 4 vehicles and vans have a free mileage cap of 1,050 miles per week, after which there is a charge of $.25/mile. Dollar quoted weekly rates ranging from $169 to $255 for 6 groups of cars, $270 to $395 for 3 groups of vans, and $225 for a Jeep Cherokee 4 x 4. In addition, Avis permits vehicles rented at a few locations including San Diego, California, Yuma, Arizona and El Paso, Texas, to be driven 450 miles into Mexico.

Fuel. Pemex is a government monopoly and the only source for fuel, other than small vendors in towns that lack Pemex stations. (A shop on the south side of Tlanchinol supplied petrol from steel drums.) Unleaded petrol (Magna Sin, 87 octane, green pumps) cost NP1.26/litre, while leaded (Nova, 81 octane, blue pumps) cost NP1.16/litre. Magna Sin is available at most, but not all, Pemex stations. To avoid paying an overcharge of 9 pesos, make certain that the last digit on the pump is fully zeroed before allowing petrol to be pumped. In remote areas, distances to the next Pemex station with Magna Sin are signposted. Although our car was designated for unleaded fuel only, it did not have a catalytic converter, and the reason for recommending unleaded must have been the fuel's higher octane. We tried Nova, and found that the car knocked on the lower octane fuel.

Maps. Thanks to the generosity of Andrés Sada, we relied principally on the superb Pemex road atlas, México, Atlas de Carreteras (HFET 1988, 1986), which was temporarily out-of-print in 1993. (Other road atlases, including HFET's Atlas de los Estados de la República Mexicana (1993), are significantly inferior.) For navigation through Mexico City, we followed the Mexico City map on the back of a free map of Mexico provided by the Mexican Government Tourist Office in New York. We did not see any maps for sale in Mexico, and would advise visitors to secure their maps in advance, unless entry is via Mexico City. Guia Roji atlases and state and city maps should be available at the drugstore in the Mexico City airport. In addition, detailed topographic maps of the entire country at 1:50,000, published by the Instituto Nacional de Estadistica Geographía e Informetica (INEGI), may be purchased from a government map store at the airport, located in a row of shops near the Fiesta Americana Hotel.

Taxis. After several employees of the U.S. Embassy were assaulted in taxis in Mexico City, the Embassy recommended that visitors only use taxis from sítios, or designated stands, some of which offer radio service. Tickets for authorized taxis, with fares based on a zone system, may be purchased in the airport terminal.

Crime and Safety. On a worldwide scale, Mexico must rank near the middle for crime and safety. Undoubtedly there is much more crime in Mexico than in the rural and outer suburban U.S., but considerably less, even in Mexico City, than in Lagos, Nairobi or Rio de Janeiro. Some visitors might be terrified by the amount of robbery and theft, but Americans will find most of Mexico less threatening than their own city centres. However, the Mexican police have a particularly unsavoury reputation. Contact with them should be avoided, if at all possible.

Food

We assume that most readers would have ranked "Food" second, after "Lanceolated Warbler", in Bill Oddie's definitional preference test in his Little Black Bird Book. ("World peace" being the other choice.) Anyone who ranked food first should avoid Latin America. Every Mexican city has one or more supermarkets, generally in the El Gigante chain. Additionally, there are numerous small convenience stores, including 7-11's, Circle K's and look alikes. The local carbonated water was good, but some Mexican non-carbonated bottled water tasted of chlorine. Imported water is available at most supermarkets. Peanut butter, jam and several types of muesli were easily found. The mango season was just beginning in April, but we found good mangos only in Oaxaca. Other local fruits in season were oranges, soursops, papayas, bananas and pineapples. One supermarket had excellent passion fruit, which must have been imported from farther south. Stocking-up at major grocery stores is recommended. When asking directions, you should ask for an El Gigante, as you may be directed to the local open-air market if you ask for a supermercado.

Accommodation

We camped without difficulty at the Maroon-fronted Parrot stakeout on the Cola de Caballo Road in Nuevo León and on the logging track where we found White-throated Jays, about 25 km north of La Soledad, Oaxaca, on the Puerto Ángel Road. We know birders who have slept in their cars or camped virtually every night in Mexico without incident. Following is an overview of accommodations we encountered, including hotels we drove by but did not stay in. All prices were for a twin-bedded room. We generally did not stay at the least expensive hotels.

Monterey. No hotels are apparent along the road to the Monterrey airport. However, there are a number of hotels and motels along Rt. 85 between Monterrey and the Cola de Caballo turnoff. The Hotel Cola de Caballo is a substantial resort which was undergoing renovation in April, 1993. Farther up the Cola de Caballo Road, at Santiago, there are large cabins with individual propane gas tanks that may be reserved by calling: +52 828-52211.

Saltillo, Coahuila. We stayed at, and recommend, the Motel Huizache (NP100), located on the east side of town about 10 blocks west of the intersection between Rt. 57 north, Rt. 40 east and the bypass to Rt. 54, toward el centro. Two more expensive motels were found between the Huizache and the major intersection.

Rancho Los Colorados, Tamaulipas. Rancho Los Colorados has a bungalow for visitors with three beds and a bathroom. It is quite comfortable and convenient. There is a charge of $10 per person per night, which is donated to parrot conservation. The electrical generator is turned off after 21h30.

Concepción del Oro, Zacatecas. We passed a motel just south of town on Rt. 54. The police station and a truck checkpoint were next door.

Mexico City Airport. Try Hotel Fiesta Americana, one of two airport hotels.

Cuernavaca, Morelos. Hotel Vista Hermosa on Calle Río Pánuco, a mid-priced hotel with only 9 rooms that is located in a quiet suburban neighbourhood on the east side of Cuernavaca (see map in site section). From the south, continue on the autopista past the main exit for Cuernavaca (Av. Morelos), and the next (Paseo Cuauhuahuac/Boulevard Plan de Ayala) to the Tulipán exit. The Tulipán exit is shown on a 1983 SIGSA map of Cuernavaca, but not on the Pemex atlas. However, the Hotel Vista Hermosa is marked on the Pemex atlas. Exit from the Autopista at the Tulipán exit, turn left, and cross over/under the Autopista. Almost immediately, turn left again on Calle Diana. Continue on Calle Diana, bearing to the left at the intersection with Calle Galatea. At the intersection with Calle Minerva, turn left. The road gradually curves to the right, and at some point its name changes to Calle Río Pánuco. Look for the hotel on the right just beyond the intersection on the right with Calle Río Papalsapan and before the intersection with Calle Río Conchas. Unable to find the Hotel Vista Hermosa late at night without a decent map, we stayed at the Hotel Cadiz (NP100), which is located on Av. Alvaro Obregon (southbound Rt. 95 libre) just south of Calle Ricardo Linares (off the Lonely Planet map at the upper left). It was basic and noisy and served meals only between 9 am and 4 pm.

Tempoal, Veracruz. The best looking accommodation in Tempoal was a motel south of town on Rt. 127 beyond the point where Rt. 105 turns off to the right. We stayed at the Hotel San Francisco (NP35) in town, which is not recommended. In the morning we spotted better looking hotels on the town square.

Tlanchinol, Hidalgo. The place to stay when birding the cloud forest north of Tlanchinol is the Hotel Conchita (NP40), located about ½ hour south of Tlanchinol on the east side of Rt. 105 on the northern outskirts of Ixtlahuaco. It was quiet and comfortable, and the restaurant was attractive, although we did not have time to eat. Credit cards are not accepted. There is a hotel on the zócalo in Tlanchinol (uphill to the east of Rt. 105), but it was closed in April 1993. If it were open, it would be basic and very noisy. Xalapa, Veracruz. Most birders passing through central Veracruz will want to look for Bearded Wood-Partridge at Coatepec, which is 15 km south of Xalapa (Jalapa), and most likely will seek accommodations in Xalapa. Since we have not been there, we are unable to make a recommendation, other than to note that the best hotel in town seems to be the Hotel Xalapa, which is marked on Lonely Planet's map.

Córdoba, Veracruz. We stayed at the Hotel Iberia (NP50), which is several blocks beyond the centre of town on a one-way street heading back toward the centre. It was reasonably quiet and convenient. The car park for all the downtown hotels is located about midway between the Hotel Iberia and the town centre. We stopped first at the Hotel Mansur (NP80) on the town square, but it was full. There are numerous other hotels in, or near, the centre of Córdoba. On the way into town on Rt. 125 we passed the deluxe Hotel Villa Real Flórida - apparently the best hotel in town.

Fortin de las Flores, Veracruz. Hotel Posada del Pueblito (NP110), located in the city centre.

Valle Nacional, Oaxaca. Although we did not stay in Valle Nacional, we noticed a hotel in town that appeared to be adequate. There are a number of hotels in Tuxtepec.

Oaxaca City. We cannot recommend the Hotel Misión de los Ángeles ($68), which was grossly overpriced and noisy. The best choice among expensive hotels would appear to be the Hotel Victoria, Km 545 Panamerican Highway. Also, there are a number of possible camping areas on Cerro San Felipe.

Pluma Hidalgo, Oaxaca. We would recommend that birders camp on the road to Pluma Hidalgo, where birding was much better than at our campsite 25 km north of La Soledad. There are a number of attractive hotels in Pochutla (to the south), but it might take an hour to drive from town to the Pluma Hidalgo turnoff.

Pinotepa Nacional, Oaxaca. We stayed at, and recommend, the Hotel Carmona (NP110 for a room with a/c, NP84 without a/c), Av. Porfirio Diaz No. 127, which is on the west side of town on Rt. 200 eastbound. The two small hotels on the east side of town probably can be quite noisy.

Acapulco, Guerrero. Hotel Lupita (NP70), in the town centre.

Angangueo, Michoacán. Hotel Don Bruno (NP95), located at Morelos No. 92. Without a 4 x 4, it may be necessary to hire a truck for the trip upslope to the only Monarch Butterfly wintering site (of about five) that is open to the public.

San Blas, Nayarit. The Posada Casa Morales has been recommended by birders.

Barranca Rancho Liebre, Sinaloa. Since 1973, birders have been staying at the Hotel Villa Blanca, La Capilla del Taxte, Postal Santa Lucia, Sinaloa, located on Rt. 40 between Mazatlán and Durango, about 54 km east of the intersection of Rts 40 and 15. Barranca Rancho Liebre is located between km 200 and 201, east of the hotel. Zacatecas City.

Climate and When To Go

Mexico's Atlantic coastal plain is humid year-round, but never oppressively hot and wet, while the Pacific coastal plain tends to be arid. The rainy season extends from May to October, also generally the hottest months. The north and interior highlands can be cold in the winter. Birding should be good all year in most areas, although northern migrants will be absent generally from May to September. Unpaved roads, such as the Short-crested Coquette road from Atoyac to Nueva Delhi and beyond in Guerrero, may be impassable during the wet season. We found April to be an excellent month to visit Mexico. We encountered no rain, and there were few American tourists in the places we visited. It probably would be wise to avoid popular beach resorts during Holy Week, but Oaxaca City was not overcrowded on Easter weekend.

Driving Directions For Some Confusing Routes

Monterrey to Rancho Los Colorados. Proceed southeast from Monterrey on Rt. 85. There is a bypass road around Ciudad Victoria to the east. Turn east on Rt. 81 at Liera de Canales. Rt. 80 joins Rt. 81 just west of González. At Manuel, turn northeast onto Rt. 180 and go 36 km to Aldama. Rancho Los Colorados is a private ranch near Aldama that was not open to tourism in 1993. At the time of our visit, Ernesto Enkerlin was studying parrots at the ranch and invited us to visit and observe his study area. We do not know whether parrot studies at Rancho Los Colorados are continuing at this time.

Possible side trip to Gómez Farías, El Naranjo and El Nacimiento. Rather than turning onto Rt. 81 at Liera de Canales, continue south of Rt. 85 for 46 km to the turnoff to Gómez Farías. Turn west and follow the side road to the town of Gómez Farías (about 10 km), then continue for an additional 8 km to the town of Alta Cima. To reach Rancho del Cielo, take the right fork past Alta Cima. About 2 km beyond Alta Cima, turn north on a side road to Rancho del Cielo which may be signposted. A bird list for the Gómez Farías area may be found in Webster (1974). The El Nacimiento mentioned in bird reports is located about 4 km east of Ciudad Mante, which is about 33 km south of the Gómez Farías turnoff on Rt. 85. "Going south of Ciudad Mante a few miles on Rt. 85, you come to a traffic circle. Go through the traffic circle and across a railroad track. From the railroad track, go 0.8 miles. Just before you get to a small bridge that crosses a canal, turn right (west) on an all-weather dirt road that runs along the canal. [Altamira Yellowthroat] was found along the canal." (Hoffman (1989)). El Naranjo, SLP, is located on Rt. 80 about 60 km west of Ciudad Mante. (See Edwards (1985)). To continue on to Rancho Los Colorados, take Rt. 80 east from Ciudad Mante to the intersection with Rt. 81 near González. Lists of birds reported on the annual Christmas counts held at El Naranjo and Gómez Farías were published in American Birds prior to its demise, and presumably will continue to be published in Audubon Field Notes.

Rancho Los Colorados to Tlanchinol, Hidalgo. Return to Rt. 80/81 via Aldama and Manuel, and turn left toward Tampico. The signs on Rt. 80/81 approaching Tampico can be misleading. To go into Tampico without paying a toll, continue straight at the major intersection where a sign indicates that Tampico is to the right. To bypass Tampico, take the road to the right signposted to Tampico. There is an El Gigante on the way into Tampico, as well as various American fast food franchises, including a Baskin-Robbins ice cream store. To reach Rt. 70 west from downtown Tampico, backtrack on Rt. 80/81 to the El Gigante, and turn left. At the toll booth, pay the toll (NP7), save the receipt and turn left, proceeding immediately to another toll barrier. At the second toll booth, the agent will accept the receipt from the first toll in lieu of any additional charge. We learned subsequently from John Gee that Altamira Yellowthroat can be found just beyond the second toll booth in the cattail marsh on the right side of the road. About 35 km west of Tampico, turn left (south) on Rt. 127. Although the Pemex atlas indicates that this also is Rt. 105, there is no mention of 105 on the signpost. About 3 km south of Tempoal, turn right on Rt. 105 toward Pachuca.

Tempoal to Mexican Sheartail stakeout near Puente Nacional. Drive south on Rt. 127 to Tuxpan, then continue south on Rt. 180. In Tuxpan, stay on the road along the river until a few blocks before the bridge over the river. Turn left where most traffic is turning left, following traffic to the right to the bridge approach. Poza Rica is a major commercial centre. Continue through town on Rt. 180. If there is time, bird the marshes west of Tecolutla for Ruddy and Yellow-breasted Crakes, Spotted Rail, Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture and Pinnated Bittern. Otherwise, bypass Tecolutla on Rt. 180. Continue south along the coast to José Cardel. Turn right onto Rt. 140 toward Xalapa. At the intersection north of Puente Nacional, there are no signs to Puente Nacional or Córdoba. Follow the signs to Veracruz. Eventually, you will come to Puente Nacional, where Rt. 125 to Córdoba branches off to the right. The Mexican Sheartail stakeout is about 6 km beyond Puente Nacional (see map under site section).

Possible side trip to Coatepec for Bearded Wood-Partridge. We did not make this trip because we did not find out about the Bearded Wood-Partridge site until after our trip. Backtrack from the Mexican Sheartail site to Puente Nacional, and proceed west on Rt. 140 to Xalapa. From Xalapa, take a secondary road south of town about 15 km to Coatepec, which is shown on the Pemex road atlas, and look for Pedro Mota Hernández, the Bearded Wood-Partridge guide, in Los Carriles.

Mexican Sheartail stakeout to Córdoba. Continue on Rt. 125 to Fortin. At Fortin, follow signs to Córdoba. The Hotel Iberia is several blocks beyond the main square a couple of blocks to the left of the square on a one-way street headed back to town.

Cuernavaca to the Worthen's Sparrow stakeout. Take the toll road (autopista or Carretera super) to Mexico City. Follow the signs to Av. Insurgentes and Anillo Periferico. Anillo Periferico, the beltway around Mexico City, is not well signposted. There is one entrance ramp for both eastbound and westbound lanes. After exiting from the autopista, take the second right to go westbound. Once on Anillo Periferico it is impossible to get lost. Simply follow the signs to Querétaro. Tolls are as follows: (1) south of Mexico City, NP20; (2) north of Mexico City, NP15; (3) 80 km south of Querétaro, NP15; (4) Querétaro bypass road, NP13; (5) San Luis Potosí bypass road, NP13, for a total of about $25. We were able to average 100 km/hr at least as far as the end of the San Luis Potosí bypass. Continue on Rt. 57 past Matehuala. A few km north of Matehuala, turn left on the road to Cedral and Vanegas, and take it across to Rt. 54. Turn right on Rt. 54, which leads to Saltillo. The Worthen's Sparrow stakeout is about 40 km south of Saltillo.

Acknowledgments

Our special thanks go to Ernesto Enkerlin and Andrés Sada in Mexico, without whose assistance, the trip would not have been such a great success. Others whom we would like to thank are: Peter Alden, Phil Atkinson, Jim Clements, Jack Clinton-Eitniear, John Gee, Jeff Glassberg, Héctor Gómez de Silva Garza, Alan Greensmith, Steve Howell, Peter Kaestner, Dirk Lanning, Joe Marshall, Karl Overman and Sophie Webb. John Gee, Karl Overman and Peter Kaestner used preliminary versions of this report on trips to Mexico and provided valuable comments and suggestions.

Itinerary and Personal Experiences

3 April. Arrived Monterrey. Since the airport money changers were closed on Saturday afternoon, drove into Monterrey looking for a casa de cámbio, but found them all to be closed. Stocked-up the car with food at Servipolis Mart Airport. Stopped at an El Gigante supermarket on the left side of Rt. 85 about 3 km south of Monterrey. Proceeded to Cola de Caballo where we camped out. The only nightbirds heard were Western Whip-poor-wills.

4 April. We spotted Maroon-fronted Parrots flying above the cliffs at first light, and after walking down the road to the first houses, found a trail leading in the direction of the cliffs. Before long, we could hear the parrots calling, and we continued working our way uphill until we reached a ridge running up to a cliff where parrots were congregating. We had spectacular looks at parrots flying over, circling about and perching in trees next to the cliff. We left at 11h00 and stopped briefly along the Cola de Caballo road at fenced-in, pine-oak forest above an artificial lake. Long drive to Rancho Los Colorados. We got lost due to a mistake in the directions, but eventually arrived at 21h30.

5 April. At dawn, Ernesto Enkerlin, who is studying Amazona parrots on Rancho Los Colorados, took us to a study site where we could observe nests of Red-crowned and Yellow-headed Parrots and then showed us around the ranch. At breakfast, a Collared Peccary that had been raised on the ranch and later released came to the breakfast nook to beg for tortillas. Departed in early afternoon for Tlanchinol, Hidalgo, stopping in Tampico to change money. Overnight at the comfortable Hotel Conchita in Ixtlahuaco.

6 April. All day at the cloud forest between 4 km and 8 km north of Tlanchinol, Hidalgo, along Rt. 105. Left at dusk and drove to Tempoal, where we checked into the first hotel we encountered, the basic Hotel San Francisco.

7 April. Drove to the Mexican Sheartail stakeout at Puente Nacional. Birds were not active until quite late in the afternoon, when we finally found a male and a female Mexican Sheartail in the over-grazed fields next to the town. We had one Varied Bunting, and heard several Thicket Tinamous at dusk. No Buff-collared Nightjars called in the early evening, and there was no response to a canned tape. Continued on to Córdoba, Veracruz, where we observed much tourist activity in the centre of town. Overnight at the Hotel Iberia. The manager, with the assistance of a visitor in the lobby, drew us an accurate map to Amatlán.

8 April. Woke up the guard at the car park, which is not supposed to open until 6 am, and followed the map to Amatlán, an historic settlement about 5 km south of Córdoba that is not on the Pemex atlas. (There is an exit from Rt. 150 libre, which bypasses Córdoba to the south, which is signposted to Amatlán.). The next few hours were spent searching for and observing Sumichrast's Wren at the quarry south of Amatlán. As it began to get hot, drove back to the intersection between the road from Amatlán and Rt. 150 libre and turned right (east). At La Tinaja, turned right onto Rt. 145, and proceeded to Ciudad Alemán, where we turned right onto Rt. 175 to Tuxtepec and Oaxaca. About 9 km beyond Tuxtepec, just after passing the Fapatux mill and going over a railway grade crossing, we turned right on the San Rafael Road which soon crosses a river and winds through fields interspersed with forested rocky hills. Birding was slow due to the time of day, but might be excellent on the forested hills early in the morning. We had Little Tinamou (h), Rufous-breasted Spinetail, Grey-headed Dove, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl and other birds. Continued on to Valle Nacional, where we stopped to buy drinks at a general store. Birded along the road in recently burned and burning scrub and second growth 9 to 11 km south of Valle Nacional in late afternoon, finding only common, edge species. There is better habitat remaining along the San Rafael Road than along Rt. 175, at least at lower elevations. Difficult night drive to Oaxaca City included several foggy stretches where it was barely possible to see the white line on the road in front of the car. Overnight at the Hotel Misión de los Ángeles in Oaxaca City. The first night they stuck us in a noisy room next to Rt. 190, necessitating a time-consuming move the next day to a better room.

9 April. We drove to the Monte Alban ruins west of town and arrived at dawn. When we attempted to get into scrub on the west side of the ruins by walking along the road to the left of the entrance, one of the employees came over and told us that we could not enter until 08h00. We walked around the other side on a track through scrub, and he came around and waved at us to leave. We waved back and pretended not to understand Spanish. Pileated Flycatcher was common and conspicuous in scrub around Monte Alban. In addition, we had two singing Ocellated Thrashers and one Slaty Vireo. We worked far down-slope looking for Dwarf Vireo, but failed to find any, and we also failed to find Beautiful Hummingbird. Later in the morning, the guard who had harassed us or one of his colleagues came down-slope and tried to sell us "3,000 year-old relics", apparently on the assumption that we were looking for antiquities. The noisy town below the ruins detracts from birding at this site, with blasts of loud music starting before 07h00. By 09h00, there were hundreds of Mexican tourists in the ruins, and when we returned to the parking lot, we needed help from the attendant to get out, as it was full with a line of cars waiting to get in. Afternoon at Cerro San Felipe. Stopped at dusk along road back to Oaxaca City, but saw little.

10 April. At 06h15, we had a Long-tailed Wood-Partridge on the road to Cerro San Felipe about 1.5 km from La Cumbre. Continued to the summit, and found Dwarf Jays at a number of spots. Spent most of the day on Cerro San Felipe, except for a couple of hours in the afternoon along the road running east from La Cumbre. At dusk, heard and taped Long-tailed Wood-Partridge calling from the vicinity of the sawmill. Then whistled-in Mountain Pygmy-Owl near the place where we had found one during the previous day (see site map).

11 April. Early morning in scrub across from the "black tank" on Rt. 175, where we found Slaty Vireo and two pairs of Oaxaca Sparrows. Went shopping for food at the local El Gigante, which amazingly was open on Easter Sunday, then drove south on Rt. 175 toward Puerto Ángel. Stopped at a pullover in the northern foothills of the Miahuatlán range, and along a logging track (about 25 km north of La Soledad - near El Porvenir), where we found two pairs of White-throated Jays in second growth oaks along a stream. Stayed there until dark to look for Eared Poorwill, but found only Mottled Owl and Western Whip-poor-will. Camped at this spot.

12 April. Drove to the turnoff to Pluma Hidalgo, stopping briefly at a coffee plantation where Golden Vireo was singing. At first took the wrong track at Pluma Hidalgo, but had good looks at Blue-capped Hummingbird. Then took the main track to Pluma Hidalgo (first road to the right over the bridge), and found more Blue-capped Hummingbirds, 10-15 calling White-faced Quail-Doves and Fantail Warbler. This would have been a much better place to camp than the White-throated Jay spot. When it began to get hot, drove to the coastal highway, Rt. 200, and headed north. Stopped in dry second growth and scrub east of Pinotepa Nacional in late afternoon for common Pacific slope birds. Found Red-breasted Chat and Least Pygmy-Owl in second growth at a "dangerous curve" just before a sawmill east of Pinotepa Nacional. Overnight at the Hotel Carmona in Pinotepa Nacional.

13 April. Early am in dry forest at Km 233 west of Pinotepa Nacional, where birds included at least two pairs of Yellow-headed Parrots and singing Black-chested Sparrow. Stopped at scrub farther north along road and found Lesser Ground-Cuckoo and other birds. Had flocks of Dickcissels near Oaxaca/Guerrero border. Continued north to Acapulco, where we took the new toll highway toward Mexico City. (NP74 ($25) for about 150 km!) It was completed only as far as Chilpancingo, where we returned to the two-lane road. (The toll road now is open all the way to Mexico City.) Stopped at a grove of cardón cactus in the afternoon near Km post 176 and found a pair of Orange-breasted Buntings. Found three more Orange-breasted Buntings later at a turnoff in scrub. Stopped in late afternoon at a turnoff at Km post 88 just before the road made a steep ascent, and found Thick-billed Kingbird and a covey of Banded Quail. Continued on to Cuernavaca. Because of poor signposting at the toll road entrance (no mention of Cuernavaca after it had been on all signs for 100 km), missed the entrance to the toll road to Mexico City and took the slow free road, which had heavy truck traffic. When we finally arrived in Cuernavaca at 21h30, there was bumper to bumper traffic on Av. Morelos through town. Could not find the Hotel Vista Hermosa without a map, so followed the superficial Lonely Planet map to the Hotel Cadiz.

14 April. Drove to La Cima at dawn, following the map in Wilson & Ceballos. The ground was covered with frost, and the temperature was slightly below freezing. Soon found a Sierra Madre Sparrow in bunch grass to the south of the track. Striped Sparrow was common. Then drove to Huitzilac, where Chestnut-sided Shrike-Vireo was singing in oaks next to the pull-off. Found Green-striped Brush-Finch, Colima Warbler and Amethyst-throated Hummingbird nearby. Then on to Coajomulco, where we found more Green-striped Brush-Finches. Mid-day stop for food at El Gigante, which is on Rt. 95 north of the Hotel Cadiz. Back to La Cima in the afternoon for Strickland's Woodpecker. Back to Huitzilac until dusk. Overnight at the Hotel Cadiz.

15 April. Left Cuernavaca at 06h00. There was very little traffic, and it was possible to drive through Mexico City at 100 km/hr on the toll roads. Drove to Concepción del Oro, where we diverted into town and onto the road to Mazapil. Go past the church and turn left, then follow the road as it curves around to the right. Birded in cactus scrub and at higher elevations in pine/juniper scrub. In late afternoon, drove to Andrés Sada's stakeout for Worthen's Sparrow, about 40 km south of Saltillo, and found one Worthen's Sparrow between the water tank and the barbed wire fence. Continued into Saltillo and stayed at the Motel Huizache.

16 April. Returned to Cola de Caballo, beginning at the Hotel Cola de Caballo. Found a Spot-breasted Wren in roadside scrub adjacent to the hotel, then went looking for Crimson-collared Grosbeak. Had good looks at a singing bird along the "Buick" track which starts just up the road from the hotel, running between the furniture maker's stand and the immobile 1940 Buick Special. Made other stops along the Cola de Caballo road, then stopped briefly at the lake on the other side of Rt. 85 before returning to the airport. We were able to book onto a 18h00 flight to DFW, which actually departed at 18h30 and arrived at 21h00. There was no need to pass through Customs or Immigration at Monterrey.

Further Suggestions

Our two-week itinerary involved quite extensive amounts of driving, which many birders might prefer to spread out over additional time. This would allow for better coverage of some of the sites and inclusion of nearby sites that we bypassed, such as El Naranjo, Alta Cima, Ciudad Mante, the marshes at Tecolutla, the Bearded Wood-Partridge stakeout near Xalapa, and Dale Delaney's spot for Dwarf Vireo east of Oaxaca City. For a three-week itinerary, we would recommend using the additional week to go south on Rt. 200 from Puerto Ángel to Chiapas, and spending a week there before doubling back to Puerto Ángel. For a four-week itinerary, continue to Yucatán from Veracruz, spend a week there, then loop through Chiapas for a week, and take Rt. 190 back from Chiapas to Oaxaca City. With five weeks, one could spend more time in the Mexico City area and/or return via western Mexico. With six weeks, it would be possible to do all of the above and go for the Short-crested Coquette et al. in Guerrero.

References

Primary References:

Alden, P. (1969). Finding the birds in Western Mexico. University of Arizona Press. In need of revision, but still essential for a trip to the states of Sonora, Sinaloa and Nayarit. Quite rare and expensive.

Bailowitz, R.A. and Brock, J.P. (1991) Butterflies of Southeastern Arizona. Sonoran Arthropod Studies, Inc. There is no comprehensive butterfly guide for Mexico.

Binford, L.C. (1989) A Distributional Survey of the Birds of Oaxaca. Ornithological Monograph No. 43, American Ornithologists’ Union. 417pp. An outstanding work, and the source of most of the distributional data for Oaxaca in this report. Highly recommended. Get it now before it goes out of print and becomes expensive!

Collar, N.J. et al. (1992) Threatened Birds of the Americas, the ICBP/IUCN Red Data Book. 3rd ed. part 2. Not a field reference, but listed here to emphasize its importance to current neotropical ornithology. Cited above as “RDB”.

Collar, N.J., Crosby, M.J. and Stattersfield, A.J. (1994) Birds to Watch 2, The World List of Threatened Birds. BirdLife International Conservation Series No. 4. Cited above as “BW2".

Dunn, J.L. and Blom, E.A.T. (chief consultants) (1987) A Field Guide to the Birds of North America(2d ed.) National Geographic Society, Washington. The best North American field guide.

Edwards, E.P. (1985) 1985 Supplement to Finding Birds in Mexico. Less difficult to use than earlier Edwards bird-finding books, but still handicapped by lack of an index and non-standard nomenclature.

Howell, S.N.G. and Webb, S. (1995) A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America. Oxford University Press. Fine color plates. A landmark in neotropical ornithology.

Wilson, R.G. and Ceballos-Lascurain, H. (1993) The Birds of Mexico City (2d ed.) Excellent site guide to the area north of Cuernavaca. Available postpaid for U.S. $15 from Richard G. Wilson, Apartado Postal 84-004, 10580 México, D.F., Tel: 52-5-645-4143, Fax: 52-5-724-4653.

Other key references for eastern and central Mexico:

Curson, J. (1991) [Unpublished] Birding Mexico, a guide to selected sites. Based on a trip from 18 October to 16 December 1990, this report covers places we did not visit in Chiapas, the Yucatán, and western Mexico. Recommended for visitors on a restricted budget.

Delaney, D.J. (1987a) Finding the Dwarf Vireo (Vireo nelsoni) in the Valley of Oaxaca. MBA Bulletin Board No. 87-1:1-2.

Faanes, C. (1987a) [Unpublished] Eastern Mexico, 25 December 1986 - 4 January 1987.

Faanes, C. (1987b) [Unpublished] Oaxaca, 20-30 November 1987.

Faanes, C. (1990) [Unpublished] Field notes from Tamaulipas and Nuevo León, 3-6 February 1990.

Hardy, J.W. (1971) Habitat and habits of the Dwarf Jay, Aphelocoma nana. Wilson Bull. 83:5-30.

Howell, S.N.G. (1987) Birding at Tecolutla, Veracruz. MBA Bulletin Board No. 87-3:4.

Howell, S.N.G. and Webb, S. (1990) A site for Buff-collared Nightjar (Caprimulgus ridgwayi) and Mexican Sheartail (Calothorax [Doricha] eliza) in Veracruz. Aves Mexicanas 2(3):1-2.

Howell, S.N.G. and Webb, S. (1992) A little-known cloud forest in Hidalgo, Mexico. Euphonia 1:7-11.

Raitt, R.J. and Hardy, J.W. (1970) Relationships between two partly sympatric species of thrushes (Catharus) in Mexico. Auk 87:20-57.

Sada, A.M. (1987a) Locating the Maroon-fronted Parrot (Rhynchopsitta terrisi) in Nuevo León. MBA Bulletin Board No. 87-3:1-2.

Sada, A.M. (1987b) Locations for finding Worthen’s Sparrow (Spizella wortheni) in Nuevo León [correction: Coahuila]. MBA Bulletin Board No. 87-3:2.

Other References:

A exhaustive bibliography of more than 1,000 additional references is included here.

Commercial Tape Recordings:

Barlow, J.C. (1995) Voices of the New World Vireos and Their Allies (2d ed.) ARA Records.

Coffey, B.B., Jr. and Coffey, L.C. (1990) Songs of Mexican birds (2 cassette tapes - revised edition). ARA Records. Reviewed by Steve Howell at Wilson Bull. 102:184-185 (1990).

Delaney, D.J. (1992) Bird Songs of Belize, Guatemala and Mexico. LNS.

Davis, L.I. Mexican Bird Songs. (LP record). LNS.

Hardy, J.W. (1990) Voices of the New World Crows and Their Allies. ARA Records.

Hardy, J.W. and Parker, T.A., III. (1985) Voices of the New World Thrushes. ARA Records.

Hardy, J.W., Barlow J.C., and Coffey, B.B., Jr. (1987) Voices of all the Mockingbirds, Thrashers and Their Allies. ARA Records.

Hardy, J.W. and Coffey, B.B., Jr. (1991) Voices of the Wrens. ARA Records.

Hardy, J.W., Coffey, B.B., Jr., and Reynard, G.B. (1990) Voices of the New World Owls. ARA Records.

Hardy, J.W., Coffey, B.B., Jr., and Reynard, G.B. (1989) Voices of the New World Nightjars and Their Allies. ARA Records.

Hardy, J.W., Parker, T.A., III, and Coffey, B.B., Jr. (1995) Voices of the Woodcreepers, Neotropical Family Dendrocolaptidae, Second Edition, Revised. ARA Records.

Hardy, J.W., Reynard, G.B. and Coffey, B.B., Jr. (1990) Voices of the New World Pigeons and Doves. ARA Records.

Hardy, J.W., Reynard G.B., and Coffey, B.B., Jr. (1990) Voices of the New World Cuckoos and Trogons. ARA Records.

Hardy, J.W. and Wolf, L.L. (1993) Voices of Mexican Sparrows. ARA Records.

Hardy, J.W., Viellard, J. and Straneck, R. (1993) Voices of the Tinamous. ARA Records.

Keller, G.A. (1989) Bird Songs of Southeastern Arizona and Southern Texas.

Moore, J.V. (1992) A bird walk at Chan Chich. (Belize).

Section 2 - Birding sites (Nuevo León to Veracruz).
Section 3 - Birding sites (Oaxaca to Coahuila).
Section 4 - Annotated checklist.
Section 5 - Other references and bibliography.