Thursday, January 21, 2016

Winter Mexican Tour Y2K16, Days 1-3: Lo De Marcos and Lower Singayta

Bat Falcons were easy to see in Lo De Marcos, on our first morning of birding. We never saw them again! Mexico is a mysterious place.

Nerds. Dweebs. Dork-sympathizers. I have returned from an eventful West Mexican bird trip. We birded the states of Nayarit, Jalisco and Colima, which are incredibly bird-rich states, as promised. Rather than just regurgitate mediocre photos from the trip, I'm going to try to write this all up in a way where it could actually be useful (!!!) to birders who may be heading that way in the next few years. The Howell birdfinding guide is still a fantastic resource, but Mexico changes...some hotspots are no longer accessible and new hotspots always seem to be popping up, as the whole area is definitely underbirded, with the exception of the areas immediately surrounding San Blas.

We wanted to rent an SUV originally, but the price was too rich for our blood, so we ended up getting a minivan for the five of us. This worked out quite well, since we had a little extra clearance (always a good thing in Mexico) and had enough space so things did not get too cluttered. We barged the van up every type of conceivable road and managed to put some dings in it...but were only charged $80 extra dollars! A Mexican miracle! If you are going to rent a vehicle, I would recommend National in Puerto Vallarta.

Here is how things played out:

January 2 - Fly into Puerto Vallarta, night in Lo De Marcos (Nayarit)
January 3 - Lo De Marcos, San Blas, night in San Blas
January 4 - Lower Singayta, Shrimp Ponds, night in San Blas
January 5 - La Bajada, Shrimp Ponds, Chacalilla, night in San Blas
January 6 - Cerro San Juan, night in San Blas
January 7 - Chacalilla, Rio La Tovara (boat trip), night in San Blas
January 8 - Lower Singayta, Isla Del Rey (Peso Island), night in San Blas
January 9  - Tecuitata, night at Rancho Primavera
January 10 - Rancho Primavera, Provincia Road, night at Rancho Primavera
January 11 - Racho Primavera, Barranca El Choncho, night in Autlan
January 12 - Puerto Los Mazos, night in Autlan
January 13 - Microondas San Francisco, Volcan de Colima (RMO Viboras and other stops), night in Ciudad Guzman
January 14 - Volcan de Colima (main access road and other stops), Laguna Zapotlan, night in Ciudad Guzman
January 15 - Vocan de Fuego, night Colima
January 16 - Colima to Laguna La Maria, night in Barra De Navidad
January 17 - Playa Del Oro, night at Rancho Primavera
January 18 - Rancho Primavera, Boca De Tomates, fly out of Puerto Vallarta

Sinaloa Crow (endemic!) was my first lifer of the trip. They are tiny, slender, like perching extremely close to one another, and sound like quail. This is my new favorite crow. Lo De Marcos, Nayarit.

Our first night we attempted to stay in San Francisco, which is on the way to San Blas. This was a mistake. The town may be mellow the rest of the year, but that first night there was a huge, raging party in town and it was a complete clusterfuck. Really, it was a disaster, and Flycatcher Jen was permanently affected. The silver lining was eating delicious tacos. The huge, raging Mexican party theme continued for over half the time we were in the country in multiple towns...Christmas seems to drag on forever, and then its another holiday (something to do with saints)...things didn't really settle down until January 11 or so. If I were to do this trip again, I would not schedule it between Christmas and mid-January unless you are into huge, confusing events that occupy the middle of towns and cause panic and despair if you are unlucky enough to be the one driving.

After our failure at San Francisco, we tried the next town over, Lo De Marcos. I had done some Google Earth scouting before the trip and saw that there was a lot of good habitat near the edge of town, so it seemed like a logical place to stay if we wanted some easy birding the next morning. We spent the night in some hella cheap bungalows (bung) on the main road into town off Highway 200. The beds were on raised cement platforms! Incredible.

Nerds study feverishly before our the first morning of birding.

The next morning we just walked southwest until we got into some birdable habitat, and were hugely rewarded. Turns out Lo De Marcos is not a bad place to end up if you wake up there with bird fever. It ended up being an extremely productive morning with lots of life birds...Russet-crowned Motmot, Yellow-winged Cacique, Happy Wren, Sinaloa Wren, Orange-breasted Bunting, Black-throated Magpie-Jay, Golden-cheeked Woodpecker, etc. Camino a las Minitas (check Google Maps) was particularly good. Our eBird checklist is here.

Easily the best bird at Lo De Marcos was this Lesser Ground-Cuckoo, which was a lifer for everyone and the only one of the trip. HJ to Dipper Dan for this one. Brilliant bird, though obviously not something that wants to be photographed. I really like this photo of it, though I suspect you do not understand why.

Rufous-bellied Chachalaca (endemic!) were widespread and common in Nayarit, though this bird at Lo De Marcos was the only confiding individual interested in being crushed. It munched leaves quite casually next to the road.

I dig the big rhino tuft. A lifer for all.

Later that day we made it to San Blas, where we promptly checked in to El Bucanero for our entire stay there. We did this because it was really, really cheap. It was a step up from the bungalows in Lo De Marcos, but not a very big step up. Somehow, styrofoam was a part of one of the rooms, and actually had been painted. Anyways, it was walking distance to a lot of good places to eat (as well as the dock that has the pangas that will take you to Isla Del Rey), and it was right on the main drag, so the location was solid. People often were raging out on the street at night, but birding made us SO SLEEPY that it wasn't really an issue.

Mexican Parrotlets (endemic!) look like leaves. They are tiny, green, and adorable. I like them very much. Photographed at Lower Singayta, Nayarit.

The morning of Day 3 we hit lower Singayta, which was very birdy. Lifers galore. The eBird checklist is here. I'm not sure if it still earns the title as the best spot near San Blas (per Howell), but it's certainly worth birding. There's a solid diversity of birds here...raptors, waterbirds, flocks of wintering birds, and lots of regional specialties.

Crane Hawk was a solid lifer this morning...we would go on to not find another one the rest of the trip. Such pink legs! Such gray cere! I've waited a long time to see this bird...a long time.

Citreoline Trogon (endemic!) was another group lifer. We would end up seeing many of these yellow-bellied tree-beasts during our trip.

Pale-billed Woodpeckers are a fairly common bird down there, but they never fail to impress. This was a "Flycatcher Jen Only" lifer, one of many that she wracked up during our heroic birding tour.

We ran across many Elegant Trogons on the trip as well. What a nice bird to repeatedly run across....much easier to come by than in Arizona.

Something we didn't see a lot of was Scrub Euphonia. It turns out you can really appreciate euphonias when you don't see them constantly and have to remember a lot of field marks. It also helps when they just sit next to you and sing, giving none fucks, refusing to leave a favored tree. This is Godman's Euphonia, the subspecies endemic to West Mexico. Check out the white undertail coverts.

More from Nayarit to come soon, obvi.


  1. You know Euphonias are finches, right? Little known fact. Bird trivia of the day.

  2. Whenever I see euphonias (which is not often enough) I chant to myself "chin, belly, undertail, chin, belly, undertail", then I got to the field guides to see what combination of dark, white, yellow it is.

    Hasn't steered me wrong yet (n=two trips to Central America).

    1. I do that too (though I wouldnt call it a chant), but I can never remember which is which. Las hembras y got something that works for them?

  3. Yesssss. Wish my euphonia photos came out half as good as yours. I plan to continue the use of "Mexican miracle" all year long, regardless of who is around and what has happened.

    1. You should also attribute all good things to Frank's excellent luck.