Thursday, March 17, 2016

Winter Mexican Tour Y2K16, Days 13-14: "Volcan de Fuego", Laguna La Maria

This Gray Silky-Flycatcher accompanied a mixed flock we blew by early that morning. Alas, we were too low for Dwarf Vireos, and could not loiter with this recent lifer and its Lincoln's Sparrow comrades.

On the morning of Day 13, we ditched shitty Ciudad Guzman for good and headed up the road to "Volcan de Fuego", as Howell calls it...I have not found another resource that calls it that. We barged it in our Minivan de Oro, which was no small feat...the road was burly in a number of places, and we definitely put some dings into the van. I would not recommend taking a minivan or sedan up this road, at least for the higher reaches, unless you have Don Francisco at the helm or you are willing to fuck up your rental. 4x4 is not necessary though, just high clearance. Though the road is shitty it does look like it is kept clear, so despite it being almost washed out in places no fallen trees will block your way until you get way up high.

The birding was good...really, really good. Huge flocks abounded. Taking a wrong turn rewarded us with close-up looks at Slaty Vireos, a group lifer that left me reeling. We never did find a Dwarf, but I'll totally take a Slaty over a Dwarf.  In fact, there were so many birds it was difficult to make much progress as far as elevation gains. Stopping at the turnoff to the microondas was birdy (shocker), with the highlight being calling Long-tailed Wood-Partridges...we never did see them, but that is a hell of heard-only bird.

We ran into a handful of Calliope Hummingbirds while birding higher elevations during this trip. I'm a big proponent of Calliope Hummingbirds, but they were not the hummingbirds we were looking for. Do you know what we did not run into? Bumblebee Hummingbirds, Mexican Hermits, Sparkling-tailed Hummingbirds. Pain, pain, pain.

The volcano slumbers, or so we thought.

The hills and mountains of western Mexico are rife with Tufted Flycatchers. At the appropriate elevation, they always seem to be one of the most abundant and conspicuous birds. They are charming and mellow, and comforting in their orangeness.

Slate-throated Redstarts are also thick at these elevations. These are flashy birds, whipping about and splaying their tails constantly.

When crippling birds are conspicuous, even a mini-crippler such as this, birders are happy.

In the early afternoon we finally reached a zone that was rotten...rotten with the stench of potential lifers. There is some incredible habitat on this road if you can make it far enough. This is where Howell references species like Thick-billed Parrot and flock of 100+ of Aztec Thrush. Guess what we did not see? We did have a Colima Warbler scare, but fortunately the frightful bird was just a Virginia's Warbler. What a relief!

Not especially frightful was this Russet Nightingale-Thrush, which we had been seeing but I did not realize until this day was a life embarrassing! Russet Nightingale-Thrush is endemic to Mexico and has the unfortunate distinction of having a name similar to Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush, which it does resemble. Anyhow, we had a couple Russet Nightingale-Thrush on this road and in previous days, I wouldn't say it is a tough bird to come by up on the volcanoes.

Shortly after I got my lifer Rufous-capped Brush-Finch (and narrowly avoiding yet another grip off...fuuuuuuuccccckkkkkkk yesssssssssssssssss!!!!!!!!) we turned around and called it quits for the day. On the way back I noticed something erupting don't see that every day. This was not totally unexpected (Bonnie back at Rancho Primavera said it was active), but it was still intense, to put it lightly. I told my nerd crew earlier in the morning that if the volcano wanted us dead, we would certainly die that day.  When this suddenly became a very realistic possbility, the nerds could not handle it, since the most exciting thing they typically experience is watching their list totals increase in eBird. Dipper Dan let out an eerie wail and promptly shat himself (loudly and horrifically), others lay in the road, curled in the fetal position and sobbing loudly. Frank moaned about all the money he wouldn't be able to save for the rest of his life, Stilt tried to revise her entire life up to the very moment, and (White-throated) Flycatcher Jen awkwardly continued to try to be the center of attention while most of the other nerds were busy dying.

The beginning of The End.

This is what The End looks like.

The Grim Reaper is in there, we could see him.

Obviously no one died, and the volcano erupting is a regular occurrence. Here you can see the moon next to the ash cloud, which calms everyone from turnstones to (White-throated) Flycatcher Jen.

Everyone agreed that this was the best birding of the whole trip, despite the number of target birds we missed. I would strongly recommend birding this road more than once if you are in the area; it would be easy to camp next to higher up, and we did not encounter a single vehicle above the ag fields. Our checklist for the day is here.

That night we lurked down to Colima, where I don't quite remember where we stayed for the night (I'm drinking whisky right now, you see). We did not stay at Los Candiles, a favorite birding hotel, as it was too bloody expensi. Oh, just remembered! We stayed at someplace on the zocalo. It was acceptable, and not expensi! There isn't a lot of food around there, but there was a veggie place that FJ was quite chuffed about.

The next day was the single worst day of birding we had on the trip...and it wasn't bad! Just not great. I mean, we got another Slaty Vireo (on the highway in front of El Jacal de San Antonio), and a pretty good day list, but most of us did not lifer that day. We had some good random roadside birding, but the most interesting stop of the morning was Laguna La Maria.

As soon as we entered the park at Laguna La Maria, we were welcomed by an absolutely massive flock of Lilac-crowned Parrots, far more than we saw on the entire trip combined. They were loud and highly visible. After Stilt caught a goose for fondling purposes, we lurked down to the lake to try to pick up some weird birds. Not many weird birds were to be found, though the area was birdy. After a Red-crowned Ant-Tanager departed, an Olivaceous Woodcreeper gave us very good lucks, which was a relief as I had missed all the previous OLWOs that had been seen earlier in the trip.

This Ivory-crowned Woodcreeper was very confiding, which is how I prefer my woodcreepers, abundance be damned.

Could this be a bird that will show up in the Rio Grande Valley someday? I think that is a reasonable question to ask. But the wait could be a bitch, so cross the border and go birding already.

You know what these are...these are nerds. Don't worry, they are not looking at anything interesting...probably a Great Egret and some coots. You can see the nice, lush habitat that is around the lake though.

Black-throated Green Warblers were uncommon in most of the places we birded during the trip, but as you know, they will always come in for good looks, be it in the state of Texas or the state of Colima.

More from Laguna La Maria, Playa del Oro and Rancho Primavera up next!


  1. The Redstart! I need to see that Redstart (....and your whiskey induced ramblings about nerds and volcanos are my favorite thus far).

    1. Ooh a Billy comment. Well, they are in Costa Rica...though they look different down there.

  2. love the trip posts/photos! FYI - broken checklist link after the erupting volcano photos.

  3. Pretty gnarly birding. Of all the things you named I think BGWA and volcano were the only thing I recognized.

    I often worry that central or South American birding would ruin North American birding for me. Your post has intensified this from hypothesis to theory.

  4. Golden whiskey-induced ramblings for sure "...the nerds could not handle it, since the most exciting thing they typically experience is watching their list totals increase in eBird. Dipper Dan let out an eerie wail and promptly shat himself (loudly and horrifically)"