Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Winter Mexico Tour Y2K16, Days 10-12: Puerto Los Mazos, Microondas San Francisco, Volcan Nevado de Colima and Laguna Zapotlan

After staying the night at Hotel Autlan in Autlan (north end of town near the roundabout - slightly expensive for Mexico but fine), we backtracked south to Puerto Los Mazos in the morning. Apparently, this site is notorious for its changing access...we found the gate unlocked and there were no personnel present, so we hoofed it up the hill all the way to the top. It is entirely possible that we could have driven (though there are few pullouts), so keep that in mind when you go.

Much of the hike goes through oak woodland; it was funny bumping into birds like Bridled Titmouse and Arizona Woodpecker, so far from the place I associate those birds with. Eventually the road gets into something like cloud forest; this area has been damaged by Hurricane Patricia as well, but there is still plenty of good birdy habitat. I took no bird photos at all that morning, for on that day I inexplicably lost the ability to see interesting birds. I just could not fucking see them, let alone photograph them. I could not see the Rufous-crowned Sparrow (only one of the trip), Green-striped Brush-Finch (would have been a lifer), or the flock of Singing Quail (only of the trip). It was brutal. The habitat up top (above the oaks) was quite good as promised and very birdy, though it would have been nice to get up there earlier in the morning. Here is our checklist from the morning.

There were a lot of hummingbirds up top, but the only species of note was Mexican Woodnymph, of which there were quite a few of. There was only one donkey.

After walking back down the hill we returned to Hotel Autlan for another night. The next morning we birded the road to Microondas San Francisco, where I was again gripped off with Red-breasted Chat (multiple birds) and Golden-crowned Emerald (would have been a lifer, obvi). It was harsh. The birding was quite slow to begin with, but got better and better the further up we went. We hit a big mixed flock where the road straightens/levels out for a bit, which featured a number of Black-chested Sparrows, an awesome bird that broke my horrible liferless streak I had been enduring. Further up the road we had some luck with some raptors...Hook-billed Kite, White-tailed Hawk and Zone-tailed Hawk all appeared in short order. Going further up, none other than a Lesser Roadrunner bolted across the road, which was one hell of a lifer!

What Howell does not mention in his birdfinding guide was how insanely birdy the agricultural areas/edges are past the dense thorn forest...the mixed flocks were insane...there were flocks seemingly everywhere we looked. In this area, we had things like Violet-crowned Hummingbirds, Gray-crowned Yellowthroats, Grasshopper Sparrows, Say's Phoebe, the kingbird trifecta (Thick-billed, Cassin's, Western), Dusky Flycatcher, Elegant Euphonias, Black-vented Oriole...this is an area worthy of your attention. Our eBird checklist from the morning is here.

Nerds lined up for birds, as they should be.

After our Great Success at Microondas San Francisco, we headed east to the volcanos. We ran into our first and only big storm of the trip, though managed some nice trip birds along the way (Lucifer Hummingbird, Curve-billed Thrasher, Loggerhead Shrike). Eventually we got up in the mountains, and the storm miraculously cleared. Birding a bunch of random roadside paths and pullouts was very rewarding...Magnificent and Blue-throated Hummingbirds, Green Violetears, and Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercers!

Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer was a definite target bird for the trip, so we were happy to see them. One of the spots we birded was the RMO Viboras road, up at the crest of the highway, which was rewarding...Mexican Chickadees, Green-striped Brushfinches (which cancelled my gripoff from two days prior), etc. Our eBird checklist from the afternoon is right here.

Gray-barred Wren was a group lifer on the Viboras road. These loud and charismatic wrens are my new favorite wren. I was really good at pishing them in, unlike almost all other Mexican birds (Dipper Dan won the Best Pisher award).

The racket these huge wrens make is hard to ignore, and they often drag other species along with them. Seeing a Gray-barred Wren is always good news.

That night we stayed in Ciudad Guzman, a truly awful city, but our hotel on the zocalo (I believe it was Hotel Zapotlan) was both really nice (by our standards, though they had no internet) and really cheap (which Don Francisco relished). The next day we went up the main road to the Colima Volcano, which is accessed off Highway 429 (and not listed in Howell's book). The birding was quite good, though I wouldn't call it great; maybe that is because I got gripped off on multiple Amethyst-throated Hummingbirds. There were a lot of quality birds though...Collared Towhees, Chestnut-sided Shrike-Vireos, Transvolcanic Jays, etc. I was swarmed by an absolutely massive flock of warblers at one point and put all of my being into finding a Colima Warbler, but was unsuccessful.

Red Warbler was a major target bird for everybody, and they did not disappoint. These cripplers were plentiful on the north slope of the volcano

Their silver auriculars really caught the sunlight...definitely a better bird that a field guide does not do justice.

After coming down the mountain, we tried birding one more random, high elevation road. By far the best bird here was this aggressively confiding Mountain Trogon, a species I'd only seen once before, and in shit conditions.

Absolutely facemelting. I've only seen a handful of trogons that were this mellow, and this was the best of them all.

Another ostensible Pine Flycatcher, for your edification.

Empids are hard, but you knew that. Here is the checklist from the volcano that day.

Later in the afternoon, we checked out Laguna Zapotlan (checklist here), the huge lake near Ciudad Guzman. We managed to find some birdy areas, with highlights being Reddish Egret (rare here?) and Least Bittern, and huge roaming carpets of Yellow-headed Blackbirds. I wouldn't call it a must-see birding spot, but it was definitely worth an afternoon stop and helped pad the trip list a bit. Part of the lake had flooded over the heavily-damaged roadway, which big rigs barged with enthusiasm. An ex-KGB agent was mysteriously in the area; he cursed the poor signage in Mexico and was the only driver of a normal vehicle we saw who plowed through the flood, which took considerable Russian courage.


  1. Despite missing Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Green-striped Brush-Finch, and Singing Quail, I'll bet you took heart in your donkey sighting (the only one?), so that's great, right.

    Russian courage is the most ferocious courage there is.

    1. I had difficulty enjoying the donkey. Others were more successful, but they were seeing more birds than me.

  2. You have revised history here. There was an additional pair of donkeys, one white and one grey, that we saw towards the bottom.

    1. But I was talking about top donkeys...I WILL NOT STAND DOWN