Hawks & Hummingbirds
This is a report on an 7-day guided bird-watching tour of Mexico in November 2004 with a dba [disabled birders association] group
The tour had 10 participants; Nigel Moorhouse of Sarus tours leading and driving the larger vehicle and Bo Beolens of the dba as second leader driving a saloon car. The other participants were Brian Anderson, Mike & Gill Brown, Maggie Beolens, Lawrence and Ann Robinson, Sue Sayers and Andy Senior. This was the first visit to Mexico by all the participants…
The Mexico trip was an “extension” to the originally planned Texas trip and took place between the 13th & 19th of November – principally visiting Tamaulipas state but also small parts of Nuevo Leon, San Luis Potosi and Coahuila and based on the towns of Gomez Farias, Mante and Monterez.
This report should be read in conjunction with the Texas report on this site as it was an “extension” which took place half way through the Texas trip.
This was the first trip to Mexico for all the participants including the leaders and we relied on meticulous research but were helped for the first few days by a local guide. Being a dba trip, sites and hotels had to be selected with half an eye on accessibility although very little needed to be done to satisfy the able-bodied members present. The weather was hot and humid for the most part as we spent most of the time in cloud forest and we lost the equivalent of half a day to rain.
Day By Day
Day Seven – 13th November This was a travel day as we left Brownsville in Texas [See the Texas report on this website] en route for Gomez Farias in Tamaulipas state, Mexico. As we drove down we did start to clock up birds for the trip which we had already seen in Texas and just two birds which were new for the whole trip; Brown Jay and Tamaulipas Crow, the latter being a lifer for the entire party. Birds seen from the roads which we had seen recently in Texas included: Snowy and Cattle Egrets, Turkey Vulture, Common Black, Roadside & Harris’s Hawks, Crested Caracara, American Kestrel, Plain Chachalaca, Killdeer, Laughing Gull, Rock & Mourning Dove, Great Kiskadee, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Northern Mockingbird, Long-billed Thrasher, Loggerhead Shrike, European Starling, House Sparrow, Eastern Meadowlark and Great-tailed Grackle.
It was dusk as we drove up the hill towards Gomez Farias in the El Cielo Biosphere Reserve, so there was no opportunity to bird but just time to settle into our Hotel and hope for the next day – over dinner we talked with our guide, Ricardo, about what the next day might bring.
Day Eight – Fourteenth November Right after breakfast we set off to drive a short way along the Gomez Farias road but we only got as far as the driveway when Ricardo spotted a Canivet’s Emerald in the garden. We drove 20 yards from the driveway and stopped as blooming flowers in a garden opposite were attracting still more hummers. We added Ruby-throated and White-eared Hummingbirds to our tally before driving off along the road and onto a cobbled track. From here we could see across the valley into bushes etc. We walked and wheeled a few yards down the road and then became transfixed for the next hour as birds appeared before us.
El Cielo Biosphere Reserve
At first it was familiar birds such as Wilson’s and Black-throated Green Warblers but quite quickly we began to see new birds such as Black-headed Saltator, Melodious Blackbird, Audubon’s, Baltimore and the stunning Altimira Oriole; fine baptisms into Mexican birding! There were also Brown and Green Jays, and Greater Peewee. In the background were Green Parakeet and both Red-fronted and White-crowned Parrots. Some of us were lucky to get a Gray Silky-flycatcher too.
As we had to go past our hotel for the next stop we dropped in to use the facilities, we loaded up and drove out of the drive stopping a few yards later as a warbler flock hopped through some gardens and roadside trees. The next hour was a blur of activity with a wave of warblers including Wilson’s, Black-throated Green, Yellow-rumped, Black & White, Golden-crowned and Hooded as well as Northern & Tropical Parulas, White-eyed & Blue Headed Vireos, House Wren, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and both Tropical & Couch’s Kingbirds on the overhead wires.
We then drove back down the road and downhill towards a small park area by a river – just outside the reserve. Just before the park we had Roadrunner actually running, albeit slowly and some Summer Tanagers. Before and after our packed lunch we were delighted to see Sungrebe on the River with Louisiana Waterthrush and Ringed Kingfisher which also ate fish from a small fish-farm-cum-boating lake. Across the river were Great Kiskadee, Boat-billed and Social Flycatchers, Blue-crowned Motmot, Masked Tityra, Golden-fronted, Pileated and Bronze-winged woodpeckers. White-tailed Kite and Gray Hawk flew over our heads and a Bat Falcon flew over too with its characteristic bat-like flight. Around and about were Red-billed Pigeon, Ruddy and Common Ground-Doves and Inca and White-tipped Doves. There were also Pyrrhuloxia seen by some.
It began to rain so we decided to retreat to the hotel. Back at the Hotel a break in the rain enabled us to bird from the garden for short spells. During which we had a fly-by Blue Ground Dove (a sought after semi-endemic) and Spot-breasted Wren and a Wedge-tailed Sabrewing on the feeder. During another break we managed Yellow-winged Tanager, Yellow-throated Euphonia and a supporting cast of orioles and warblers.
Day Nine – Fifteenth November In the early morning I heard an owl calling outside the hotel and Ricardo quickly got Nigel’s tape going and managed to track the bird down shining a light on to it in a tall tree in the garden. everyone managed a view of the Ferruginous Pygmy Owl as it flew from tree to tree.
El Cielo Biosphere Reserve
We started the day proper with an unsuccessful search for Thicket Tinamou. We then tried to go further up the mountain where the road became cobbled and rutted and, eventually, impossible for the low slung saloon to go. Some of the party walked up a track too steep for wheelchairs and were lucky to connect with Mountain Trogon, Fan-tailed Warbler and Crimson-collared Grosbeak as well as good views of Green Parakeet thanks to Ricardo’s eagle eye. During this time it was raining off and on.
Others in the party watched around the road and had Blue-black Grassquit, House Wren, Orioles including Hooded Oriole and Black-headed Saltator. When the group came back together they had another hummer identified by Ricardo as Amethyst-throated Hummingbird.
Several other areas of the biosphere were tried before the party returned to the river, at the place where we had watched the day before, and took lunch. Many of the same species were recorded as had been before but this was added to by Ricardo finding an Elegant Trogon that two of the party saw and everyone walked over to the fishponds when an Amazon Kingfisher was seen. It was whilst we were finishing lunch [with a fish and chip dinner for the non-meat eater being supplied by the local cafe thanks to quick thinking by Nigel & Ricardo] when a conversation between these two revealed that the Hotel owner thought we were checking out this day and not the next. Nigel left to check this out and found that, indeed another group was going to arrive and usurp us. Quick phone calls made to Mante meant we could stay there overnight so we set off for Gomez Farias and quickly packed for the drive to Mante, just before Gomez Farias most of the party were lucky to see a group of Vaux’s Swift passing through the town.
Nothing new was seen en route to Mante. We checked into our hotel and downed a welcome Mexican beer whilst waiting for dinner.
Day Ten – Sixteenth November We left the dusty town of Mante right after an early breakfast and drove first to a stunning waterfall near El Salto where we added Black Phoebe, and Ladder-backed Woodpecker and Spotted Sandpiper to the Mexican list along with distant Yellow-headed Parrots as well as a few “day ticks”. We then took a road further on which was great for sparrows and buntings and yet more “lifers”. The group had excellent views of Vermillion Flycatcher [near the top of nearly everyone’s want list], Clay-colored and Lincoln’s Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, and our only Blue Grosbeak and Indigo Buntings of the trip.
In search of Trogons and other cloud forest species we took the long winding road towards El Naranja but found little of interest there except, at one stop on a back track, some of the party found an Ivory-billed Woodcreeper to the envy of the rest of us. We drove back and took lunch in El Salto whilst one of the group visited a local dentist and another dropped into the pharmacist for some eye-drops. As we got out of the car there was a Western Kingbird in a roadside tree, the only one we ever saw. We then decided to return to the road which had been so productive before and added Osprey, Pyrrhuloxia, Northern Cardinal, Cave Swallow, and Sprague’s Pipit to the tally. The long drive back to Mante was uneventful with just some fly-by Smokey-brown Woodpeckers seen by some.
Day Eleven – Seventeenth November This day we had a really late start then took the drive to Monterrey, one of the larger cities of Northern Mexico. There was little of interest along the way except for our only Short-tailed & Swainson’s Hawks and our first Chihuahuan Raven. At one point we stopped by the roadside and Andy spotted our only Squirrel Cuckoo of the trip. However, we did stop off at Presa Rodrigo Gomez Reservoir which is close to the city. This stop boosted our Mexico list a little with Pied-billed Grebe, Great-blue, Great and Snowy Egret, Lesser Scaup, Neotropic Cormorant, Common Moorhen and American Coot.
Day Twelve – Eighteenth November This was the day we took the mountain road at the back of Monterrey to an area known as Highrise. This gorge through the Sierra Madre Orientale is nothing short of spectacular! The early morning mist was below us by the time we made our first stop beyond the inhabited lower slopes. Here we were treated to Hepatic Tanager and Ruby-crowned Kinglet and some fly-by Clay-colored Robins. We wound our way up the mountain stopping here and there first for Rusty Sparrow and an Acorn Woodpecker doing his thing; sticking an acorn into his store up the full length of a telephone pole, the first of many acorn woodpeckers seen that day. As deciduous woodland gave way to pines we saw our first Hammond’s Flycatchers and Mexican Jays.
We stopped at a small cantina and used their accessible toilets although they were not inclined to let us have coffee and objected to us birdwatching in their garden but not before we had clocked up Pine, Yellow-rumped and Orange-crowned Warblers, and Painted Redstart. Eventually we reached the cliffs beyond Cola de Caballo where we heard, but did not see, Maroon-fronted Parrots just a few commoner birds such as White-winged Dove.
Rather than re-trace our steps we decided to go further into this wonderful valley, a good choice as, at the next stop, by a few small ponds left by a drying stream, we spent an hour in the company of a warbler party which included what to my mind was the best warbler of the trip – Rufous-crowned Warbler. Here too were Eastern, Black and Say’s Phoebe and Red-tailed Hawk over the mountains.
We kept driving the road passing many maintenance crews before having to traverse a section where the road had been taken away but not yet renewed. Just beyond this was a small village with our only Western Bluebirds of the tour. This long road eventually led us to the outskirts of the town of Saltillo, outside of which was the Tanque de Emergencia where a number of decent species might be had so we headed for this with an hour or so to go before dusk. We followed the rutted track as far as a railway line and here, and just beyond, we had a purple patch of birds with Curve-billed and Crissal Thrashers, Common House Finch, Worthen’s Sparrows, Canyon Towee and Northern Flicker. A terrific end to the day – this was followed by a very long night-time drive back into Monterrey where we managed to get lost several times before pitching up, exhausted, at the hotel.
Day Thirteen- 19th November We travelled back to McAllen in the US, after a deliberately late start, arriving with little time for birding except a stop when we spotted Laguna Madre Lake just before the border in the city of Reynosa. This wetland is threatened with redevelopment and should be saved as a terrific resource for the people of the state in general and Reynosa city in particular. Here we added a great many species to our Mexican list such as Black Skimmer, American Avocet, Black-shouldered Stilt, White Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, Tri-colored Heron, White-faced Ibis, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, Green-winged & Blue-winged Teal, Short-billed & Long-billed Dowitcher, Killdeer, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Dunlin, Western & Baird’s Sandpiper and Laughing Gull. We also added Common Raven en route
We only stayed in three hotels – the Hostal Casa de Piedra in Gomez Farias, the JJ Inn in Mante and the Holiday Inn Express in Monterrey. We were originally booked into what was described as the second best hotel in Mante – the Hotel El Angel, but one look at it changed our minds and we came across the much higher standard newly opened JJ Inn. Everyone says how hard it is to get re-confirmation from Mexican hotels and this was our experience too… what is more the first hotel had us down as a much smaller group when we arrived despite all the correspondence. What is more we had to leave a day earlier than intended due to double booking – and we were lucky, as it was late afternoon, to be able to book the next hotel and, when it proved unsatisfactory, to walk right into the hotel we eventually used.
Hostal Casa De Piedra – Gomez Farias
The setting of Casa de Piedra was its saving grace… a stunning view of a cloud forest encrusted valley and hills starting right at the edge of the small garden made the setting second to none. The actual accommodation was quite basic and Spartan but perfectly acceptable. There were just enough rooms to accommodate the party and we just managed to arrange ourselves in a way that allowed the greatest access to those who needed it most. This meant that Brian ended up using a huge room with lots of extra beds! A small wooden ramp was available but it was not easy to use unaided. Rooms were made bearable by the provision of ceiling or free-standing fans.
There was a dining room which was accessible although entry by wheelchair was a little alarming as a ramp swung round very quickly and a mistake could have led to toppling sideways into a floor well. The food was basic but very palatable if limited in variety. Packed lunches were adequate albeit one vegetarian meal provided involved chicken.
Our guide, Ricardo, seemed to be everywhere often helping with meals and anything else required – he was knowledgeable and personable with just enough English to enable communication as only Nigel spoke any Spanish. The owner spent the entire time we were there at his computer and rarely interacted with us. The owners wife was helpful and even did some washing for us [and would have ironed too] which was very welcome.
There was just one charged nectar feeder on the edge of the garden which was a shame as a little more provision just below the garden wall would I am sure have attracted more birds. Nevertheless, birding in, from and adjacent to the Inn was excellent at times. There was a gated yard with enough room to park both vehicles.
J J Inn – Mante
The J J Inn Hotel was not our first choice of hotel – in fact until we arrived in Mante we were not even aware that it existed. Having seen it and preferred it to the hotel we had booked we switched to it and found that it had only very recently opened. It was very well appointed and had large and comfortable rooms at least on a par with the hotels we used in Texas. However, it was clear that the staff had not yet quite got the hang of running the place and this was no more true than of the restaurant.
The service was appallingly slow with no thought given to serving a whole group at once or even the idea of two course arriving sequentially. The one waiter was so like the character in Fawlty Towers that we christened him “Manuel”. He was so like him that he even clapped his hands to his face when he forgot something and moved at the speed of light – we expected him to have a pet hamster. He seemed to be waiter, barman and bellboy.
We did manage one breakfast well due to the intervention of one of the managers who spoke English – proof positive that our ignorance of Spanish was a real handicap.
Otherwise the hotel was fine excepting that on day one we drank the bar dry of beer – going through four brands!
Holiday Inn Express – Tecnologico Monterrey
The Holiday Inn in the area known as “Tecnologico” in Monterrey was like a Holiday Inn anywhere – reasonable standard rooms and service with a buffet breakfast room but no evening meals – these could be ordered from room service from two adjacent restaurants – Applebees and Martins.
San Luis Potosí & Tamaulipas
Pied-billed Grebe Podilymbus podiceps
American White Pelican Pelecanus erythrorhynchos
Double-crested Cormorant Phalacrocorax auritus
Neotropic Cormorant Phalacrocorax brasilianus
Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias
Great Egret Ardea alba
Tricolored Heron Egretta tricolor
Little Blue Heron Egretta caerulea
Snowy Egret Egretta thula
Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis
White-faced Ibis Plegadis chihi
Gadwall Anas strepera
Green-winged Teal Anas carolinensis
Northern Pintail Anas acuta
Blue-winged Teal Anas discors
Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata
Lesser Scaup Aythya affinis
Black Vulture Coragyps atratus
Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura
Osprey Pandion haliaetus
White-tailed Kite Elanus leucurus
Common Black-Hawk Buteogallus anthracinus
Harris’s Hawk Parabuteo unicinctus
Gray Hawk Asturina nitida
Roadside Hawk Buteo magnirostris
Short-tailed Hawk Buteo brachyurus
Swainson’s Hawk Buteo swainsoni
White-tailed Hawk Buteo albicaudatus
Red-tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis
Crested Caracara Caracara cheriway
American Kestrel Falco sparverius
Bat Falcon Falco rufigularis
Plain Chachalaca Ortalis vetula
American Coot Fulica americana
Sungrebe Heliornis fulica
Black-necked Stilt Himantopus mexicanus
American Avocet Recurvirostra americana
Killdeer Charadrius vociferus
Short-billed Dowitcher Limnodromus griseus
Long-billed Dowitcher Limnodromus scolopaceus
Lesser Yellowlegs Tringa flavipes
Spotted Sandpiper Actitis macularia
Semipalmated Sandpiper Calidris pusilla
Western Sandpiper Calidris mauri
Baird’s Sandpiper Calidris bairdii
Laughing Gull Larus atricilla
Black Skimmer Rynchops niger
Rock Pigeon Columba livia
Red-billed Pigeon Patagioenas flavirostris
Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura
Common Ground-Dove Columbina passerina
Ruddy Ground-Dove Columbina talpacoti
Inca Dove Columbina inca
Blue Ground-Dove Claravis pretiosa
White-tipped Dove Leptotila verreauxi
Maroon-fronted Parrot Rhynchopsitta terrisi
Green Parakeet Aratinga holochlora
White-crowned Parrot Pionus senilis
Red-crowned Parrot Amazona viridigenalis
Yellow-headed Parrot Amazona oratrix
Squirrel Cuckoo Piaya cayana
Greater Roadrunner Geococcyx californianus
Tamaulipas Pygmy-Owl Glaucidium sanchezi
Vaux’s Swift Chaetura vauxi
White-throated Swift Aeronautes saxatalis
Wedge-tailed Sabrewing Campylopterus curvipennis
Canivet’s Emerald Chlorostilbon canivetii
White-eared Hummingbird Hylocharis leucotis
Ruby-throated Hummingbird Archilochus colubris
Ringed Kingfisher Ceryle torquata
Amazon Kingfisher Chloroceryle amazona
Green Kingfisher Chloroceryle americana
Blue-crowned Motmot Momotus momota
Acorn Woodpecker Melanerpes formicivorus
Golden-fronted Woodpecker Melanerpes aurifrons
Ladder-backed Woodpecker Picoides scalaris
Northern Flicker Colaptes auratus
Lineated Woodpecker Dryocopus lineatus
Bronze-winged Woodpecker Piculus aeruginosus
Pale-billed Woodpecker Campephilus guatemalensis
Greater Pewee Contopus pertinax
Hammond’s Flycatcher Empidonax hammondii
Eastern Phoebe Sayornis phoebe
Black Phoebe Sayornis nigricans
Say’s Phoebe Sayornis saya
Vermilion Flycatcher Pyrocephalus rubinus
Dusky-capped Flycatcher Myiarchus tuberculifer
Great Kiskadee Pitangus sulphuratus
Boat-billed Flycatcher Megarynchus pitangua
Social Flycatcher Myiozetetes similis
Tropical Kingbird Tyrannus melancholicus
Couch’s Kingbird Tyrannus couchii
Cassin’s Kingbird Tyrannus vociferans
Western Kingbird Tyrannus verticalis
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher Tyrannus forficatus
Masked Tityra Tityra semifasciata
Cave Swallow Petrochelidon fulva
Sprague’s Pipit Anthus spragueii
Ruby-crowned Kinglet Regulus calendula
Gray Silky-flycatcher Ptilogonys cinereus
Cedar Waxwing Bombycilla cedrorum
Spot-breasted Wren Thryothorus maculipectus
House Wren Troglodytes aedon
Curve-billed Thrasher Toxostoma curvirostre
Crissal Thrasher Toxostoma crissale
Western Bluebird Sialia mexicana
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher Polioptila caerulea
Loggerhead Shrike Lanius ludovicianus
Green Jay Cyanocorax yncas
Brown Jay Cyanocorax morio
Mexican Jay Aphelocoma ultramarina
Tamaulipas Crow Corvus imparatus
Chihuahuan Raven Corvus cryptoleucus
Common Raven Corvus corax
European Starling Sturnus vulgaris
White-eyed Vireo Vireo griseus
Blue-headed Vireo Vireo solitarius
Olive Warbler Peucedramus taeniatus
Northern Parula Parula americana
Tropical Parula Parula pitiayumi
Yellow Warbler Dendroica petechia
Yellow-rumped Warbler Dendroica coronata
Black-throated Green Warbler Dendroica virens
Pine Warbler Dendroica pinus
Black-and-white Warbler Mniotilta varia
Louisiana Waterthrush Seiurus motacilla
Hooded Warbler Wilsonia citrina
Wilson’s Warbler Wilsonia pusilla
Painted Redstart Myioborus pictus
Golden-crowned Warbler Basileuterus culicivorus
Rufous-capped Warbler Basileuterus rufifrons
Hepatic Tanager Piranga flava
Summer Tanager Piranga rubra
Yellow-winged Tanager Thraupis abbas
Yellow-throated Euphonia Euphonia hirundinacea
Blue-black Grassquit Volatinia jacarina
Canyon Towhee Pipilo fuscus
Cassin’s Sparrow Aimophila cassinii
Rufous-crowned Sparrow Aimophila ruficeps
Clay-colored Sparrow Spizella pallida
Worthen’s Sparrow Spizella wortheni
Black-throated Sparrow Amphispiza bilineata
Lincoln’s Sparrow Melospiza lincolnii
Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis
Pyrrhuloxia Cardinalis sinuatus
Blue Grosbeak Passerina caerulea
Indigo Bunting Passerina cyanea
Red-winged Blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus
Eastern Meadowlark Sturnella magna
Melodious Blackbird Dives dives
Common Grackle Quiscalus quiscalus
Great-tailed Grackle Quiscalus mexicanus
Brown-headed Cowbird Molothrus ater
Altamira Oriole Icterus gularis
Hooded Oriole Icterus cucullatus
Baltimore Oriole Icterus galbula
Audubon’s Oriole Icterus graduacauda
House Finch Carpodacus mexicanus
House Sparrow Passer domesticus