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Mexico 2017 Early Winter- saved by Rancho Primavera (1 Viewer)


Active member
My wife and I escaped from Spain for four winter weeks in November 2017. The first half was spent based out of Akumal, mainly snorkelling with family but also sneaking off early on alternate days to go birding. On our trip to Coba we got the feeling that all was not going as we had hoped. Although it was just after 8am there was little movement and almost no sound. I understand that forest birding is often difficult, but this was odd. We fared better at the Muyil side of Sian Ka'an, but it was not exactly stellar either; no signs of any trogon and only the most common woodpecker. San Gervasio on Cozumel was much better with activity lasting through until 10am. Not a single marine bird seen on the ferry crossing.

From the Mayan coast we went to Oaxaca for 5 days. The city is a real gem with its low-key colonial architecture, lively markets, walking streets and excellent restaurants. On all four usable days we left well before dawn. The birding was abysmal to say the least, with the exception being the lake above Teotitlán del Valle. In particular Yagul was an avian desert at 08:30, with the only activity being in the lowlands - the hilly cactus scrub was almost empty. Cerro San Filipe (locals seem not to know what El Cumbre means) was equally bad. Only a solitary (why?) Stellar jay showed itself, plus a few flycatchers and hummingbirds - sparse pickings indeed in the chilly morning air. At Monte Alban we walked the access road for an hour before the 8 am gate opening. Granted it was gloomy at first and distinctly coolish, but other than a few grackles and kingbirds, it too was dead. The ruins themselves picked up after opening but within not more than about 45 minutes all was quiet again. At 10 the mobs arrived and we departed. We met a Belgian bird-photographer in the parking lot. Had he fared better? "Total waste of 8 days" was his response.

Puebla - we did this guided by a local PDF publication. The lake around the ferry was productive but the remaining shore had only a few least grebe and coots. We were early on the southern bank. The thorn scrub has been irresponsibly over-grazed. A few flycatchers and some vireos and we called it a day. The encroachment on the volcanic flanks has been enormous north of the city, and where buildings have not sprung up, firewood collecting has trashed the remaining vegetation for a long way up the flanks. Gulleys are choked with rubbish. In fact the best birding of all was paradoxically in a low-income apartment jungle in the south of the city at Laguna de Chapulca. The old city, however, was a cultural delight which saved this leg from mediocrity.

Finally to Puerto Vallarta, using the city only for dining and accommodation. Each morning we left well before dawn, braving 'topes' made barely visible by on-coming drivers refusing to dim their lights, and insane folk entering at speed into the highway traffic from barely visible side roads. Predicting such inroads on birding time we had wanted to spend most of our Pacific visit at Rancho Primavera, about on hour south of the city (NW of El Tuito), but a gremlin had intruded on my attempts to make a booking there. I still remained puzzled because when we arrived Bonnie Jáuregui ([email protected]) informed me that she had received none of my early emails and that they had ample spare accommodation. This made me even more frustrated, but that was soon dispersed by Bonnie and here mom's kind invitation to stay a while even though we were not booked with them. The bird list climbed rapidly as gluttonous avian diners breakfasted on the feeders and increased even further at the lakeside. These were augmented by a walk down the entrance road. The varying habitats within a restricted distance (even though we were unable to do the ridge hike) made Rancho Primavera the stand-out location during our Mexico trip. And Bonnie's restaurant recommendation in El Tuito was spot-on. Thank you so much Bonnie and Pat!!!

The trip total (granted only 50% of days were 'birded) was a party 107. Compared to a trip list of 239 in Thailand in the same month two years earlier, with a similar mix of birding and other interests, and a similar (lack of) familiarity with local birds, I was disappointed to say the least.

A question for the seasoned travel members: Is post-migration early winter usually this unproductive in American sub-tropical areas? Unlike 2-3 hours or even more, in Africa with frost on the Bushveld ground, the morning birding 'window' in nippy Mexico seems to be an hour at best. Were we just plumb unlucky?


Gallery Moderator
Opus Editor
For comparison re numbers: my wife and I traveled 2 weeks by car with Mexico city and Palenque as outer limits for how far we reached. This was done during two weeks so quite a lot of travel time, and most days were combination of early birding and cultural things later in the day. This was during the first two weeks of 2000, and it was my first visit to Mexico. My list is 173 species from that trip.

Regarding Yucatan, some days and locations can be like that, relative cloud cover and rain influences how much is seen. Your experiences seem lower than mine, though.




Gallery Moderator
Opus Editor
OR maybe the weather works out better or you have more luck. I am not convinced that the time of year is the most important issue.



Active member
I finished going through over 1000 photographs, and while I know that some birders frown on their use, but uncertainties were high (no guides employed; no recordings; little Mexican (or adjoining) experience). After much head scratching, paging through the books and searching the WWW, and help from forum members, I cranked up the trip tally from 107 to 148, 37 of which were lifers for me. Still not what I had hoped for but an improvement nonetheless.

Looking back I realise that we had good weather in Quintana Roo and in the lowlands of Jalisco, but in the Sierra Madre highlands and during our entire time in Oaxaca (except for the first day - in Teoititlán) it was cloudy or windy or both, and the temperatures were fresh to say the least. I presume that, besides being novices, this could have contributed.

I hope that you had better conditions, Jeff.


missing the neotropics
Heya Pedro,

Sorry to hear about your lack of birding luck, but glad that Rancho Primavera (a lovely site with lovely hosts) treated you well and I hope that good food and Mexican culture made up for the lack of birds.

I'm in MX currently vacationing and enjoying with my partner and birding casually as we take in ruins and sites, and sneaking away here and there for a couple hours in the morning on occasion. Was in Oaxaca two weeks ago, then the Oaxaca coast, then the Chiapan lowlands (Palenque/Bonampak/Yaxchilan) and now in San Cristobal, though I've not birded around San Cristobal yet. I have previously seen near every species in middle america after extensive travel a few years ago and remember a good bit of bird song but have forgotten much, frustratingly. I still picked up one lifer and a couple Mexico ticks. I did attempt to get better views at Dwarf Jay and tried for Flammulated Owl at La Cumbre but was stymied by cold, windy, dry weather and recorded almost no birds up there, which can certainly happen, it can be a hit or miss site. I also dipped White-throated Jay again around San Jose del Pacifico, again with cold, dry, windy weather. For what it's worth eBird says I've logged 236 species in Mexico thus far on this trip, though certainly the Chiapan lowlands account for half of those or so.

Here around San Cristobal I am hoping for better views of Blue-throated Motmot and Unspotted Saw-Whet, and hoping to finally actually genuinely have a tickable look at Scaled Antpitta (one of my most egregious neotropical misses over the years) but otherwise I am not planning on birding a tremendous amount...

Jeff Hopkins

Just another...observer
United States
My trip went relatively well. 256 species seen, and maybe another 10 or so heard.

10 lifers on the Yucatan. My flights were mostly in the AM, so that cost me some prime birding, but I still got all but one of my probable targets. Afternoons at the Mayan sites were pretty dead, birdwise, and really crowded people-wise (except for Uxmal). But I got into an accident on the way back to Cancun from Coba. Thank God for full coverage.

Other than the wren which behaved nicely, I had tickable but not great looks at the Cozumel endemics (vireo and emerald). Also got Yucatan Flycatcher, but missed Carribbean Dove. That's becoming a bit of a nemesis bird. But the road to the water treatment plant was flooded by heavy rains the day I arrived, so I couldn't really try for Ruddy Crake.

Rio Lagartos was great. Got the wren, bobwhite, and sheartail, plus white-bellied wren. Also picked up Turquoise-Browed Motmot near Ek Balam and Ruddy Crake near Tizimin. And plenty of flamingos seen without taking a boat trip. Missed wood rails and roadrunner, tho.

Uxmal and Coba also didn't have much in the way of birds - Yucatan Jays and a few woodcreepers, but the San Simon Road near Uxmal was really good at dawn (think tree-full of orioles). And I got killer views of two Black-throated Ant-thrushes chasing each other around on the Cascade Trail near Palenque. Palenque ruins themselves weren't much for birds. Gartered Trogon and a few Collared Aracaris were the best stuff there. No cotingas at the San Manuel Rd. near Palenque.

The Oaxaca week of the trip was with Field Guides. 33 lifers on that portion, most of which were endemics which was about what I expected. No surprise lifers, and hummingbirds and thrushes were only the common ones, but it wasn't meant to be an extremely intense tour; quite a bit of general tourism along with the birding. After my Brazil trip this summer, that suited me just fine. And according to the leaders, December is just less birdy than later in the winter.

La Cumbre was good. Cold and misty one AM, but clear (and cold!) on our night of owling, and on the day we went to the Yuvila side. Got several Dwarf Jays and Grey-barred Wren on the misty morning along the lower section of the Cabeza de Vaca trail and even better looks at each along the road in the evening. We had Mountain Trogon at the upper trailhead. Also picked up Russet Nightingale-thrush on two days. White-eared hummers and Red Warblers were common, as were Brown-backed Solitaire on the Yuvila side.

We had a pair of Fulvous Owls, a Flam, and several Mexican whip-poor-wills on the evening session (along with a heard only pygmy owl). I'm sure I wouldn't had found any of them on my own. The Field Guides leaders had the owls staked out. Apparently they were the same territories from last winter.

Teotitlan la Valle was also great for the scrub species, but not much waterfowl wise at Piedra Azul Reservoir. Got all three of the endemic vireos, with killer looks at all of them, especially Slaty, plus Bridled Sparrows, and one morning we had a flock of over 60 grey-silky flys. Up above, at Rio Verde, we had Chestnut-sided Shrike-vireo, White-striped Woodcreeper, and more Red Warblers.

We got Ocellated Thrasher at Monte Alban at the edge of the ruins after several heard onlys along the entrance road. Mitla was way too crowded for any birds, but we had a perched Lesser Roadrunner that responded to tape in the late afternoon at Yagul. However, we missed Beautiful Hummer there. Blue Mockingbird was actually in the brush on our hotel grounds (Hotel Mision de los Angeles) as was a Golden Vireo and several Rufous-backed Robins.

There was a great dirt road at the km 77 marker of the road from Oaxaca to Tehuantepec (Ruta 190). This was our spot for Pacific slope scrub species. Russet-crowned Motmot was there and we had great views of Orange-breasted Bunting, White-throated Magpie-jay, and Sumichrast's Jay, but only a couple of us got on Green-fronted Hummingbird there.

I'm going to start on a detailed trip report for the Yucatan portion, but I'll leave the report for the Oaxaca trip to Field Guides.
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