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Mexico 1997

Andy Musgrove, 23 June - 7 July 1997

Summary | Systematic List | Daily Totals


Our two-week honeymoon in Puerto Vallarta, on the Pacific coast of Mexico, so "not really a birding trip". Still, a good variety of species was seen, including plenty of west Mexican endemics. Most birding was done around the golf course at Marina Vallarta (north of the main resort) and the edge of the adjoining airport. North of the airport was a small area of mangroves and scrubby woodland, before coming to the mouth of the Rio Ameca, which seemed particularly rich for waterbirds and I imagine is probably going to be under pressure of development as hotels complexes increase from both north and south. Other areas visited by local buses were the jungle canyon at Mismaloya, which was excellent (although more trails into the woods would have been nice), Punta de Mita at the northern end of the bay, the Rio de Cuale canyon to the east of Puerto Vallarta itself, El Ranchito and San Juan de Abagio (the last two being small inland villages that the bus happened to go as far as). We also got a tourist boat out to the Marietas Islands out in the bay, which was of great interest with several breeding seabirds including presumably internationally important numbers of Blue-footed Boobies. To get more out of the area, hiring a car and perhaps visiting in the winter would be better. The order of species and nomenclature follow Howell & Webb.

On the trip out, a brief refuelling stop at Bangor, Maine, produced the following species: Feral Pigeon Columba livia, Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura, Cliff Swallow Hirundo pyrrhonota, American Crow Corvus brachyrhynchus, Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottos, Starling Sturnus vulgaris, Common Grackle Quiscalus quiscula, House Finch Carpodacus mexicanus, House Sparrow Passer domesticus, as well as an unidentified gull from the plane and a probable American Robin Turdus migratorius in flight. None of these species were new to me.

Species list

Least Grebe Tachybaptus dominicus

Up to four regularly noted on the Marina Vallarta golf course pools.

Pied-billed Grebe Podilymbus podiceps

One seen at the Marina Vallarta golf course pools on four dates.

Blue-footed Booby Sula nebouxii

Small numbers seen from the beach from Marina Vallarta and Punta de Mita. Much more numerous on a boat trip out to the Marietas Islands with an estimated 500+ around the islands, many of which were on nests, and perhaps another c200 seen from the boat en route. A relatively restricted species in world terms.

Brown Booby S. leucogaster

A couple of probables were seen from the shore, but the only confirmed sightings were out in the bay on a boat trip to the Marietas Islands, when c100 were seen on the way out there and 500+ were around the islands, including many nests. Many birds had dark heads, which is apparently more typical of Atlantic coast birds.

Brown Pelican Pelecanus occidentalis

Commonly seen all along the coast, including around the hotels. The largest concentrations were on the sand spit at the mouth of the the Rio Ameca, where we counted 250 on 28/6 and 280 on 1/7.

Neotropic Cormorant Phalacrocorax brasilianus

Common along the coast, with concentrations of up to c100 on the golf course at Marina Vallarta and up to c70 at the mouth of the Rio Ameca. Small numbers were also found inland at El Ranchito and San Juan de Abagio.

Anhinga Anhinga anhinga

Small numbers regularly seen around the golf course and the Rio Ameca, mostly in flight, with a max of six on 26/6.

Magnificent Frigatebird Fregata magnificens

Common all along the coast, with birds almost constantly in view. The largest numbers were seen on 4/7, with c150 at a nesting colony on the Marietas Islands. Probably nesting also at Los Arcos near Mismaloya.

Great Egret Egretta alba

Small numbers most days, including birds inland at San Juan de Abagio.

Snowy Egret E. thula

Common and widespread with maxima of 55 on 28/6 and 44 on 1/7 from the mouth of the Rio Ameca.

Little Blue Heron E. caerulea

Widely noted in small numbers, with records from the Marina Vallarta coastal area as well as inland at El Ranchito and San Juan de Abagio.

Tricoloured Heron E. tricolor

Small numbers noted most days around the Marina Vallarta / Rio Ameca area.

Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis

Variable numbers seen most days, with a maximum of c50 around the airport where there was a nesting colony. Birds seen in full breeding plumage confirming them to be of nominate race, not coromandus.

Green Heron Butorides virescens

Widely noted in small numbers with a maximum of c10 on 26/9 around the Marina Vallarta area.

Yellow-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax violaceus

A common species along the coast, with a nesting colony by the end of the airport. Often seen feeding along the beach in small numbers, but much larger numbers noted on the golf course pools at dawn and dusk.

White Ibis Eudocimus albus

Commonly recorded around the Marina Vallarta area, with maximum of c30 on 7/7.

Roseate Spoonbill Platalea ajaja

At the mouth of the Rio Ameca, 10 on 28/6, one on 29/6, three on 1/7 and 14 on 7/7.

Wood Stork Mycteria americana

Migrating flocks over the Rio de Cuale of 15 on 25/6, and two flocks of six and 39 on 30/6, as well as two flocks of c35 and c20 over Marina Vallarta (visible from the swimming pool!). All of these birds were moving north, presumably dispersing from breeding colonies further south and following the rains north. Additionally, two were at the Rio Ameca on 1/7.

Black-bellied Whistling Duck Dendrocygna autumnalis

The only species of wildfowl noted (except for domestic Muscovies in people's gardens). The species was common, widespread and noisy, with up to 50 noted per day. Even seen perching on the hotel roof!

American Black Vulture Coragyps atratus

By far the commonest raptor, and much more numerous than Turkey Vulture, with large flocks of up to c300 seen daily. Only seen on the ground at the mouth of the Rio Ameca.

Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura

Scarce in comparison to Black Vulture, and not recorded around the hotels, with records from Rio de Cuale, Mismaloya, El Ranchito and San Juan de Abagio.

[Vulture sp.]

Large flocks seen in the distance from the hotel were presumably mostly Black Vultures.

Hook-billed Kite Chondrohierax uncinatus

One was seen flying over the Rio de Cuale canyon on 30/6. Loose, flappy flight with very pinched in secondaries, a long head and overall dark with pale primaries.

White-tailed Kite Elanus leucurus

Three were seen together (family party?) over agricultural land at San Juan de Abagio on 6/7.

Grey Hawk Buteo nitidus

At least three seen, some closely, in the Rio de Cuale canyon on 30/6 with one at Mismaloya on 3/7. Overall grey with a well barred tail and pinched in secondaries.

Short-tailed Hawk B. brachyurus

One hunting around the edge of the village at Punta de Mita on 29/6, two over the Rio de Cuale on 30/6 and one was seen from a beach to the south of Punta de Mita on 4/7. All were dark-phase birds. The first was described as having a barred tail with a thicker terminal band, barred paler flight feathers, black body and underwing coverts and a yellow bill. It was the size of a small Buzzard and hovered frequently.

[Raptor spp.]

An unidentified "buteo" in Rio de Cuale canyon on 25/6. One Black Hawk sp was over the Rio de Cuale canyon on 30/6, and appeared to be more like Great on shape, but with one tail bar, translucent flight feathers and a rather short first primary (all of which are more suggestive of Common Black Hawk). A bird seen from Mismaloya beach on 3/7 was at first thought to be another black hawk sp., but later thought to probably be a Zone-tailed Hawk, although the species should not be in this area in the summer. It had a white bar on the tail, a whitish uppertail, soaring and gliding on obviously v'd wings and very like a Turkey Vulture in overall appearance. Moulting its inner primaries. Not claimed since not supposed to be here, and only identified in retrospect.

Crested Caracara Caracara plancus

One in flight, quite distantly, from Punta de Mita on 29/6. Long neck, pale head, rump and under-primaries.

Elegant Quail Callipepla douglasii

Common around the golf course / airport area, often located on call (one was seen calling perched in a tree). The call was transcribed as a 'strangled' "wha-i". Also seen at Nuevo Vallarta and San Juan de Abagio.

Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus

Small numbers around the golf course.

American Coot Fulica americana

1-2 regularly seen on the golf course.

Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola

Singles at the mouth of the Rio Ameca on 1/7 and 7/7.

Snowy Plover Charadrius alexandrinus

Two at the mouth of the Rio Ameca on 7/7.

Wilson's Plover C. wilsonia

Two at the mouth of the Rio Ameca on 1/7 and 7/7.

Semipalmated Plover C. semipalmatus

Up to 13 noted at the mouth of the Rio Ameca.

Killdeer C. vociferus

Common around the Marina Vallarta area, with up to 10 seen most days.

American Oystercatcher Haemotopus palliatus

One was seen on the Marietas Islands on 4/7.

Northern Jacana Jacana spinosa

Regular around wet areas on the Marina Vallarta golf course, with a maximum of three seen there on 25/6. Two were also seen on a marshy piece of waste ground on the southern side of Marina Vallarta on 26/6.

Greater Yellowlegs Tringa melanoleuca

At the mouth of the Rio Ameca, ten on 28/6 and 1/7 with nine there on 7/7.

Willet Catoptrophorus semipalmatus

Ten were at the mouth of the Rio Ameca on 28/6 and 1/7, with two here on 7/7 and 15 in flight near here (seen from boat) on 4/7. One on the beach at Marina Vallarta and four at Nuevo Vallarta on 2/7.

Spotted Sandpiper Actitis macularia

One was at the mouth of the Rio Ameca on 7/7.

Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus

At the mouth of the Rio Ameca, two on 28/6, one on 29/6, one on 1/7 and five on 7/7. Also, five at Nuevo Vallarta on 2/7. All were of dark-rumped "Hudsonian" race.

[Calidris sp.]

Two flew past at the Rio Ameca on 7/7 but unfortunately didn't land.

Laughing Gull Larus atricilla

Commonly seen along the coast, but the largest concentrations were c100 at Punta de Mita on 29/6, c100 at the Rio Ameca on 7/7 and c50 at the Marietas Islands on 4/7.

Heermann's Gull L. heermanni

Commonly noted all along the coast (more numerous than Laughing Gull), with the maximum being c150 around the Marietas Islands on 4/7. Birds were very tame here, taking food from tourists' outstretched hands. All ages were noted.

Gull-billed Tern Sterna nilotica

At the mouth of the Rio Ameca, c50 on 28/6, 11 on 1/7 and two on 7/7. Two off Punta de Mita on 29/6 and one from the boat on 4/7 in the bay.

Royal Tern S. maxima

Commonly seen in small numbers along the coast. However, largest numbers at mouth of Rio Ameca where c40 on 28/6, c70 on 1/7 and c50 on 7/7. Also, c40 at the Marietas Islands on 4/7.

Elegant Tern S. elegans

One adult was with a flock of Royal Terns at the mouth of the Rio Ameca on 28/6, obviously shorter at the shoulder with a finer, more decurved bill.

Least Tern S. antillarum

Commonly seen along the coast; maximum of 10 on 28/6.

Bridled Tern S. anaethetus

A total of c20 were noted around the Marietas Islands on 4/7. Not proved breeding but seemed very likely.

Black Tern Chlidonias niger

One was at the Marina Vallarta golf course on 24/6. 15 were at the Rio Ameca on 28/6, with one there on 1/7 and c40 on 7/7. Also, four seen out in the bay from the boat on 4/7.

Brown Noddy Anous stolidus

A total of c50 were around the Marietas Islands on 4/7, including many birds perched on the islands. No proof of breeding but seemed likely.

Black Skimmer Rynchops niger

Noted at the mouth of the Rio Ameca, where there were ten on 1/7 and five on 7/7.

Feral Rock Dove Columba livia

Widespread in small numbers around built up areas, with a maximum of c30 on 25/6.

Red-billed Pigeon C. flavirostris

Widespread but not abundant. Noted in small numbers most days but 20 at El Ranchito plus 15 near the airport on 5/7. The cooing was transcribed both as "ooo-ooo-o-oooh", and as - - - - ____

White-winged Dove Zenaida asiatica

Uncommon. One was on the Marina Vallarta golf course on 24/6 and a total of 26 were noted in flight in the distance from the hotel balcony on 28/7.

Mourning Dove Z. macroura

One at Marina Vallarta golf course on 24/6 and 29/6 with two here on 7/7. Two near the airport (including one nest-building) on 1/7. Two at San Juan de Abagio on 6/7.

Inca Dove Columbina inca

Commonly seen in small numbers, up to five per day. A pair were seen at a nest at Punta de Mita. Call described in note-book.

Ruddy Ground Dove C. talpacoti

Widespread in small numbers with up to eight seen per day, but no Common Ground Doves noted.

White-tipped Dove Leptotila verreauxi

At Mismaloya on 27/6, one was seen and c5 more heard calling were later identified as this species; three here also on 3/7. One near the airport/golf course on 29/6 with one here on 1/7, two on 2/7 and one on 7/7. One at El Ranchito on 5/7. The call of this species, a drawn-out low moaning "ooooh", was very distinctive, although it took a few days to work out what the species making it was. The dove itself was less notable, very plain with a black bill, dull red iris, red legs and white tail corners. A rufous nape was noted on a second individual.

Orange-fronted Parakeet Aratinga canicularis

These were common and widespread although frequently difficult to see well perched. Up to 20 noted around Marina Vallarta golf course and up to 40 at Mismaloya.

Mangrove Cuckoo Coccyzus minor

The only one was seen well in mangroves at Punta de Mita on 29/6.

Groove-billed Ani Crotophaga sulcirostris

Common, especially around the Marina Vallarta golf course, with a maximum day-total of eight on 6/7.

Ferruginous Pygmy Owl Glaucidium brasilianum

One was seen in an area of scrubby palms just north of the airport, along the beach, on 28/6 and 7/7. Yellow eyes and bill, faintly streaked crown, heavy black streaks below, white-edged black nape "eyes", fairly plain dark brown back with a few paler markings, tail not very long and dark brown with ca 7 darker bars. Very confiding.

Lesser Nighthawk Chordeiles acutipennis

Singles at dawn around the golf course on 2/7 and 7/7. White visible in wing, relatively short tail with slight fork, hunting in a slow flight with many glides, with wings held in a shallow V.

Pauraque Nyctidromus albicollis

Four were on a track at the beach end of the airport at dawn on 29/6. White outer tail usually easy to see but not always so, white moustachial stripe, tail reaches almost to wing tip at rest, white in wing visible at rest on the ground. Feeding by resting on the ground then flying up and back again. Call described as "woo-woo-wu-wo-weeoh".

[Swift spp.]

Surprisingly, no swifts were identified to species. The only ones seen were an apparently large one high over the Rio de Cuale canyon on 30/6 (too high to see well) and two over MacDonald's whilst waiting for a bus on 5/7, which were also distant but appeared large and all dark. None were seen for very long. The lack of a common swift species seemed rather odd.

Golden-crowned Emerald Chlorostilbon auriceps

Two stunning males were seen well between El Eden and Chino's Paradise at Mismaloya on 27/6. One of the top birds of the trip.

Broad-billed Hummingbird Cynanthus latirostris

Singles were seen well enough to identify around the hotels on 23/6 (excellent views of a perched male on our first evening), 26/6 and 1/7, and at Punta de Mita on 29/6.

Cinnamon Hummingbird Amazilia rutila

The most frequently seen hummingbird, with up to three seen most days. Particularly regular around the Marina Vallarta golf course.

Plain-capped Starthroat Heliomaster constantii

Singles were seen at Isla de Cuale (Puerto Vallarta) on 25/6 and 30/6, Marina Vallarta golf course on 26/6 and San Juan de Abagio on 6/7. The largest hummingbird seen with a long straight dark bill, an eye-stripe, white tail sides and rump sides. The species was observed flycatching from a perch.

[Hummingbird spp]

Several hummers were seen too briefly to identify, but most appeared to be one of Cinnamon or Broad-billed Hummingbird or Plain-capped Starthroat. However, one at Mismaloya on 3/7 was more troublesome. It had a shortish all black bill, a white supercilium, a bluish tail with three dark bars, was greenish above and greyish below. This bird was watched perched for some time but could not be identified.

Elegant Trogon Trogon elegans

At least two of these stunners were seen around Chino's Paradise, Mismaloya, on 27/6.

Russet-crowned Motmot Momotus mexicanus

Approximately ten were seen in Mismaloya valley on 27/6.

Green Kingfisher Chloroceryle americana

Singles were seen on Marina Vallarta golf course on 25/6, at the mangroves near the airport on 28/6 and 7/7 and in the Rio de Cuale on 30/6.

Golden-cheeked Woodpecker Centurus chrysogenys

The only woodpecker commonly seen, with up to five noted almost daily. The first one seen was troublesome, because the diagnostic striped back can appear all dark when in the shade of trees. Birds were seen going to a nest hole in a palm tree at Nuevo Vallarta.

Ladder-backed Woodpecker Picoides scalaris

One male was seen in an area of burnt trees at Punta de Mita on 29/6.

Northern Beardless Tyrannulet Camptostoma imberbe

Along the scrubby area between Marina Vallarta golf course and the airport, singles were seen on 26/6 and 3/7 with two here on 2/7. Small, with a spiky crest, an orange base to the lower mandible and a pale wingbar. The first was calling a plaintive "tieu-tieu-tieu" followed by faster and higher-pitched notes. Another song described in note-book.

Brown-crested Flycatcher Myiarchus tyrannulus

Two were seen together near the hotel on 24/6. Surprisingly, not seen again but extensive red in wings and tail edges ruled out Tropical Kingbird. Further identified by very large bill and whitish covert fringes.

Great Kiskadee Pitangus sulphuratus

Very common everywhere, with birds even drinking from hotel swimming pools. Up to 10 seen most days but c20 on 2/7. Very noisy with the most distinctive call a loud "kisk-a-dee".

Boat-billed Flycatcher Megarynchus pitangua

One was seen at Mismaloya on 27/6. Could be easily overlooked as a Kiskadee but dull brown wings, a long, wide-based bill and a different call.

Social Flycatcher Myiozetetes similis

Common, especially around the golf course. Single figures most days but a maximum of 14 on 6/7. This species lived up to its name, with birds always seen in small groups. The call was described as a squeaky "kiu".

Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher Myiodynastes luteiventris

Several seen but never common. Two were on the Isla de Cuale (Puerto Vallarta) on 25/6, singles by Puerto Vallarta bus station and at Mismaloya on 27/6, one at Rio de Cuale on 30/6, one on Marina Vallarta golf course on 1/7 and three there on 7/7.

Tropical Kingbird Tyrannus melancholicus

Very common and seen everywhere, with up to 25 per day.

Masked Tityra Tityra semifasciata

Three seen at Mismaloya on 27/6, three at Rio de Cuale on 30/6 and one at Mismaloya on 3/7. A rather odd looking species, overall pale grey and black with a red eye and face and a red bill with a black tip.

Grey-breasted Martin Progne chalybea

Five were seen around Mismaloya beach on 3/7 and c10 were around the Marietas Islands on 4/7. Superficially similar to Rough-winged Swallow but noticeably larger.

Mangrove Swallow Tachycineta albilinea

Regular but only in small numbers, mostly seen around the hotel, drinking from the swimming pool. Importantly, this species does not look green, even with extremely close views (i.e. from in the swimming pool)! Identified by the white rump. The white tertial edges were visible on occasions.

Northern Rough-winged Swallow Stelgidopteryx serripennis

Very common and widespread, with up to c30 per day.

Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica

Very common and widespread, with up to c30 per day.

San Blas Jay Cyanocorax sanblasianus

This top endemic was noted at Mismaloya, where c10 (in small parties) on 27/6 and two on 3/7, and two in coastal scrub at Nuevo Vallarta on 2/7.

Happy Wren Thryothorus felix

Singles were seen around the Marina Vallarta golf course on 28/6, 2/7 and 7/7. This species was much scarcer than Sinaloa Wren and took some confirming. The first sighting remained only a possible at first on the basis of brief views of unmarked wings and a different song. This is roughly written - - - - \ , the last note being a descending whistle. When seen well at last, unbarred upperparts, a whitish breast, an apparently stripier face and thought to have a more prominent moustachial stripe than Sinaloa Wren. Again, a simple six-note song, very unlike Sinaloa Wren (which was singing nearby at the time).

Sinaloa Wren T. sinaloa

A common bird, although missed for the first few days since rather skulking. Very vocal though. Up to eight seen per day. Extensive notes taken on first bird, to make sure of species. Well marked face, barred tertials and coverts, white throat, unstreaked buff underparts, pale base to lower mandible almost to tip, white supercilium most obvious behind eye, tail feathers barred underneath to their ends, pale flesh legs, smooth brown crown. This first bird was singing c12 feet up in a tree, an sounded like a slowed-down Winter Wren. The song had a Nightingale-liek quality, with some slow notes and some trills. One song is described in note-book. Some birds were noted giving harsher call notes also, with a regular phrase consisting of two clear notes followed by a harsh one (not described in Howell & Webb). A bird was seen taking food into a nest at Mismaloya. The nest was made of twigs and was hung suspended over a branch, drooping down to either side. Another was seen carrying food at Punta de Mita.

Rufous-backed Robin Turdus rufopalliatus

One was seen briefly flying over a path at Marina Vallarta golf course on 25/6 and one was seen much better at Mismaloya on 27/6. The latter bird was carrying food, presumably to young.

Yellow-green Vireo Vireo flavoviridis

Two seen on the Isla de Cuale with another up the Rio Cuale canyon on 25/6. The latter bird was seen carrying a foecal sac, and thus proved breeding. One seen at El Ranchito on 5/7.

Greyish Saltator Saltator coerulescens

A common but skulking bird, with up to seven noted per day. Often picked up on call, which often sounded rather like "R2D2"; a down-slurred whistle followed by an upslurred whistle. Dueting between birds also noted.

Yellow Grosbeak Pheucticus chrysopeplus

Two were seen at Mismaloya on 27/6 with three there on 3/7. Call was two whistles, the second lower in pitch than the first.

Blue-black Grassquit Volatina jacarina

Common in small numbers around the golf course. Much more common in agricultural fields at San Juan de Abagio on 6/7 where c40 seen. Males distinctive, sometimes displaying their white shoulder tufts. Females more drab, but with notably streaky chest.

White-collared Seedeater Sporophila torqueola

Commonly seen everywhere, with up to 30 per day. Males looked superficially like little Stonechats.

Stripe-headed Sparrow Aimophila ruficauda

Regularly seen in small numbers, including birds around the golf course.

Red-winged Blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus

A female was seen on the Marina Vallarta golf course on 26/6, a male was there and another male was near El Ranchito on 5/7 and c30 were seen in agricultural fields at San Juan de Abagio on 6/7.

Eastern Meadowlark Sturnella magna

One was at San Juan de Abagio on 6/7. Since I wasn't sure when watching it whether there was overlap between the species in the area, I took full notes. Yellow on throat and on breast but not as far as legs, which were long and flesh-coloured. Single buzzing call note. Pale lores. Dark in front of and below eye. Dark eyestripe and lateral crown stripe. Bold yellow mantle lines. Pale outer tail feathers. Brown-barred tertials. No obvious primary projection. Black-streaked flanks. Carrying food, presumably for young.

Great-tailed Grackle Quiscalus mexicanus

The most numerous and obvious species, with hundreds seen daily. Males were particularly noisy and birds were obviously in involved in nesting.

Bronzed Cowbird Molothrus aeneus

Surprisingly few were noted. A pair at Mismaloya on 27/6, a pair at the golf course on 1/7 where singles on 2/7, 6/7 and 7/7 and one at San Juan de Abagio on 6/7.

Black-vented Oriole Icterus wagleri

A top find, one was seen well in beach-side palms between the airport and the Rio Ameca on 29/6. A stunning bird, almost overlooked as the superficially similar Yellow-winged Cacique. Yellow rump and belly, black head, throat, back, vent and tail.

Streak-backed Oriole I. pustulatus

These super birds were fairly common throughout, with up to six per day. The streaked back was not particularly easy to see on all birds. Males in full breeeding colours were stunning. Birds were seen using nests (at Marina Vallarta and Punta de Mita) and also feeding young out of nests. Nests were made between two suspended strands.

Yellow-winged Cacique Cacicus melanicterus

Another great west Mexican endemic, these were common throughout, being especially numerous at Mismaloya. Their large pendulous nests were a common sight.

House Sparrow Passer domesticus

Commonly seen with up to 25 daily.