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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Mexico: San Blas - Mangroves and Forests

2024 Narrative

As always with our wonderful week in San Blas the birds kept us busy, but in a relatively relaxed way based at a very comfortable hotel with excellent food and hospitality. From elusive crakes and confiding pygmy-owls to cryptic potoos and stunning orioles; from flashy endemic jays and majestic Military Macaws to elegant Elegant Quail and handsome Lilac-crowned Parrots; from fountain-bathing hummingbirds and sun-downer beers to large crocodiles and colorful butterflies in tropical palm forest; and from that 11th-hour Russet-crowned Motmot and surprise Black Hawk-Eagle to the sounds of the forest and the surf, it was a very special week and a great group of folks to be with, away from the madness of the so-called ‘developed’ world. The weather was cooler and cloudier than usual, but siestas were still a fine idea. The great range of habitats, from mangrove tunnel boat rides and cool pine-oak forest to quiet sandy beaches and shade-coffee plantations, produced around 250 species in a week of birding, but all too soon it was over.

Everyone arrived safely into lovely warm weather, and the early arrivals had time the first afternoon for a little ‘pre-tour’ birding near the hotel, and an early appreciation for just how birdy this part of the world is in winter. Mexican Parrotlets tantalized us but were finally seen and a Lineated Woodpecker showed very well, along with flashy Mexican (Yellow-winged) Caciques and Golden-cheeked Woodpeckers, plus a surprise young Bare-throated Tiger-Heron. After the intro meeting and dinner we all retired for a good sleep. The next day was a travel day, but with some early morning birding near Puerto Vallarta before making the drive to San Blas. Morning highlights included San Blas Jays, a very confiding juvenile Common Black Hawk, male Rose-throated Becard, and of course the dumpster White Ibis and vocalizing Black Vultures. After brunch we headed to San Blas, with stops for some tasty local fruit, Wilson’s Plovers, and a vagrant Red-breasted Merganser. After checking in at our home for the next week we headed to the fort overlooking town for some birding, a cold drink, and Plan B history at the beach. Birds included low Short-tailed Hawks (both light and dark morphs), Gray-breasted Martins, and a walk-away (!) Citreoline Trogon. Not too bad for a travel day.

Our first morning in San Blas we simply walked from our rooms to areas around town. The variety of birds began with flocks of Cinnamon-rumped Seedeaters and great views of Yellow-breasted Chat, followed by a selection ranging from Black-vented Oriole and Common Black Hawk to Orange-fronted Parakeet and Green-tailed Towhee. Also notable were a fabulous Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl mobbed by dapper Godman’s (aka West Mexican) Euphonias, flashy Northern Jacanas, and superb views of a male Citreoline Trogon in the main street! After lunch and a siesta we took an other-worldly boat ride along the Río San Cristobal and then through mangrove tunnels (quite an experience at night) to La Tovara, staying out in search of the bizarre Northern Potoo—of which we had amazing views. Birding from a boat is fun and relaxing, and the many highlights included displaying Boat-billed Herons and dashing little Green Kingfishers. The next morning we traveled inland a few miles to the village of Singayta and a pleasant walk along shady forest edge. We started well, with a calling Collared Forest Falcon and a textbook comparison of Louisiana and Northern Waterthrushes. With some work, a covey of Elegant Quail showed well, plus a good selection of sundry other species including Laughing Falcon, Great Black Hawk, Fan-tailed and MacGillivray’s Warblers, and the impressive White Morpho butterfly. After lunch and a siesta we took a ferry over to Peso Island, where birds ranged from Blue-footed Booby to Elegant Trogon, plus plenty of migrant warblers, another Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, and handsome Purplish-backed Jays.

An early start the next day saw us on the lower slopes of Cerro de San Juan, in pine-oak forest with very different birds from San Blas and a pleasantly cool climate. It was a day filled with numerous good birds amid beautiful forest, starting with the songs of Brown-backed Solitaires, Golden and Black-capped Vireos, and a undeniably cute Tufted Flycatcher. Other highlights included confiding Spotted Wrens, flashy Black-headed Siskins, a ‘bathing fountain’ with three ‘red warblers’ (Red-faced plus Painted and Slate-throated Whitestarts aka Redstarts), three ‘yellow warblers’ (Wilson’s, Nashville, Townsend’s), and three hummingbirds (White-eared, Berylline, and the very local Mexican Woodnymph). Our stop on the way home at Mirador del Aguila produced breathtaking views of Military Macaws, some even passing by at eye-level!

After a long day yesterday we took it easy with a relaxed morning boat trip up the Río San Cristobal to the Laguna de Pájaros, a winding river journey as we passed by sundry herons, egrets, and ibises, plus close-up Common Black Hawks and Snail Kites—one even eating a snail! The mangroves also held numerous migrant warblers, plus resident Mangrove Warblers, while other species included Limpkins and point-blank Purple Gallinules, plus the understated White-throated Flycatcher and the rarely seen little Yellow-breasted Crake. After lunch and a siesta we birded around the shrimp ponds north of town, starting with a good selection of shorebirds, followed by Least Grebe, swimming (!) close-range Soras, swarms of Orchard Orioles, and even ending with a local rarity—Canvasback!

Our last two days we visited two very different sites in the foothills. The first day we headed inland to some tropical deciduous forest, where we enjoyed great views of the impressive Black-throated Magpie-Jay, plus a nice young Crane Hawk, both Elegant and Citreoline Trogons, numerous hummingbirds (including Golden-crowned Emerald and Violet-crowned), and dizzying flocks of migrant warblers. In late afternoon, an unhurried birding walk along Crocodile Road started with bushes full of Painted Buntings (males, finally!) and seedeaters, followed by flocks of blackbirds, and a confiding Bare-throated Tiger-Heron; sundowner beers were followed by a glorious beach sunset—just another day in Mexico! The last full day we spent in humid, semi-evergreen ‘shade-coffee forest,’ starting quietly but then picking up with scopes views of a singing Bright-rumped Attila, a bare tree filling with Rufous-backed Thrushes and Western Tanagers, and great views of perched Lilac-crowned Parrots, now sadly rare in the region. Other highlights included a sunlit Bat Falcon, ‘cuddling’ Orange-fronted Parakeets, and (finally seen!) the diminutive Colima Pygmy-Owl. After a scenic picnic lunch we headed head back to the hotel by mid-afternoon, but not before stopping to track down an 11th-hour Russet-crowned Motmot—whew! The last afternoon was free to relax and pack, followed by a successful Mottled Owl quest and a wonderful last night dinner at the hotel.

Flight times meant a relative ‘lie-in’ and departure from San Blas, but then, all too soon it was time to leave, after a great week of birds, beaches, mountains, friendly people, good company, and fine cuisine. But wait, it wasn’t over—a highway stop to view White-collared Swifts also produced a low circling Black Hawk-Eagle, what a great note to end on! Thanks to all for making this a wonderful trip.

- Steve Howell


Updated: February 2024