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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Mexico: Veracruz - A River of Birds

Tour Narrative

In Brief: Central Veracruz abounds with birds in October, and this year was among our best ever, with staggering numbers of raptors (over three hundred thousand during the tour!), dazzling hummingbirds such as Garnet-throated and Bumblebee, and a fine mix of endemics including Hooded Yellowthroat and Red Warbler. The extension was equally impressive with a stately perched Black Hawk-Eagle, a surprise Tody Motmot, a brief encounter with Tuxtla Quail-Dove, and a serene boat trip that included two Great Currassows.

In Detail: The first day of this tour is always one of my favorite days. We’ve all heard about the avian richness of the Veracruz coastline, but until you actually witness the spectacle, it’s impossible to grasp the magnitude of the migration. This was our best year ever in numbers of raptors: we had two different days with more than 100,000 birds! For the first time ever, we were able to watch thousands of Broad-winged Hawks ascend from their night-time roost in a cool lush canyon—they were joined as they rose by several other species, including three Hook-billed Kites. Migration immediately along the coastline was also impressive, with large flocks of Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, a constant stream of swallows, several flocks of White-winged Doves and Red-billed Pigeons, and flatulent flyover Dickcissels—all streaming south. Of course, residents like Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, Altamira Oriole, Great Kiskadee, Rose-throated Becard, and Yellow-winged Tanager vied for our attention as we watched the migration spectacle.

From the lowlands near the Port of Veracruz, we headed to our base for the next three nights—the refreshingly cool mountain city of Xalapa, where we enjoyed more great food and even better birds. Some of our best birding was at the Casa Blanca Pemex, where birds dripped from the trees. Active flocks of Black-throated Green, Hermit, and Townsend’s Warblers also Crescent-chested Warbler, several Mexican Chickadees, and several greatly appreciated White-breasted Nuthatches. Eastern Bluebirds and Yellow-eyed Juncos fed at our feet. And what would a birding trip be without a stop at some sewage ponds? Higher up on the plateau, we enjoyed a small flock of Baird’s Sandpipers at just such a pond, while Loggerhead Shrike, Scott’s Oriole, Say’s Phoebe, Canyon Towhee, and Rufous-crowned Sparrow around the joshua trees made for a familiar scene to some from the southwestern US. In the highlands, the hummingbirds stole the show, with Garnet-throated, Bumblebee, White-eared, Blue-throated, Magnificent, Rufous, Broad-tailed, and Ruby-throated all showing well—many of them in the same unforgettable flower bank! Our trip to Xico and the magnificent Texolo waterfall produced Bat Falcon, charming Rufous-capped Warbler, Montezuma Oropendola, and American Dipper below one of Mexico’s most impressive waterfalls. Stunning Blue Morphos and Anna’s Eighty-Eight were among the bounty of butterflies.

The next part of the tour started with a mostly driving day to Las Tuxtlas, but you wouldn’t know it by what we saw. Dawn found us at the Las Barrancas marshes, where a variety of herons and egrets, Northern Jacanas, and bizarre Double-striped Thick-Knees delighted us. Side-by-side Fork-tailed Flycatcher and Scissor-tailed Flycatcher were a certain crowd-pleaser, as were the Aplomado Falcons. We reached the Playa Azul with enough time to relax, take a walk around the resort (11 species of warbler on the hotel grounds including Kentucky, Hooded and Canada, and a much appreciated Masked Tityra), and enjoy another great dinner, this time on the shores of Lake Catemaco. Las Tuxtlas provided our base of exploration for most of the extension. In the hills not far from our hotel, we enjoyed many Keel-billed Toucans and Red-lored Parrots, a Barred Forest-Falcon (which we even saw!), and even a surprise Tody Motmot at a new location! The wonderfully intact cloud forest yielded a variety of splendid species including Black Hawk-Eagle, Eye-ringed Flatbill, Yellowish Flycatcher, and a distinctive plain-breasted subspecies of Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch. As is often the case, a relaxing afternoon boat ride was the favorite for many of us—with Gray-necked Wood-Rails clamoring among the twisted mangrove roots and an unbelievable male Great Curassow sitting out in full view! Then, all too soon, it was time to head back (picking up an unexpected Eurasian Collared-Dove en route) to our last wonderful dinner and the return home.

Chris Wood

Updated: April 2014