Day 1 – Travel day. We will depart the Puerto Vallarta airport by early evening and make the 45 minute drive to our first accommodation in the quaint fishing village of San Francisco.
Day 2 – Our first morning in Western Mexico promises to be an exciting one. This morning we’ll make a short drive to trail that takes us up the Ahuacatal-Calabazas River birding trail. We’ll walk along the trail, which takes us through jungle and cattle fields, in which we expect to see a variety of bird species, such as the diminutive and endemic Mexican Parrotlet, as well as other psittacids such as Orange-fronted Parakeet and Lilac-crowned Parrot. The endemic and rather flamboyant looking endemic Black-throated Magpie-Jay can be found here, as well as other avian gems including another endemic, the Golden-cheeked Woodpecker. Pale-billed Woodpeckers, giant members of the campehilus family, can be found pounding their substantial bills on tree trunks here. Both Elegant Trogons and Citreoline Trogons call this area home, and with luck and patience we should see both this morning. We will keep our eyes open for Bat Falcon, a tiny species of falcon that, in addition to catching small lizards and birds, will also hunt bats. Good numbers of exquisitely colored Paintings Buntings spend the winter here alongside their relatives; Varied, Blue and Lazuli buntings. Another species to be on the lookout for is the Squirrel Cuckoo, a large and long-tailed member of the cuckoo family, found from Mexico to South America.
Day 3 – This morning we will embark on a three hour boat trip from Punta Mita to the Islas Marietas. From the boat as we travel to and from the islands we may see pelagics including Black-vented Shearwaters, Black Storm-Petrels, Magnificent Frigatebirds and perhaps a Red-billed Tropicbird. Once at the islands we’ll look for the local breeding celebrities, the Blue-footed and Brown boobies, and a number of terns including Royal and Elegant terns as well as attractive Heermann’s Gulls. With a little luck we’ll see some Humpback Whales and other marine wildlife such as Olive-ridley Turtles and Bottle-nosed Dolphins during our boat trip.
In the afternoon and evening we have the option to enjoy a swim at one of the white sand beaches of this region. But first things first, we’ll explore the dry forests and coastal mangroves of the Punta de Mita area where we could find a variety of birds such as San Blas Jay, Orange-breasted Bunting, Colima Pygmy-Owl, Red-breasted Chat and much more. Night in San Francisco
Day 4 – From San Francisco we will drive north to San Blas this morning, birding along the way, checking the Chacalilla and nearby shrimp ponds before having lunch in San Blas.
In the evening we’ll take a cruise on a boat up the San Cristobal River where we will be on the lookout for mangrove loving species such as Rufous-necked Wood-rail, Boat-billed Heron, Limpkin, Snail Kite and Common Black-Hawk. The mangroves are home to a number of passerines, including Mangrove Cuckoo, Mangrove Vireo and the ‘Mangrove’ race of Yellow Warbler, as well as a good variety of wintering species from farther north in USA and Canada. We’ll watch exposed perches along the edge of the river for Ringed, Amazon and tiny Green kingfishers. The shallows here are also excellent for Reddish Egret, a species that dances around erratically like a drunken sailor to scare up tiny fish. Once darkness falls we may find nocturnal species including Northern Potoo and Common Pauraque. With some luck we’ll also see fishing bats. Night in San Blas.
Day 5 – From San Blas we will drive to the relatively newly discovered birding area along Tecuitata Road, which climbs through patches of jungle and coffee plantations. Close to 200 species of birds have been recorded along this road in recent years, including such gems as Rosy Thrush-Tanager, White-fronted Parrot, Rusty-crowned Ground Sparrow and wintering Black-capped Vireos. Hummingbirds are also common here with the likes of Mexican Hermit, Cinnamon Hummingbird, Berryline Hummingbird and wintering Calliope Hummingbirds possible. The region boasts an impressive list of nearly 30 different species of raptors, including such exotic birds as Collared Forest-Falcon, Laughing Falcon, Great Black-Hawk and Black Hawk-Eagle. We could see owls such as Colima or Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls, or roosting Mottled Owls.
Later on in the afternoon we’ll head back towards the coast where we will search shrimp ponds and other coastal sites where wintering shorebird species abound. Shorebirds to watch for include Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling, Long-billed Curlew, Whimbrel, and amongst many others our namesake bird the American Avocet. Night in San Blas.
Day 6 – This morning we will travel inland from San Blas to the historic town of San Sebastian del Oeste, a 3 hour journey. Once we arrive and get settled in, we’ll head off to do some birding around the village, which is located at about 1500 meters amongst a mixed pine / oak forest. The gorgeous songs of Brown-backed Solitaires will ring down from the mountains around us, while stunning warblers including Crescent-chested, Rufous-capped and Red-faced warbler, as well as Slate-throated Redstart are all fairly common. Mountain Trogons call from the wooded hillsides, and in this area we could see the sought-after Eared Quetzel. Mixed flocks moving through the forests could include Ivory-billed Woodcreeper, Golden Vireo, White-throated Thrush, Blue Mockingbird, Gray Silky-flycatcher, Flame-colored and Red-headed tanagers, Streak-backed Oriole and Black-headed Siskin. Night in San Sebastian del Oeste.
Day 7 – Today we explore the highland not from San Sebastian at La Bufa, reaching elevations of 2100 meters, where oak and pine woods cover the hillsides. The views of the mountains, valleys and the village of San Sebastian are breathtaking. These upper elevations are home to birds such as the endemic Trans-volcanic Jay, a species split from the Mexican Jay only a few years ago. White-eared Hummingbirds dash about from flower to flower while Cinnamon-bellied Flower-piercers are up to the same tricks as the hummingbirds, seeking nectar from flowers. Pine Flycatcher inhabits these forests alongside the attractive Aztec Thrush. A nice variety of birds that breed in Canada and the USA can be found here around San Sebastian in the winter months. Some of the more common ones to be on the lookout for include Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Hammond’s Flycatcher, Warbling Vireo, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, numerous warbler species such as MacGillivray’s, Black-and-white, Townsend’s and the stunning Hermit Warbler, as well as Lincoln’s Sparrow, Black-headed Grosbeak and Orchard Oriole, to name just a few. Night in San Sebastian.
Day 8 – After some early morning birding around San Sebastian, we will then begin our journey to El Tuito, Jalisco, birding along the way. After lunch we will explore a botanical gardens, where just a few of the birds we hope to encounter include the dazzling Green Jay, hummingbirds such as Sparkling-tailed Woodstar, Mexican Woodnymph and Plain-capped Starthroat. We’ll hope to find Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl today, as well as the endemic Lilac-crowned Parrot and the shy but beautiful Rosy Thrush-Tanager.
We will spend the night at Rancho Primavera, where 200 acres of various habitats, including pine/oak forest, tropical deciduous forest, coastal thorn scrub and even beaches, islands and mangrove estuaries, are home to over 200 species of birds. One can watch feeders were Black-vented Oriole, Golden-cheeked Woodpecker, Black-throated Magpie-Jay and Yellow-winged Caciques come in to feed. Hummingbird feeders and flowers on the property have attracted close to 20 species of hummingbirds. Night at Rancho Primavera.
Day 9 – This morning we will have an early departure as we make our way to Rancho El Santuario, a place recently featured in a BBC documentary for their innovative techniques in Military Macaw conservation, an amazing success story. This medium-sized macaw can be found from Mexico to Western South America, though its numbers are decreasing and it is on the globally vulnerable list. We will have lunch in El Tuito and spend the rest of the afternoon / early evening exploring the Rancho Primavera area. Night at Rancho Primavera.
Day 10 – After breakfast we will head west towards the coast, exploring the road to Mayto-Tehuamixtle, making several stops for birds along the way. This region is at the end of a large tract of lowland thorn forest that merges into the Sierra del Tuito Mountains. The list of potential bird species includes some mouth-watering specialties including West Mexican Chachalaca (endemic), Russet-crowned Motmot, Flammulated Flycatcher, White-bellied Wren, Yellow Grosbeak and the beautiful Orange-breasted Bunting, yet another of this country’s many endemic species.
In the afternoon we’ll do some birding along Bioto Road, an area only relatively recently added to the ‘birding circuit’, where we try and pick up any species we may have missed previously on the tour. Squirrel Cuckoos are fairly common here, and we have a chance to see the Lineated Woodpecker. A long list of potential flycatchers includes Bright-rumped Atilla, Great Kiskadee, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Greenish Elaenia, and the boisterous Thick-billed Kingbird. This evening we’ll enjoy a farewell dinner, our last together as a group in Mexico. Night at Rancho Primavera.
Day 11 – Before we begin our journey back to the airport in Puerto Vallarta we have time for one more bit of early morning birding around the fantastic Rancho Primavera. Tour concludes this morning.