Puerto Vallarta – day 7

Our last full day in Mexico arrived all too quickly but we’d had a great time so far so anything else was a bonus. I’d been neglecting the sea which was right outside our room and the sea was the most likely place that I would find a bird I’d wanted to see for years, Elegant Tern. It would also allow a gentle start to the day for Sandra who’d finally managed a decent night’s sleep for the first time since the sniffles started.

I took up station on the headland not 50m from our room and began to scope up the passing sea birds. First bird scoped, you’ve guessed it, Elegant Tern. The post dawn dispersal of sea birds from Banderas Bay to north was quite pronounced and Royal, and Forster’s Tern soon showed along with the omnipresent Blue-Footed and Brown Boobies. Heermann’s Gulls too were flying offshore along with the odd Laughing Gull and, of course, Brown Pelicans. All my sea staring meant that I’d neglected the shoreline, a quick scan showed the regular Whimbrels, Willets, Sanderlings, Wilson’s Plovers and, hello, seven Surfbirds and a Ruddy Turnstone, nice.

With a lifer in the bag we decided we were going to try for Elegant Quail and perhaps Collared Plover, the latter species something not seen by us since Costa Rica in 2006. We thought that the best spot to search would be the agricultural lands along the banks of the Rio Ameca for the quail and the delta where it emptied into the sea for the plover. There was little information available on how to find a route to the estuary so we drove a track, took a lane, got lost, found a guard who guided us to a tunnel and then emerged onto the banks of the river and the many bounties it had to offer. We entered the broad track opposite a sand bar stacked with birds. One problem for us would be the construction trucks thundering along feet away and the dust that they generated but for now, no matter, we had birds to look at.

A cursory scan revealed new trip birds in the shape of hundreds of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks. A fair sized flock of shorebirds were all Short-billed Dowitchers and a Caspian Tern rested amongst the crowd. Black-necked Stilts were in abundance with a few American Avocets in there too, herons were everywhere. We birded the river to the mouth and back inland again adding ten or more species to the trip list but no Elegant Quails or Collared Plover were found. It was soon very hot and early afternoon beckoned so we dropped the car off a couple of hours early and made our way back to the hotel. We took a cool drink break before giving it one last go.

As we’d returned to the hotel by taxi I’d noticed a track almost opposite the entrance which looked promising. We set off to explore and found it to be pretty good, how had we not checked this out before? The track served small farms and houses but for the most part passed through Thorn scrub and weedy fields and would surely be a good ‘first light’ venue. As it was the heat of the day was slow to cool and the week’s ills were inviting fatigue. We did about 1.5km along the track before deciding to call it a day. The track had provided a nice mixed flock of warblers and our only Tropical Parula of the trip but the beans had run out for today, time for a beer and perhaps another sea watch.

The day’s birding had been good and we’d still managed to see 92 species and that was without our regular Rufous-bellied Chachalacas putting in an appearance at the hotel. Tomorrow we fly home leaving the hotel at 9:15 so either just enough time to get up the track or at least check the hotel Botanical Garden. Last day is almost always like this, me looking to squeeze another half hour, Sandra resigned to a day of travel.

The last morning produced nothing new. Our first trip to Pacific Mexico had been excellent and we’d left enough places to visit and birds to see to require at least one and possibly more return visits. A week is never enough but it would have to do for now.

Below are a selection of photos, the final batch. I hope that you have enjoyed these ramblings and that you are inspired to go to Puerto Vallarta and especially Rancho Primavera. I’ll say it one last time to be sure but the Puerto Vallarta area is safe and untouched by the current crime issues that sadly affect other parts of Mexico. Any birders basing themselves at the Grand Palladium would not be disappointed in either the birds or hotel, request room 3202, it has the best of everything.

I’ll be working on the formal trip report now which will be posted under the trip reports tab at the top of the page. I’d be happy to answer any queries re our trip, just drop me a line to dennisM@videotron.ca

The photos are: View of part of the Rio Ameca where it enters the sea, lots of Common Dolphins. Rio Ameca view. Yellow-winged Cacique. Cinnamon Hummingbird. Track oppisite the Grand Palladium. View of the rock cove from the hotel room. Crabs. Sandbar, about 30% of the view, covered in Black-bellied Whistling Ducks etc. Fisherman on Rio Ameca – there are tons of crocs in there! Green pondhawk type. Groove-billed Ani. Northern Beardless Tyrannulet. American Coot. Snowy Egret. Magnificent Frigatebird. Brown Pelican images. Turkey Vulture. Darner sp. ‘Mexican’ Mallards just to prove we saw some. Skimmer sp. Royal Tern. San Blas Jay. Streak-backed Oriole. Fat bloke sea watching again! Tricoloured Heron. Fisherman on the opposite bank attended by Brown Pelicans, Snowy and Great Egrets and a Black-crowned Night-Heron. 30m to the left two 2.5m Crocodiles basked on the same bank.

ameca meets sea ameca view3  cacique cinnamon hummer 1  coca cola track cove view crabs DSCN6044 (2) fishing green dragon 2 groove billed ani IMG_7628 (2) IMG_7962 (2) IMG_7964 (2) IMG_7970 (2) IMG_7992 (2) IMG_7993 (2) IMG_8031 (2) IMG_8036 mallards ranchPrimavera red dragon royal tern san blas jay sb oriole 2 seawatching tricoloured heron waiting

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Puerto Vallarta day 4 – Rancho Primavera

At 02.30 two young Canadians were talking at full volume on the balcony outside our front door. Sandra, showing her irritation, opened our door and asked “why don’t you people shut up” or words to that effect and it produced an immediate apology and silence thereafter. Brits visiting North America for the first time almost always comment that the people here communicate more loudly than (most) Brits and it is true, they do. I can be birding St-Lazare sand pits in the early morning listening for the distinctive sneeze of a Magnolia Warbler passing overhead and hear each and every word from a pair of regular dog walkers who are no more than 1.5m from each other but upwards of 300m from me! I have a theory, and I mention this not as a criticism, it is that Canadians and some Americans are genetically programmed to talk loudly in order to scare away Bears. I hope this aside doesn’t offend anybody, it’s not meant too, just a whimsical observation. So, we didn’t really have a restful night and Sandra was incubating a cold that she had saved up all year until our vacation to enjoy, Mr. Kleenex would be able to afford Beef for Sunday dinner this week!

Today we were going ‘off-site’ having booked two nights at the unknown quantity that was Rancho Primavera. I’d read about the site in a trip report while researching where to go and what we might see and thought it would make a good alternative location, the birding sounded great. I Google-d the site and came up with the details. For a very reasonable 1000 pesos per night (c $80CAN) we could rent a house on the Rancho that overlooked a lake. I emailed Bonnie and she confirmed our booking and so we would try to arrive there sometime in the afternoon.

Given the noisy night the impending cold and the rather loud ocean! We had a slightly later start to the day, getting away at around 08.00. We decided to head back up the Vista Vallarta Golf Club track, it was on the way and we would be there much earlier there than before and so off we went. The track proved frustrating as we could hear both Military Macaw and Lilac-crowned Parrot but couldn’t get a fix on them against the forested hillsides. It was soon clear from the receding calls that the macaws and parrots were off up the valley somewhere inaccessible. I did manage a brief view of a Mexican Parrotlet as it hared across the seaward end of the valley. As it got quieter we dropped back down to the riverside spot that had been so productive before and soon found a gang of busy warblers. One of the group looked odd but kept high in the canopy giving brief views and it kept being lost. Eventually decent views confirmed it as Golden Vireo; it was much yellower than expected.

We explored a few lanes getting great view of Happy Wren (great name) and a Northern Beardless Tyrannulet (err…) before hitting the highway. We proceeded south through Puerto Vallarta and just kept going confident that, as this was the only road through, there would be no issues, it was when we pulled up at the bollards we realised that we’d missed something important. It took a little while to navigate back to the main route 200 but we weren’t the only ones doing it by the look of the confused faces around us.

The road is slow because of the topes until you get out of the Puerto Vallarta area then you hit a more open highway (off sorts) until you reach the town of El Tuito. Make a right, keep going along the cobbled streets out past the church, go 3km, look for the sign on the right, and take the track, cross the river! As we bumped along, distracted by flitting things doing that teasing thing that birds do to birder drivers we realised that we’d struck lucky.  We pulled into the driveway of the house and Bonnie greeted us and a Lilac-crowned Parrot flew in and landed on her shoulder. They do rehab work there and although the parrot was wild it still liked human company. Hummers buzzed the feeders and the whole place had that undefinable birdy-ness folk like us can sense. We followed Bonnie in her truck to the house, a ten minute walk but three minute drive away and Sandra just kept saying how great the place was and she was right.

There are two houses for rent; we’d gone for the Adobe because it was easy to spell. The house is set up above a lake on which Least Grebes were pottering about and a mixed gang of herons were grunting in one corner. The house is very comfortable and has wi fi, something our posh hotel didn’t manage to provide every day and then only if you stood virtually under the router.  There is a cooker, fridge, freezer and microwave and there are local restaurants if you want to eat out. The bedroom has a picture window which looks out over the lake and you have a terrace with hummer feeder and panoramic views of a thorn forest hillside. It was time to sit down, make a coffee and take it all in.

From our arrival until we went out shopping for provisions we saw 55 species and we’d barely explored the 200 acre property. We took a short trail finding plenty to keep us busy and the day just zipped past. We decided that we would prefer to eat in and so ventured back into El Tuito to stock up, passing a Common Pauraque on the way.

The store was Mexican. We walked the aisles picking up a bag of eggs, a loaf, some bacon (which was excellent) sugar, cheese, beer (two) etc. When we got back and started to prep for dinner when we discovered that the loaf was coated in sugar and the bag of sugar was in fact flour. We also got a bag of oats to make breakfast porridge but, as I found them on the pet food aisle, they might have actually been for horses. They tasted fine and there have been no effects barring a craving for sugar lumps so we did OK.

That evening we sat on the deck in total darkness with a sky that looked like a dandruff victim’s velvet jacket under a fluorescent disco light. In the distance a Mottled Owl called and so did something that sounded like a Spectacled Owl but they don’t occur there so who knows what it was. The pool had barking Black-crowned Night-Herons and somewhere out there rails of undetermined species were grunting and coughing, it was great.

We did the log and found that today was the first time we’d hit 100 species for the day, 146 for the trip. It certainly beats birding in cold, cold Quebec.

Below views of Rancho Primavera, the adobe house and a few birds including Mexican Yellow Grosbeak – stunning.

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Puerto Vallarta day 3

Dawn on the third day saw us edging up the dump track at the Grand Palladium. The sun had yet to warm the trees and bird life was hardly evident. As it did warm up the first hummingbirds started to chatter around their chosen bushes. Of those that we got decent looks at we identified Cinnamon, Ruby-throated, Black-chinned and Broad-tailed, the latter not really expected in this area. Back in the GP Arboretum we picked up a Violet-crowned Hummingbird and the now regular denizens of the fruiting fig. Not a bad start to the day but we were ready to try further afield.

One trip report referred to a track which ran uphill past the Vista Vallarta Golf Club. We were ascending the track by 8.45 after first taking the wrong road and finding a ditch with a Roseate Spoonbill, Greater Yellowlegs and both White and White-faced Ibis feeding not a few feet away. The Vista Vallarta track skirted the golf course and slowly climbed into taller forest. At a natural parking spot we found a nice viewpoint by a live stream and watched and waited. On the opposite bank a procession of warblers flitted past, all showing well. Nearby a Russet-capped Motmot called but never showed and a Pacific-slope Flycatcher made a prolonged show off flycatching around our watch point. By 11.00 it was warming up again as the tropics always do and the bird activity slackened. We went a bit higher but the track deteriorated and the drop in the valley seemed unappealing and possibly unavoidable as the track was only just wide enough for one vehicle.

Heading back down we stopped by a weedy field to see what was hopping and found White-collared Seedeaters and Yellow-breasted Chats easy enough. A good deal of pishing kept the birds interested and we were about to move on when a large bunting appeared, a very smart female Orange-breasted Bunting but sadly no sign of the even more striking male. We picked our way back to base resolving to go back to this track earlier one morning to try for the parrots we had yet to find.

Back at base the tide had turned and a few shorebirds had started to assemble such as Willet, Whimbrel and Sanderling. Sandra declined a late afternoon visit to the dump trail so I went on my own. It was pretty quiet but the shorebird activity on the adjacent beach had picked up and Wilson’s Plovers had suddenly found the place to their liking. Yellow-crowned Night-herons were also gathering and seemed completely oblivious to me. After taking a few snaps I turned around to find that four American Oystercatchers had arrived and were happy to pose. Offshore a couple of Black Skimmers were trolling for supper, something I never tire of watching.

As the sun dipped below the headland I wandered back through the scrub and decided to try for Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl. I played the toot a couple of times but nothing happened, no responses, not even chatter from the Sinaloa Wrens nearby. On the off-chance I thought I’d try Colima Pygmy-Owl, not really expecting much and for a species I’d never really considered to be a possibility for the trip. The higher pitched tooting had barely started a second sequence when there was a bird calling back. I turned off the song and backed off from the area, taking up a position where I had a more expansive view. I played a bit more audio and there they were, bounding into the tree in front of me, slightly backlit but very visible. The birds didn’t seem too bothered by me and I may have just chanced upon their daily evening ritual. They called a few times more before moving off to kill something. Sandra was none too pleased to hear that she’d missed this charismatic little owl and a try for them later in the week was unsuccessful so there we have another reason to go back.

Below a series of photos including Roseate Spoonbill, White-faced Ibis, White Ibis (immature), Pacific-slope Flycatcher, soaring Common Black Hawk with a Turkey Vulture, Willet, Wilson’s Plover, American Oystercatcher and adult and immature Yellow-crowned Night-Herons. For orientation there is a scan of the Grand Palladium complex.

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Puerto Vallarta day 2

Car rental collection time was not until 10.00am so we went out onto the road and had a look around from just after first light. The road was fairly busy but we managed to locate some nice scrub enjoying a noisy Thick-billed Kingbird, only our second ever, and a good mixture of buntings and seedeaters. The top bird was a male Varied Bunting looking quite stunning in the morning sun. I didn’t manage a photo but Sandra’s super zoom Canon did.

We heard distant parrots but no views and we found a good mob of bold White-striped Sparrows, another lifer. To end the first stage of the morning’s birding we explored a little track where the hotel dumped the garden cuttings. It turned out to be quite good and we found a Sinaloa Wren complete with nest and a couple of hummers, Ruby-throated and Black-chinned. The track led to an old site for a new hotel but it had obviously been abandoned (for now) some years previously. It was along here that we saw our second Crane Hawk of the day, this time a cracking adult. On the way back to the hotel we had fun watching an immature Grey Hawk which decided to sit tight for a quick photo before slipping off.

Here are a few shots of the hotel and from the walk. Rufous-bellied Chachalaca; Grey Hawk; Grand Palladium Arboretum view; Green Iguana; lousy Macgillivray’s Warbler photo; Thick-billed Kingbird; Pale-billed Woodpecker; male Varied Bunting; view of the sea watching point (from our room).

chachalaca inquisitive grey hawk hotel botanical walk iguana 1 IMG_7226 (2) IMG_7235 (2) IMG_7252 (2) varied bunting view from balcony

Our car rental had been booked from home. We usually use one of the regular rental agencies but they all seem to be based back in Puerto Vallarta so we search and found Gecko Car Rental in nearby Bucerias. The rental for the Saturday at 10.00am to the following Friday at 5.00pm was $270USD all in for cash with a credit card imprint left for the deposit. If you visit the area, and you should, here is the link http://www.geckorentcar.com/ We took a hotel taxi to the office and were very impressed by how quickly we were in, out and on the road. There are a few differences between driving in Mexico and Canada but the rental guys explained everything to us and we had no problems all week.

Once mobile we went out for an explore and came across our only Police Checkpoint shortly after setting off. The Police are not at all interested in polite tourists and we were soon on our way. We checked out a few sites but the day had started to simmer and so we thought we’d head for a wetland habitat. Laguna de Quelele is the only site in the PV area to feature in Howell and Webb’s ‘Bird Finding in Mexico’ but it is also well recommended in several trip reports housed on Blake Maybank’s ‘Birding the Americas’ site http://www3.ns.sympatico.ca/maybank/main.htm so we set off to seek it.

A few missed turns and some navigating by nose later, we pulled into the stone arch that denoted the access to part of the lagoon. Nobody was around and we really could not see any formal trail system but we eventually found a passing guy who nodded in agreement that we were in the right place and could go on and look. A short while later a man in a pick-up called me over and explained that he was the owner, access was $5.USD (total for both of us) and that the money was used to keep a trail open. I paid the cash and we went for a wander with one wary eye on the water’s edge where, allegedly, a large Crocodile lived, one that had recently devoured a local dog. We saw small crocs of about two meters long and plenty of slither trails but no real monsters and we were sure to follow Jerry Lewis’s advice and never smile at any of them!. The trail to the lagoon edge was fairly short but we saw quite a few birds around a smaller pond and, as the tide was out on the main lagoon the expanse of mud was awash with various shorebirds, ducks and herons.

The smaller distant blobs were too far away for identification and we resolved to revisit with the scope later in the week. We didn’t get the Rufous-necked Wood-Rails either so they too would have to wait but we saw a very nice selection of birds and an early morning visit with the tide right would be well worthwhile. I’ll put precise access information for the lagoon in the trip report when completed, unfortunately the way things developed meant that we didn’t get the chance to return, this time at least.

Photos: American Crocodile; Green Heron; Two views of the lagoon and a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron there.

croc IMG_7300 (2) IMG_7302 (2) laguna 1 laguna 2 night heron

We ended up rounding the day off in the grounds of the hotel where Citreoline Trogon was added to the tally, a tally that came to 79 species for the day and taking the trip total to 88.

citroline trogon cove sunset vallarta bird festival

Google the Vallarta bird festival for more details of this year’s event.

Puerto Vallarta day 1

After a steady flight of around five hours we welcomed the + 25°C of west Mexico, it had been -16°C when we left Montreal. The usual formalities completed we sat patiently on the coach while the smokers had their nicotine fix before hauling themselves aboard complete with aroma. Our destination was the last of three hotels, the Grand Palladium and rather out on a limb, it being along the road to Punta da Mita – a small blob of well-developed land at the north end of the Banderas Bay. We had chosen the location in the hope that the beach and beer lovers would prefer to be more downtown and that it would be quieter and thus it proved to some extent.

Bins had been in hand right from the boarding of the bus as always and we’d had some luck in clocking Wood Stork, Short-tailed Hawk and the inevitable Grey-breasted Martins which only ever seem to breed at airports. The route took us past a few manicured golf courses which were littered with American Coots while the wires everywhere had a kingbird on them that was surely tropical. Part way to Bucerias, a town half way around the bay, you cross the Rio Ameca which had sandbars covered in flocks of unknown birds, obviously a place to check later.

Check-in at the hotel was quick and the room ok but the overall design of the accommodation blocks showed that the complex architect had absolutely no idea how to make it work for birders. Sea watching was obscured by some trees and the canopy of the adjacent scrub was partially obscured, really! All I had to work with was an expanse of rock pools at low tide and fairly distant views of passing boobies, gulls and terns. A ten minute scan of the sea revealed the presence of dozens of Humpback Whales, their blows and flukes a constant and the odd booby had ventured closer allowing Blue-footed and Brown to be identified.

As the day cooled we ventured out around the complex, finding Military Macaws, Muscovy Ducks and a pair of Ostriches, the hotel had a small zoo! Next to the zoo things looked better and they had a botanical garden of sorts with gravel trails and a couple of dope smoking Canadians who seemed entranced by a Palm Tree. Dead center of the plantation was a large and fruiting fig which had a riot of activity in the canopy. The first lifer was a noisy troop of Yellow-winged or Mexican Caciques followed by Rufous-backed Thrush (or robin!) and Rufous-bellied Chachalaca. I’d expected the latter to be hard to track down due to hunting but at the Grand Palladium they don’t bother the birds and the birds just get on with their lives.

Our first day total of 39 species was modest but included six new species with Black-capped Gnatcatcher, Golden-cheeked Woodpecker and San Blas Jay joining those mentioned previously in the crown of that glorious fig. Tomorrow we get our rental car and the whole Puerto Vallarta area will be our mollusc.

Below shots of the chachalaca, jay, cacique, thrush and woodpecker. The gnatcatcher was too high for a shot and, strangely the only one we saw in the entire trip.

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