Puerto Vallarta – day 6

An itchy night was explained the next morning when I looked down at my legs; they looked like I’d been peppered with buckshot, both sides and right up to the sunny side. My little jaunt into the long grass the day before without tucking my socks into my trousers broke the golden rule of birding Central America and now I was paying the price, Chiggers. Below is an edited version of Wikipedia’s graphic description of the beast.

The Trombiculidae are a family of mites in their larval stage which bite their host and “causes intense irritation. The name chigger originated as a corruption of chigoe. Trombiculidae live in the forests and grasslands and are also found in the vegetation along lakes and streams, and even in drier places where vegetation is low. They are most numerous in early summer when grass, weeds and other vegetation are heaviest. In their larval stage, they attach to various animals, including humans, and feed on skin, often causing itching. The best known species of chigger in North America is the hard-biting Trombicula alfreddugesi of the southeastern United States and humid Midwest and Mexico.

After crawling onto their hosts, they inject digestive enzymes into the skin that break down skin cells. They do not actually “bite”, but instead form a hole in the skin called a stylostome, and chew up tiny parts of the inner skin, thus causing irritation and swelling. The itching, for humans, usually occurs after the larvae detach from the skin. After feeding on their hosts, the larvae drop to the ground and become nymphs, then mature into adults which have eight legs and are harmless to humans.

At some point in their life all birders will get a chigger bite, many will not even know they’ve had one and put it down to ants or mossies. Chiggers area easily deterred by tucking your socks into your trousers and spraying bug spray around your ankles when you go into longer grass and of trails, it is also a good idea to keep your shirt tucked in and spray around your waistline too depending on your birding location. Antihistamine creams or pills and various lotions will ease the itch and the problem is over in a week but it can itch, believe me. Had I followed the golden rule or stuck to the trail I’d likely be bite free now so don’t ever let Chiggers or anything else put you off birding in more exotic places than Ile Bizard where, let’s face it, the mosquito bites are just as bad. I speak from experience when I saw I’d rather be chiggered than spend the day at Parc Mont Tremblant in late June without bug spray!

Armed with my new plumage, which gave a whole new meaning to going spotting, we went off for our final tour of the Rancho Primavera trails. Something bright red had caught our eye in a bush on the far side of the lake but, like all bright birds, it managed to avoid giving us a good view and could not be re-found in what appeared to be the same flock. I thought that it might have been a Red-breasted Chat, which is why we spent an hour or so looking for it although; in the process of searching we did see a ton of birds again. We eventually arrived back at the main house feeders where we were introduced to a Military Macaw.

People put wild parrots in cages and treat them like animated furniture, these people should be hit hard financially when caught and thrice as hard if caught again. If these people realised that this would happen, and  that if they had wild caught parrots if would empty their bank accounts, then superb species like Military Macaws would no longer be being pushed steadily towards unsustainability. Now before anyone says that the poor people who catch the parrots are only exploiting a market it is not them we should be hitting hard but the buyers. No buyers equals no market. Unfortunately the parrots don’t help themselves because they seem to like people. If macaws had wised up early on and severed as many fingers of early cage bird collectors and owners as possible then they might have been given a wider berth but now they are seen as pets, even by birders.

In the World of Falconry there has been some progress made in stamping out nest robbing by using Dna to register captive bred birds and offspring and by sampling wild birds at their nests and producing a database of irrefutable proof. Prosecutions have resulted when protection officers have been able to prove that the falcon on some hairy throwback’s wrist came from a wild pair. Perhaps it is time to adopt the same process for the protection of endangered parrots, had we done this years ago then we might still have Spix’s Macaw out there to enjoy.

Bonnie told us that poaching was still a major problem in Mexico, and that the poachers got 500 pesos per bird ($1. USD = 12 pesos). Traders charge $2,000USD per bird.   So charge anyone owning a wild caught parrot $10,000 USD per bird, give $2,000 to the Government for their time, $1,000 USD for admin! And give the locals 500 pesos per bird to protect them to fledging and you have a self-funded conservation programme. It will never happen though because it is only parrots.

But I digress.

We met a Military Macaw, a wild bird which came as a rescue bird, was released but sticks around. Macaws don’t breed until they are eight years old so their reproductive cycle is pretty slow. To sex them before the breeding cycle requires and operation but once the urge kicks in the male is usually the one on top and the female lays the egg which is a dead give-away. Bonnie hopes that ‘her’ wild but friendly macaw will one day feel the need and pick up with one of the groups that fly over regularly as has happened before, or perhaps it can be sent where a similar bird is in the same situation, after all there is a 50/50 chance that they will be one of each gender.

After a bit more birding it was time to go and explore the area a bit more. We took a road from El Tuito to Bioto; it looked a fantastic place to spend dawn to 10.00, humid Pacific slope forest and a very quiet road. Unfortunately the temperature gauge in the car told us it was 32°C outside, a bit warm. I did manage a look at an Elegant Euphonia but it was officially quiet time now so we set off back towards to Puerto Vallarta intending to check out a couple of sites on the way.

After leaving El Tuito we took a turn east between km markers 174-175, the Providentia road, and climbed up into the pine belt. The reason for the turn was to get a visual on the Eared Poorwill site for ‘next time’ and to perhaps pick up the odd species typical of the change in habitat and altitude. The poorwill site was easy to find but not much was happening there so we headed back downhill, windows open, ears on high chirp alert. After a kilometer or so we hit a birdy corner and parked. I got out of the car and boom (or buzz?) a Bumblebee Hummingbird was feeding on the verge flora. In the woods chirps, cheeps and whistles seemed everywhere, a sapsucker appeared, Yellow-bellied and not the hoped for Williamson’s, poot. Black-headed Siskins flew over calling but didn’t land in view then a woodcreeper fed acrobatically, White-striped, tick. More woodpeckers appeared, Arizona and Grey-crowned, ticks. Green Jays foraged in the undergrowth and each tree crown seemed to have a Plumbeous Vireo bouncing around in it. A small flock of warblers came through, nothing new at first but active, then a mystery singer showed, Painted Whitestart (or redstart, whatever) blimey, tick. Vaux’s Swifts flew over-head and a beautiful Tufted Flycatcher sallied around a tall pine, tick. In fifteen busy minutes we had added ten species to the trip list, seven of them lifers, not bad.

It went quiet very quickly as the flock moved off, we lingered a while but it was just one of those bird flash mobs that sometimes happens, right place, right time.

Our next stop was to be the (famous) Vallarta Botanical Gardens. As we wended back towards PV a West Mexican Chachalaca flew over the road in front of the car, Sandra was looking the other way but I got a great view. We stopped, went back but it was gone. Here the chachalaca species changes from the very Rufous-bellied from Puerto Vallarta going north to the white bellied West Mexican as you move south. They are hunted mercilessly for food and so are always very wary and I was very lucky again, I thought the chance had gone after missing them at Rancho Primavera but no, the birding deity –  if there is one – had smiled at me , next time Sandra, next time.

The Botanical Gardens were OK, nothing more. They had no hummer feeders just some crappy basket with a bit of fruit in it for the Yellow-winged Caciques. The restaurant is ok but expensive, $20USD for two ice creams and two cokes, please! It sits perched over a gorge which is scenic but not so good for someone like me who does not like heights; still, if they’d had served Walnuts in the shell I’d have had no problem cracking them with my clenched buttocks. There were a few birds in the grounds but I would say it is another morning place and, unfortunately you only ever get one morning per day.

We eased our way back making a note of the bit where we went wrong on the way out of Pueto Vallarta, those tricksy Mexicans had slipped in a filter via an anonymous ramp, crafty, we will know next time. We got back to base before dusk and with enough time to add a few birds to the day list from the balcony making it a very respectable 102 species. Tomorrow would be the last full day and we still had gaps which we thought we could fill by looking around a bit more locally to the hotel. Sandra was slowly emerging from her snot frenzy and my legs and bum would have made a good read for somebody proficient in braille.

The photos below are: The path at the Vallarta Botanical Gardens. View from the restaurant at Vallarta Botanical Gardens (see what I mean!). Three as yet unidentified butterflies, there were loads. Arizona Woodpecker. Another butterfly. Painted Whitestart. Fat bloke blocking the view at the Eared Poorwill site followed by a less obstructed view. Same fat bloke blocking the view thereby breaking any number of International regulations relating to the number of fat bloke pictures allowed on a blog.  Sandra on the deck of the Adobe house at Rancho Primavera, she will hate this photo but it is my blog and my lovely wife so there! Last of all the Military Macaw again.

And if you are tempted to go birding in Puerto Vallarta here is a link to their bird festival, sounds fun.


vallarta bird festival

bot garden trail bot garden view 1 butterfly 3 butterfly green brown butterfly 3 grey capped woodpecker monarch painted redstart 1 painted redstart 2 providencia road mark providencia road view providencia road san 2



Puerto Vallarta day 5 – Rancho Primavera

Today was to be a full day birding within the grounds of the excellent Rancho Primavera. We had some target species in mind but really just wanted to enjoy the day. A cup of coffee and bowl a porridge on the deck got the ball rolling on the day list with the easy to see aquatic species showing around the lake and, as expected, Military Macaws and Lilac-crowned Parrots leaving their hillside roost. We started out to walk up to the main house where there were hummer and fruit feeders. It took nearly an hour to do the ten minute walk, birds were everywhere and in the main most were easy to get a good look at, even the Macgillivray’s Warblers.

The house feeders were active with Broad-billed and Cinnamon Hummingbird noisily contesting the spoils, neither could compete though with the larger Plain-capped Starthroat that eased both away at will. A chattering announced the daily arrival of the Black-throated Magpie-Jay troop. Shy but hungry they kept watch as individually they dropped down to sample the free fruit. Stripe-headed Sparrows were abundant and a couple of Greyish Saltators seemed to get the better of the bigger and tougher looking Mexican Yellow Grosbeaks.

Mexico warms up quickly so we pushed on with our searching. At Bonnie’s suggestion we tried the ‘secret’ trail looking for Rosy Thrush Tanager, they were not playing today but in a few weeks they will be singing as the breeding season starts for most species. Empidonax flycatchers were met quite frequently but we could not get them to call, the likelihood is that they were all Pacific-Slope Flycatcher but perhaps a few Cordilleran slipped through. Sandra’s cold was getting heavier, she was leaving a snot trail like a sweating snail so we decamped back to base for drinks. Our resident Broad-billed Hummingbird was on its perch and seemed unconcerned that we were sat just a few away admiring him. As the heat of the day passed and I fidgeted Sandra suggested that I go for a walk!

I tracked back through the Rosy Thrush Tanager’s domain but it was pretty quiet apart from the ubiquitous Nashville Warblers and the odd Black-throated Grey and Wilson’s. I walked the Rancho access track down to the ford finding Hammond’s Flycatcher and, best of all, a Greater Pewee, another lifer. I did a fair bit of wander in hot conditions seeing a fair few mad dog but no further Englishmen. I dropped back at base for fresh water and pulled my trousers out of my socks, our standard chigger prevention method, tuck them in and spray with Deep Woods or similar, very effective.

Refreshed, I went off again but this time getting no further than the end of the drive, a pair of Fan-tailed Warblers were fanning their tails at me, Sandra had to see this at least so I dragged her out for her own good. The birds were hard to photograph, non-stop action, but I tried anyway, see below.

Once more into the Thorn scrub I plunged hoping to find a few more of the elusive endemics that make the Rancho their home. I wandered Horse trails for a couple of kilometers seeing a fair bit including Greenish Elaenia which is best described as looking greenish. At one point along the trails I felt sure I was being watched and picked up the musky scent of some animal. It could probably smell me too, teenage applications of Brut aftershave and later Patchouli Oil when I let my hair grow still linger, wafting from some unknown recess even after all these years!

I was still not seeing Russet-crowned Motmots so I set off back through the grassy trails. In a flash a dark bird shot across the path and vanished. After pishing until I was puce it popped up for a look and was a Blue Mockingbird – tick.

The day wound down to the gentle cough of a woman with a cold but fit enough to make her special omelet bless. The evening was colder and clearer and the stars were even more intense than the night before. The day total had been 88 species and we’d missed 15 seen the previous day around the site.

We turned in, Sandra sneezing and sniffing, me starting to gently itch, more of which in the next post.

Below are a few photos from the day: Broad-billed Hummingbird, Green Kingfisher, Thick-billed Kingbird, Blue-grey Gnatcatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Mexican Yellow Grosbeak, Greyish Saltator,  Black-throated Magpie-Jay, Mexican Yellow Grosbeak, Stripe-headed Sparrow, Greater Pewee (2), Cinnamon Hummingbird, Groove-billed Ani, Fa-tailed Warbler, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Ladder-backed Woodpecker (2), look at the tongue on the head shot drawing the bug out, Little Blue Heron, Vermillion Flycatcher, Mexican Yellow Grosbeak (arty). Many of the shots were taken by Sandra here.

If you want to take a look at the Rancho Primavera web site here is the link http://www.ranchoprimaveramexico.com/

DSCN6010 (2) green kingfisher IMG_7278 (2) IMG_7316 (2) IMG_7706 (2) IMG_7720 (2) IMG_7738 (2) IMG_7747 (2) IMG_7752 (2) IMG_7763 (2) IMG_7847 (2) IMG_7861 (2) IMG_7895 (2) IMG_7901 (2) IMG_7917 (2) IMG_7921 (2) ladder backed wp 1 ladder backed wp 2 little blue heron a vermilion fly yellow grosbeak 3

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.

adobe house kitchen adobe house living room adobe house deck view 1 DSCN6000 (2) DSCN6022 (2) IMG_7633 (2)  primavera ford primavera view 1 primavera view 2 primavera view 3

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