Our comprehensive exploration of Oaxaca is jam-packed with specialties taking in the major birding sites of Teotitlan del Valle, Benito Juarez National Park, Cerro San Felipe, the archaeological spectacle of Monte Alban and Huatulco. With a high level of endemicity, we set out to find dry interior endemics such as Ocellated Thrasher, Bridled and Oaxaca Sparrows, Boucard’s Wren, Dwarf Jay and the diminutive Dwarf Vireo. Cerro San Felipe is expected to reward us with Russet Nightingale-Thrush and the piercing Red Warbler, possibly one of the most attractive birds in all of North America. As we marvel at the iconic Monte Alban, we will also be searching for the endemic Slaty Vireo, Ocellated Thrasher and Blue Mockingbird. Our time in Huatulco will be spent birding the endemic strewn Sierra de Miahuatlan for such delights as Long-tailed Wood Partridge, Blue-capped Hummingbird, White-faced Quail-Dove, Mexican Hermit, Long-billed and Plain-capped Starthroat, West Mexican Chachalaca, Citreoline Trogon and Red-breasted Chat.
As the tour draws to a close, we change tack, and head out to the sea off Puerto Angel for a pelagic, with such headline species as the endemic Townsend’s Shearwater, while we shall also be on the lookout for Christmas and Galapagos Shearwaters, and both the rare Black and Wedge-rumped Storm Petrels.
Unicolored, Azure-hooded, White-throated & Dwarf Jay, White-throated Magpie-Jay, Blue-capped, Beautiful, Dusky, Garnet-throated, Azure-crowned, Emerald-chinned, Cinnamon & Green-fronted Hummingbird, Wedge-tailed Sabrewing, Mexican Hermit, Long-billed & Plain-capped Starthroat, West Mexican Chachalaca, Pileated Flycatcher, Blue Mockingbird, Ocellated Thrasher, White-throated Towhee, Oaxaca Sparrow, Long-tailed Wood Partridge, Chestnut-sided Shrike-Vireo, Brown-backed Solitaire, Red & Red-faced Warbler, Slate-throated & Painted Whitestart, Collared Towhee, Lesser Roadrunner, Spotted Wood Quail, Black & Ornate Hawk-Eagles, White-faced Quail-Dove, Colima & Central American Pygmy Owl, Slaty Vireo, Blue Mockingbird, Aztec Thrush, Grey-crowned Woodpecker, Vermiculated Screech Owl, Lesser Ground Cuckoo, Citreoline Trogon, Russet-crowned Motmot, Boucard’s, Happy & Banded Wren, Red-breasted Chat, Blue & Orange-breasted Bunting, Hooded Yellow-throat, Wagler’s (Emerald) Toucanet, Townsend’s, Wedge-tailed, Galapagos, Black-vented, Christmas & Pink-footed Shearwater, Black, Least & Wedge-rumped Storm Petrel and Red-billed Tropicbird
intermontane valley scrub, pine & oak forests, pelagic, humid cloud forest, subtropical forest, pacific thorn forest and foothill riparian forests
mostly warm with some light drizzle expected in the cloud forests. Can be cool to cold at higher elevations (and on the pelagic). Humidty can be expected in low lying areas
relaxed, with some long days in the field
pre-Colombian archaeological sites of Monte Alban & Yagul, Oaxaca City.
Day 1: Arrivals in Oaxaca City
Today folks will arrive from their various points of origin into Oaxaca City. Participants will be met at the airport and transferred to our accommodations in the city, where we will be based for the following 5 nights. If time permits, there is plenty to see and do around Oaxaca, which is known as one of the most beautiful cities in Mexico.
Day 2: Teotitlan del Valle
The nearby town of Teotitlan del Valle is situated at the base of the eastern Sierras. It is nestled right in amongst a variety of habitats ranging from intermontane valley scrub up to pine forests in the high mountains nearby. Today on our Mexico birding tour, we spend the day birding the valley scrub, thorn forests, and arid pine-oak zones surrounding the town.
Given the geology of the valley, with the central transvolcanic belt to the North, and Sierra Madre del Sur to the South, the degree of endemism in the area is incredibly high. There are fascinating endemic species in each one of the various habitat zones we will explore today! Among the highlights today we will search for West Mexican Chachalaca, Beautiful and Dusky Hummingbird, Pileated Flycatcher, Boucard’s Wren, Blue Mockingbird, Ocellated Thrasher, White-throated Towhee and Oaxaca Sparrow. All are endemic species, a few of which have tiny ranges not even extending beyond the border of the state of Oaxaca!
The higher elevation forests and scrub, as we climb out of the valley, hold a different set of species more typical and widespread of the arid parts of the Sierra Madres. Berylline Hummingbird, Grey-breasted Woodpecker, Nutting’s Flycatcher, Golden and Dwarf Vireo, Woodhouse’s Scrub Jay, Grey Silky-flycatcher and Black-vented Oriole are all likely.
Day 3: Benito Juarez National Park (Dwarf Jay)
A bit further northeast of Teotitlan del Valle is the Benito Juarez area. On the far side of the continental divide here, the humid air of the Caribbean rises and comes back down as drizzle and rain on the higher elevations. Some of the best humid Pine-Oak and Cloud forests in the area can easily be accessed here, and this is the home of the exceptionally rare and striking Dwarf Jay. The forested slopes here also host the rare Long-tailed Wood Partridge, which we will put some effort into searching for, though there are more than a few other fabulous species here. Aztec Thrush is rare and unpredictable, Elegant and Mountain Trogon both occur in their respective habitats, White-striped and Spot-crowned Woodcreeper, Greenish Elaenia, Tufted Flycatcher, Greater Pewee, Cassin’s and Thick-billed Kingbird, Rose-throated Becard, Chestnut-sided Shrike-Vireo, Hutton’s and Plumbeous Vireo, Bridled Titmouse, American Bushtit, Brown-backed Solitaire, Olive, Crescent-chested, Red and Red-faced Warbler, Painted and Slate-throated Whitestart, Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer and Collared Towhee are all on the hit list today, too!
Depending on our success in the mountains and our general timeframe, we might choose to visit the interesting archaeological site of Yagul in the evening. These pre-Colombian ruins are a well-kept, smaller version of what we’ll be seeing at Monte Alban in a few days. Although the habitat here at Yagul is somewhat less preserved than at Monte Alban, a few species that frequent both are much more easily seen here. The main target at Yagul is the tiny, endemic Beautiful Hummingbird which is known only from the central valley of Oaxaca and surrounding scrubby hillsides. Other fun species here include Lesser Roadrunner, Loggerhead Shrike and the scarce endemic, Bridled Sparrow.
Day 4: Birding Eastern Sierra Madres towards Valle Nacional
For those who joined the Veracruz & Eastern Sierra pre-tour, there will be some slight overlap, as today we travel the highway towards Valle Nacional. We do so for good reason! With some 300+ species identified along the highway between Oaxaca and Valle Nacional, this amazing road that rises up over the divide and courses through over 100kms of pristine pine-oak, cloud and subtropical forests will surely reveal many new species for all. This will allow us more time to search for the difficult species in the eastern Sierras as well.
While yesterday’s birding was the best opportunity for Dwarf Jay, we have another chance today for this extremely localized species, as well as two more very important, beautiful corvids: Unicolored and Azure-hooded Jay. Both of these stunning jays have a larger distribution than their smaller cousin, although nowhere are they common or easy. We stand a good chance of finding both today! Other species we’ll be looking for today include Crested Guan, Spotted Wood Quail, Black and Ornate Hawk-Eagle, White-faced Quail-Dove, Garnet-throated, Azure-crowned and Emerald-chinned Hummingbird, Wedge-tailed Sabrewing, Central American Pygmy Owl, Collared Trogon, Emerald Toucanet, Golden-olive and Pale-billed Woodpecker, Brown-hooded Parrot, Spot-crowned, Strong-billed and Spotted Woodcreeper, Black-faced Antthrush, Scaly-throated and Buff-throated Foliage-gleaner, Spot-breasted Wren, White-breasted and Grey-breasted Wood Wren, Slate-colored Solitaire, Orange-billed and Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush, Yellow-winged Tanager, Cinnamon-breasted Flowerpiercer, Common Bush Tanager and Rufous-capped Brushfinch, among many others.
Day 5: Cerro San Felipe and Monte Alban
The largest pre-Colombian ruins in Oaxaca are situated atop a tall cerro (hill/small mountain) overlooking the entire metropolitan area of Oaxaca and neighbouring cities. This site, Monte Alban is one of the most-visited and iconic ruin sites in Mexico, and we plan on spending the better part of the day enjoying the ruins and the fantastic birding opportunities within the archaeological park.
Built atop an artificially-levelled ridge rising over 1,000 feet from the valley floor, Monte Alban served as the socio-political centre of the Zapotec people for nearly 1,000 years. Founded about 500BC, the ruins are among the oldest known sites in Meso-America, and are some of the most impressive in the Western Hemisphere. The hundreds of terraces and dozens of groups of monuments and structures that make up the site can be seen from nearly any direction in the valley. In an effort to maintain the integrity of the structures, the entire ridge was declared a national archaeological park. Save from a few trails through the scrub, forest and site itself, the whole mountain is very much intact. For us, there will be more than just amazing ruins and history to be enjoyed today: the birding at this site is world class!
Raptors are commonly reported here and include White-tailed Kite, White-tailed, Red-tailed, Zone-tailed and Short-tailed Hawk (quite an array of “tailed” creatures!) as well as Northern Crested Caracara, American Kestrel and Peregrine Falcon. The endemic Dusky Hummingbird, as well as Berylline, are numerous here, though there are many reports of the rare Beautiful Hummingbird in Spring. Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Northern Beardless Tyrannulet, Dusky-capped, Ash-throated, Nutting’s and Brown-crested Flycatcher, Rock, Canyon and Bewick’s Wren, Rufous-capped Warbler, White-collared Seedeater, Black-headed and Blue Grosbeak and Lesser Goldfinch are among the more numerous birds in the scrub here, but the quality and number of endemics here is the real attraction.
The two star birds of this site, undoubtedly, are the dapper and surprisingly attractive Slaty Vireo, and the garrulous Ocellated Thrasher. Both endemic species are frequently seen here, and we hope to have great views of each during our Mexico birding tour! Blue Mockingbird is practically abundant here and, despite being a skulker, we plan to lure some out for good views. The list of great endemics here includes Grey-breasted Woodpecker, Pileated Flycatcher, Boucard’s Wren, Rufous-backed Robin, Grey Silky-flycatcher, White-throated Towhee and Black-vented Oriole. We should have plenty of time to find these birds as well as some time to spare in Oaxaca City itself, visiting some of the other cultural highlights that we might want to explore. Being our last night in Oaxaca City, we will end the day with a delicious meal at one of the fine establishments in town offering tasty local cuisine.
Day 6: The Sierra Madre Occidental and Huatulco
After an early departure this morning on our Mexico birding tour, we’ll find ourselves out of the wide Oaxaca Valley and working our way up the Sierra Madre Occidental on our way to the Pacific coast near Huatulco. We will spend the day working through some fabulous high-elevation west slope forests, which are home to numerous Occidental endemic species, as well as some “old friends” we will have seen already in the highlands of the East.
Long-tailed Wood Partridge is a spectacular bird. A few side tracks off the main highway in the area we traverse today can be very productive, including opportunities to look for this amazing endemic. Another star species in the area we will be birding is the gorgeous White-throated Jay. Adding to our mounting impressive list of rare and beautiful corvids, this species is found only in the neighbouring state of Guerrero and here, in this corner of Oaxaca. Inhabiting cloud forests and humid pine-oak forests in these mountains, the White-throated Jay shares its habitat with other interesting birds such as Chestnut-sided Shrike-Vireo, Hooded Yellowthroat, Yellow-eyed Junco, Red Warbler and Black-headed Siskin.
Given the distance we must travel today, there won’t be enough time to thoroughly bird the length of this road. The following day we plan on returning to the middle-elevations in the area to seek out even more wonderful endemics. We hope to arrive at our accommodations with plenty of time to get settled in where we will be based until the end of our Mexico birding tour. The town of Santa Maria de Huatulco is yet another quaint, colonial city, characteristic of this part of Mexico and a very enjoyable base of operations.
Days 7 & 8: Huatulco area
Today on our Mexico birding tour, we head back up the mountain a little way, and begin birding in the heart of the range of our main target: Blue-capped Hummingbird. With a distribution of just over 150 miles of mountains, known as the Sierra de Miahuatlan, this little beauty has to be one of the most range-restricted species on Earth. We will spend the better part of today birding the lush subtropical forests that remain in the area, which span dozens of miles of road here, although human encroachment does pose a problem. With the expanding coffee interests and other agricultural concerns popping up in the Miahuatlan Mountains, the Blue-capped Hummingbird was recently categorized as endangered.
Other than the Blue-capped Hummingbird, some of our hoped-for species today include White-faced Quail-Dove, Colima Pygmy Owl (rare), Mexican Hermit, Long-billed and Plain-capped Starthroat, Grey-crowned Woodpecker, Olivaceous and Ivory-billed Woodcreeper, Ruddy Foliage-gleaner, Greenish Elaenia, ‘West Mexico’ Squirrel Cuckoo (a probably future split), Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, Masked Tityra, White-throated Thrush, Fan-tailed, Golden-browed and Golden-crowned Warbler, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Black-headed Saltator, Rusty Sparrow and the stunning Red-headed Tanager! We might be able to squeeze in some night birding before dinner, or just after, and there are many great species of owls in the area such as Vermiculated Screech Owl, while both Mottled and Black-and-white Owl are regular, as is Buff-collared Nightjar.
Santa Maria Huatulco sits at the base of the mountains, a few miles from the coast in the middle of prime pacific thorn forest and foothill riparian forests. Depending on our successes yesterday, we might work from the lower elevations higher, but we plan to spend the majority of the day birding the lower elevation habitats near to town.
Though not as lush or necessarily as attractive as the forests higher up, the level of endemism around Huatulco and down to the coast is equally, if not more, impressive. Some of the sites we visit include parts of Huatulco National Park or some tracks around the small town of Pluma Hidalgo. In recent years, local farmers and ranchers have begun to appreciate the economic impact that birders and eco-tourists can have on the area and they have begun inviting people to bird their properties. We might visit one or two of the more productive Fincas in the area, as well.
Starting off in the lowlands, we will look for Thicket Tinamou, West Mexican Chachalaca, Lesser Ground Cuckoo, Colima and Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, Cinnamon Hummingbird, Citreoline Trogon, Russet-crowned Motmot, Golden-cheeked, Lineated, and Pale-billed Woodpecker, Lilac-crowned and White-fronted Parrot, Orange-fronted Parakeet, Flammulated Flycatcher, White-throated Magpie-Jay, Rufous-naped, Happy and Banded Wren, White-lored Gnatcatcher, Olive Sparrow, Red-breasted Chat, Blue and Orange-breasted Bunting, Yellow-winged Cacique and Streak-backed, Spot-breasted and Altamira Oriole and Scrub Euphonia.
Once we’ve had our fill of the lowlands, and as the day heats up, we may decide to head back up into the foothills for a bit of clean-up for any species missed yesterday. The foothill transitional zones are preferred habitat for a few species not mentioned so far in the itinerary, including several nice endemics. Long-billed and Plain-capped Starthroat, Golden-crowned Emerald, Green-fronted Hummingbird, Wagler’s (Emerald) Toucanet, Grey-crowned Woodpecker, Bell’s, Cassin’s and Plumbeous Vireo, Red-crowned Ant Tanager, Audubon’s Oriole and both Varied and Painted Bunting all prefer the foothill areas here.
Day 9: Pelagic off Huatulco and area clean-up
At dawn we’ll head into the thorn forest around Huatulco to look for any lowland species we might be missing, before making our way to Puerto Angel. Mid-morning we’ll embark on a pelagic adventure! Our main target is the endemic Townsend’s Shearwater. Additionally, we hope to see Black-vented, Christmas and Pink-footed among the more expected Wedge-tailed and Galapagos Shearwater. Black, Least and Wedge-rumped Storm Petrel all occur in the deep waters just offshore, where we even have a chance of finding a petrel. Red and Red-necked Phalarope, Black and Elegant Tern, and possibly Sabine’s Gull could turn up near shore, as well as skuas harassing the terns and gulls. Closer to shore still, we should see Red-billed Tropicbird, Magnificent Frigatebird and Brown, Nazca and Red-footed Boobies. Returning by mid-afternoon, those who wish, may join any who didn’t go on the boat trip by lounging on the beach and enjoying some amazing seafood!
Day 10: Final departures
This morning we will say our fond farewells after breakfast. Guests will be dropped off at the Huatulco International Airports for international flights home.