This exciting new tour in the Field Guides schedule promises top-notch birding from mountains and meadows around Mexico City to the coastal deserts and mangrove lagoons near the tip of Baja. Along the way we'll search for some range-restricted endemics (Xantus's Hummer, Belding's Yellowthroat, and Sierra Madre Sparrow, to name a few) and a multitude of other Mexican specialties. We'll also have the opportunity to witness two of the most remarkable long-distance migrants in the animal kingdom: the Gray Whale and Monarch Butterfly.

Every year Monarchs find their way to the conifer forests of Central Mexico, where they congregate in the tens of thousands to form hanging baskets that cloak the trees (that is an easy estimate to make, but the true total seems to be more difficult to determine accurately; dare we say millions?). This is one of the most impressive butterfly spectacles in the world. Two major migratory populations exist in North America. One migrates to southern California, while the other larger population goes to the pine-oak forests of the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt (the states of Mexico and Michoacan), and each spring the Monarchs venture north to summering areas in the Central and Eastern U.S. and Canada. It takes several generations to complete this migration, each generation moving a little farther north, step-by-step, and, incredibly, it is the fourth generation of monarchs that returns to Mexico, having never been there before. How do they accomplish this incredible feat?

At the same time of year, Gray Whales migrate from Arctic waters to the warm lagoons off the coast of Baja. They make the longest migration of any mammal on Earth, a distance of 11,000 miles between warm calving waters in Mexico and summer feeding grounds in cold Arctic seas. The mothers and calves spend time around Baja California in shallow kelp beds, and mothers will aggressively defend their young from intruders. Alongside this remarkable phenomenon, Whale Sharks, the largest extant fish in the world (average length is 32 feet), also congregate off the coast of Baja. These gentle giants can be found in feeding aggregations within the Sea of Cortez and near the port city of La Paz (in the state of Baja California Sur), one of our itinerary's destinations. We'll scan for breaching and spy-hopping Gray Whales, and there will be an excursion in search of Whale Sharks.

And we haven't even mentioned the birds yet (or the tacos, tamales, and cold beer)! Mexico is a fabulous country to bird, with familiar families (Thrashers, Wrens, Vireos and Orioles) but unfamiliar species. When it comes to sparrows, Mexico sure lucked out. In our days of exploring the highlands around Mexico City, we'll search for the endemic Sierra Madre Sparrow -- a bird restricted to alpine meadows in the volcanic belt, and recently placed in its own genus Xenospiza, meaning "strange sparrow." Another species in a monotypic genus we hope to encounter is the Striped Sparrow, a drab name for a spectacular Mexican endemic of high-elevation bunch grass. And of course, we'll keep our fingers crossed for Black-chested Sparrow, found in arid thorn scrub and weedy fields at lower elevations, and just about the best-looking sparrow there is! Other birds we hope to find in the cordilleras include the range-restricted Black-polled Yellowthroat, the truly stunning Red Warbler (you can't get much redder than that), Golden-browed Warbler, Golden Vireo, Golden-crowned Emerald (gold seems to be a theme here), Bumblebee Hummingbird, Strickland's Woodpecker, Chestnut-sided Shrike-Vireo (a very cool bird), Gray Silky-flycatcher, Red-headed Tanager, Green-striped Brushfinch, Rusty-crowned Ground-Sparrow, Elegant Euphonia, Hooded Grosbeak, and, with a bit of luck, we may stumble upon a Long-tailed Wood-Partridge...who knows! Since we'll be visiting in February, we may bump into a few familiar faces wintering in the Mexican highlands such as Red-faced Warbler, Varied Bunting, and Yellow-breasted Chat among resident Black-vented Orioles, West Mexican Chachalacas, and Happy Wrens.

Baja Sur hosts six endemic species according to modern taxonomists. These include Cape (Baja) Pygmy-Owl, Xantus's Hummingbird, Gray Thrasher, San Lucas Robin, Belding's Yellowthroat, and Baird's Junco. Both the San Lucas Robin and Baird's Junco are found only at the highest elevations within the Sierra de la Laguna mountains (a hard day's hike involving camping), and, though the robin is known to occasionally descend to lower elevations, it is unlikely we will see it on this tour. However, we should see the remaining endemics and loads of other desert, semi-arid, and foothill species. These will include Elf Owl, Gila Woodpecker, Greater Roadrunner, Verdin, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Cassin's (San Lucas; V. c. lucasanus) Vireo, California Scrub-Jay, Lazuli Bunting, Scott's Oriole, and lots of Black-throated Gray Warblers and Western Tanagers, among many others.

We would be remiss not to mention Mexico's colorful culture and delicious food. Make sure you bring an appetite, as we will be sampling authentic enchiladas, tlacoyos, and huitlacoche (if you don't know what those are, don't worry, they're all delicious!). And, of course, we'll fill you in on some of Mexico's rich history -- from the Toltecs and the Aztecs to Frida and Diego. So, grab your binocs and prepare for awe as we explore deep forests, high mountains, arid deserts, and open waters in search of Mexico's most spectacular natural wonders.

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