Our 2023 tour to Central Mexico and Baja had plenty of birds, and among them were many range-restricted Mexican endemic species. As the tour title suggests though, it wasn’t only birds that were the highlights, despite the many great ones. Our experiences with the other two-thirds of the tour’s title were mind-bogglingly fantastic. We arrived at the roosting groups of Monarchs shortly after small numbers of them had woken up and started to fly around for the day, but while the huge roosting clusters were still there, and our Gray Whale boat trip was nothing short of sublime.
We started the tour off by getting right into the meat of some of the best Mexican endemic birds. Dawn had barely broken when we had already seen the high-elevation-bunchgrass specialist Sierra Madre Sparrow, and the rest of the morning continued to be similarly successful. Parque las Maravillas, at 10,000 feet above sea level, bestowed upon us the shy Hooded Yellowthroat, slippery Strickland’s Woodpecker, a duo of endemic brushfinches (Green-striped and Rufous-capped), more Striped Sparrows than we could look at, and even a lone Pine Flycatcher. This excellent entrée into Central Mexico birding primed us for a couple of birdy-as-heck days around the state of Morelos. In addition to visiting the impressive and fascinating ruins of Xochicalco, we birded a diversity of habitats from higher elevation pine-oak forest, to dry forest in the valleys, a lush city park in Cuernavaca, and even an urban waterfall. The latter spot, of course, gave us the opportunity to witness the spectacle of the pre-roost staging, and then roosting of White-naped Swift - the largest swift in the New World. Ultimately, upwards of 500 came screaming and careening down onto the sheer wet walls behind the sheet of falling water after dark, made even better by the pizza party we were having. Other avian highlights around Morelos were Russet-crowned Motmot, Blue Mockingbird, Brown-baked Solitaires performing their aerial courtship displays, a scarce Yellow Grosbeak, Bright-rumped Attila, Buff-breasted Flycatcher, White-striped Woodcreeper, and phenomenal views of Golden-browed Warblers headlining a great cast of warblers that included Red, Crescent-chested, Hermit, and MacGillivray’s.
Once we had sampled the avian (and culinary) delicacies of Morelos, it was time to head west, going much of the way across Mexico State before settling into our pine-ensconced lodge that would be our base of operations for two nights. In addition to the absurdly confiding birds on the lodge grounds (Russet Nightingale-Thrush, Transvolcanic Jay, and White-eared Hummingbirds galore), we also did some birding on the nearby roads, seeing multiple Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercers, and bringing in a real stellar Mountain Trogon in addition to a panoply of other birds. The reason we were here, however, wasn’t the birds. Each fall, the final generation of Monarch Butterflies that emerge from their chrysalids from all across the US and Canada wing their way south and meet up in the highest elevation conifer forests of a small region of Central Mexico, where they wait out the chilly winter in huge, tight clusters of orange and black, actually weighing down the branches of the trees. We got to head up much of the mountain on horseback, and then went up the last fifteen to twenty minutes by foot until we found where the butterflies were roosting this time (it changes somewhat year to year). We got to spend half an hour with this magnificent spectacle as they woke up and began their fluttering and nectaring for the day, and it was a pretty darn magical experience.
The next day it was back to Mexico City, successfully dodging traffic en route, to fly out to Baja for the second part of the tour. We overnighted in La Paz, and upon waking up had new suite of birds perching outside our hotel’s breakfast buffet, including a cacophony of Cactus Wrens and a male Phainopepla teeing up for all to see. We then drove a few hours to the west and then north, getting a taste of the Baja landscape – the southern extension of the Sonoran Desert, and the huge Cardon Cacti that dominate it (Cardon Cacti are columnar cacti that are reminiscent of, but larger than, the iconic Saguaros of southern Arizona’s section of this desert). On the way, we even tallied our first Baja endemic: Gray Thrasher. The next 24 hours were not about endemics, but instead about the wonderful wildlife spectacles of Magdalena Bay.
We spent a night on beautiful, isolated, Magdalena Island, in a safari-style tent camp at the water’s edge. Our wildlife watching began before we even made it out to our accommodation on the island. We boarded our boats in San Carlos and instead of heading right for the camp, we headed toward the inlet at the south end of the island. We got our first taste of the area’s waterbirds on the way, and even found a couple of surprise Parasitic Jaegers. As we approached the inlet, our attention quickly switched to the jets of spray being ejected from the water’s surface by the Gray Whales that spend their winter months here. Our time with these fantastic 30-ton animals was truly magical. We had several in view at all times--and one or two particularly friendly and inquisitive whales repeatedly swimming up to the boats and rubbing their barnacle-covered heads and backs on the underside of the boat, as well as on people’s hands. It was truly an amazing whale experience! The next day’s boat trip focused more on the diversity of waterbirds around the bay, and we also searched for--and found--a couple of habitat-specialist passerines in the mangroves and sparsely vegetated beach: Mangrove Yellow Warbler and Belding’s Sparrow. We also saw 10,000 (!!!) Brandt’s Cormorants, hundreds of Brown Pelicans, Royal Terns, and Marbled Godwits, and a good diversity of shorebirds. The rarest find of our time out here was a subadult Lesser Black-backed Gull that Jesse spotted mixed in with the large numbers of Western and California gulls roosting on one of the bay-edge mudflats.
After another delicious coastal meal, we headed back through the desert for one final night at La Paz before heading south. Leaving La Paz in the morning, we birded a couple of the bird-full habitats (including the wastewater lagoons), further padding our waterbird list. Cinnamon Teal, Gull-billed Terns, over 500 Marbled Godwits, two taxa of Cackling Goose, and several leg-banded Western Sandpipers were just some of the many highlights of the morning before we headed south along the west coast to San Jose del Cabo, arriving in time for some light afternoon birding and dinner. Our final full day in Mexico saw us heading into the scenic foothills of the Sierra de la Laguna, the disjunct mountain range at the southern end of the Baja Peninsula. Here we met our local host Edgardo, and drove into the mountains, climbing up a canyon to a small village and rancho. Here, in addition to a delightful breakfast catered by the owners, we got in some excellent birding, seeing the final couple of endemics that were on our target list: Xantus’s Hummingbird, Cape Pygmy Owl, San Lucas Vireo, and finally, right at lunch, the Belding’s Yellowthroat. Flush from the great birding, we headed back to Cabo, and after an afternoon break we had one final birding outing, appropriately (given that we were near Cabo) to the beach. The river outlet had been closed by a storm a few months ago, and so the lagoon just inside the beachhead hosted scores of Long-billed Dowitchers, hundreds of American Coots, and even both Clark’s and Western grebes, as well as many other birds. We even had a flyover flock of three Snow Geese seeming very out of place, and the constant spectacle of many Smoothtail Devil Rays fully breaching out of the water on the ocean side was the icing on a lovely final bit of birding cake.
Jesse and I thank you, both from the bottom of our hearts for choosing to travel with us, and for being such fun, interesting, and easygoing traveling companions. We had a blast, and we’re looking forward to raising our binoculars with you again sometime soon. Until then, bird (and butterfly, and whale) on!
KEYS FOR THIS LIST
One of the following keys may be shown in brackets for individual species as appropriate: * = heard only, I = introduced, E = endemic, N = nesting, a = austral migrant, b = boreal migrant
SNOW GOOSE (Anser caerulescens)
A group of three gave us a surprise flyby on our very last birding outing of the tour, at the river mouth in Cabo. A bit strange seeing three of these flying by with the mountains of Baja in the background.
CACKLING GOOSE (ALEUTIAN) (Branta hutchinsii leucopareia)
The larger of the two Cackling Geese at La Paz, this one had a frostier back and broad white band at the base of the neck collar. This taxon breeds on the Aleutian islands and winters south to the west coast of the contiguous US, and only casually makes it this far south.
CACKLING GOOSE (MINIMA) (Branta hutchinsii minima)
The smaller Cackling Goose with darker overall appearance, dark breast with an almost purplish cast, and no white collar at the base of the neck sock. Another in the long list of waterbird write-ins on this year's tour.
BLUE-WINGED TEAL (Spatula discors)
Good numbers in La Paz and then Cabo.
CINNAMON TEAL (Spatula cyanoptera)
Hundreds in La Paz, and then a handful around the lagoon in Cabo.
NORTHERN SHOVELER (Spatula clypeata)
Scattered over three or four locations in small numbers.
GADWALL (Mareca strepera)
Seen from the vehicle as we drove by the waterfowl mass at Lerma
MEXICAN DUCK (Anas diazi)
One was front and center when we pulled into the yellowthroat marsh at Lerma.
NORTHERN PINTAIL (Anas acuta)
Good numbers near La Paz.
GREEN-WINGED TEAL (Anas crecca)
La Paz had plenty of these mixed into the other freshwater ducks.
LESSER SCAUP (Aythya affinis)
Magdalena Bay, La Paz, San Jose del Cabo.
COMMON GOLDENEYE (Bucephala clangula)
Jesse spotted a female swimming by off shore at La Paz while we were ogling the beach shorebirds.
RED-BREASTED MERGANSER (Mergus serrator)
A couple seen on each of our lunches bracketing our Magdalena Bay experience.
RUDDY DUCK (Oxyura jamaicensis)
Highest numbers in Cabo and La Paz.
LONG-TAILED WOOD-PARTRIDGE (Dendrortyx macroura) [E*]
Heard way in the distance as Parque las Maravillas and then again during our afternoon walk the day before the Monarch excursion.
CALIFORNIA QUAIL (Callipepla californica)
A couple of very vocal ones played hide and seek with us on our final birding morning, outside Santiago.
LEAST GREBE (Tachybaptus dominicus)
PIED-BILLED GREBE (Podilymbus podiceps)
A couple of spots around Baja, with best views at the river mouth in Cabo.
EARED GREBE (Podiceps nigricollis californicus)
Multiple flocks of ten or more around Magdalena Bay, and then smaller numbers at La Paz and Cabo.
WESTERN GREBE (Aechmophorus occidentalis)
One of these on our very last birding expedition, in the lagoon at Cabo.
CLARK'S GREBE (Aechmophorus clarkii)
One of the two Aechmophorus grebes we saw out in the lagoon at Cabo was either a Clark's, or some kind of mostly-Clark's backcross.
ROCK PIGEON (Columba livia) [I]
BAND-TAILED PIGEON (Patagioenas fasciata)
A few of these flying over and flushing out of fruiting trees in the pine-oak above Tepoztlan.
EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE (Streptopelia decaocto) [I]
Towns and such.
INCA DOVE (Columbina inca)
Dry areas during the first part of the tour.
COMMON GROUND DOVE (Columbina passerina)
One perched on the side of the trail on our first afternoon at Tepoztlan, and a couple others elsewhere.
RUDDY GROUND DOVE (Columbina talpacoti)
The more common of the small Columbina doves once we were in Baja.
WHITE-TIPPED DOVE (Leptotila verreauxi)
A few in the Tepoztlan vicinity, though we never saw this shy dove for long before it boogied away from us but flight or foot.
WHITE-WINGED DOVE (Zenaida asiatica)
Abundant, especially in Baja, where it was the most common dove.
MOURNING DOVE (Zenaida macroura)
Scattered here and there.
LESSER GROUND-CUCKOO (Morococcyx erythropygus) [*]
We heard a couple of these, including a very close one that wouldn't budge, near and at Xochicalco.
GREATER ROADRUNNER (Geococcyx californianus) [*]
Heard only up slope from the road near Santiago.
SQUIRREL CUCKOO (Piaya cayana)
A charismatic pair of these huge cuckoos were clambering around in a tree, one with a big green katydid in its bill, over the trail above Tepoztlan.
COMMON PAURAQUE (Nyctidromus albicollis)
Several calling and one sitting down on the path during our night walk near Tepoztlan.
BUFF-COLLARED NIGHTJAR (Antrostomus ridgwayi)
A couple of real good views amid their constant concerto during our night walk near Tepoztlan.
WHITE-NAPED SWIFT (Streptoprocne semicollaris)
One of the highlight spectacles of the tour were 400-500 of these huge, noisy, endemic swifts swirling overhead and then diving into their roost behind a waterfall at Cuernavaca at dusk. A truly unique and satisfying treat.
MEXICAN VIOLETEAR (Colibri thalassinus)
We were serenaded by their constant song throughout our Monarch hike, and we had good views at our lodging there too.
RIVOLI'S HUMMINGBIRD (Eugenes fulgens)
A couple of views of these around the highlands, including at least one magnificent male.
COSTA'S HUMMINGBIRD (Calypte costae)
Some good views on Magdalena Island.
RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD (Selasphorus rufus)
A young bird perched up nicely at the turnaround point on our first morning's hike.
BROAD-TAILED HUMMINGBIRD (Selasphorus platycercus)
One of these perched up on morning number one.
DUSKY HUMMINGBIRD (Phaeoptila sordida) [E]
One early on during our dry forest birding around Tepoztlan.
BROAD-BILLED HUMMINGBIRD (Cynanthus latirostris)
A couple of these, including a male, around Tepoztlan and Xochicalco.
GOLDEN-CROWNED EMERALD (Cynanthus auriceps) [E]
A couple of these in the dry forest of Tepoztlan.
WHITE-EARED HUMMINGBIRD (Basilinna leucotis)
Quite common in the highland conifer forests, including around our cabins during our last couple of days in that habitat.
XANTUS'S HUMMINGBIRD (Basilinna xantusii) [E]
A much-anticipated endemic for our group, we waited for the last day to give this an effort, and it was rewarded with lots of them during our final morning walk in the scenic foothills above Santiago.
VIOLET-CROWNED HUMMINGBIRD (Leucolia violiceps)
Common in drier habitats of central Mexico.
BERYLLINE HUMMINGBIRD (Saucerottia beryllina)
Brief views above the trail above Tepoztlan.
AZTEC RAIL (Rallus tenuirostris) [E*]
One grunted once or twice at the marsh near Toluca, but lived up to its secretive reputation.
VIRGINIA RAIL (Rallus limicola)
Several calling and one or two seen at the marsh near Toluca.
SORA (Porzana carolina)
Amazingly close and in-the-open views at the Toluca marsh. This adult didn't seem to know it was supposed to be a secretive rail.
COMMON GALLINULE (Gallinula galeata)
Several at the Toluca marsh, and then some more at the roadside water bodies.
AMERICAN COOT (Fulica americana)
Abundant in wet areas around Toluca.
BLACK-NECKED STILT (BLACK-NECKED) (Himantopus mexicanus mexicanus)
Several in La Paz, and then a pair at the lagoon at the Cabo river mouth.
AMERICAN AVOCET (Recurvirostra americana)
A nice flock on the beach at La Paz.
AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER (Haematopus palliatus)
A few of these around Magdalena Bay.
BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER (Pluvialis squatarola)
Dozens around Magdalena Bay.
WILSON'S PLOVER (Charadrius wilsonia beldingi)
A couple of these honkin' billed Charadrius were on the beach at La Paz.
SEMIPALMATED PLOVER (Charadrius semipalmatus)
A couple around Magdalena Bay.
KILLDEER (Charadrius vociferus)
Only a few scattered about.
WHIMBREL (HUDSONIAN) (Numenius phaeopus hudsonicus)
Common in shorebird flocks in Magdalena Bay, with dozens seen, and also seen in La Paz.
LONG-BILLED CURLEW (Numenius americanus)
Likewise in mixed flocks of large shorebirds in Magdalena Bay and La Paz.
MARBLED GODWIT (Limosa fedoa)
Delightful to see these be so common all around magdalena Bay and at La Paz (we had a roosting flock of over 500 at the latter!).
RED KNOT (Calidris canutus)
A couple of us saw one of these peeking out through the skimmers and larger shorebirds on the muddy beach at La Paz.
SANDERLING (Calidris alba)
Very large flock in Magdalena Bay, and then some more at La Paz.
DUNLIN (Calidris alpina)
Magdalena Bay and La Paz.
LEAST SANDPIPER (Calidris minutilla)
A small flock was flying around, and briefly landed a couple of times, amongst the Mangroves at La Paz, and then a there were some very confiding birds at the lagoon at Cabo.
WESTERN SANDPIPER (Calidris mauri)
Perhaps a couple of thousand all told between Magdalena Bay and La Paz, including a half dozen or so sporting leg flags at the latter location. We even got good enough views at two of the leg flags to get a reading on them (399, 412) to submit to the bird banding lab.
SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER (Limnodromus griseus)
Most (or all) of the dowitchers wintering in the saltwater edges of Magdalena Bay were likely this species.
LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER (Limnodromus scolopaceus)
Very common at the La Paz treatment plant and then another flock of over 70 foraging at point blank range at the San Jose del Cabo lagoon.
SPOTTED SANDPIPER (Actitis macularius)
Scattered in a few locations.
SOLITARY SANDPIPER (Tringa solitaria)
One cooperative individual standing guard at the entrance to the beach path on our final birding of the tour.
GREATER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa melanoleuca)
A couple around Magdalena Bay and then many dozens at La Paz.
WILLET (WESTERN) (Tringa semipalmata inornata)
Common in the flocks of large shorebirds around Magdalena Bay.
LESSER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa flavipes)
A couple of these mixed into their much more abundant Greater cousins at the flooded farm fields at La Paz.
PARASITIC JAEGER (Stercorarius parasiticus)
As we were ripping out to see the Gray Whales we passed one of these sitting on the water and diverted to take a closer look. Real nice to see a mostly pelagic bird so far inside the bay. We passed another one on the water farther out in the bay but didn't stop for that one. Nice bonus bird!
LAUGHING GULL (Leucophaeus atricilla)
A smattering around Magdalena Bay, but not as abundant as one might expect.
HEERMANN'S GULL (Larus heermanni)
Plenty around Magdalena Bay, with the vast majority being chocolate brown young birds.
RING-BILLED GULL (Larus delawarensis)
A couple of handfuls around Magdalena Bay, both adults and juveniles.
WESTERN GULL (Larus occidentalis)
Abundant around Magdalena Bay
CALIFORNIA GULL (Larus californicus)
Over a thousand all told around Magdalena Bay, and interestingly, 95%+ of them were young (non-adult) birds.
HERRING GULL (Larus argentatus)
One group of a couple dozen on our second Magdalena Bay boat ride, and otherwise just ones and twos around the bay.
LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL (Larus fuscus)
Still a rarity down in this part of the world. Jesse spotted a subadult mixed in with a flock of lookalike Western Gulls while we were ogling hundreds each of shorebirds, gulls, terns during our second boat ride on Magdalena Bay. As of now there is only one prior eBird record for this species in the state of Baja Sur, though with the species' remarkable population increase and range expansion into and throughout the United States Gulf/Atlantic coast Mexico, surely there will be more.
GULL-BILLED TERN (GULL-BILLED) (Gelochelidon nilotica vanrossemi)
Four or more of these were resting with the flock on the beach at La Paz. At least two were in winter/immature plumage, and there were at least two individuals with breeding-ready fully black caps ready.
CASPIAN TERN (Hydroprogne caspia)
A few around Magdalena Bay, and then a couple of dozen roosting on the beach at La Paz.
ROYAL TERN (Thalasseus maximus)
Hundreds upon hundreds at Magdalena Bay.
COMMON LOON (Gavia immer)
One winter-plumaged bird on the second boat trip in Magdalena Bay.
MAGNIFICENT FRIGATEBIRD (Fregata magnificens)
Common in Magdalena Bay, and also seen at La Paz and down around Cabo.
BRANDT'S CORMORANT (Urile penicillatus)
Wow. Well this species certainly gave us a surprise. Never in a million years would I have guessed that Brandt's Cormorant would be one of the avian highlights of the tour, but when you see 10,000 of any bird in one place at close range it leaves quite an impression. The Magdalena Bay spectacle that we ended up int he midst of was quite the thing in terms of natural history events.
DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT (Nannopterum auritum)
Common around Magdalena Bay, though the few hundred paled in comparison to the abundance of Brandt's. Also seen farther south.
NEOTROPIC CORMORANT (Nannopterum brasilianum)
Several of these around Magdalena Bay.
BROWN PELICAN (Pelecanus occidentalis)
Common anytime we were near salt water. The intense reddish gulars of the adults were totally mind-blowing when we saw them at close range!
GREAT BLUE HERON (GREAT BLUE) (Ardea herodias herodias)
An out of place one flew over us after sunset as we were doing our night birding near Tepoztlan. Then they were much more common once we got to Baja,.
GREAT EGRET (Ardea alba)
One flying over the Lerma marsh, and then small numbers around Baja.
SNOWY EGRET (Egretta thula)
LITTLE BLUE HERON (Egretta caerulea)
Over a dozen in the mangroves near the boat launch at Magdalena Bay.
TRICOLORED HERON (Egretta tricolor)
A couple around Magdalena Bay.
REDDISH EGRET (Egretta rufescens rufescens)
A welcome common sight around the edges of Magdalena Bay. At least some of these were probably the E.r.dickeyi subspecies which is the southern Baja breeder.
CATTLE EGRET (Bubulcus ibis)
Common around Toluca.
GREEN HERON (Butorides virescens)
A couple hanging around the lake at the park in Cuernavaca.
BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON (Nycticorax nycticorax)
Mangroves at Magdalena Bay and La Paz.
YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON (YELLOW-CROWNED) (Nyctanassa violacea bancrofti)
A couple of adults in the mangroves at Magdalena Bay.
WHITE IBIS (Eudocimus albus)
Quite a few around the edges of Magdalena Bay.
WHITE-FACED IBIS (Plegadis chihi)
Our first were a few around Toluca, and then we had a pile in the flooded field at La Paz.
BLACK VULTURE (Coragyps atratus)
Abundant in the central highlands, but not in Baja.
TURKEY VULTURE (Cathartes aura)
One of our few every-day birds.
OSPREY (Pandion haliaetus)
Common in Baja. So common in fact that we more than once saw them perched on large columnar cacti in the desert!
NORTHERN HARRIER (Circus hudsonius)
A couple over vast open expanses, on day one and then at the marsh near Toluca.
COOPER'S HAWK (Accipiter cooperii)
A couple in nearTepoztlan.
BALD EAGLE (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
A couple of immatures were scavenging out on the major roosting island in Magdalena Bay.
RED-TAILED HAWK (Buteo jamaicensis)
We saw several of these from central Mexico to Baja, including a very, very distinctive dark morph at Parque las Maravillas.
BALSAS SCREECH-OWL (Megascops seductus) [E*]
Heard well near Tepoztlan, but we didn't get eyes on it.
GREAT HORNED OWL (Bubo virginianus) [*]
Heard hooting in the late afternoon from the montane pine oak forest west of Toluca.
NORTHERN PYGMY-OWL (MOUNTAIN) (Glaucidium gnoma gnoma) [*]
One was calling from the pine-oak downslope from us above Tepoztlan.
NORTHERN PYGMY-OWL (CAPE) (Glaucidium gnoma hoskinsii) [E]
A real nice pickup on our final birding morning. It took a while to find this tiny tooter, but after a while we finally figured out where exactly on the arid hillside it was calling from and were able to get walkaway scope views for all. This is currently considered a subspecies in Clements/eBird, but given its geographic isolation, very distinctive call, and the way the splitting tides are going these days, this may not be the case for too much longer.
COLIMA PYGMY-OWL (Glaucidium palmarum) [*]
Heard only on day one.
FERRUGINOUS PYGMY-OWL (Glaucidium brasilianum)
Long scope views of one perched up in the dry forest below Xochicalco. We ended up leaving it before it left us.
MOUNTAIN TROGON (Trogon mexicanus)
We heard this one on a couple of excursions (including a few times during the Monarch ride/hike) before we finally got eyes on one during our final afternoon in the highlands.
RUSSET-CROWNED MOTMOT (Momotus mexicanus)
We initially had some obscured and frustrating views of one outside Tepoztlan, but the next we saw posed out in the open without seeming to care that we were present)or perhaps showing off just for us), as it finished working on its last meal.
ACORN WOODPECKER (Melanerpes formicivorus)
These charismatic clown woodpeckers were at a couple of places in the highlands, caching nuts and chasing trogons.
GOLDEN-CHEEKED WOODPECKER (Melanerpes chrysogenys) [E]
A really striking looking endemic Melanerpes which saw well in a couple of different locations around the mountains. A flashier version of the Red-bellied/Golden-fronted/Gila woodpeckers of the USA. It almost looks as if it's wearing mascara.
GILA WOODPECKER (Melanerpes uropygialis)
Abundant in Baja.
LADDER-BACKED WOODPECKER (Dryobates scalaris)
A few in the dry country around Tepoztlan and Xochicalco, and one on our final birding morning in Baja.
HAIRY WOODPECKER (SOUTH MEXICAN) (Dryobates villosus jardinii)
We saw this distinctive, brownish bodied, dark-bodied, taxon above Tepoztlan.
STRICKLAND'S WOODPECKER (Dryobates stricklandi) [E]
Yip yip! It took a bit of work, but we eventually tracked down a pair of these inconspicuous endemics on our first morning of birding, south of Mexico City.
NORTHERN FLICKER (RED-SHAFTED) (Colaptes auratus mexicanus)
A few scattered around the highlands.
GILDED FLICKER (Colaptes chrysoides)
Around the palm trees at the lunchtime oasis on our final day of birding.
CRESTED CARACARA (Caracara plancus)
Common around lowland Baja.
AMERICAN KESTREL (Falco sparverius)
Widespread in open areas.
PEREGRINE FALCON (Falco peregrinus)
Jesse spotted one gliding high overhead above Tepoztlan. This adult was likely one of the resident taxon, rather than a long distance migrant from farther north.
GREEN PARAKEET (Psittacara holochlorus) [I]
A couple of groups of these flew over while we birded Cuernavaca, where the species has been introduced.
WHITE-STRIPED WOODCREEPER (Lepidocolaptes leucogaster) [E]
A super cool endemic which we ended up getting some nice views of as it sneakily worked its way up the sides (mostly the backsides from our perspective) of trees up in the pine-oak above Tepoztlan.
ROSE-THROATED BECARD (Pachyramphus aglaiae)
Good looks at males in a couple of locations in the highlights.
NORTHERN BEARDLESS-TYRANNULET (Camptostoma imberbe) [*]
Heard calling a couple of times on the Xochicalco morning, including from the ruins.
TUFTED FLYCATCHER (MEXICAN) (Mitrephanes phaeocercus phaeocercus)
This charming flycatcher was quite common in a couple of our birding spots in the pine-oak.
GREATER PEWEE (Contopus pertinax)
HAMMOND'S FLYCATCHER (Empidonax hammondii)
A few around the pine oak belt, and one vocal bird a bit out of normal habitat down in the dry forest below Tepoztlan.
DUSKY FLYCATCHER (Empidonax oberholseri)
The common Empidonax in the dry forests of Central Mexico.
PINE FLYCATCHER (Empidonax affinis)
A really nice experience with one of these cryptic high elevation Empids towards the end of our morning at Parque las Maravillas.
PACIFIC-SLOPE FLYCATCHER (Empidonax difficilis)
The common wintering Empid in the forested canyons of Baja.
CORDILLERAN FLYCATCHER (Empidonax occidentalis)
Common in pine-oak in the central highlands.
BUFF-BREASTED FLYCATCHER (Empidonax fulvifrons)
One of these surprised us as it worked a cornfield along the trail below Xochicalco.
BLACK PHOEBE (Sayornis nigricans)
Good views in Cuernavaca.
VERMILION FLYCATCHER (Pyrocephalus rubinus)
Abundant in arid areas in the center of the country.
BRIGHT-RUMPED ATTILA (NORTHERN) (Attila spadiceus pacificus)
An unexpected treat was a West Mexican form of Bright-rumped Attila while we birded below Xochicalco. It put on a great show for us in this dry forest, and gave an array of vocalizations, with some being similar to the southern versions of the species, and another long call being very different.
DUSKY-CAPPED FLYCATCHER (Myiarchus tuberculifer)
Best views and listens were at Xochicalco.
ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHER (Myiarchus cinerascens)
Dry forest at Xochicalco, and then abundant on our final morning of birding in Baja.
NUTTING'S FLYCATCHER (NUTTING'S) (Myiarchus nuttingi inquietus)
Dry forest near Tepoztlan.
GREAT KISKADEE (Pitangus sulphuratus)
Encountered in several places (usually by ear) over the course of the first three days.
SOCIAL FLYCATCHER (SOCIAL) (Myiozetetes similis pallidiventris)
Common in settled areas in the center.
TROPICAL KINGBIRD (Tyrannus melancholicus)
Only a few of these seen here and there.
CASSIN'S KINGBIRD (Tyrannus vociferans)
Common in dry forest around Tepoztlan and plenty flying over Xochicalco.
THICK-BILLED KINGBIRD (Tyrannus crassirostris)
Dry country in central Mexico and one above Santiago.
WESTERN KINGBIRD (Tyrannus verticalis)
Dry country around Tepoztlan and Xochicalco.
CHESTNUT-SIDED SHRIKE-VIREO (Vireolanius melitophrys)
A couple of these put on a great show in the pine-oak above Tepoztlan.
GOLDEN VIREO (Vireo hypochryseus) [E]
Dry forest near Tepoztlan.
GRAY VIREO (Vireo vicinior)
One of these was right outside our wren church in canyon above Santiago.
HUTTON'S VIREO (Vireo huttoni)
Multiple spots up in the pine-oak
CASSIN'S VIREO (SAN LUCAS) (Vireo cassinii lucasanus) [E]
We had a couple of these on our final morning of birding. This taxon is sedentary and endemic to the mountains in far southern Baja.
BLUE-HEADED VIREO (Vireo solitarius)
In the town park in Cuernavaca.
WARBLING VIREO (Vireo gilvus)
Several in mixed feeding flocks of migrants in the central highlands.
LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE (Lanius ludovicianus)
A couple of locations, including way high at Parque las Maravillas, and way low down along the western Baja coast.
CALIFORNIA SCRUB-JAY (Aphelocoma californica)
Lots of these gregarious jays on our final day of birding in Baja.
TRANSVOLCANIC JAY (Aphelocoma ultramarina) [E]
We encountered this regionally restricted endemic in at least three locations around the central plateau.
COMMON RAVEN (Corvus corax)
An interesting array of habitats for this adaptable species, from high elevation pine-oak, to Sonoran Desert, to Cabo beachfront.
MEXICAN CHICKADEE (Poecile sclateri)
A couple of spots in the highlands, with the best views being at Parque las Maravillas.
VERDIN (Auriparus flaviceps)
Our first were on Magdalena Island, and then we encountered a couple of others elsewhere in Baja.
NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOW (Stelgidopteryx serripennis)
Flying over the pools in La Paz.
VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOW (Tachycineta thalassina)
The most widespread and common swallow during our travels, from 10,000 foot pine forest down to sea level along the coast.
BARN SWALLOW (Hirundo rustica)
A few in the central highlands and a couple down in Cabo.
BUSHTIT (MELANOTIS GROUP) (Psaltriparus minimus melanotis)
A couple of this distinctive black-masked subspecies on day one, and then heard the next morning as well.
RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET (Corthylio calendula)
Abundant in the forests of the central highlands. Multiples in just about every mixed feeding flock of migrants we encountered.
WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCH (INTERIOR WEST) (Sitta carolinensis mexicana)
A few times in the highlands.
BROWN CREEPER (ALBESCENS/ALTICOLA) (Certhia americana alticola)
Several in the highlands, including singing birds.
BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER (Polioptila caerulea)
Common in dry forests from the coast to the mountains.
CANYON WREN (Catherpes mexicanus)
Heard a few times in the highlands, and seen exceptionally well in the park in Cuernavaca.
HOUSE WREN (NORTHERN) (Troglodytes aedon parkmanii)
One of these drab northern birds was in a brush-pile in dry forest below Tepoztlan.
HOUSE WREN (BROWN-THROATED) (Troglodytes aedon brunneicollis)
Very nice views at Parque las Maravillas
GRASS WREN (Cistothorus platensis) [*]
We heard a couple of these chattering from the bunchgrass on morning one.
MARSH WREN (TOLUCENSIS) (Cistothorus palustris tolucensis)
Abundant at the marsh in Lerma. The subspecific epithet is named for Toluca, the nearest large city to where we observed this incredibly distinctive subspecies. In addition to looking quite different from the widespread taxa that breed to the north, it also has a totally disjunct and rather small breeding range, so this one seems like a good candidate for partition.
GRAY-BARRED WREN (Campylorhynchus megalopterus) [E]
A fun social, gregarious wren of pine oak highlands, we saw them on a couple of occasions in the highlands.
CACTUS WREN (Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus)
Abundant in Baja, where you'd be hard pressed to go an hour without hearing their vocalizations. The most memorable one was the bird that had snuck into the closed church above Santiago, and was alternately perching on the altar and Jesus's bloody head.
HAPPY WREN (Pheugopedius felix)
We finally got very good views of one of these shy wrens in the dry forest below Xochicalco.
BANDED WREN (Thryophilus pleurostictus)
Some brief views in the dry country of the central highlands.
EUROPEAN STARLING (Sturnus vulgaris) [I]
One flew by early on during our first morning and there was much rejoicing.
BLUE MOCKINGBIRD (Melanotis caerulescens) [E]
Very nice views of this notorious skulker in the lower pine-oak above Tepoztlan.
CURVE-BILLED THRASHER (CURVIROSTRE GROUP) (Toxostoma curvirostre curvirostre)
One of the very first birds we heard of the tour, pre-dawn near the bunchgrass, and then we saw one foraging in the shadow of a parked truck on our last afternoon in the highlands.
GRAY THRASHER (Toxostoma cinereum) [E]
Our first Baja Endemic, a pair popped up on a Cardon cactus and watched us watching them for a while during a rest stop on the way to Magdalena Bay.
NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD (Mimus polyglottos)
Common in Baja.
EASTERN BLUEBIRD (Sialia sialis)
Herb photographed one around the golf course, and most of the rest of us were able to catch up with it, or at least one, a couple days later.
WESTERN BLUEBIRD (Sialia mexicana)
Excellent views of some vibrant males on our first morning, and then some more in the highlands near the Monarchs.
BROWN-BACKED SOLITAIRE (Myadestes occidentalis)
ORANGE-BILLED NIGHTINGALE-THRUSH (Catharus aurantiirostris) [*]
RUSSET NIGHTINGALE-THRUSH (Catharus occidentalis) [E]
AMERICAN ROBIN (MIGRATORIUS GROUP) (Turdus migratorius phillipsi)
Common throughout the highlands.
RUFOUS-BACKED ROBIN (Turdus rufopalliatus) [I]
In dry forest around Tepoztlan, usually seen in aggregations near/in a fruiting tree or water.
CEDAR WAXWING (Bombycilla cedrorum)
Wow! We could have predicted we would encounter this species at some point during the tour in the central highlands, but not by the hundreds. This irruptive species is all over the place in the central highlands of Mexico, and we had flocks totaling several hundreds migrating south, as well as flocks of dozens feeding voraciously on Ficus trees.
GRAY SILKY-FLYCATCHER (Ptiliogonys cinereus)
Common in the highlands.
PHAINOPEPLA (Phainopepla nitens)
Seen on both mornings from our hotel in La Paz.
OLIVE WARBLER (Peucedramus taeniatus)
One of our two monotypic families of the tour. These small wood-warbler-like songbirds defy taxonomists, and we saw several of them, both males and females, during our pine forest birding in the highlands.
HOUSE SPARROW (Passer domesticus) [I]
AMERICAN PIPIT (Anthus rubescens)
We had nearly a hundred of these northern migrants flying out of the bunchgrass roosts at Parque las Maravillas on their way out to forage in agricultural fields for the day.
ELEGANT EUPHONIA (Chlorophonia elegantissima)
A very fun bird. These are mistletoe obligates, and we started off with a bang on our first morning of birding, with double digits. We continued to encounter them in good numbers in the highlands, with particularly good views on our final morning up high.
HOUSE FINCH (COMMON) (Haemorhous mexicanus ruberrimus)
The male House Finches we saw in Baja looked much more similar to the ones we're used to in the United States, with more extensive, but not particularly rich, red on the males. These are presumably this taxon which is resident in southern Baja, though I don't know how you'd differentiate them from migrants from the US.
HOUSE FINCH (COMMON) (Haemorhous mexicanus mexicanus)
Widespread throughout the early going. The males of this subspecies are noticeably different from their relatives from north of the border, which much more intense red, which is restricted to the front of the face, unlike the more washed out and more extensive red on males to the north.
PINE SISKIN (Spinus pinus)
We had these familiar small streaky finches on several of our days around the mountains.
BLACK-HEADED SISKIN (Spinus notatus) [*]
One was repeatedly vocalizing from nearby trees as we birded pine-oak edge habitat on our final afternoon in the highlands.
LESSER GOLDFINCH (Spinus psaltria)
STRIPE-HEADED SPARROW (Peucaea ruficauda)
Common and confiding along the dry forest trail we birded outside Tepoztlan on our first afternoon there.
BLACK-CHESTED SPARROW (Peucaea humeralis) [E]
We eventually got some really good views of this gorgeous endemic sparrow of dry forest. It somewhat resembles the also-beautiful Bridled Sparrow that some folks will have encountered farther south in Oaxaca.
CHIPPING SPARROW (Spizella passerina)
A few of these on day one.
BLACK-THROATED SPARROW (Amphispiza bilineata bangsi)
Great views of this most excellent sparrow on the lower slopes of Magdalena Island.
GREEN-STRIPED BRUSHFINCH (Arremon virenticeps) [E]
Beautiful views of several of these great looking brushfinches up at Parque las Maravillas.
YELLOW-EYED JUNCO (MEXICAN) (Junco phaeonotus phaeonotus)
Our constant companion while birding coniferous habitats in the central highlands.
STRIPED SPARROW (Oriturus superciliosus) [E]
Abundant and conspicuous in appropriate habitat throughout the highlands. There were even some of them feeding between the cabins on our hotel grounds in Mexico State.
SAVANNAH SPARROW (Passerculus sandwichensis)
We saw three of the "regular" Savannah Sparrows of the Savannah group on the beach in Cabo. They could have been one of several migrant taxa that breed in the Western US and migrate south for the winter.
SAVANNAH SPARROW (BELDING'S) (Passerculus sandwichensis magdalenae)
The special Belding's Sparrow that we saw in Magdalena Bay was this aptly named taxon which is confined to the coastal area around Magdalena Bay.
SIERRA MADRE SPARROW (Xenospiza baileyi) [E]
It was super cool to run into this hyper local endemic on our very first morning of birding. A couple sat out briefly as the sun started to hit the grass. It made the chilly early morning well worthwhile!
SONG SPARROW (MEXICANA GROUP) (Melospiza melodia mexicana)
A fairly distinctive taxon of this widespread North American species.
LINCOLN'S SPARROW (Melospiza lincolnii)
A common winterer in scrubby habitat the first few days of the tour.
RUSTY-CROWNED GROUND-SPARROW (Melozone kieneri) [E]
Another endemic which gave real nice views, this one in the dry forest outside Tepoztlan.
CANYON TOWHEE (Melozone fusca)
A few around the highlands.
CALIFORNIA TOWHEE (Melozone crissalis)
A few of these on our final morning of birding in the hills of Baja.
SPOTTED TOWHEE (OLIVE-BACKED) (Pipilo maculatus macronyx)
Great views of this distinctive-looking Spotted Towhee (for now) with the olive back.
RUFOUS-CAPPED BRUSHFINCH (Atlapetes pileatus) [E]
Another cooperative endemic at Parque las Maravillas.
CHIHUAHUAN MEADOWLARK (Sturnella lilianae)
This was the first time many of us had seen this species since being newly christened "Chihuahuan Meadowlark" after its split from Eastern Meadowlark.
BLACK-VENTED ORIOLE (Icterus wagleri)
Brief views in the dry country near Tepoztlan.
HOODED ORIOLE (Icterus cucullatus)
The common oriole during our Baja touring.
STREAK-BACKED ORIOLE (Icterus pustulatus)
Repeat sightings in the dry forest and oaks in the highlands.
SCOTT'S ORIOLE (Icterus parisorum)
Quite a few of these smartly patterned black and yellow orioles in Baja.
RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD (Agelaius phoeniceus)
Lerma and La Paz.
BROWN-HEADED COWBIRD (Molothrus ater)
Lots near the flooded fields in La Paz.
BREWER'S BLACKBIRD (Euphagus cyanocephalus)
A couple mixed in with starlings and Brown-headed Cowbirds around La Paz.
GREAT-TAILED GRACKLE (Quiscalus mexicanus)
Common in settled areas of central Mexico.
BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER (Mniotilta varia)
A couple seen in the park in Cuernavaca.
CRESCENT-CHESTED WARBLER (Oreothlypis superciliosa)
Nice views in the pine-oak.
ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER (GRAY-HEADED) (Leiothlypis celata celata/orestera)
We saw a few "gray-headed" type Orange-crowned Warblers in both the central part of the country and Baja (though only one or two of these forms in Baja).
ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER (LUTESCENS) (Leiothlypis celata lutescens)
The uniformly yellow/green ones we saw, mostly around Baja, were this western breeding taxon.
NASHVILLE WARBLER (Leiothlypis ruficapilla)
Abundant in some spots of the central highlands. The most common warbler (by far) during our birding in Cuernavaca.
VIRGINIA'S WARBLER (Leiothlypis virginiae)
MACGILLIVRAY'S WARBLER (Geothlypis tolmiei)
Atypically good views of this oft-shy warbler above Tepoztlan.
BLACK-POLLED YELLOWTHROAT (Geothlypis speciosa) [E]
Very good views (and listens) of this high elevation marsh specialist that happens to also be a range-restricted endemic as we traveled between Morelos and Mexico state.
BELDING'S YELLOWTHROAT (Geothlypis beldingi) [E]
Edgardo helped us find some of these large-billed, very yellow yellowthroats during our final bit of birding in Baja, and then we also heard some that afternoon at the marsh in Cabo.
COMMON YELLOWTHROAT (Geothlypis trichas)
A couple of these were in the marsh with Black-polled Yellowthroat, side-by-side for excellent visual and audio comparisons.
HOODED YELLOWTHROAT (Geothlypis nelsoni) [E]
Ultimately great views of this notorious skulker during our very first morning of birding at 10,000 feet.
YELLOW WARBLER (Setophaga petechia)
One at the park in the middle of Cuernavaca.
YELLOW WARBLER (MANGROVE) (Setophaga petechia castaneiceps)
We had several of these awesome looking sedentary mangrove specialist Yellow Warblers in the mangroves at the edge of Magdalena Bay. We saw several age/sex classes: females lacking most brown on the head, males with fully maroon heads, and some apparently younger males with subdued brown on the faces, including one that had rusty auriculars somewhat like the pattern of a male yellowthroat.
YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER (AUDUBON'S) (Setophaga coronata auduboni)
One of the most common warblers during our time in the mountains, and also common in Baja.
YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER (ALBILORA) (Setophaga dominica albilora)
A surprise in the city park in Cuernavaca was one of these white-lored Yellow-throated Warblers. They are an uncommon winterer in this region, and it was the first that either Jesse or I had seen in this region.
GRACE'S WARBLER (Setophaga graciae)
One in a mixed flock in pines on our first morning at Parque las Maravillas would turn out to be our only one of the tour.
BLACK-THROATED GRAY WARBLER (Setophaga nigrescens)
Scattered about, in both the central highlands and Baja.
TOWNSEND'S WARBLER (Setophaga townsendi)
Mostly confined to our time in the pine-oak and pine forests.
HERMIT WARBLER (Setophaga occidentalis)
An obliging one of these was atypically hanging out very low (below eye level) and in good view while we birded above Tepoztlan, unlike the other few we saw, which were all doing the species' usual treetop thing that requires lots of squinting and craning of the neck.
RUFOUS-CAPPED WARBLER (RUFIFRONS GROUP) (Basileuterus rufifrons rufifrons)
One or two of these in pine-oak above Tepoztlan.
GOLDEN-BROWED WARBLER (Basileuterus belli)
Maybe the most crowd-pleasing of our impressive warbler haul were the pair of these eye-popping birds with their angelic yellow glows and bold rusty face patterns in the pine-oak above Tepoztlan.
WILSON'S WARBLER (Cardellina pusilla)
Frequent in the central highlands.
WILSON'S WARBLER (CHRYSEOLA) (Cardellina pusilla chryseola)
The Wilson's Warblers that we saw well around Baja were quite vibrant in their faces, lining up well with this common but declining coastal US/Canada breeding taxon.
RED WARBLER (Cardellina rubra) [E]
Perhaps the warbler most associated with Mexico, and always a crowd pleaser. We had very nice views of a couple of these above Tepoztlan.
PAINTED REDSTART (Myioborus pictus)
Excellent views of one above Tepoztlan.
SLATE-THROATED REDSTART (Myioborus miniatus miniatus)
Repeated excellent views of this showy whitestart during the central montane section of the tour.
HEPATIC TANAGER (NORTHERN) (Piranga flava hepatica)
A female was pulverizing a huge green katydid along the trail above Tepoztlan.
SUMMER TANAGER (Piranga rubra)
A few times over the first couple of days, including excellent views of a female or young male in dry forest near Tepoztlan.
WESTERN TANAGER (Piranga ludoviciana)
Common and widespread from sea level to the high mountains.
FLAME-COLORED TANAGER (Piranga bidentata)
Real nice looking male in with a big mixed flock in the pine-oak above Tepoztlan.
NORTHERN CARDINAL (Cardinalis cardinalis)
A few around La Paz and Santiago.
YELLOW GROSBEAK (NORTHERN) (Pheucticus chrysopeplus chrysopeplus)
A nice bonus bird surprise was one of these winter scarcities coming in to the fruiting fig in the parking lot at Xochicalco. It then posed almost directly over our heads for all the ogle.
BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK (Pheucticus melanocephalus)
Plenty in the pine-oak, and also some in the Baja foothills.
BLUE GROSBEAK (Passerina caerulea)
Open areas in the central highlands.
LAZULI BUNTING (Passerina amoena)
One or two females or young birds during the morning dry forest birding near Xochicalco, and then a couple more in the foothills of Baja.
INDIGO BUNTING (Passerina cyanea)
Common around Tepoztlan.
VARIED BUNTING (Passerina versicolor)
One or two seen around Xochicalco.
CINNAMON-BELLIED FLOWERPIERCER (Diglossa baritula baritula)
Excellent views of these in the mountains of Mexico state, with mostly males seen.
EASTERN COTTONTAIL (Sylvilagus floridanus)
One of these on our first morning our in the field of cut hay.
MEXICAN GRAY SQUIRREL (Sciurus aureogaster)
Several of these on multiple days in the central highlands.
GRAY WHALE (Eschrichtius robustus)
Wow, just wow. No superlatives will do to describe how moving and magical our headline experience with Gray Whales in Magdalena Bay was. Beyond amazing.
CALIFORNIA SEA LION (Zalophus californianus)
Several of these were floating and frolicking in Magdalena Bay as we headed out to be with the Gray Whales.
SMOOTHTAIL DEVIL RAY (Mobula munkiana)
We saw lots of these breaching out of the water off the beach during our last birding foray at the closed river mouth at San Jose del Cabo. Super cool! This species is known by several common names, including Manta de Monk and Munk's Pygmy Devil Ray, and they often travel in large groups - one could only imagine how many were beneath the surface given the 10-20 that we saw repeatedly launching themselves out of the water.
MONARCH BUTTERFLY (Danaus plexippus)
Another stupendous experience. The short, steep, dusty hike at the end of our trip up was worth every step. Watching this biomass of butterflies start waking up and extricate themselves from their big bushels to go and fly around and nectar for the day was amazing.
Totals for the tour: 272 bird taxa and 4 mammal taxa