A Field Guides Birding Tours Report

Mexico: Oaxaca Valley I 2022

March 5-12, 2022 with Chris Benesh & Micah Riegner guiding

Oaxaca is one of those delightful tours that never gets old. I’ve done the tour now four times and I always look forward to doing it again. In our week of birding, we packed in numerous fascinating habitats starting in the low thorn scrub adjacent to Oaxaca City, then going up to the moist moss-covered pine forest of Cerro San Felipe, the low cactus desert at KM77 and the dry pine belt above Teotitlan del Valle. We saw some impressive birds, ate some fantastic food, and visited several iconic archaeological sites.

Our first morning in the thorn scrub was far beyond what we had hoped for. Within a couple hours we saw most of the Oaxaca Central Valley specialties like Dwarf and Slaty Vireos, Ocellated Thrasher, Bridled and Oaxaca Sparrows and Nutting’s and Pileated Flycatchers, Lesser Roadrunner and even a Happy Wren. In the mountains above Teotitlan del Valle we saw our first of many Mountain Trogons, Gray-barred Wrens and a super cooperative Chestnut-sided Shrike Vireo that sang from the top of a pine. On Cerro San Felipe we found ourselves amidst a flock of sociable Dwarf Jays, Red and Golden-browed warblers and cooperative pair of Strong-billed Woodcreepers. We also stumbled onto a very special lizard, the Oaxaca Arboreal Alligator Lizard, endemic to that mountain range. It belongs to the genus Abronia that includes several fancy alligator lizards of high isolated pine forests throughout central and southern Mexico. Our morning at KM77 on the highway to Tehuantepec brought us several new birds for the tour including the Sclater’s form of Rufous-naped Wren, Green-fronted Hummingbird, Russet-crowned Motmot, a pair of Lesser Roadrunners and boisterous flock of White-throated Magpie-Jays.

What makes this tour so special are all the cultural, historical, and culinary elements woven into the birding. We were exposed to some delicious dishes, from tlayudas, to tasajo, alambre de hongos to pollo con mole, visited several iconic archaeological sites including Yagul, Mitla, and Monte Alban, and witnessed first-hand how rugs are dyed and woven in the town of Teotitlan del Valle.

There are numerous people to thank for the success of the tour. First, we’d like to thank Nicole in the Field Guides office for making all our reservations, our fabulous drivers Arturo and Freddy, and the señoritas at Teotitlan del Valle for their animated rug-making demonstration. Chris and I would like to thank you all for joining us on this rich week of birding—we look forward to seeing you again soon!


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

Anatidae (Ducks, Geese, and Waterfowl)

BLUE-WINGED TEAL (Spatula discors)

Several were at Presa Piedra Azul above Teotitlan del Valle.

RING-NECKED DUCK (Aythya collaris)

Also at Presa Piedra Azul.

Cracidae (Guans, Chachalacas, and Curassows)

WEST MEXICAN CHACHALACA (Ortalis poliocephala) [E]

We saw some our first morning in the dry scrub near Oaxaca City.

Podicipedidae (Grebes)

LEAST GREBE (Tachybaptus dominicus)

Abundant on Presa Piedra Azul.

PIED-BILLED GREBE (Podilymbus podiceps)

Columbidae (Pigeons and Doves)

ROCK PIGEON (Columba livia) [I]

BAND-TAILED PIGEON (Patagioenas fasciata)

We encountered a few throughout our time in the highlands.

EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE (Streptopelia decaocto) [I]

INCA DOVE (Columbina inca)

COMMON GROUND DOVE (Columbina passerina)

WHITE-TIPPED DOVE (Leptotila verreauxi) [*]

Unfortunately this remained a heard only.

WHITE-WINGED DOVE (Zenaida asiatica)

Fairly common in the lower elevations.

MOURNING DOVE (Zenaida macroura)

Cuculidae (Cuckoos)

LESSER ROADRUNNER (Geococcyx velox)

We bumped into this species a few times during the tour. Our best observations were at KM 77 when a pair walked in.

Caprimulgidae (Nightjars and Allies)

MEXICAN WHIP-POOR-WILL (Antrostomus arizonae)

One was right off the road the evening we went up Cerro San Felipe.

Trochilidae (Hummingbirds)

RIVOLI'S HUMMINGBIRD (Eugenes fulgens)

One visited the feeders at the Colibri Restaurant.

PLAIN-CAPPED STARTHROAT (Heliomaster constantii)

Hawking for insects at Presa Piedra Azul.

BLUE-THROATED MOUNTAIN-GEM (Lampornis clemenciae)

Visiting the feeders at the Colibri Restaurant.

BEAUTIFUL HUMMINGBIRD (Calothorax pulcher) [E]

This species is almost indistinguishable from the more northern Lucifer Hummingbird. We encountered a few females visiting the flowers at Yagul.

DUSKY HUMMINGBIRD (Cynanthus sordidus) [E]

The most common hummingbird in the lowlands. We encountered them regularly.

GREEN-FRONTED HUMMINGBIRD (CINNAMON-SIDED) (Amazilia viridifrons wagneri) [E]

The Violet-crown replacement in southern Oaxaca. We saw a few at KM77.

WHITE-EARED HUMMINGBIRD (Hylocharis leucotis)

The most common hummer in the highlands. Our best views were at Rio Verde above Teotitlan del Valle.

Rallidae (Rails, Gallinules, and Coots)

AMERICAN COOT (Fulica americana)

Charadriidae (Plovers and Lapwings)

KILLDEER (Charadrius vociferus)

Scolopacidae (Sandpipers and Allies)

LEAST SANDPIPER (Calidris minutilla)

On the mud surrounding Presa Piedra Azul.

SPOTTED SANDPIPER (Actitis macularius)

Ardeidae (Herons, Egrets, and Bitterns)

GREAT EGRET (Ardea alba)

SNOWY EGRET (Egretta thula)

LITTLE BLUE HERON (Egretta caerulea)

We saw one a couple times at Presa Piedra Azul.

CATTLE EGRET (Bubulcus ibis)

Cathartidae (New World Vultures)

BLACK VULTURE (Coragyps atratus)

TURKEY VULTURE (Cathartes aura)

Accipitridae (Hawks, Eagles, and Kites)

WHITE-TAILED KITE (Elanus leucurus)

We stopped for one along the side of the road near Arkanhel.

SHARP-SHINNED HAWK (Accipiter striatus)

COOPER'S HAWK (Accipiter cooperii)

WHITE-TAILED HAWK (Geranoaetus albicaudatus)

We had great views of a flyover adult our first morning and we stopped for a juvenile on the road to Arkanhel.

ZONE-TAILED HAWK (Buteo albonotatus)

One circled over the road to Teotitlan del Valle.

RED-TAILED HAWK (Buteo jamaicensis)

Strigidae (Owls)

FERRUGINOUS PYGMY-OWL (Glaucidium brasilianum)

It was cool to watch one at KM77 being mobbed by Streak-backed Orioles and Green-fronted Hummingbirds.

Trogonidae (Trogons)

MOUNTAIN TROGON (Trogon mexicanus)

I was surprised at how many we saw--usually it takes more effort to see them!

Momotidae (Motmots)

RUSSET-CROWNED MOTMOT (Momotus mexicanus)

What a great view we had at KM77! This species is almost endemic to Mexico but a few spill over into neighboring Guatemala.

Alcedinidae (Kingfishers)

BELTED KINGFISHER (Megaceryle alcyon)

One patrolled the shoreline of Presa Piedra Azul.

Picidae (Woodpeckers)


We stumbled on a few in the riparian corridor above Presa Piedra Azul.

ACORN WOODPECKER (Melanerpes formicivorus)

A yard bird for many of the Arizona people on the tour! We saw a few in the oak forest above Teotitlan del Valle.

GRAY-BREASTED WOODPECKER (Melanerpes hypopolius) [E]

Common in the cactus forest at KM77.

GOLDEN-FRONTED WOODPECKER (WEST MEXICO) (Melanerpes aurifrons polygrammus)

It took us a little while to finally lock on one at KM77.


HAIRY WOODPECKER (SOUTH MEXICAN) (Dryobates villosus jardinii)

NORTHERN FLICKER (RED-SHAFTED) (Colaptes auratus mexicanus)

Falconidae (Falcons and Caracaras)

CRESTED CARACARA (Caracara cheriway)

AMERICAN KESTREL (Falco sparverius)

MERLIN (Falco columbarius)

One blasted through the canyon below Presa Piedra Azul and in a split second it was gone.

Furnariidae (Ovenbirds and Woodcreepers)

STRONG-BILLED WOODCREEPER (CENTRAL AMERICAN) (Xiphocolaptes promeropirhynchus sclateri)

One of my favorite birds of the tour. We went to a spot where Chris had seen it in 2004 and sure enough two came in!

WHITE-STRIPED WOODCREEPER (Lepidocolaptes leucogaster) [E]

We spotted one on an oak trunk at Rio Verde.

SPOT-CROWNED WOODCREEPER (NORTHERN) (Lepidocolaptes affinis affinis)

We saw several at the Cabeza de Vaca Trail and the Yuvila Road.

Tityridae (Tityras and Allies)

ROSE-THROATED BECARD (Pachyramphus aglaiae)

There was a pair amidst the flock of Dwarf Jays in the Cerro San Felipe.

Tyrannidae (Tyrant Flycatchers)


I was surprised to see these up in the mountains. I tend to think of this as a low elevation species.

GREENISH ELAENIA (WEST MEXICO) (Myiopagis viridicata jaliscensis)

We found one at the riparian area near Presa Piedra Azul.

PILEATED FLYCATCHER (Xenotriccus mexicanus) [E]

This is a species that's easy to miss on a tour. We were thrilled to see one our first morning of birding the dry forest near Oaxaca City.

TUFTED FLYCATCHER (MEXICAN) (Mitrephanes phaeocercus phaeocercus)

We caught up with these our second day above Teotitlan del Valle.

GREATER PEWEE (Contopus pertinax) [*]

LEAST FLYCATCHER (Empidonax minimus)

It was great to be able to study one at KM77.

HAMMOND'S FLYCATCHER (Empidonax hammondii)

We saw a few of these wintering birds up in the mountains.

CORDILLERAN FLYCATCHER (Empidonax occidentalis)

BLACK PHOEBE (Sayornis nigricans)

SAY'S PHOEBE (Sayornis saya)

VERMILION FLYCATCHER (Pyrocephalus rubinus)

DUSKY-CAPPED FLYCATCHER (Myiarchus tuberculifer)

Seen in the oak zone above Teotitlan del Valle.

ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHER (Myiarchus cinerascens)

There were a couple in the dry forest outside Oaxaca City.

NUTTING'S FLYCATCHER (NUTTING'S) (Myiarchus nuttingi inquietus)

Abundant in the dry forest. We had multiple scope views of this West Mexico specialty.

GREAT KISKADEE (Pitangus sulphuratus)

SOCIAL FLYCATCHER (VERMILION-CROWNED) (Myiozetetes similis texensis)

TROPICAL KINGBIRD (Tyrannus melancholicus)

CASSIN'S KINGBIRD (Tyrannus vociferans)

Wintering birds encountered throughout the tour.

THICK-BILLED KINGBIRD (Tyrannus crassirostris)

We had superb views our first morning of birding outside Oaxaca.

WESTERN KINGBIRD (Tyrannus verticalis)

Vireonidae (Vireos, Shrike-Babblers, and Erpornis)

CHESTNUT-SIDED SHRIKE-VIREO (Vireolanius melitophrys)

One of the top moments of the tour! We watched it singing from the top of a pine above Teotitlan del Valle.

GOLDEN VIREO (Vireo hypochryseus) [E]

Our last of the endemic vireos, we caught up with one at the Pollo Niño turnoff.

SLATY VIREO (Vireo brevipennis) [E]

A stunning Mexican endemic. We saw one our first morning of birding the thorn scrub near Oaxaca City and later on above Arkanhel.

DWARF VIREO (Vireo nelsoni) [E]

This strange kinglet look-alike we found in a few spots our first morning of birding the thorn scrub outside Oaxaca City.

HUTTON'S VIREO (Vireo huttoni)

Common in the pine-oak zone.

BLUE-HEADED VIREO (Vireo solitarius)

We spotted one or first morning.

PLUMBEOUS VIREO (Vireo plumbeus)

We saw a couple "Plumbeous" type residents in the pine oak zone. They have a lot more yellow than the Plumbeous Vireos that breed in the US.

WARBLING VIREO (Vireo gilvus)

Lots of migrants were passing through during the week.

Laniidae (Shrikes)

LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE (Lanius ludovicianus)

Corvidae (Crows, Jays, and Magpies)

DWARF JAY (Cyanolyca nanus) [E]

This was hands down my best experience with this species. We watched a flock for almost a half hour in the moss-draped forest of Cerro San Felipe.


We were not disappointed with our views of this species at KM77!

STELLER'S JAY (CENTRAL AMERICAN) (Cyanocitta stelleri coronata)

WOODHOUSE'S SCRUB-JAY (SUMICHRAST'S) (Aphelocoma woodhouseii sumichrasti)

The population here in Oaxaca is much brighter blue than the ones in Arizona and will probably split in the coming years.

COMMON RAVEN (Corvus corax)

Paridae (Tits, Chickadees, and Titmice)

MEXICAN CHICKADEE (Poecile sclateri)

They were in a mixed feeding flock at the Cabeza de Vaca trail.

BRIDLED TITMOUSE (Baeolophus wollweberi)

In the oaks above Teotitlan del Valle.

Hirundinidae (Swallows)

NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOW (Stelgidopteryx serripennis)

VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOW (Tachycineta thalassina)

BARN SWALLOW (Hirundo rustica)

Aegithalidae (Long-tailed Tits)

BUSHTIT (MELANOTIS GROUP) (Psaltriparus minimus melanotis)

The bushtits south of the border have a cool dark mask.

Regulidae (Kinglets)


RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET (Regulus calendula)

Sittidae (Nuthatches)

WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCH (INTERIOR WEST) (Sitta carolinensis mexicana)

Certhiidae (Treecreepers)

BROWN CREEPER (ALBESCENS/ALTICOLA) (Certhia americana alticola)

Polioptilidae (Gnatcatchers)

BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER (Polioptila caerulea)

WHITE-LORED GNATCATCHER (Polioptila albiloris)

These were in crisp breeding plumage at KM77.

Troglodytidae (Wrens)

ROCK WREN (Salpinctes obsoletus)

There seemed to be one per temple at Monte Alban.

CANYON WREN (Catherpes mexicanus)

HOUSE WREN (BROWN-THROATED) (Troglodytes aedon brunneicollis)

We saw some on the Yuvila road.

BEWICK'S WREN (MEXICANUS GROUP) (Thryomanes bewickii mexicanus)

GRAY-BARRED WREN (Campylorhynchus megalopterus) [E]

One of my personal favorites in Oaxaca. We found a nest of these high canopy wrens and watched several adults bringing in food and doing housekeeping activities.

RUFOUS-NAPED WREN (SCLATER'S) (Campylorhynchus rufinucha humilis)

A noisy pair showed well at KM77.

BOUCARD'S WREN (Campylorhynchus jocosus) [E]

Our best views of this Central Valley specialty were on the side trail below Monte Alban.

HAPPY WREN (Pheugopedius felix)

A recent colonist to the Central Valley. We saw one our first morning near Oaxaca City.

GRAY-BREASTED WOOD-WREN (CENTRAL AMERICAN) (Henicorhina leucophrys mexicana)

The Cabeza de Vaca trail is a good place to see this species. We saw pair in a gully cluttered with moss and epiphytes.

Mimidae (Mockingbirds and Thrashers)

BLUE MOCKINGBIRD (Melanotis caerulescens) [E]

A surprisingly cooperative individual sat up for us at Monte Alban.

CURVE-BILLED THRASHER (CURVIROSTRE GROUP) (Toxostoma curvirostre curvirostre)

The common thrasher in the open fields around Oaxaca City.

OCELLATED THRASHER (Toxostoma ocellatum) [E]

We had outstanding views of this skulker our first morning outside Oaxaca City.

NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD (Mimus polyglottos)

Turdidae (Thrushes and Allies)

BROWN-BACKED SOLITAIRE (Myadestes occidentalis)

One of the best sounds in the mountains of Mexico. We encountered several throughout the tour.


RUSSET NIGHTINGALE-THRUSH (Catharus occidentalis) [E]

It took some patience to finally see this elusive thrush in the riparian area near Presa Piedra Azul.

HERMIT THRUSH (Catharus guttatus)

BLACK THRUSH (Turdus infuscatus)

We had brief looks at one on the Yuvila Road.

AMERICAN ROBIN (MIGRATORIUS GROUP) (Turdus migratorius phillipsi)

RUFOUS-BACKED ROBIN (Turdus rufopalliatus) [I]

We had our best views of this species in Monte Alban.

Ptiliogonatidae (Silky-flycatchers)

GRAY SILKY-FLYCATCHER (Ptiliogonys cinereus)

Ubiquitous throughout the tour.

Peucedramidae (Olive Warbler)

OLIVE WARBLER (Peucedramus taeniatus)

We saw one at a nest at Cerro San Felipe.

Passeridae (Old World Sparrows)

HOUSE SPARROW (Passer domesticus) [I]

Motacillidae (Wagtails and Pipits)

AMERICAN PIPIT (Anthus rubescens)

A few perused the mud at Presa Piedra Azul.

Fringillidae (Finches, Euphonias, and Allies)

ELEGANT EUPHONIA (Euphonia elegantissima)

One of my favorite birds in Mexico. We encountered a few in the oak zone throughout the tour.

HOUSE FINCH (COMMON) (Haemorhous mexicanus roseipectus)

RED CROSSBILL (Loxia curvirostra stricklandi)

BLACK-HEADED SISKIN (Spinus notatus)

The Yuvila Road is often a good place to see them. We had a few amidst the glorious mossy forest.

LESSER GOLDFINCH (Spinus psaltria)

Passerellidae (New World Sparrows)

BRIDLED SPARROW (Peucaea mystacalis) [E]

We couldn't have asked for better views of this spectacular Mexican endemic our first morning of birding near Oaxaca City.

CHIPPING SPARROW (Spizella passerina)

CLAY-COLORED SPARROW (Spizella pallida)

It was cool to see the flock out in the grass near Presa Piedra Azul.

LARK SPARROW (Chondestes grammacus)


The road above Teotitlan del Valle proved to be good for this skulker. We had fabulous looks at a pair.

YELLOW-EYED JUNCO (Junco phaeonotus)

LINCOLN'S SPARROW (Melospiza lincolnii)

WHITE-THROATED TOWHEE (Melozone albicollis) [E]

This Canyon Towhee look-alike is quite common throughout the Central Valley.

OAXACA SPARROW (Aimophila notosticta) [E]

Theses can be tricky, but we managed to get them our very first morning of birding.

SPOTTED TOWHEE (MACULATUS GROUP) (Pipilo maculatus oaxacae)

COLLARED TOWHEE (Pipilo ocai) [E]

The pair at the Cabeza de Vaca Trail put on a good show for us.

RUFOUS-CAPPED BRUSHFINCH (Atlapetes pileatus) [E]

Icteridae (Troupials and Allies)

EASTERN MEADOWLARK (Sturnella magna)

BLACK-VENTED ORIOLE (Icterus wagleri)

STREAK-BACKED ORIOLE (Icterus pustulatus)

These were plentiful at KM77.

BULLOCK'S ORIOLE (Icterus bullockii)

One was foraging in a flowering Erythrina at Pollo Niño.

SCOTT'S ORIOLE (Icterus parisorum)

One sat at the top of a tall pine at Cerro San Felipe.

GREAT-TAILED GRACKLE (Quiscalus mexicanus)

Parulidae (New World Warblers)


CRESCENT-CHESTED WARBLER (Oreothlypis superciliosa)

Fairly common in the feeding flocks in the pine/oak zone.

TENNESSEE WARBLER (Leiothlypis peregrina)

We happened upon one in one of the ornamental trees at Mitla.

ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER (Leiothlypis celata)

NASHVILLE WARBLER (Leiothlypis ruficapilla)

One of the most common migrants of the tour.

VIRGINIA'S WARBLER (Leiothlypis virginiae)

We saw one in the dry forest of KM77.

MACGILLIVRAY'S WARBLER (Geothlypis tolmiei)

YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER (AUDUBON'S) (Setophaga coronata auduboni)

GRACE'S WARBLER (Setophaga graciae)

Fairly scarce in this part of Mexico. We lucked out with one in a mixed feeding flock our last afternoon at La Cieneguilla.

BLACK-THROATED GRAY WARBLER (Setophaga nigrescens)

TOWNSEND'S WARBLER (Setophaga townsendi)

HERMIT WARBLER (Setophaga occidentalis)

RUFOUS-CAPPED WARBLER (RUFIFRONS GROUP) (Basileuterus rufifrons rufifrons)

GOLDEN-BROWED WARBLER (Basileuterus belli)

A pair did loops around us at a bend in the road in Cerro San Felipe.

WILSON'S WARBLER (Cardellina pusilla)

RED-FACED WARBLER (Cardellina rubrifrons)

We had nice close looks at a pair of these winter visitors in a feeding flock above Teotitlan del Valle.

RED WARBLER (Cardellina rubra) [E]

This one almost always gets voted best bird of the tour and this year was no exception. It was great to see it with Janet Moore, who found the Red Warbler that appeared at Mount Lemmon.

PAINTED REDSTART (Myioborus pictus)

The dry oak forest above Teotitlan del Valle is often a good place for these.

SLATE-THROATED REDSTART (Myioborus miniatus miniatus)

The more common redstart of the tour. Seen most days we birded in the mountains.

Cardinalidae (Cardinals and Allies)

HEPATIC TANAGER (NORTHERN) (Piranga flava hepatica)

SUMMER TANAGER (Piranga rubra)

WESTERN TANAGER (Piranga ludoviciana)

RED-HEADED TANAGER (Piranga erythrocephala) [E]

Steve alerted us to a small flock in a drainage above Teotitlan del Valle. They were somewhat uncooperative, but after a while we all managed to get a look.

BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK (Pheucticus melanocephalus)

BLUE GROSBEAK (Passerina caerulea)

INDIGO BUNTING (Passerina cyanea)

ORANGE-BREASTED BUNTING (Passerina leclancherii) [E]

We had a brief appearance of a female at KM77.

VARIED BUNTING (Passerina versicolor)

The more common bunting at KM77.

Thraupidae (Tanagers and Allies)

CINNAMON-RUMPED SEEDEATER (Sporophila torqueola torqueola) [E]

A female made a brief appearance at Pollo Niño.


EASTERN COTTONTAIL (Sylvilagus floridanus)

MEXICAN GRAY SQUIRREL (Sciurus aureogaster)

The common squirrel at our hotel.



I've always dreamed of seeing any member of this genus and my dream came true when one crossed the road at Cerro San Felipe.

Totals for the tour: 178 bird taxa and 2 mammal taxa