Way down on southern Mexico’s Pacific coast is a beautiful little port city of Huatulco (population about 50,000) with huge patches of dry forest on undeveloped hillsides where tropical resident birds and North American migrants congregate in the winter. I would definitely spend more time here too, but our hours off the ship were very limited on this trip (4.5 hours). Just enough time to find our bird guide, Cornelio Ramos Gabriel, and take a quick trip into the dry forest to his own acreage where he is growing plants to reforest a burned area and has a watering hole that attracts the local birds.
The White-throated Magpie-Jay forms a superspecies* with its very closely related congener, the Black-throated Jay, with whom it hybridizes in this part of coastal Mexico. These birds are found in coastal dry to humid forests along the Mexican and Central American coast, and are highly visible and very noisy — as Jays often are. (*Superspecies are two very closely related species that have only recently diverged from one another, but will still interbreed in areas where their ranges overlap. Birds like Western and Eastern Meadowlarks, Carolina and Black-capped Chickadees, and Plain and Tufted Titmouse are examples of superspecies.)
I wouldn’t have imagined we could see so many birds in this dry forest, but with the keen eyes and ears of our guide Cornelio, we got some good looks at several of the striking avian inhabitants of this area.
Pale-billed Woodpeckers are the size of our Pileated and very flashy, with their all red heads, yellow eyes, and striped breast and legs. A pair of them flew between trees right above us, probing for insects in the dead branches.
Boat-billed Flycatchers have (as their name implies) very large bills. This one caught a wasp, and squeezed extra hard on that poison-filled abdomen before swallowing.
Spot-breasted Orioles have a distinctive yellow shoulder stripe and spots next to their black throat feathers. Unusual for Orioles, the females are the same color as the males (instead of duller colored) and will also sing, although their song is not as rich as that of the males.
Cinnamon Hummingbirds are also found in the dry coastal forests of Mexico and Central America where they apparently can thrive on nectar and insects they find among the scattered blossoms of various trees and shrubs, even in the dry season.
Citreoline Trogons are endemic to the coastal forests of western Mexico (i.e., found no where else in the world). This bird was a tease — it would sit out in the middle of the trail 100 yards away, inviting us to photograph it from too far away, and then quickly disappearing into the shrubbery when we got closer. These birds are usually found in semi-arid scrub, thorny forests and brushlands, and occasionally in plantations, where they hunt for fruit and insects. They excavate nest sites in arboreal termite nests, which eventually create cavities for other hole-nesting birds.
This little Pacific Screech Owl was resting in its roost/nest hole, which Cornelio told us had been used for several years to bring off many broods of Screech Owl offspring. This race of Western (or Eastern) Screech Owl is found only in the Pacific coastal forests of Mexico and Central America, and its call differs from other Screech Owls.
Cornelio’s conservation management area features candelabra cactus, among many other dry forest plants. This site is the endpoint of his Candelabra trail and has running water, picnic table, shower, and restroom, as well as birdbath (center back of the photo) which brings in some interesting small birds.
Orange-breasted Buntings showed up at the birdbath within about 5 minutes of filing it. In the dry forest, this is a resource birds readily come to.
This male Blue Bunting was such a dark iridescent indigo color, it almost looked black until the sun hit those blue feathers. Interestingly, it is not closely related to Indigo Buntings although they are in the same (Cardinal) family. It inhabits dense, shrubby vegetation in both Pacific and Caribbean coastal forests.
Huatulco harbor with its assortment of hotels and condos — far less in number than in Puerto Vallarta. A lovely location for spending quality time in the tropics.
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Wonderful photos, Sue, of some really cool-looking birds. The screech owl is one bird where it definitely helped to have a guide. It seems almost impossible to find their roosts unless you know where they are.
We were lucky to get a good bird guide in Huatulco, and that makes all the difference in what you can see. Found him on Facebook!
WOW! This my fave blog of yours! Love all the bird pics! Great work! Keep them COMING!
Amie Sue, there will be some amazing birds coming up in the next few posts. Looking for an interesting place to visit — try Huatulco!!
Wow, Sue! Cruises can be frustrating, as you say. But your guide made all the difference. Amazing! Thanks for the photos — and the tease to travel again.
Thanks, Ellen, I’m glad you enjoyed the travelogue!
Really amazing photos, Sue. Loved learning about some new birds.
Thanks, Eileen, this was a really nice intro to the birds of southern Mexico. I would like to come back here some day.