Day 1: Following our drive from Tucson, we arrived in San Carlos on the Gulf of California just north of Guaymas. With enough daylight for a couple quick stops, we had great looks at a group of Surfbirds coming in to roost in a rocky cove. Then we headed to Estero Soldado and were treated to an impressive array of estuary birds including a large group of Elegant Terns and some stunning Roseate Spoonbills. Just after sunset, we capped the evening with ultra close views of Ridgeway's Rails that emerged from the mangroves in response to playback
Day 2: Our morning focused on desert birding in a local canyon. Wintering songbirds such as Lazuli Bunting and Gray Vireo were present as well as permanent resident Rufous-winged Sparrow. We then departed south for Alamos with a lunch stop at Bahia Guasimas. More estuary birds including Wilson's Plovers chasing crabs on the exposed mud, hundreds of Marbled Godwits preening and several breeding plumaged Gull-billed Terns, the only ones of our trip. Our lunch at a local palapa seafood restaurant was shared, literally, with a bold group of Large-billed Savannah Sparrows that seemed to be holding their own against the local gang of House Sparrows. We continued south for 3 hours to Alamos, getting our first glimpse of tropical deciduous forest (TDF) a few kilometers west of town. After dinner on the grounds of our lodge El Pedregal, we were able to hear Western Screech Owl and Buff-collared Nightjar.
Day 3: After pre-dawn breakfast, we were off to nearby Arroyo Aduana. Although close to civilization, this drainage on the northeast flank of Sierra de Alamos has not been degraded. Our half day hike produced birding highlights such as Elegant Trogon, Scrub Euphonia, Black-vented Oriole, Russet-crowned Motmot, and Lilac-crowned Parrot. The 20 or so parrots kept landing and feeding in a large fig, at times spooking the Rufous-backed Robins already attracted to the fruit. The Lilac-crowned is a declining endemic of West Mexico so this was a special treat to watch them at length. Our encounter with the motmot was memorable as well-it's dazzling combo of vivid colors blending surprisingly well into the surrounding thorn forest. After lunch we relaxed under the lodge palapa watching the local Hooded and Streak-backed Orioles and Varied Buntings visiting the watering dish and feeders. Yellow Grosbeak and Blue Mockingbird also put in surprise appearances.
Day 4: Earliest departure (4:30am) of the trip. The group was good natured about the start time and tolerant of the bumpy two hour drive (all of 18 kilometers) to Reserva Monte Mojino. The reserve is a growing collection of former ranches now owned by Nature and Culture International. Our first reward for sleep depravation was watching two pairs of Military Macaws sailing off their cliffside roost just after sunrise. This species is near the northern edge of its range in southeast Sonora. We then descended to the Rio Cuchujaqui the northwest most tributary of the Rio Fuerte which drains the entire Copper Canyon region. In this wild area near the Chihuahua border, jaguars still roam. Our birding continued with great looks at a vocal Bright-rumped Attila, another tropical species at the north end of its range. During our return drive to Alamos, we crossed paths with a curious pair of Purplish-backed Jays, one even carrying a lizard in its beak.
Day 5: travel day to El Fuerte
Day 6: Here in El Fuerte, former Spanish colonial capital of Sinaloa, we are at the mouth of the Rio Fuerte, which drains the 5 canyons of the Copper Canyon Region. Before hopping on the train destined for the high country we have some sunrise time to bird along the river. Rufous-bellied Chachalacas are teed up across the river, with Great Kisdadees and Social Flycatchers chattering on our side. Many herons, egrets, and cormorants are moving in their morning commutes. White-collared Seedeaters show nicely in a nearby brushy area. Off to the train station. With some time before the train arrives we find some of the local Ruddy Ground Doves. Then our train ride takes us through the spectacular west side of the Sierra Madre Occidental. Words fall short to describe the grandeur passing before our eyes. Early afternoon finds us in pine/oak country at the Bahuichivo station. A short transfer brings us to Hotel Paraiso del Oso near Cerocahui. After lunch we have time for some birding along the nearby creek. Regulars such as Acorn Woodpecker, Grace's Warbler, and Painted Redstart greet us as well as a family of Spotted Wrens that have taken us residence at the lodge. After dinner a night walk allows us to hear both Whiskered Screech Owl and Mexican Whip-poor-will.
Day 7: An adventurous day beginning with the ascent over Mesa de Arturo. The early morning flocks dazzle us with great looks at Slate-throated Redstart, Crescent-chested Warbler, Scott's Oriole, Olive Warbler, and Black-headed Siskin. After several unsuccessful attempts, we finally call in a male Mountain Trogon just before our mile descent into Barranca de Urique. After arriving in the town of Urique, we settle in at the rustic Entre Amigos Hostal. Some great birding can happen right on the grounds and today one participant photographs a late wintering Orange-billed Nightingale Thrush. Later, on the Naranjo road we get decent looks at Five-striped Sparrow but a calling Colima Pygmy Owl insists on remaining out of sight.
Day 8: Today we are off to Arroyo Hacienda, a spectacular steep-walled canyon just outside Guapalaina, a village 25 minutes south of Urique. At 1,800' elevation, this area hosts many subtropical species-one of the only spots in the state of Chihuahua that can make that claim. Berylline Hummingbirds are everywhere as well as Sinaloa Wrens. Farther on our hike we find a fruiting tree that has Flame-colored and Hepatic Tanagers, Elegant Trogon, and Squirrel Cuckoo all feeding in the same area. At the mouth of the canyon the birding gets off the charts. An early Tropical Parula shows, followed by the resident Golden Vireo. While enjoying these treats, one of the participants spots a Red-headed Tanager that disappears all too quickly. A Gray Silky is calling high in the sycamores but yields only quick views. At our turn around spot, I notice a bird foraging on a large, shaded boulder. Turns out to be a Fan-tailed Warbler, a Chihuahua first for me. Unfortunately, the bird does not reappear for the clients with me. After lunch back in Urique, we make the mile ascent back to the rim of the canyon. Our drive back over Mesa de Arturo brings us back to Paraiso del Oso. Late pm birding adds Buff-breasted Flycatcher, wintering Hammond's Flycatcher, and White-striped Woodcreeper.
Day 9: One of my favorite days of the trip. Birding the Rio Cuiteco. This shaded canyon with running water has produced some great birds over the years. Today was no exception. Upon our arrival, a Rusty Sparrow was feeding in the middle of the road, affording a great comparison with its close cousin the Rufous-crowned. Quickly we find the local Rufous-capped Brushfinches and well as Gray-crowned Woodpecker in its only known Chihuahua location. More effort is needed to locate Gray-collared Becard but both male and female, looking as different as night and day, end up showing. We cap off our morning with close looks at a pair of Russet Nightingale Thrushes. PM finds us on the train back to El Fuerte. Along that route, one of the clients actually gets a decent photo of a pair of Military Macaws flushed by the train. Amazing! At night at Hotel El Fuerte, we add two more birds to our list-a pair of Barn Owls in the plaza church steeple and several Pauraques hawking over the nearby museum.
Day 10: Our turn around point for the trip. Heading north from El Fuerte. Before we leave, we head early upriver to a reserve near Ocolome. White-fronted Parrot, Bare-throated Tiger Heron, Northern Jacana, and a huge flock of Mexican Parrotlets make the venture very rewarding. Amid the array of local passerines we find a spiffy Black-and-white Warbler at the northern end of its wintering range. Now we are westbound for the coast. Our destination is Yavaros, a massive estuary.
This spot nevers disappoints. We conservatively estimate around 1200 Marbled Godwits. Many other shorebirds are in attendance, capped by the greatest number of Red Knots I have ever seen-30. We add several gulls, Bonaparte's and California, as well as several Wilson's Phalaropes on their northbound journey from the alkali lakes of the Andes in South America. Our return trip to San Carlos produces several notable roadside birds including the apparently declining White-tailed Kite.
Day 11: Back in San Carlos for our last morning of Mexico birding. And a special outing it is-our "mini-pelagic trip". Although we only go a few miles out into the Gulf of California, we are able to view a great cross section of pelagics. We start with an adult Pomarine Jaeger flying across our bow, followed by both Least and Black Storm Petrels. Over the course of our 3 hour trip we have numerous sightings of both storm petrels endemic to the Gulf of California. Further out, we start seeing shearwaters. Both Black-vented and Pink-footed are present at this time of year. We luck out and find two mixed flocks that are just sitting on the water, allowing us excellent views. The local boobies, Brown and Blue-footed, add to the mix. At our turn around point, we flush an adult Sabine's Gull followed by a fly over view of a Red-billed Tropicbird on our way into port. With this boat trip, we have crested 280 species for the trip. Now we are off to Arizona and a travel day home.