Welcome to Birdquest
Birdquest’s Southern Mexico birding tour explores a fascinating part of North America that offers some truly awesome birdwatching opportunities in one of the most exciting birding destinations on earth. Our comprehensive Southern Mexico tour includes Oaxaca and Chiapas, as well as several other areas, producing a fantastic list of Mexican endemics and near-endemics including Beautiful, Blue-capped and Cinnamon-sided Hummingbirds, Blue-throated Motmot, Belted Flycatcher, Unicoloured, Dwarf, Black-throated and White-throated Jays, and Giant, Sumichrast’s and Nava’s Wrens, not to mention the stunning Red-breasted Chat, Pink-headed Warbler, and Orange-breasted and Rosita’s Buntings. During the El Triunfo extension we will be looking for the near-mythical Horned Guan, Fulvous Owl, Resplendent Quetzal (the local form has the longest tail of them all!), Rufous Sabrewing, Wine-throated Hummingbird and Cabanis’s Tanager amongst many other great birds.
Friday 3rd March —
Sunday 19th March 2017
El Triunfo (Horned Guan) Extension: Sunday 26th February — Friday 3rd March (6 days)
Leader: Mark Van Beirs
Group Size Limit: 8
Tour Category: Easy walking for the most part and comfortable accommodations on the main tour, easy to moderate grade walking and mostly simple accommodation during the extension
Mexico, land of the Mayas, Aztecs, Zapotecs and Conquistadores, is one of the most charismatic countries in the world. Sombreros, white-clad peons on a stubborn mule and siestas conjure up a sleepy image which disguises (as well as any Zapata-style moustache) a country rapidly entering the modern world, where good roads, accommodation and food are the norm, and birding always rewarding. It is the second most populous and the third largest country in Latin America, with an incredible variety of habitats ranging from steamy tropical lowland jungle and barren cactus-studded hills to refreshing pine forests and high alpine vegetation above the treeline. Over half of the country is at an altitude of over 3300ft (1000m) and much of that at over 6600ft (2000m), and more than 80% of this splendid nation is classified as having a semi-arid climate.
Mexico basically consists of a high central plateau flanked by an eastern and a western range of mountains set back from the coast. Mexico City, one of the largest conurbations on Earth with more than 20 million inhabitants, is located in a high inter-montane basin measuring only 30 miles (50 kilometres) across, and was founded as Tenochtitlan under the militarist rule of the Aztecs. As well as experiencing cactus-covered plains and sleepy adobe villages dominated by white-painted churches, a Hollywood-inspired stereotype of Mexico over a hundred years ago, we shall visit modern cities, well preserved Zapotec sites inspiring awe for Mexico’s rich cultural history, tranquil oak and pine forests and fabulous mountains.
Mexico, both culturally and ornithologically, is a land of stark contrasts. A transitional zone between the temperate North American continent and the lush rainforests of Central America, Mexico’s position, physiography and contrasting habitats have produced an endemic-rich avifauna which, remarkably, is third only to Brazil and Peru amongst New World countries. Amazingly, no fewer than 213 species of birds are restricted to Mexico and northern Central America! Mexico is also the wintering ground of a splendid selection of colourful migrants from North America and the mixed warbler flocks are a real feature of its woods. This tour is designed to thoroughly explore the central and southwestern parts of the country, the richest region for birds in all Mexico, and our itinerary is the most comprehensive available for this endemic-rich part of the country. Accommodations, food and roads are mainly of a good standard, making travelling and birding in Mexico a pleasure.
Our journey starts in the state of Chiapas, in far southeastern Mexico. Breathtaking scenery at the El Sumidero Canyon near Tuxtla Gutierrez is augmented by the delightful Red-breasted Chat, the nomadic Mexican Sheartail and the rare Belted Flycatcher, while not far away the striking but almost unknown endemic Nava’s Wren inhabits limestone karst outcrops. The sprightly, near-endemic Pink-headed Warbler is just one of our target species in the cool mountain forests surrounding the lovely town of San Cristobal de las Casas, where we will also keep our eyes open for gems like Blue-throated Motmot and Black-throated Jay.
The arid scrub of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and coastal Chiapas is home to Orange-breasted and Rosita’s Buntings, two of the most stunning of Mexico’s many endemic birds, and the amazing Giant Wren and the retiring Sumichrast’s Sparrow are likewise found nowhere else.
In the Pacific lowlands and foothills around Puerto Angel the semi-deciduous woodland holds three extremely localized endemics: Blue-capped and Cinnamon-sided Hummingbirds, and the stunning little White-throated Jay. The offshore waters often produce Black Storm-Petrel and Townsend’s Shearwater, together with an excellent selection of other pelagic species.
Continuing north, we shall explore the deserts and woods around the attractive city of Oaxaca. This is the richest area in the country for endemic birds, home to Beautiful Hummingbird, Dwarf Jay, Ocellated Thrasher, Collared Towhee and Bridled and Oaxaca Sparrows amongst others.
In the state of Veracruz the pine-oak forests of the Sierra de Juarez should yield a rich crop of specialities, including Unicolored Jay, Slate-colored Solitaire and White-naped Brush-Finch, while in the Cordoba area we will search limestone outcrops for the restricted-range Sumichrast’s Wren.
Our journey ends in the cool forests on the volcanic slopes just to the south of Mexico City. Here we shall search for the rare Sierra Madre Sparrow at one of only two known remaining localities. Striped Sparrow and Black-polled and Hooded Yellowthroats are amongst the other endemics likely here.
During the optional pre-tour extension we will seek out a very special bird that very few birders have ever seen. In a remote corner of this incredible country lives a semi-mythical bird that every international birder craves to see, the spectacular Horned Guan. The best place to admire this mind-boggling species is the wonderful Biosphere Reserve of El Triunfo, located on the highest ridges of the Sierra Madre mountains in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas.
The El Triunfo cloud forest is often enveloped in a mantle of mist (although early mornings are often clear at the time we visit), and is one of the most pristine and diverse natural areas remaining in Mexico. The reserve covers about 460 square miles (1,200 square kilometres) and comprises several vegetation zones, including the most extensive area of cloud forest remaining in Mexico.
With an avifauna of more than 400 species, El Triunfo holds some of the most fascinating and enthralling birds of the American tropics. Best of all is the wonderful Horned Guan, a truly bizarre member of the cracid family that only occurs in the Mexican state of Chiapas and in neighbouring Guatemala. With its striking red ‘horn’, piercing white eyes and arresting blue-black and white plumage, this is surely one of the most outstanding birds in the world.
The smart, but very localized Cabanis’s or Azure-rumped Tanager keeps a low profile in its humid evergreen forest habitat and has a similar range. The brilliant Resplendent Quetzal is one of those ‘must see before you die’ birds and the local subspecies is favoured with an even longer tail than the ones in Costa Rica! The powerful Fulvous Owl is yet another much wanted inhabitant of these untouched forests.
We begin our journey in Tuxtla Guttierez, the capital of the state of Chiapas, before driving into the foothills of the Sierra Madre de Chiapas. As we head for El Triunfo we should come across such regional specialities as Green Parakeet, Russet-crowned Motmot, Velasquez’s Woodpecker, Black-capped Swallow, White-throated Magpie-Jay and Prevost’s Ground-Sparrow.
The El Triunfo experience involves a fairly long hike into the reserve, but at a relaxed pace and with plenty of time to bird and to rest, in order to reach the El Triunfo clearing. We will spend four nights in a comfortable bunkhouse there. This is a small price to pay as, by doing so, we stand an almost certain chance of seeing two of the most spectacular birds in the world: the unique Horned Guan and the stunning Resplendent Quetzal.
On the Birdquest tour we reach El Triunfo by the much shorter, faster and easier hike on the northern slope, starting at quite high altitude and taking less than a day, rather than hike for several days all the way up from the Pacific lowlands near sea-level. This is much the physically easiest way to access El Triunfo, but we do have to get our kitchen/baggage crew and their horses and mules to cross the mountain range from their far off village in the Pacific lowlands to meet us there. This inevitably involves considerable expense, but as you will see, it is well worth it!
At night we will endeavour to locate the gorgeous and impressive Fulvous Owl in one of the forest giants, while listening to the loud, wailing calls of Cacomistles (or Southern Ring-tailed Cats). Other great birds of these wild, untouched cloud and evergreen forests are Highland Guan, White-breasted Hawk, Blue-throated Motmot, Green-throated Mountaingem, Emerald-chinned Hummingbird, the charming, miniscule Wine-throated Hummingbird, Paltry Tyrannulet, Yellowish Flycatcher, Black-throated Jay and the attractive Hooded Grosbeak.
At lower altitudes, in semi-deciduous and upper tropical evergreen forest, we should encounter such specialities as the sneaky Pheasant Cuckoo, the delicate Rufous Sabrewing, the exquisite Sparkling-tailed Woodstar, the endearing Tody Motmot, Cabanis’s (or Azure-rumped) Tanager and White-eared Ground-Sparrow.
El Triunfo truly is a remarkable birding experience that you will never forget.
Birdquest has operated tours to southern Mexico since 1987.
Accommodation & Road Transport: During the main tour the hotels are mostly of good standard, occasionally of medium standard. During the extension, the hotel in Jaltenango is fairly simple, but all the rooms have private bathrooms. At the clearing at El Triunfo the accommodation is in a building with up to eight beds in each of two very large rooms. There is a separate dining room with a table and chairs. There are two showers (with hot water) and a couple of conventional toilets. Conditions here at the research station accommodations are clean, well-maintained and surprisingly comfortable. Road transport is by minibus/passenger van and roads are mostly good.
Walking: The walking effort is mostly easy during the main tour, sometimes moderate. During the extension it mostly ranges from easy to moderate. The walk into and out of El Triunfo is perfectly straightforward. Although it is about 11 kms (6.5 miles) in length it is on a very broad and easy pack trail with only a moderate rate of altitudinal change. We do this walk slowly over about six hours as there is plenty of good birding en route. However, while at El Triunfo there is one optional fairly demanding excursion to Cañada Honda to look for Cabanis’s Tanager and Rufous Sabrewing in particular. Although on a broad and well-maintained pack trail, there is a long and sometimes fairly steep ascent back up to El Triunfo.
Climate: Generally warm or hot, dry and sunny at lower altitudes, but much cooler in upland areas. Whilst overcast weather is quite regular, rain is infrequent at this season. It will be rather humid in the lowlands.
Bird Photography: Opportunities are quite good.
Important Information for Pound Payers: Kindly note that the Pound prices shown here are based on post-EU-referendum exchange rate reality, unlike the website prices of most UK bird tour operators which are still based on outdated and hugely higher pre-referendum exchange rates. Consequently you can rest assured that we will not have to adjust these prices upwards at invoicing, unless the Pound falls significantly further, and if there is any recovery by the Pound you will receive the full benefit of the cost-saving by way of a price reduction at invoicing.
Tour Price: £4690, €5530, $6140 Tuxtla Guttierez/Mexico City. El Triunfo Extension: £1350, €1590, $1770.
Price includes all transportation, all accommodations, all meals, bottled water, some drinks, all excursions, all entrance fees, all tips for local drivers/guides and for accommodations/restaurants, leader services.
Base prices for this tour are determined in US Dollars, the currency in which we pay for most tour services. The exchange rates applied at the time of costing were: £1 = $1.310 and €1 = $1.110. For those not paying us in US Dollars, prices may be adjusted (either downwards or upwards) at the time of invoicing should there be a change in the exchange rate. See booking information.
Single Room Supplement: £736, €868, $964. Extension: £20, €23, $26 (Jaltenango only).
Deposit: £500, €650, $750. Extension: £150, €200, $250.
Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency can arrange your air travel in connection with the tour from a departure point anywhere in the world, or you may arrange your own air travel if you prefer. We can tailor-make your itinerary to your personal requirements, so if you would like to travel in advance of the tour (and spend a night in an hotel so you will feel fresh when the tour starts), or return later than the end of the tour, or make a side trip to some other destination, or travel business class rather than economy, we will be happy to assist. Please contact us about your air travel requirements.
Many of the flights and flight-inclusive holidays on this website are financially protected by the ATOL scheme. But ATOL protection does not apply to all holiday and travel services listed on this website. Please ask us to confirm what protection may apply to your booking. If you do not receive an ATOL Certificate then the booking will not be ATOL protected. If you do receive an ATOL Certificate but all the parts of your trip are not listed on it, those parts will not be ATOL protected. Please see our booking conditions for information, or for more for more information about financial protection and the ATOL Certificate go to: www.atol.org.uk/ATOL Certificate
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