The Ultimate In Birding Tours

North America & The Caribbean

NORTHERN MEXICO – Off the beaten track for Thick-billed and Maroon-fronted Parrots, Eared Quetzals and much more

Monday 15th May – Friday 26th May 2023

Leader: René Valdes

12 Days Group Size Limit 7

NORTHERN MEXICO: OVERVIEW

Birdquest’s Northern Mexico tours explore one of the less-visited regions of Mexico for birds, but one that holds a fabulous set of endemics. Birds endemic to this part of Mexico include the wonderful but Endangered Thick-billed and Maroon-fronted Parrots, Tamaulipas Pygmy Owl, Tawny-collared Nightjar, Curve-winged Sabrewing, Blue-capped Motmot, Bronze-winged Woodpecker, Tamaulipas Crow, Altamira Yellowthroat, Worthen’s Sparrow and Crimson-collared Grosbeak. In addition, important regional specialities include the fabulous Eared Quetzal, Thicket Tinamou, Plain Chachalaca, Scaled Quail, Lucifer Sheartail, Buff-bellied, Broad-billed and Azure-crowned Hummingbirds, Blue-throated Mountaingem, Elegant and Mountain Trogons, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Green Parakeet, Ivory-billed Woodcreeper, Couch’s and Cassin’s Kingbirds, Grey-collared Becard, Spot-breasted Wren, Mexican Jay, Chihuahuan Raven, Blue Mockingbird, Long-billed and Curve-billed Thrashers, Brown-backed Solitaire, Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush, Mexican Chickadee, Black-crested and Bridled Titmice, Audubon’s, Altamira and Black-vented Orioles, Colima, Red-faced, Crescent-chested and Golden-browed Warblers, the unusual Olive Warbler (a monotypic bird family), the awesome little Painted Redstart, Hooded Yellowthroat, Yellow-throated Euphonia, Black-headed Siskin, Yellow-eyed Junco, Botteri’s and Olive Sparrows, Canyon Towhee, Rufous-capped Brushfinch, Hooded Grosbeak and Morelet’s Seedeater.

Northern and northeastern Mexico lie outside the tropics so they are rather different in character to those truly tropical regions further south. Indeed most of the tour comprises the exploration of habitats that bear a strong similarity to those in the Southwestern United States and in particular southern and western Texas and Arizona. However, Northern Mexico has a series of fascinating endemics that cannot be found in the United States, plus of course that charismatic Mexican flavour, whether the people, the food or the culture.

We begin our Northern Mexico tour in the rather remote city of Ciudad Chihuahua, the capital of the huge State of Chihuahua (where those little dogs are surprisingly hard to find, should you be wondering). This is High Plains country Mexican-style, but we head west through mountain and plains country until we reach the eastern edge of the great Sierra Madre Occidental.

Here, in the vicinity of even more remote Ciudad Madera, we will be enjoying close encounters with the endangered Thick-billed Parrots and the equally spectacular Eared Quetzal at a place where these rare and shy birds are very reliable. Other good birds in this area include Mountain Trogon, Mexican Chickadee, Bridled Titmouse, Red-faced and Olive Warblers and Yellow-eyed Junco.

From Chihuahua, we travel eastwards to the city of Monterrey in the State of Nuevo Leon. This beautiful city, situated in a spectacular mountain valley, is a great base for exploring the Sierra Madre Oriental. The foothills are home to such Northeast Mexican endemics as Tawny-collared Nightjar, Blue-capped Motmot, Bronze-winged Woodpecker and Crimson-collared Grosbeak, while the higher slopes hold some of the last breeding grounds of the spectacular but endangered Maroon-fronted Parrot.

Among other good birds in this area are Blue-throated Mountaingem, Green Parakeet, Mexican Jay, Long-billed Thrasher, Black-crested Titmouse, Audubon’s Oriole, Painted Redstart, Crescent-chested Warbler and Rufous-capped Brushfinch.

To the south and east of Nuevo Leon lies the State of Tamaulipas and we shall travel to the little mountain town of Gomez Farias in order to explore the El Cielo Biosphere Reserve and its surroundings. Our Northeast Mexico endemic targets here are Tamaulipas Pygmy Owl, Curve-winged Sabrewing, Tamaulipas Crow and Altamira Yellowthroat, as well as Mexican endemics and restricted-range specialities such as Thicket Tinamou, Plain Chachalaca, Buff-bellied and Azure-crowned Hummingbirds, Elegant Trogon, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Ivory-billed Woodcreeper, Couch’s Kingbird, Grey-collared Becard, Spot-breasted Wren, Blue Mockingbird, Brown-backed Solitaire, Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush, Altamira Oriole, Yellow-throated Euphonia, Black-headed Siskin, Hooded Grosbeak and Morelet’s Seedeater.

During the last part of our journey through Northern Mexico, we will explore the eastern part of the State of Coahuila in the Saltillo region. Our final Northeast Mexican endemic will be Worthen’s Sparrow but a great supporting cast of Mexican endemics and restricted range specialities includes breeding Colima Warblers that you can drive to (very different from West Texas!), Scaled Quail, Lucifer Sheartail, Broad-billed Hummingbird, Cassin’s Kingbird, Chihuahuan Raven, Black-vented Oriole, Hooded Yellowthroat, Canyon Towhee and Botteri’s Sparrow.

Northern Mexico, which you have to visit between May and September-October as the two key parrots are absent at other seasons, is a wonderful mixture of different landscapes and great birds. Come and see it for yourself!

Birdquest has operated Mexico birding tours since 1987.

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels are of good or medium standard. Road transport is by minibus and 4×4 cars and roads are mostly good.

Walking: The walking effort during our Northeast Mexico tour is mostly easy, occasionally moderate.

Climate: Generally warm or hot, dry and sunny. Whilst overcast weather is quite regular, rain is infrequent at this season. It will be fairly humid at times.

Bird Photography: Opportunities during our Northern Mexico tour are quite good.

TOUR HIGHLIGHTS

  • The deafening row as the Thick-billed Parrots take to the air in the Sierra Madre Occidental
  • Watching Eared Quetzals 'hover-pluck' fruits from a tree, flushing the American Robins and Townsend's Solitaires
  • The wide open landscapes of Chihuahua, Mexico's 'High Plains' country
  • The spectacular first view of Monterrey in a deep 'slot' in the Sierra Madre Oriental
  • A Tawny-collared Nightjar low overhead, calling before dawn
  • Smart Crimson-collared Grosbeaks performing for us, and also Blue-capped Motmots and Bronze-winged Woodpeckers
  • Eating some really good Mexican food at Monterrey, famous for its eating scene
  • Persuading that fierce little Tamaulipas Pygmy Owl to really show itself to us
  • Tracking down the unobtrusive Curve-winged Sabrewing
  • Getting those Altamira Yellowthroats to really sit up for us
  • Tamaulipas Crows at their palm grove breeding site, or just hanging around a village!
  • Wonderful encounters with Sungrebes along a crystal-clear river
  • Spectacular scenery and spectacular acrobatics from the Maroon-fronted Parrots in the high Sierra Madre Oriental
  • A stunning Painted Redstart flittering about in a mossy High Sierra tree
  • Luring both Worthen's and Botteri's Sparrows into singing for us.
  • Cute Burrowing Owls taking over the unused holes of endemic Mexican Prairie-dogs
  • Stunning Blue Grosbeaks decorating the desert scrub
  • Colima Warblers singing away right next to a highway, unlike that long trek uphillto get them in Texas
  • Lucifer Sheartails and Hooded Yellowthroats in the Coahuila scrub

OUTLINE ITINERARY

  • Day 1: Morning tour start at Ciudad Chihuahua airport. Drive to Cuidad Madera.
  • Day 2: Cuidad Madera and Sierra Madre Occidental.
  • Day 3: Ciudad Madera then return to Cuidad Chihuahua. Flight to Monterrey.
  • Day 4: Monterrey area, then drive to Gomez Farias.
  • Days 5-6: Gomez Farias area.
  • Day 7: Gomez Farias area then return to Monterrey.
  • Day 8: Monterrey region.
  • Day 9: Monterrey region, then drive to Saltillo.
  • Days 10: Saltillo region.
  • Day 11: Saltillo region, then return to Monterrey.
  • Day 12: Monterrey area. Midday tour end at Monterrey airport.

To see a larger map, click on the square-like ‘enlarge’ icon in the upper right of the map box.

To see (or hide) the ‘map legend’, click on the icon with an arrow in the upper left of the map box.

To change to a satellite view, which is great for seeing the physical terrain (and for seeing really fine details by repetitive use of the + button), click on the square ‘map view’ icon in the lower left corner of the ‘map legend’.

PRICE INFORMATION

Birdquest Inclusions: Our tour prices include surface transportation, accommodations, meals and entrance fees.

We also include all tipping for local guides, drivers and accommodation/restaurant staff.

We also include this flight in the tour price: (Ciudad) Chihuahua-Monterrey.

Deposit: 20% of the total tour price. Our office will let you know what deposit amount is due, in order to confirm your booking, following receipt of your online booking form.

TO BOOK THIS TOUR: Click here (you will need the tour dates)


2023: £3740, $4650, €4370, AUD6640. Ciudad Chihuahua/Monterrey.

Single Supplement: 2023: £470, $590, €550, AUD840.

The single supplement will not apply if you indicate on booking that you prefer to share a room and there is a room-mate of the same sex available.

This tour is priced in US Dollars. Amounts shown in other currencies are indicative.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency will be pleased to arrange your air travel on request, or you may arrange this yourself if you prefer.

NORTHERN MEXICO: DETAILED ITINERARY

Northern Mexico: Day 1  Our tour begins this morning at Chihuahua airport in the state of Chihuahua in northern Mexico.

[There are frequent internal flights from Mexico City and less frequent services from Monterrey and other hubs. We can provide your internal ticket on request even if you are obtaining your international flight tickets yourself.]

From Ciudad Chihua we will make our way through the mostly very wild, open landscapes of the Mexican State of Chihuahua, which seems the epitome of the landscapes made famous by ‘Westerns’ set in Mexico. High plains covered in grasslands are punctuated by rugged, crumpled ranges or flat-topped mesas. Eventually, the outer parts of the Sierra Madre Occidental appear, with extensive pine forests stretching into the distance.

Eventually, we will reach the small town of Ciudad Madera, where we will stay for two nights. This sleepy place honours the memory of Francisco Madero, the father of the Mexican Revolution that brought down the dictator Porfirio Diáz in 1910. After becoming president of the newly democratic state, Madero was assassinated three years later by the man who was to become the next dictator, Victoriano Huerta! This afternoon we will begin our explorations.

Northern Mexico: Day 2  The tall and beautiful temperate pine forests of the Sierra Madre Occidental in the Ciudad Madera region are the last stronghold of the Endangered Thick-billed Parrot. This large, noisy and rather macaw-like parrot (with a macaw-like silhouette owing to its unusually long tail) requires large, mature trees for nesting; usually Arizona Pine, Mexican White Pine, Douglas Fir or Quaking Aspen. The problem has been that forestry ‘extraction’ has destroyed much of the climax forest in the Sierra Madre Occidental, forcing the huge Imperial Woodpecker into extinction and now threatening the existence of this wonderful parrot.

We shall be exploring an area that is protected, at least for now, and we are sure to see plenty of these charismatic and very raucous birds. We can expect to see them inspecting their nest holes and interacting with each other as this will be the beginning of the breeding period.

The other ‘mega-speciality of this fine area is the uncommon and sparsely distributed Eared Quetzal. We sometimes encounter this lovely species on our Western Mexico tours, but it is always hit or miss. Here, on the other hand, it is a certainty and we can expect to see a number during our stay.

If we find a suitable fruiting tree we should be able to watch these special creatures hovering and plucking the more outlying fruits, aided and abetted by American Robins and Townsend’s Solitaires.

Other species of particular interest in these forests include Mountain Trogon, Greater Pewee, Mexican Chickadee, Bridled Titmouse, the pretty Red-faced Warbler, the monotypic Olive Warbler (sole member of its own bird family) and Yellow-eyed Junco.

Widespread species that we are likely to encounter include Turkey and Black Vultures, Red-tailed and Swainson’s Hawks, American Kestrel, White-winged Dove, Eurasian Collared Dove (now all over Mexico following the likely colonization of North America by introduced birds from the Bahamas), Groove-billed Ani, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Black Phoebe, Hutton’s Vireo, Barn Swallow, Steller’s Jay, Common Raven, Brown Creeper, Eastern Meadowlark and Great-tailed Grackle.

Mammals are not conspicuous but are likely to include Cliff Chipmunk, Western Grey Squirrel and Black-tailed Jackrabbit.

Northern Mexico: Day 3  After some final birding around Ciudad Madera we will return to Ciudad Chihuahua and take a flight to Monterrey in northeastern Mexico for an overnight stay.

Northern Mexico: Day 4  As with the entire State of Chihuahua, Monterrey, the spectacularly-situated capital of the State of Nuevo Leon, lies outside the tropics. This morning we will explore an attractive area of subtropical woodland, mainly comprising evergreen oaks, not far from the city and nestled below the tall ranges of the Sierra Madre Oriental.

We will set out early as a prime target this morning is Tawny-collared Nightjar, a species endemic to Northeast Mexico. We have a good chance of having one come close in the pre-dawn period.

Another important Northeast-Mexican endemic in this area is the attractive Crimson-collared Grosbeak and we should have little trouble locating this interesting species. The same applies to the lovely Blue-capped Motmot and Bronze-winged Woodpecker, two other species endemic to the northeast of Mexico.

Two near-endemics that we are likely to encounter this morning are Long-billed Thrasher and Black-crested Titmouse (both just get over the border into South Texas). Other species of particular interest are Audubon’s Oriole (a Mexican near-endemic), Altamira Oriole and Olive Sparrow.

Widespread species regularly recorded at this site include Cooper’s Hawk, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, White-eyed Vireo, CarolinaWren, Brown Jay, Clay-colored Thrush, Blue-grey Gnatcatcher, Bronzed Cowbird and Rufous-capped Warbler.

Afterwards, we will travel southwards to the small town of Gomez Farias in western Tamaulipas State for a three nights stay.

Northern Mexico: Days 5-6  Gomez Farias is situated in the midst of the extensive El Cielo Biosphere Reserve, which protects habitats ranging upwards from the subtropical foothill forests through temperate mixed forest to the temperate pine forests of higher altitudes on the eastern flanks of the Sierra Madre Oriental.

The key birds that have brought us to the reserve are two Northeast Mexican endemics; the delightfully fierce little Tamaulipas Pygmy Owl and the large but sombre Curve-winged Sabrewing

Also of great interest are the restricted-range Thicket Tinamou (this is a very reliable area for seeing this shy bird, rather than just hearing it) and such additional restricted range specialities as Plain Chachalaca, Buff-bellied and Azure-crowned Hummingbirds, Elegant Trogon, Ivory-billed Woodcreeper, Grey-collared Becard, Blue Mockingbird, Brown-backed Solitaire, Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush, Spot-breasted Wren, Golden-browed Warbler, Yellow-throated Euphonia, Hooded Grosbeak and Black-headed Siskin.

More widespread birds regularly observed in the reserve include Short-tailed and Grey Hawks, Crested Guan, Red-billed Pigeon, White-tipped and Mourning Doves, Blue Ground Dove, Bat Falcon, White-crowned Parrot, Spot-crowned and Olivaceous Woodcreepers, Barred Antshrike, Greenish Elaenia, Northern Beardless Tyrannulet, Western Wood Pewee, Dusky-capped and Social Flycatchers, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, the smart Green Jay, White-throated Thrush, Melodious Blackbird, Golden-crowned and Fan-tailed Warblers, Flame0-colored Tanager, Red-throated Ant Tanager, Yellow-faced Grassquit and Black-headed and Greyish Saltators,

After dark, we will go out in search of Northern Potoo as well as Eastern Screech Owl, Mottled Owl and Pauraque.

We will also explore the lowlands below Gomez Farias. The key birds here are two Northeast-Mexico endemics: the smart Altamira Yellowthroat and the increasingly rare Tamaulipas Crow, a bird that recalls the Fish Crow of the eastern United States, but which has declined markedly in recent decades (and no longer wanders across the border to Brownsville, Texas). This may be owing to the destruction of its palm grove nesting sites or result from other causes.

Ruddy Crake occurs in this area, but tends to be hard to see as opposed to hear, while other birds of interest include the restricted-range Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Couch’s Kingbird and Morelet’s Seedeater.

Other birds in this patchwork of agricultural habitats, irrigation channels and fragments of natural habitats include Great Egret, Common Ground Dove, Inca Dove, Crested Caracara, Red-lored Parrot, Great Kiskadee and Northern Rough-winged Swallow.

One afternoon we will take a  short boat trip on a beautiful, crystal-clear river fringed by tall trees. This must surely be one of the best venues in the Neotropics for seeing Sungrebes! We are sure to see a number of these fascinating birds, perhaps watching one clamber up onto the branches of a tree that overhangs the river in an effort to hide from our presence. Green Kingfisher and Mangrove Cuckoo are also regular here.

Mammals regularly observed in the Gomez Farias area include Allen’s Squirrel and Eastern Cottontail.

Northern Mexico: Day 7  After some final birding in the Gomez Farias area we will return to Monterrey for a two nights stay.

Northern Mexico: Day 8  Today is surely going to be a major highlight of the tour as we explore the spectacular Cumbres de Monterrey National Park. The city itself, which is situated in a broad valley flanked by two impressive mountain ranges, is spectacular enough, but the scenery in Cumbres de Monterrey is even more dramatic.

Our prime target today, which we will have no difficulty finding, is the wonderful Maroon-fronted Parrot, another species endemic to Northeast Mexico. This second member of the genus Rhynchopsitta, so just as macaw-like as the Thick-billed Parrot, has declined until it now ranks as Endangered by Birdlife International. We will visit an area where we should get wonderful views of some of the birds as they rest or socialize in the pines or flight along the spectacular cliff faces where they nest. All in all, with the wheeling birds, the raucous calls and the acrobatics it is going to be a wonderful experience.

Among the other specialities in this beautiful area are the Mexican-endemic Rufous-capped Brushfinch and near-endemic Blue-throated Mountaingem, while restricted-range species include Mexican Jay, Crescent-chested Warbler and the stunning Painted Redstart.

Widespread species include Peregrine Falcon, Acorn Woodpecker, Canyon Wren, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Tropical Parula, House Finch and Lesser Goldfinch.

Mammals are few in number but could well include Rock Squirrel.

Northern Mexico: Day 9  We will have another chance today to try for anything we might have missed in the Monterrey region before we head westwards to the Saltillo region, situated in the State of Coahuila for a two nights stay.

Northern Mexico: Day 10  We are going to enjoy exploring two areas in eastern Coahuila that are very different in character and which hold some fascinating but totally contrasting avifaunas.

This morning we will explore some tracts of desert habitats, complete with a variety of cacti and scrub, where our prime target will be our last Northeast Mexican endemic, the increasingly rare Worthen’s Sparrow.

A number of other species of interest occur in this area including Scaled Quail, Chihuahuan Raven, Cassin’s Kingbird, Curve-billed Thrasher, Black-vented Oriole, Canyon Towee and a surprisingly large population of the shy Botteri’s Sparrow.

More widespread birds include Northern Harrier, Greater Roadrunner, the cute Burrowing Owl (nesting in the holes made by endemic Mexican Prairie-dogs!), Say’s Phoebe, Tree and Cave Swallows, Horned Lark, Loggerhead Shrike, Lark and Clay-colored Sparrows and the handsome Blue Grosbeak.

During the afternoon, in contrast, we will explore some mixed pine and deciduous forest at the western edge of the Sierra Madre Oriental and then some more scrubby, drier habitat not that far away.

Our prime targets here are such Mexican near-endemics as Colima Warbler (unlike in West Texas, here you can drive to the breeding habitat!), Lucifer Sheartail, Broad-billed Hummingbird and Hooded Yellowthroat, all of which we can expect to see.

More widespread but welcome extras include Black-chinned Hummingbird, Woodhouse’s Scrub Jay, Bushtit, Bewick’s Wren, Spotted Towhee and Black-headed Grosbeak.

Northern Mexico: Day 11  We will have the opportunity today to look for anything we might have missed in eastern Coahuila before we return to Monterrey for an overnight stay.

Northern Mexico: Day 12  We will visit an area in Monterrey this morning that attracts the near-endemic Green Parakeet. Our tour ends around midday at Monterrey airport.

[There are frequent internal flights to Mexico City and less frequent services to other hubs. We can provide your internal ticket on request even if you are obtaining your international flight tickets yourself.]


Other Mexico tours by Birdquest include: