Bat Falcon, photo by Michael Retter

Northeast Mexico: 
From Thornscrub to Cloudforest, an Introduction to Mexico

Forthcoming Departures:
12-23 March 2007 (12 days)
$TBA per person from Harlingen
Single Supplement: $TBA

3-14 December 2007 (12 days)
$TBA per person from Harlingen
Single Supplement: $TBA

6-17 December 2008 (12 days)
$TBA per person from Harlingen
Single Supplement: $TBA

*Scroll down for the Mexican Plateau and South Texas Extension.

Besides being home to many of Mexico’s endemic birds, Northeast Mexico boasts at least ten avian taxa found nowhere else!  This tour offers participants an opportunity to encounter seven of these (another two can be seen on the extension) while traveling through habitats as diverse as Gulf Coastal Plain, dry upland oak forest, gallery forest, and humid montane subtropical forest (cloudforest).  States visited will include San Luís Potosí, Tamaulipas, Hidalgo, and Veracruz.

Rufous-capped WarblerDay 1:  Harlingen.  You we be greeted after your flight arrives at Valley International Airport in the U.S. state of Texas.  We will spend the night in Brownsville.

Day 2:  Border Crossing.  After taking care of paperwork, we will drive south through Matamoros.  In transit we should see birds like Brown Jay and Tamaulipas Crow—our first Northeastern endemic.  As we approach the Ciudad Mante area, we will stop to bird some gallery forest along the way.  Birds present here include Rose-throated Becard, Elegant Trogon, Red-crowned Parrot, wintering Louisiana Waterthrush, and our first member of the tropical Furnariid family: Ivory-billed Woodcreeper.  This will be our first night spent in Cuidad Mante.

coeruliceps Blue-crowned MotmotDay 3:  Below Gómez Farías.  Today we will concentrate on the tropical areas on the road below the town of Gómez Farías.  In the fields here we hope to see grassquits, seedeaters, Gray-crowned Yellowthroat, and the resident flock of Double-striped Thick-knees.  A short cruise up the Río Frío may produce a Muscovy Duck, an Amazon Kingfisher, a pair of Masked Tityras, or even a Sungrebe if we’re lucky!   As we explore the forest, flocks of White-crowned Parrots and Yellow-winged Tanagers offer a taste of what’s to come.  Night in Mante.

Day 4:  Above and around Gómez Farías.  As we continue up the road towards the village of Alta Cima and the El Cielo Biosphere Reserve, some of the birds possible include Fan-tailed Warbler, Mountain Trogon, Crested Guan, Bronze-winged Woodpecker, and the Northeast Mexican endemic coeruliceps race of Blue-crowned Motmot—the only one with a blue crown!  Night in Mante.

Day 5:  The Tula-Ocampo Road.  Today we’ll drive west up into the mountains in order to explore some new habitats.  The humid, brushy upper slopes on the Gulf slope of the divide provide habitat for some hard-to-see skulkers:  Blue Mockingbird, Crimson-collared Grosbeak, and Rufous-capped Brushfinch.  On the inland slope, the avifauna changes drastically as we decend into desert scrub.  Vermillion Flycatchers abound, as Canyon Towhees chatter and Lesser Goldfinches tinkle.  A visit to a reservoir should produce a nice variety of ducks, some grebes and shorebirds, and perhaps a surprise or two.  Night in Mante.

Spotted WrenDay 6:  Above El Naranjo.  We start the day driving south and west to bird above El Naranjo, concentrating on the road to El Maguey de Oriente.  Here we’ll spend a good deal of time with mixed flocks that contain birds such as Crescent-chested Warbler, White-winged Tanager, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, and Olivaceous Woodcreeper.  With some luck, we’ll come across a pair of Gray-collared Becards—a curiously uncommon and nomadic Mexican endemic.  Carefully checking the understory here is probably our best chance at finding a Thicket Tinamou, Blue Ground-Dove, or a pair of the vocally-stunning Singing Quail.  After supper, we’ll do a voluntary run back to the El Maguey road to look for Tamaulipas Pygmy-Owl.  Night in El Naranjo.

Day 7:  Agua Zarca.  Today we continue birding above El Naranjo, this time concentrating on the xeric upland oak forest near Agua Zarca.  This habitat supports a disjunct population of the highly-social Spotted Wren.  Other birds we may run across here include Pale-billed Woodpecker, Azure-crowned Hummingbird, Elegant Euphonia, Spot-crowned Woodcreeper, Bat Falcon, and Military Macaw.  In the afternoon we will descend to the old falls at El Salto.  The patchy remnant forest here is very similar to lowland tropical rainforest, and we have a chance to see both species of ant-tanager.  Just downstream is the beautiful cascade at El Meco.  The hedgerows on the way may produce Lineated Woodpecker, Yellow-headed and Red-crowned Parrots, and Squirrel Cuckoo, while the cascade itself is often the site of a pre-roost performance by White-collared Swifts.  Night in El Naranjo.

el MecoDay 8:  To the Cloudforest!  After some early-morning birding above El Naranjo, we’ll head toward Tlanchinol, in Hidalgo state.  Tlanchinol offers the most northerly accessible patch of true cloudforest in the Americas.  Common birds here include the ubiquitous Common Bush-Tanager, the beautiful Chestnut-capped Brush-finch, the spritely Golden-browed Warbler, and the incredibly skulking Tawny-throated Leaftosser.  We will do some late afternoon birding after unpacking at our hotel in Huejutla de Reyes. Night in Huejutla.

Day 9:  Tlanchinol.  Today we will spend the entire day birding the trail to the pueblito of Lontla, mainly concentrating on mixed flocks.  The flocks are dominated by bush-tanagers, Brown-capped Vireos, Crescent-chested Warblers, and boreal migrant warblers including Hermit, Townsend’s, Black-and-white, and Black-throated Green.  Keeping an ear out here should help us to detect some larger birds like Unicolored and Azure-hooded Jays, Emerald Toucanets, and Strong-billed Woodcreepers.  There is a chance of encountering one of the most endangered and least-known birds in Mexico:  the highly-endemic Bearded Wood-Partridge.  Night in Huejutla.

Crimson-collared GrosbeakDay 10:  Tlanchinol.  We will begin this morning at first light, hoping to catch of a glimpse of birds as they come out to feed on the wide trail.  Black and White-throated Robins, Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush, and even Scaled Antpitta have been observed doing this here.  Later on, we’ll bird the scrubby second-growth on the trail off of km marker 169.  Birds of note here include Gray Silky(-flycatcher), Hooded Grosbeak, White-bellied Emerald, and two eastern highland endemics—White-naped Brushfinch and Hooded Yellowthroat.  Night in Huejutla.

Day 11:  Back to the U.S.  Today we drive north to Texas via the coastal route through Veracruz.  Though we may be headed home, there is still birding to be done!  Flooded fields in coastal Tamaulipas often yield impressive numbers of waterfowl, like Mottled Duck and Ross’s Goose.  Stopping at some ponds, we hope to see Northern Jaçana and Mangrove Swallow.  Night in Harlingen.

Day 12:  Departure.  Today you will catch your flight home.

CLIMATE:  Generally temperate, however, it can be cold at upper elevations in the morning.  Though it’s the dry season, it may be muddy at Tlanchinol.  The first couple mornings of the extension will likely be quite cold.

DIFFICULTY:  Moderately easy.  The trails at Tlanchinol are moderately steep, but only for short stretches, and they are taken very slowly, while birding.

ACCOMODATION:  Quite comfortable.

Mexican Plateau and South Texas Extension (4 days)

Forthcoming Departures:
8-11 March 2007 (4 days)
$TBA per person from Harlingen
Single Supplement: $TBA

29 November - 2 December 2007 (4 days)
$TBA per person from Harlingen
Single Supplement: $TBA

2-5 December 2008 (4 days)
$TBA per person from Harlingen
Single Supplement: $TBA

After a brief morning of birding in Texas, we will cross the border at McAllen, and drive west to the Monterrey-Saltillo area.  We'll bird the dry plateau along the Nuevo León-Coahuila border in search of the highly-endemic and little-known Worthen's Sparrow.  Along the way we may encounter Phainopepla, Phyrrhuloxia, Scaled Quail, and Ferruginous Hawk.  The remaining time will be spent in Texas, looking for Rio Grande Valley specialties like White-collared Seedeater, Green Parakeet, Audubon’s Oriole, and Brown Jay.  We will concentrate any vagrants, which sometimes show up this time of year.

CLIMATE:  Generally temperate, but this time of year a norte can bring brisk temperatures.  Expect chilly dawns at high elevations in Mexico.

DIFFICULTY:  Easy.  Almost all walking is done on trails or roads.

ACCOMMODATION:  Quite comfortable.

For more information, contact Michael Retter at mlretter AT