Monte Alban

:  Birding Ancient and Modern Mexico

Forthcoming Departures:
 13-26 January 2007 (14 days)
$2850 per person from Oaxaca
Single Supplement: $480

12-25 January 2008 (14 days)
$TBA per person from Oaxaca City
Single Supplement: $TBA

If you like endemics, this is the trip for you!  Oaxaca likely has the biggest bird list of any Mexican state, and of the nearly 700 species recorded, about 97 of these are Mexican endemics.  With two sets of impressive ruins, a bustling capital city rich in commerce and architecture, a vibrant native culture, and some of the world's most beautiful beaches, Oaxaca offers even the non-birder much to write home about.  If you're looking for a trip ideal for a non-birding partner, we highly recommend this one.

Day 1:  Arrive in Oaxaca.  After you are met at the airport, you will relax at the hotel in preparation for tomorrow’s exhilarating morning of birding.  [The days marked below with asterisks (*) will be morning trips from Oaxaca City with afternoon birding optional.  Participants who prefer to stay behind to wander the markets, take in the culture, and admire the colonial architecture are welcome to do so.]

Monte AlbanDay 2:  Monte Albán.*  Today, we stand in awe amongst some of the most exquisite native ruins to be found in all of the Americas, Monte Albán, which served as the capital of the Zapotec empire from approximately 500 B.C.E to 750 C.E.  Rock and Canyon Wrens that have taken up residence in the ruins will keep us company as we search for our first dry interior endemics:  White-throated Towhee, Gray-breasted Woodpecker, and Dusky Hummingbirds are all targets.  Other birds we may come across include Blue Mockingbird, Gray Silky, Scott’s Oriole, Varied Bunting, and the unbelievable Slaty Vireo.

Ocellated Thrasher at Teotitlan del Valle

Day 3:  Teotil
án del Valle.*  Our main targets birding the arid scrub above the village are Ocellated Thrasher, and Bridled and Oaxaca Sparrows, but we’ll also keep an eye and ear out for Dwarf Vireo, Boucard’s Wren, and the odd-looking southernmost subspecies of Western Scrub-Jay.  After birding today, we will stop in the village of Teotilán del Valle to shop its world-famous rug market.  The hand-woven tapetes here are made of local wool and dyed with all-natural locally-made dyes derived from materials as diverse as walnut hulls, indigo, and scale insects.

Days 4 and 5:  Cerro San Felipe.*  Two mornings are planned at this humid pine-oak site.  Perched high within the Sierra de Aloapaneca, it is the best place in the world to see the highly-endemic Dwarf Jay.  Most of our time will be spent searching for this special bird among the noisy flocks of Steller’s Jays and Gray-barred Wrens.  Along the way we hope to see resident birds like Red Warbler, Slate-throated Whitestart, and Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer mixed in with the wintering flocks of Hermit and Townsend’s Warblers.  A watchful eye should be kept on the road here at all times, as Long-tailed Wood-Partridge is relatively common, but seldom-seen.  If there is interest, one of these days may be spent entirely on the mountain, so that we may spend the early evening hours looking for a member of the little-known and curiously-isolated population of Barred Owl.  Flammulated and Northern Saw-whet Owls reach the very southern limits of their distribution here.

Day 6:  North to Tuxtepec.  Today we will concentrate on the road north of Cerro San Felipe towards the Gulf lowland town of Valle Nacional.  The first stop will be at the valley below Gueletao de Juarez.  Though it is quite arid, this unique drainage flows north into the Gulf of Mexico, so there is an intriguing mix of arid interior/Pacific-slope and Gulf-slope birds.  Of particular note is Violet-crowned Hummingbird, which reaches the very southern limit of its range here.  Further north, we’ll cross a large sierra and enter humid Gulf-slope cloudforest.  With hope, it will yield birds like Emerald-chinned Hummingbird, Blue-crowned Chlorophonia, Slate-colored Solitaire, and Azure-crowned and Unicolored Jays.  We will spend the night in Tuxtepec.

Black-crested Coquette near Valle NacionalDay 7:  Around Tuxtepec.  Today we will bird the lowland rainforest and humid foothills surrounding Tuxtepec.  Keel-billed Toucans, which are often relatively common here, are always a favorite.  Those who love colorful birds should not fall asleep disappointed tonight:  Green Shrike-Vireo, Violet Sabrewing, Black-crested Coquette, Green Honeycreeper, and Crimson-collared and Golden-hooded Tanagers are all possibilities in the foothills.  The lowland areas offer birds like Blue-black Grosbeak, Collared Ara
çari, Rufous-breasted Spinetail, Yellow-tailed Oriole, Thick-billed Seedfinch, and the ghostly White Hawk.  Night in Tuxtepec.

Day 8:  Back to Oaxaca.  This morning we'll bird the foothills and cloudforest on our way back to our hotel and a relaxing evening in Oaxaca City.

Blue-capped HummingbirdDay 9:  Yagul.*  Today we will bird the other of the Oaxaca Valley’s splendid pre-Hispanic ruins.  Yagul reached its height from 750-950 C.E., as the waning of Monte Albán created a power vacuum in the Valley.  In fact, Yagul was still a functional city until the Spanish forcibly relocated its inhabitants.  This site is one of the best in the Valley for Gray-breasted Woodpecker and Beautiful Hummingbird.  Black-vented Oriole, Rufous-capped Warbler, and the elusive Pileated Flycatcher may also grace our presence here.

Day 10:  Sierra de Miahuatlán.  After an early start, we will drive south into the eastern portion of the Sierra Madre del Sur.  This range is perhaps one of the least-studied areas of Mexican highland endemism; consequently, there are many potential splits to be found here.  No fewer than eleven endemic taxa occur in the Sierra, and we have a chance to see some of them at stops along this drive.  Wagler’s [Emerald] Toucanet and albifrons Common Bush-Tanager are the most conspicuous, but time will also be devoted to searching for White-throated Jay and the gorgeous Blue-capped Hummingbird.  We’ll spend tonight in the cozy beach town of Puerto Ángel.

Wedge-tailed ShearwaterDay 11:  The Pacific Ocean.  At dawn we will embark on a pelagic adventure.  Our main target is the endemic Townsend’s Shearwater.  We’ll hope to see Black-vented and Pink-footed among the more-expected Wedge-tailed and Galapagos Shearwaters.  As with any pelagic, you never know what we’ll find.  In the deep waters just offshore, we even have a decent chance at finding a Pterodroma.  Closer to shore, we should see Red-billed Tropicbird and Brown Booby.  This afternoon will be optional birding:  those who wish to lounge on the beach are most welcome to enjoy the relaxing feel of this friendly coastal community.  Again, we’ll stay in Puerto Ángel.

sunset at Playa ZipoliteDay 12:  Puerto Ángel and Zipolite.  Today we will bird the coastal thorn-scrub around Puerto Ángel and the world-famous beach town of Zipolite.  Here we will encounter an entirely new avifauna:   Doubleday’s Hummingbird, Citreoline Trogon, Russet-crowned Motmot, Red-breasted Chat, Happy Wren, Colima Pygmy-Owl, Golden-cheeked Woodpecker, the long-crested subspecies of Northern Cardinal, and Orange-breasted Bunting are all found here--and those are just the endemics!  We’ll also look for Lesser Ground-Cuckoo and White-throated Magpie-Jay among many other memorable birds.  After a delicious meal of local seafood, the night is spent in Puerto Ángel.

Day 13:  Western Oaxaca.  We’ll leave early this morning to bird the highway above Puerto Escondido.  This is our best chance to find one of the Sierra Madre del Sur endemics:  Cinnamon-sided Hummingbird.  Thorn scrub on the way up may yield yet more endemics in the form of West Mexican Chachalaca, Golden-crowned Emerald, Rufous-backed Robin, and Yellow-winged Cacique.  We arrive tonight in Oaxaca City for one final night on the town.

Day 14:  Departure.  Today you will depart the airport for home.

CLIMATE:  Generally very pleasant.  Be prepared for cold, crisp mornings in the highlands (especially Cerro San Felipe).  It is likely to be quite warm in the lowlands at midday.  Though this is the dry season, don’t be surprised if it’s wet in the cloud and rainforests, so be sure to pack accordingly.

DIFFICULTY:  Easy.  Almost all birding is done on roads and easily-accessible trails.

ACCOMMODATION:  Quite comfortable.

For more information, contact Michael Retter at mlretter AT