2001 - West Mexico - Colima/Jalisco

February 13 - 25, 2001
Bob Cecil – guru of Bob’s Budget Birding Tours, Francis Moore, Steve Dinsmore, Hank Zalatel, Tim Gedler, Aaron Brees, Dick Tetrault, Russ Widner, Kay Niyo, Maridel Jackson, Karen Disbrow, and Ann Johnson.

MapFebruary 13, 2001

As we left my house around 4:00 pm the fog was getting thicker and the temperatures weren’t all that warm.  This could be an interesting night of driving.  Hank, who had nearly bailed out on us two days ago because of his fear of mountain driving, was armed with his tranquilizer prescription and all was well with the world.  We drove as hard as we could until darkness descended in northern Missouri.  Finding the exit road so we could change drivers became an adventure.  Ugh!  Our greatest fear was that the fog would begin to freeze and make the roads slippery, but we managed to stay about an hour ahead of the freeze line.  Somewhere in Oklahoma the fog lifted a bit and, except for rush hour traffic in Austin, it was easy sailing into Laredo.

February 14, 2001

After the obligatory Wal-Mart stop for forgotten items, we met the rest of the group at the motel.  While some purchased vehicle insurance, others of us tried to find a working ATM.  The data lines seemed to be down throughout the city of Laredo.  Yikes!  Insurance purchased and dollars exchanged for pesos, it was off to the border at Colombia to get vehicle and tourist permits.  Aaron and I found a working ATM that spit out pesos for us so that little problem was also solved.  We were their only customers so it came off like clockwork, a far cry from the last time I was there and we had a three-hour wait.  This border crossing is normally so efficient that it’s worth the 20-mile drive.  A new truck crossing has opened as well which should be taking some of the traffic strain off the other Laredo crossings.  Ready for entry early the next morning, it was back to Laredo for Tony Roma’s ribs, our last US meal for several days.

February 15, 2001

We started at oh-dark-hundred to beat the rush through the border and it was a piece of cake.  I still don’t know how all three cars got green lights to proceed without being checked.  Our first driving adventure was in the city of Nuevo Laredo when Bob stopped a bit too far in front of the light to see his signal.  In this country you tend to look across the intersection for traffic lights pointed at you.  Bad choice down there.  I noticed more than once that a stop sign is placed back about 100 feet from the intersection.  Anyway, after a few skillful maneuvers he made his turn and the rest of us followed on green <grin>.  Before long we were on the toll road and making good time.

The morning was foggy at times but the sun began to burn it off and it looked as if we would have a beautiful day for our first Mexican birding.  As we neared Monterrey, the smog got pretty intense, a problem for large Mexican cities nestled in mountain valleys.  On the by-pass I saw a small flock of Tamaulipas Crows in an industrial area, probably a pretty good bird for this far inland.

It was on around Monterrey and just before we got to Saltillo we turned south on Highway 57.  This is a beautiful drive on good highway crossing the Sierra Madre Oriental and descending into a high plateau that I suppose would be comparable to our Great Plains states.  Before long we came to the north end of a large prairie dog town, our initial destination.  Dinsmore, who has been studying Mountain Plovers for his PhD, was armed with maps from colleagues and our goal was to find wintering plovers.  For the longest time it seemed that the only birds out there were Horned Larks, Curve-billed Thrashers, Ferruginous Hawks, Golden Eagles, and Mountain Bluebirds.  All of a sudden Steve has plovers – 53 of them to be exact – but none wore bracelets.  This is such a huge expanse of land that who knows how many other groups may be roaming around out there.

Steve explained a couple of interesting things to us as we watched.  First, this dog town was comprised of the endangered Mexican prairie dog, not the more common Black-tailed.  Secondly, it has been assumed that this area is a wintering area for the Mountain Plovers of Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado.  However, a couple of years ago, a nest was found in this area which raises some interesting questions.  Looks like a good place for some study.

As we were watching the birds, three men drove up in their truck and were obviously concerned with what we were doing.  The one explained that this was his ranch and after some discussion it became apparent that he was just checking to be sure we weren’t shooting his prairie dogs.  He explained that they were protected and no doubt our scopes caused him some alarm.  It was good to know that the rancher had a realization of the status of the critters on his property.  I’m not sure we were very successful in explaining that Steve studied and banded the plovers, but for all the language barriers, we had a pleasant chat.Zacatecas

With a long drive ahead, it was off to Zacatecas for the night.  This beautiful old city sits high in the mountains at about 8000 feet.  Brrrrr!  I doubt that there is a level street anywhere.  Tim, our runner, certainly felt like he got a workout the next morning.

Night at Hotel Aristos, Zacatecas.  $66/double.

February 16, 2001

Le Quemada ruinsAnother early morning departure for the Le Quemada ruins in the high desert southwest of Zacatecas.  The area around the ruins was great for a number of desert species and we found such birds as Bewick’s Wren, Gray Flycatcher, Green-tailed and Canyon Towhees, both Greater and Lesser Roadrunner (the latter being slightly out-of-range), and sparrows – lots of sparrows.  The greatest delight for me was the large number of Black-chinned Sparrows.

With another long ride ahead through the Sierra Madre Occidental, we soon made tracks for Guadalajara and a stop along the highway for pollo asado, the greatest Mexican meal invented.  From there it was on to Union de Tula for the night.  Night at Hotel y Bungalos La Martinica, appr. $20/double.

February 17, 2001

Puerto Los Mazos microwave towerUp early to try to beat the heat.  Our first stop was in some thorn forest where we saw our first White-throated Magpie-Jays but little else other than Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and Brown-crested Flycatchers.  We cruised through Autlan de Navarro where street signs proclaimed it was the year of Carlos Santana.  Guess they are pretty proud of their native son.  As we started climbing the Sierra Madre del Sur, the last barrier between the Pacific and us, we parked at the entrance to the Puerto Los Mazos microwave tower road and began the long climb (about three miles) to the top.  The road meanders through scrubby oak forest up into a drier oak forest and eventually into more humid tropical deciduous forest.  In the first few hundred yards we saw a tree containing Golden, Plumbeous, and Cassin’s Vireos and a teed-up Greater Pewee – a nice start.  Birding was relatively slow along the slow trek up the mountain, but occasionally there would be pockets of activity.  Streak-backed Orioles, Dusky-capped Flycatchers, Slate-throated and Painted Redstarts, and Hepatic Tanagers seemed to be prevalent in the oaks.  Occasionally I would hear the laughing of an Ivory-billed Woodcreeper and Arizona Woodpeckers would sound off.  In one moister area we found a small mixed flock of such birds as Scrub Euphonia, Crescent-chested Warbler, and Tufted Flycatcher.  A Broad-tailed Hummingbird sat cooperatively for study.

Near the top one large tree was alive with birds.  We had Flame-colored Tanager, White-throated Thrush, Western Tanager, numerous warblers including Hermit, Townsend’s, Black-throated Gray, Tropical Parula, Yellow-rumped, and the ubiquitous Wilson’s.  Several people saw a Red-faced and friend Russ briefly had a Red-headed Tanager.  A Lineated Woodpecker was cooperative enough for everyone to get good looks.  My goal for the day was to simply make it to the top, so having achieved this, I found a place to sit and watch Brown-backed Solitaires snatch berries from the tree in front of me.  It was a great show.  On the way down my oxygen-deficient brain missed Aaron & Steve’s instructions on where they had Green-striped Brushfinch so it was left for another trip.  Did have some nice looks at a skulking but singing Blue Mockingbird, however.

On the hike I found the first of many unidentified odonates on the trip.  One particularly large damselfly was impressive with its helicopter-type flight and it’s clear wings with yellow spots on the tips.  Since returning home I have found that it is a Mecistogaster ornata.

Going down is ever so much harder on the feet!  Back at the vehicles we collapsed on the side of the hill for a tasty lunch of kippers and crackers.  They’ve never tasted so good!  From there it was on through the Sierra Madre del Sur.  Suddenly in front of us was the blue expanse of the Pacific.  Unlike the eastern coast and it’s broad coastal plain, the mountains come to the water’s edge on this side of the country.  At Barra de Navidad we went north a few miles to the small fishing village of La Manzanilla, our base for the next couple of days.

La ManzanillaLa Manzanilla is a quiet village and a great place to relax on the beach.  After quickly checking into our hotel, we wandered to the beach for some refreshment and fun.  Magnificent Frigatebirds glided over us as Brown Boobies, Heerman’s Gulls, and Royal Terns flew back and forth in search of food.  As always, Brown Pelicans entertained as they dove into the surf.

La ManzanillaJust off the beach is a mangrove estuary.  Crocodiles sunned themselves on the mud and the birds were everywhere.  We had herons and egrets of nearly every variety, Common Moorhen, Northern Jacana, Anhinga, Neotropic Cormorant, and even a wintering Belted Kingfisher.  A small flock of Orange-fronted Parakeets flew by.  I finally got a good look at my first of many Golden-cheeked Woodpeckers and the following day saw a pair of Mangrove Black-Hawks at this location.  After a mosquito-laden dinner of fresh seafood at the beach, it was time for a well-deserved good night’s sleep.  Night at Hotel Posada Tonala, $40/double.

February 18, 2001

A few folks had planned to go out in a panga boat to do some fishing and pelagic birding but those plans changed when a misunderstanding of the date made no life jackets available.  Instead the entire group went a few miles up the road to Barranca el Choncho, a delightful canyon with a small stream.  One of the first sounds we heard was that of the West Mexican Chachalacas giving their wake-up calls.  Occasionally two or three would fly overhead.  Gray-breasted Wood-Wrens sang out but were difficult to even get a peek at.  The White-bellied Wren was only slightly more cooperative.  This place became our introduction to the beautiful San Blas Jay, often seen in the company of the Yellow-winged Cacique.  The birding was great along the road up the canyon and I never got to the end so missed a couple of target birds.  However, one can’t be disappointed in such sightings as Zone-tailed Hawk, Lilac-crowned Parrot, Bumblebee and Cinnamon Hummingbirds, Painted and Varied Buntings in the same tree, Masked Tityra, Citreoline Trogon, Greenish Elaenia, Rose-throated Becard, Golden Vireo, Rufous-backed and White-throated Thrushs, Grayish Saltator, Rufous-capped Brushfinch, Fan-tailed and Rufous-capped Warblers and Streak-backed and Black-vented Orioles.  As we were about to leave a Hook-billed Kite soared overhead.

Birding the airport roadAfter birding the canyon for a few hours we drove south to the Manzanillo airport road where the scrub and numerous marshes gave us a very different habitat.  Tropical Kingbirds were everywhere.  A few Short-tailed Hawks gave us ample opportunity for study as they soared.  A Willow Flycatcher was a nice discovery but the Dusky-capped seemed a bit out of place.  Other than hearing an occasional Sora, rails disappointed us but there were a number of water-related species including Wood Stork, Roseate Spoonbill, White and White-faced Ibis, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, and Limpkin.

AJ in kayak - where it is safe!Back to La Manzanilla for a bit more beach time before our evening adventure.  Any sea kayaking trip led by an outfit calling itself Immersion Adventures naturally had this land-lubber a bit on the edgy side!  A few gringos have discovered this beautiful village and Dave Collins is one of them.  By summer he does kayaking trips in the northwest but is trying to establish his winter business of ecological and cultural adventure tours in southwestern Mexico.  Dave got us all arranged in our kayaks and we slipped into the mangrove lagoon, hoping fervently that the mating season of the crocs wouldn’t create any serious encounters.  The lagoon was peaceful and as we emerged from the narrow path through the vegetation into an open area, all immediately saw our primary target bird -- Boat-billed Heron.  What an almost prehistoric-looking creature!  The rest of the trip was gravy.  Since Dave was very capably taking care of me in his boat, I managed to relax and teach him some of the bird life in the area.  The kayak got us up close and personal with a family group of Groove-billed Anis, the kids all lined up on a branch.  Dusk was rapidly approaching as we paddled for home but this meant it was time for the Boat-bills to become active.  What great fun watching them fly over squawking all the way.  If anyone is headed toward La Manzanilla, touch base with Dave through www.immersionadventures.com.

The owner of Hotel Posada Tonala, a former chef in the Napa Valley, had offered to cater us dinner of fresh fish.  It was a wonderful end to a great day and it was going to be hard to leave this delightful place.  Night at Hotel Posada Tonala, $40/double.

February 19, 2001

Dinsmore caught me this red argiaToday we headed south toward Playa Paraiso, another small beach village in southern Colima.  We spent the morning working the Playa del Oro road where most of the group had their first looks at Orange-breasted Bunting.  Off in the distance a Colima Pygmy-Owl called but it was too far distant to try finding it.  Summer Tanagers and Streak-backed Orioles were found along the way as well as Nutting’s and “Western-type” flycatchers.  Presumably these were wintering Pacific-slope but silent ones are best left unidentified to species.  This was frustrating because in the higher elevations we did manage to find some calling Cordillerans.

The morning was a constant parade of walking and moving vehicles forward so different people often saw different birds.  I did a lot of car moving but did manage to find birds like Yellow-breasted Chat, Cinnamon and Black-chinned Hummingbirds, Golden-crowned Emerald, Thick-billed and Tropical Kingbird, Blue Mockingbird, Lilac-crowned Parrot, San Blas Jay, White-bellied Wren, Golden Vireo, Varied Bunting, Blue Grosbeak, and Tropical Parula.  A Peregrine Falcon flying high out towards the beach was a nice surprise but not nearly as tantalizing as the silent streak through the woods with the long shape of Collared Forest-Falcon.

Kippers, crackers, fresh pineapple and coconut cookies made a great lunch as we scanned the ocean for glimpses of Brown Boobies and Red-billed Tropicbirds whirling around near the large rock that serves as their nesting area.  The beach was fairly quiet with only one Whimbrel, one Long-billed Curlew, and one Spotted Sandpiper.

Continuing south we stopped high above the resort town of Manzanillo where the haze made photography difficult.  Along the highway we passed a few marshes where we saw Great, Snowy, and Reddish Egrets, Wood Storks, Roseate Spoonbills, White Ibis, several herons, a handful of shorebirds, and a few wintering ducks.  We arrived at Hotel Paraiso in mid-afternoon and were immediately met by hawkers selling jewelry, hammocks, cookies and peanuts.  The surf was crashing and life was good sitting on the veranda listening to it and smelling the salt air.

The plan was to relax, swim if you wished, and then we would head out for an evening of birding at the mouth of the estuary where last year Steve and Bob had seen numbers of birds including Collared Plover.  It was a good plan but those wicked breakers rapidly changed it.  Before long we see Tim helping Steve to the shore and Steve is holding his arm.  Our favorite eye-surgeon immobilized his arm and it was off to find a hospital.  Waiting around was difficult and fairly unproductive so I offered to take a group to see if we could find the birding spot after we ate.  Not having a clue where we were going, it got dark before we could get to the estuary but we did manage to find a small pond near the beach with a few shorebirds to add to our lists.  Alas, no Collared Plover, but it beat sitting around.

The hospital brigade finally returned with Steve’s separated shoulder manipulated back into place, his arm in a sling, and his pocket full of drugs.  For the rest of the trip he became the one-armed bin man, still managing to find more birds than the rest of us!  Night at Hotel Paraiso, appr. $25/double

February 20, 2001

For a guy with a fairly serious injury, Dinsmore was in great spirits the following morning.  Maybe it was the drugs! At any rate, we intended to slow the pace a bit and not push him too hard.  Rough roads had to be fairly painful.

Our first stop was a small cabin resort overlooking a beautiful canyon.  The lush canyon looked inviting, but what goes down must also come back up.  Thus we meandered for a short time in the heat and managed to find Banded Quail feeding out in the open.  A few White-throated Magpie-Jays were around, as were Varied Buntings, Blue Grosbeaks, Orchard Orioles, and other birds of this dry habitat.  We stopped briefly in Colima at the Torres residence where Bob could say hello to his friends.  Their daughter, who had lived for a time in Des Moines with Bob’s family, had graciously made a number of our reservations for us.

After our short break we wandered out to Agua Frio, a public swimming park which is fed by a cold water spring.  The first good bird was Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl cooperatively sitting in the open for all to see.  Ringed Kingfisher made its way along the stream and we flushed a Cooper’s Hawk.  As was true everywhere, our breeding warblers were wintering in any good habitat.  Other birds of note in this area were Squirrel Cuckoo, Gray-collared Becard, and Orange-breasted Buntings nearly at our feet.  It was a pleasant hour or so.

It was time for a little repast so it was off to the town of Comala where the beer companies are experimenting with the free food concept.  Works for us!  The food just kept on coming until we were filled.  Cerviche and guacamole, tacos and taquitos, cucumbers and jicama, it was the whole enchilada so to speak.

Our evening destination was the cabins at La Maria and, if cold water isn’t a problem for you, I highly recommend it as a place to stay.  This tropical forest retreat lies at the base of the active volcano.  As we pulled in a Lesser Nighthawk buzzed the parking lot and Stripe-headed Sparrows fed in the grass.  After dark we drove down by the lake and played owl tape.  Before long we got responses from a pair of Mottled Owls.  It took some work but everyone got decent looks.  The Balsas Screech-Owl that responded once never appeared and we had no response by any nightjars.  Night at La Maria, $10/person

February 21, 2001

Volcano from La MariaRuss and I had sat near the parking lot the night before playing the Buff-collared Nightjar tape.  I was up early this morning listening to the pre-dawn sounds when I suddenly heard a Buff-collared Nightjar.  Then there was another.  As I try to track them down with my flashlight, Russ appears.  He has heard the same sounds from his cabin.  Soon it sounded as if there were nightjars everywhere but we were frustratingly close with no eye shine.  As the sky brightened the birds were still calling and soon it was light enough to see our nightjars.  They magically turned into Vermilion Flycatchers doing their dawn song.  In retrospect, the song is similar but different but it was a good lesson in how the mind can trick you when you are searching for strange birds in a strange land.

That was only our first faux pas of the day but more on that later.  This was a day for relaxed birding in the tropical forest around La Maria.  We ended up working the area in smaller groups with constantly evolving membership.  One of the first birds we saw was a lifer – Rusty-crowned Ground-Sparrow.  The forest was very active with tanagers and orioles, woodpeckers and woodcreepers, warblers and wrens.  Brown-backed Solitaires sang their fluting melodies from deep within the forest and occasionally an Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush sounded off.  Crevices held birds like Happy Wren as a Canyon Wren sang from the cliffs above.  I finally got a good look at White-striped Woodcreeper and a pair of Elegant Trogons put on a nice show for all.  The trees were sometimes alive with warblers and it was pretty cool to see a Colima Warbler in Colima.  Low in the vegetation along the lake we found MacGillivray’s Warbler and Northern Waterthrush.  We also really blew a good bird.  I’m not sure how many of us looked at a bird, said “Yellow-throated Warbler”, then said “no, this is west it must be a Grace’s” and promptly dismissed the bird without checking our field guides.  Later in the day a WINGS group pulled in and as we approached their group they nicely pointed out the Yellow-throated Warbler they were documenting.  It certainly put into perspective for me why I’m not ready to lead tours in Mexico – yet!

Birding was also great around the cabins.  A small stream flowed behind them and there was often activity with Brown-backed Solitaires and White-throated Thrushs eating berries, Gray-crowned Yellowthroat and Groove-billed Ani in the fence line, and Stripe-headed Sparrow, Lesser Goldfinch, Western Bluebird, Blue-black Grassquit and White-collared Seedeater in the open areas.  Spotted Wrens were busy in the courtyard and someone spotted a Rufous-backed Robin, a bird in surprisingly short supply.

It was one of those days that I managed to not be in the right place at the right time to see some of the lifers I had hoped for.  Others in our group had these birds that I had hoped for but left for the next trip: Gray-crowned Woodpecker, Yellow Grosbeak, Red-headed Tanager, Bright-rumped Attila.

Famished after a successful several hours of birding, it was time to head back to Comala for food, drink and entertainment.  First we made a couple of short detours.  At the first we bought coffee from a local vendor.  I’ve never bought coffee beans still warm from the roaster before.  The next stop was along a scrubby street leading to a nice housing development and almost on cue Mexican Parrotlets began chattering incessantly.  What adorable little parrots!  We also picked up Cedar Waxwing in this area.

After dark we drove the road a short way trying again for Balsas Screech-Owl and nightjars.  No luck but it may have been a bit early for nightjars to be calling.  It was a bit sobering when we turned around at a village that was frequently evacuated last year because of volcanic activity.

When we returned to camp I took Francis and Bob down for the Mottled Owl since they had missed it last night by going into town to visit Rocio.  It took a bit but we were finally successful.  The owl looks so tiny when it is high in the huge trees.  Night at La Maria, $10/person

February 22, 2001

Fuego - fire volcanoWhen I walked outside several people were discussing an explosion they had heard about 5:30.  I must have been tired because I missed it completely.  The discussion soon ended the thought left our minds until later in the day.

Today we work our way up the rough road of Volcan de Colima or as it is called here Fuego – fire.  This active volcano dominates the landscape and often spews a bit of steam and ash.  I thought it was extremely cool and beautiful.

The road was rough and birding was pretty much limited to various stops.  Because we had three radios, we could often split into smaller groups and go different directions which helped cover more area.  Occasionally we heard calls that probably belonged to a Crested Guan but could never find the bird.  Some of the birds seen along this route included Red-faced, Golden-browed and Olive Warblers, Acorn Woodpecker, Cordilleran and Hammond’s Flycatchers, White-breasted Nuthatch, Mexican Jay, Dwarf and Hutton’s Vireos, Black-headed Grosbeak, and Collared Towhee.  At one point we had to leave the low-riding car behind and begin the walk and two-vehicle shuttle.  The last few kilometers were particularly difficult in spots and I was glad I was driving Russ’ 4X4!  When we reached the campground a bird that had been loudly chipping when I had turned around earlier on a scout drive was still going strong.  It took quite some time before Steve’s eagle eyes found the noisemaker – a brilliant Green Violet Ear defending his territory.  As others walked the road down to where it was closed because of volcano activity, I stayed at the top and had a nice Blue-throated Hummingbird.  It surprised me a bit to find one away from a stream, the only place I’ve seen them in Arizona.  Many flowers were blooming and other hummers included Calliope and White-eared, the latter being the most prevalent.

Fuego from NieveI’m not sure which genius actually took a look at the dust on the vegetation, but suddenly things began to make sense.  This was not normal road dust like I find on my ragweed each summer.  It was gritty volcanic ash.  And that explosion at 5:30 this morning?  Here’s what the web site about the Colima volcano has to say:

On 22 February, the Colima Volcano experienced a moderate explosion. The resulting ash cloud rose ~2 km above the volcano. Incandescent ballistics were thrown ~3 km away from the volcano and landed on the N, NE, and NW slopes of Colima. Large blocks (several meters in diameter) also rolled ~400 m from the summit. The eruptive column collapsed and produced small pyroclastic flows that moved towards the SW. The zone of exclusion remains at 6.5 km.

We ended the day in Cuidad Guzman birding wetlands along the busy highway.  Clark’s and Western Grebes as well as Marsh Wren were new for the trip.  And then there were blackbirds.  I have no idea how many Yellow-headed Blackbirds winter here but the lines heading towards the evening roosts extended for miles.  It was an awesome sight.  Night at Hotel Zapotlan, $17/double

February 23, 2001

Nieve - ice volcanoUp bright and early for our last hard day of birding.  Today the destination was the cold volcano, variously called Nevado de Colima (ice) or Nieve.  We all felt that the birding was better along this road.  Perhaps it helped that the driving was easier and our focus could be placed more on the birds.  We had many of the same birds as the day before but more of them.  This was, however, our first encounter with Red Warbler and Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer.  Pygmy Nuthatch, Bushtit, and Black-headed Siskin gave the area more of a mountainous feel.  It was kind of fascinating to study a hummer and conclude it was a Ruby-throated, perhaps one that passed through Iowa last fall.  I missed the Aztec Thrush by choosing to take the ride to the top and see Fuego across the valley but driving on the cold cone of a volcano was fascinating in and of itself.

NieveThis volcano has been dormant long enough to have a lot of vegetation growing on the cone but it is really obvious that the soil is volcanic ash.  Oh yes, on the way up the two vehicles reconnected at a picnic area.  I looked toward a fire grate and there was a pair of Red Crossbills.  Somehow it seems strange to think of crossbills in the land of parrots and motmots.

All too soon it was time to leave for more pollo asado at Guadalajara before making the long drive to Zacatecas for the night.  A couple of hours of grueling after dark driving made the bed feel extra good.

Night at Hotel Aristos, Zacatecas.  $66/double.

February 24, 2001

Isn’t it amazing how quickly time flies when you’re having a great time?  By tonight we will be back the USA but there is still one more birding stop to make.  Before we get to Saltillo we turn off on a weather beaten dirt road and meander back through the desert and grasslands to an area described in Howell as the wintering area for Worthen’s Sparrow.  As the trailing vehicle we stop briefly to examine a small flock of birds and discover they are Chestnut-collared Longspurs.  We break into separate groups and find Black-throated and Vesper Sparrows.  Some smaller sparrows bounce up and down but in the wind they are more down than anything.  A Prairie Falcon flies over.  I find five Sprague’s Pipits that some others manage to see later.  It is time to leave and we drive up the road to where the van is parked.  This group has managed good looks at Worthen’s Sparrow and Aaron leads us through the fence and down the hill.  But this trip brings no joy and we must be moving on.

We reach the border by 7:00 pm and get the car permits cancelled.  While we wait we enjoy the numbers of Scissor-tailed Flycatchers that have apparently just arrived.  Hank’s van, which is about to embark on a 1200-mile non-stop drive to Iowa, has a low tire.  The border patrol is interested in our coffee and asks if it’s Colombian.  After squeezing the bag a couple of times he seemed satisfied and we were home.  Back in Laredo we do the money exchange, hit McDonald’s, and get air in the tire.  By time we get to the airport to do the mass luggage movement from vehicle to vehicle, the tire is low again.  Believe it or not, you can find someone to repair a tire in Laredo at 9:30 on Saturday night.  By 10:00 we are finally on the road again, arriving at my house by 6:00 pm Sunday.

With several Mexico trips under my belt, this trip didn’t produce a lot of life birds but it was great fun to explore a different part of the country.  By going in the winter I saw a number of new birds for Mexico since our migrants have usually returned by time I have gone on previous trips.  I found the volcano especially interesting.  As close as I can tell, the entire trip cost somewhere between $500 and $600, not bad for a ten-day stint.