TRIP REPORT: SAN BLAS, MEXICO

By Terrie I. Murray


DECEMBER 24: We had an easy drive from Puerta Vallarta to San Blas, where we checked in and were greeted warmly by the Hotel Garza Canela staff. We were led to our room and enjoyed unpacking our stuffed little car into the spacious room.


DECEMBER 25: Feliz Navidad!

Breakfast completed, we took a birding drive out a few miles from San Blas — it reminded me, somewhat, of our occasional Christmas drives to Sauvie Island in Portland. We saw a strange "blue phase" heron/egret that has us stumped — all blue, no grey or red in the neck, no plumes like a Great Blue Heron, and a bright yellow bill. Al also saw a painted bunting. I barely caught a glimpse. But it was a lazy and companionable way to get started on the birding phase of our trip. Tomorrow we will go to Singayita, which will probably be quite a bit more serious and will work us harder.


DECEMBER 26:

We got up and out the door early and were on the road by 6:15 a.m. We drove to Singayita. It was foggy, our first foggy day, so the birding was not spectacular. We did see an Elegant Trogan, who was indeed elegant, on the bare branches of a sycamore tree. We also saw a small flock of parrots fly by, but in the fog we could barely see them, let alone identify them. We saw an American Redstart and Al saw another Painted Bunting. I missed it again, except to see a flash of color and white.

We raced back to the hotel in time to get breakfast before they closed at 10:00. Then I changed from jeans back into a cotton dress and set myself back at my umbrella table by the pool to read and write, and Al went for a birding trip up to the ruins of the San Blas Fort. I enjoyed relaxing in the sun. After a few hours I returned to the room and changed into shorts, more comfortable for sitting and writing, and ordered my afternoon sangria. Al came back, napped, and left for yet another trip, this time towards the sewage ponds (what strange places we birders frequent!). He's hoping that today he'll finally find the elusive Motmot.

DECEMBER 27:

Early morning, out the door by 6:15 again. We drove towards El Cora, which is a little village about 18 miles from San Blas, and birded along the last 6 miles or so before the village. Although the road we were on has certainly been well cut for agriculture (coffee, bananas and papayas, mostly), it still provided good birding: Blue-rumped Parrotlets, Masked Tityras, Purple- back and San Blas Jays — and Al finally saw his Motmot. I missed it — it was in the undergrowth on his side of the car, but at least he finally got to see it!

We returned to Garza Canela and Al and I shared some guacamole and each had a Negra Modelo (dark beer) to celebrate a good morning's birding.

There is much that is beautiful about Mexico — the flowers, the ocean, the white beaches, the birds and butterflies, and the graciousness of the people. But there is much that is not beautiful — the high crime rate, the piles of garbage along the sides of the roads, and obvious poverty. The contrasts can be striking.

The smells are wonderful — especially the fish and chicken being smoked on small grills in every town we pass through. It is likely that the roughly smoked foods are not particularly safe for our gringo tummies, but they sure smell good! I don't notice the exotic floral smells like in Hawaii, but the smell of the sea is here, and the exotic sounds of frigatebirds, parrots and caciques during the day and lizards, crickets and frogs calling to each other at night. It is all very different from the sights, smells and sounds of a Portland winter.

DECEMBER 28:

Out by 7:00 a.m. to explore the Singayita road. It was reasonably productive - we saw some sparrows and small birds we hadn't seen before. We returned to Garza Canela in time for breakfast in the dining room. Our new friends Mark and Graham from England left today, so Al followed them out of town to see the Military McCaws outside of Tepic.


DECEMBER 29:

Another great day! We were out the door by 6:30 for a jungle boat trip with Oscar Pardidas, whom we hired/shared as a guide with 5 other people from Garza Canela. We got great looks at green herons and egrets, and also good looks at a sleeping Potoo and Paraque. Huge iguanas along the way, and some beautiful red/orange bromeliads and white spider lilies tucked in among the mangrove trees.

After the boat trip I went with Al for an afternoon trip to Cerro San Juan Ecological Reserve. It was late in the day, but we did see a nice Hepatic Tanager in the pines, and the mountain air was cool and piney-fragrant. I expect we will go back for a whole day, to catch the morning bird activity.


DECEMBER 30:

We went into Matanchen, the village from whence our jungle boat trip embarked yesterday. It was foggy, but the fog lifted early, and when it did the birding was good: Streak- backed Orioles in orange, gold and red, a brilliant Blue Grossbeak, and a Painted Bunting in the sum - red and blue and green, unbelievably beautiful. We watched a flock of about 30 parrots which landed in a tree only about 50 feet from us. Great looks! We also identified a Gray Hooded Yellowthroat, a new bird for us. After a couple of hours of birding we drove on down the road south of San Blas to Platanitos, a tiny bay with a few palapa restaurants and a nice, sandy swimming beach. We set up an umbrella and the lounge chair and I plopped down there and people-watched while Al tried some snorkeling (which didn't work very well, the winter water was too murky). We stayed there a few hours, reading and sunning and people watching, before packing up and driving to a restaurant on the top of the hill above the bay, so we would have a view, where we lunched on grilled shrimp with garlic and Pacifico beer. We drove back to Garza Canela quite sated and relaxed.

DECEMBER 31:

Al has returned from his birding adventure on the Mecatan Road to report that he saw Silky Flycatchers, and he is happy. He joined me poolside with two small bowls of green grapes that had been left in our room. I remember reading in "Food and Wine" about the Spanish tradition of eating grapes on New Year's Eve as the clock strikes midnight, one grape for each chime of the clock. I thought it was a thoughtful and memorable gesture for the hotel staff to deliver grapes to us, to help bring in the New Year.

JANUARY 1, 1999: Happy New Year! Feliz Ano Neuevo!

This morning we were up at 5:00 and out the door by 5:30. We went to Cerro De San Juan Ecological Reserve. It was quite cold; I got out my Eddie Bauer jacket for the first time and I still shivered. By 10:00 it warmed to comfortable shirt-sleeve weather.

The reserve is in the mountains in mixed pines, really very beautiful country. Al's target birds today were Green Jays and Blue Hooded Euphonia. We saw the jays almost immediately, but never saw the Euphonia. As I keep telling Al, he has to have something to look forward to when we come back here!


JANUARY 2: We got to sleep in until 7:00 this morning. What luxury! After breakfast in the dining room Al went downtown with Mauricio, our waiter, to order 2 pinatas. Then we drove a bit more than an hour to the Huichol Cultural Center in Santiago, only to find them closed. We will try again tomorrow or Monday, but we will call first. We were told they were open daily from 9-7, but apparently that isn't always true.

Still in a shopping mood, I did treat myself to a t-shirt from the Garza Canela gift shop.

JANUARY 3:

This morning we met new birders at breakfast: Dick and Laura from Ontario, Canada and Webber and Mary from Montana. After breakfast we took Dick and Laura with us in the car to Santiago, where we finally got into the Huichol Center to do our shopping, one we were stumped once again because they had no credit card slips so we couldn't use our credit card, meaning we could only buy what we had pesos for. I got a beaded bracelet, Laura got a pair of hummingbird earrings. Pretty disappointing, since we had intended to buy several gifts.

After Santiago we drove to the Mirador overlook to show Dick and Laura the Military McCaws, which did oblige us by showing themselves briefly in the sunlight. So spectacular! Now we are relaxing poolside with sangria, tortilla chips and salsa before having dinner with our four new friends and talking about birding.

JANUARY 4:

This morning Al and the 4 others went to Singayita one more time. I enjoyed a quiet last morning alone before joining them all for breakfast. It is hard not to be melancholy, since this is my last day of vacation, but I am trying hard to enjoy the sunshine and the company of our new friends. Tonight we need to get luggage reorganized for the plane, but I really don't think it will take too long.


JANUARY 5:

Our departure from Garza Canela was sad, but uneventful. Al had one last birding trip to Matanchen with our four friends, then we all had breakfast together. We said our goodbyes to them, to Diana and Doris in the dining room, to Bettye in the kitchen, and to Josefina at the front desk.

The drive to Puerto Vallarta was hot, and both of us were quiet. We stopped at Punta Minta and had one last cold beer in a palapa restaurant where we could see the ocean and feel sand between our toes. We got to the airport and I changed from my sandals into tennis-shoes for the flight home.

TERRIE'S BIRDING LIST FROM MEXICO (Al's is longer!):

1. Least Grebe
2. Brown Pelican
3. Olivaceous Cormorant
4. Anhinga
5. Magnificent Frigatebird
6. Great Blue Heron
7. Green Heron
8. Little Blue Heron
9. Cattle Egret
10. Great Egret
11. Snowy Egret
12. Tricolored Heron
13. Yellow-Crowned Night Heron
14. Bare-Throated Tiger Heron
15. Boat-Billed Heron
16. Wood Stork
17. White Ibis
18. White-Faced Ibis
19. Roseate Spoonbill
20. Black-Bellied Whistling Duck
21. Blue-Winged Teal
22. Cinnamon Teal
23. Northern Shoveler
24. Turkey Vulture
25. Black Vulture
26. Gray Hawk
27. Common Black Hawk
28. Cooper's Hawk
29. Laughing Falcon
30. American Kestrel
31. West Mexican Chachalaca
32. Sora
33. Common Moorhen
34. Northern Jacana
35. Killdeer
36. American Avocet
37. Black-Necked Stilt
38. Lesser Yellowlegs
39. Willet
40. Whimbrel
41. Long-billed Curlew
42. Least Sandpiper
43. Long-Billed Dowitcher
44. Heerman's Gull
45. Common Ground Dove
46. White Tipped Dove
47. Orange-Fronted Parakeet
48. Blue-Rumped Parrotlet
49. White-Fronted Parrot
50. Groove-billed Ani
51. Common Potoo
52. Pauraque
53. Vaux's Swift
54. Common Woodnymph
55. White-eared Hummingbird
56. Berylline Hummingbird
57. Cinnamon Hummingbird
58. Citreoline Trogon
59. Elegant Trogon
60. Belted Kingfisher
61. Green Kingfisher
62. Golden-Cheeked Woodpecker
63. Gila Woodpecker
64. Lineated Woodpecker
65. Acorn Woodpecker
66. Ivory-Billed Woodcreeper
67. Vermillion Flycatcher
68. Dusky-Capped Flycatcher
69. Pacific-Slope Flycatcher
70. Social Flycatcher
71. Great Kiskadee
72. Tropical Kingbird
73. Masked Tityra
74. Black-Throated Magpie Jay
75. San Blas Jay
76. Purplish-Backed Jay
77. Mexican Crow
78. Happy Wren
79. Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher
80. Solitary (Cassin's) Vireo
81. Yellow Warbler
82. Black-Throated Gray Warbler
83. Wilson's Warbler
84. American Redstart
85. Painted Redstart
86. Gray-Crowned Yellowthroat
87. Black and White Warbler
88. Yellow-Breasted Chat
89. Grayish Saltator
90. Black-Headed Grossbeak
91. Painted Bunting
92. White-Collared Seedeater
93. Great Tailed Grackle
94. Hooded Oriole
95. Streak-Backed Oriole
96. Yellow-Winged Cacique
97. Lincoln's Sparrow
98. Reddish Egret
99. Black-Crowned Night Heron
100. Red-Tailed Hawk
101. Crested Caracara
102. Green Jay
103. Red-Faced Warbler
104. Hermit Warbler
105. Blue-Back Grasquit
106. Pied-Billed Grebe
107. Mangrove Swallow
108. Orange-Crowned Warbler
109. White-Tailed Hawk
110. Ruddy-Breasted Seedeater