Tuesday 5 April 2016

Birds, Birds Everywhere!

March 12 2016  Nuevo Vallarta Jalisco Mexico.
Sea Gardens Hotel in Nuevo Vallarta was to be our base for the next seven days. The length of the beach was fronted by time shares and nearby a small harbour housed an odd mixture of small fishing boats and multi-million dollar yachts.
Soon after check-in we visited the beach for the first time. I didn't have my DSLR with me, just a small point and shoot for the waning sunset.
We were greeted by pounding waves crashing down on the beach and a conspicuous red flag warning swimmers to be cautious of the undertow. I hadn't been to Mexico for thirty-five years but it was sure good to be back. Neither sunbathing or lounging at the pool really interested me but the beach and harbour would surely be good birding spots.
The first thing that caught my attention was not a bather or beachcomber but a snowy egret, the white bird stood out against the crashing breakers as it ran up and down the wet sand, expertly snagging fish in the shallows. I think the fish were spawning but I'm not a hundred per cent sure about that but there were plenty right on the tideline. I hoped the next morning would bring some good birding.
Snowy egret with catch.

Eventually a dog flushed the egret.
It wasn't long before a laughing gull tried to steal the catch, the egret prevailed. I couldn't believe how little the birds were bothered by humans, fish was plentiful just along the edge of the waves so the pre-occupation and the need to feed over-ruled any caution, only an idiot with an off leash dog spoilt my shots.

Next Day Mar 13/16
The morning sun was beginning to peek over the top of the hotel now and the rising temperature was tempting more people onto the beach. I was still on the in front of our hotel when I noticed two shorebirds on a rock.
Both were familiar species, a willet which I have photographed in both the Prairies and BC and a surfbird which I have photographed at Blackie Spit. All this way and nothing more exotic, hmmm !
I didn't matter I was in bird heaven and it was only day one.

Willet and surbird.
It was time for breakfast and then a walk around the grounds where I could hide from the blazing sun. My pink Canadian skin stood out like a sore thumb, even a vendor joked to me about being a new arrival. He could tell I hadn't seen sun for months.
Outside our room barn swallows hunted insects and tropical kingbirds were in full chorus. With my other half happily ensconced by the pool with book, refreshments and crossword it was time to see what was lurking in the trees, shrubs and wasteland behind the hotel. At this point I will say it was not a birding tour but a little convalesce for the both of us as we had been in a minor car accident the week before. The missus received the brunt of the injuries, me just a little whiplash.
Anyway, the first thing I did was to almost break my ankle in a massive pothole as I hadn't paid enough attention to where I was walking so distracted I was by the new birds and the three foot long iguanas.

I walked a few hundred feet from the hotel past the taxi stand where an avenue of Guamuchi trees gave just enough shade from the sun to allow me to bird and avoid being sunburnt. As I peered upward a golden-cheeked woodpecker flew into one of the trees to feed on the seed pods. 
Golden-cheeked woodpecker.

I just like this pose. Later the woodpecker sat on an ants nest and allowed the ants to crawl over its breast and neck area. I believe it is a cleansing action.

House finch and Guamuchil seed pod.

Bow-tailed grackle
The raucous call of the bow-tailed grackle and great kiskadee could be heard above all the other birdsong. There were also a fair number of bronze-headed cowbirds and European house sparrows to keep them company.

Great kiscadee

Further along the road and from over a bridge I spotted a dozen black-crowned night heron, a tricoloured heron and numerous brown pelicans. In another bay a little blue heron and snowy egret stalked the shallows for fish.

It was getting too warm to photograph and besides I was time for breakfast and a swim, believe me someone has to do it! After a while I became restless and with my other half ensconced by the pool I decided to walk alone the beach. By now a few clouds had drifted in making the light a little more diffused and not quite as hot. As I left the pool area I spotted a movement in the bushes, a blue-gray gnatcatcher, a bird I had seen only once before at Point Pelee, it was oblivious to the fact it was being photographed.
Blue-gray gnatcatcher
Along the beach at Nuevo Vallarta is a small spit which flooded at high tide. When the tide ebbed it was soon populated by hundreds of birds.
(l-r) common tern, willet, royal tern and heeman's gull
When I filled out my ebird submission the database flagged 500 plus black terns as rare. Just to make sure I spoke to local birder Greg Homel who explained the number was due to this years El Nino effect. This might explain why there were so few hummingbirds too!
At low tide the spit was the resting place for about 500 black terns. Look closely and you might pick out an odd common tern and elegant tern


Over the next few days I repeated the process of walking around the hotel grounds, the manicured park and the harbour. There was always something to photograph like this black vulture on top of a condo roof.
Black vulture. Another lifer 
Vultures, frigate birds and brown pelicans use the condo and hotel's thermals to fly over the beaches. I even took few shots of black and turkey vultures while lounging beside the pool.
Inca Dove

Another lifer the White-collared Seedeater. 
I was beginning to lose track of lifers and having so much fun that when I asked one of the locals about any close-by birding spot when he immediately offered to drive me to a nearby mangrove swamp. In the space of thirty minutes I photographed blue-winged-teal, northern shoveler, spotted sandpiper, wood stork, great egret, snowy egret, white ibis, American anhinga, black-necked stilt, tricoloured, green, great blue and  yellow-crowned herons,
Little blue Heron.
It was a bit out of the way down a dusty road and after we had returned an hour later he refused any offer of gas money and left me with a big smile and a few more birds to add to my growing list. Soon it would be lunch time and a quick siesta.

It's good idea to keep an eye out for crocs!

American Anhinga.
I will never, ever go birding in a foreign country again......without a guide book. I was lent one but decided that it was too bulky and heavy to carry around. Eventually when the internet failed to answer my many questions I corresponded with Puerto Vallarta birder Greg Homel who helped me back track and ID all the birds. Thanks Greg.
Also a big thanks you Botanical Gardens director Neil Gerlowski who I met later in the trip. He put me in contact with a local guide who took me to see the Military Macaws. More of that in a later blog.

Masked Tityra  

The first week provided me with a fantastic selection of birds, many of which were lifers.

"It's never too later to start birding"

BC Canada.

1 comment:

  1. Stunning I especially love that gnatcatcher shot! Looks like you had a great trip!