My wife and I are, in one way, very unusual Americans. While our compatriots seem only to want to visit Mexico’s touristy beach cities, we would rather go anywhere else in this country. Indeed, even though I just celebrated 40 years of living in Mexico, we have never been to Cabo San Lucas, and our only experience with Cancún was going though immigration in that city’s airport.

But a week ago, we drove downhill to the beach city of Ixtapa, five hours from Morelia, for a young friend’s wedding. Its twin town of Zihuatanejo (see-wa-ta-NAE-hoe) was a sleepy fishing village until the 1970s. (As such, it was immortalized in the final scene of the movie “The Shawshank Redemption“.) Then the Mexican government developed Ixtapa from the ground up as a tourist destination, at the same time as they developed Cancún. The wedding took place in what apparently was the first hotel built in the new town.

If we were more enthusiastic beach-goers, I would probably have many more tropical birds on my life list by now. As it was, I managed to squeeze about seven hours of birding out of our otherwise highly-social weekend. And even with only seven total hours, I managed to pick up four lifers.

I still can’t say that I have found Ixtapa’s best spot for shore- and marsh-loving birds. But I’m pretty sure that I made a good choice with my first inland site: a “ciclovía” (paved bike path) on the west side of town. I’ll focus on that site in this post, and move on to the more coastal spots in the next. The bike path (listed as Ruta de Bicicleta a Playa Linda on eBird’s hotspot map) begins by a very artificial water-storage pond, but even so, I managed to see several hoped-for species there. A single Ringed Kingfisher, which looks very much like the U.S.’s migratory Belted Kingfisher, but is about 40% larger, overlooked the water. Strictly coastal White Ibises flew overhead. Yellow-billed Caciques were nesting. And a pair of White-throated Magpie-Jays made a much-anticipated appearance.

A very early-morning photo of the Ringed Kingfisher

Three White Ibises

Nest building, for Yellow-winged Caciques, apparently involves a lot of squawking.

I know this Cacique was a male, because it was wearing a male’s courtship display head feathers.

The Magpie-Jays were severely backlit, but that did give the photos a bit of extra drama.

The uphill trip up on the bike path was quite pleasant until about 10 am, when the coastal region’s heat kicked in. But it was well worth it; I saw three lifers there, birds that I didn’t even know to hope for, beforehand.

Two Olive Sparrows, endemic to Mexico’s coasts, foraged in the shady brush.

A good number of White-bellied Wrens sang from the bushes, and one finally allowed me a decent view and photograph.

The Turquoise-crowned Hummingbirds were a bit of an armchair lifer for me. It used to be considered a single species with the Broad-billed Hummingbirds that visit my garden in Morelia every day. But now it is considered to be a separate species.

Although those three species were my only lifers for the day, I did see a number of other exciting birds. All in all, my trip up the ciclovía and back offered 49 species in just under four hours. Here are some of the better species and photos:

Tropical Kingbirds flutter as they trill. This one also gave me a rare view of its orange crown.

I only recently saw my first rich-brown female Blue Bunting, and it wasn’t until this outing that I got to see the electric blue colors of the male. I had expected something more like an Indigo Bunting, but the two birds really do not look alike at all.

Further inland, the West Mexican Chachalaca is often heard, but rarely seen.

Here, however, you couldn’t miss them if you tried. These turkey-sized birds were everwhere!

My best and most numerous sightings of the majestic Wood Stork would come on the shore. But I started to see them in flight on the drive down to the coast. Several also flew over the bike path, as did a few unexpected Magnificent Frigatebirds who had chosen to fly over land for a bit.

That’s a Stork on the left, and a Frigatebird on the right.

Cinnamon Hummingbirds were quite common, which was a rare treat for me. Such handsome hummers!

I’ll be back next week with some of the birds I saw nearer the shoreline.

Written by Paul Lewis
Paul Lewis moved from California to Mexico in 1983. He lived first in Mexicali, and now lives in the historic city of Morelia (about halfway between Guadalajara and Mexico City), where he and his wife pastor a small church. He is the author of an internationally distributed book in Spanish about family finances and has recorded four albums in Spanish of his own songs. But every Monday, he explores the wonderful habitats and birds found within an hour of his house, in sites which go from 3,000 to 10,000 feet of altitude. These habitats include freshwater wetlands, savannah grasslands, and pine, oak, pine/oak, pine/fir, cloud, and tropical scrub forests.