Back in November of 2017, I travelled to the tourist town of Puerto Vallarta, on Mexico’s west coast, to sing in a Christian event. (Yes, I sing. You can find my music on YouTube under the name of Pablo Lewis. If you are into that sort of thing, you might enjoy clicking on one of the songs. You will be surprised. I guarantee it.) Puerto Vallarta is a hard 9-hour drive from my home city of Morelia, so I chose to travel by bus. This meant it would be out of the question to travel outside of town to places such as the Vallarta Botanical Garden, with its Military Macaws, Yellow Grosbeaks, and other marvelous tropical species (which I have yet to see).

Still, a birder’s gotta bird, so I made sure I would have one morning to check out someplace right there in town. A quick eBird check suggested that the best option would be Boca de Tomates, which is the area by the mouth of the river separating the states of Jalisco and Nayarit. And I could reach the site in a city taxi.

Boca de Tomate didn’t offer anything as exotic as macaws, but since my opportunities to bird on Mexico’s coast are few and far between, I still managed to find five lifers there (plus a couple more for the entire trip). I got to enjoy a good number of other species I rarely get to see, for a total of 63 species in one morning. And I got plenty of opportunities to practice my then-nascent photography skills.

I practiced on these Brown Pelicans.

And on this extra-terrestrial-looking juvenile Yellow-crowned Night-Heron.

The mangrove forest on the way to the river mouth offered some interesting species, such as migratory American Redstarts, but the light conditions didn’t allow good photos…

…except, perhaps, for this pretty decent one of a Common Black Hawk

…or of this Black-crowned Night-Heron, which was kind enough to be on top of the mangroves.

However, it was once I got to the beach area at the river’s mouth that the opportunities for good photographs became abundant. There were several Whimbrels spending the winter, and one very insistent Osprey.

But it was the Plovers that really made my photographic day. Semipalmated Plovers and Snowy Plovers are species I can see closer to home, but they are so much more photogenic on a beach than on a lake mudflat!

But the Collared Plovers and Wilson’s Plovers were lifers for me. Wilson’s Plovers always look like they might topple forward under the weight of that disproportionate bill!

I was having such a good time that I decided to walk all the way back to the main road, some two miles under the tropical sun. I was  rewarded by three birds of prey in rapid succession: A Short-tailed Hawk, a Swainson’s Hawk, and this Zone-tailed Hawk. Only the first specie would have been an easy catch closer to my home.

Knowing most American and Canadian tourists come to Mexico for the beaches, I would definitely recommend Puerto Vallarta as a birdy option. Try to set aside enough time to bird outside the town if possible. And a side trip to San Blas (which I have yet to visit) would get you to one of the best birding destinations in Mexico, if not the world. But even if you must stay in town, the trip will definitely be worth it.

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.