Wintering Grounds Trip Report, 1998 Jude Lamare and Jim Pachl, Friends of the Swainson’s Hawk



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Wintering Grounds Trip Report, 1998

Jude Lamare and Jim Pachl, Friends of the Swainson’s Hawk



916-447-4956
Sinaloa/Nayarit, March 3-13
This was our first report-back on our trip to the Pacific Coast area of Mexico between Mazatlan and San Blas. Our mission was to see the just-discovered wintering territory of Swainson’s Hawks that nest in the Sacramento area. We were pleased to see Swainson’s Hawks both on the way to Santiago Ixcuitla, in both the states of Sinaloa and Nayarit, and west of Santiago Ixcuitla in Nayarit on agricultural lands, on March 4, 5 and March 10.
In the fall of 1997, scientists on the Swainson’s Hawk Technical Advisory Committee tracked Swainson’s Hawks from the Sacramento area to the Pacific Coast of Mexico with satellite transmitters. The tracking resulted in new information about the wintering grounds for this population of hawks. Previously it had been assumed that the Sacramento area population of SWH wintered with the Great Basin population in Argentina. Jim Estep and Mike Bradbury flew to Tepic in January, 1998 to do field work to follow-up on the satellite transmitted information. Their report shaped our travel plan in March.
We flew into Mazatlan and stopped to see if we could make contacts at the University of Sinaloa. We were delighted to meet Pablo Pina Valdez and Benito Mejia Sarmiento at the University of Sinaloa (UAS) School of Marine Sciences on March 4. They have been focusing on aquatic birds, and have been doing an Audubon count each December in both the city of Mazatlan and an estuary north of the city. They expressed interest in learning more about Swainson’s Hawk, and staying in contact with us and other US groups interested in birds in this area of Mexico. I believe that these are the UAS scientists that Partners in Flight has been working with in Mazatlan.
From Mazatlan it took us 5-1/2 hours to get to Santiago Ixcuitla, our primary point of interest. Santiago Ixcuitla was identified by Estep and Bradbury as the primary foraging area for wintering SWH. We stopped for lunch and for observation a couple of times.
Sinaloa is quite a bit dryer and appears less agricultural than Nayarit. This is the dry season (summer is hot and rainy; winter is mild and dry). By moving between this area and the Sacramento area, SWH are able to avoid rainy weather almost entirely, since Sacramento is generally dry between May and October.
Pina suggested that we go out the road to Sestipac, west of Santiago Ixcuitla, and we had very good success there, on the way to Mexcaltitan. Ten plus SWH were circling high above plowing and discing workers (both tractor and horse drawn). One was sitting in a nearby tree, and buzzed us as it took off. It appeared to us that most of the birds were of the very white/black markings type (light morph with high contrast). Most Sacramento birds tend to be darker, so it appears the wintering area is shared with other populations of SWH.
The trip to Mexcaltitan is itself very interesting. It is believed to be the origin of the Aztec culture that moved to Mexico City (Tenochtitlan) and built a city on top of a swamp. The image of the eagle with the snake originated here, although the image found here here looks more like a heron eating duck! It is an island within a wetland of lagoons and mangrove swamp. Since this is the dry season, wetlands are less extensive now.
The city of Santiago Ixcuitla itself is very clean and businesslike, includes 19,000 inhabitants, and is situated along a beautiful tree-lined river. We stayed at the clean and comfortable Hotel Casino (for about $17 per night double, and meals at about $3-4.) The name of the city means Santiago City of Dogs; the hairless Escuintle dog originated here and has a history as a sacred dog for the Aztecs.
We saw the following crops in the area: tobacco, mango orchards, citrus, tomatoes, cacao, bananas, corn (alone and mixed with other crops), pasture with Brahmin and Cebu cattle, safflower. Mike Bradbury said they are growing a lot of beans. We also saw fallow lands. We saw tobacco at various stages, with hand harvesting and field drying. We observed hand spraying, empty pest control chemical containers, and twice saw crop dusters, and a few advertisements for pest control chemicals.
We visited the Huichol Center, and Mariano Valadez was not aware of anyone locally who is observing or interested in birds. But he promised to post information if we would send it to him (photo, history etc. on SWH, and contact information about how to participate in observation). We also learned that the mayor is Professor Casimiro Delgado, and he has one more year on his term.
Here is our bird list from this area:
turkey vulture very prevalent; also black vulture

kestrels doing very well

grey hawk numerous and a few red tails

black hawk, lesser and large

Swainson’s hawk

kingbirds --western, tropical, thickbilled (we wondered whether our kingbirds also come here in the winter))

social flycatchers and kiskedees

orchard and streaked back orioles

wilson’s and orange crowned warblers

yellow-winged caciques

dusky capped flycatcher

blue-grey gnatcatcher

osprey

tricolor heron



great blue and little blue herons

white-fronted ibis and white ibis

belted kingfisher

snowy, cattle and common egrets

black-necked stilts

wood storks

frigatebirds

white and brown pelicans

shovelers

mangrove swallows

cormorants (olivaceous)

purple-backed jays (we never saw the San Blas jay!)

magpie jays

black shouldered kite

crested caracara

gulls, and more.

We didn’t pay much attention to small wading birds or sparrows.
We wandered the backroads to the coast at San Blas, known as great birding territory, and a very buggy place. This is a seedy seaside resort, and there is a beautiful river estuary. It is 2-1/2 hours from Puerto Vallarta and about 40 miles from Tepic. Shrimp farms are a prominent industry here, and tourism. We met two guides and acquired birding information from a local guidebook (Guidebook is available at the hotel Garza Canela). We especially enjoyed the guide Armando Santiago. He gave us an excellent tour of the La Bajada area and is also available for pelagic. The La Tovara trip was perfect; we went first thing in the morning and avoided the crowds. The birding was excellent. It is best in December and January; hummingbird species are more prominent in October and November.
Here is our birdlist:
lilac crowned parrot

white-fronted parrots

orange-fronted parrakeets

Mexican (blue-rumped) parrotlets

elegant trogon (also the citroline is here)

russet crowned mot mot

groove-billed ani

glossy ibis?

green kingfisher

cormorants and anhingas

red billed pigeon

broad billed, ber ylline, cinnamon and common wood nymph hummingbirds

warblers: black and white, black throated gray, wilson’s, nashville, common yellow throat, American redstart,

woodpeckers: lineated, pale-billed, golden cheeked

black throated magpie jay

flycatchers: tufted, ash throated, pileated, gray silky, bluegray gnatcatcher,

kiskadee, thick-billed kingbird, greater Pewee, n. beardless tyranulet, vermilion, other kingbirds, social flycatcher

solitary eagle, common black hawk, tv, black v.,

yellow-winged cacique

bell’s vireo, possibly brown capped vireo, solitary vireo and warbling vireo

streaked-back oriole, hooded oriole

stripe backed tanager

rose throated becard

masked tityra

mexican crow, grackles very common, also blackbirds and cowbirds

nighthawks and pauroques, swifts

tri-color, blue, green, white herons,

white fronted and white ibis, and black necked stilts

boat-billed, yellow and blackcrowned night herons

roseate spoonbills and reddish egrets

tattlers, willets and marbled godwits

cinnamon teal, shovelers

Western Mexican chachalaca

jacanas


white winged, common and ruddy doves

rufous backed and white fronted robins

sharp shinned

black hawk-eagle

painted bunting

greycrowned yellowthroat


We did not pay much attention to sparrows either. The birding was very enjoyable. We also saw river otters, crocodile, coatimundi, iguana, butterflies, etc. The very beautiful Garza Canela Hotel in San Blas (at $58 per night) is the center for birdwatching trade, and the manager speaks English and is very knowledgeable about birding places and guides.
We also visited the Teacapan area on the way back to Mazatlan. It is a wetland area on the coast about an hour south of Mazatlan and 22 miles off the main highway. The birding was disappointing, but we did see Gila woodpeckers, hooded orioles, white colored seedeaters, as well as wading birds. This area has a business relationship with San Blas based on shrimp farming.
Costs were low. Airfare $315 per person, lodging ranged from $15 to $58, meals from $3 to $8. Car cost about $400 for 9 days.
Anyone interested in the California population of Swainson’s Hawk is invited to correspond with Friends of the Swainson’s Hawk at judelam@sbcglobal.net, or through the web site at www.swainsonshawk.org.

January 28, 2021



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