Veracruz River of Raptors Tour
October 10-21: 2021
Each fall 4-6 million raptors of 30 species are counted from two observation points in central Veracruz, Mexico, including up to 2 million Broad-winged Hawks! As these majestic birds migrate south they are funneled into a narrow bottleneck between the Sierra Madre Orientale Mountains and the Gulf of Mexico. This globally significant flyway also harbors huge concentrations of other avian migrants, including White Pelican, Wood Stork, White-faced Ibis, Anhinga, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, and so much more. This remarkable "River of Raptors" flyway is known to be the most visible and concentrated raptor migration on Earth!
Tour organizer/leader Steve Hoffman co-founded the Veracruz River of Raptors Project in 1991 while he was employed by HawkWatch International (an organization he founded in 1986). Over the past 30 years this project has grown to become a world-renowned raptor monitoring, education, and conservation initiative. Pronatura Veracruz, a regional nonprofit conservation organization, leads this annual effort. Importantly, this project spawned the development of the first bird observatory in eastern Mexico; it was completed and opened to the public in 2006.
Tour participants will have exciting and memorable opportunities to observe the spectacular raptor and waterbird migrations, as well as visit a variety of habitats (from vast freshwater wetlands and Gulf shores to cloud forests, savannas and lowland tropical rainforests) to view the exceptional diversity of resident Mexican species and a great many North American wintering birds. (A remarkable variety of colorful butterflies is also notable!) Up to 275 bird species can be seen on this 12-day birding extravaganza in central and southern Veracruz! Kashmir ("Kash") Wolf, an excellent bilingual local guide, will accompany us throughout this tour.
Itinerary at a Glance:
October 10: Arrive in Veracruz City.
October 11: Birding at Hotel, transfer to Cardel, hawkwatching, La Antigua boat ride.
October 12: Villa Rica, Quiahuitzlan Ruins (including spectacular hawk watching), Cempoala Ruins, transfer to Xalapa.
October 13: Macuiltepetl City Park, Museo de Antropologia (Xalapa overnite).
October 14: La Joya, Las Minas, Los Humeros (pine forest & high desert birding).
October 15: Xico, Rio Escondido, Chichicaxtle Hawk Watching.
October 16: El Mirador Coffee Plantation, Chichicaxtle Hawk Watching.
October 17: Alvarado Wetlands Boat Trip, Las Barrancas Grasslands.
October 18: Las Barrancas, Tlacotalpan, Nanciyaga-La Jungla (Catemaco overnite).
October 19: Los Tuxtlas Biological Station, Montepio.
October 20: Ruiz Cortinez, Veracruz City sightseeing.
October 21: Return home.
For the first two mornings we shall explore the coastal lowlands along the Gulf of Mexico (followed by afternoon hawkwatching!). Later on the trip we will travel south of Veracruz City to explore a vast wetland-grassland savanna, hoping to find Double-striped Thick-Knee, Fork-tailed and Scissor-tailed flycatchers, Aplomado Falcon, Pinnated Bittern, Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture and much more. Another tour highlight is visiting El Mirador, a shade-grown coffee plantation. Here we should see Keel-billed Toucan, Collared Aracari, Gartered Trogon and many other forest birds. We shall also travel west to Xalapa, located in the mountain foothills. Here we will bird a city park (remnant cloud forest atop an old volcano), hoping for Blue Mockingbird, Blue-crowned Motmot, Green Jay, Squirrel Cuckoo and numerous hummingbirds. We will also visit Xico to view a most spectacular waterfall and a plethora of mountain forest birds (including Bat Falcon, Violet Sabrewing, Chestnut-headed Oropendola and more).
One afternoon we will visit the renown Museo de Antropologia (in Xalapa), where thousands of Olmec culture (1500-400 B.C.) artifacts are displayed. Additional high-elevation pine-oak forest birding will likely yield the endemic Red Warbler as well as Olive, Golden-browed and Crescent-chested warblers, Gray Silky, Slate-throated Redstart and Russet Nightingale-Thrush. For the last 3 days of the tour we will travel to southern Veracruz to explore the Lake Catemaco and Ruiz Cortines area, the northernmost extent of the lowland tropical forest (Ornate Hawk-Eagle is possible here).
By tour participant P. Roberts
October 10: Arrive in Veracruz City. (Flying to Veracruz City via Houston is preferred). Meet US-Based guide and group in Houston, and local Mexico-based guide at Veracruz City Airport. Travel by bus to overnight lodging at Hotel Mocambo, along the Gulf Coast. Overnight at Hotel Mocambo, Veracruz City.
October 11: Early morning bird walk around Hotel Mocambo, followed by sumptuous breakfast buffet. We will search for Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, parrots, flycatchers, raptors, shorebirds, seabirds, and waders in the hotel gardens and along the sandy beaches of the Gulf. We will then travel to Cardel, checking in at Hotel Bienvenido and visiting the rooftop hawk-watch for the early afternoon raptor flight. In mid-afternoon we shall visit Hernan Cortez’s 16th-century home and first church in the Americas in La Antigua, followed by an evening boat ride on the La Antigua River to search for waders, rails, kingfishers, songbirds, and shorebirds. We will enjoy a riverside seafood dinner at La Antigua’s open-air restaurant. Overnight at Bienvenidos Hotel in Cardel.
October 12: Early morning birding in the Villa Rica area to search for forest, savanna and coastal-wetland birds, followed by a visit to the Quiahuiztlan Ruins, where, with luck, we hope to observe an amazing migration of raptors, pelicans, storks & anhingas. We will then return to Cardel for lunch, and do some hawk watching on the hotel roof, or nearby Chichicaxtle. (Or you may wish to rest in your hotel room.) In mid-afternoon we shall visit the nearby Cempoala Ruins (a post-Classical Totonac settlement); we shall then depart toward Xalapa City, to continue with the mountain part of our trip. Overnight at Hotel Posada del Cafeto.
October 13: Macuiltepetl Park, Museo de Antropologia
Early morning bird walk in Macuiltepetl Ecological Park, a forested urban park located on an ancient, extinct volcano. We will search for numerous resident and migrant species here, including Blue Mockingbird, Blue-crowned Motmot, Squirrel Cuckoo, Green Jay, Rusty Sparrow, Brown-backed Solitaire, as well as a plethora of warblers, flycatchers and hummingbirds. After lunch we will visit the world-renowned Museo de Antropologia to view the excellent Olmec (ancient Mexican culture) archaeological exhibits. Dinner in Xalapa, to include a short presentation by Pronatura Veracruz’s Executive Director, providing an overview of the organization’s important conservation work, including information about the Veracruz River of Raptors Project as well as their raptor banding and educational programs. Overnight at Posada del Cafeto.
October 14: La Joya, Las Minas, Los Humeros (pine forest & possibly desert birding)
An early breakfast at the hotel in Xalapa, followed by birding in high-elevation pine woodlands. After a few hours of pine forest birding (looking for White-eared & Bumblebee hummingbirds, Slate-throated Redstart, Red, Olive, Crescent-chested, Hermit, Townsend’s, and Golden-browed warblers, Gray Silky, Pine Flycatcher, Greater Pewee, and Chestnut-capped Brush-Finch, among others), we will eat lunch in La Joya and then travel to higher-elevation forest and/or desert habitats near Las Minas and/or Los Humeros for additional mountain and/or high-desert birding. In late afternoon we will return to Xalapa for dinner/relaxation. Overnight at Posada del Cafeto.
October 15: Xico, Rio Escondido, Chichicaxtle Hawk Watching
An early breakfast at the hotel in Xalapa, followed by morning birding in Xico to view the spectacular Texolo Waterfalls and search for resident swifts, hummingbirds (including the Violet Sabrewing), Bat Falcons, parrots, oropendolas and a plethora of other forest birds. We will lunch at a local restaurant while en route back to Xalapa. We will then continue toward Cardel, stopping for birding at Rio Escondido (“Hidden River”) and/or hawk watching at Chichicaxtle. Dinner at hotel. Overnight at Bienvenidos Hotel in Cardel.
October 16: El Mirador Coffee Plantation, Chichicaxtle Hawk Watching
Early morning birding at El Mirador, a nearby certified shade-grown coffee plantation (dating back to the mid-19th century) within a diverse, mature forest. A variety of forest specialties (trogons, woodpeckers & woodcreepers, parrots, flycatchers, warblers, toucans, etc.) abound! A special lunch will be served onsite. We shall return for late afternoon hawk-watching at Chichicaxtle. Dinner at the hotel. Overnight at Bienvenidos Hotel.
October 17: Alvarado Wetlands Boat Ride, Las Barrancas Grasslands
We will have an early breakfast and then drive south to bird the Papaloapan River area, including the mangrove forests within the vast Alvarado Wetlands. We will enjoy a 3-hour boat ride, searching for Great Black and Black-collared hawks as well as an array of wading birds and mangrove forest specialties. In the afternoon, if time permits, we will explore the Las Barrancas Grasslands before returning to Veracruz City for dinner. Overnight at Hotel Mocambo.
Photo by Paul Roberts, participant
October 18: Las Barrancas Grasslands, Tlacotalpan, Transfer to Catemaco
We will leave early to explore the expansive Las Barrancas grassland/wetland south of Veracruz City, hoping to find Aplomado Falcon, Double-striped Thick-Knee, Yellow-headed Vulture, Snail Kite, Limpkin, American & Pinnated bitterns, Bare-throated Tiger Heron, Common Tody-Flycatcher, Tropical Mockingbird and many other marsh and shrubland birds. We shall continue traveling toward southern Veracruz, stopping along the way at Tlacotalpan to do some birding and to have lunch; we will then will continue toward Catemaco, staying overnight at a lakeside hotel (Hotel Playa Azul).
October 19: Los Tuxtlas Biological Station, Nanciyaga
Los Tuxtlas is a significant biosphere reserve, and represents the northernmost rainforest in the western Hemisphere. We shall drive toward Los Tuxlas Biological Reserve to see rainforest birds, various other migrants, and a few endemics, such as the Long-tailed Sabrewing. If there is time we will continue north to the Gulf of Mexico (Montepio). Here we will have lunch while searching for the birds along the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. We will then return to Catemaco, stopping to visit Nanciyaga, a private reserve where beautiful Scarlet Macaws and other rainforest birds are readily seen. We will then return to the hotel. Overnight at Hotel Playa Azul.
October 20: Ruiz Cortines, Veracruz City sightseeing
This day we will walk inside the rainforest, looking for the endemic Tuxtlas Quail-Dove Tropical Flycatcher, Lesson’s Motmot, Gray-headed Dove, Ant-Tanagers, toucans, and more. This area is located on the slope of an extinct Volcano, and is full of avian diversity in the rainforest. This area is known to harbor rare, elusive tropical raptors, such Ornate Hawk-Eagle, Barred Forest- Falcon, Black Hawk-Eagle and White Hawk. After our birding we will have lunch at a local community restaurant before departing to Veracruz City for our last night. Overnight at Hotel Mocambo.
October 21: Fly home (early morning)