Bird Watching in San Blas, Nayarit

How to have a Big Day in Mexico

An image of a snail kite holding a snail in its talons.

A snail kite holding a snail in its talons.

Birding is one of the fastest growing outdoor activities in the world and some of the best bird watching in Mexico is near the tiny fishing village of San Blas, Nayarit. San Blas is located on the Pacific Coast of Mexico about a three-hour drive from Puerto Vallarta. Competitive birders have long known that birding in San Blas is a good way to score a big day or a big year record. For a big day record, a birder must identify as many species of birds as possible by sight and sound in a 24-hour period. Even though these types of records rely heavily on the honor system, there are specific rules set out by the American Birding Association and competitors take the sport very seriously. Many hobbyists have their own personal Big Day records or keep lifelong lists of the birds they have identified.

An image of a green heron

The green heron is a small heron of North and Central America.

“Birding is a fabulous way to get to know a destination, because you visit places tourists typically don’t go,” said Mark Stackhouse, a birding guide and eco-tour operator. “San Blas has a vast array of wildlife to see and it’s not unusual to identify 300 different bird species in a week in this area – if you plan well.” Stackhouse knows a lot about planning well; he has held the Big Day records for both Mexico and Utah.

The bare-throated tiger heron

The bare-throated tiger heron is a wading bird seen in Mexico and northwestern Colombia.

Finding the Birds in San Blas, Nayarit

We boarded a small open air motor boat beside the San Blas Bridge and travelled up the Río Tovara, a side channel of the San Cristóbal River. As we went along, the channel began to narrow and we began to hear the calls of various birds. Stackhouse identified one call as that of a wood-creeper; then he made another bird call and we listened for a response. “That’s the sound of a pygmy owl letting us know we are invading his territory,” he explained when we heard an answering bird call.

An image of a yellow-crowned night heron.

The yellow-crowned night heron, is one of two species of night herons found in the Americas.

Flora and Fauna

I was amazed at the incredible variety of flora and fauna that inhabit this estuary. The tangled mangrove roots looked like stilts sitting on top of the water. We saw birds peering out from behind leafy branches, crocodiles sunning on the muddy shore and turtles sitting on roots that poked up out of the inky dark water.

An image of a crocodile in San Blas, Mexico

A crocodile suns himself on a sandy shore

Time Flies

The entire tour lasted for about three hours, but time flies when you’re having fun. “This area of Mexico has some of the best bird watching in the world,” Stackhouse explained. “I came for a visit and I just never left. If I don’t identify 100 bird species by noon, it’s a slow day.”

An image of a great egret

The great egret has long legs that are ideal for wading through the estuary in search of food.

An image of a cattle heron

The cattle heron was not found in North America prior to 1952, but it’s now abundant over much of the continent.

An image of a green iguana

The green iguana is a large, mostly herbivorous species of lizard..

An image of a black-crowned night heron.

As the name implies, the black-crowned night heron becomes more active at dusk.

An image of an Anhinga bird in San Blas Nayarit

The Anhinga is also called the “water turkey” for its turkey-like tail and the “snake bird” for it’s long neck.

An image of a yellow mangrove warbler in San Blas Nayarit

The yellow mangrove warbler is one of a number of subspecies of the yellow warbler.

 

If You Go

  • Most people who visit San Blas fly into Puerto Vallarta and visit on a day tour. The peak birding season takes place from November through March.
  • A half-day birding tour in San Blas area will cost $150 for up to 3 people. A full day tour costs $200. Multi-day birding tours can be arranged with Mark Stackhouse by visiting his website.
  • For information on San Blas, visit the official website of the Riviera Nayarit Convention and Visitor’s Bureau or check out the visit San Blas website.

 

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