Tuesday, February 13, 2024


Chapala Birders Newsletter, February 2, 2024

Sightings last Month

There were 202 species reported for the lake area in January. The complete list is shown at the end of this newsletter.

Unusual observations in January:

  • Six different owl species were heard or seen on a night-time hike up the Caracol Trail (see article below).
  • Colima Warbler was photographed on the Allen Lloyd Trail Birdwalk.
  • The Green-tailed Towhee continues to be seen in our area this winter.
  • Canvasbacks continue to be seen along the shores from San Juan Cosala to Riberas del Pilar.

Featured Bird: Green-tailed Towhee

An adult Green-tailed Towhee. Until five years ago there were very few eBird reports of sightings in Jalisco. However, there have been more reports in each of the last five years. We have been seeing more of them this year at Lake Chapala.

  • The Green-tailed Towhee is an uncommon, sparrow-sized bird that visits us only in some winters. It summers in the mountain states of the US and winters in northern Mexico. We are at the southern end of its winter range.
  • It is secretive, tending to hide in the undergrowth scratching for seeds to eat, only occasionally becoming visible in the middle and upper levels of bushes.
  • It has not been well studied.
  • Its preferred habitat is scrub over 4,000 ft elevation.
  • The nest is a deep cup made of grass, bark and hair, well hidden on the ground or in a low bush.
  • It normally eats seeds, but feeds insects to its chicks and will eat berries in season.

Owling on the Caracol Trail

In early January Nicola Cendron lead a small group up the Caracol Trail, starting at 5.30 am in the morning in a search for owls. They did not have to go very far to hear two Western Screech Owls calling. Then they played a recording of the tiny Elf Owl and got a live response. A Great Horned Owl and Mountain Pygmy Owl responded to another recording.

Further up the trail they played the call of the Spotted Owl and two birds called in response. The response did not sound like the Spotted Owls up north. Nicola recorded one on his phone and sent it to several Guadalajara birders. The call was later identified as a Mottled Owl.

Even further up, in the early morning light, they played the call of the Spotted Owl again and two birds quickly flew in to check out the visitors and were also very vocal. Over the next half hour they got good photos of these two Spotted Owls.

Merlin ID and the Gray Catbird

Since one of our common birds at Lake Chapala is the native Blue Mocking Bird we can't help observing that the Merlin ID app appears to have been programmed to suppress any suggestion that it is hearing one. We noticed on our last bird walk on the Allen Lloyd Trail that Merlin was hearing Gray Catbird. We know there were no Catbirds there, but we saw several Blue Mockingbirds.

Fifteen years ago Gray Catbird was not on any official list of species seen in Jalisco, that is, until I discovered that the University of Guadalajara had netted and banded one at the mountain-top Manantlan Biosphere Preserve in Southern Jalisco.

This month eBird seems happy to accept a report of this bird on the malecon of Ajijic by a visiting birder. We are confident there are no Catbirds here in our favorite village.

Certain species are known to be excellent mimics, including:

•   Mockingbirds (Northern and Blue)

•   Thrashers

•   Jays

•   European Starlings

Merlin ID cannot reliably tell the difference between the imitation calls and the real calls. Unfortunately also, we think, visiting birders cannot reliably tell the difference between a reliable ID suggestion by Merlin ID and an unreliable suggestion.

Our experienced birders here recommend that Merlin ID users should ignore Merlin's sound ID when reporting to eBird unless they they have seen the bird independently on their own.

Alert for banded Western/Cordilleran Flycatchers

We have been asked to be be on the alert for Western Flycatchers with three obvious colored and metallic bands on their legs. These birds have been banded in the mountains of southern Arizona. Some of the adult birds have been fitted with light-weight geo-locators. Initial results indicate that these birds travel south in the winter to Guadalajara, Morelia, Mexico City, Puebla and Acapulco. We can help you report a sighting of one of these.

Upcoming Bird-walks and Trips

Our bird-walks are open to all those interested in birds, both beginners and experienced birders. Just bring binoculars. We always have knowledgeable birders on hand to identify the species. Note that we will try to limit most car trips to three vehicles and 14 people because larger convoys are hard to manage when trying to stop on country roads to look at the birds. If you are being given a ride, we suggest you make a contribution to your driver for gas and tolls (perhaps $150 pesos for a half day outing, $300 pesos for a day trip).

On Friday February 9, we will meet at 8.00 am at the Old Train Station in Chapala, leaving immediately to bird the Chapala Lakeshore Road East, particularly the Fisherman's Point area not far from the old train station. Expect to see a good variety of shore birds and other species in the scrub and tall trees. We will bird until 10.15 am when we will go for breakfast to La Palapa de Don Juan in Chapala. You must reserve - email John at least 2 days ahead of time and please indicate if you can bring a vehicle and can take others, or if you would like to be a passenger (we do not always have enough vehicles). The old train station is on the Lakeshore Road just east of Cristiania Park in Chapala.

On Thursday February 15, we will meet at 8.00 am at the "Sculpture" (at the only traffic light in La Floresta, (south-east corner), leaving immediately for the Sierra de Tapalpa (90 minutes away). We will bird from 9.30 till 12.30. We expect to see higher altitude birds such as Acorn Woodpecker and Slate-throated Redstart and if we are lucky Trans-volcanic Jay. Bring your own refreshments for the morning. At 1.00 pm we will end up in Tapalpa to have lunch at a restaurant overlooking the square. Expect to be back about 4.00 pm. You must reserve - email John at chapalabirders@yahoo.com at least 2 days ahead indicating if you can bring a vehicle and can take others, or you would like to be a passenger. (We don't always have enough cars).

On Wednesday February 21, we will meet at 8.00 am at El Bajio on the west side of Ajijic. We will walk down the lane to the lake, expecting to see a good variety of birds in the tall trees and fields. At about 10.00 am we will head to Fonda Dona Lola for breakfast and review the bird list.

How to Get There: From Ajijic go about 2 mi. (3 km) west from the light at Colon, turn downhill for El Bajio (across from the west end of the large un-finished retirement community being redeveloped by Latitude/Margaritaville) and park immediately on the lateral road parallel to the carretera.

Birdwalk & Trip Reports

On January 8 we ascended the Mezcala Mountain with fifteen keen birders. We recorded 42 species at the top, including Hammond´s Flycatcher, Gray-silky Flycatcher, Rusty Sparrow, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Green-tailed towhee, Gray Hawk and Buff-breasted Flycatcher.

On January 18 we had fourteen people with us on the Rosa Amarilla Loop on the plateau above the south side of the lake. We managed an outstanding trip list of 91 species including Brewer's Blackbird, Northern Bobwhite, Say's Phoebe, Cooper's Hawk, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Wood Stork and Orange-billed Nightingale Thrush.

On January 26 we walked our favorite local route, the Allen Lloyd Trail, with 18 birders. Our list included Chipping Sparrow, Rusty-crowned Ground Sparrow, Rufous-capped Warbler, Lazuli Bunting, Happy Wren, and an unusual Colima Warbler, for a total of 56 species.

Monthly Sightings List

Here are the 202 species sighted around Lake Chapala in January:

Ani, groove-billed

Avocet, American

Becard, rose-throated (Ja)

Blackbird, Brewer's

Blackbird, red-winged

Blackbird, yellow-headed

Bobwhite, northern (Ra)

Bunting, indigo

Bunting, lazuli

Bunting, painted (Ch)

Bunting, varied


Canvasback (RaCh)

Caracara, crested

Chat, yellow-breasted

Coot, American

Cormorant, neotropic

Cowbird, bronzed

Cowbird, brown-headed

Creeper, brown

Cuckoo, squirrel (Sa)

Dove, Eurasian collared

Dove, Inca

Dove, mourning

Dove, white-tipped

Dove, white-winged

Dowitcher, long-billed

Duck, Mexican

Duck, ring-necked (Ra)

Duck, ruddy

Egret, great

Egret, snowy

Egret, western cattle

Elaenia, greenish (AvSa)

Finch, house

Flycatcher, ash-throated

Flycatcher, buff-breasted (Mz)

Flycatcher, dusky (Mz)

Flycatcher, dusky-capped

Flycatcher, gray silky (Mz)

Flycatcher, Hammond's (Mz)

Flycatcher, least (Ps)

Flycatcher, Nutting's

Flycatcher, social

Flycatcher, vermilion

Flycatcher, western


Gallinule, common

Gnatcatcher, blue-gray

Goldfinch, lesser

Grebe, Clark's

Grebe, pied-billed

Grosbeak, black-headed

Grosbeak, blue

Gull, herring (Jo)

Gull, laughing

Gull, ring-billed

Harrier, northern

Hawk, Cooper's

Hawk, gray (Ra)

Hawk, red-tailed

Hawk, zone-tailed (Av)

Heron, black-crowned night

Heron, great blue

Heron, green (Ch)

Heron, little blue (Ps)

Heron, tri-colored

Hummingbird, berylline

Hummingbird, black-chinned (Sa)

Hummingbird, broad-billed

Hummingbird, rufous

Hummingbird, violet-crowned

Hummingbird, white-eared (Ct)

Ibis, white-faced

Jacana, northern

Kestrel, American


Kingbird, Cassin's

Kingbird, thick-billed

Kingbird, tropical

Kingbird, western

Kingfisher, belted

Kinglet, ruby-crowned

Kiskadee, great

Kite, white-tailed (Ps)

Meadowlark, Chihuahuan (Ra)

Mockingbird, blue

Mockingbird, northern

Motmot, russet-crowned (Sa)

Nighthawk, lesser (Rp)

Nightjar, buff-collared (Sa)

Oriole, black-backed

Oriole, black-vented

Oriole, Bullock's

Oriole, hooded

Oriole, orchard

Oriole, streak-backed

Osprey (Rp)

Owl, barn (Av)

Owl, elf (Ct)

Owl, ferruginous pygmy (Rp)

Owl, great horned (Ct)

Owl, mottled (Ct)

Owl, mountain pygmy (Ct)

Owl, spotted (Ct)

Owl, western screech (Ct)

Parakeet, monk

Pelican, American white

Pewee, greater

Phalarope, Wilson's

Phoebe, black (Rp)

Phoebe, Say's (Ra)

Pipit, American

Plover, black-bellied (Ch)

Plover, semipalmated (Sc)

Rail, Aztec (Rp)

Raven, common

Redstart, American (Ps)

Redstart, painted (Mz)

Roadrunner, greater (Ch)

Robin, rufous-backed

Sandpiper, least

Sandpiper, solitary (Ch)

Sandpiper, spotted

Seedeater, cinnamon-rumped

Shoveler, northern

Shrike, loggerhead

Snipe, Wilson's (Ch)

Solitaire, brown-backed (CtSa)

Sora (Rp)

Sparrow, chipping

Sparrow, clay-colored

Sparrow, house

Sparrow, lark

Sparrow, Lincoln's

Sparrow, rufous-crowned (Mz)

Sparrow, rusty (Mz)

Sparrow, rusty-crowned ground

Sparrow, savannah

Sparrow, stripe-headed

Starthroat, plain-capped (Ct)

Stilt, black-necked

Stork, wood (Ra)

Swallow, barn

Swallow, northern rough-winged

Swallow, tree

Swallow, violet-green

Tanager, hepatic

Tanager, summer

Tanager, western

Teal, blue-winged

Teal, cinnamon

Teal, green-winged

Tern, Caspian

Tern, Forster's

Thrasher, curve-billed

Thrush, hermit (Ct)

Thrush, orange-billed nightingale

Towhee, canyon

Towhee, green-tailed (RaCa)

Tyrannulet, northern beardless

Violetear, Mexican (Ct)

Vireo, Bell's (Ct)

Vireo, black capped (Sa)

Vireo, Cassin's

Vireo, golden

Vireo, Hutton's (Ct)

Vireo, plumbeous

Vireo, warbling

Vulture, black

Vulture, turkey

Warbler, black and white

Warbler, black-throated gray

Warbler, Colima (Sa)

Warbler, hermit

Warbler, Lucy's (Av)

Warbler, MacGillivray's

Warbler, Nashville

Warbler, orange-crowned

Warbler, red-faced (Ct)

Warbler, rufous-capped (Sa)

Warbler, Townsend's (CtAv)

Warbler, Virginia's

Warbler, Wilson's

Warbler, yellow

Warbler, yellow-rumped

Waterthrush, northern (Ch)

Willet (Ch)

Woodcreeper, white striped (Ct)

Woodpecker, acorn (Ct)

Woodpecker, golden-fronted

Woodpecker, ladder-backed

Wren, Bewick's

Wren, canyon

Wren, happy

Wren, house

Wren, marsh

Wren, spotted

Yellowlegs, greater

Yellowlegs, lesser

Yellowthroat, common

Yellowthroat, gray-crowned (Ch)

Sighting Location codes:

Ac - Ajijic: La Cristina & El Bajio

At - Trails above Ajijic

Av - Ajijic village

Ca - Lake Cajititlan & marsh

Ch - Chapala

Ct - Caracol Trail & Int'l School

Cu - Chapala Haciendas & UofG

Cv - Cerro Viejo

Dm - Dike: Jamay to Malteraña

Dp - Dike: Maltaraña to La Palma

Hv - Hidden Valley oak forest

Ja - Jamay

La - La Cañada & Hidden Valley

Jo - Jocotepec

Ld - Lerma & Duero rivers

Mz - Mezcala

Oc - Ocotlan

Pe - Petatan area

Ps - Pumping Station & Santa Cruz

Pt - San Pedro Tesistan

Pz - San Pedro Itzican/Poncitlan

Ra - Rosa Amarilla loop

Rc - Santa Rosa & Carnero dam

Rp - Riberas del Pilar & canyon

Sa - San Antonio & Allen Lloyd Trail

Sc - San Juan Cosala

Sn - San Nicholas & Golf Club

Tz - Tizapan canyon

Te - San Juan Tecomatlan

Tr - Potrerillos & Las Trojes & Chupinaya

Tu - Tuxcueca & San Luis Soyatlan

Xt - Ixtlahuacan & Las Campanillas

What is the "Lake Chapala Area"?

We define it as the whole area of the lake plus all land within 15km (or 7 miles) of the edge of the lake.

Lake Chapala Birders is an informal group of bird observers led by John and Rosemary Keeling.

Illustrated color folders showing our common birds are once again available for $200 pesos at Diane Pearl's Gallery, 11 am to 4 pm, Santa Margarita #23, at the east end of Riberas del Pilar. Also available from John Keeling.

We like to hear of bird sightings at: chapalabirders@yahoo.com.

Check our website: ChapalaBirders.org
There you will find our newsletters, illustrations of our birds and advice on buying binoculars, books and birding apps.