Mazatlan and Villa Blanca (Sierra Madre), Jan. 19 - 25


         Our headquarters for a week in Mazatlan was a large and busy RV park in the middle of the Zona de Oro (Gold Zone), where the resort hotels and tourist facilities of this major port city are concentrated.  Although many of us would have preferred the birdy but ramshackle Playa Escondido on the northern outskirts, the downtown La Posta was unbeatable for the restocking and reconditioning needed on a long expedition.  Available in the campground were laundry service, internet connections, haircuts, propane, vehicle washing and waxing, and minor repairs, while within walking distance were restaurants, night clubs, banks and ATMs, and a vast shopping mall with a modern grocery supermarket and a Sam's Club.
La Posta Trailer Park
Office and internet room
At the back fence

        The Mazatlan area also offered some very good birding.  A wealth of aquatic and shore birds rewarded our visits to nearby lagoons and beaches, while  on several trips to the hills fifteen miles inland via La Noria Road. we found the new species pictured, as well as Citriolene Trogon, Red-breasted Chat, and others.
Lagoon birding
Red-billed Pigeon
Ruflous-bellied Chachalaca

        Nor were the pleasures of the Zona de Oro ignored.
Cutting the rug at a hotel fiesta (JW)
Mariachi Party

        Mazatlan's supreme attraction for birders is the opportunity to seek out the rare species found only in the upper reaches of the lofty Sierra Madre Occidental.  For travelers from the United States, the highway east from Mazatlan to Durango is the first road in hundreds of miles that crosses this great mountain range.  Accordingly we had planned to leave the big rigs at La Posta while we made a two-day expedition up the Durango highway in our smaller vehicles.  We would spend the first night at Villa Blanca, an inn well known to birders that perches on the first great Sierra ridge at an elevation of some 4,000 feet.  Arising an hour before dawn, we would then ascend to the awesome Barranca Rancho Libre, at some 7,000 feet, for a day of thrilling birding.

        Alas, our hopes were dashed by two days of torrential downpours like nothing ever seen by veteran winter travelers to Mexico.  Villa Blanca's rooms were awash, and in the first hundred yards up the Barranca trail everyone got so soaked and chilled that we retreated to Mazatlan in despair.

        Fortunately we had another opportunity, on our return trip home in early March, for a one-day dash from Mazatlan up the Durango highway.  Carolyn and Charlie were able to precede the others by a day because Harry enabled us to spend the night in Villa Blanca's parking lot without a reservation. En routewe stopped for lunch at the lovely little hill town Copala.

Daniel's Restaurant, Copala
Daniel's terrace
View from Daniel's

        From Daniel's terrace on a previous visit Charlie had seen a spectacular flight of Black-throated Magpie Jays, and the flamboyant Military Macaws also occur here.
"Here's to the Military Macaws"
"But where are they?"

        In good weather Villa Blanca is a simple, clean, and charming establishment.  It has been operated since its German founder died some years ago by the Mexican staff he trained, and still serves a distinctive German/Mexican cuisine.  There were no guests when we arrived, but the staff made us welcome to their shady parking lot and served us dinner.  The view is heart stopping, and at night the lights of Mazatlan can be seen forty miles away.
Villa Blanca
The hotel
Dining porch
Villa Blanca View
Waiting for dinner

        We arose very early because of the absolute necessity for reaching the Barranca area by dawn.  There a fiery sunrise was overture to an even more stunning reward.
Sierra Madre Sunrise

        The prize avian species hereabouts is the Tufted Jay, a large and strikingly plumaged creature that is restricted to a very limited range in this sector of the high mountains.  It is most often seen in a small flock coursing along the Durango highway at dawn.  We had missed them, of course, in our earlier rainout.

        But now, soon after the caravaners coming up from Mazatlan overtook us, the Jays appeared!  And instead of just coursing by for brief glimpses, as was usually the case, they swarmed around our parked vehicles at close range and alighted to pick repeatedly at a decaying roadside lemon.  This was the kind of rare thrill that birders dream of!

Tufted Jays

        After this spectacle, even the great birds we saw on our two-mile hike up to the Barranca (among others, Aztec Thrush, Red-faced Warbler, Olive Warbler, White-striped Woodcreeper, Hepatic Tanager) seemed a bit anti-climactic.
Barranca trailhead
Ready to go
Birder Carolyn
Birding at the top
Up to the rim
Carolyn at the brink
Barranca Rancho Libre

        We concluded our original stay at La Posta by rising at dawn to head for new adventures farther south.
Ready to roll
Harry pulls out
Good-bye urban pollution

Photographs copyrighted 2004, that initialed (JW) by Jim Woodhouse, and the rest by Carolyn Merchant