View of old Puerto Vallarta from the harbor.

Ecotourism in western Mexico: Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco.

The view our bedroom balcony, one block from the waves, on Olas ALtas Calle.
The view of the Pacific Ocean from our
balcony of Room 214 at Playa los Arcos.

Our March trip to Puerto Vallarta was a last minute decision, made when the web offered us a bargain in air fares!  The purpose was more of a winter getaway vacation, than a research trip, but we made lots of friends and found ecotourism alive and well. You can see and hear the breakers and surf constantly, day and night—a nice antidote for the coldest New England winter on record.

We stayed at Playa los Arcos - arches, named for abrupt, dramatic islets in the southern part of Bahia de Banderas - the third largest bay in Mexico.

We spent a lot of time just walking around the old city of Puerto Vallarta—there are lots of vendors, lots of real west  Mexican culture, and lots of bargain eating places.

The city was built among low hills where the Rio Cuales enters the Pacific. Much of its charm lies in the architecture designed integrally around this gentle river, seen here in the dry season.  Especially endearing  is the narrow island in the river, on which you will find such classic restaurants as le Bistro and the River Cafe, from which you can watch herons and cormorants if you eat during the day.


Birdwatching in the middle of the city of Puerto Vallarta.

View of the south shore of Isla Rio Cuales, where
 we saw Snowy Egrets and a Tricolored Heron.

The best birding was on two day trips: The first on a whale watch with Vallarta Adventures.  The boat took a load of us out to the Marietas (NOT the much farther out Tres Marias.) These islands are low breeding bird colonies, with Brown and Blue-footed Boobies, and Frigate Birds soaring overhead.  The snorkeling was not up to the Caribbean standards, as the wave action and deep water prevented us from accessing the myriad fish we saw in Hawaii or Belize.  But the limestone wave-erosion caves were gorgeous. 

We also stopped on the way back to port on the beach, in the state of Nayarit, and explored the tide pools.  The trip leader, Willy, was both knowledgeable in ecology and witty.  The scenery was some of the most interesting shoreline we have ever seen - the landscape on sandstone bluffs was arid, with xeric vegetation including cactus of various species (see below).

This bird landed on our tour boat and awaited the usual handout.
A breeding plumage Heermann's Gull

Somewhere along the coast on the way back from the Marietas to the marina, we stopped for an hour on this remote sculpted beach and looked at tide-pool ecology.

Brown Booby, Sula leucogaster, flies by our boat near the Mariettas.

Brown Booby flies by our tour boat.

The second was a morning bus trip with Alfredo Herrera to the small village of Junta de Veranos, about 30 miles south of P. V.  Alfredo advertises his guide service on his very impressive web site: Discover Pacific Tours. He is very familiar with the local land birds and has keen ears and vision, so he was most helpful in finding us bird sounds for the EnjoyBirds project. 

As I was sound recording the whole time, I have no photos to post of this interesting area.  As with most of the villages on this arid coast, it is centered around a small river.  We got many village sounds—dogs, construction, chickens—but we also got usable recordings of some western Mexican endemic bird species: San Blas Jays, Golden-cheeked Woodpecker, Blue Mockingbird, Sinaloa Wren, Strip-headed Sparrow and Yellow-winged Cacique. Click on the title under any of the following bird illustrations to hear a short sound sample, with the MP3 file size indicated in kilobytes. For PC windows software with 2100 more of these illustrations, their field marks and 800 more sounds of better quality, you might look into our main product ,and enjoy birds more.  Again, we thank Alfredo Herrera for his help adding to our sound catalog.

Illustration of Cyanocitta sanblasianus from EnjoyBirds, shown here in reduced detail.

San Blas Jay (100k)

Illustration of Melanerpes chrysogenys from EnjoyBirds, shown here in reduced detail.

Golden-cheeked Woodpecker (120k)

Illustration of Melanotis caerulescens from EnjoyBirds, shown here in reduced detail.

Blue Mockingbird (210k)

Illustration of Thryothorus sinaloa from EnjoyBirds, shown here in reduced detail.

Sinaloa Wren (60k)

Illustration of Aimophila ruficauda from EnjoyBirds, shown here in reduced detail.

Stripe-headed Sparrow (210k)

Illustration of Cacicus melanicterus from EnjoyBirds, shown here in reduced detail.

Yellow-winged Cacique (180k)

Brunch at le Bistro on the island in the Rio Cuales

During our wonderful stay, we found the place at which we would rather have stayed (right), thanks to our friend Israel, who took us to brunch at Le Bistro (left) on the island. People you meet in Puerto Vallarta often say the place grows on you, so you will always come back.

View from balcony of room at Lindo Mar, to the south end of Puerto Vallarta.
View from balcony of a single bedroom at Lindo Mar, at the southern end of Puerto Vallarta

Melinis repens

Close-up view of the unusual grass,
originally named Rhynchelytrum roseum

We also found another ecotour service, with links to whale, turtle and bird watching projects. The manager, Alfredo Andrade, is quite an expert about more than animal biology, and gave us some references to plants common in Mexico, helping in our efforts to identify a species of grass we had found on the bank at the east end of Isla de Rio Cuales.

This grass is very unusual, in that it appears to have some of the characteristics of both major divisions of the Gramineae: the second glume is almost the mirror image of the first, sterile lemma, like all the Panicoids, but it has now been placed in the Festucoid group, and renamed Melinis repens. For an introduction to the study of grasses and sedges, see our new PDF book, Graminoids.

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