The state of Oaxaca is known to have more than 800 species of birds, many of which can be found in and near the capital city of Oaxaca. Most of these sites are well documented, including the archeological sites of Monte Alban and Yagul, and higher elevation sites such as La Cumbre and Guacamaya. In addition, excellent birding can be found in the foothill communities that surround Oaxaca, such as San Pablo Etla.
San Pablo Etla
San Pablo Etla is one of several “Etla” communities only five to ten miles northwest of the city of Oaxaca. There are a number of homes for rent in the San Pablo Etla area, and birders interested in staying outside of the busy city of Oaxaca might want to consider this option. Many of these rental homes can be found on the Internet.
San Pablo Etla is east of highway 135, about eight miles north of Oaxaca and south of where this highway becomes the high-speed cuota (toll road) to Puebla and Mexico City.
The Terrain Around San Pablo Etla
San Pablo Etla lies in the mountain foothills about five hundred feet above the city of Oaxaca, at approximately 5,540 feet above sea level. The area is mostly desert scrub and oak trees, with non-native Jacaranda and Eucalyptus trees, in addition to other winter flowering trees and shrubs.
Small farms are also found in the area, as well as a creek and several ponds and reservoirs. Consequently, birders can find a large variety of species most times of the year, including water birds, orioles, field birds, woodpeckers and many migrants. A significant number of endemics are also present, some of them in abundance.
Where to Bird in the San Pablo Area
From highway 135, just north of Oaxaca, take the exit marked “Viguero” to the east. Drive east along the cobblestone paved main road, passing the turnoff into Viguero. Stay on the main road (do not turn left into the town of San Pablo). At 1.7 miles, the pavement ends, but continue on the dirt road past Casa Raab (at 1.9 miles). The road continues over a small bridge at 2.3 miles and then uphill where it reaches the treed grounds of a seminary. There is a gate across the road that may be locked, but one can park off of the main road and walk beyond the gate and uphill along the dirt road that continues past the seminary.
Birding is excellent along this entire stretch, from the fields where the paved road ends, around the bridge and creek, beside the seminary grounds and further up the hill. Renting a home in this area is by far the easiest and most productive way to see birds, and the birder who does so likely will record a hundred species without leaving the property.
Some of the Birds Commonly Seen Around San Pablo Etla
Endemic birds listed below are noted with (e).
Early morning winter migrants include Virginia’s warbler, Nashville, MacGillvray’s, Wilson’s, Yellow-rumped, Townsend’s and Rufous-capped (e) warblers, as well as Indigo and Varied buntings, Western tanager and Plumbeous vireo. Other birds more commonly seen earlier in the day include Rufous-backed (e) and Clay-colored robins.
Mid-morning birds likely to be seen include Grey silky (e), Great kiskadee and Bushtits (fully black-eared).
Vermillion flycatchers are present throughout the day, as are Curve-billed thrasher, Dusky hummingbird (e), White-throated towhee (e), Dusky flycatcher, Bullock’s and Black-vented (e) orioles, Chipping, Rufous-crowned and Oaxaca (e) sparrows as well as Ladder-backed and Golden-fronted woodpeckers.
Common higher-flying birds include Black and Turkey vultures, Short-tailed hawk and Crested caracara.
Birding the Suburbs of Popular Tourist Areas
Great birding can be found close to large tourist areas in Mexico, such as Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta. The suburban areas near Oaxaca are no exception, and San Pablo Etla is a perfect example.