Winter Birding in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico: Colonial City in Guanajuato Highlands is Worthwhile Birding Trip

San Miguel, one of several beautiful highland colonial cities in central Mexico, is some six thousand feet above sea level. With cobblestoned streets, pastel painted homes and sweeping views, it is a favorite for Canadian and U. S. expatriates, as well as tourists. A stunning canyon and large botanical garden help make it a worthy birding destination, too.

Premier Birding Areas Within the City

San Miguel consists of thirty Colonias, barrios and designated neighborhoods. Those on the upper hillside outskirts of the city, such as Obraje, border high desert chaparral rich with birds.

Charco del Ingenio is a preserved natural area and botanical garden on more than two hundred acres within the city’s urban area.

Below the botanic garden, a major canyon drops down to Presa del Obraje, a lake above the Obraje neighborhood.

The Obraje Area

One of the city’s thirty colonias, or neighborhoods, Obraje lies in the hills to the northeast of downtown. Thistle fields adjacent to the neighborhood harbor Cactus wren, Curve-billed thrasher, Lesser goldfinch, Broad-billed hummingbird and Varied bunting. The street that leads into Obraje, Calzada de la Presa, crosses an arroyo directly across from the Jose Vasconcelos bilingual school. Just past the bridge two trails parallel the arroyo, one down from the bridge and another up into the canyon.

Although not as productive as the upper trail, the lower trail is short and well worth birding. It follows the arroyo about a quarter of a mile down to the new upscale Centro de Arte Y Diseno La Aurora (The Aurora Center for Art and Design), a dramatically renovated fabric mill. Winter birds common to this area include Vermillion flycatcher, Yellow-rumped warbler, Blue-gray gnatcatcher, Wilson’s warbler and Violet-crowned hummingbird.

Presa del Obraje

The upper trail is more rocky and steep, climbing less than a hundred feet to the dam, which is less than a quarter mile up the canyon. Early morning is particularly good for birding this area, with many great birds including Indigo bunting, Yellow-bellied sapsucker, Golden-fronted woodpecker, Chipping and Rufous-crowned sparrow, Cassin’s kingbird and Groove-billed ani. The path continues past the dam and reaches the end of the lake only a third of a mile from the trailhead.

On and around the lake, birders will find Great kiskadee, Black phoebe, Vermilion flycatcher, Least grebe and Snowy egret, among many others.

El Charco del Ingenio

This spacious, two hundred twenty acre, urban ecological preserve contains a large reservoir, high desert chaparral and a magnificent canyon which drops down to the Presa del Obraje. One can reach the park by car from the well-signed Queretaro road at the south entrance to San Miguel. The park can also be reached by following the cobblestone street above Obraje. This road is part of an arrested housing development. Follow this road about a half mile up hill, and take an unmarked trail to the right about one hundred feet before reaching the overhead power lines. From there, it is another half mile to the reservoir.

Admission to the park is thirty pesos per person (currently about two dollars), and an annual membership is available for five hundred pesos. Common waterbirds at the reservoir include American avocet, Black-necked stilt and White-faced ibis. Birds in the surrounding chaparral and along the canyon include Black-chinned sparrow, White-throated swift, Crested caracara, Verdin and Loggerhead shrike.

San Miguel’s Audubon Society Chapter

San Miguel is also home to the only Audubon chapter in Mexico. The club currently has about two hundred members, and sponsors many birding and other conservation-related events and lectures. It also conducts area bird walks on the third Sunday of each month. The bird walks are open to non-members for a fee of one hundred pesos (about seven dollars currently), and upcoming walks are described on the club’s excellent web site.

Great birding is available within the city boundaries of San Miguel de Allende as well as in a number of nearby sites. The natural beauty of the area coupled with the color and charm of this colonial Mexican city make it a wonderful destination for birders.