Hawk Migration Association of North America
Veracruz, Mexico River of Raptors
Another Amazing HMANA Adventure to Veracruz Mexico!
In early October of 2022, nine HMANA participants joined me and local guide Eduardo Martinez at a hawk migration mecca – Veracruz, Mexico. The tour focused on the hawk watches and associated birding locations within this ecologically diverse state. As in 2016, HMANA’s last trip to this destination, we partnered with Pronatura Veracruz, the local organization that staffs the hawk watches and promotes conservation and education efforts throughout the state. This tour had been delayed since 2020 due to Covid, which only heightened the anticipation of many participants, including several who had been patiently waiting for this opportunity to materialize. It is safe to say that the River of Raptors tour lived up to its well-deserved reputation, especially as it was timed with peak or near-peak seasons for migrating Broad-winged and Swainson’s Hawks and Turkey Vultures.
The group spent several days at the famous Cardel and Chichicaxtle hawk watches, which, together, represent the largest number of raptor migrants anywhere in the world. During a few days between October 1 and 9, we bore witness to over 200,000 migrating raptors of nearly 20 species.
As advertised, the tour was full of raptors. Still, we also enjoyed the rich bird diversity of subtropical habitats within the Americas, including birds from both western and eastern North America and even several South American specialties. The group soaked in ample cultural experiences, including visits to pre-Columbian archaeological sites and learning about past civilizations at a world-class museum, and immersing in the modern culture and sampling the delicious flavors of the state’s cuisine.
By the numbers, at least 211 bird species were seen by tour participants, including 17 species of shorebirds, 11 species of hummingbirds, 13 species of wading birds, 20 species of flycatchers, 18 species of warblers, and a remarkable 26 species of raptors. We witnessed days of over 100,000 migrant raptors; one memorable hour at Cardel saw 75,000 migrants pass, the majority of these Broad-winged Hawks! We were delighted and awed by thousands of migrating American White Pelicans, Wood Storks, and Anhingas mixed in with the well over 100,000 Broad-winged Hawks, tens of thousands of Turkey Vultures, and many hundreds of Swainson’s Hawks. The entire hawk watch scene – the birds, Pronatura interpreters, and visitors from nearby and other visiting raptor groups – made for a truly memorable experience.
Other trip highlights included excellent birding in various habitats, including the humid lowland forests, mangrove-lined waterways by boat, high-elevation pine forests, and even high desert habitat. The group enjoyed a special tour of El Finca Mirador, a shade-grown coffee farm, in which owners, Jorge and Maria, escorted us around the farm in search of birds and shared a delicious meal of freshly-brewed coffee and homemade honey bread. We had exclusive access to La Miramar, a new Pronatura observatory located in the foothills near the coast, where bird migration was viewed at eye level from this expansive and impressive highland view. And no HMANA trip to Veracruz is complete without a visit from Ernesto Ruelas, a co-founder of the River of Raptors hawk watches and previous project coordinator for HMANA’s Raptor Population Index. Ernesto’s storytelling enthralled participants as he recounted the establishment of the hawk watches and early monitoring efforts in the area over dinner at a hotel one evening.
It’s difficult to choose a most memorable bird sighting…the raptors, of course, were hard to beat. But witnessing a mixed flock of Fork-tailed and Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, or up-close views of a Magnificent Frigatebird colony, fine looks at exotic and colorful birds such as Motmots, Oropendulas, Mexican Sheartail, and Cavinet’s Emerald, were right up there on participants’ shortlists.
Veracruz has left us with many rich memories, and it continues to earn its place as a world-class raptor-watching and birding destination. The kindness of the local people and the support of Pronatura added to and made the experience what it was.
HMANA hopes to return soon, and we welcome YOU to participate when we do!