Night of the Iguana

Iguana Puerto Vallarta

Back in the late 1990s I was obsessed with Tennessee Williams plays. I found them smoldering  and Williams’ words were a dance around the real issues that everyone—both the characters and the audience—seemed afraid to talk about.  I was in my 20s, living in San Francisco Bay Area, and there was a lot going on around me that helped shape a lot of my beliefs and opinions as I was discovering who I was. It was in a little theatre in San Francisco that often performed the works of Williams. feeding my appetite with performances of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Summer and Smoke, and I sought out anything else I could get my hands on that was Tennessee Williams-related. One of those things I got my hands on was the movie, Night of the Iguana.

When we first visited Puerto Vallarta last year I hadn’t pieced together that Night of the Iguana was filmed there. I suppose my fifty-year-old memory is failing me and I was likely spending my energy planning for birding excursions rather than looking up Puerto Vallarta movie connections. It wasn’t until we were on a birding field trip to Mismaloya—a little fishing village on the edge of Puerto Vallarta—when someone in our van mentioned it.

“Wait. What?” I asked.

“Yes,” the birder said. “Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton made that movie here.”

No, it was Ava Gardner and Deborah Kerr, not Elizabeth Taylor, I thought. I didn’t correct the misinformed birder, but just nodded because I was now trying to let this all sink in. I was here in Puerto Vallarta, at the very place where the Tennessee Williams film was shot and I was going to be looking for birds. I confess, there was a part of me that wanted to ditch this birding field trip and go exploring the nooks and crannies of this rocky point to soak up as much Tennessee Williams vibe as I could.

But I was here to see birds, not try to channel a movie about a defrocked priest on the verge of a nervous breakdown while leading a group of female tourists in Mexico.


Mexico’s beautiful bougainvillea.

Mexico was steamy, for sure, just like the Tennessee Williams plays. We walked an area—a dirt road that wrapped near a high school where we searched for birds, but I was already hot and impatient for the birds to appear.

The Golden-cheeked Woodpecker was the first to make an appearance and just as we fixed our binoculars on her, a family of San Blas Jays scurried through the trees. I was lucky to even get a photo, as they were moving through so fast.

Golden-cheeked Woodpecker (female)

Golden-cheeked Woodpecker (female)

San Blas Jay

San Blas Jay

I let the other birders move on ahead of me and I thought about how different I had become from who I was before. Much had changed in my life over the past thirty years since my Tennessee Williams obsession. I still love Tennessee Williams, but my interests evolved and expanded. They’ve taken different routes.

Thirty years ago it never occurred to me to look out my kitchen window to see what the birds were up to.

Thirty years ago, I didn’t think to look at the birds on a hike.

Thirty years ago I didn’t even know Motmots existed.

Nor did I think I would be so keen to see this one on our walk in Mismaloya.


Rufous Motmot

Rufous Motmot

Rufous Motmot 2

Rufous Motmot showing off his lovely tail.

My twenty-something self sometimes seemed to be a completely different person than who I had become. I wondered if we would sit next to each other and start up a conversation at a café or on a park bench or on a bus. The fifty-something me would do that, but would my younger self reach out to me? I wondered if I had been looking too much through my long lens, looking close up at something so specific that I missed the broader view and missed looking at other things around me.

Streak-backed Oriole

Streak-backed Oriole

Streak-backed Oriole 2

Streak-backed Oriole–the long view.

My younger self had been fascinated with old movies, old storytellers and writers (alá the Algonquin Round Table crowd) and I felt a certain sophistication to have these interests. I loved having fun facts in my back pocket about F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Dorothy Parker and, of course Tennessee Williams. And I spent a great deal of time watching old movies from that time period at Palo Alto’s Stanford Theatre when I lived in the Bay Area during my twenties. I probably saw more old movies than most film studies students had seen.

But I somehow missed all the birds during that time in my life. They flew right by me or perhaps were just right before me and I couldn’t see them. Their bright flashy colors, their complex songs and their amazing survival skills were all lost on me. I didn’t know what birds were around in the winter versus those who were around in the spring or summer. I missed them completely.

And the warblers. My younger self could have never predicted that they would become my nemesis, as they hardly ever stayed still long enough for me to steal a photo of them.

Though, this guy—the Black-throated Gray Warbler—paused for me in Mismaloya that day.

Black-throated Gray Warbler

Black-throated Gray Warbler

As I walked around with my binoculars around my neck and lugged my camera over my shoulder I quickened my pace to catch up with the group.  I soon forgot about The Night of the Iguana. I was here in Mismaloya to find birds and make sure I didn’t miss them this time around in my life.

I had a lot of catching up to do.

Inca Dove

Inca Dove


The list

List of birds we saw Mismaloya on that early steamy February day (lifers in bold):

  1. Brown Pelican
  2. Neotropic Cormorant
  3. Magnificent Frigatebird
  4. Great Egret
  5. Snowy Egret
  6. Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
  7. Green Heron
  8. Black Vulture
  9. Turkey Vulture
  10. Swainson’s Hawk
  11. Heermann’s Gull
  12. Rock Dove
  13. Inca Dove
  14. Orange-fronted Parakeet
  15. Military Macaw
  16. Mexican Parrotlet
  17. Lilac-crowned Parrot
  18. Squirrel Cuckoo
  19. Long-tailed Hermit
  20. Golden-crowned Emerald
  21. Broad-billed Hummingbird
  22. Cinnamon Hummingbird
  23. Russet-crowned Motmot
  24. Golden-cheeked Woodpecker
  25. Cordilleran Flycatcher
  26. Great Kiskadee
  27. Tropical Kingbird
  28. Gray-collared (Mexican) Becard
  29. Maked Tityra
  30. Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet
  31. Green Jay
  32. San Blas Jay
  33. Sinaloa Wren
  34. Happy Wren (heard)
  35. Blue-gray Ghatcatcher
  36. White-throated Robin
  37. Rufous-backed Robin
  38. Red-eyed Vireo
  39. Nashville Warbler
  40. Black-throated Gray Warbler
  41. Wilson’s Warbler
  42. Grayish Saltator
  43. Indigo Bunting
  44. Painted Bunting
  45. White-collared Seedeater
  46. Stripe-headed Sparrow
  47. Great-tailed Grackle
  48. Streak-backed Oriole
  49. Yellow-winged Cacique
  50. House Finch
  51. House Sparrow