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Cozumel, Mexico July 04

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Old Saturday 24th July 2004, 00:45   #1
Dave B Smith
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Cozumel, Mexico July 04

Cozumel, Playa del Carmen, and Coba, Mexico

We went for a quick birding trip to the Yucatan Peninsula last weekend. We drove from Campeche and arrived in Playa del Carmen Thursday evening. Friday morning we got started at 7:30 AM on the some of the back roads between Playa del Carmen and Puerto Morelos. We birded our way to P. Morelos where the Botanical Garden, which was our destination, opens at 9 AM. At the entry, while waiting for the gates to open, we met a local bird guide, Luis Ku Quinones, who didn’t have any trip scheduled. We hired him for the morning and what a great help he was. He has been guiding visits to the gardens for the last 10 years. He knew almost every bird we heard in the gardens (60 hectares) and we found most of those we heard. Right in the Parking lot we picked up our first endemic bird, the Yucatan Vireo, as well as a half dozen other birds. We found both the Black-headed and the Violaceous Trogons but not the Collared Trogon that we were wanting. Later, off the trail near an ant swarm, we found 4 different Woodcreeper species in one area. Three were lifers for us! And right at the end of our morning we came up with my favorite bird of the day and a lifer, the Long-billed Gnatwren! By 12:30 it was getting quite hot for birding as well as pretty slow so off to lunch and then the afternoon on the beach!

Saturday was dedicated to a trip to Cozumel Island. We started early, leaving the hotel at 5:15 AM to catch the 6 AM ferry to Cozumel. We arrived on the Island just before 7 and well before any car-hires were open. We checked out the birds in the main square and then had a leisurely breakfast. At 8 AM when the first car rental opened we were standing in their doorway. By 8:15 we were on our way. The first stop was just outside of town on the middle island road. We saw a nursery bordered by some good woods and pulled in there. We were quickly rewarded with our first Cozumel endemic, the Cozumel Emerald hummingbird. What a beautiful bird, bright emerald green with a long forked tail (male). We also picked up two endemic subspecies there, the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and the Black Catbird. Then we headed down the road and came to the entrance to a Mayan ruin (San Gervasio) site. We birded the long entrance road picking up two more endem ssps, the Yellow-faced Grassquit and Red-vented Woodpecker. We paid our entrance fee into the ruins but then they wouldn’t let me enter with my tripod. This was the first time I’ve failed to talk my way into a ruin with it, but this guy wasn’t budging. We got our money back and birded the parking area and came up with the Golden Warbler, another striking little bird. Then on to the far side of the Island and down to the South-east corner where the Punta Celerain Lighthouse is. There is a small (maybe 70 feet long) rocky island off the coast here and my guide book said that there were several pairs of Bridled Terns that nest here (at least in 99). Well, this area is a protected area and you can only enter with a tour. I tried with my scope from the observation platform at the entrance and could make out several Bridled Terns but it certainly wasn’t a satisfying view. We talked with the attendants and they were very helpful and one agreed to accompany us on one of their vehicles to a beach area close to the island (a mini-tour fee was negotiated). This gave us great views and we got Bridled, Sandwich and Common Terns, as well as Brown Noddy and Brown Booby. From there, we continued around the Island perimeter road until the President Hotel area. It was now 3:30 PM so we stopped for lunch and then I had to keep to my deal and go shopping in town with my wife. We finished up at 5:30 and caught the 6 PM ferry back to Playa del Carmen.

The next morning included a stop to see the ruins at Tulum (got Cave Swallow, my 500th lifer there), and then off to Coba for some forest birding. We arrived in Coba late morning and first checked out the adjacent lake picking up a few waders and then entered the ruins. The forest was alive with bird calls! There were Clay-colored Robins everywhere as well as Tropical Kingbirds. We started down the long path, stopping at every offshoot of the main path (if anyone actually wants to get all the way to the ruins and see them, I recommend hiring one of the bicycles or three wheeled “taxi” tricycles for the entrance). In one spot we pished up a Northern Bentbill and an Eye-ringed Flatbill. Fantastic little birds, both. Further on we found a Yellow-olive Flycatcher feeding hatchlings. Her nest was a hanging bulbous nest with a bottom entry. While trying to ID her, I set my scope on the nest and just waited for her to return. Well, it returned and flew straight up and in like a flash! No way to ID from that view. Next I found a branch it was using as a “staging area” prior to entering the nest and we got a good look at it here. As it was getting late and we had a long drive in front of us we had to leave prior to ever getting to the actual ruin site. On the way out we picked up some Black-headed Trogons calling.

All in all it was a good little trip. Plenty of birding and enough sight-seeing time to keep my wife happy too! We saw 65 species of which 17 were lifers so it was also very productive. All three sites are highly recommended. Following is the trip list with lifers identified with an asterisk*.

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
Plain Chachalaca
Brown Booby
Brown Pelican
Neotropic Cormorant
Magnificent Frigatebird
Little Blue Heron
White Ibis
Black Vulture
Turkey Vulture
Limpkin
Northern Jacana
Sandwich Tern
Roseate Tern
Bridled Tern *
Brown Noddy *
White-winged Dove
Ruddy Ground-Dove
Groove-billed Ani
Lesser Nighthawk
Green-breasted Mango
Cozumel Emerald *
Black-headed Trogon
Violaceous Trogon
Blue-crowned Motmot
Red-vented Woodpecker
Golden-fronted Woodpecker
Tawny-winged Woodcreeper *
Ruddy Woodcreeper *
Northern Barred-Woodcreeper *
Ivory-billed Woodcreeper
Yellow-bellied Elaenia *
Northern Bentbill *
Eye-ringed Flatbill *
Yellow-olive Flycatcher *
Tropical Pewee
Brown-crested Flycatcher
Great Kiskadee
Social Flycatcher
Tropical Kingbird
Rose-throated Becard
Yucatan Vireo *
Yellow-green Vireo *
Tawny-crowned Greenlet *
Lesser Greenlet *
Green Jay
Brown Jay
Yucatan Jay
Cave Swallow * (#500)
Long-billed Gnatwren *
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Clay-colored Robin
Black Catbird *
Tropical Mockingbird
Golden (Yellow) Warbler
Yellow-throated Warbler
Bananaquit
Yellow-faced Grassquit
Melodious Blackbird
Great-tailed Grackle
Bronzed Cowbird
Hooded Oriole
Orange Oriole
Altamira Oriole
Yellow-throated Euphonia
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Last edited by Dave B Smith : Tuesday 3rd August 2004 at 02:45. Reason: ID change from Common to Roseate Tern, see post 16
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Old Saturday 24th July 2004, 11:41   #2
Edward woodwood
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Hi Dave

sounds like you had a nice time
brings back some good memories for me

really enjoyed Coba and Puerto Morelos areas - did you get up the tower in the Botanical Gardens? We were pleasantly surprised by several Prothonatory Warblers in there.
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Old Saturday 24th July 2004, 13:38   #3
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I stood at the base of the "observation tower". A friend of mine had been recently and already recounted how wobbly the ladder was. When I saw the two old wooden ladders wired together, I decided there probably wasn't really going to be much in the canopy anyway 8-)
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Old Monday 26th July 2004, 01:44   #4
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Thanks for posting this report!
I went to the Barrera Bot. Gardens in late June and had the best birding trip of my life!

We saw some Cinnamon Hummingbirds,Violacious Trogon,Red Throated Ant Tanagers and much more not to mention the Spider Monkeys.We climbed the tower and did all the trails.
I will definitely return there.
-stephen
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Old Monday 26th July 2004, 01:47   #5
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I will get a complete birdlist of what we saw and post it here when I'm done.
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Old Thursday 29th July 2004, 15:29   #6
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Dave,
I would like to ask you how sure you are on the id of Common tern. I have not been to Cozumel, but I have read what Raffaele et al, Field Guide to Birds of West Indies, writes about the terns: that common tern is rare this far south in Summer, and the majority of the observations reported are really mis-identified roseate terns. Adult Roseates in mid summer have red half way out the bill, and can be identified on the upper wing when flying, by only three outermost primaries being dark (second summer birds have dark in the 6 outermost feathers, more like common).

As I dont really know how accurate the opinion of Raffaele et al is, I would like you to say how convinced you are that you saw common and not roseate terns.

thanks
Niels
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Old Saturday 31st July 2004, 03:37   #7
Dave B Smith
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Niels,
A very valid question. I live in the base of the Yucatan and have only seen Common Terns here in winter. During our trip to Quintana Roo in mid July we spent just the one day on Cozumel and the particular site we saw the Terns was one mentioned in Howell's Bird-Finding Guide to Mexico. We were specifically looking for the Bridled Terns as it was reported (in 1999) that several pair breed on this rocky islet off Cozumel. We went down to the beach just in front of this Islet and set up my 60 mm scope. The distance was close enough to get really good views. We saw Brown Pelican, Brown Noddy, Bridled Tern, and Sandwich Terns as expected. We didn't see any Royal Terns which had been expected. What we found out of the ordinary were both the Brown Boobies (1 pair) and the smaller terns. These Terns were a small flock perched alongside a group of Sandwich Terns so I had an excellent comparison for size. They were several inches smaller. The majority of them had red bills with black tips and full summer black caps. Several had black bills and the half caps. The former I ID'd as adult Common Tern and the latter as immature Common Tern. I knew at the time that they are not supposed to be there in summer. I pulled out my Peterson's Eastern Bird guide and checked them against it to be sure. They looked very good.

Could they have been Roseate? I had checked Howell's list and he had Roseate as Rare and an Uncommon transient with the only records being from late April to mid May so the probability (based on distribution) of it being Roseate is not much higher than being Common.

The bills of my Tern were redder with black tips whereas the Roseate should be blacker with a red base. This was the detail that I used to rule out Roseate. I also didn't see any "rosy" breast colors. I checked this at the time as I knew Roseate was a possibility.

What I had thought was more likely (afterwards) was the Forster's Tern. This again is fairly similar to the Common. I did not look at this one in my field guide at the time though but I feel that the bill was more a red than orange. However, if I erred, this would problably be it. Based on distribution they are found there in the summer.

I'd welcome any more comments on this, especially from others who have visited the area (in summer) and could let us know what they found there.

I've been looking for some other summer trip reports to Cozumel that might confirm my sighting (or invalidate it).
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Old Sunday 1st August 2004, 19:47   #8
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Hi Dave,
thank you for your answer. I have looked in several field guides, and the only one that actually shows the bill of a summer roseate is Sibleys for North America. However, try take a look at my picture of a brown noddy with a roseate tern, photographed here on Dominica on July 4th: http://www.birdforum.net/pp_gallery/...cat/500/page/1

This is about the amount of red that most roseates I have seen here in the Caribbean have shown. Personal communications tell that the amount of red on this bird is larger than any seen breeding in Europe by a Danish birder who have seen the same picture.

One thing that is very difficult to see on this image, and indeed in the field on the day when I took the photo, is the length of the tail streamers. If seen well, they will often be even longer than what Common or Arctic terns can show.

Hope this helps
Niels
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Old Monday 2nd August 2004, 13:23   #9
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Hi Dave...

A good list - we live just a couple of hours south of there, in the north of Belize, and see many of these as regulars (Black Catbirds nesting in the garden, for eg. - fantastic birds, with an incredible song). Another bird that has recently appeared is the Chestnut Mannikin - very surreal seeing it sitting in front of the house. Apparently it is rapidly colonising Central America, and has been spotted a couple of times in rice fields in the west of the country. Do you know if this bird is invading Mexico as well? If so, how far has it got? There are concerns in Belize that it may outcompete the white-collared seedeaters.....
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Old Monday 2nd August 2004, 13:34   #10
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And a quick comment on Terns...our list for Chetumal Bay, not far south of Playa del Carmen, includes five terns: Royal, Sandwich, Least, Black and Forsters, the Least nesting on the shores of the coastal lagoons. Not sure of this helps...Wildtracks
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Old Monday 2nd August 2004, 13:50   #11
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Niels,
With your photo, now I'm positive on the ID; it's a Tern! I did use the amount of red coloring on the bill to say it was Common based on the very little red shown in Peterson's for the Roseate. With your photo, this is indistinguishable from what I was looking at. I am going to contact a few folks on Cozumel and see if I can get a second opinion as to what is normally there in summer. Howell shows Roseate as a rare, vagrant but I have found one website for Cozumel showing it as a Transient and then in parenthesis, possible Summer breeder.

Wildtracks,
Yes, we have Chestnut Munias (used to be called Chestnut Mannikin but have been split) in the Yucatan. I'll copy your post from here into a recent thread I did on that titled 'Chestnut Munias'. I was wondering if they were elsewhere close by. Here's the thread link to Chestnut Munias
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Old Monday 2nd August 2004, 14:36   #12
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How are the roads? Safe at all at night? What sort of hours did you stay outside?
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Old Monday 2nd August 2004, 15:51   #13
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Tero,
Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Cozumel are all pretty safe places with a good infrastructure for tourism. The roads are being upgraded, but I would say outside of the cities night driving should be avoided. This being more from the dangers associated with driving than with any crime. Road work is constant and often at night a detour will be easily missed, or a stalled car in the road not seen, a broken down cart in the road unseen, and even people sitting on a dark roadside edge that could easily be hit.

For a family vacation this is a great destination. It has good hotels, good restaurants, great beaches and diving, some good Mayan ruins, and great birding.

And if you go to Cozumel, let me know what kind of Terns you see on the rocky islet off the Celerain Lighthouse at Punta Sur.
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Old Monday 2nd August 2004, 22:44   #14
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Don't forget the absolute worst hazard on Mexico's roads - the speed bumps -TOPE. They look like they can destroy a car easily. Some are really impressive beasts. At night they are very difficult to see, if you see others drivers slowing down rapidly there is a good chance of a tope ahead.
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Old Monday 2nd August 2004, 23:09   #15
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Well,I will not have a chance to go until spring break at the earliest. No more vacation days. It has been on our list for a while. May be pushed back if Alaska becomes a real possibility.

But I will not plan on driving at night, even if it is cooler!
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Old Tuesday 3rd August 2004, 02:39   #16
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Niels,
Well I've been searching for more sighting info for Roseate Tern on Cozumel on the internet and have finally decided that you are probably right, it was a Roseate not a Common Tern. While the trip reports I found have been less than satisfactory on this point (two excellent reports I found both went to this little Islet but when they found out there was a $10 USD entry fee, they turned around), both suggested that Roseate Tern was expected there. I then went and reread my 'Bird-Finding Guide to Mexico' by Howell and in his intorduction to that little site just off the Celarain Lighthouse he says from Spring till Autumn to expect roosting Roseate & Least Terns and Brown Noddy, as well as several pairs of nesting Bridled Terns. I obviously missed this note at the time. His included site checklist (which I was using) showed Roseate Tern as Rare.

So, thanks for the question and your photos which put my ID in doubt.
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Old Wednesday 4th August 2004, 14:00   #17
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Dave,
you are very welcome, and thank you for being open-minded! Not everyone takes kindly to someone doubting a species on their list.

I hope to get back to Mexico for some more birding some day; comparing my list with the country-wide list, I still am about 800 species short :)

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