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A Day at Muyil (1 Viewer)


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I wanted to document my day birding the Muyil ruins, for myself more than anyone else, as it was among my most memorable days of birding. I'm an American and the only birding outside the ABA area I've done was in the USVI, so going to the Yucatan provided me an opportunity to add substantially to my life list in just a few hours. Warning: This post is fairly lenghty!
After a few days on the resort finding some of the expected birds, as well as some slightly less common ones (lesser yellow-headed vulture, ferruginous pygmy-owl), I had a guided tour in Muyil with Miguel of Amar Aves Birding (highly recommend!).
We started soon after dawn in the town of Chunyaxche, across the street from Muyil, as it was a more open space where it would be easier to find a lot of different species. The day began slowly, with a group of hooded and altamira orioles showing well, but little else appearing. We walked down the road to a bit more forested area, flushing a gray hawk. Vaux's swifts flitting overhead marked my first lifer. Green jays and yucatan jays perched obligingly along the roadside, as grackles and melodious blackbirds flew by.
We turned up another road, moving more to the outskirts of town and activity really started to pick up. Magnolia warblers, yellow warblers and Northern parulas moved amongst the palms, species I'm familiar with from home. Then, we started to really see the local specialties. A couple of brown jays made an appearance, huge in comparison to the blue jays of home. A pair of parrots called in the distance, eventually landing in the canopy not far away, allowing prolonged views showing them to be the endemic yellow-lored variety! Golden-fronted woodpeckers also appeared, as did a lineated woodpecker, flying in before working up a nearby palm.
After the slow start to the day, the tropical specialties were really starting to show out. We moved along the road back toward the main roadway, encountering another endemic, Yucatan woodpecker, as well as a lone collared aracari. A pair of blue-gray tanagers foraged atop a nearby tree and were joined by yellow-winged tanagers. Closer to eye-level, a greenish elaenia and Northern tropical peewee sat silently but provided good views.
As activity died down in this area, we moved back toward our starting point, encountering a pair of wedge-tailed saberwings sparring. A yellow-bellied elaenia perched on a bare branch and numerous kingbirds and social flycatchers called constantly.
As we moved north, past where we began the day, a pair of masked tityras and white-fronted parrots flew by. Olive-throated parakeets foraged alongside the orioles we had seen earlier in the day. Ruddy ground doves and a couple clay-colored thrush were seen nearby as well.
We again moved away from town, encountering a female blue bunting along the ground, while dusky-capped and Yucatan flycatchers called above. While waiting, I spotted a Lesson's motmot just above eye-level for nice, extended views. Eventually, the Yucatan flycatcher flew in close, apparently a relatively difficult bird to find. In the distance, Miguel heard an olivaceous woodcreeper calling, so we moved into a more densely forested area. While chasing the woodcreeper, a long-billed gnatwren sung nearby, so we waited until obtaining brief views through some thick tangles. Soon afterward, the woodcreeper flew in and made its way up a tree trunk.
It was beginning to heat up, so we began to make our way toward Muyil to bird the more shady jungle. On the way, Miguel heard a spot-breasted wren, and patience paid off as it briefly emerged from the brush for quick views.
It was around this time that a mixed flock moved by, possibly the highlight of the trip. Miguel spotted a black-headed trogon while I simultaneously got on a Myiarchus, likely the dusky-capped we heard earlier. A pair of endemic orange orioles foraged nearby, then a beautiful Turquoise-browed motmot perched in the open on an exposed vine not 5 meters away for close to a minute! The birds continued to move through, with a male rose-throated becard showing well, and a pair of rufous-browed peppershrikes sang constantly while also providing good views. Both local species of saltator were present in the area, and boat-billed flycatchers were vocal and visible atop the canopy. Somewhere along the way, I saw my 500th life bird!
As the excitement finally dissipated, we headed toward Muyil, picking up a friendly palm warbler and distant chachalaca on the way.
As soon as we worked our way into the jungle around the ruins, we came upon another fantastic mixed flock. A male hooded warbler greeted us at the entrance. Amongst the Yucatan jays, a couple aracari appeared. Meanwhile, Miguel spotted a male gartered trogon perching on a branch over the trail. It gave smashing looks before flying into the jungle and while following it, we spotted a female. At that time, a rare gray-collared becard male flew in, and was was gone as quickly as it appeared. Red-throated ant tanagers moved along the ground, while giving their raspy calls.
We then worked our way down a trail into some denser woods and were rewarded with a tawny-winged woodcreeper. While watching it move from trunk to trunk, an ivory-billed woodcreeper came flying in just 1-2 meters away. While the woodcreepers worked low, activity in the canopy suddenly increased. A white-bellied emerald and buff-bellied hummingbird perched for extended looks, while a yellow-throated euphonia male foraged alongside a female summer tanager. While looking for what sounded like lesser grenlets, some familiar warblers, including American redstart and black-throated green warbler appeared, and a yellow-breasted chat worked its way through same tangles near the ground, rare for the area.
We made our way to Laguna de Muyil, a body of water not known for tremendous bird life, but the banks near the dock are a good spot for russet-naped wood rail. As Miguel predicted, an individual quickly showed up along a flooded area near the edge of the forest, showing little concern for us, or the other people nearby. We then worked our way through the flooded forest, with activity dying down as it approached noon. Northern parula and a few orioles made brief appearances, while Couch's kingbird calls continued to be one of the more common sounds. A common yellowthroat hopped in the dense mangroves near the boardwalk, as did a gray catbird, initially giving me false hope of finding an endemic black catbird.
A final, small mixed flock in a slightly more open area of the flooded jungle provided a last burst of excitement. A couple of northern waterthrush chased one another around a small pool. Miguel spotted a yellow-billed cacique, which I was not ever able to find. However, soon thereafter, a hefty-billed northern barred-woodcreeper flew in and worked the nearby trunks. Then, Miguel spotted a royal flycatcher! A saw a flash of orange-brown plumage, then the bird settled on a partially-obscured branch. I was still able to make out the incredible crest, even though it was held down, protruding from the back of the bird's head. An amazing bird, and one of my favorites of the trip. Lastly, a tawny-crowned greenlet flew in, my final lifer of the day. A quick trip around the ruins netted some more familiar warblers and my best looks at another endemic, yucatan vireo.
At the end of the (half)day, we recorded 80 species, including 42 lifers for me and 6 Yucatan endemics. While I was hesitant to do a guided tour, it turned out to be hugely helpful in this environment where ear-birding is especially important and many of the birds were completely new to me. I hope my next trip to the tropics is not too distant in the future, but for now, it's back to the sparrows and ducks of central Texas!
Great description (and memory), TFS! Glad you had a nice day. (I misread 'Ivory-billed Woodcreeper' and wondered why you only mentioned it in passing, and only then did I see '-creeper'!)
Haha, that threw me off for a second too, when I was studying my woodcreepers prior to the trip. Birding an area where 50+% of encountered species were new to me was so cool. The mixed flocks were a bit overwhelming. How do you pull your attention away from a trogon or motmot? I hope my next opportunity for international birding is not too distant.
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