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Birding the Yucatan Peninsula in July, 2021 (4th of July Weekend) (1 Viewer)

lgonz1008

Well-known member
United States
They say to always accept the kindness of others, especially if they are from family because family is meant to love each other, and I'm glad I did as this short getaway to Cancun for a family holiday, allowed me to do two full days of birding in a new region in this 4th of July weekend break. The end result was a total of 125 species (not counting 10 heard-only lifers) of which 46 were lifers (again, not counting the 10 heard-onlys, otherwise it would have been 56 lifers) and a grand total of 6 mammals, which is honestly not much compared to a safari elsewhere on earth but a lot for a place like Yucatan, especially since almost all of them were rainforest species.

As usual, the itinerary below will summarize what was done each day, some of the highlight species and the eBird checklists for each day.


July 2, 2021: Arrival from Miami, FL to Cancun, MX

Compared to the hardships I had on my last flight, this one went pretty smoothly, I was even able to work the morning before picking up my family and going to the airport. The flight was stable and with better service and entertainment options compared to the flights within the US (which from my experience tend to be longer than the international ones).

Once we arrived in Cancun, the transfer to the hotel was painless, though a bit expensive due to the control that the transportation service companies have within the airport, it's to the point that Uber is not an option from the main exit. On the drive to the hotel and in the hotel grounds many common birds were seen including well over a dozen Magnificent Frigatebirds (still one of my favorite birds to see anywhere I chance upon them) and my first lifer of the trip Golden-fronted (Velasquez's) Woodpecker. This is probably my first trip that I'll be dividing some of the species I see by subspecies as many of these are potential splits in the future if and when Clements/eBird decides to split them.

The hotel itself can only be described as extravagantly good and something we could only book because Covid plummeted the booking prices to something affordable. Try to book there now and you'll wince at the idea that 4 nights there for 4 people costs as much as 3 week trip with one of those mega birding tour companies to extravagant places like Madagascar, Chile or Borneo, so yeah, very unlikely that I'll return unless someone pays it for me. (eBird checklist: https://ebird.org/checklist/S91139692)


July 3, 2021: Birding Coba Town and Archaeological Site

Today was the first day of two for proper birding and the focus were on rainforest species at the Coba Archaeological Site, the trips were booked through a local company called Amar Aves and I can happily say that they provided the most professional and hard-working birding guiding services I've ever had in my life. The trips were originally coordinated with founder of Amar Aves, Miguel Amar and while normally Miguel is the one who guides his own trips, he asked the help of fellow guide Joel Ortega as he could not be away from home due to his wife having a chance to go into labor at any time. This was all coordinated early on and as a result, I expected that my guide the whole trip would be Joel, however, in a very surprising manner, Miguel showed up during my time around Coba to guide both me and my brother in search of the birds and historical aspects of the ruins (this was very useful as my brother is not a birder, so the ruins were his main focus), so you can say I had 2 great guides for the price of one on my first morning.

Something to keep in mind is that Miguel and Joel felt more like birding with friends rather than with a tour guide from an international company, they knew they birds and where to find them, but they still found excitement in almost everything and they would double check with each other and me if there was a call that was hard to pin point. In short, if the call made was not one they knew (which was rare), they would check the Merlin app or try to call the bird in to confirm, if the bird showed up, the ID was confirmed, if it didn't it was left as tangible since we couldn't be sure. In case it wasn't obvious, I highly respect and approve this style of birding and in the future, if they get to grow their company to add birding to other parts of Mexico (they mentioned plans to add Oaxaca and Chiapas to their tours) or a return trip to Yucatan, I'll take them in a heartbeat.

Now back to the birding, we were picked up at the hotel by Joel at 5AM and then it was a 2 hour drive to Coba, once there we were greeted by Miguel and after a quick coffee break, we got to birding. The town was quiet (people wise), but the birds we out and about instead, flowering trees by the lake gave me first sightings of the ubiquitous Flycatchers of the region along with great views of my only White-bellied Emeralds of the trip, Northern Rough-winged (Ridgway's) Swallows were seen on the wires and as we walked into the town, views of Wedge-tailed Sabrewing and Cinnamon Hummingbird were enjoyed as were the first sightings of many Hooded and Altamira Orioles, one of my few sightings of Couch's Kingbird (IDed by the dawn song and call), a Masked Tityra perched on the wire and it marked the entrance to the trail. While it did not end up with bushwhacking, trail showed that it was barely used, even by the locals and this was great for both the dozens of butterfly species seen and the birds, a decent flock of Olive-throated (Aztecs) Parakeets were seen, as multiple Black-headed Trogons, Black-headed and Grayish Saltators, and Yellow-winged Tanagers sang. A highlight of the trail however was getting proper views of the more often heard than seen Green-backed Sparrow and my only Yellow-throated Euphonias of the trip. Once we returned to town, the birds were mostly gone and the music was loudly playing from a restaurant, we had a nice break to have a fruit salad overlooking the lake in hopes of finding some waterbirds but nothing showed up, so we went to the archaeological site instead. (eBird checklist: https://ebird.org/checklist/S91204752)

The Coba site is, while not overlooked, horribly overshadowed by the Chichen Itza, which I honestly do not understand, sure Itza has a larger pyramid but in exchange, Coba is a complete city that was once home to over 50,000 people in its heyday, the architecture is awe-inspiring and for the nature lover, the protected primary rainforest habitat provides a chance of seeing some amazing butterflies, herps, birds and mammals. Birding among ruins is pretty fun since you always have something to look forward to and the first sighting we had was actually of a mammal in the form of a White-nosed Coati, from there a pair of Spot-breasted Wrens and the first of many Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers properly welcomed us to the ruins, in the background a Lesson's Motmot spent a lot of time taunting me as I couldn't see it and by the end of the walk this taunt would also extend to birds like Northern Bentbill, Ruddy Crake and Smoky-brown Woodpecker. From the birds that were seen however, flycatchers like Bright-rumped Attila and Eye-ringed Flatbill offered views of these lifers white woodcreepers in the form of Ruddy and Olivaceous also showed their unique behaviors. As the day was heating up, Miguel asked if we wanted to see the tallest ruin in the area, my brother said yes and I'm glad he did as this allowed me to see one of my main targets of the trip, Yucatan Jay, this was one of my first Yucatan endemics and the photos I took of them don't do the birds justice, neither were the shots taken of the raucous Brown Jays that were accompanying them. When we reached the final ruin, we were tired of being blasted to the point it pained the ears by Yellow-green Vireos, Clay-colored Thrushes and more Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers, but thankfully, Miguel was able to pick up the distinct call of a beautiful male Gartered Trogon that showed off both its colors and song capabilities while making it clear that the heat was getting to him just as much as it was to us. We returned to the car, said goodbye to Miguel and Joel took us to have lunch in a local restaurant that can only be described as an open secret, because all the local guides know of the place, but most tourists would not be able to find it! The food there was amazing and some birding highlights included my first views of Orange Oriole and my only good pictures/views of Black-headed Saltator for the trip. (eBird checklists: https://ebird.org/checklist/S91204757 & https://ebird.org/checklist/S91204850)

From there our next stop should have been in a place called Punta Laguna but because I offhandedly mentioned to Joel on the drive to Coba that if he knew where to see Middle American Screech-Owl, he did a lot of jumping through hoops to get me access to a portion of the Toh Reserve that is known to have a roosting bird. Joel was confident that the bird would be seen as he's seen it all 5 out of 5 times he's been there and my with my big mouth made the dumb joke of "watch this time be the one time we don't see it", life has a sick sense of humor as you might have guessed already so no owl was seen that day, instead I was given a compensation prize in the form of a Tawny-winged Woodcreeper. Other birds of note in the trail were Orange Oriole, Carolina (White-browed) and White-bellied Wren, Turquoise-browed Motmot, Rose-throated Tanager and my only Plain Chachalaca and Gray-headed Tanagers of the trip. Surprisingly, we were able to see the endangered Geoffroy's Spider Monkey (which Joel said he's only seen 3 times before in the reserve) and the endemic Yucatan Squirrel in the trail of the reserve, so not bad on the mammal front either. From there, the drive back to the hotel was made, nothing of note along the way. (eBird checklists: https://ebird.org/checklist/S91204889 & https://ebird.org/checklist/S91204953)


July 4, 2021: Day off at the hotel

Originally, today I was meant to do Rio Lagartos and have my last full day there be my family day, but due to the mandatory Covid testing, I had to move things around and thankfully, Miguel and Joel were able to cater to my last minute request. Not much of note was seen today outside of a lone Sandwich Tern by the beach and a Green Heron that was actively harassed by the Great-tailed Grackles of the hotel, oh and let's not forget the 100+ drunk Americans celebrating 4th of July in the hotel by singing to Sweet Caroline by only the replacing the horns with them screaming...but as mentioned the hotel service and staff was great, the pool was relaxing and after trying out some of the food, I was not surprised when I found out my family gained some weight from overeating. (eBird checklist: https://ebird.org/checklist/S91241310)


July 5, 2021: Birding along the way to and at Rio Lagartos

Today the day started even earlier than before, with Joel picking me up at 4:30AM to begin a 3 hour drive from the hotel to the Rio Lagartos region with a few stops along the way to try for a few more forest species that would not be found as we went further north. The first two stops were made on a side road called Carretera Ek-Balaam, about an hour away from the Rio Lagartos region, these stops proved to be some of the most productive birding in the trip and it was a nice reminder that you won't always find birds exclusively in the protected areas, just give them a nice patch of habitat and they'll be there. This was also a nice contrast to the reaction a local had when we said we were looking for birds and he said that you'd never find any birds in that road. Well, I'm here to prove him wrong, if we included the heard-onlys alone, we can say this road is home to some megas of Neotropical birding along with some widespread species including Thicket Tinamou, Pheasant Cuckoo, Mangrove Vireo and Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl. But besides the misses, the road also was able to let me connect with my only Canivet's Emerald of the trip, Yucatan and Golden-Olive Woodpecker, finally sighted Lesson's Motmot, and a flock of White-fronted Parrots provided a nice contrast to the singing Yucatan Flycatchers and the hard to find Gray-collared Becard (a somewhat widespread species that's never easy to find in most of its range), along with sightings of the other squirrel of the region Deppe's Squirrel.. However, the best experience of the morning didn't go to the Becard or the frustratingly close calls of the Tinamou and Cuckoo, instead it went to seeing a Jaguarundi cross the road in front of us, look at the two of us, decide we weren't what he wanted and kept going. I'm a birder by trade but being surprised with a mammal sighting like this is truly an experience that any nature lover would enjoy retelling! Jaguarundis are not common at all in the Yucatan peninsula, in fact Joel had only seen the beast 2 times before and Miguel told us that even though he's been lucky to see Jaguar at Campeche, he's never laid eyes on a Jaguarundi, truly the mammal of the trip and the sighting of that morning! (eBird checklists: https://ebird.org/checklist/S91328143 & https://ebird.org/checklist/S91328208)

From there, it was another hour plus drive before we reached Estacion de Campo CONANP, this place is not seen in the loop for international birding companies looking for the Northern Yucatan endemics, however, it seems to be well known by the local guide, the place feels like an odd combination of cactus with prairie and wetland habitat, as a result, it felt like South Florida, Southeast Arizona and the open fields of Panama came together to make this unique ecosystem. Vermillion Flycatchers, Rose-throated Becards and Bronzed Cowbirds reminded me of the Arizonan deserts; Black-bellied Whistling-Ducsk, a single Wood Stork, a variety of Egrets and Northern Cardinals screamed Florida to me; while Lesser Yellow-headed Vultures, Blue-black Grassquits and Great Kiskadees were impossible to miss if you spent even a bit of time in a pasture areas in Central Panama. But this ecosystem still had it's own specialties, instead of the identically singing Northern Bobwhite, these fields were home to Black-throated Bobwhite, probably one of the most beautiful and sought after birds of the region, alongside it were the range restricted Yucatan Wren and the beautifully patterned Morelet's Seedeater. From there, we made an attempt for Lesser Roadrunner, but due to a car coming from us at the front, we had to drive out and dip on this specialty, but not without adding the final new mammal to the trip in the form of Eastern Cottontail. (eBird checklists: https://ebird.org/checklist/S91328251 & https://ebird.org/checklist/S91328271)

We took a drive to Salinas Las Coloradas which tends to be a good place of shorebirds, but due to the time of the year, none were found, however the true reason to come here was for the endemic Mexican Sheartail, a beautiful hummingbird with a slightly bent bill that is used to prove around the flowers in this arid ecosystem. Joel was particularly adamant of seeing the bird here instead of in the town as he has a connection to the species as it was part of one of his studies from his biologist days. Thankfully this paid off and I was able to find a single female in the heat of the day and it paid double when we had lunch later that day and not one single hummingbird was seen at the feeders! Other birds of note around here were a pair of Crested Caracara eating a carcass of the road, a lonesome Anhinga and a trio of juvenile Mangrove Swallows. (eBird checklist: https://ebird.org/checklist/S91329325)

Around the time everyone was taking their lunch break, I took a boat ride through Rio Lagartos, this would give me close up views of the American Flamingos that breed and call this place home, along with sightings of other mangrove specialties. Sadly the sought-after lifers of the mangroves like Bare-throated Tiger-Heron and either of the Wood-Rails were no shows, but in it's place I was enjoy and hear the calls of Clapper Rail, Yellow (Mangrove) Warbler along with a wide variety of herons and egrets that made me think of the Everglades. Lifers were still to be had, as I saw my only Common Black Hawk of the trip along brief but confirmed sightings of Green Jay while on the boat; the flamingos, while not lifers, were the first time I've seen this species/family since I became a birder, so I was happy to see them, this also fueled my desire to one day photograph every flamingo species on Earth, but that would have to wait for the future and just be happy with the present for now. (eBird checklist: https://ebird.org/checklist/S91329366)

After a nice (though time consuming) lunch, we decided to slowly make out way back through Camino San Felipe, in the hopes of finding Ruddy Crakes and Wood-Rails that sometimes inhabit these roadside marshes. Sadly, these were not to be found, but instead I was able to see another bird that while not a lifer, was something I hadn't seen since I started birding, in the form of Northern Jacana. Most of the other birds seen on the drive made me say out loud that I was back in Florida since not only the Egrets and Herons were the same, but so was the sightings of both species of Whistling-Ducks you find in the US (Black-bellied and Fulvous), Ibises, Limpkins and Black-necked Stilts. (eBird checklist: https://ebird.org/checklist/S91329418)

By the end of the drive, we were already behind time to get back to Cancun so we hit the road without getting one last hurrah, Joel mentioned multiple times that if we see any birds of prey we would stop but so far only Black Vultures were sighted. As we were about to get back to a town that linked to the main highway, I saw an odd looking "grackle" on top of a column, I kept looking at it and noticed it had a white collar and orange thighs, when my brain linked what it was, I just scream "BAT FALCON!!!" to which Joel quickly stopped the car and let me out so I could connect with my last lifer of the trip and a bird I found myself since Joel admitted that he didn't notice it. Cheers were made and after 2 and a half hours, I made it back to the hotel for one last dinner, a nice rest and some family time before leaving the next morning on a flight back to Miami. (eBird checklist: https://ebird.org/checklist/S91329434)


July 6, 2021: Departure Cancun, MX to Miami, FL

Nothing to note today, as mentioned before, got ready, had a good breakfast and made it home safe and sound, despite the worries of Tropical Storm Elsa, the pilot just circumvented the flight a bit over Cuba and we made it with no problems to Miami, though immigration was slow as usual and it took us nearly 3 hours after we landed to get back home.


Thank you for everyone who read this report, hopefully the images taken and placed on the checklists were well received and if you need any detailed logistics let me know.
 

Jeff Hopkins

Just another...observer
United States
Nice report. I did a self-guided week in the Yucatan a few years ago. I liked Coba somewhat, although it was very crowded when I was there (in December). I much preferred Uxmal, though that is a bit of a drive from Cancun. Ek Balam was also nice and uncrowded, and as you note, the birding along the road to the site is quite good.

FWIW, I missed wood-rails, too, though I did get a Ruddy Crake at a pond south of Rio Lagartos. And Grey-collared Becard is a good find.
 

lgonz1008

Well-known member
United States
Nice report. I did a self-guided week in the Yucatan a few years ago. I liked Coba somewhat, although it was very crowded when I was there (in December). I much preferred Uxmal, though that is a bit of a drive from Cancun. Ek Balam was also nice and uncrowded, and as you note, the birding along the road to the site is quite good.

FWIW, I missed wood-rails, too, though I did get a Ruddy Crake at a pond south of Rio Lagartos. And Grey-collared Becard is a good find.
Coba was pretty crowded in some areas, but when trying to appease both a birder and a general tourist, it seemed like the best option around. Plus the trails around the lake in the town provided views of plenty of birds I wouldn't see elsewhere, not sure if I was unlucky or just that these species are partially persecuted in the region.

Ruddy Crake was a far away heard only in Coba in the covered ponds along the road, but if those ponds did not show off a singing Limpkin or either Motmot species, it really wasn't going to show off that Crake. I think the water levels were too high for them where we looked.

The Becard was great, especially since it was a singing male, so he stuck around for a bit even after we moved on to other birds in the road (like a no show Thicket Tinamou).
 

lgonz1008

Well-known member
United States
Enjoyed your report lgonz, and congratulations on the Bat Falcon - a very cool-looking bird!

Cheers
Mike
Glad you enjoyed the report, it was a really cool bird and it made me very happy how it just posed for a few shots. I'm a birder first but when a bird poses so nicely, it's hard to not snap at least 10 or 20 good shots.
 

lgonz1008

Well-known member
United States
Great report...always like to see reports of short trips like these
Glad you enjoyed it, these short trips honestly just leave me wanting for more but I'd take them any day over having nothing in my home state. Hopefully soon, I can make longer reports that focus on birding focused trips like yours to Panama, but until then, these will do, especially since I'm just starting out.
 

Mysticete

Well-known member
United States
Glad you enjoyed it, these short trips honestly just leave me wanting for more but I'd take them any day over having nothing in my home state. Hopefully soon, I can make longer reports that focus on birding focused trips like yours to Panama, but until then, these will do, especially since I'm just starting out.
I've been birding since my 20's, but this past Panama trip was my first real long international birding focused excursion. Before then it was just a few days snatched around research trips and conferences. So I know the feeling.
 

lgonz1008

Well-known member
United States
I've been birding since my 20's, but this past Panama trip was my first real long international birding focused excursion. Before then it was just a few days snatched around research trips and conferences. So I know the feeling.
Yeah, thankfully I am finally able to plan trips, so next year I'll likely be doing Guyana with some birders I know and the year after is up for grabs, but I might be guiding a trip to Kenya with my local Audubon chapter so chances to expand my birding experience are finally coming my way. Hopefully you can make your next long birding trip soon.
 

Hamhed

Well-known member
Haven’t visited the Yucatán in a dozen plus years but you brought back some good memories of Coba, Ek Balam and Rio Largartos. You are likely aware that there is much more of that Mexican state to the south so keep another visit on the back burner!

Steve
 

lgonz1008

Well-known member
United States
Haven’t visited the Yucatán in a dozen plus years but you brought back some good memories of Coba, Ek Balam and Rio Largartos. You are likely aware that there is much more of that Mexican state to the south so keep another visit on the back burner!

Steve
Even if I wanted to not think about them during the trip and after, the guides kept reminding me of them! They kept saying that if I wanted to see the truly tropical targets of the region, I needed to go to Calakmul so I could find Ocellated Turkey, the Yucatan Goatsuckers, Ornate Hawk-Eagle, Tody Motmot, Gray-troated Chat and Black-throated Shrike-Tanager among others. Question is whether I'll see them through Mexico or through the Tikal region of Guatemala, but I guess it depends on how costly it is, but I'll definitely return for those missing targets!
 

Hamhed

Well-known member
Calakmul is a magical ruins to visit. We have yet to visit other parts of Mexico; there are so many to choose from. Our question is “ Where is it safe?”

S
 

lgonz1008

Well-known member
United States
Calakmul is a magical ruins to visit. We have yet to visit other parts of Mexico; there are so many to choose from. Our question is “ Where is it safe?”

S
From what the guides told me, the best regions/safer ones are Yucatan, Oaxaca, Riviera Nayarit (great for lots of endemic and easy self-guiding), and if you have a bit more money/find a good local guide that can take you there since it's done through limited booking, Chiapas for Resplendent Quetzal and Horned Guan (though both of these are easier in Guatemala).
 

Hamhed

Well-known member
From what the guides told me, the best regions/safer ones are Yucatan, Oaxaca, Riviera Nayarit (great for lots of endemic and easy self-guiding), and if you have a bit more money/find a good local guide that can take you there since it's done through limited booking, Chiapas for Resplendent Quetzal and Horned Guan (though both of these are easier in Guatemala).
For me, safety has to includes the state of Covid in those areas. I heard a firsthand report that in Oaxaca everyone wears masks, even in the streets. Except in relation to your ticket price, you don’t mention being affected by the virus. I assume you took precautions of some sort?

S
 

lgonz1008

Well-known member
United States
For me, safety has to includes the state of Covid in those areas. I heard a firsthand report that in Oaxaca everyone wears masks, even in the streets. Except in relation to your ticket price, you don’t mention being affected by the virus. I assume you took precautions of some sort?

S
For traveling in Yucatan? Besides taking the Covid vaccine (Pfizer), I always ate in open places and away from most people and kept masks on whenever inside of a car or another closed space. Beyond that, it was just keeping myself clean and nothing happened, 2 weeks have passed and not even a cold got me. The worst I got was a bunch of chigger bites when passing through some grassy areas when attempting for some more skulking birds like Lesser Roadrunner.

So overall, pretty safe but overall, I understand the worries of traveling. I'd say the biggest thing to look out for is to go to a place with few people or a place that's so well regarded that they do everything possible to keep it in the best possible condition (daily cleanings, every staff wears masks and gloves, etc.).
 

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