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Yucatan - 2-12 June 2018 (1 Viewer)

Trystan

Well-known member
Between jobs, I found myself in a position where I could take a birding trip during June, but with no income, it would need to be at a reasonable cost. Having made a few enquiries, I found that either the time of year, or cost was prohibitive to a number of my ideas.

In the end, I modified my plans, instead opting for a ‘non-birding’ trip to Mexico with my wife, hopefully doing a birding trip later in the year instead.
We wanted to avoid the busier areas around Cancun and Playa del Carmen and found a nice hotel with its own private entrance to Chichen Itza which we both really wanted to see.

The usual method seems to be to take a coach trip from the aforementioned resorts arriving later in the day, or to stay over at one of the nearby hotels for one night. As a result, we found that we had the advantage of having the hotel to ourselves during the day most of the time as guests tended to turn up only in the evening and spent the next day in the ruins.

Renting a car seemed to be the cheapest way to get to and from the hotel from Cancun airport and gave the flexibility to then take other trips, particularly to book a bird guide for a couple of days out. I ended up using a company based in the nearby city of Vallidolid called Yucatan Jay Tours to do this.

On the whole, the trip was very positive. The hotel was great, the people friendly, Miguel and Ismael who travelled with me from the Yucatan Jay Tours could not have been more friendly and helpful.

One negative from the whole trip was the petrol stations. We only filled the car twice and on both occasions, were scammed. On the first occasion, when paying with a 500 peso note, the attendant insisted we only gave him a 50. We weren’t sure until my wife checked the remaining money and calculated how much we had withdrawn and how much spent.

The second time was to fill the car before returning it to the rental company. This time, we told him, either full, or not over 1000 Pesos, as this was all we had left. This time I heard the pump click as full at around 750 pesos, but the attendant pressed something on the pump so the display said 1000 then insisted that this was what we had to pay. I tried to argue about what I saw but he simply played dumb and kept pointing at the display.

Here’s a link which I found after the event:
http://everythingplayadelcarmen.com/how-to-avoid-scams-at-the-gas-station/

Pity that this was not on the UK travel advice site instead choosing to tell us ludicrous things about being kidnapped.

Anyway, on to the trip. We landed about an hour late from hour Thomas Cook flight from Manchester to Cancun. Car rental was arranged via an agent with a company called Carflex. We found their stand outside the airport where a few Great tailed grackles were plodding around. We were shuttled a short distance to the pick up point. The process was a bit slow but no problems. Tropical/couch’s kingbird was perching on car aerials but had to remain unidentified without the call. We were soon on our way.

My wife being wary about travel in a new country, we opted for the toll road. This was probably the right choice as the reception at our hotel closed at 10pm. We arrived at 9pm and the standard road is about an hour slower. Along the way, a single Cattle egret flew over and I suspect, a few Yucatan jays but in failing light and being a lifer, I wasn’t putting it on the list.

At the hotel we found out that the next day was a free day for Mexicans in the ruins so, fearing how busy it might be, opted to stay around the hotel grounds on the first full day. We stayed at the Lodge Chichen Itza, a series of bungalows in extensive landscaped gardens which shares its reception with the Mayaland hotel, which has apartments blocks at the front of the grounds.

Beyond this, there are two more hotels and some trails and roads between them to follow. Each hotel has security at the front but none of them stopped me from wandering round the grounds of the other hotels while I was there. I think it is more to control access to the private entrances to the ruins.
 

JWN Andrewes

Poor Judge of Pasta.
Excellent! Another trip report to look forward to! Have visited Yucatan further south, in Belize, so it'll be interesting to see how this compares.
 

Trystan

Well-known member
Day 2

Birds began to call around 5.30am, although it was difficult to see anything until a little after 6am. Around the grounds, Great tailed grackles, Melodious blackbirds, Clay coloured thrushes, Social flycatchers and Golden fronted (or Velasquez’s) woodpecker were everywhere. Other regulars included Masked tityra, Altamira oriole, Yellow faced grassquit, Ruddy ground dove, White winged dove, Great kiskadee, Blue-grey gnatcatcher and Turquoise browed motmot while Northern rough-winged swallow (Ridgway’s subspecies) were nesting in the Pavarotti restaurant. (Named due to Pavarotti once staying at the hotel, it is open seasonally and was closed during our stay.)

One of the first birds I saw, and the only one of the trip was Ferruginous pygmy owl, I picked it out while scanning other movements in the tree. I never heard or saw another owl around the hotels.

After breakfast, I tried a path signposted as botanical gardens. A lot of the trees here do have plaques and it proved to be productive trail over the course of my stay at the hote, although not so much this first time due to the time of day. By 9.30, the bird activity had very much slowed down. This morning I added regulars such as Yellow-green vireo, Vaux’s swift, Black vulture and Turkey vulture. A pair of Orange orioles were high in one of the trees. I had to word hard to get the view of the mantle to clinch the ID. With practice, separating this from Altamira and hooded orioles became fairly simple. At the end of the trail, a gate connected me back to the road and a horse paddock with displaying Bronzed cowbird. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a bird look as daft with its puffed up chest and fluttery wings.

A bit of chilling by the pool, where the only new addition was a Yellow winged tanager. This species was around the grounds but I didn’t cross paths with it very often.

In the evening I retraced my steps along the botanical trail, turning up Boat billed flycatcher, Rose throated becard and Cinnamon hummingbird, also finding a Yellow olive flycatcher going to a nest. The latter was the only one of the trip while the other three were regular. Last bird of the day was Tropical mockingbird, along the road. I only saw one in the gardens but it was very common along roadsides and in villages.
 

Trystan

Well-known member
Excellent! Another trip report to look forward to! Have visited Yucatan further south, in Belize, so it'll be interesting to see how this compares.

Thanks. Having had this taster, I am thinking of another trip in the future to include Cozumel island, then head south and maybe even into Belize, perhaps at a time of year when there will be migrants around too.
 

Trystan

Well-known member
Day 3

Today we headed into the Chichen Itza ruins. Nothing new added while admiring the ruins so all the additional birds came from evening walks round the hotel trails, again, the botanical trail being most productive.

Some of the birds seen today were pretty regular thereafter, particularly Groove billed ani and Black headed saltator while Rufous browed peppershrike and Tropical pewee were not so numerous but seen often once I knew the areas they frequented.

I had one Squirrel cuckoo, perched and calling and one Canivet’s emerald, a tiny female which did not hang around, I was fortunate to get enough detail on it to clinch the ID and it was the only one I saw during the stay.

Another more regular hummingbird seen for the first time today was the rather better behaved Wedge tailed sabrewing which sat perched for several minutes for me. This was the largest species I saw, one started to come to flowers near the breakfast area later in the trip while another was quite hostile to the more regular cinnamon hummingbird which sometimes came to the trees next to our bungalow.

Also learned the risks of wandering off the path today, while trying to get a view of a bird who's call I didn't recognise, I began to move up a ridge when rustling in the leaves underfoot caught my attention. A snake moving toward me! I stopped and retreated a couple of steps and the snake recoiled back into the vegetation where I was able to get some shots. I believe it is a Neotropic Rattlesnake although would be happy to have someone confirm from the attached image.
 

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Trystan

Well-known member
Day 4

Diminishing returns around the hotel but still some good birds today with Green jay on several occasions, Greyish saltator, Sulphur bellied shrike and Yellow throated euphonia all new. Sulphur bellied shrike sounds incredibly like Woodcock and this helped me locate it several more times around the hotel going forward.

I should mention that parrots flew over regularly and I had not been able to determine the species but today, finally had a couple perched and identified them as White fronted Amazons, as well as adding Buff bellied hummingbird to the growing list. All of these birds were seen again around the grounds on other days.

Day 5

My first day out with the Yucatan Jay Tours. I’m not sure if they are able to provide transport themselves but as I had rented a car, I was designated driver and arranged to meet Miguel and Ismael (Mike and Ishy) in the nearby town of Piste at 4 a.m. to drive to Xocen before dawn to attempt Yucatan nightjar and Yucatan poorwill.

We managed to get off about half an hour earlier than this and it took around an hour to get to the track into the forest around the village. There is a small carpark and shed which the guides had a key to open. They set up a table and we sat and had breakfast in the dark while they attempted to call in the required birds.

We had no response at all from the nightjar, however, at least two poorwills began to call. Despite this, it was in vain that we tried to see the birds. We wandered up the main track following the calls but the birds stubbornly refused to come closer. In the distance we heard Middle American screech owl and Northern potoo along with some day birds starting to stir.

Again, the tape was employed and this time we had some success with the same, or another Potoo coming much closer. We were able to follow the call and get excellent views of this odd looking bird perched on a bare branch over the trail before in moved into thicker cover.

The guides attempted a few more owl species but without response. Not the best start but things began to improve with the daylight. Along the roadside, we had a showy Barred antshrike and back around the carpark, several Black catbirds. We walked up and down the track here seeing several old friends from around the hotel plus Bright rumped attila and a pair of Yucatan jays.

Next we took to the car again, driving slowly along the track with windows down watching and listening for birds. Before long we had stopped as a Grey throated chat was calling. At this time of year, the male was not in the amazing plumage shown in the field guide, the bird was very elusive but with a bit of encouragement from the tape, did sit up briefly.

After this, a spurt of new birds included Piratic flycatcher, Couch’s kingbird and Black cowled oriole in clearing at the forest edge. I was pleased to have the kingbird calling as it was a lifer for me whereas Tropical kingbird was not. Over the trip, I saw many of these but most were silent. The first five birds which called were all Couch’s, I didn’t get a confirmed Tropical kingbird until the 9th June on my second trip out with the guides.

On the other side of the road both Olivaceous woodcreeper and Ivory billed woodcreeper showed well, however a calling Grey headed tanager escaped unseen, while Caribbean doves continued to call from cover but also eluded viewing.

The next clearing had several dead trees and I spotted a distant woodpecker, which turned out to be Ladder backed woodpecker. I was hoping to get a scope view but while setting up, a Grey hawk flew in pushing the woodpecker out. Above us, another woodpecker, this time Yucatan woodpecker, a pair, I was able to get good views and note the differences between them and the ubiquitous Golden fronted. Two Dusky capped flycatchers were hawking from a large dead log nearby and it was useful to note the small size compared to the other Myiarchus flycatchers available here.

Moving on in the vehicle, Ishy somehow spotted a Lesson’s motmot perched low in a tree in the forest. A little reversing back and I was able to get the angle to see the bird also. Even better, as we came to the next clearing two parrots landed right next to the car. I was expecting more White headed Amazons but was delighted that they were infact the Yellow lored, or Yucatan parrot. At this range and perched it was easy to see the lores along with the blue spot on the cheek.
After the parrots flew, we scanned the clearing, finding Roadside hawk perched at the top of a tree and Green breasted mango at the bottom, while a flock of four Olive throated parakeets flew through.

Despite all of this, the best bird of the day, in my opinion was just around the corner. Ishy suddenly told me he had a great surprise and said to drive the car along a short way. We got out and walked back a little and there, perched on a low branch in open view was a rufous phase Middle American screech owl. While we watched the bird, it rather unconcernedly watched us, occasionally having a good scratch. Perhaps I wasn’t the only one being plagued by the mosquitos.

A little further on and Ishy said it was a good place to try for Rose throated tanager, another endemic. We had not used the tape much so far but a quick blast here seemed to bring in not only the required species, a male and female Rose throated tanager, but also a few other species which included Tropical gnatcatcher and Spot breasted wren.

With the heat picking up and the birding slowing down, we failed to call in a Caribbean dove calling distantly but did pick up Olive sparrow and Common ground dove on the road. We had one more stop to make where Ishy stated was a good spot for Crane hawk, but of this there was no sign. Fortunately, however, a Yucatan flycatcher began calling, and we managed to get a good view of the bird before it was chased off by a second bird which we hadn’t realised was only a few branches away.

We turned back and worked our way back up the track, not adding anything new, but noting that the screech owl was still in situ. At the car park, a Mangrove vireo was calling (sounds a bit like a lesser whitethroat) and Ishy was able to call it out. After this we were heading back in to the village for a very pleasant traditional Mayan lunch, picking up Lesser goldfinch on the wires along the way.

This concluded the first leg of guided birding with more to come on the 9th with a trip to Rio Lagartos.
 

Trystan

Well-known member
Day 6

An early morning walk round the hotels produced the usual suspects. Also managed to get White tipped dove. Calling from cover regularly throughout the stay, I found a small slightly overgrown track into the woods allowing me to view its arse end at least. I did get better views of one in the open the following day too.

A Brown crested flycatcher was also new, I saw one on the botanical trail and one in the neighbouring hotel grounds at Hacienda Chichen.

After breakfast we headed to the Ik Kil Cenote, a nearby lake cave, again staying in the area meant we could beat the crowds who often do this visit combined with Chichen Itza. The cave was teeming with Cave swallows and a good number of obliging Turquoise browed motmots.

Nothing new in the afternoon.

Day 7

One new bird in the morning and one in the afternoon today, each the only individual of the trip. I have noted that the Social flycatcher is something of a misnomer. Very territorial, I saw these birds chasing off just about anything that came near. Antisocial flycatcher definitely nearer the mark. On this morning’s walk, the target was a stunning male Blue ground dove which was ejected from its perch and landed in a grassy area allowing me to observe it at quite close quarters.

In the evening, checking all those Velasquez’s woodpeckers finally paid off when one turned out to to be a female Golden olive woodpecker, again observed at close range on the botanical trail.
 

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Trystan

Well-known member
Missed it in my notes at the time but remembered as I am working back through my species list that during the flurry of activity after the Rose throated tanagers on day 5, there were also a couple of Red throated ant tanagers.
 

Trystan

Well-known member
Nice one, and some good birds bagged there. I missed the Screech owl. What's a Sulphur-bellied Shrike though?

Had to backtrack through to see where I’d written that.

Should say Sulphur bellied flycatcher. No idea where shrike came from!

Thanks

Just got two more days to cover, should tie it up tomorrow.
 

Trystan

Well-known member
Rio Lagartos

Day 8

Another very early start, as suggested my Ishy, we met in Piste once again to commence the drive to Rio Lagartos, an uneventful drive out until we reached the village of Kikil where we pulled over to attempt to see a Barn owl in the ruined church. We found evidence of the bird by way of a feather at the base of a tower but that was all.

We approached the area in the first light of the day along a long straight road (as most seem to be in Mexico), to lots of wide open savannah type habitat. A nightjar flew in front of the car so we pulled over to check it out. A Lesser nighthawk,we saw several more along the drive and 6 flying together at around 8 a.m., long after the sun was up. A small flock of Black bellied whistling ducks flew over as we continued the drive, and then we stopped as three Northern crested caracaras were on the road picking at some road kill.

With enough light to see properly now, we scanned the fields. Black throated or Yucatan bobwhites were calling from cover and I found Blue black grassquit and Grey crowned yellowthroat singing from more prominent positions.

A little further along I hit the breaks to check out a bird walking around in a dusty lay-by which turned out to be a Northern jacana. Several more seen at the lagoons, I’m not sure what this one was doing out by the road.

Following the guides instructions to stop at hotspots around the national park we stopped at a small car park in some scrubland with sandy tracks and thorny vegetation. Northern cardinals had become noticeable along the fences and bushed along the way.

Main targets at this spot were the Yucatan wren and the Yucatan bobwhite, but the first birds we connected with were a pair of Zenaida doves walking along the track. There wasn’t much calling, at least nothing that Ishy deemed worth our attention, I was reliant on him for most of the bird calls, having only learned a few of the distinctive ones thus far.

We followed the trail only a very short distance to a shallow lagoon with Black necked stilt, White ibis, American Flamingo (our first two, there were thousands on the main salt pans) and a couple of White rumped sandpipers.

At this point, a Yucatan bobwhite began calling very nearby. Although we had it pinned down to a small area of vegetation, it remained invisible and did not respond to Ishy’s tape. Not wanting to harass the bird, we gave it some space and began to check the rest of the area, quickly coming to a pair of Yucatan wrens, mobile but showing well before a rather less shy Yucatan bobwhite decided to walk across the track right infront of us. Mission accomplished in this area!

We had only strayed less that 100m from the car but now headed back, finding a pair of Scrub euphonias waiting for us upon our return. Also had much better views around this area of the Olive throated parakeets only seen briefly in flight on day 5.
A quick look across the road around an almost dry pool, we found a Blue-grey gnatcatcher nest and several Red winged blackbirds but it was otherwise quiet.

Returning to the car, we left the tarmacked road and followed a dust track, hoping for but failing to find Lesser roadrunner, we saw at least 10 more Yucatan bobwhites, usually in pairs. After a mile or so, we stopped to check the area, the first of many Magnificent frigatebirds came gliding over and I had glimpses of my first Mexican sheartail, another main target for the day, a fleeting female bird. There were various calls around us and Mike and Ishy tried imitating the pygmy owl for a reaction but with little success with only Mangrove vireo and Northern cardinal coming out to have a look.

Retracing our tracks for more Bobwhites but no roadrunner, A couple of Plain chachalacas were in bushes back near the road. Ishy seemed unimpressed but they were a lifer for me and the only ones I saw on the trip.
Next stop was an area of Mangrove. I covered all my bare parts with insect repellent but the number of mosquitoes was incredible and they simply opted to eat me through my shirt instead. A raptor perched very high up was difficult to ID but I eventually managed to get my scope angled up enough to view it at close range and it turned out to be a Great black hawk.

The mangroves were otherwise quiet until we came to a small pool where there was a very tall rickety observation tower. On our approach to the tower, bird activity seemed to pick up with Boat billed heron, American pygmy kingfisher and Russet naped wood rail in quick succession.
The climp up the tower was not fun for me. I’m not good with heights and several rungs were loose or missing. Between us, we managed to get the scope up too, passing it up over the awkward bits and eventually reaching the top where I planted myself firmly away from the edges!

The reward was immediate with a Crane hawk flying through showing its double tail band. Ishy tried the tape to summon it back but it wasn’t listening. The tower seemed to function best as a raptor viewpoint, with two sightings of Short tailed hawk, one of Northern crested caracara and plenty of vultures. There was also a small brown frog keeping us company which had also braved the climb to the top.

Next we moved on to the salt pans themselves, our streak of raptors continuing, this time a Common black hawk perched by the river. Ishy called Zone tailed hawk to anther raptor which flew over the car. I didn’t get enough on the bird and it was a speck by the time I got out of the car so had to let it go.

As we approached the pans, we began to see Laughing gulls, Royal terns, Double crested cormorants and Brown pelicans flying or occasionally perched in good numbers. Better for me though were two Lesser yellow headed vultures at the roadside. Again, leaving the Tarmac, we followed a wide dusty road out into the pans, past where the tourists were photographic the spectacle of thousands of flamingos.

Mangrove warbler was the only new passerine (Split from American yellow warbler by IOC). Around the smaller pans were Least tern and Gull billed tern along with the more common Royal terns. A few waders lingered here, mostly Semipalmated sandpiper and White rumped sandpiper, there were also singles of Semipalmated plover and Greater yellowlegs, while on the other side of the spit, along the beach there was a single Grey plover. Ishy found a distant Osprey perched up before we headed back to the town for lunch.

As we moved closer to town and the river, there was more vegetation, pools and marsh. Here, there were plenty of Snowy egrets and Great white egrets along with a Little blue heron and a Glossy ibis – lifer for Mike who was apparently doing rather well from these trips.
Both Mangrove swallow and Grey breasted martin were around the approach to the town and three Tricoloured herons flew over. The restaurant at the far side of town has some hummingbird feeders up and both Cinnamon hummingbird and Mexican sheartail were putting them to occasional use. Female sheartail again.

After lunch, we checked a little bit of mangrove area across the carpark but the tourists had beaten us to it, somebody walking back off the boardwalk hitting the trees to stir up the butterflies and moths had scuppered our chances of any of the shyer mangrove birds, particularly Rufous necked wood rail and Bare throated tiger heron. Still, Ishy heard a Black headed trogon calling and managed to lure it in by imitation.

Having not had a male sheartail or roadrunner yet, we had one more attempt out in the scrub. Two more female sheartails and three White collared seedeaters later, it was time to head for home.

We had a quick stop at Kikil on the way back to see if the barn owl was roosting anywhere obvious. It wasn’t but White tailed kite outside the village was a lifer for me and a year tick for Ishy and it was here that I finally had Tropical kingbird call to prove its identity. Add a House wren, and this was a successful little stop.

We drove back through a heavy thunderstorm and I thought that was probably birding over for the day but it passed and Ishy had one more stop planned. A 12Km round detour to a village called Huayma with a pretty church which had nesting Bat falcons. We arrived to find the male perched on the church, the female on a tree next to the chuch and two chicks on show in a small recess high up. A nice way to finish the day.

Once at the main road to Chichen, I said goodbye to my guides as they were heading back into Valladolid and made my way to the hotel.
 

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Trystan

Well-known member
Day 9 and Day 10

Lazy days around the hotel with no new species. If I had not been with my wife, I would have gone back to Xocen for another attempt at the nightjars but I'd used up all my credit!

Day 11

Our flight was at 15.50 pm. Allowing 3 hours travelling and 2 hours before the flight and the earliest possibly breakfast being 7 am didn't leave time to do anything justice. There are some ruins at Coba and 3 lakes which I decided we could check out having read some reports of decent birds in the area.

Arriving there after the prime birding time was over, we found that only one lake is viewable from the road. Lake Coba itself. There is a second lake within the ruins, we would have had to pay admission and only had maybe an hour so decided not to bother. Lake Coba did produce the last lifer of the trip though by way of Limpkin. One bird was present on the opposite bank and needed to be scoped for good but still distant views. Also present, two juvenil Neotropic cormorants and the last bird of the trip, found by my wife was a Least bittern which flew in while I was watching the Limpkin.

We tried to drive to a third lake which doesn't show on google maps but was present on my predown-loaded road map a little further down the road but could not see or find any access to at all other than some thick reeds.

We headed down to Tulum to drive back on the coast road hoping for some nice views of the sea and Cozumel island but the road is set back from the sea with all the hotels between so it was a rather disappointing and busy drive back.

Overall, I saw 134 species, 69 of which were lifers which I am more than happy with, for a relaxing non-birding holiday. I would highly recommend it.
 
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