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Yucatan January 2017 - Birds, Bikes, and Fish (1 Viewer)


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My husband and I just returned from a 1-week trip around the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. Since my husband isn't a birder and doesn't like to travel at the frenetic pace I often set during solo birding trips, I developed an itinerary that balanced my chances for most Yucatan endemics with keeping a leisurely pace (at least two nights per location) and time for other activities. So rather than the standard circuit, I cut out Felipe Carrillo Puerto and Calakmul - I figured this would sacrifice a few species, but I ended up seeing all the ones I was certain I would miss, while missing a few common ones!

Our overall itinerary was:
Jan 3-5: arrive Cancun, travel to Cozumel, with rental bikes and afternoon snorkeling
Jan 5-8: camping at Quintana Roo Natural Park, with a day trip to Coba ruins and biking around the park
Jan 8-10: Rio Lagartos, return to Cancun and fly out in the afternoon

Trip Planning:
I used Howell's book "A Bird Finding Guide to Mexico" for initial planning, and found most of the information still accurate. I also used RGallardy's recent trip report and other Surfbird reports referenced therein (http://www.birdforum.net/showthread.php?t=332234).

Flights from Syracuse, NY were relatively cheap ($350 round-trip) which is partly how I chose the destination vs. some other areas under consideration. We took the comfortable ADO bus from Cancun Airport to Playa del Carmen, where we caught one of the ferries to Cozumel. Ferry tickets can be bought all around Playa del Carmen in different kiosks, and prices vary stand to stand even within the same company - worth shopping around if you have the time. From the ferry dock in Cozumel, it was MX$50 for a taxi to the other side of the town where we stayed.

We rented bicycles from Rent a Bike Cozumel, US$76 for 1.5-day rental of 2 bikes with 1 emergency toolkit. I felt the bikes were quite good (compared to many others I saw on the streets) although they weren't quite to my husband's exacting standards - but he'll find things wrong with my own bike that I didn't even notice :-O. I highly recommend the company, they deliver and pick up their bikes, provide helmets and locks, and were our only experience during the trip with promptness and accuracy (in fact they were early for both pickup and delivery).

Following RGallardy's example in his trip report I rented a car from America Car in Playa del Carmen after our time on Cozumel, with plans to drop off at Cancun Airport for no extra charge. Our 5-day rental was $220 including full insurance - there were no surprise charges after the reservation quote, whereas other sites e.g. Expedia had quoted suspiciously low rates for other companies when I searched. My reservation email stated somebody from America Car would meet us at the ferry dock to take us to the office - this did not happen and it cost MX$100 to take a taxi to their office several kilometers away. The car was quite beat up and desperately needed a tire balance and rotation, and nobody had bothered to clean the windows, but it served us well.

Cozumel: We stayed at an AirBNB room for $26 per night. It was on the other side of town well away from the main tourist district. The place itself was fine, although we had many issues with arrival - the host had told me his girlfriend would be there to let us in, but she wasn't - fortunately some other guests were there to open the gate for us, but it was hours before we could get ahold of someone to give us a key. But it turned out there weren't any more keys - the girlfriend gave us her own key. They got more keys made the next day, but not before Tom got locked out for hours because he and I had decided on separate activities.

Quintana Roo National Park Campground: This is something of a rustic "ecolodge" which has a dormitory, several tents with air mattresses, and a small hut available as housing: http://quintanaroocampground.webs.com/ We rented one of the tents for $16/night. The campground is set 11 kilometers down a rough dirt road (takes nearly an hour to drive) from the highway between Tulum and Coba. The setting is nice and the surrounding forest provided excellent birding, including birds I had expected to miss by cutting out Calakmul and FCP (e.g. Gray-throated Chat, Ocellated Turkey). There is a kitchen, with some bread and eggs provided for a cook-your-own breakfast. Our air mattress had a slow leak but that actually proved comfortable for Tom and I - enough air for some support, but we both find stiff air mattresses give us back pain. The owner is a bit of a character - he has a nice set up with solar power, and can be entertaining to talk to, but he can also be a bit shady and rude. We wouldn't let up on one guest who had requested clean sheets for her air mattress, and he charged two visiting Germans MX$600 for a ride to Tulum (to which he was going anyway for groceries) while saying something about cheap rides from guys who would want to rape them - and then the very next evening he made a special trip the highway to pick up a group of 5 travelers, charging them only MX$50 each. There are 4 bikes available to use, thankfully free of charge as they were pretty awful - more on that later.

Rio Lagartos: we wanted to stay at Diego's posada or at his new Ria Maya lodge, but he didn't respond to my requests - perhaps he was booked up. We stayed at the Hotel Villa de Pescadores for $40/night. It was delightfully uneventful and unsurprising - the rooms were nice, with a balcony overlooking the estuary and a hummingbird feeder, good coffee available for breakfast, laundry service for MX$100, and functional wi-fi.

I'll post our daily log and some photos over the next few days.


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Jan 3: Arrival

Travel went pretty smoothly, no flight delays and a short customs line meant we were standing outside the Cancun airport just after 2 pm. A Cattle Egret seen from the plane and the obligatory Great-tailed Grackles were the first birds of the trip. We got in line for an ADO bus headed to Playa del Carmen. There seemed to be considerable confusion and argument among the staff about how many buses were available to make the trip, so it wasn't until almost 3 pm when we boarded the bus and at least 30 more minutes before we actually departed. But the ride to Playa del Carmen went smoothly and comfortably from there, lasting about an hour.

At Playa del Carmen we quickly got our ferry tickets and boarded one of the ferries bound for Cozumel. Fairly typical winter Caribbean fare about, with Laughing Gulls, Royal Terns, Ruddy Turnstones, and Magnificent Frigatebird seem from the ferry, as well as flying fish en route. When we got off the ferry we hired a taxi to take us to our Airbnb. Here, at the end our road, we were let in by other guests after pounding on the door and gate for a few minutes. We set our stuff in the common area and contacted the host's girlfriend, who said she would be right over. An hour later, tired and hungry, we texted the girlfriend and said forget it for now, we're going out for dinner.

We walked down the street to a restaurant called El Torito, where we had told BF's Larry Sweetland to look for us around dinner time. It was a small, quiet place with good seafood. Soon after ordering, Larry and his wife and son found us and joined us for dinner. It was good fun meeting him and his family, and he gave me some good pointers about where to find the endemics and other specialties including Yucatan Nightjar. In the middle of dinner, Tom had to dash to our Airbnb in order to meet Rent a Bike Cozumel with our bike delivery, but he managed to return and finish dinner.

Our host was home when we returned from dinner after 9, he gave us his girlfriend's key and promised to get extra keys to Tom before he left for his bike ride tomorrow (yeah right). Exhausted from the journey, I briefly reviewed my plans for the next day and went right to sleep.


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Jan 4: Morning Birding, Cozumel

The state of Quintana Roo is geographically in the same time zone as U.S. central but observes what is effectively year-round daylight savings. This meant a rather late sunrise a bit after 7 am. To be out with the birds in time, I headed out on my rental bike a quarter after 6. It was a pleasant and easy ride through town, onto the main road heading northeast out of town toward the sewage plant as described in Howell's birdfinding guide.

As I left the outskirts of town and the road turned to dirt, I heard several Common Paraques calling in the predawn twilight, with a Tropical Mockingbird on the ground underneath a streetlamp my first sighting of the day. I pedaled slowly along the road, listening to familiar mewing of Grey Catbirds and chip notes of Yellow Warblers among the many less familiar calls. As it got brighter I spotted the first of many Black Catbirds, jet black and very vocal.

The birdfinding guide describes several different stops along this road, but having no way to measure kilometer markings other than a rough sense of distance, I just stopped here and there along the road to listen and look. Birds were everywhere, not a dry spot to be found. Yellow Warblers and Yellow-faced Grassquits were abundant, with many American Redstarts in the mix. A Bright-rumped Attila called repeatedly in the distance. The Cozumel House Wren was quite common by voice, with a song reminiscent of the more widespread northern races yet distinctly different, and a few obliged me with good views. Most little warbler flocks held a White-eyed Vireo or a Yucatan Vireo. The Cozumel Emerald was an easy and smart target, the male a glittering green with longish forked tail. Several Northern Beardless Tyrannulets were about and very vocal, their plaintive calls somewhat different than I recall hearing in Arizona and Sonora, and their funny tail-wagging a behavior I hadn't noticed before.

It was still early when I reached the end of the road, at the entrance to the sewage treatment plant where a sandy track leads on another kilometer or so through some wetlands. This is a great spot for Ruddy Crake, and I could hear many from where I stood. However, due to recent rain the entrance to the track was engulfed in a huge puddle, continuous with the wetlands to either side. I couldn't ride through or walk around it without getting my shoes soaked. Ruddy Crakes would be nice but not a lifer, so I decided to turn around and focus the rest of the morning on the scrub birds - I was still looking for one Cozumel endemic, the Cozumel Vireo.

As I worked my way back I spotted the beautiful Cozumel race of Bananaquit, with a white rather than gray throat, and the duskier Cozumel race of Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. I could hear Rufous-browed Peppershrike singing in several areas but never got a look. Yucatan Woodpeckers were fairly common, although I never got better than quick in-flight views, with identification aided by voice. Partway back down the road I found a trail leading off to the right and decided to explore it. The trail led down into an open area with several little marshes. Here I got to see a Ruddy Crake after all - right out in the open in one of these big puddles! Then I heard a Cozumel Vireo calling from the other side of the opening - I couldn't quite get through the maze of puddles, but I still managed to spot the bird working its way edge of the scrub on the far side. What a smart-looking vireo, subtle beauty with bold wing bars and eye markings!

The trails also produced Northern Waterthrush and Caribbean Elaenia before a good rain set in. I hunkered underneath some trees while the worst of it passed, careful not to stand underneath a poisonwood tree - I'm not particularly susceptible to its poison ivy relative, but having heard from others that it's worse than poison ivy and can be contracted by sensitive persons without direct contact, I didn't want to tempt fate. The rain eased up a bit but by now it was approaching 10 am, bird activity was slowing, and I hadn't yet had coffee or breakfast - I needed to head to town to eat and get ready for my afternoon snorkeling trip. So I pedaled back to town and had a tasty brunch right on the waterfront at Restaurant Palmeras.

Complete checklist from the morning:

Next up... the reef fish!
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Jan 4 Part 2: Reef Fish

Way back before I got interested in birds I was really interested in fish, to the point that I got an undergraduate degree in biology with a marine biology emphasis. Fish have since taken a backseat to birds in both my career and hobbies, but I still find them interesting and love to go snorkeling when I get the chance. Tom had chosen this day to ride his bike all the way around the island, so I had signed up for a snorkel tour on my own with Cozumel Cruise Excursions, which billed itself as a family-run operation specializing in small group outings. $50 per adult for a 4-hour trip, including all transportation, gear, plus beer and guacamole.

My reservation form stated I would be picked up at my Airbnb at 12:15, and since I wasn't at a named hotel I figured I should stand outside and wait. I stood in the sun for a while, watching passing cars for anything likely to be my ride as the minutes ticked by... 5, 10, 15... checking and re-checking my form to ensure accuracy of date, time, place, and promise of being picked up... at 12:50 I went back inside and called the company. They confirmed my location and came about 1:00 pm (12:15 "Cozumel time" I guess), then picked up some other participants, made a quick stop at the store for avocados, then dropped us off at the boat for the trip.

It took maybe 45 minutes to motor down to the south end of the island, where the reefs are protected as part of a National Marine Park. We all put on our gear and hopped into the water - and there, maybe thirty feet below were the wonders of the coral reefs. Instantly grabbing my attention were Black Durgons, swimming by flapping their dorsal and anal fins, a type of triggerfish that appeared all black in real life (vs. side-on photo views) save the bright white at the base of the anal and anal fins. True-to-name Blue Surgeons darted about. Grunts of unremembered species swam near the surface, some nearly coming within reach.

We stayed at the first spot maybe 20 minutes before moving to a second, even more spectacular spot. The water was deep but the reefs towered up close to the surface, and with a quick dive one could examine fish and corals at eye level. Looking to the side out into the crystal clear water was the dark blue of deep, open water beyond the reef. Fish highlights of this spot were numerous juvenile Yellow-tailed Damselfish. I've yet to see a photo that does this species justice - in the water, the bright blue spots glow like stars set against the deep indigo background body color. Rock Beauties, bright yellow with a large black square, were common. Angelfish of three species, many large individuals, moved about in the deeper areas - Grey, French, and Queen Anglefish. A Moray Eel got everybody's attention as it emerged from its crevice and undulated by. Oddly-shaped Smooth Trunkfish, a boxy-shaped fish similar to puffers, hovered lazily over the reefs.

Our last stop was closer to shore, away from the reefs, in an area with a sandy bottom and large expanses of submerged grasses. The sandy areas were littered with fat starfish as large as dinner plates, and several species of stingrays glided by underneath us. The surprise of this area was surely the two Lionfish hovering next to a small pile of rocks - red-and-white-striped, with long venomous spines pointing every which way. I hadn't been expecting this species - turns out it's native to the Indo-Pacific and has been introduced to the Caribbean via the aquarium trade.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable outing that left me wishing I had made time for one more snorkeling trip during our stay. When I returned to our room, Tom was ready for dinner, and we ended up at a bar one block away, where all the locals stared at us (in a surprised but friendly way) when we entered. We had a light dinner of tacos and chips with beer for MX$60.

Back to the birds next!


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Jan 5

Tom and I got up early with the intention of biking out to a spot near the ruins on the cross-island highway to see Yucatan Nightjar, which Larry had seen the evening we met him. We were a little slow getting ready, which turned out to be just as well, because it started pouring rain while we were setting up our bikes. We waited for a bit, then at 6:30 we decided to make a dash to the coffee shop just down the street. It wasn't open yet, so we stood underneath the awning, watching people drive by in the rain on motorcycles and scooters. The rain began to let up, but at this point dawn was swiftly approaching, so we wouldn't make it to the nightjar spot in time even if we left immediately- not to mention the edges of the roads were flooded and our bikes didn't have fenders, promising a wet ride if we tried. Soon the owners of the coffee shop arrived and set everything up, so we decided to just get coffee and hang out for a bit. The coffee there was delicious and the owners were very nice - Ciri's Coffee Bar, evidently on Friday and Saturday nights they also serve crepes with homemade chocolate sauce.

After about 8 am the weather had cleared and the flooding in the streets had diminished, so we set out to explore the road to the San Gervasio ruins. On the way, the bike trail that parallels Calle 1 Sur was very birdy as it passed through some shrubby areas, with Yellow, Palm, and Magnolia Warblers, Indigo Buntings, flyover Amazona parrots, and Ruddy Ground-Doves among others. Once on the road to the ruins, we stopped at various places along the road wherever we could get our bikes off the pavement - there were numerous overgrown tracks leading off into the scrub. Most stops were productive despite the relatively late hour, with noisy Yucatan Woodpeckers, Tropical Mockingbirds, and Black Catbirds, warbler flocks with Yellow, Black-throated Green, and Magnolia Warblers, American Redstart, and White-eyed Vireos. I spotted my first Rose-throated Tanager of the trip here. Best of all was a cooperative pair of Cozumel Vireos, which Tom spotted for me and which offered much better views than the day before, as they quietly worked their way along the outer edge of the shrubs right by the road. Soon though we had to turn back in order to be present for our bicycle return.

Back at the Airbnb, we grabbed a quick brunch of sopes at a little home-run stand around the corner, returning to find that Rent a Bike Cozumel had again arrived early. We returned our bikes, hailed a cab to the pier, and took a ferry to Playa del Carmen. Once there, we gave the rental car company 15 minutes before we decided that nobody was going to show up to pick us up and took a cab to their office. We picked up our car without incident and were soon on our way toward Tulum.

Driving in the Yucatan is quite straightforward and easy as far as driving in Mexico goes. We stocked up on cash and a few groceries in Tulum before heading to Quintana Roo National Park, which is down a dirt road leading west from the small village of Francisco Uh May, roughly halfway between Tulum and Coba. The road is unnamed and unsigned, but we figured out which turn to take with the help of a Google Earth image I had printed out beforehand. The dirt road was quite rough, especially for the first three kilometers out of town, with large pools of water that initially had me skirting too close to the brush, putting a good long scratch on the entire length of the passenger side of the car, before realizing that the pools weren't too deep and the bottoms were hard-packed gravel and could be driven straight through. The driving got gradually easier farther down the road, but it still took about 45-60 minutes to drive the 12 kilometers to the campsite. The roadside was very birdy, many small unidentified passerines passing over the road or visiting the puddles, with noisy Brown Jays heard in many places as well as Lineated Woodpecker. A nice treat too was a Gray Fox that ran across the road not far from us - we would end up seeing another 3 of these during our time in the park.

We arrived at the campground in the early evening, and after settling in there was little daylight left for birding. We went for a quick walk down the road - most of the birds seemed to have settled in for the night, other than a Collared Aracari perched prominently above the low canopy. At night, we could hear several Mottled Owls from camp, sometimes right at the edge of the camp clearing. I was excited and looking forward to dawn birding in the area.


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Jan 6 AM: Quintana Roo National Park

After a somewhat restless night I eagerly got up with my alarm clock just before first light. Mottled Owls were still calling, and soon a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl joined in. A trio of Northern Barred Woodcreepers began calling and flying around at the edge of the camp clearing, and a pair of Melodious Blackbirds chimed in with their loud, varied calls. As I walked slowly down the road, understory birds began to wake up: harsh rasping of Red-throated Ant-Tanagers, the chip of a Northern Cardinal, the lovely duetting of Spot-breasted Wrens, and a confiding male Hooded Warbler. Stub-tailed Spadebills and Northern Bentbills were common by voice but inconspicuous, with a single good view only of the latter. A Keel-billed Toucan called in the distance and Amazona spp. parrots flew overhead, daring me to try to differentiate between the similar Yucatan and White-fronted Parrots via silhouetted flight views. In Ecuador I could identify all the Amazona by voice, but not here.

Farther down the road I could hear two Black-faced Antthrushes singing, my only encounter with this species during the trip. A Merlin flew by several times as it hunted, rather a surprise in the forest, but I would find later that there are many open areas farther down the road. Comical Long-billed Gnatwrens put on a nice show, followed by a nice look at a Rufous-browed Peppershrike. But the star of the morning was quite unexpected, a species I had feared written off by venturing no further southwest than here. As I watched various warblers, gnatwrens, and vireos in a vine tangle, I heard a warblery chip note that wasn't familiar. Wondering if it could be... well, I pulled out my phone to check the call note of Grey-throated Chat. I played the call and song, and before I could decide if the call was a match, out popped a stunning male Grey-throated Chat, not two meters from me! It sat there for a moment and then darted into the thick undergrowth across the road, giving me additional glimpses and it hopped around and circled back.

I returned to camp in the mid-morning, happy with the morning's birding. As I waited for Tom to wake up and get ready to head to Coba, I sat by the firepit, where I saw the trip's only Wedge-tailed Sabrewing and a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl that flew into a tree directly overhead.

Afternoon - Coba

After a late breakfast, Tom and I drove out of the park and to the ruins at Coba, spotting a male Great Curassow in the road near camp as we left. I wasn't expecting too much in terms of birding, given the time of day and crowds at Coba (it was noon when we entered), but it was actually quite good. We frequently ran into warbler flocks, almost invariably consisting of 2-3 Black-throated Green Warblers, 1-2 Magnolia Warblers, an American Redstart, a male Hooded Warbler, and a Black-and-white Warbler, with a smattering of White-eyed Vireos and in one a Yellow-throated Vireo. As we approached the largest ruins, near a stand selling snacks and drinks we happened across a group of 4 Yucatan Jays that were calling and foraging on the ground right by the dirt track. What stunning birds! The raucous noise and flashing blue backs and wings contrasting against a black body were also enough to draw the attention of many other passersby, one of whom managed to spot and point out a Golden-olive Woodpecker overhead. Here I finally had the change to get out my camera and snap some bird photos.

We enjoyed the jays for a while, grabbed a drink and snack, and then climbed the main ruins. Nothing notable birdwise, but a fantastic view from the top, and surprisingly a dog trying to nap in the afternoon sun at the very top as visitors stepped around him. Once we descended and passed back by the jay spot, the jays were gone but had been replaced by a flock of birds attracted to an army antswarm (I suppose the ants had probably attracted the jays earlier too, I just hadn't seen them). The birds were all right at the trail's edge and mostly confiding, as they were absorbed in snatching prey stirred up by the ants. There was a pair of Tawny-winged Woodcreepers, one Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Red-throated Ant-Tanager, Rose-throated Tanager, Gray Catbird, and a male Hooded Warbler that got so close to me I could nearly have reached him with an outstretched arm!

We explored the rest of the ruins, finding the trail that goes to some of the smaller structures to be less crowded. As we sat to rest a moment, a quiet warbler flock moved in with the usual attendants plus Eye-ringed Flatbill and Northern Parula. After exiting the ruins, we grabbed a late lunch at one of the restaurants surrounding the parking lot, and then took a quick look at the lake - Anhinga, Pied-billed Grebes, Neotropic Cormorant, and Great-tailed Grackles were the primary species present.

Below are eBird checklists with complete bird lists from the morning and afternoon, followed by a few photos from Coba.
Quintana Roo National Park:


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Thanks for the comments folks:t:

Jan 7 - Quintana Roo National Park

I'd made all sorts of "maybe" plans for this day, such as visiting nearby cenotes, going to Muyil, second snorkeling trip from Tulum, or birding the road outside Felipe San Carrillo - but we decided we didn't want to make any more extra trips down the long, rough road leading to camp, so we decided to spend the day exploring the immediate surroundings.

Overnight I had heard a Yucatan Poorwill in the distance from our tent, so I set out on foot about 45 minutes before dawn in hopes of locating it. I could hear three or more Mottled Owls and two Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls, but no poorwill. It responded briefly to playback, but it was far off the road through dense forest - no chance of it coming in or me going to find it.

As dawn approached, motmots were the first daybirds to start up: Lesson's Motmot (split from Blue-crowned) and Turquoise-browed Motmot. Then a group of Plain Chachalacas sounded off nearby, echoed by distant groups in all directions. Full daylight brought many of the same species as yesterday morning, with a few additions. A pair of Barred Antshrikes were duetting in a vine tangle, the male pumping his tail furiously with each note. I found two more singing Grey-throated Chats, males giving unsolicited views, flipping their long tails around, while a female skulked nearby the second male. Many more parrots flew over but a perched pair turned out to be White-fronted Parrots. Dusky-capped Flycatchers were common, with one Yucatan Flycatcher, and I caught a quick view of Slaty-headed Tody-Tyrant. I saw two gorgeous male Blue Buntings and heard a Wood Thrush calling from the undergrowth.

After breakfast, Tom and I borrowed two of the four rusty bikes available for use, setting out to look for a cave we had learned about and to see what was at the end of the road. The bikes were quite awkward - on mine the seat was far too low, on Tom's it was too high ("I feel like I'm riding a [email protected]## pennyfarthing!"), neither were adjustable given the rust and corrosion. Mine took quite a bit of effort to pedal forward with my knees rising toward my chest, and Tom's bike had some further issue with the chain - but off we set. About a kilometer down the road from camp is an open wooden gate, technically the entrance to the park, and soon afterwards is a trail leading off to the right. We got off our bikes and walked down the trail, which leads past a small pile of ruins to a large depression in the woods, the walls of the depression containing holes and caves. It was kind of a neat spot, though we had forgotten our lights for exploring the caves - but the area produced the trip's first Couch's Kingbird and Yellow-billed Caciques.

We continued down the road, stopping briefly for Tropical Pewee, Summer Tanager, Plain Chachalaca, and Yellow-throated Euphonia, and after about 10 kilometers from camp reached the end of the road. Trails led on into the forest, tempting though we hadn't come prepared for a full-day outing, not to mention riding these bikes any further didn't sound appealing. We turned around, noting some dark thunderclouds to the east, wondering if we would beat them to camp. The first kilometer back was very birdy so I kept stopping - once for a cooperative pair of Pale-billed Woodpeckers, another time for a flock containing Rose-throated Tanager and Indigo and Blue Buntings. While watching the latter birds, I heard a small bird rustling in the undergrowth next to the road. I peered in, expecting Green-backed Sparrow (there had been several), and was surprised and delighted to find a Swainson's Warbler! Quite nice to see, I've only had a good look at this species one other time, long ago.

Tom indicated that he was having trouble getting his bike going again after stopping, so we powered on for a bit without stopping. Tom fell further and further behind though, and after waiting for him to catch up, he told me his chain kept popping off and he wanted to just walk. We still had some 8 kilometers to go, so I told him I'd head back and get the car. Not long after leaving Tom, the rain arrived, a torrential downpour typical of the tropics. Nothing to do about it, figured I'd just enjoy the soaking. Eventually I made it back to camp, my aching knees glad to put the bike away and stand up, hopped into the car and drove through the rain to get Tom. I picked him up and we put the bike in the trunk, leaving the trunk open to the rain as we drove back.

We whiled away the afternoon in the common room as it continued to rain off and on for several hours. Toward evening I wandered around the camp, looking for birds but not seeing much. Later I ran into Tom, who had been looking for me. He mentioned seeing a bunch of turkeys in the road - turkeys! Could they be Ocellated Turkeys? Tom knows what currasows and guans are, and from his description they sure sounded like turkeys - he had walked right by a group of them in the road! I asked him to take me to the spot, so we ran out to the road. They weren't there, but we quietly approached the spot, looking up at the adjacent trees. There! Perched high in a bare tree was an Ocellated Turkey! Before I could get my bins up though it took off away from the road. Drat! There was a trail leading off into the woods, so we headed down it, walking slowly and quietly in hopes of finding the rest of the turkeys hiding out. I wandered a ways down the trail while Tom headed off into the woods. It was quiet, no sign of them anywhere. Suddenly a gun shot blasted through the forest, dreadfully close, so close in fact that I ran back in a hunkered panic, worried that somebody had mistaken Tom for a turkey! He was fine, although he had heard the bullet pass right by him (yikes!). We rushed out into the road, and a moment later two young guys drove by on a scooter, carrying a gun. Tom glared at them as they passed, they returning a half-hearted grin. So much for the turkey search, the light was fading fast by now anyways.

I was elated to have seen an Ocellated Turkey, a species I had definitely written off for this trip by not including Calakmul in the itinerary, but disappointed that I had missed the incredible views that Tom had. More reason to return! As further consolation we had smashing views of a Mottled Owl in camp that night.


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Really nice trip report. Looking forward for the next parts. Ill visit the are in around 2 months and hope to get a similiar success as you!


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Jan 8

Our last morning in the national park, I spent the early hours birding along the road once again. Many of the same species as the previous two days, the most notable addition was a mixed flock of Green Jays and orioles - many of the latter flew across the road and disappeared into the forest before I could get a look, but the group included at least Altamira and Yellow-backed Orioles. Amazingly they were the first orioles I'd seen the entire trip! A pair of Yellow-billed Caciques were also skulking nearby, probing into dead leaves and hammering at dead branches. During the outing I also saw my only White-bellied Emerald of the trip.

Much of the day was spent en route to Rio Lagartos, about a 2.5 or 3-hour drive from where we were. It was a very easy drive, most of the roads well-maintained and with light traffic. We stopped for a bit in Valladolid, restocking on cash, getting lunch and checking emails after a few days without internet, and stopping at a tequila shop for tastings and bottles to take home.

We arrived at Rio Lagartos in the late afternoon and checked into our room at Hotel Villa de Pescadores. We went for a walk along the waterfront and through the village. On and around the docks were Laughing Gulls, Brown Pelicans, a few Royal Terns, a flock of Black Skimmers, and Ruddy Turnstones. Across the lagoon we could see a few American Flamingos foraging in front of the distant mangroves. On the streets in the village were two Ruddy Ground-Doves among the more common Eurasian Collared Doves. Hummingbirds zipped by, and at the inconspicuous feeder in front of the hotel were Cinnamon Hummingbird and a female Mexican Sheartail, the latter a Yucatan endemic restricted the the dry scrub of the north coast. A Peregrine Falcon zipped by at one point during our walk, and we also had Tropical Mockingbird, Tropical Kingbird, and the trip's only (!!) Great Kiskadee. We ate dinner at an open-air restaurant facing the waterfront, and as the sun set, Black-crowned Night Herons flew overhead, one landing to forage at a nearby dock.
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Larry Sweetland

Formerly 'Larry Wheatland'
Wow, looks like you did really well for such a short trip that leaves out FCP and Calakmul :t:. I think you did well to see Rose-throated Tanager on Cozumel too.

It was great to meet you on Cozumel (nice restaurant you suggested too!), and shame we missed you at Coba, as we were also there on the 6th. Looking forward to reading the end bit. We've just landed back in the UK today.


Well-known member
Wow, looks like you did really well for such a short trip that leaves out FCP and Calakmul :t:. I think you did well to see Rose-throated Tanager on Cozumel too.

It was great to meet you on Cozumel (nice restaurant you suggested too!), and shame we missed you at Coba, as we were also there on the 6th. Looking forward to reading the end bit. We've just landed back in the UK today.

Great to meet you and your family as well! Were you still at Coba by noon on the 6th? That's when we arrived, had originally thought we'd go early but Tom was tired and it takes an hour and a half from the camp due to the crappy dirt road. Looking forward to hearing how the rest of your trip went!

Larry Sweetland

Formerly 'Larry Wheatland'
Great to meet you and your family as well! Were you still at Coba by noon on the 6th? That's when we arrived, had originally thought we'd go early but Tom was tired and it takes an hour and a half from the camp due to the crappy dirt road. Looking forward to hearing how the rest of your trip went!

We arrived at Coba early on the 6th. Can't remember what time we left, but think it was around 'lunchtime', by which time we'd left the ruins area and went for one last look around the lake edge (hoping for Yellow-winged Tanager in a fruiting tree we'd found earlier), before heading on to a nearby underground swimming cenote.


Well-known member
Jan 9

Our last full day in the Yucatan - a week is just too short! I left Tom asleep in the hotel and drove out at first light to the dirt road that leads to Rancho San Salvador, described in Howell and Webb. As soon as I got out of the car I could hear several Black-throated Bobwhites calling, a Yucatan near-endemic and one of the targets for the morning. Also calling was a distant Laughing Falcon. As it got light enough to see, I started walking down the entrance road toward the ranch (rather than on the main highway, as described in the bird-finding guide). Northern Cardinals were singing half-heartedly, more common than they had been further south, and Least Flycatchers were quite common. Not far down the road was a trail leading off to the left, back toward the main highway, and I decided to check it out. It was fairly birdy, with Common Yellowthroat, Hooded and Altamira Orioles, and a Northern Waterthrush. Several Greater Yellowlegs flew overhead, and I could hear some strange grunting/honking noises somewhere off to my right; exploring a network of smaller trails leading that way, I discovered a pool of water that held several noisy immature American Flamingos, along with other waterbirds including Little Blue Heron, Black-necked Stilt, Blue-winged Teal, and several species of shorebird. Also present were the only Red-winged Blackbirds of the trip. Flowers and a hummingbird feeder nearby attracted Cinnamon Hummingbird, Mexican Sheartail, and one Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

I retraced my steps back to the entrance road and continued toward the ranch, spooking a covey of Black-throated Bobwhites from beneath the shrubs right by the road. A handful of parrots flew over, one pair finally turning out to be the endemic Yucatan Parrot (aka Yellow-lored Parrot as per ebird). There were a seemingly large number of Tropical Kingbirds about, with 8 or so that flew by heading south in groups of 2-3 in addition to others hanging around. An unusual-looking wren popped out of the undergrowth, brownish with a strong white supercilium, clearly not House or Yucatan and I couldn't think of what else it could be in this area - turns out it was Carolina Wren (White-browed race, considered a separate species by some), the race of which I hadn't actually seen before and had only heard. Neat!

I saw several of the endemic Yucatan Wrens as I headed back to the car - all but one had been quiet, so I found them just by stumbling into them. The best encounter was right where I had parked, as a quiet group of four materialized out of a bush and hopped around right in front of me. In the area was also a big group of granivores, including a smart male Painted Bunting, Indigo Buntings, White-collared Seedeaters, and Blue-black Grassquits, the last in an interesting, speckled transitional plumage. Here, another large covey of Black-throated Bobwhites milled about before taking off.

Afternoon activities in the next post!


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Well-known member
Jan 9 continued

When I returned to Rio Lagartos, I tracked down Tom in a small hole-in-the-wall restaurant and shared a delightful brunch of handmade empanadas. We then walked down to the waterfront "tourist information" shack and booked a boat trip. As I already discussed in my first posting, for good birding it would be much better to go with Diego of Rio Lagartos Adventures, but we still saw some good birds including a handful not seen elsewhere, such as Common Black-Hawk, Reddish Egret, and a single Long-billed Curlew near the salt ponds. We had some nice looks at American Flamingos, though we ended up flushing a bunch which I was not too happy about - although I'll give the guide the benefit of the doubt, it was a very windy day and he seemed to be having trouble with the wind pushing the boat toward the birds as we watched.

After we returned, we grabbed lunch at Restaurant Chiquila, which had a few hummingbird feeders that attracted a territorial Cinnamon Hummingbird and a few Mexican Sheartails, including a beautiful male. We then headed out to the Salinas, the salt extraction ponds to the east of Las Coloradas. The first 5 km or so were mostly devoid of birds, and we found that the levees described in the Howell guide were blocked off; but the further we went, the more we began to see. Here was the only place that I used my scope, a thoughtful anniversary/birthday/X-mas gift from Tom, and it was essential for identifying many of the shorebirds and gulls. Scattered throughout were thousands of American Flamingos, with smatterings of mixed shorebird groups including Short-billed Dowitcher, Stilt Sandpiper, Dunlin, Least, Western and Semipalmated Sandpipers, and a few Sanderlings. Two spots had a couple gulls loafing among the Brown Pelicans and Double-crested Cormorants, all in all 5 Herring Gulls, 2 Lesser Black-backed Gulls, and 1 Kelp Gull. There were also 2 pairs of American Oystercatchers, a few largish flocks of Semipalmated Sandpipers, 1 group of about 40 Wilson's Plovers (never seen an actual flock of them before!), and a handful of Snowy Plovers and Black-bellied Plovers. On the drive back we spotted the only Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture of the trip.

Jan 10

We left Rio Lagartos in mid-morning, headed for Cancun and our flight home. The birding was not quite over yet - we spotted a couple White-tailed Hawks along the road south of Rio Lagartos, and when we stopped at a rest stop along the cuota highway between Valladolid and Cancun, I found a fruiting tree hopping with birds. It included two new additions for the trip, Yellow-bellied Elaenia and Yellow-winged Tanager, as well as others such as Black and Gray Catbirds, Altamira Oriole, Clay-colored Thrush, and Summer Tanager.

The flight home went smoothly, all the way until our plane started descending into Syracuse - then the pilot came on and announced "Bad news" (yikes! minor panic at those words), "we're not landing in Syracuse... our de-icer isn't working so we're diverting to Pittsburgh". Well, bummer. But they eventually put us on another plane, after waiting to see if others were making the landings into Syracuse (also not comforting information - conditions were gusty cross winds with freezing rain). It turned out to be one of the most turbulent landings of all the flights I've ever taken, but we made it home.

I'll follow up with an annotated, complete checklist for the trip.


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Jos Stratford

Beast from the East
Since my husband isn't a birder and doesn't like to travel at the frenetic pace I often set during solo birding trips, I developed an itinerary that....

Departing the airport on arrival, you should have said "See you here next week" ;)

Great report, cheers

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