My trip to Mexico started August 12th at Secrets Silversands Resort in Riveria Maya, while Ross headed down to Mexico on August 11th to do a little birding on Cozumel and the peninsula. (To read about that post see here.)
The whole reason Ross and I went to Mexico in the first place was to celebrate the wedding of one of my best friends! With my first few days being spent on an all-inclusive resort, in the complete opposite of typical #budgetbirder fashion, I did little to no birding whatsoever. The beachfront, picturesque resort was a fun and relaxing experience that was either spent laying poolside with friends or ordering up an unlimited supply of mojitos. All in all it was a great few days seeing old friends and celebrating the marriage of Kristin and Adam Nemchick!
For all birding purposes however, the ‘trip’ didn’t actually start for me until August 16th, the day after the wedding. Ross and I left the resort around noon and proceeded to drive to Felipe Carillo Puerto or more easily referred to as FCP.
Here we birded the famous dirt road leading out of town for the remainder of the evening. Although it was rainy and windy, we still managed to find some interesting birds including Wedge-tailed Saberwing, Collared Aracari, Northern Bentbill, Eye-ringed Flatbill, Northern Schiffornis, and Red-legged Honeycreeper. After it got dark, we were very successful in finding both Mottled Owl and Middle American Screech-Owl.
From here Ross drove overnight to a location five hours away known as Calakmul. Outside of the birding circle, your average tourist would never have heard about the ancient Mayan city of Calakmul, as this location is rather inaccessible from many of the large resorts in the Yucatan. Unsurprisingly this city in the jungle makes for an excellent location to find some Mexican birds. Calakmul’s history spans nearly FOURTEEN CENTURIES (550 B.C – 900 A.D.) and is full of outstanding Mayan architecture, with large stone structures built up above the tree line overlooking the jungle for as far as the eye can see. Aside from standing in awe of what was accomplished here, what made the visit even more worthwhile was having the place to ourselves! Calakmul is blessed not to be full of tourists, so as you walk along the stone paths through the city, or wander up the steep steps to the summit of the stone complexes, it’s easy to slip back in time and picture yourself amongst the Mayans, seeing what they would have been seeing. We spent the entire morning birding the entrance road and wandering the paths through the city. Before light we heard a number of night birds including our only Northern Potoo of the trip.
After light we had excellent views of our two main targets in the form of 30+ Ocellated Turkeys, and in two instances had excellent (but quick) looks at a Great Curassow, one where Ross was even able to get a recording of its call note as it walked through the forest along the road. Aside from our main targets we had a productive day birding the ruins, with some highlights including Gartered Trogon, Keel-billed Toucan, Mayan Anttrush, Tawny-winged Woodcreeper, Northern Bentbill, Yellow-olive Flycatcher, Stub-tailed Spadebill, White-bellied Wren, Green-backed Sparrow, and both Scrub and Yellow-throated Euphonias. This was truly one of the most memorable experiences of my time in Mexico, and from what I hear from other birders, Calakmul is one of those sites not to be missed. I have said it before and I’ll say it again, one of the best parts about birding is going places like this that you never would have gone if the birds hadn’t brought you there.
As we headed back out the entrance road near dusk, we ran into a massive flock of over 500 White-fronted Parrots and a few Red-lored Parrots.
After visiting Calakmul, we spent the night car camping so we could be nearby to a location that Ross found while looking at a map. He had discovered a road in through the forest near Tres Garantias that appeared to be used as some sort of logging route. Although we weren’t able to traverse much of the road in our small rental car, we did drive in and have a nice morning walking up and down the dirt road birding the forest on either side. Just as they had been pretty much everywhere else we visited in Mexico, the mosquitos here were horrendous and annoying. Ross and I both were covered in bug bites already but surely we each received a few dozen more before the morning was over.
Before light, Ross once again located a few Yucatan Poorwills, a tricky bird that was starting to become a regular occurrence for us! We didn’t pass many people while we were here, but I’m sure we looked extremely out of place to any of the locals using the road. It was a very enjoyable morning birding in the forest and we added a few near birds including Stripe-throated Hermit, Canivet’s Emerald, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, and Olive-backed Euphonia. On the drive out, we stopped in an open scrubby area to try for our main target of the area, Rufous-breasted Spinetail. Luckily it only took two stops until Ross coaxed a Rufous-breasted Spinetail out of the thick vegetation. After our successcul morning, Ross did yet another long drive to a birding location known as Xocen (pronounced CHO-cen) where we spent the evening birding. Ross had visited this spot by himself a few days prior and wanted to bring me back to the location since he did so well there. The evening was a bit slower than the last time he had visited, but we still managed to see Black-throated Bobwhite, Laughing Falcon, and Black Catbird. After it got dark, Ross showed me the male Yucatan Poorwill he had found a few days prior and then it was one more long night drive up to Rio Lagartos for the night.
Around 3AM that morning, Ross was driving around looking for night birds, as he usually does, when we heard a slight thud and Ross immediately stopped because he knew exactly what had happened. We weren’t driving very fast, but the impact was enough to be a fatal collision to the unsuspecting Common Pauraque that had flown just a little too close to our vehicle (this was about the 50th Pauraque Ross had seen along the roadside this trip so it’s a wonder you don’t see more paraque fatalities). Ross ran outside and brought it in and we admired the intricate camouflage pattern adorning its wings up close. These night birds with their big eyes, rictal bristles (or whiskers as I call them), and pattern are something that many people never get to appreciate, let alone see up close. Sadly this particular one is gone forever.
As it became light, we had one main target in mind: Lesser Roadrunner, a bird Ross had dipped on when he was up here several days prior. We drove up and down the road through scrubby habitat for two hours with no luck. By 10am we had probably seen two dozen Black-throated Bobwhites crossing the road but no sign of our roadrunning target!
Don’t let the size of my life list fool you, I am by no means very skilled at identifying birds, but from time to time I am known to spot our main target out of nowhere. Just as our hope was fading of lucking into our target crossing the road, I spotted a single Lesser Roadrunner off in the brush! By this time Ross was exhausted. The hours spent driving instead of sleeping were beginning to catch up with him so we decided to go into town and look for a place to eat.
Many tourists also make their way to the coastal town of Rio Lagartos, as it is a famous location to see hundreds of American Flamingos. When Ross and I first drove into the town, a man near the front must have immediately spotted us to be tourists and proceeded to chase us down by bicycle. Knowing what he wanted and not being interested, Ross drove just slow enough that the man could keep up on his bicycle. Ross drove up and down the streets stopping to let him catch up and then driving away just as he would get close. Surprisingly he played along for almost 10 minutes before giving up and peddling off. Ross considered this his “exercise” for the day. We tried to find a nice spot to eat, but everything was super touristy and as usual, we were too stubborn to pay for overpriced food. Luckily we decided to head down a side road along the water and ended up at a small restaurant at the end of the road. This place is an absolute hidden gem! Not only did it have reasonably price food, it also had multiple hummingbird feeders that were being visited by Cinnamon Hummingbirds and Mexican Sheartails! Ross was able to make a few nice recordings of the sheartails (a first for Xeno-Canto).
Along with great food, and the pleasant surprise of hummingbird feeders, we also met a very nice local birder by the name of Ismael Navarro. Ismael is a local birding guide and was an absolute pleasure to talk to. He speaks excellent English, is very involved in the local Yucatan birding community, and has been dedicating his time to teach the youth in the area about the local birdlife. If you’re planning a visit and want to support a local guide, I’d highly recommend contacting Ismael (firstname.lastname@example.org) After a nice lunch and a long chat with Ismael, we headed off for a quick check of a dilapidated boardwalk that heads through the mangroves. It was hot and birdless except for great views of an American Pygmy Kingfisher silently surveying his hunting grounds.
With all of our main targets found in Rio Lagartos, we pointed the car south and drove the two hours back to Xocen. This evening we had three targets in mind. I still needed to see Rose-throated Tanager and Grey-throated Chat, and Ross wanted to see Thicket Tinamou. The afternoon started out slow, but we eventually found a few mixed flocks and Ross was able to call in a Rose-throated Tanager. As evening approached we slowly drove the quiet dirt road hoping that one of the Thicket Tinamous would either cross the road or be heard calling nearby. Although we heard a number of them calling in the distance, we had almost given up hope of ever seeing one when suddenly a bird called very near to the roadside. Ross parked the car and slowly started creeping toward the single note whistle. Once he got within about 30 meters of the bird, he sat down along the road and started whistling back to it. Remarkably, the tinamou slowly started working its way towards him and eventually he was able to get great looks at a Thicket Tinamou! By this time it was almost dark and we needed to head back towards Cancun. A fantastic way to end the trip!
Hasta la vista!