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MEXICO - YUCATAN & COZUMEL

30 January - 06 February 2008

by Gary and Marlene Babic


Summary


This trip included visits to Cozumel, Felipe Carrillo Puerto, Calakmul, Coba and Rio Lagartos. All of these sites except for Calakmul are covered in Howell’s A Bird-finding Guide To Mexico. The birding was easy but slowed dramatically after 8:30AM and did not improve much at the end of the day. This is at odds with other reports that reported excellent birding all day at many sites. We found most of the Yucatan endemics and specialties, with a few glaring exceptions. The night-birding was slow at several sites and we missed both the Yucatan Nightjar and Yucatan Poorwill, and we inexplicably missed Cozumel Vireo. Another specialty we missed was Gray-throated Chat – another surprise not to see as it had been reported at several sites.  Ocellated Turkey and Great Curassow were readily seen at Calakmul, which is the only reason to make this trip – most other birds seen there were also seen elsewhere. The excellent chance of seeing these two species needs to be balanced by the 6 hours’ drive each way to Calakmul from Felipe Carrillo Puerto (FCP) that could otherwise be spent birding. We made a side trip to Coba for Ruddy Crake, but aside from that bird all others again seem to be at FCP. A list of birds seen at each location is given at the end of this report.


Many of the sites appeared to have been “improved” quite a bit since even recent reports from 2007 were written. For example, almost all of the trails at the Calakmul ruins site are paved now, which makes the ruins more accessible but probably has reduced the bird activity. All of the roads we took are now all in excellent condition, most hotels and restaurants have staff that speaks at least some and often very good English, and the road signs are easy to follow. Hotels were of good quality and certainly better than had been reported only a few years ago. But one area that has not improved is the fuel supply situation.
 

We recommend buying gasoline (petrol) whenever possible. All stations are run by the government monopoly Pemex. We used the International Travel map of Yucatan, and it showed every Pemex station, which indicates how few there are and how important it is to know where they are. It is often 50 – 75 km between stations, and sometimes stations are closed / out of fuel. Our decision to leave Calakmul early was made partly because we were unsure of our fuel situation, and later we were happy we had filled up in Tizimin en route to Rio Lagartos when we arrived there to find that the station was closed for repairs. And, of course, watch out for the “topes” – the sometimes very large speed bumps outside towns.  


Everyone we dealt with was very pleasant, even with our rudimentary Spanish. We would still be driving around Tizimin if not for the directions we received there. Our English-Spanish dictionary was useful and of course a smile goes a long way.


All prices in this report are quoted in dollars. Local pricing is sometimes given in dollars or pesos, especially in Cozumel and Cancun. This can be confusing because the local symbol for pesos is the same as for dollars: $. The prices in Mexico were higher than we expected, even in non-tourist places, perhaps reflecting the weak US dollar.

 

Detailed Itinerary


January 30, 2008


We departed Florida on Spirit Airlines and arrived in Cancun at noon, with no delays going through Mexican Immigration. We picked up our Hertz rental car and drove 45 minutes south to Playa del Carmen to take the ferry to Cozumel. The ferry location is not easy to find and is poorly marked. After a few missed turns, we found a parking lot near the ferry and paid 180 pesos for overnight secure parking. Ferries are hourly and tickets are available at the dock but different companies run at different times, so check when you buy tickets or you may wait an extra hour. 


After the one-hour ferry ride, picking up our rental car in downtown San Miguel in Cozumel and checking into our hotel, we drove south to what is referred to as the “Presidential Grid”, the remnants of a failed housing development, arriving at 3PM. The directions in Howell and other trip reports are accurate: 6.3 km south of the city center, and the entrance is indeed easy to miss. It is posted as “Rancho Palmitas”. However, I believe that the birding conditions may have degraded since previous reports have been written.


A number of house-trailers are now in the area, mixed among a few houses that are occupied. The real problem is that everyone has multiple dogs. Even though we kept our distance and never felt threatened, the barking was incessant. Every time we found what looked like a deserted stretch of road, some dogs would find us within a few minutes and the barking would begin again. The only part of this area that had good birding was along the road leading into the development. In this area, we found a Cozumel Emerald at a flowering tree and a few
Yucatan Parrots. Other than that, we only had warblers, a few Yucatan Vireos, and a lot of White-tipped Pigeons. 


In Cozumel, we also began our acquaintance with the wintering neotropical migrants that we would see almost daily. I will list the common warblers here and only mention one-time sightings for other days. These included Hooded, Black and White, Yellow, Prothonotary, Yellow-rumped, Bay-breasted, Black-throated Green, Yellow-throated, and American Redstart. There may have been other warbler species but mostly we tried to ignore them to concentrate on other birds. The large numbers of warblers proved to be a major distraction as they were the most active and, once the very early-morning bird song died down, the noisiest birds.     


January 31, 2008


Our original plan had been to try for the Ruddy Crake at the water treatment plant in the northern part of the island first thing this morning, but after the poor birding the previous afternoon we had a lot of key birds to find and did not want to lose time by not knowing exactly where to go. So we returned to the Presidential Grid, mostly staying along the access road. A flowering tree had a Green-breasted Mango and a Cozumel” Bananaquit. We saw our first Black Catbird along the margins of an overgrown field, and also coaxed a Cozumel Wren from some thickets. However, despite searching all along this road, as well as making a return trip to the actual grid itself (where we managed to avoid dogs for a while), we never located a Cozumel Vireo. This was disappointing because previous reports indicated this is a common bird, and of course as an endemic we knew we would not have another chance once we left Cozumel. But we had to leave on the noon ferry back to Playa del Carmen. 


Once back in Playa del Carmen, we picked up lunch, picked up our car and drove the 2.5 hours down to Felipe Carrillo Puerto (“FCP”) on the excellent Route 307. We arrived in FCP at about 3PM, quickly checked into our hotel, and headed out to the Vigio Chico road. The directions in Howell remain good – take the diagonal road northeast after driving five blocks east from the main intersection in FCP -  although now there is no sign for Vigio Chico at the diagonal road. Beware the speed bumps (topes) on this road – they are well-marked outbound but not on the return, and they are big ones. The road is hard dirt from km 2 onwards, and the stretch from km 2.0 to km 8.0 seems in worst shape. After that, it was markedly better, probably because there is limited settlement out there.

 

Using the start of the Vigio Chico road as km 0.0, as Howell does, there is a vocational school on the right at 1.4 km. While parking there to consider our plan forward, we encountered the first of the Yucatan endemics and specialties: Orange Oriole, Grayish and Black-headed Saltator, Blue Bunting, Yucatan Jay, Spot-breasted Wren, Blue Ground-dove, and lots of warblers. So there is no need to proceed well down the road into the scrub forest to see some specialty birds. On subsequent trips on this road, we usually made at least a quick stop in this area or around some adjacent fields and also saw Painted Bunting (female), Northern Cardinals, and a Bicolored Hawk. Other common birds seen along the stretch before km 4.0 included Plain Chachalaca, Brown Jay, and a range of parrots including White-fronted, Yucatan and Aztec. This stretch of road is especially good in late afternoon when parrots perch along the road, allowing for the type of good looks necessary to absolutely make identifications.

 

We then proceeded along the road to approximately km 8, where we heard some chattering. A flowering tree produced a White-bellied Emerald, male and female Rose-throated Tanagers, orioles, warblers, and we heard a Red-capped Manakin but could not get any view. From the level of activity, we decided this would be a good place to return to on a later visit but darkness was coming quickly.
 

As dusk approached, we drove farther own the road to km 13.5, where an open agricultural field on the right is the first major opening in the scrub forest. This area and the stretch of road to km 18 have been reported as good for night birds. We waited until dusk and began to see some birds along the road, but could not approach close enough to have any positive identifications. However, we saw two different colors of “eye-shine”, one being the bright orange which is characteristic of Pauraque and another light yellow. On another night we did identify some Pauraques along this road, but never did determine what the other bird(s) were and I have not been able to determine if eye-shine can be used to distinguish between Yucatan Nightjar and Poorwill. We went back to the hotel for a nice supper at the hotel’s restaurant.
 

The hotel, El Faisan y El Venado, has apparently improved since reports from a few years ago. The mini-suite room we had was clean and well-furnished with a mini-refrigerator, A/C, and hot water shower. Although we did not see other rooms, the overall condition of the hotel would indicate most rooms were of similar quality. This hotel is very handy as it is on the main road just a block south of the cutoff towards the Vigio Chico road, and is diagonally across from the local Pemex station. We parked on the road right in front of the hotel. The lobby was locked after hours but a guard was there to let us out for our early starts. The staff was friendly, spoke some English, and the adjacent restaurant had a nice selection and a lot of locals were there as well – always a good sign. I recommend this hotel when staying in FCP.   


We had read a reference in a previous trip report about a local naturalist and birder, Arturo Bayona, living in Felipe Carrillo Puerto, who had provided guide service in the area. Knowing we would have limited time in FCP, we contacted Arturo but I thought his quote of US 150 for a half day’s birding for the two of us was a bit steep. However, FYI, his e-mail is: lagarturo@yahoo.com.mx

 

February 1, 2008


We made an early 5AM start to try to encounter some nightjars along the Vigio Chico road, but we did not see or hear any. At dawn we stopped at km 5.0, which has a track to the left (west) that leads to a small pond. This is noted in Howell as a possible Ruddy Crake spot, but the water level was high and it was not good habitat. Along this track we had a very frustrating encounter with a Stub-tailed Spadebill. I had a tape of the call so we identified it, taped it and played it back, but it would never allow a look. It simply circled around us, always deep in thickets or scrub. We saw it only when it darted across the path. So we knew it was the bird from the call, but never had enough of a look to even consider it as a legitimate sighting. However, while trying to see the spadebill, we did have a mixed flock of Red-crowned and Red-throated Ant-tanagers come by. This was useful because we could clearly see the differences between the facial coloration on the two similar species. Later, when we would see only a single species, it was always a bit “iffy” as to which species we were seeing.  


We then drove a bit farther up to the road to the diagonal track on the right at km 6.3, again as noted in Howell. By this time it was 9AM and activity was much slower. We had what had to be a Ferruginous Pygmy-owl that was very black-and-white barred, also White-browed and White-bellied Wrens, and a Gray Hawk (seen often at many sites). We moved back up the road to the area where we had seen the White-bellied Emerald the previous day as drizzle began to fall. We added Wedge-tailed Sabrewing but did not hear any Red-capped Manakins. At about 10AM, heavy rain began and we decided to move down to Calakmul.  


We drove south to Laguna Bacalar, where we had a nice lunch at the Hotel Laguna Bacalar, about 5 km south of the actual town on the east side of the road. We then continued west another 3 hours on a very good road to the entrance to Calakmul. The highlight of the long trip was a low-flying Ornate Hawk-eagle seen during the drive. As noted above, fuel was an important issue and we filled up near Bacalar. We had read, and had also heard directly from the owner of one of the local lodges, that the operators at the Pemex station in Xpujil (the last town before the long stretch to Calakmul) would try to swindle anyone who stopped there, so we did not add any fuel there. In retrospect, we probably should have, even if we may have been cheated a bit.

 

The reason is that availability of fuel became an issue. If you fill up in Xpujil, it is 50 km to the lodge and a further 60 km to the Calakmul site. Leaving the park and returning to the lodge is another 60 km for a total of 170 km. A round trip to Calakmul on a second day adds another 120 km. And you are still 50 km from Xpujil. If you factor in the chance that there may not be any fuel available in Xpujil, which I was told is a distinct possibility, it is a further 70 km to the next closest Pemex station. We estimated our car had a range of 450 km, but we did not top off in Xpujil on our way in. This meant we did not feel confident we had enough fuel to make two round-trips into Calakmul. If you fill up at the next-to-last station before Xpujil, as we did, and then find that the Xpujil station has no fuel on the way in, then you will be in the same situation we were. As it was, we saw the Ocellated Turkey and Giant Curassow on our first day at Calakmul. We did not think Calakmul was any better than FCP for the Yucatan specialty birds, so we only went to Calakmul one day and then returned to FCP.


The logistics to get into Calakmul are a bit complicated. The entrance road to Calakmul is at km marker 97, 45-50 km west of Xpujil. There is a gate at the entrance road where each vehicle is charged 40 pesos. However, the gate is unattended after dark and before dawn so it is possible to enter and exit without paying. From this gate, it is 20 km to the first gate into Calakmul. This gate opens at 7AM and closes at 6PM. It is at this gate where Ocellated Turkey is often seen on the road. Once the gate opens, it is a further 40 km to the main Calakmul site, with a 30 km per hour speed limit – there are a few turns where this really is the limit, but in general it is possible to go a bit faster. Once you reach the Calakmul site, there is a further gate that opens at 8AM and closes at 5PM (and another 40 pesos per person entrance fee). If you do the math you see the inconsistency – if you leave the entrance gate at 7AM and go 40 km at 30 kph, you cannot not reach the Calakmul gate by 8AM. And, on the way out, if you leave at 5PM and drive at 30 kph, you reach the last gate after the 6PM closing time. We did this – we left at 5PM and arrived at the gate at 6:20PM – and the guard let us through, but grumbled quite a bit. In any case, you cannot get inside the Calakmul site before 8AM.      


The entrance to the Hotel Puerta Calakmul is only 100 meters inside the main road and 700 meters down a road on the left. Previous reports said it was nice but poorly-managed – that has definitely changed. It is an all-around first-class operation now, with excellent food, very nice cabana-type rooms with hot water, a wonderful ambience, and English-speaking staff. However it is still 60 km to the Calakmul site from the lodge. There are some other “eco-lodges” near Xpujil – Rio Bec Lodge is one – but staying there would mean an additional 50 km drive each way to and from the park. We definitely recommend the Hotel Puerta Calakmul, not only because it is nice, but also because it is convenient.  


Anyway, after checking in, we drove down to the first gate at the 20 km mark to get a better understanding of the system. A stop along the way at a small lake gave us Linneated Woodpecker, more White-bellied Emeralds, Belted Kingfisher, Black Catbird, and several herons and egrets. There were no nightbirds along the road during our drive back at dusk, and we enjoyed a nice dinner back at the lodge.

 

February 2, 2008


A 6:15AM departure from the lodge had us at the first gate just before 7AM. We had to dodge the Ocellated Turkeys on the road around the gate area. We were the first car in, and made several stops along the way. Only two cars passed us before we arrived at the main gate at 8:30AM. Between the first and second gates we saw many groups of Ocellated Turkeys and a male and female Great Curassow. We also watched a fantastic group of White-nosed Coatis crossing over the road.


The Calakmul ruins area appears to have been developed quite a bit recently. Most of the roads are paved, with very few actual trails other than the main trail in. We had our best luck by taking the main trail straight in, past several turnoffs leading to ruins, to a main paved road. We saw most of our birds around this intersection and to the right on this paved road. We added Northern Bentbill, Yucatan Flycatcher, and Rufous Piha  (a bit north of the range shown in Howell and Webb’s birding guide). However, most of the birds seen were warblers and the common birds. At about 11AM a busload (from where?) of about 60 noisy tourists arrived. They went directly to the ruins and then back, which did not directly affect our birding, but they stayed for several hours and that limited where we were able to go without crowds. Mid-afternoon rain restricted our birding further, but we did stay at Calakmul until closing time as noted above. Nothing was seen on the way back to the lodge, but we did enjoy another delicious meal.  


February 3, 2008


We decided not to return to the Calakmul ruins for several reasons. The first was that we were not comfortable with our fuel supply. The second was that it did not seem likely we were going to see anything at Calakmul that we could not see at FCP, and we had to return to FCP sooner or later. And FCP has the advantages that the birding sites are only a few km from the lodging and accessible at dawn whereas at Calakmul the ruins are 60 km away and accessible at 8AM earliest. So, after early-morning birding around the grounds of the hotel, we departed back to Felipe Puerto Carrillo, again stopping at the Hotel Laguna Bacalar for lunch. We did see Yellow-throated Euphonias around the grounds of the Hotel Puerta Calakmul, along with another Ferruginous Pygmy-owl.


We arrived in FCP at
3PM, checked back into the hotel, and went out to the Vigio Chico Road again, but did not add any new species. We waited until dusk at the km 14 fields, this time we were greeted by several calling Pauraques and two or three that landed quite close to the car after dusk. We may have heard Yucatan Poorwill well in the distance. We returned to the town and decided to “go American” and stop for a pizza. Little did we now just how American this would be, for this was Super Bowl Sunday. We were able to watch the second half of the game on a small TV with Spanish commentators while eating our pizza at a small plaza along with a dozen or so locals. Quite a cultural moment.


February 4, 2008


This overcast and windy day was spent at several sites along the Vigio Chico Road, but there were few birds around. We saw a Green-backed Sparrow and a Smoky-brown Woodpecker at the km 14 field; a great bird with an outrageous haircut – Chestnut-colored Woodpecker – along a forest trail; and a mixed flock of Black-capped and Masked Tityras along the road along with a mixed flock of orioles. There was no reply at all from the Stub-tailed Spadebill at the site where it had been heard a few days earlier, nor any repeat visits by Red-headed Manakins. We knew a lot of birds new to us were there but we simply did not see them.
 

February 5, 2008


We left FCP at 5:00AM for the drive up to Tulum and then over to Coba, arriving at 6:30AM. The addition of Coba to the itinerary was a last-minute decision after missing Ruddy Crake in Cozumel. We were a bit wary of driving in the dark, but we knew the road between FCP and Tulum was very good because we had taken it a few days earlier. It turned out that traffic was light, although the dreaded “topes” still required close attention. The road from Tulum to Coba, which had been described as being not-so-good, is certainly good now: a brand-new four-lane highway. We took this highway to the Coba access road and then into Coba until we reached the lake. The Villas Archeologicas (Club Med) hotel is on the right but we turned left, around the lake. We passed a large parking lot on the left, which is the lot for the Coba ruins, and continued until this road stopped at the edge of the lake (it actually continues off to the left). This had been a site for Spotted Rail several years ago, but is now the site of hotel construction.


We then drove slowly back along the lake, watching for any rail or crake activity along the reedy edges. There were plenty of water birds here – herons, egrets, Limpkins, Northern Jacanas, Moorhens, etc. We did not see anything promising, so we stopped at the dock which is one block down from where the main road meets the lake. We walked along the lake edge playing short bursts of a tape of the crake, but no reply. Then I noticed that there was a marshy area across the road, away from the lake, that looked semi-promising.


We played a brief burst of tape and there was a reply but well on the other side of the marsh. Unfortunately, we looked around and realized we could not get to the other side. As we were planning our next move, the crake called again, this time very loudly – seemingly, at our feet. And, a minute or so later, two Ruddy Crakes nosed out of the edge of the reeds! This was a wonderful moment. They walked along the edge a bit, then retreated back into the marsh. To summarize: to reach this site, when entering turn left when the main road meets the lake, go one block, and the marsh is on the far (northeast) corner of this intersection away from the lake. The dock is almost across from it. Of course, marshes change and birds move, but it is nice to know these birds are still there in early 2008. 


We took a short walk around the grounds of the Villa Archeologicas hotel – an official-looking person waved us in – but there were only a few doves and jays around. So we drove down to the Coba ruins parking lot as it officially opened at 8AM. Parking is 40 pesos and then it is another 60 pesos per person to enter the ruins. When we arrived, there was only one other car there. This site is not as developed as Calakmul, in that the roads are still dirt and not paved. However, the ruins themselves are better-restored. There were many guides around the entrance, along with locals renting bicycles and offering rides on rickshaw-type bikes. We encountered one ant-swarm along the main road with Ruddy Woodcreepers, Rose-throated Tanagers and Red-throated Ant-Tanagers, a Wood Thrush, and lots of warblers in attendance. No sight of the Barred or Tawny-winged Woodcreepers we had hoped to see here, however.


This entire area was quite birdy, but soon it started to get more crowded and people were stopping whenever we put up our binoculars so we had to keep moving – and the birds started moving away too. We did manage to see a Turquoise-browed Motmot at the ruins before the crowds came. There were also a lot of trogons at Coba, often perched directly over the walking paths. Then an avalanche of tourists arrived, and when we reached the parking lot, we realized where they came from. There were at least 20 full-size tour busses parked, taking day trips from
Cancun. Considering each bus can hold at least 50 people, that is 1,000+ visitors! The moral of the story is to get to Coba early.     


At 11AM, we continued on the good road to Valladolid and then north to Rio Lagartos, passing through Tizimin. The one-way road system in Tizimin is mentioned in Howell. Despite keeping our eyes open, we went right past the “no enter” sign and ended up going the wrong way on a one-way road. This is very easy to do, since the road does not change in width or any other way when it goes from being the main road to a one-way road against you. So we did a quick U-turn, and figured we could go down a few blocks to a road which is one-way in the correct northerly direction, follow it to the edge of town, turn right until we get to the main road, and then turn left and head north to Rio Lagartos.


We found this impossible to do. Any small chance we may have had was eliminated by the fact that the town square was being set up for that night’s Carnaval celebration and many roads were closed. After seeing much of Tizimin, many parts more than once, we asked for directions and managed to find our way out. The main road out of town is not marked and it is only several miles out of town when it is clear that this is the correct road.

 

This diversion had a benefit, however, because we stopped for fuel while trying to escape Tizimin. This was a fortunate move because the Pemex station in Rio Lagartos was closed for repairs. This again reinforces the point that it is not safe to assume fuel may be available where it is supposed to be.
 

Upon arriving in Rio Lagartos, I saw a bright flash of color on a side road and we turned back to find a small swampy area filled with about 20 bright orange Caribbean Flamingos. The color of these birds is very dramatic. We could not get too close because of wet ground and a protective dog. It turned out that this group would be the only flamingos we saw while in Rio Lagartos. We checked into our hotel at about 2PM, and decided to head out to the area described as Rancho San Salvador in Howell.
 

When we arrived in Rio Lagartos, guides immediately (and politely) approached us asking if we were interested in a boat trip to see the flamingos. We met our first guide at the site where we were looking at the flamingos, so a boat trip was obviously not necessary to see them. But only a few minutes later another fellow, Elmer, came by and introduced himself as a local bird guide - word obviously spreads quickly when binocular-toting tourists arrive in Rio Lagartos. He offered his services, in perfect English, and gave us his card. I thought we would be able to see the endemics with the exception of the wren easily that afternoon, and therefore would have all of the next morning to concentrate on the wren and therefore we would not need his services. I was wrong.
 

Our first birding stop was along the road to Las Coloradas. The intersection for the road to Las Coloradas is 3 km south of Rio Lagardos. The intersection leads east to Las Coloradas or west to San Miguel. About 8km down the road to Las Coloradas, the paved road bends left and a dirt road continues straight. This is the intersection known as “Rancho San Salvador”.  After checking the area around the intersection, which had recently been burnt, we drove several km along the paved road through Las Coloradas and then a few km beyond (the road becomes a wide, hard dirt road). We also checked several promising areas with fields and low bushes. Unfortunately, the wind was strong, and the only birds seen were Cinnamon Hummingbird, Zenaida Dove, Tropical Mockingbird, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Yucatan Woodpecker, and other common birds. Also, despite looking in several pink ponds, we did not see any Caribbean Flamingos. We were zero for endemics. We’d need Elmer.


For dinner that night we went to a restaurant that also serves as the main office for Rio Lagartos Expeditions, and they contacted Elmer for us as we ate. He arrived and we arranged to meet the next morning at 6AM. His fee was 500 pesos for the day – a bit steep but based on our lack of success we felt it was necessary. After supper we went to the main square and watched a wonderful local Carnaval celebration – children dancing and singing. It was nice to witness a genuine local tradition.

 

February 6, 2008


Elmer met us at our hotel at 6AM and we drove out on the road to Las Coloradas. There was no wind so at least that was a change for the better. We drove several km down the dirt road and through a gate (I do not think we would have gone past the gate without Elmer, but it is public property). Birds were still scarce, but eventually we saw a hummer – another Cinnamon. But we soon located a female Mexican Sheartail, and had a beautiful sunlit male a bit later. We parked the car and walked about a km along the road. Bobwhites were calling all around us, buried in the grass on either side of the walls along the road. Elmer noticed a Lesser Roadrunner sunning itself in a tree – we eventually saw at least three, along with both Mangrove and Squirrel Cuckoos. On our way back to the car, Marlene spotted a pair of Black-throated Bobwhites scurrying across the road well in front of us but still close enough for good views.
 

By 9AM the wind had picked up but Elmer had not heard any Yucatan Wrens. Finally, at a scrubby area, he started doing a Ferruginous Pygmy-owl call. After at least 5 minutes of calling, and with several warblers surrounding us, we heard an odd squeaking sound, unlike a wren. But we all quickly saw a Yucatan Wren sitting atop a group of woody twigs, and within a few minutes spotted at least five altogether. This spot was about 500 meters down from the Rancho San Salvador junction. We had not heard any wrens during our trip down the road earlier in the day and none at any other place. 


We then went to another location a few hundred meters down the main road towards Las Coloradas, where there is a fresh-water lake (cenote) where we saw Boat-billed Heron. We missed the Dwarf Kingfisher which is sometimes seen there. An unexpected treat was a Jabiru nest – they only nest in Rio Lagartos once every few years. This nest had two nestlings and we saw one adult in flight. 


At 10AM, we left Rio Lagartos for our ride back to the Cancun airport. But our adventure was not quite over, because we still had to go through Tizimin. We foolishly thought that, since the northbound road changed to one way southbound when entered Tizimin the previous day, we would simply go straight southbound through Tizimin. But no -  when we reached Tizimin, the southbound road was suddenly one-way northbound! We followed a line of trucks making this detour, thinking they would lead us through the maze and out of town. But this was not to be the case, and we again relied on the kindness of Tizimin citizens to show us how to get out of town and on our way home. 


The main route from Valladolid to Cancun is via a toll road (autopista), Route 180D, with a steep toll of 220 pesos. But the alternative is a local road through many cities. So it is useful to make sure you do not use all of your pesos before making this last part of the trip because the toll road operators only accept pesos. Also, there are no gasoline stations close to the airport so if you want to fill up and avoid the overpriced fuel charges levied at the airport, you need to do so when getting off the autopista.


Summary


When planning a week-long trip to the Yucatan, there are several decisions as to the route. For us, the main decision was whether or not to take the two days to go to and from Calakmul to see the Ocellated Turkey - with the exception of the turkey, Rufous Piha, and Giant Curassow, we did not see any birds at Calakmul that we did not see elsewhere. A second choice is whether the side trip to Cozumel is a good use of time. Of course, Cozumel has its endemics but the other birds seen there were also seen elsewhere. A third choice is whether to take the side trip to Coba for Ruddy Crake. Lastly, Howell mentions several sites west and north of Merida, and these could be alternatives to Rio Lagardos. If Cozumel is in the final plans, it may be worth considering a primary site other than the Presidential Grid because the presence of dogs and ongoing settlement definitely disrupted our birding there. In any Yucatan itinerary, the Vigio Chico Road near FCP is a must-see - a great site that is close to town and has several different habitats. We had no complaints about any of the hotels where we stayed or any of the arrangements we had made in advance. 


Contacts


Hotels:


Vista Del Mar Boutique Hotel, Isla Cozumel, Avenida Rafael Melgar #45, Entre Calls 5 y 7 sur, tel: 52-987-872-0545. Good English spoken. Rate was 95 dollars / night. We made this reservation online only after finding out many hotels were already sold out. Apparently limited supply keeps prices up.
 

Hotel El Faisan y El Venado, Av. Benito Juarez # 781, Felipe Carrillo Puerto, tel: 52-983-834-0702; fax: 52-983-834-0043; limited English spoken. A nice “mini-suite” with A/C, hot water and refrigerator was 45 dollars / night. The adjacent restaurant had a nice selection, there is convenient parking in front of the hotel, and it is right on the main road.
 

Hotel Puerta Calakmul, tel: 52-981-811-9191; good English spoken but service is often out; ask for Rubi, e-mail  and  Web Info .  Note that this web page is not the hotel’s but is run by a travel agency and reservations made through the web site will be actually made through the travel agent with commission added. Reservations made direct to the hotel cost 110 dollars per night. Although expensive, this is the only hotel option within 100 km of the Calakmul ruins (see text).    


Villa de Pescadores Hotel, Calle 14 No 93, Rio Lagartos, tel: 52-986-862-0020, Mrs Viola Rodriguez. No English spoken, no e-mail. It does not look like a hotel from the outside, but rooms were fine with A/C and hot water.

 

Rental cars were rented online. Local info is:

Avis at Cozumel Airport, tel: 52-998-886-0960.

Hertz in Cozumel downtown, tel: 52-987-872-1923.


One report suggested using Smart Rent-a-car for Cozumel because they offered free parking in Playa del Carmen when taking the ferry to Cozumel, but apparently they no longer offer that option. After seeing the beat-up VWs they rent on Cozumel, the small extra to rent from Avis seemed worthwhile. 


General tourist info including ferry schedule to / from Cozumel.
 

Although most hotels will accept direct reservations, this would probably require a fluent Spanish-speaker to accomplish. An alternative is that hotel reservations may be made through Juan Ojeda at Yucatan Travel.


Birding guide in Rio Lagardos: Elmer Canul Yam, e-mail: ; tel: 52-44-986-866-7318 (mobile); can be reached also at Restaurant Isla Contoy, Calle 19 No 134 X 14 in Rio Lagartos. Web info. Elmer speaks fluent English.


I downloaded several bird calls from the Cornell University library in order to be familiar with them. Unfortunately, almost none of the birds were calling. The tapes were helpful in attracting Ruddy Crake, and the immediate response of Yucatan Flycatcher and Stub-tailed Spadebill to their calls helped to confirm the identifications. 

 

Literature:


A Bird-Finding Guide to Mexico, Steve N. G. Howell, Comstock Publishing Associates, Cornell University Press, 1999 edition.


A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America, Steve N. G. Howell and Sophie Webb, Oxford University Press, 2005 edition. This book contains references to several “splits” not yet recognized by some outside organizations; however, it is useful to know which subspecies are under consideration for species designation when planning what birds to target.

 

Related Trip Reports:


A web site that has links to many trip reports for Yucatan is at:

http://maybank.tripod.com/Mexico/Yucatan-Index.htm


A key advantage of this web site is the ability to look at reports that match the timing of your visit. Many thanks to these birders for submitting their very helpful reports.

 

Bird List (not complete with regard to gulls and shorebirds)


Bird Species

Cozumel

FCP

Calakmul

Coba

R.Lagartos

Magnificent Frigatebird

X

 

 

 

X

Neotropic Cormorant

 

 

 

X

X

Anhinga

 

 

 

X

X

Brown Pelican

 

 

 

 

X

American White Pelican

 

 

 

 

X

Caribbean Flamingo

 

 

 

 

X

Little Blue Heron

 

 

 

X

X

Great Blue Heron

 

 

 

X

X

Great Egret

 

 

 

X

X

Cattle Egret

X

 

 

X

X

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron

 

 

 

X

 

Boat-billed Heron

 

 

 

 

X

White Ibis

X

 

 

 

X

Glossy Ibis

 

 

 

 

X

Jabiru

 

 

 

 

X

Great Curassow

 

 

X

 

 

Black Vulture

X

X

X

X

X

Turkey Vulture

X

X

X

X

X

Bicolored Hawk

 

X

 

 

 

Gray Hawk

 

X

X

 

 

Roadside Hawk

 

X

X

 

 

Ornate Hawk-Eagle

 

 

X

 

 

Crested Caracara

 

 

 

 

X

Bat Falcon

 

X

 

 

 

Peregrine Falcon

 

 

 

 

X

Plain Chachalaca

 

X

 

 

 

Ocellated Turkey

 

 

X

 

 

Black-throated Bobwhite

 

 

 

 

X

Ruddy Crake

 

 

 

X

 

Limpkin

 

 

 

X

 

Northern Jacana

 

 

 

X

 

Black-necked Stilt

 

 

 

 

X

White-crowned Pigeon

X

 

 

 

 

Zenaida Dove

 

 

 

 

X

White-winged Dove

X

X

 

 

 

Ruddy Ground-Dove

 

X

 

 

 

Blue Ground-Dove

 

X

 

 

 

White-tipped Dove

 

X

X

 

X

Olive-throated Parakeet

X

X

 

 

X

White-fronted Parrot

 

X

X

 

X

Yellow-lored Parrot

 

X

 

 

X

Mangrove Cuckoo

X

 

 

 

X

Squirrel Cuckoo

 

X

 

 

X

Smooth-billed Ani

X

 

 

 

 

Groove-billed Ani

X

X

 

 

X

Lesser Roadrunner

 

 

 

 

X

Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl

 

X

 

 

 

Pauraque

 

X

 

 

 

Wedge-tailed Sabrewing

 

X

 

 

 

Green-breasted Mango

X

 

 

 

 

Cozumel Emerald

X

 

 

 

 

Canivet's Emerald

 

 

 

 

X

White-bellied Emerald

 

X

 

 

 

Cinnamon Hummingbird

 

X

 

 

X

Buff-bellied Hummingbird

 

X

 

 

X

Mexican Sheartail

 

 

 

 

X

Black-headed Trogon

 

X

 

X

 

Collared Trogon

 

X

X

X

 

Violaceous Trogon

 

X

X

X

 

Belted Kingfisher

 

X

 

X

 

Turquoise-browed Motmot

 

 

 

X

 

Collared Aracari

 

 

X

 

 

Keel-billed Toucan

 

X

X

 

 

Yucatan Woodpecker

X

X

X

X

X

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

 

 

X

 

 

Smoky-brown Woodpecker

 

X

 

 

 

Chestnut-colored Woodpecker

 

X

 

 

 

Ruddy Woodcreeper

 

X

X

X

 

Olivaceous Woodcreeper

 

X

X

X

 

Ivory-billed Woodcreeper

 

X

 

 

 

Rufous Piha

 

 

X

 

 

Northern Bentbill

 

 

X

 

 

Least Flycatcher

X

X

X

X

X

Yucatan Flycatcher

 

X

X

 

 

Tropical Kingbird

 

X

X

X

X

Couch's Kingbird

 

 

X

 

X

Streaked Flycatcher

 

X

 

 

 

Social Flycatcher

 

X

X

X

X

Great Kiskadee

 

 

 

X

 

Rose-throated Becard

 

X

 

 

 

Masked Tityra

 

X

 

 

 

Black-crowned Tityra

 

X

 

 

 

Yucatan Jay

 

X

X

 

 

Brown Jay

 

X

 

 

 

White-eyed Vireo

X

 

 

 

 

Mangrove Vireo

 

 

 

 

 

Yellow-throated Vireo

 

X

 

 

 

Yucatan Vireo

X

 

 

 

 

Wood Thrush

 

 

 

X

 

Gray Catbird

X

X

X

 

 

Black Catbird

X

X

X

 

 

Tropical Mockingbird

X

X

X

X

X

Yucatan Wren

 

 

 

 

X

Spot-breasted Wren

 

X

 

 

 

White-browed Wren

 

X

 

 

 

Cozumel Wren

X

 

 

 

 

White-bellied Wren

 

X

 

 

 

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

 

 

 

 

X

Tree Swallow

 

 

 

 

X

Gray-breasted Martin

 

 

 

X

 

Blue-winged Warbler

X

X

X

 

 

Northern Parula

X

X

X

 

 

Yellow-rumped Warbler

X

 

 

 

 

Yellow Warbler

X

X

X

 

 

Chestnut-sided Warbler

 

X

 

 

 

Magnolia Warbler

X

X

 

X

 

Black-throated Gray Warbler

 

 

 

 

 

Black-throated Green Warbler

 

X

 

 

 

Black-and-white Warbler

X

X

X

X

X

American Redstart

 

X

X

X

 

Prothonotary Warbler

 

X

 

X

 

Northern Waterthrush

 

 

 

X

 

Gray-crowned Yellowthroat

 

X

 

 

 

Hooded Warbler

 

X

X

X

 

Green-backed Sparrow

 

X

 

 

 

Cozumel race of Bananaquit

X

 

 

 

 

Red-crowned Ant-Tanager

 

X

X

 

 

Red-throated Ant-Tanager

 

X

X

X

 

Rose-throated Tanager

 

X

 

X

 

Yellow-throated Euphonia

 

 

X

 

 

Blue-black Grassquit

 

 

 

 

X

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

 

X

 

 

 

Northern Cardinal

 

X

 

 

X

Black-headed Saltator

 

X

 

 

 

Grayish Saltator

 

X

 

 

 

Blue Bunting

 

X

 

 

 

Indigo Bunting

 

 

 

 

X

Painted Bunting

 

X

 

 

 

Orange Oriole

 

X

X

 

X

Altamira Oriole

 

 

 

X

X

Hooded Oriole

 

X

X

X

 

Orchard Oriole

X

X

 

 

 

Red-winged Blackbird

 

 

 

 

X

Great-tailed Grackle

X

X

X

X

X

Bronzed Cowbird

X

X

X

X

X



 

 Gary Babic



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