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by Jim Turner and Kate Trainer

January 2000

This trip report is edited to be of particular interest to birders without private transportation, wishing to minimize their expenses.  All travel is done with public busses, but we used a few short taxi rides to save on the walking.

CANCUN: There IS a public bus from Cancun airport to the city, but you have to take the free terminal shuttle to the domestic terminal, then take the $4 bus to town from the Car Rental area outside.  Near the Central Bus Station, there are a number of hotels for $20-$30, on Av. Uxmal, Av. Tulum north, and the market are between those streets.  In Cancun city, there is interesting birding in a little park in Mercado 23, in the hotel area described above.  There is another park area just behind the Bus Station, where the residential area has many gardens, interspersed with small parks.  There is no need to bird Cancun if you are going further afield, but the Bus Station area has surprising birding for a central city.  Equally surprisingly, Cancun is a pleasant, friendly, typical Mexican city unlike what one would expect in such proximity to a tourist trap---Very unlike Cozumel.  We birded Cancun on the morning of Jan 10, and again Jan 16.

FELIPE CARRILLO PUERTO: There is a bus every hour from Cancun to Chetumal, stopping at FCP, about 4 hours from Cancun.  Carrillo, as it is called locally, has a half-dozen very economical hotels.  Even the upscale Faisan y Venado charges only $15/double.  Unusual for Mexico, there is an all-night restaurant, called "25-horas", where you can have breakfast before birding.  (Not to be confused with one called "24-horas", which seemed pretentious).  We birded Cancun Monday morning, boarded the bus at 11:30, and arrived in FCP with plenty of time to rest and get in a late afternoon walk to reconnoiter Vigia Chica.  The walk to the school (where birding begins) is an unproductive 2-km, so we quickly learned to take the 12-peso taxi to the Escuela Tecnologico.  The school is large and busy, so there are several taxis per hour during the day and there is interesting birding around the school grounds to while away the wait for a return taxi, as well as a little cantina for refreshment.  We found that there is little need to walk much more than 2-km beyond the school.  Walk as many trails as possible---those on the north side of the road lead to a few open spaces with good view of snags; those on the south side, pass through forest often with much better view through the understory than you would see from the road.

With about 4 hours of productive birding here in the morning, the hours are better spent off the road, than further down the road.  Birding picks up again for the last two hours of daylight.  We birded FCP Jan 11, 12 and 13, and three days seemed just about right.

CHICHEN ITZA: The economical hotels (less than $20) are intermingled with ritzy hotels near where the bus will drop you.  The Novelo Hotel ($17) has free access to the nice swimming pool in the hotel next door.  Restaraunts in Piste are poor, and there is no bus to the ruins.  But the walk is easy on a good sidewalk, and lighted all the way, if you want to go out early to listen for night-birds in the dark parking lot.  Just after the Chichen Itza turnoff from the highway, there is an unmarked road to the left, which can be birded while waiting for the Ruinas to open at 8 am.  Walking back to Piste, the Cantina Palapa at the 180-highway junction may be better than any restaurant in town.

COZUMEL: Boats sail from Playa del Carmen to Cozumel almost every hour of the day, on the hour.  It's the horrible tourist mecca we'd expected Cancun to be.  Cozumel's cheapest hotel is Pirata, at $25/ double.  From the boat dock, take the pedestrian mall straight inland a block to the clock-tower.  Turn south a half-block to the Pirata.  Restaurants are horrifically un-Mexican and expensive and pretentious, but the Denis is the cheapest, a half-block east of the clock tower.  (Most maps of Cozumel will have North on the Left.)

There is no public transport out of Cozumel town, except the predictably expensive taxis.  Short of renting a car or cycle, you will need to bird close to town for the dozen Cozumel specialties.  This can be done by hopping on the white bus marked Circuito, going to the right as you face the harbor watching Frigatebirds.  One place to get off is the Aeropuerto turnoff.  The bus will turn right---you walk straight ahead, or to the left into the airport landscaping and then to the right.  The city stops abruptly and there are trails into the jungle.  Or, you can stay on the bus, which will continue to zigzag up to Avenida 90 Norte.  Looking out to your left, you'll see that every street ends a block away at the face of the jungle, parallelling Av.  90.  Eat lunch out here, before returning to the pricey waterfront.

We were there Jan 15, and had the bad luck of one of the windiest days of the year, which really knocked the birds down.  We saw almost nothing.  In fact, it was so windy, the ferry back to Playa del Carmen had to put into an alternate, better protected cove.  The locations described above SHOULD provide fairly good birding within easy access of the city center.  The habitats beyond the airport turnoff looked like a birdwatchers dream.  And, out in the neighborhoods, Cozumel is a nice, friendly Mexican town.

SUMMARY: Our total cost for seven days of birding in these four locations totalled $340, for two people, including all hotels, meals, and ground transportation.  Our Mexican hosts never failed to make us feel perfectly comfortable in their country, without a moment of apprehension, and English is well understood everywhere we went except, perhaps, FCP.  It was our first birding experience around the Yucatan, and we counted 97 species of birds, of which 47 are endemic to the region south of the Rio Grande River.  (The other 50 occur in the ABA North America Count Area).  Kate even added a North America lifer on the drive home from the Detroit airport---a Northern Shrike.


Total species = 97


x =  Seen
v = Heard only
? = Imperfect ID
FC = Felipe Carrillo Puerto (3 days /78 species)
ZA = Chichen Itza (1 day /25 species)
UN = Cancun (2 days) or from coastal bus  /18 species)
EL = Cozumel (1 day /16 species)
o   = Seen on only one occasion (single or group)
oo  = Seen on several occasions
ooo = Abundant--seen frequently
*  = Endemic south of Rio Grande /48 species
SPECIES                         FC      ZA      UN      EL      Status
 Brown Pelican                                           x       oo
 Neotropic Cormorant                             x               o
 Little Blue Heron                                       x       o
 Great Egret                                     x       x       oo
 Cattle Egret                                    x               o
 Magnificent Frigatebird                                 x       oo
 Black Vulture                           x       x       x       ooo
 Turkey Vulture                  x       x       x       x       oo
*Doubletooth Kite                x                               o
 Grey Hawk                       x                               oo
*Roadside Haek                   ?                               o
*Laughing Falcon                 x                               oo
*Collared Forest falcon          ?                               o
 Plain Chachalaca                v       v                       oo
 Ruddy Turnstone                                         x       o
 Common Tern                                             x       oo
*Yucatan Bobwhite                x                               o
 Red-billed Pigeon               v       v                       oo
 White winged Dove               v       x                       oo
 Ruddy Ground Dove                       x       x       x       ooo
*Caribbean Dove                          x                       o
 Rock Dove                       x               x       x       oo
*Aztec Parakeet                  x                               oo
*White-fronted Parrot            x                               o
*Yucatan Parrot                  x                               oo
*Squirrel Cuckoo                 x       x                       oo
 Groove-bill Ani                 x                               o
 Ferruginous Pygmy owl           x       v                       oo
 Paurauque                       x                               o
*Yucatan Poorwill                        v                       o
 Vaux Swift                      x                               oo
*Wedge-tail Sabrewing            x                               oo
*Green-breast Mango              x                               oo
*Canivet Emerald                 x                               o
*White-belly Emerald             x                               oo
*Cinnamon Hummingbird            x        x                      ooo
 Buff-belly Hummingbird          x                               o
*Black-head Trogon               x                               o
*Turquiose-brow Motmot                   x                       oo
 Belted Kingfisher               x                               o
*Collared Aracari                x                               oo
*Keel-bill Toucan                x                               o
*Yucatan Woodpecker              x                               o
 Golden-front Woodpecker         x       x       x               ooo
 Ladder-back Woodpecker          x                               oo
*Golden-olive Woodpecker         x       x                       oo
*Lineated Woodpecker             x                               o
*Olivaceous Woodcreeper          x                               oo
*Ivory-bill woodcreeper          x                               oo
 N. Beardless Tyrannulet         x                               o
*Yellow-belly Elaenia            ?                               o
*Stub-bill Spadebill             x                               o
 Least Flycatcher                x                               oo
*Bright-rump Attila              x                               o
 Great Kiskadee                  x       x       x       x       ooo
*Boat-bill Flycatcher            x                               oo
*Social Flycatcher               x       x       x       x       ooo
 Trop/Couch (?) Kingbird         x       x       x       x       ooo
 Scissor-tail Flycatcher                         x               o
 Rose-throat Becard              x                               oo
*Masked Tityra                   x                               oo
 Cave Swallow                            ?                       o
*Yucatan Jay                     x                               oo
 Brown Jay                       x                               ooo
 Green Jay                       x                               o
*White-breast Wood-Wren          ?                               o
 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher           x                               oo
*Tropical Gnatcatxcher           x                               oo
 Clay-color Thrush                       x                       o
 Grey Catbird                    x                               oo
*Tropical Mockingbird            x       x       x       x       ooo
 White-eyed Vireo                x                               oo
*Mangrove Vireo                  x                               o
 Yellow-throat Vireo             x                               o
*Tawny-crown Greenlet            x                               o
*Rufus-brow Peppershrike         x                               oo
 Northern Parula                 x                               oo
 Yellow Warbler                  x                               o
 Black & White Warbler           x                               oo
 American REdstart               x                               oo
*Grey-crown Yellowthroat         x                               o
 Hooded Warbler                  x                               oo
*Grey-throat Chat                x                               o
*Cozumel Bananaquit                                      x       oo
*Yellow-throat Euphonia                  x                       o
*Red-throat Ant-tanager          x                               o
 Summer Tanager                  x               x               ooo
*Black-head Saltator             x       x                       oo
 Northern Cardinal               x                               oo
 Blue Bunting                    x                               oo
*Blue-black Grassquit            x                               o
 White-collar Seedeater          x                               oo
*Melodious Blackbird             x       x       x               oo
 Great-tail Grackle              x       x       x       x       ooo
*Black-cowl Oriole               x                               oo
*Orange Oriole                                   x               o
 Altamira Oriole                 x       x       x               ooo

by Jim Turner and Kate Trainer,
Traverse City

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