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MEXICO - QUINTANA ROO: Isla de Cozumel

May 1999

by Terry Witt

Just back from 3 full days birding on Cozumel Island with plenty of time in the field.  There are 2 excellent references which are readily available and highly recommended: "Bird Finding in Mexico" by Howell Site 14-10, and an extensive article in "Winging It" Vol 8 #2 Feb 1996.  This report is intended as an update for future visitors with some more current information.

1.  Mexico is in a prolonged drought and the island has virtually no fresh standing water.  The the mangrove swamps are dry as well.  This makes all roads easily passable, but water birds are in short supply and may be difficult or impossible to find.  In addition, the sand road to Punta Celarain on the South coast is closed at the main road to all traffic even by foot with a guard posted.

2.  Notes on the birding areas:

a.  Since the swamps are dry, there is little reason to spend any time north of San Miguel.  All the birds in this area are present other places which are easily acessible and more aesthetic, unless you feel that a trip which does not include a sewage treatment plant visit is incomplete!

b.  The site 6.8 km from the Pemex on the cross-island road is excellent and highly recommended.  As an aside, another Pemex has been opened a bit farther west and has easy access from either direction.  We did not see another person while hiking level roads with good surfaces.  We had our best luck with flycatchers here with our only Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet and Greenish Elaenia and a visual on Bright -rumped Attila, as well as several Yucutan Flycatchers which are rather scarce.  Carribean Elaenias and Brown-crested flycatchers are very common and Tropical Kingbird is ubiquitous.  We also saw our only Rose-throated Tanager here.  Northern Stripe-headed Tanager was seen readily in several spots with at least 20 individuals noted and is by far the more common of the two.  We were able to find quite a few fruiting trees but Rose- throated numbers seem to be down.

c.  The area south at km 6.3 from the passenger ferry starting at the road leading past Palomar Ranch is also excellent with no people or dogs to hassle you.  This is the best area for Yucutan Parrot.  The Parrots seem to roost over west to the coast and come flying inland over the main road between 6:30 and 7 AM.  We had flybys at the main road which has a parrallel access sand road for safety and not too much traffic early.  We also saw our only Lesser Goldfinches in the brush here.  We had excellent views of the parrots by working the area around Rancho el Mirage, a failed partly built house half way back the Palomar ranch road which provides quite a bit of sky and some good perch trees.  If one ventures further into the housing area, only brief parrot flybys should be expected.  Caribbean Doves are extremely common here and an early morning visit will give good views while later in the day the birds melt back into impenetrable vegetation.

Cozumel Emerald, Vireo, and Wren would be difficult to miss and Yucutan Flycatcher is present but not common.  Green-breasted Mango and White-crowned Pigeon are common.  Black Catbird is everywhere and Rufous-browed Peppershrike of the island subspecies readily available.  Yellow-faced Grassquits were encountered in the woodlands on several occasions.  We made repeated tries for Yucutan Nightjar and finally heard one bird vocalizing immediately before being drenched by a severe thunderstorm!  We saw several likely suspects but were never able to confirm a visual ID and had no response to tape.  Pauraque are quite common and we did capture a nice boa one night on the road.  We did not see a single raptor except the 2 vultures.  We dipped completely on the Thrasher despite repeated trolling with some decent tape.  Perhaps the birds sing earlier in the year or maybe we just weren't lucky.

We did not see a single other birder on the trip perhaps since all NA migrants were gone and good weather could be expected at home as well.  Additional info provided on request.  Any webmasters feel free to add this to any collection of trip lists.

Terry Witt
507 Highland Terrace
Murfreesboro Tn 37130
615 890-2740

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