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09 - 23 January 2002

by Kenneth Burton & Laurie Ness

We structured our trip around the information presented in Chapter 14 of A Bird-finding Guide to Mexico by Steve N.G. Howell (1999 – henceforth “Howell”).  The information presented here is intended to compliment that chapter, site by site.  For convenience (ours), species are listed within sites in chronological order.  All prices are in pesos; the exchange rate was about 9 pesos/dollar.

The sequence in which we visited the sites was 14.1, 14.10, 14.2, 14.3, 14.9, 14.8, 14.6, 14.7, 14.6, 14.4, 14.5, 14.3, 14.1.  The weather during our trip was unseasonably cool and dry the first week, warmer and more humid with showers and occasional rain the second.

Note that Rock Dove, present at many sites, was omitted intentionally (by Howell and us) from site lists.

Site 14.1 (Jardín Botanico Dr. Alfredo Barrera M.):  If arriving from the north, it is necessary to pass the garden and then double back at the next retorno (less than a km).  Admission (map included) was $50/person at the beginning of our trip and $70/person at the end, illustrating the unstable nature of prices in Mexico.  We were allowed to exit the garden after closing time.  The chiclero camp and the trail on either side of it were particularly active, even at midday.  We also encountered an army ant swarm, with many attendant birds, along the east trail south of the camp trail.  Notable birds:  Great Black-Hawk, Olive-throated Parakeet, Plain Chachalaca, Gray Catbird, Rose-throated Becard, Violaceous Trogon, Gray-throated Chat, Ruddy Woodcreeper, Thrush-like Schiffornis, Summer Tanager, Zone-tailed Hawk, Roadside Hawk, Caribbean Dove.

Site 14.2 (Cobá):  Look for Yellow-tailed Oriole along the highway between Tulum and Cobá and Singing Quail around the cemetery just east of Cobá, especially along the track behind it.  The road going northeast from the highway junction outside Cobá was good for Yucatán Poorwill and lightly traveled.  Spotted Rail apparently has not been seen recently.  The dock at Villas Arqueologicas (Club Med) offers good lake viewing.  The ruins open at 0800.  Notable birds:  Baltimore Oriole, Brown Pelican, Double-crested Cormorant, Blue Bunting, Tawny-winged Woodcreeper, Tree Swallow, Black-crowned Tityra, Rose-throated Becard, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Tropical Gnatcatcher, Yellow-throated Vireo, Lesser Greenlet.

Site 14.3 (Felipe Carrillo Puerto):  The traffic level along the Vigia Chico road seems to have increased somewhat in recent years but is still relatively light.  We recommend spending at least two full mornings here.  We had no trouble entering (or leaving) Sian Ka’an or traveling therein unaccompanied without a permit – we even camped at Vigia Chico – but we were asked to make a donation (part of which we suspect was pocketed by the guard) upon our exit.  The birding in the reserve was unspectacular but did provide our only Great Horned Owl, Clapper Rail, and Yellow-billed Cacique.  Notable birds:  Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Cattle Egret, Tree Swallow, Indigo Bunting, Ocellated Turkey.

Site 14.4 (Río Lagartos/Las Coloradas):  We arranged a 3+-hour, very-focused boat trip at Restaurant Isla Contoy for only $350.  We saw another tourist boat with a roof but were glad ours didn’t have one.  There was an active Bare-throated Tiger-Heron nest about 100 m downstream from the Las Coloradas bridge on the right (north) bank, not visible from the bridge (though the birds might be).  We stayed at Posada Leyli and do not recommend it; evidence indicated that our room had not been cleaned.  Unleaded gas is available.  The clock tower is a couple of blocks off the waterfront, but there’s another tower that one can ascend next to the main pier.  The best upland birding we found was along the tracks to ranchos San Salvador and El Xux, beginning at Km 8 on the Las Coloradas Road, which is now paved essentially all the way and bends right, not left, when it reaches the coast.  The swamp on the south edge of San Felipe was very birdy early in the morning.  Notable birds:  Collared Forest-Falcon, Northern (Ridgway’s) Rough-winged Swallow, Crane Hawk, Clay-colored Sparrow (possibly the first record for Yucatán), Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Boat-billed Heron, Lesser Black-backed Gull.

Site 14.5 (Chichén Itzá):  Like the other ruin sites (except Cobá), this site probably is not worth visiting from an ornithological standpoint alone but certainly is worth birding (early) if you’re going there anyway.  Admission and parking prices at this and other ruins have increased substantially (up to 200%) since Howell but admission is still free on Sundays.

Site 14.6 (Progreso/Dzilam de Bravo):  The Yucaltepen exit off the Progreso Road is at Km 22.5, not 18.5.  We were intrigued by the seven-km-long pier and got permission to drive out; don’t bother, as you’re not allowed to stop or get out of your car and boulders along the road block the view most of the way.  The Dzilam de Bravo road is being widened and soon will bypass Chicxulub Puerto as well as Progreso.  We couldn’t find the “short, inconspicuous, narrow track to the right” at Km 8.9 but there is now a conspicuous, developed flamingo-viewing rest stop in that area.  Most of the interesting birds we saw were along this road, many of them quite far along, so we were pleased that we opted to go all the way.  Note that it makes more sense to stop at Xtampu before doing the Nuevo Yucatán loop if you’re not returning to Progreso; be prepared for mosquitoes there.  If linking this site with Río Lagartos, the route through Yalsihon, Panabá, and San Felipe is recommended; if going east, turn left in Yalsihon.  Notable birds:  American Oystercatcher, Least Bittern, Dunlin, Greater Scaup (apparently the first record for eastern Mexico), Piping Plover.

Site 14.7 (Dzibilchaltún):  See 14.5.  Notable bird:  Common Yellowthroat.

Site 14.8 (Celestún):  We reached the site from Uxmal via Chunchucmil, an interesting road but in very bad condition; the turnoff to Chunchucmil from Maxcanu was unsigned.  We were unable to arrange an affordable, focused boat trip here and recommend Río Lagartos (site 14.4) instead.  The guides at Celestún Expeditions know a lot about birds.  Unleaded gas is available, and the main gas station is now on the west side of the harbor.  The pullout described in Howell as “immediately before…the bridge” (into Celestún) is actually several hundred meters before the bridge.  It’s easier to walk to the bridge from the parking lot on the west end than from the pullout, but the area around the pullout is worth checking as well.  The grounds of the Eco Paraiso Lodge, 10 km north of town, and the surrounding bush are good for a morning of birding.  Notable birds:  Marbled Godwit, Brown Booby, Baltimore Oriole, Long-billed Dowitcher (apparently regular in Yucatán; see Howell, page 300), Violaceous Trogon.

Site 14.9 (Uxmal):  See 14.5.  There is inexpensive lodging in Santa Elena (as well as a very nice campground).  Notable birds:  Yucatan Jay (apparently omitted from Howell’s list in error), Rose-throated Becard, Black-headed Trogon, Brown Jay, Great Black-Hawk.

Site 14.10 (Isla Cozumel):  We found good, cheap lodging on Calle 10 (or was it 12?) Norte between avenidas 5 and 10.  The proprietor set us up with a rental car (an old Beetle with holes in the floor and a broken speedometer – hence no odometer - but cheap by Cozumel standards) and even let us use it to carry our gear to the ferry the day after the rental.  We had our best morning birding in a clearing on the north side of the road into the failed housing development at Km 6.3 south of town, about ½ km west of the fork; the rest of that area was pretty quiet.  We couldn’t find the seasonal pools near the east shore on the Cross-Island Highway, but there’s a nice wetland on the west side of the east-shore highway not far south of the Cross-Island.  Notable bird:  Rose-throated Becard.

One other site that deserves mention is Highway 184 just west of Santa Rosa, near the state line where the road to Peto branches off.  This area of tall trees, scrub, and fields was extremely active in mid-afternoon, with an impressive variety of birds (all of which we also saw elsewhere).  If you’re traveling between Felipe Carrillo Puerto and Uxmal, this could be a worthwhile stop.

Kenneth Burton

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