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29 April - 3 May 1999

by Greg Links

Eric Durbin, John Chadwick and I planned 4 days to bird and visit the archaelogical sites of the Yucatan Peninsula in SE Mexico.  We had planned on going to Cozumel as well, but the ferry was not running, so it was eliminated from the itinerary, and the forest around Felipe Carillo Puerto was added.  As it turns out, this was a blessing, because our time around Felipe Carillo Puerto was the "birdiest" of the whole trip.

We flew from Detroit to Cancun on Continental Airlines ($430 US), and arrived in the afternnon.  Shortly after landing, we saw Great-tailed grackle for our first "trip bird", and it was followed by Mangrove swallow, Social flycatcher, and Hooded oriole, all from various windows at the airport.  We picked up our rented Ford Escort from Avis ($150 US for 5 days, plus 10% tax), and took the main highway south from Cancun (Route 307) toward Tulum, and eventually our destination for the night, Felipe Carillo Puerto.  The road was in excellent condition, and it was well marked with signs.

On the advice of previous trip reports, we stopped at the Marin Botanical Gardens, just south of the town of Puerto Morelos.  The gardens are only about 25 kMs. south of Cancun.  They are located right on the highway, on the east side of the road.  There is a sign for the gardens about a kilometer north of the entance drive.  The entrance fee was 40 pesos per person.  After paying the fee, we quickly started becoming familiar with some of the Yucatan specialties.  Orange orioles frolicked in the trees above the parking lot, and Yucatan parrots perched and fed cooperatively above the restrooms.

The gardens have about 2 kms of trails that meander through native forest as well as some ornamental plantings.  We arrived in the heat of the day, so the birds were quite silent, although I would recommend this as a stop for birders.

On to Felipe Carillo Puerto.  This town was about 200 kms south (staying on 307 the whole way) of Cancun, and has no archaelogical interest, but is a must-stop for birders.  We stayed in the center of town at the Hotel Faison y el Venado for one night.  The accomodations were average (no toilet seat, cold water only, and very little water pressure), but the restaurant in the hotel was excellent, the best food of the trip.  The cost of the hotel was about $20 US for a double.

Our target here was the road to Vigia Chico, through the Si'an K'aan Biosphere Reserve.  The reserve has a birdlist of over 350 species, and also is home to many outstanding mammals, such as jaguar, tapir, ocelot, margay, and many others.

The road is reached by going to the town square, just north of the hotel.  There is a roundabout, with a road going due east, and a road going to the northeast.  There is a sign pointing to both roads that says "Vigia Chico".  The road to take is the one going northeast.  There is a small carryout just before the road, and it is recommended that you stock up on bottled water and snacks here, maybe even the night before.

We were on the road by 4:30am, in the dark.  For 30 kms, the road is gravel, but very good.  We stopped every few kilometers in before daybreak to listen.  Yucatan poorwill was calling near the houses at the beginning of the road.  Yucatan nightjar was common at almost every stop we made, and we heard at least 2 Vermiculated screech-owls.  With daybreak brought the birdiest action of the trip.  Blue-crowned motmots, Thicket tinamous, and White-tipped doves all called from the jungle.  Ivory-billed woodcreepers called from every direction, while we were busy trying to pin down several flycatchers.  Distracting us from this sometimes humbling task were Keel-billed toucans flying over the road, Yucatan jays patrolling the roadside, and many Masked tityras foraging in the treetops.  As the morning turned to afternoon, activity slowed substantially.  Along the road, however, we added Ocellated turkey, Gray-necked Wood-rails, and Crested guan.  Not too shabby.  We had good action for nearly all of the 30 kMs. After about 30 kms, we came to the entrance gate to the preserve itself.  There was a gentleman here with a pet Spider monkey who apparently worked for the Preserve.  He let us in the gate free of charge (we signed his registry), and continued forward.  After 18 kms past the gate, the road forked.  The fork to the right continued on to Vigia Chico, and the fork to the left went back toward 307, and eventually came out about 20 kms north of Felipe Carillo Puerto.  We took the road back to the main highway, and it was VERY BAD.  There were many, many VERY BAD potholes the first 10 kms or so, and in retrospect, we should have turned around at the gate to the preserve, and gone back the way we had come in.  I WOULD NOT RECOMMEND GOING INTO THE RESERVE ITSELF.  The road leading from F.C.P.  to the Reserve was in great shape, and this is where we saw all of our birds.  But, we made it out alive, and so did our car (thankfully).

We were now headed for Coba.  We drove north on 307, and stopped at Tulum for about an hour.  There was not much bird action here, although there were a few species of orioles, Cave swallows, and our first Green jays of the trip.  Again, it was very hot in the afternoon, and there wasn't a whole lot of activity.  The road to Coba was a little tricky for us to find.  It is the main crossroad in town, just north of a hotel with the name "Maison" in it.  I can't recall exactly the name of the hotel.  This road is leading off to the northwest a bit.  This road is in excellent condition also, and we arrived at Coba in just under one hour.

We checked in at the Villas Arquelogicas (A wonderful Club Med facility) in the town of Coba ($45 US for a double), and drove the very short distance to the ruins.  The forest here looked promising for the morning, although the heat of the afternoon kept most birds at bay.  Turqoise-browed motmots were everywhere, and there were birds around, but the ruins kept most of our attention for the afternoon.  A Basilisk lizard running on its hind legs was a pleasant find near the ruins.

Morning brought us to the edges of the very large Lake Coba (obvious from anywhere in Coba).  The ruins did not open until 7am, so we worked the road along the lake.  Limpkins called from the tall grasses, seedeaters (White-collared) and saltators (Grayish) hopped about the shorter grass, and egrets (Snowies and Cattle) flew over the lake.  We hoped to catch a glimpse of a Ruddy crake skulking on the edges.  John noticed some movement from the reeds, and I was second to the motion.  Spotted Rail!!!!  What a great surprise this beauty was...milling about the reeds, affording great looks, and even some reasonable video footage.  The Spotted rail was my personal highlight of the trip.  The bird was about 100 yards before a Sterling silver shop (walking from the Villas Arquelogicas toward the ruins) in the reeds along the lake.  Just a couple of minutes after the rail disappeared, we found a Ruddy crake taking nesting materials to and from a thicker clump of grass.  Again, great looks, and some good video as well.  What tremendous luck!

The forest around Coba was good, but not great.  Meandering around the trails, we found good general tropical birding: Motmots, trogons (black-headed), parrots (White-fronted), tanagers, and warblers.  A flock of Blue ground-doves along the main trail was a treat.  We were a bit spoiled by the morning fireworks that the rail and crake provided earlier.

That afternoon, we took the road to Chichen Itza, and were there in less than 2 hours.  Again, we checked in at the Villas Arqeologicas near Chichen Itza.  The Hacienda Chichen looked quite nice also, but was quite a bit more expensive.  We went directly to the ruins, and birded as much as we could.  There were alot of people around, and it was very hot.  We did not add much in the way of birds.

The next morning found us birding around the hotel grounds of the Hacienda Chichen.  It was nice, but we did not add many new birds.  Yellow-faced grassquit, Yellow-winged tanager, and Sulphur-bellied flycatcher were all ticked for the first time.

The ruins at Chichen Itza are spectacular, and well worth visiting in their own right.  The birding was not very good, however.  There were many birds, but mostly very common ones that were easy to see almost anywhere.  Cinnamon hummingbird seemed to be more common here than elsewhere.

For our last night, we decided to head back toward Cancun, and stay in Puerto Morelos.  There was an interesting marsh that bordered the main road into downtown P.  Morelos that we wanted to investigate, and we wanted to bird in the Botanical gardens in the morning.  We stayed at the hotel that was connected to Johnny Cairo's (a restaurant), just south of the center of town along the main beach drag (can't recall the hotel name).  It was nice, but fairly expensive ($56 US).  We birded the late afternoon along the marsh.  It cannot be missed if driving into P.  Morelos.  We added quite a few birds here: Roseate spoonbill, Purple gallinule, Glossy and White ibis, Anhinga, and quite a few others.

On our last morning, we wanted to bird along the marsh road, and then in the gardens just south of town.  The marsh proved to be surprisingly dead, so we went straight to the garden, only to find they did not open until 9am.  Our spontaneous plan "B", provided by Eric, was the small dirt road directly across the main highway from the Botanical gardens.  We had 2 hours to kill, so we shuffled along that road, hoping for the best.  This road turned out to be great.  Orange and Hooded orioles decorated various treetops, Yucatan and White-fronted parrots screamed at our presence, and neotropical migrants made us feel at home.  Red-eyed vireo, Magnolia and Blackburnian warblers, Scarlet tanager, and Rose-breasted grosbeaks all were gearing up for their long flight "home", as were we by now.  I found it fascinating to think about the fact that people were undoubtedly seeing these very same species on this very same date back at home, in northern Ohio.  What an immense distance these birds travel!!  I couldn't help but think that the individuals we were seeing were a bit tardy in their departure for points north.

We wrapped up on the road, and birded for about an hour back in the Botanical gardens.  We managed to add Rose-throated tanager, Tawny-winged woodcreeper, Gray-collared becard, and Violaceous trogon.  By now we had falled increasingly into our "home" mode.  As nice as everything was, it was time to go home, and we all were ready.

Annotated List:
Thicket Tinamou  Several heard at Felipe Carillo Puerto, 2 at Coba
Brown Pelican  fairly common along coast
Double-crested Cormorant  few along coast
Neotropic Cormorant  Several at Lake Coba
Anhinga  A few along Puerto Morelos marsh
Magnificent Frigatebird  common along coast
Least Bittern  1 or 2 at Lake Coba
Great Blue Heron  2 at Lake Coba
Great Egret  Several at P. Morelos marsh
Snowy Egret  common at P. Morelos marsh, several Lake Coba
Little Blue Heron  several at P. Morelos marsh, couple Lake Coba
Tricolored Heron  few at P. Morelos marsh
Cattle Egret  common throughout
Green Heron  common P. Morelos marsh, Lake Coba
White Ibis  fairly common P. Morelos marsh
Glossy Ibis  3 or 4 at P. Morelos marsh
Roseate Spoonbill  2 at P. Morelos marsh
Black Vulture  common throughout
Turkey Vulture  common throughout
Cooper's Hawk  1 at road across from Botanical gardens
Gray Hawk  1 outside of Cancun
Roadside Hawk  Several here and there
Short-tailed Hawk  1 outside of Cancun, 1 between Tulum and Coba
Ornate Hawk-eagle  2 at Felipe Carillo Puerto
Peregrine Falcon  1 at road across from Botanical gardens
Plain Chachalaca  fairly common at most sites
Crested Guan  1 at F.C.P.
Ocellated Turkey  3 at F.C.P.
Ruddy Crake  2 at Lake Coba
Spotted Rail  1 Lake Coba
Gray-necked Wood-Rail  3 at F.C.P.
Purple Gallinule  1 Lake Coba
Common Moorhen  2 or 3 at P. Morelos Marsh
Limpkin  1 or 2 at Lake Coba
Black-necked Stilt  Several at P. Morelos marsh
Solitary Sandpiper  1 at P. Morelos marsh
Spotted Sandpiper  1 Lake Coba
Ruddy Turnstone  several on beach at P. Morelos
Sanderling  2 on beach at P. Morelos
Laughing Gull  fairly common along coast
Royal Tern  fairly common along coast
Rock Dove  3 at Coba
Red-billed Pigeon  1 on road across from botanical gardens
White-winged Dove  fairly common throughout
Common Ground-Dove  several at Tulum
Ruddy Ground-Dove  common throughout
Blue Ground-Dove  10+ at Coba
White-tipped Dove  common in forested areas
Aztec Parakeet  common throughout, esp. ruins
White-fronted Parrot  common throughout
Yucatan Parrot  Several at Botanical gardens, a few more scattered
Squirrel Cuckoo  common throughout
Groove-billed Ani  fairly common in disturbed areas
Vermiculated Screech-Owl  1 at F.C.P.
Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl  1 at Coba, 1 at Chichen Itza
Yucatan Poorwill  1 or 2 at F.C.P.
Yucatan Nightjar  common F.C.P.
Vaux's Swift  common throughout
Cinnamon Hummingbird  common Chichen Itza, a few others around
Black-headed Trogon  common all forested areas
Violaceous Trogon  1 at Botanical gardens
Blue-crowned Motmot  2 at F.C.P., 2 at Chichen Itza
Turqoise-browed Motmot  common throughout, esp. ruins
Collared Aracari  2 at F.C.P., 1 Chichen Itza
Keel-billed Toucan  2 at F.C.P., 1 at Coba
Yucatan Woodpecker  Several at Botanical gardens & road across from
Golden-fronted Woodpecker  common throughout
Ladder-backed Woodpecker  1 at F.C.P.
Golden-olive Woodpecker  2 at Coba
Linneated Woodpecker  2 at F.C.P., 1 at Botanical gardens
Tawny-winged Woodcreeper  1 at Botanical gardens
Ivory-billed Woodcreeper  common at all forested areas
Greenish Elaenia  1 at Coba
Yellow-bellied Elaenia  1 at F.C.P.
Slate-headed Tody-flycatcher  1 at F.C.P., 1 at Coba
Yellow-olive Flycatcher  1 at road across from Botanical gardens
Tropical Pewee  a few here and there
Empid, Sp.  1 at Chichen Itza...Acadian?
Bright-rumped Attila  1 at F.C.P.
Yucatan Flycatcher  2 at F.C.P.
Dusky-capped Flycatcher  1 at F.C.P., 1 at Coba
Brown-crested Flycatcher  1 at Coba
Great Kiskadee  a few throughout
Social Flycatcher  common everywhere
Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher  1 at Chichen Itza
Tropical Kingbird  a few throughout
Gray-collared Becard  2 at Botanical gardens
Rose-throated Becard  fairly common in most places
Masked Tityra  common throughout
Black-crowned Tityra  several at F.C.P., Coba, road across from gardens
Gray-breasted Martin  a few in P. Morelos
Mangrove Swallow  a few near Cancun airport, & P. Morelos
Ridgeway's Rough-winged Swallow  fairly common at most sites
Cave Swallow  common at Tulum, Chichen Itza
Barn Swallow  a few throughout
Green Jay  several here and there
Brown Jay  common throughout
Yucatan Jay  several at most locations; seen often from the road
Spot-breasted Wren  common throughout
White-browed Wren  common throughout
Southern House Wren  1 at Chichen Itza
Long-billed Gnatwren  2 at Coba
Tropical Gnatcatcher  1 at F.C.P., 1 at road across from gardens
Gray-cheeked Thrush  1 at Botanical gardens
Clay-colored Robin  common in landscaped areas throughout
Gray Catbird  1 at Coba
Black Catbird  1 at F.C.P., 1 at Tulum
Tropical Mockingbird  common throughout
Yellow-green Vireo  common throughout
Red-eyed Vireo  1 at road across from gardens
Yucatan Vireo  several at F.C.P., and at Coba
Lesser Greenlet  1 at Coba, 1 at Chichen Itza
Green Shrike-Vireo  1 at Coba
Rufous-browed Peppershrike  common throughout
Yellow Warbler  several here and there
Magnolia Warbler  several at all forest stops
Black-throated Blue Warbler  1 at Coba
Blackburnian Warbler  2 at F.C.P., 1 at Coba
Black-and-white Warbler  1 at Botanical gardens
American Redstart  2 at F.C.P., 2 at Coba, 1 at Botanical gardens
Northern Waterthrush  common at F.C.P.
Gray-crowned Yellowthroat  several at Lake Coba
Hooded Warbler  1 at F.C.P.
Scrub Euphonia  fairly common at F.C.P., 2 at Coba
Yellow-throated Euphonia  2 at Botanical gardens, 2 at F.C.P., & Coba
Yellow-winged Tanager  6+ at Chichen Itza
Red-crowned Ant-Tanager  2 at Botanical gardens
Red-throated Ant-Tanager  4 at Botanical gardens, 1 at Chichen Itza
Rose-throated Tanager  2 at Botanical gardens
Scarlet Tanager  1 at road across from Botanical gardens
Grayish Saltator  several at F.C.P., 2 at Chichen Itza, and Coba
Black-headed Saltator  2 at F.C.P.
Northern Cardinal  several here and there
Rose-breasted Grosbeak  1 at road across from Botanical gardens
Dickcissel  1 at lake Coba
Green-backed Sparrow  1 at Coba
White-collared Seedeater  15+ at Lake Coba
Yellow-faced Grassquit  4+ at Chichen Itza
Red-winged Blackbird  several at P. Morelos marsh
Melodious Blackbird  fairly common throughout
Great-tailed Grackle  common throughout
Bronzed Cowbird  several here and there
Giant Cowbird  1 at Coba
Black-cOwled Oriole  1 at Chichen Itza, 1 at road across from gardens
Hooded Oriole  common throughout
Yellow-backed Oriole  several at F.C.P.
Orange Oriole  several at Botanical gardens
Altamira Oriole  several at F.C.P.
Yellow-billed Cacique  several at Coba

149 total species

Also: Yucatan Squirrel, Agouti, Coatimundi, Gray Fox, White-tailed Deer


There was a 30 peso fee at all ruin sites for use of videocameras. This was good at any and all ruins for the day. New passes were issued on new days.

The roads (except the one mentioned above) were all excellent. The Villas Arquelogicas all had good restaurants, there was an abundance of bottled water available for sale everywhere, the people were all very friendly.

I think we did pretty well, considering there were not many migrants still around. The temps soared into the 90's (farenheit) in the afternoons, and it was VERY humid. We had rain for one afternoon. All in all, this was a nice 4 day getaway, with few problems.

See you somewhere in the Tropics,

Greg Links Temperance,

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