7 - 18 August 2001
by Dave Klauber
From August 7 through August 29 I spent 3 weeks in the Yucatan peninsula, visiting both Mexico and Belize. Most of the Mexico portion was done with a non-birding friend, so at times the pace was a bit less “hard-core” than on other trips. Another objective was to visit some of the Mayan ruins, which are also supposed to be good birding spots. In general, the ruins visited were impressive and well worth visiting, but I did not see any unique birds on the actual ruin sites, although a few miles from Chichen Itza I found a good place.
I used Steve Howell’s A Bird-Finding Guide to Mexico, and found it to be very good. The book is well written and excellent, and was my primary source of information, supplemented by a few trip reports. For accommodation I used the Lonely Planet Belize Guatemala & Yucatan book, 4th edition, March 2001(an update of the old La Ruta Maya). I used the Nelles map of Mexico and Central America and the Belize tourist bureau Belize map. A good tape to bring is the Bird Songs of Belize, Guatemala, and Mexico by Dale Delaney. Cars were rented from Budget with the reservations placed in the USA. This is the rainy season, and not the best time for birds. It was always very hot and humid, but in Mexico it only rained for about an hour in the late afternoon. I had worse luck in Belize.
I brought traveler’s cheques, American Express, US dollars. These can be difficult to change outside major cities or tourist areas. When a bank was found (look for the major Mexican banks), I usually changed $300 at a time. There are cash machines in large cities – I didn’t look for them, so am not sure of their availability outside Cancun.
The exchange rate was about 8.9 pesos to the dollar. Note that in Cancun, Cozumel, and some other places cash US dollars are accepted and preferred, and often you get a better price than with pesos. Credit cards, when accepted, usually involve an extra charge of about 4%.
Gas is more expensive than in the US. I’m not sure of the exact conversion rate, but I believe it averaged about $2.25 a gallon. I generally stayed in moderate to low budget hotels. Room prices ranged from $20-$45.
I saw 137 species in Mexico, and another 79 in Belize, for a trip
total of 216. I found all the endemics except two, the Cozumel Thrasher
and the Yucatan Nightjar. I have not generated an electronic trip list,
but any queries
will be answered regarding specific species.
Inquiries about specific species will gladly be answered at:
August 7 – Site 14.10
I arrived in Cancun around lunchtime. I was acting as a courier for the Birder’s Exchange program run by the ABA, bringing a box of binoculars and books to Carlos Gracida of the research group U’Yl’Oche,based in Felipe Carrillo Puerto. For those arriving in Cancun, there is a cheap public bus that goes to the Cancun bus station. It leaves just across the parking lot from the arrival terminal, from the parking lot of a large building (I think Express something or other, maybe a car rental company). Carlos met me and drove me to the ferry terminal in Playa del Carmen for Cozumel Island. The ferry leaves almost hourly, costs 72 pesos each way, and takes 1 to 1-5 hours. I arrived on Cozumel Island and walked about 10 minutes to the Hotel El Pepito, 279 pesos or $31 per night – AC and hot water. I took a taxi to the airport to get my Budget car, only to find out that Budget had closed their airport office. Avis called the Budget office in town for me, and Budget promptly arrived to take me into their office, which is just north of the town square near the dock. I managed to get an automatic, a Suzuki convertible jeep-like vehicle for $35 a day, no insurance. It was very hot and humid, so I waited until just after 4:30 and drove to the abandoned housing development opposite the Presidente Hotel area, about a 15 minute drive.
Within a few hundred yards I got the Cozumel Vireo, which was seen on every outing I made. Also seen were Yucatan/Red-Vented Woodpecker, Cozumel House Wren, Peppershrike, Black Catbird, and Yucatan Vireo. I proceeded about a mile or so further up and walked around the streets of the development, called either Puebla Nueva or Puebla Fantasma (Ghost town). Apparently the government was going to build houses for the Mayans in exchange for some of their land, but after installing streets and electric lines, the Mayans realized the plots were much too small for them to keep animals, and they refused to move there, stopping construction. A subsequent hurricane destroyed the power lines, and now it’s overgrown with scrub, except for where a few enterprising Americans are building 2 or 3 houses that will use solar electricity. I birded until a bit before dusk, then drove along the waterfront looking in vain for Yucatan Parrots, which I was told forage on Cozumel and fly back at the end of the day to the mainland. I saw no parrots during my 2 days in Cozumel, and only one on the entire trip.
August 8 – Site 14.10
I returned to this area just after dawn, birding from 6:15 – 9:15. Black Catbirds and Caribbean Doves were abundant. I saw the same birds as the previous day, as well as Yucatan Flycatcher, White Crowned Pigeon, Stripe Headed Tanager, and the endemic subspecies of Bananaquit, Yellow faced Grassquit, Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher and Yellow Warbler. I then proceeded to drive around the island in a counterclockwise direction. I briefly checked out the road to Cedral, which was quiet. The road to Punta Celarain is now part of an “eco-reserve” that charges $15 to go in, so I did not enter and continued along the road. Less than a mile further on was a pond on the left that had breeding Black-bellied Whistling Ducks and Least Grebes, both with young, and an Avocet with an immature. The duck is not listed as a breeding bird for Cozumel in Howell’s guide.
Also seen were a Tricolor Heron and White Ibis, but in general this drive had few birds of interest, although some nice deserted beaches. I dozed in my car for about 15 minutes and was woken by 2 friendly cops who warned me to be careful about leaving any valuables in sight. They enjoyed looking through my binoculars, and went on their way. At the end of this 20 km stretch the road turned sharply left, marked by a couple of bar/restaurants and a shop. A bit past the ruins there were some flowering trees, and I saw a female Green-Breasted Mango.
I returned to my room in the early afternoon for a siesta. It had been very hot and birdless for the previous 2 hours. Around 4, I returned to a track near the 6.8 km spot mentioned in Howell. I saw an armadillo along this track, and the vireos again, but few new birds. Finally, along another track a bit closer to town, also on the north, that went past some local houses, I found a Cozumel Emerald in a flowering tree on the right side of the road, a few hundred yards from the main highway. I returned to the Presidente grid area at dusk to search for the nightjar, with a tape. I did see 2 silent Pauraques, but no nightjar. I also saw a thick Red Boa snake, which I was told had been released by a movie company years earlier and were now spreading.
August 9 – Site 14.10
I returned in overcast skies to the Presidente grid area in a final unsuccessful search for the thrasher. I did see a Louisiana Waterthrush, listed as historical in the Howell field guide. It rained hard after an hour, and I spent an hour talking to an American who was building a house there. I decided to leave Cozumel, returned the car to Budget, and caught the ferry to the mainland.
My misses on Cozumel were the thrasher, Roadside Hawk(endemic subspecies), the parrot, and the Rose-Throated Tanager. I arrived in Playa de Carmen, and walked the 5-10 minutes to the bus station, where buses for Cancun leave several times per hour for a few dollars. I had made previous arrangements to stay in Suites El Patio, about a 15 minute walk from the bus station. It was quite nice, but they charge extra for everything, even calling a local cab. Make sure you get a room away from the main street. They charged me $5 less for paying in US dollars - $45 a night US, $50 in pesos. There are cheaper options closer to the bus station.
No birding. I met my friend at the airport, we got a Budget car, and took an easy day relaxing and dining. Note that the Zona Hotelera is very expensive, although a couple of excellent restaurants can be found for those who want to splurge. It’s just a big resort area. Cancun city is cheaper and more “real”, although still expensive by Mexican standards. Check out the coupons in the coupon books they give you at the airport – you can save a few dollars on meals and drinks
August 11 – Sites 14.1(in part), 14.2
We left early, but after dawn, for the Botanical Gardens area, site 14.1 in Howell. From a previous trip report, I knew there was a good birding track directly opposite the gardens, which do not open until 8 AM. We birded the track for about 1.5 hours, seeing both Orange and Hooded Orioles. Yucatan Vireo was here, also Peppershrike, Collared Aracari, and Black Headed Trogon. This track was birdy the first hour or so. We skipped the gardens and continued to Lake Coba, site 14.2, which was at least 1.5 hours further on, arriving about 10 AM in the heat of the morning. We checked out various spots along the lake, and tried the Spotted Rail tape, but no luck. There was a big crocodile floating not far from shore. The rest of the day was spent driving to Tikul, the nearest town to the Uxmal ruins. Night at the Hotel Plaza – 300 pesos double, AC and hot water
August 12 – Site 14.9
The heat or something got to me, so I felt weak and tired all day. The only bird of note was the Turquoise Browed Motmot. We visited the ruins at Uxmal, and other sites on the Ruta Puuc, all of which are free on Sunday. I birded very little. At the end of the day we drove out to the very unimpressive coastal town of Celestun. Hotel Mar y Sol, 300 pesos, fairly rundown and basic, AC and refrigerator in room.
August 13 – Site 14.8, 14.6
We started before dawn, around 5:30, searching in vain for the nightjar. There were many Lesser Nighthawks along the road, probably feeding on the many mosquitoes that were trying to feed on us. The rest of the morning was spent birding along the road. One Yucatan Wren was seen, along with Yucatan Bobwhite, White-lored Gnatcatcher, Mangrove Vireo, Pauraque, Canivet’s Emerald, Turquoise-browed Motmot, and Hooded Oriole. There was a very nice (and expensive) eco hotel a few miles up the road, right on the beach, in the middle of nowhere. Yucatan Wrens were resident here.
We talked with a local birder, Alex Dbiz, who works for the hotel. He speaks English well and was very knowledgeable, giving me tips on certain target birds. We had a late breakfast there, then drove out on the way to the Progreso area, site 14.6. On the way out from Celestun a Yucatan Jay flew across the road. The lagoons by the km 18.5 exit near Progreso had Reddish Egret, Marbled Godwit, Wilson’s Plover, and a few other shorebirds. A couple of Black Terns in molt flew by. At km 8.9 east of Progreso at the Flamingos development we found a female Mexican Sheartail feeding on the flowers along the entrance. Opposite in the lagoon was a flock of flamingoes. We left in early afternoon for Merida, where we stayed at the Posada Toledo for 327 pesos. It is an old colonial building with a courtyard and had AC and hot water, and was centrally located.
A leisurely morning in Merida with no birding. At noon we left for Chichen Itza, visiting the caves in mid-afternoon. Showers stopped us from birding the grounds around the cave, which were nice. I found a nice track just west of the Hotel Dolores del Alba, which is east of the ruins. There is a sign saying cabanas or something to that effect. I later ran into the guy building the cabanas. They are in a lovely area of protected forest. There were only 2 completed, but the others had all external construction completed. The owner, Adelberto Rivera, is also an authority on the Chichen Itza ruins, with a very interesting interpretation of the site. He can be contacted at quetzal24@ hotmail.com. I ran into him the day I was leaving. We stayed 2 nights at the Hotel Dolores del Alba for $37 US – very nice, with 2 pools, hammocks, AC, hot water, and a restaurant. That evening we explored the track after dusk and managed to get a glimpse of Yucatan Poorwill, which responded to a tape. Also heard and glimpsed was the silhouette of a small owl (screech owl?).
August 15 – Site 14.5
The morning was spent visiting the very impressive ruins of Chichen Itza – highly recommended, although hot and humid as hell. A midday break was taken, and we returned around 4. There was a bit of a birding hotspot a bit to the right of the main pyramid (the opposite direction of the large cenote), near an old cenote. Prothonotory Warbler, Yellow-throated Euphonia, Green Jay, Spot-breasted Wren, TB Motmot, Yellow-olive Flycatcher, and Golden-olive Woodpecker were here. Ridgway’s Rough Winged Swallows were breeding a bit further east, just near the entrance to old Chichen Itza. In the evening we viewed the nightly light and sound show.
August 16 – Sites 14.5, 14.3
At dawn I set out alone up the “cabanas” track next to the hotel mentioned earlier. This was very birdy. Yucatan Jays in all 3 plumages – adult, immature, and juvenile – were seen near the beginning and about half an hour up the track, as well as Mangrove Vireo. There were 2 Amazona parrots, but I couldn’t ID them. About a mile (?) or so up the track there is a track that goes off to the left into a forested area that was very good. It was right before where there was a chain across the road. More Yucatan Jays were seen here, along with Thicket Tinamou, Kentucky Warbler and some other previously seen birds. On the way out I ran into Adelberto Rivera, who showed me his cabanas and gave me his book on the ruins.
On the way back there was a Yucatan Bobwhite in the trail. We left for Valladolid to change money and hit the internet, then drove to Felipe Carrillo Puerto. We stayed at the rather basic but adequate Hotel Faisan y Venado for 200 pesos with AC, fan, hot water, and no toilet seat. They have a decent restaurant. I looked up Carlos, who had met me the previous week at the airport, and made arrangements to go out birding the next morning. In the late afternoon we birded about 6 km down the road to Sian Kaan. At dusk we got a better look at Yucatan Poorwill only about 2 km from the school – no nightjar, although there were a few silent Pauraques.
August 17 – Site 14.3
We met Carlos and drove up the road to Sian Kaan, a rather slow bumpy ride. Gray-necked Wood-Rails were seen on the road, including one group of 6, the largest number I’ve ever seen in one place. One Ocellated Turkey ran across the road a few km before the reserve entrance. Just inside the reserve entrance were Aztec Parakeets and White-Crowned Parrots. One different flyby parrot turned out to be a Yucatan, the only one seen on the whole trip. We drove as far as an observation tower, about 10km (?). The tower was no big deal since the vegetation there is low and it was already after 10 AM.
At about the 8km mark from the entrance, the road curves and passes through a denser more forested spot, with straw/palm huts or platforms on the right. This turned out to be the birdiest spot of the area, if not the trip. 5 species of hummer were here – Wedge-Tailed Sabrewing, White-bellied Emerald, Canivet’s Emerald, Cinnamon & Buff-Bellied -, Rufous-breasted Spinetail, Black Catbird, Yucatan Vireo, and a few warblers. We returned to town in early afternoon for a break, as it had been very quiet in the later hours of the morning. Around five we returned to the first six kilometers or so, exploring a track to the right that passed a pool, possible the same track referred to as km 6.3 in Howell, although the actual distance was a bit more. A bit past the pool I found the only Rose-throated Tanager of the trip, and over the pool before dusk were Collared Aracari and Keel Billed Toucan. At dusk I tried the nightjar tape, to no avail.
August 18 – Site 14.3, last day birding
Carlos took us to Tres Reyes village, about a half hour’s drive north towards Cancun, where the villagers are assisting in research on the parrots. Unfortunately at this season the parrots had moved out to the savannas or plains, and we didn’t see anything except Black-tailed Tityra. We climbed an observation platform and stayed there for an hour or so, then descended and birded the track past the tower for an hour. Along the track were Smoky-Brown Woodpecker, Ivory-billed Woodcreeper, Yellow-olive Flycatcher, White-bellied Wren in a nest over the trail, Long-billed Gnatwren, Mangrove Vireo, and a pair of Gray Breasted Chats. We quit around 9:30 and drove back to Cancun. Just outside Cancun was a White-tailed Hawk. That ended the birding. On Sunday the 19th I drove my friend to the airport, and relaxed in Cancun. On Monday I took the bus to Chetumal and Belize. The first class or express bus was about 160 pesos, had AC, and I saw 2 and a half movies during the 6 hour ride.
Any comments or questions will be gladly answered. As of this point
have not generated an electronic bird list, which would involve
in the species, but most or all species of interest, including all the
are mentioned in the text.