by Jeff & Noel Perkins
OK, I'm hooked. This was our first birding adventure south of the Rio Grande. Although only a very quick taste, this birding in a strange land brought back that thrill of discovery and adventure we all had when we first pointed our binocs at a tree.
This trip was a small family reunion in Cancun, and Noel and I only got to spend one day really birding. As you can imagine, birding in Cancun proper was less than thrilling, after you lose count of the MAGNIFICENT FRIGATEBIRDs floating over the beach. The TROPICAL MOCKINGBIRD at the airport was our first lifer. Other than that, there's only so much fun one can have studying the Great-tailed Grackles around the hotels.
We tried birding from a snorkel boat that cruised through the mangroves south of the hotels, but counted little more than common North American waders (WHITE IBIS was the best of the lot).
Our real birding day, however, was the stuff of fantasies. We jumped in our rented VW Bug at 4am, with every intention of getting to the jungles of the Mayan ruins at Coba for some early morning birding. The fact that it took us til 11am to reach Coba had nothing to do with bad traffic or navigation - but rather that the birding was SOOO GOOOD along the way, we were stopping every 5 minutes!
Virtually the first bird we ID'd when dawn broke was our nemesis from many San Ygnacio trips, a WHITE-COLLARED SEEDEATER, sitting on a phone wire singing to the new day. We just barely got underway again when the unmistakable shape of a TURQUOISE-BROWED MOTMOT flew up to the wire and preened for our amusement. Not much further, and we flushed a YUCATAN POORWILL with its broad white tail windows from the roadside. A covey of RUDDY GROUND-DOVES were not far away. YUCATAN JAYs were slinking through the trees. All this, and we were barely outside of Cancun.
Things got more intense as we turned from the main road at Tulum, and headed into the jungle toward Coba. We were dizzy with the cacophony around us - it sounded like a jungle!!! Noel and I are just now getting comfortable with picking out familiar bird songs in the U.S., but we were now surrounded by so many unfamliar sounds, we didn't know which way to turn. In quick succession, we turned up, among others:
At one point, we stopped to marvel at a large, drab hummingbird that we thought was female plumaged, until we watched him aggressively defending his territory, and realized we were looking at a male WEDGE-TAILED SABREWING. At another point, we were proudly discerning that we had identified a TROPICAL PEWEE, and completely ignored the rather ordinary looking Myarchis flycatcher sitting next to him. Only later did we realize that it was probably a Yucatan Flycatcher, and we missed a chance to ID another lifer (sensory overload!!! there was only so much studying we could retain ahead of time).
We finally reached Coba, and spent from 11am-4pm walking the jungle and ruins. Motmots were all over the first ruin. Other new birds we turned up on the grounds were
YELLOW-GREEN VIREO (never did turn one into a Yucatan Vireo)
Our best "out-of range" find were two male HEPATIC TANAGERs foraging in the underbrush. Our favorite "last glance" bird was a huge IVORY-BILLED WOODCREEPER that we found as we were just about to leave the park. Our biggest disappointment was not finding the Toucan or Aracari that supposedly hangs out by the lake. But we had nothing to complain about.
With a car return deadline of 6:30pm, we raced back to Cancun (as best you can in a Bug), and got to the outskirts of town with 30 minutes to spare. We stopped at the last marsh before crossing the bridge to the hotels to see if anything fun was about. In a power pole, Noel spotted a COMMON BLACK-HAWK (our vivid imaginations tried to make it a Solitary Eagle for a few moments, but we came back to our senses), then a slithering movement in the reeds next to us materialized as a BARE-THROATED TIGER-HERON. Too cool!!
With 5 minutes to spare, we pulled into the circular driveway of Cesar's Hotel to check out the swallows Noel had seen the other day. We were rewarded with being divebombed by MANGROVE SWALLOWS. As an encore, I caught a hummingbird in the corner of my eye, and we tracked down an immature, then an adult male, GREEN-BREASTED MANGO.
What a great day!!!
A next day family outing to Tulum didn't turn up anything new, although we got great looks at the Yucatan race of CAVE SWALLOWs at the ruins. Two orange-breasted hawks (Roadside? Hook-billed Kites) got away without us succeeding in getting the tram driver to stop for us. The ruins were great, and the family was fun - but after yesterday's outing, all I really wanted to do was take my Zeiss' and my wife back into the jungle for more birds.
Trip totals were relatively low (70+ species), but over one-third were lifers for us (yeaahhh!!). There were plenty of birds that we missed - I'm sure. We heard alot of great calls just behind the thickets (why didn't I take my tape recorder?), and saw plenty of flitting shapes that never would come out from behind the leaves. The most intriguing one that got away was a hummingbird with a deeply forked tail, but I couldn't get him in the glass before he jetsoned away. I think most surprising was our low raptor count.
Weather was very humid, but pleasantly overcast and not too hot. Surprisingly very few bugs in the jungle. Do-it-yourselfers are welcome - we had no trouble with car rental (National (no hassle) $40 for a Bug, $55 for something "con clima" (recommend the air conditioning)), or finding our way around. The military checkpoints were a little unsettling - checking for drugs or guns - but didn't pose any probleMs. Hablo un muy pequeno espanol (pretty bad, huh?), but this didn't pose many probleMs. Everyone was friendly and tried to help us gringos as much as possible.
If anyone would like more details about
species, a full trip list, or the detail notes sent to us by others,
let me know. I also put together a fairly handy quick checklist of
birds, based on Howell & Webb's Mexico field guide range maps.
Jeff & Noel Perkins
San Rafael, CA