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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
South East Mexico, 15th – 30th April 2006,
Bare-throated Tiger Heron, Usumacinta Marshes, Mexico, 19th April 2006 (Richard Rae)
This is a report on a mixed birding and general sightseeing trip to South East Mexico by DL, RR and Emer Callanan, focusing on sites in the Yucatan Peninsula and Northern and Central Chiapas. The trip was planned by ourselves to maximise birding time in the early mornings and then visit Mayan ruins later in the day. The final 4 days were spent on Isla Mujeres. This relaxing island lying 30 minutes off the coast of Cancun proved to be the ideal antidote to the excessively hot and humid forests of the Yucatan. Bird numbers were naturally low but the snorkelling and beaches were a welcome distraction.
The birding was harder work than anticipated, with activity dropping off dramatically after the early morning at most sites. We also missed too many endemics, especially in the Yucatan, the conclusion drawn being that 11 days (with nearly all serious birding done in the mornings) is simply not enough time to comprehensively cover the areas visited.
Despite this, we saw about 245 species, with the highlights including Pinnated Bittern, Great Curassow, Ocellated Turkey, Double-striped Thick-knee, Lesser Roadrunner, Keel-billed Toucan, Pale-billed Woodpecker, Northern Royal Flycatcher, Belted Flycatcher, Flammulated Flycatcher, Unicoloured Jay, Black-throated Jay, Yucatan Wren, a decent selection of warblers including Olive, Crescent-chested, Kentucky, Pink-headed, Red-faced, Fan-tailed and Golden-browed, and Rose-throated Tanager.
Getting There, Getting Around and Ground Arrangements
Our international flights, with Air Canada, were booked through the website www.travelocity.co.uk at a cost of £565 including admin and postage, a reasonable price. The flights were on time but the food was very average and we weren’t very impressed with the cabin crew.
On arrival in Cancun we collected the hire car from Alamo and kept this for the next 11 days, adding approximately 3500kms to the clock. The Chevrolet Astra was fitted with air con which proved a critical choice as the temperature rarely dipped below 30 degrees C on the Yucatan. The size of the car was ideal for 3 people, all the luggage fitting out of sight in the boot. Mexican roads were generally very good, although the occasional lack of signage about upcoming speed bumps keeps you on your toes.
After dropping of the car back in Cancun it was a short taxi ride (US$42) to the ferry port at Peurto Juarez. The Mujeres ferry cost M$70 return and took 25 minutes. As the island is only about 8km long hiring mopeds proved a cheap and fun way to cover the ground.
Pleasingly little, although Police/Army roadblocks are not uncommon so it is important to keep your passport with you at all times.
A little basic Spanish, pointing to the field guide seemed to work and we were greeted with smiles and quickly waved through.
All was of a decent standard. Accommodation wasn’t booked in advance and we encountered very few problems finding a room on the night. It would have been advisable to book the first night in Rio Lagartos however, as this coincided with the Easter weekend. All the rooms in this small coastal town were taken and we had to drive an hour south to Tizimin. (Un)fortunately the only room we could find at this late hour was a small double with make-shift hammock.
Much has been written about Mexican food and we generally found the restaurants very good value with a reasonably wide choice of local and international dishes. A couple of our party suffered the infamous “Montezuma’s revenge” that was inconvenient if not life threatening. It was unclear what brought this on but avoiding the usual things (non bottled water and salads etc) would probably be a good start. Local dishes such as Enchiladas and Quesadillas were quite mild, with the chillis and other spices brought to the table as accompaniments.
Most people in Mexico don’t speak much English. If you are on a trip similar to ours, some rudimentary Spanish would be helpful and appreciated….and more than we were able to offer!
Hot and humid throughout, with the exception of the San Cristobal area. When the sun was out (almost constantly), a hat was essential to prevent getting burnt. It was light from about 06.15 and dark by about 18.30. Bird activity was highest in the 3 hours immediately after first light and quickly tailed off. The area around San Cristobal was significantly cooler during the day (low – mid 20s) and positively cold at night (10 degrees!!). It was on the journey to San Cristobal via the Ocosingo road from Palenque that we experienced our only rain of the trip.
Health and Safety
No major issues; there is reported to be malaria in Mexico away from the tourist hot spot of Cancun, but we encountered very few mosquitoes’ save for a few in Palenque. We all took Chloroquin (2 tablets on the same day each week for 1 week before entering infected area and until 4 weeks after). This is cheap and available over the counter. A course of 14 tablets will set you back around £3.
As already mentioned upset stomachs were experienced towards the end of the trip, but couldn’t be attributed to anything in particular.
At no time did we feel remotely threatened although we spent little time in urban areas and none at all in Cancun. Local farmers habitually carry machetes, although to a man were friendly and a simple “Buenos Dias” brought a similar smiled reply. We found restaurant staff and locals to be very friendly.
Trip Reports, Field Guides and Tapes
As usual, trip reports by Jan Vermuelen, Simon Allen and Ian Merrill, all available online, proved useful.
A good field guide for the central American species, very useful range maps. Combine with Sibley for the North American warblers.
Howell’s Where to Watch Birds in Mexico is also indispensable.
We also purchased the mp3 CD of the Birds of Mexico by Peter Boesman, and transferred all of it onto our iPod for use in the field, which proved massively useful, especially Ferruginous Pygmy Owl!
For general travel info we took the Footprints guide to Central America, which proved, up to date and accurate. The Lonely planet guide to the Yucatan also proved useful when deciding on which restaurant to choose at night!
We didn’t use any guides on this trip. Doubtless we would have seen a few more species (and nailed some extra tricky flycatchers!) but with several trips to South America behind us and good site info we felt reasonably confident.
An ordinary American plug adaptor is fine for use in Mexico.
Thanks go to Petri Hottola for his useful comments on Palenque, and to the birder we met at FCP who gave us some useful info and a map!
April 14th. Left Heathrow, and after a 7 hour flight arrived at Toronto international airport and checked into airport hotel.
April 15th: Departed Toronto and arrived Cancun after 4 hour flight. Collected the hire car then drove to Rio Lagartos. Overnight in Tizimin.
April 16th: Morning birding looking for the endemics around Rio Lagartos and Los Colorados. Afternoon at the Mayan ruins of Ek Balam. Afternoon drive for overnight in Felipe Carillo Peurto.
April 17th: Morning birding around Felipe carillo peurto. Afternoon drive to, and overnight in, Calakmul.
April 18th: All day around Calakmul ruins and approach road.
April 19th: Morning birding along approach road to the Calakmul ruins. Afternoon drive to Palenque via the Usumacinta marshes. Overnight in Palenque.
April 20th: Morning birding around Palenque. Afternoon drive to San Cristobal via the Ocosingo Road. Overnight in San Cristobal.
April 21st: Morning birding around KM2 on the Ocosingo road near San Cristobal. Afternoon non birding around the Las Grutas caves. Overnight in San Cristobal.
April 22nd: Morning birding at Sumidero canyon. Afternoon boat trip along the river through the canyon. Overnight in San Cristobal.
April 23rd: Morning birding at Sumidero canyon. Afternoon birding at Tuxtla zoo. Overnight in San Cristobal.
April 24th: Morning birding around KM2 on the Ocosingo road near San Cristobal. Afternoon drive to Palenque via Misol Ha waterfall. Overnight in Palenque.
April 25th: Morning birding around Palenque and the San Manuel road. Long afternoon drive to Felipe Carillo Peurto. Overnight in FCP.
April 26th: Morning birding around FCP. Afternoon ferry to Isla Mujeres. Overnight on Isla Mujeres.
April 27th: Non birding around Isla Mujeres. Overnight Isla Mujeres.
April 28th: Day trip to Isla Contoy – part birding part snorkelling. Overnight Isla Mujeres.
April 29th: Non birding around Isla Mujeres, including snorkelling trip to nearby reef. Overnight Isla Mujeres.
April 30th: Morning ferry to Cancun. Flight to Toronto after lunch.
May 1st: Arrive London Heathrow mid morning, coach back to Sheffield.
Most sites visited are very well covered in the available literature so we will not spend too much time on this here. Numbers refer to chapters in Howell’s Where to Watch Book.
Rio Lagartos (14.4)
Although initially not all that impressed with Rio Lagartos itself, we had a successful morning at the “San Salvador Junction” site 8km east of the main junction as you enter Rio Lagartos. Mexican Sheartail, Yucatan Wren, Yucatan Bobwhite and Lesser Roadrunner were all found in the vicinity of the junction itself. We only saw one Yucatan Wren as follows: at the junction the main road curves left and a dirt track (with a low wall running alongside it) continues straight on. A short way along there is another track running off to the left, and forming a triangle with the main road. About 50m past this other track, we saw a Yucatan Wren moving through the scrub on the right hand side of the track (i.e. looking over the low wall). We had been sporadically playing its call but it was not clear whether it had come in as a result of that.
Note that there is limited accommodation in Rio Lagartos itself and if arriving, as we did, in the middle of the easter weekend, it could all be full. We had to stay in Tizimin, about an hour’s drive to the south.
Felipe Carrilo Puerto (14.3)
A very disappointing site for us. We spent two mornings birding mainly along the road, but also taking a few trails into the forest. We saw a reasonable number of species on our first visit, but barely anything different on the return visit, and failed to connect with any of the more sought-after species found here. Highlights included Blue Ground Dove, Yucatan Woodpecker, Wedge-tailed Sabrewing, Yucatan Flycatcher, Hooded Warbler, White-bellied Wren and Blue Bunting.
Not in Howell, but included on the itinerary as it is noted as perhaps the easiest place to see Ocellated Turkey as well as being one of the most impressive archaeological sites in the Yucatan. We spent one full day and an early morning in this area, based at the Puerta Calakmul Lodge which is located just off the main Chetumal to Escarcega road. The ruins themselves are over 60km from here. On our full day, we headed quickly down to the entrance to the Reserve at approx km18, then birded the road as far as the ruins. About 30 Ocellated Turkeys were seen on the way down, starting at the checkpoint (only 2 seen on the afternoon drive back), with many giving excellent views, and some even chasing us off! Several hours were spent walking around the ruins, but it was incredibly hot and little was seen here. The next morning was spent working backwards from the checkpoint at km18. This proved very birdy.
Other species of interest seen at Calakmul included Crane Hawk, Crested Guan, Pale-billed Woodpecker, Yucatan Woodpecker, Keel-billed Toucan, Northern Violaceous Trogon, Blue-winged Warbler, Rose-throated Tanager.
A few other comments on the logistics of visiting Calakmul:
Usumacinta Marshes (13.4)
Although visited in the heat of the afternoon, this still proved to be a productive site. From the Route 186 we took the road in the direction of Palizada as shown in Howell. This was ok although there weren’t any large expanses of water visible from the road. A few km down the road we found a pair of Double-striped Thick-knee under the shade of a tree. Before reaching Palizada we took a left turn to Jonuta. Jonuta is much bigger than you’d expect so allow some time to find your way through. We then followed the road running more or less south from Jonuta, that rejoins route 186 several kms west of the main junction for Palenque. It was the last few kms of this section that proved most productive for us, and for the birder we met at FCP who recommended it to us. It was along this section that we found 5 Pinnated Bitterns, as well as most of the 9 Bare-throated Tiger Herons seen in the area. Plenty of birds to be seen in this general area, a welcome contrast to some of the other sites visited on the trip!
Palenque (13.1) and San Manuel Road (13.2)
Palenque proved a disappointment to us. As has been documented elsewhere, there are at present no real opportunities to access the forest interior due to the closure of trails such as the Temple of Inscriptions Trail. Combined with the fact that the site proper doesn’t open until 8.00 and is then immediately overrun with tourists, this means that chances of seeing a lot of the true forest birds are now slim.
It is possible to bird along the road for the last km or so before the park entrance prior to 8am, but with a seemingly constant stream of traffic and little other than common birds seen this wasn’t a particularly enjoyable experience. RR in particular was deeply unimpressed.
The best area we found was in the area leading out to the Group/Zone C ruins, where there are fewer people and you are in some decent forest. The last bridge before the Group/Zone C ruins had an active Northern Royal Flycatcher nest next to it on one side, and a Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher nest on the other side.
The San Manuel Road was visited in preference to another early morning stint along the Palenque Road. Nothing to set the pulse racing but a few different birds for the trip list including Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Rufous-capped Warbler and Rufous-tailed Hummingbird.
San Cristobal de las Casas (12.8)
All our birding here was done at the site 2km along the Ocasingo Road, described in Howell. This area proved productive over two morning visits, with a significant number of different species seen on the second visit. Parking up near the pile of garbage just off the road, on our first visit we carried on along the main trail for some way before heading off into the woods. This took us into an area of tall pine with little in the way of under or middle storey, and not many birds were seen. At the end of our first visit (and returned to on our second visit) we found an area much nearer the car that had a much greater variety of vegetation including some cloud forest type, and far more birds. This was reached along a rather unobtrusive trail more or less perpendicular to the main road from where you park.
This site served up most of the species we were hoping for, with the notable exception of Blue-throated Motmot. Of particular note here were two species of sought after jay, Black-throated and Unicoloured, as well as a fine selection of warblers including Red-faced, Olive, Golden-browed, Townsend’s, Crescent-chested and Pink-headed.
Sumidero Canyon (12.1)
This site, near to Tuxtla Gutierrez but day-tripable (just) from San Cristobal, was one of our favourites, with some top birds and scenery. We effectively spent two mornings here (although on the first we didn’t arrive until quite late due to road closures and navigational problems), plus an afternoon boat trip through the canyon which was well worth it for the views although didn’t really give much in the way of new birds. More time at this site would almost certainly have been worthwhile – we missed several wanted species including Highland Guan, Great Swallow-tailed Swift, Slender Sheartail, Blue-and-white Mockingbird and Red-breasted Chat.
Never-the-less our haul for the two mornings included Belted and Flammulated Flycatchers, Fan-tailed Warbler, Blue Seedeater, Bar-winged Oriole, Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer, Yellow Grosbeak, Rusty Sparrow, Banded Wren, Emerald Toucanet, Lesser Roadrunner and a couple of very obliging Ferruginous Pygmy Owls.
Flammulated Flycatcher was easily taped out at the bend at km 11; Belted Flycatcher was finally found – after much trawling with the iPod –a few hundred metres beyond the third mirador (El Roblar), where there is a left hand bend in the road and some bamboo just after it. It was perched in the bamboo and didn’t vocally respond so would be easy to overlook.
Tuxtla Gutierrez ZooMAT
Not in Howell, but noted as an easy place to see habituated Great Currasows. We saw 6 unringed females. Crested Guan and Plain Chachalacas are similarly obliging. Other species of interest that we only saw here were Yellow-winged Cacique and Orange-fronted Parakeet.
Isla Mujures and Isla Contoy
Not really visited for the birding, more a chance to relax and do some snorkelling at the end of the holiday, a role they fulfilled admirably. Isla Mujures is reputed to hold Yucatan Vireo although we didn’t see it (not that much effort was made!). Isla Contoy has lots of breeding Magnificent Frigatebirds, and gave a few new birds for the trip in the form of Reddish Egret, Bridled and Least Terns.
DAILY DIARY (DL 15th – 22nd April, RR 23rd – 30th April)
April 14th – after catching our Air Canada flight from Heathrow we touched down in Toronto at nearly midnight. We had wisely booked a nearby hotel for the night, as our connecting flight down to Cancun wasn’t until 09:30am the following day. If you also take this option try and remember to have some Canadian dollars for the taxi transfer (C$18). Although the taxi accepted US$ the change we received was in Canadian and the exchange rate was a little ad hoc. Talk that night was of how little preparation we had done for the forthcoming 2 weeks, almost like pre-match nerves! In the event we managed OK, bar 1 or 2 flycatchers.
April 15th – up and out of the hotel for 07:15, a flyover Northern Flicker and singing House finch were the only birds of note. Despite Air Canada’s ridiculously officious check in attendants we caught the flight and left on time. Journey time to Cancun was 4 hours. On arrival we collected the hire car from Alamo and began the sunny drive to Rio Lagartos, approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes away. As the temperature was well into the 30s we were thankful that we had air con.
Rio Lagartos proved to be a scruffy little fishing village with little to recommend it. There were some nice views to the adjacent mangrove swamps although the fishermen offering boat trips were a little too keen for our liking and we ignored their gestures as we attempted to find our own birds. At the east end of the town is a large car park next to a bar/restaurant. We parked here and walked around the back of the lot and up the small trail to the church. As it was now mid afternoon, with lots of locals around, bird activity was low. One mangrove-fringed pool held Tricoloured, Little Blue and Green Herons, whilst Semipalmated Sandpipers and Lesser Yellowlegs fed on the exposed mud. Red winged Blackbirds and Yellow warblers flitted through the scrub. An appalling littered area near the bus terminal was quite birdy, with Prothonotary Warbler, American Redstart and Northern Waterthrush but alas, no Boat-Billed Heron. A look out towards the mangrove swamp produced distant views of White Ibis, Brown Pelican and Neotropic Cormorants. A boat trip would doubtless produce more birds and better views (presumably including American Flamingo) but we were running out of time and still hadn’t booked any accommodation. As the sun went down so did the temperature, and flights of Herons, Ibis and Egrets filled the sky. Whilst driving around we had noticed the occasional hotel and decided with the time approaching 6pm we should try and secure a room. What we hadn’t banked on was the fact that over the Easter weekend a lot of people have similar ideas. Similar in that they too would like to stay in Rio Lagartos, but not the same as they probably had the foresight to pre-book. As we were leaving our 3rd hotel it was now dark and no room was forthcoming. Our jokes about spending the first night in the car now had a hollow ring to them. We decided to drive west to San Felipe, but to no avail. In our desperation we checked the map for the nearest large town – Tizimin. The prospect of driving an hour directly away from where we wanted to be at first light the next morning wasn’t appealing, but there again the prospect of 3 people sleeping in a small car in temperatures that didn’t dip below 20 degrees all night wasn’t either. As frustration with the complex one-way system in Tizimin began to reach boil over point, RR and EC set out on foot whilst I waited with the car. I was just starting to nod off when I was rudely awakened by an excited RR proclaiming the dubious words “Good news. We’ve got you a hammock!”. A tiny double room (with en-suite) was the last one in town and the owners kindly erected a hammock over the end of the bed for me. Now whilst I like to relax in hammocks I do find them a little restrictive for a full nights kip, and now appreciate how supermarket oranges must feel. My mind was hardly put at ease when after 5 seconds of being in the thing it promptly crashed to the floor, much to the amusement of RR and EC. I had no other option but to get straight back in and try again. In the event it was ok if a little uncomfortable but some local beer and tacos took the edge off my earlier spill.
April 16th – We awoke early the next morning keen to start birding (and for me at least to get out of the hammock). It was already light by the time we arrived on the outskirts of Rio Lagartos and took the right turn mentioned in Howell towards Las Coloradas. We parked up by the track at KM8 and birded this generally area for the next 2.5 hours. Virtually the first bird we saw was a smallish woodpecker in the thorn scrub, however our inexperience (and rush for early ticks) led to us all calling it a Yucatan, when with the value of hindsight it was clearly a Golden-fronted Woodpecker. The bird soon disappeared and we got stuck into some migrating North American warblers, a showy Black and White being the pick of the bunch. Some perched swallows included the endemic Ridgeway’s Rough-Winged and probable Cave – the small flock departing all too quickly. The area around the junction looked inhospitable but quickly proved full of birds. Flyover parrots could well have been Yucatan, although as usual with this family the views were inconclusive and we had to lump them as Yucatan/White Fronted. Thankfully another one of our sought-after endemics soon gave itself up, a gorgeous Mexican Sheartail. We all enjoyed prolonged views of these distinctive hummers as they fed avidly at near ground level, their long arched bills particularly noticeable. They were joined by male Ruby-throated Hummingbird, presumably fattening up before attempting the dangerous journey over the Gulf of Mexico. Other specialities of the region easily seen here included the surprisingly distinctive (at least for a Myiarchus) Brown-crested Flycatcher, Mangrove Vireo and the particularly attractive Yucatan Jay. A little panic was then introduced to the proceedings as RR had good if somewhat brief views of another endemic, Yucatan Bobwhite. A nifty sprint to the area merely resulted in close views of thorn bushes. The prospect of dipping an endemic that your mate has just seen is a not a pleasant one, particularly as this was likely to be the only site that we would stood a chance of seeing this species. Any birder who has been in this position (be honest – most of us at one point or another) knows how this feeling of dread creeps up on you and almost ruins the memory of other birds seen that day. How can they be truly enjoyed when you know that discussion that evening (and when writing the report back home) will inevitably turn to the one that got away? A distinctive Cinnamon Hummingbird tried it’s best to make up for the loss whilst Common and Grey-Crowned Yellowthroats skulked in the thorn scrub. There was still a major omission from both our lists, and one of the major reasons for choosing this site in the first place – the endemic Yucatan Wren. However a bit of excellent habitat reading from RR coupled with neat playback from the iPod soon had this unmistakable large wren calling from nearby scrub and showing well. Further down the track, and relief! Another good spot by RR located a group of 5 Yucatan Bobwhites feeding under the shady thorns. Good views were enjoyed as we carefully stalked them. The boldly marked males strutted around and eventually walking right across the track before disappearing into the scrub. A quality little quail made all the sweeter for me by gripping it back! The temperature was now hotting up, and we decided to retrace our steps back to the cool of the car. A movement ahead on the road caught my eye and as it jumped up onto the low wall, it proved to be a superb Lesser Roadrunner! And now the tables were turned, RR missing the bird as it quickly hopped off the wall and into the virtually impenetrable thorn scrub. Fortunately for RR, some judicious stalking along the track provided cracking views of this ground dweller. A really good-looking bird, high on personality and one to which no illustration can fully do justice. Back at the car we were well chuffed with the mornings haul of endemics, and feeling suitably bullish pressed onto KM12.8, detailed in Howell. The flooded pools and river here proved disappointing though with only Black-Necked Stilt and Black-Bellied Whistling Ducks of note. By now the temperature was well into the 30’s and we decided that as bird activity had dipped noticeably we should drive down the peninsular to the Mayan ruins of Ek Balam. The strategy of birding in the morning and then visiting Mayan ruins in the afternoon was to balance this part birding/part sightseeing trip. As it happens the ruins often proved to be as birdy as the “birding” site. This point was proven perfectly at Ek Balam. Not as touristy as some of the better-known sites such as Chichen Itza (so we were advised) and plenty of birds including a nice little feeding flock. The views from the top of the ruins were impressive and provided sightings of Hooded Oriole, Ridgeway’s Rough-Winged Swallow, Grey Hawk and an unfortunately brief fly by Campephilus type woodpecker. Near the entrance to the ruins and whilst tracking an elusive brown bird, we blundered into a feeding flock containing amongst others, a stunning Turquoise-browed Motmot, Grey Catbird, and the endemic Canivet’s Emerald. Eventually the elusive brown bird was nailed down, creeping up an exposed rock face and proved to be a splendid Ivory-billed Woodcreeper. More frustration was to follow for RR however as DL got onto a couple of brief Yellow-billed Caciques. We were all struggling a little in the heat and with a long drive to our overnight stop at Felipe Carillo Peurto decided to leave site. The guidebook had recommended the cenote at Agua Azul so despite a couple of wrong turns we visited this popular little spot. Obviously there was little bird action in this flooded underground cavern but at least it provided a little respite from the unrelenting Mexican sun.
On arrival in the small town of Felipe Carillo Peurto (FCP) we easily secured our accommodation in the adequate Faisan y Venado (literally the pheasant and stag) with attached restaurant. Unfortunately although the menu looked promising the food was a little disappointing, particularly RR’s “chicken” thigh. This seemed to have less actual meat on it than a hummingbird leg, and more calories were used up trying to dissect it than were actually consumed! Still at least we didn’t have far to drive until we were on site in the morning.
April 17th. Up at 05:40 today with only a short drive to the Vigia Chico road (well described in Howell). The dry forest in this area provided a bit of welcome shade from the sun and allowed us to bird the road until about 11am. Birds along the first few km’s here included White-fronted Parrot, Black-headed Saltator, Yucatan & Brown Jay’s and some Olive Sparrows that masqueraded as Green-backed for a while. We birded this area by driving along a few hundred yards then parking up and walking along the road and exploring any tracks into the forest. Traffic was very light and birds appeared in regular intervals. Yellow-green Vireo’s, American Redstarts and Red-legged Honeycreepers flitted through mid canopy, whilst at the track at KM6.3 another Yucatan endemic showed well – Black Catbird. An Eye-ringed Flatbill had chosen to site its precariously dangled nest right above the path at this point. An unobtrusive Myiarchus flycatcher eventually gave a plaintive call and was seen well enough to convince us that it was a Yucatan Flycatcher. Subtly attractive, this bird showed well for several minutes in the mid canopy. It should be noted however that there are many flycatchers in Mexico and identification proved (for us at least!) problematic and frustrating. The dry forest here gradually yielded its birds including the endemic Wedge-tailed Sabrewing, Blue Ground Dove, Black-crowned Tityra, Hook-billed Kite and White-bellied Emerald. With the temperature now hotting up considerably we drove on down the main track a little further to KM10. A Hooded Warbler skulked in the low scrub and a Black-headed Trogon perched quietly overhead. The real prizes here though were a pair of endemics, namely White-Bellied Wren (responding to playback) and a cracking male Blue Bunting, pointed out to us by a passing Dutch birder. A couple of skulking Red-throated Ant Tanagers eventually gave themselves up, showing at close range in the scrub. We all felt that that this site had more to offer but the increasing heat, coupled with the fact that we had a long drive ahead of us to Calakmul meant we reluctantly tore ourselves away. The nature of our holiday meant that we intended to pass back through FCP in about a weeks time and felt confident of “mopping up” any missed species then. The cool of an air conditioned car was much appreciated on the 6 hour drive to Calakmul. This probably influenced our decision not to stay at the very picturesque, but rustic campsite on the approach road to the ruins. A sweltering night in a tent not exactly what we had in mind. Instead we opted for the more expensive option of the jungle lodge at the junction of the main road. At the end of the day beer and relaxation as opposed to boiling in a tent is worth the extra money! And if we weren’t convinced by that combo then a male Blackburnian Warbler in the car park was an added bonus. The food at the lodge was simple but nice as were the hammocks outside our rooms. Certainly more so than our first attempt in Tizimin.
April 18th. A decent nights sleep thanks to an efficient room fan meant we were up and out by 6am to bird the road down to the ruins. Our first target species was easily secured as it strutted along the main road – Ocellated Turkey. These oversize ugly game were seen at regular intervals down the road, some of which we literally had to swerve to avoid, or dive back into the car to prevent an unpleasant attack from their viscous looking bills. One, presumably male bird, took an unhealthy liking to EC and proceeded to chase her around the car uttering a variety of hissing and clucking sounds! These birds clearly thrive in this protected area, if anything we were under more threat from them! By mid morning we estimated seeing about 30 of this bizarre looking endemic. Birding from the road was productive with, amongst others, Keel-Billed Toucan, Black-throated Green Warbler, Crane Hawk, Spot-breasted Wren, Lesser Greenlet and Barred Woodcreeper. Eventually we arrived at the unnecessarily large car park that forms the entrance to the ruins. Whilst RR was struggling with his sandals that had started to rub, DL took the opportunity to investigate the open woodland. One of the first birds seen was a tiny woodpecker that had the unusual effect of making my stomach sink and then for me to punch the air almost simultaneously. This barred little ‘pecker with yellow nasal tufts was clearly the endemic Yucatan Woodpecker. However rather than just being pleased to catch up with this species “again”, it was obvious from these views that we had made a complete cock up with the briefly seen woodpeckers around Rio Lagartos. Those were now clearly Golden-Fronted Woodpeckers. And as if the birding gods wanted to truly hammer home that fact another Golden Front then flew into an adjacent tree! Great; endemic definitely secured, bosch avoided. But wait where was RR? The birds didn’t look settled but I knew I had to find him, and quick. His badly blistered feet had put my normally mild mannered colleague in a less than understanding mood, so to confront him with the news that his list had just shrunk by one (and an endemic to boot) wasn’t something I was looking forward to. Much wailing and gnashing of teeth followed, but despite searching we couldn’t relocate either of the birds. In both our hearts we knew we had made a mistake earlier in the holiday and resolved there and then to take more care with brief sightings. The views from the forested ruins were impressive and (according to others) offer the opportunity of seeing hawk-eagles mid morning. By now the heat was really building up and as we had an embarrassing lack of provisions we decided to beat a retreat to the cool of the lodge. A good mornings birding but as often in the tropics bird activity had noticeably lessened after 10am so we didn’t feel too bad leaving the site. A siesta was enjoyed that afternoon – some enjoying it longer than others!
April 19th. We awoke in Calakmul to a distinctly cooler morning and headed to KM17, the habitat here looking particularly good. After yesterdays realisation of our woodpecker mistake there was a palpable air of tension & debate, enough to rival any ivory-billed forum….except that I had actually seen a Yucatan Woodpecker! A couple of Crested Guans showed in the canopy while the smaller birds gradually woke up and began foraging. A fruiting tree proved a real magnet to some Black-headed Trogons, various migrating North American warblers flitted through the canopy along with 2 Yucatan Flycatchers. Several Yellow-throated Euphonia’s picked at the fruit but a more interesting bird began calling nearby. RR’s attention was piqued and the iPod duly deployed. The laughing call was getting louder and after last nights research we were all expecting one thing. On playback a small bird undulated into a nearby cecropia and after a couple of tense seconds showed well to confirm RR’s initial thought that it was a much sought-after (by him!) Yucatan Woodpecker. Much joy all round as the bird could now be talked about and discussed by all! We were now free to enjoy the rest of Calakmul’s birds, including Keel-Billed Toucan, Squirrel Cuckoo, Blue Bunting, Red-Crowned Ant Tanager, Spot-Breasted Wren, several more Ocellated Turkeys and some Purple Martins. A bit of playback of Ferruginous Pygmy Owl brought a nice response from White-Bellied Wren, Sulphur Bellied Flycatcher and best of all...a real Ferruginous Pygmy Owl! This diminutive owl showed well enough for us to capture some record shots as it hooted persistently, whilst Collared Aracaris showed well in the same tree. A distant raptor was clearly a Hawk Eagle – probably Black but dipped below the canopy before the scope was fetched from the car. Olive Sparrow and Grey-cheeked Thrushes hopped along the road although a candidate for bird of the day was still to appear. In dense roadside scrub a movement caught DL’ s eye and on popping up into view proved to be a cracking male Rose-throated Tanager. Endemic to the Yucatan peninsula this subtle tanager showed well, along with its’ mate, before melting away into the forest. The cool of the morning was now a memory as the temperature climbed up into the mid 30’s. We reluctantly decided to tear ourselves away at 10am and begin the drive to Palenque via the Usumacinta marshes. The marshes are an extensive flooded area that is well described in Howell. Birding is simple from the car, but be warned, there is very little shade out here and the roads vary in condition from Ok to down right dangerous. Your driver must concentrate on dodging the potholes and not on the numerous herons and egrets if your day is not to come to a premature end! The main area of the marshes lies about 2 hours west from Escarcega and a loop up to Palizada and then back south to the highway 186 provided a good sweep of the species one could reasonably expect in a afternoon. Vermillion and Fork-tailed Flycatchers proved welcome respite from their Empidonax and Myiarchus cousins that had been driving us crazy in the forest. At the start of the drive into the wetter areas of the marsh the sharp-eyed EC casually remarked she had seen something standing under the shade of the bush out on the dry savannah. As we grilled her over this drive-by sighting we both came to the same conclusion and hastily turned the car around. The birds were easily located and our suspicions confirmed – a pair of Double-striped Thick-knees. A cracking find of what was to prove our only sighting of this unobtrusive species in Mexico. Other species in the dryer sections included Lesser Yellow-headed Vultures, Groove-billed Ani, Northern Jacana, Black-collared Hawk, Plain-breasted Ground-Dove and Blue-Black Grassquit. We pressed on through some scruffy riverside towns and finally entered some wet marsh that provided some superb birding. Limpkin, Bare-Throated Tiger-Heron, Roseate Spoonbill, Wood Stork, White Ibis, Solitary Sandpiper, Amazon Kingfisher, White-collared Seedeater, some excellent views of Pinnated Bitterns and a Grey-necked Wood Rail strutting his stuff out in the open. The heat and humidity were high and by 6pm we had to again reluctantly tear ourselves away from a quality Mexican birding location. From the main highway it took a little under an hour to reach the tourist hot spot of Palenque. We checked into the Hotel Xibalba in the “rainforest” area of the town which had the critical luxury of air conditioning. For those birders having had their fill of Mexican food, Palenque offers a profusion of more western food outlets, our group taking full advantage by tucking into some delicious pizza.
April 20th. Another stinking hot night, lessened a little by the air con. We left the hotel by 6am and headed the short distance to the ruins. The habitat looked excellent but apparently doesn’t extend too far back behind the horizon. As the ruins themselves don’t open until 8am we parked by the side of the road and birded the road back down the hill. Strangely the birds were not very forthcoming and we struggled to eventually see Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Wilson’s Warbler, Scarlet-rumped Tanager and Red-lored Parrot. As time passed the traffic flow increased and made for an increasingly less pleasant experience. A distant perched Grey-headed Kite and fleeting glimpses of Squirrel Cuckoo were not enough to prevent a growing feeling of anxiety and as the ruins were now open we decided to go back to the main car park and brave the hordes of trinket sellers and would be guides. Here a local chap intimated that he would “look after” our car and although this went against every grain in our bodies we reluctantly left him some cash and kept our fingers crossed that the scopes would still be there on our return. Birds around the ruins were a little more plentiful than from the road, Yellow-olive Flycatcher, Melodious Blackbird, Bat Falcon and Rose-breasted Grosbeak being seen easily. Further along the temple of inscriptions trail, by a small bridge over a river a Royal Flycatcher had suspended its nest. The bird showed superbly although needless to say we failed to secure any decent photos at all! This area proved quite birdy with good views of Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher, Western Long-tailed Hermit, Blue-black Grosbeak and Kentucky Warbler. Finally we felt Palenque was starting to deliver the goods and the views from the ruins were spectacular, justifying the entrance fee and steep climb. The birds dried up soon after however, with only another male Red-Throated Ant-Tanager seen despite the hard humid slog around the ruins. As usual the birding became quieter towards noon and although several mid-sized raptors soared over the horizon most remained out of identification range. We left Palenque at lunchtime to begin the drive to San Cristobal, a little disappointed as the site hadn’t really delivered (and we were swamped by tourists!). Despite paying the local extortionist, we were temporarily blocked in at the car park. A bit of skilful reversing from RR and car park management from EC and we rather thankfully left this crowded little spot.
The drive to San Cristobal mercifully took us over the cooler interior mountains and down into the state of Southern Chiapas. An impossibly graceful Swallow-Tailed Kite soared over a ridge but this was the only bird of note seen. Another one-way system on arrival had us fretting for a short while but soon enough we were ensconced in our nice hotel (Fray Bartoleme de la Casa). This was to be a 4-day stay and it was with a little relief that we could finally unpack the rucksack and enjoy this quintessentially Mexican town. A couple of cold beers in the cool of the main square and the humidity of Palenque was soon forgotten. If you do end up at this hotel try to get a room on the quiet courtyard in the high numbers (e.g. 17) and not one that backs onto the street (e.g. 4), unless you like the sound of Mexican motorbikes all night long that is…
April 21st. An early start was once again made as we headed out of San Cristobal and 2km along the Ocosingo Road. Once again the excellent site guide describes this area of pine/oak forest well. Don’t do as we did however and restrict yourselves to the pines. The best habitat is where the pines meet the oaks, mainly to the left of where you park the car. As ever in the Neotropics as soon as you enter new habitat new birds appear. After a short while thrashing around, we had good views of the near endemic Pink-headed Warbler, a Northern (Guatemalan) Flicker, Yellow-eyed Junco and a seemingly out of range Little Hermit. A quiet disjointed song was eventually tracked down to a Brown-backed Solitaire (another endemic). The temperature was mercifully cooler in these high mountains and this at least kept the bird activity going later into the morning. A stunning pair of Olive Warblers showed beautifully in the pines, before a couple of bigger birds were sensed higher in the canopy. They remained frustratingly out of sight, skipping ahead of us, always several trees away. A picture was slowly forming in our collective minds however of a very dark, non-descript bird with a rasping voice. Finally DL got a good enough look at one and family suspicions were confirmed – a jay, and a Black-throated Jay at that. Another endemic and the list was rattling along nicely. As so often happens with good birds they seem to lead you to more new stuff, and this point was happily reinforced when our paths crossed a stunning male White-eared Hummingbird, yet another endemic and great views to boot. We had by this point almost completed a loop back to the car and were about to head back to the hotel for food. An incessant trilling however had caught DLs ear. The culprit led us a merry dance until eventually giving itself up mid way up a pine – a cracking Crescent-chested Warbler. Superficially Parula-esque but with a bold white supercilium this delightful endemic is far easier to find once you know the song! Back at the hotel after lunch we added the Rufous-collared Sparrow to the rapidly increasing list. The afternoon was spent at the famous caves at Las Grutas. This spectacular underground limestone caverns were a welcome retreat from the heat, although no birds of note were seen (mainly because we were underground for most of the time!).
April 22nd. A better nights sleep ended at 05.30, a seemingly positive start to a day that we intended to spend at the Sumidero Canyon. We picked up the Cuota (toll road) heading to Tuxtla only for it to be inexplicably closed about half the way there. By this point dawn was breaking and we were suffering from a sinking feeling in the guts as we contemplated arriving on site well after the crucial first light period. Eventually we were forced back into San Cristobal and out to Tuxtla along the old road that winds it way, almost Tour de France style through the mountains and down to the city. Extreme frustration! And we still had to negotiate the urban sprawl that is Tuxtla. The canyon itself is not well signposted until you are nearly right on it (or maybe our earlier rage led to us being short-sighted – you’ll probably find it easily). Unfortunately we can’t really add to the directions given in Howell, as we were just so glad we eventually found it that we didn’t take directional notes. Suffice to say that turning up at 09.20 was not really what we planned! Thankfully the canyon is superb and is definitely worth 2 or 3 days exploration. Ticks from the car included White-throated Magpie Jay, and a pair of endemics namely Russet-crowned Motmot and a Fan-tailed Warbler. This cracking little Neotropical warbler lived up to its name, flitting low down in a rocky gorge right by the road. Stubbornly elusive Singing Quails sang noisily from the scrub. Nearer to the canyon, around the bend in the road at KN11, some excellent information led us right to another scarce endemic – Flammulated Flycatcher. As the guidebook suggest this bird strongly resembles several Myiarchus flycatchers but without the crest, and with a distinctive voice. It was not only a relief to find this key bird but also to have a flycatcher that we could actually name. Further up the road we pulled over in to one of the miradors on the right hand side for some spectacular views across the canyon. Although bird activity was low, due to our late arrival, we saw Green Jay, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Blue Seedeater and the near endemic Bar-winged Oriole. After a good photo session (taken at a respectable distance back from the edge of the canyon for DL & RR!) we headed back down the road to the “dock” from where the boat trips depart. Although not the most interesting bird wise, this 90-minute trip gives unparalleled views along the Rio Grijalva of the sheer canyon sides. We encountered large rafts of Neotropic Cormorants and several Great Blue Herons, of more interest however were the Mangrove Swallows hawking over the river by the dock. Several large crocodiles were seen sunning themselves on the banks; the boatmen happy to oblige the photographers amongst us by pulling the craft right along side these impressive beasts. A cautionary note here if you have a hat on….hold on to it as the boats are pretty quick and the canyon is a major suntrap. One of our party didn’t heed this advice and was left with an extremely sunburnt bonce. Once back on dry land we decided to head back to the relative cool of San Cristobal.
23rd April – Keen to avoid a repeat of yesterday morning’s cock-up, we are up at 05.30 and on the hairpin-fest that is the libre road to Tuxtla by 05.50. Having made every navigational error possible the previous day, this morning we are able to breeze through the outskirts of Tuxtla and arrive at the entrance to the canyon at 7.25, only to find a coach full of pensioners stopped at the entrance booth for a toilet break, and seemingly in no hurry to get moving. Thankfully EC is able to get out and pay our entrance fees and we are able to drive round the bus and up into the national park without too much time being wasted. We head straight up to the clearing near km14, with a Lesser Roadrunner sprinting across the road not far from the entrance, and stopping en route for a pair of Plain Chachalacas that briefly masqueraded as Highland Guans. While here we spot a Ferruginous Pygmy Owl perched in a tree next to the road, which peers condescendingly at us while we take a few pictures. On arrival at the clearing, it isn’t exactly jumping with birds but 3 Yellow Grosbeaks, Grey-crowned Yellowthroat, Streak-backed Oriole and Chestnut-capped Brushfinch are seen. Back in the car, just before the next bend in the road, a bird flitting up from the roadside piques RRs interest and we all pile out to see a nice Rusty Sparrow. Then EC notices a bird perched on top of a tree in the medium distance, which, after some initial confusion over its’ size, is ID’d as a Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer. Continuing a little further on the road, between the second and third miradors we decide to stop and give Belted Flycatcher (the major target for the day) a speculative play on the iPod. They aren’t biting, but it proves a worthwhile stop as we enjoy a fine Emerald Toucanet, plus Golden-olive Woodpecker, Warbling Vireo, Western Tanager, another Lesser Roadrunner and the third and most obliging Ferruginous Pygmy Owl of the trip. We press on to the third mirador and, as we had done yesterday, walk down the short trail to the mirador, enjoying once again the stupendous views of the canyon, but not many birds are in evidence, and in particular the continued absence of Belted Fly from the list is troubling since our research had indicated that this was probably the most likely area for it. From the parking lot, we carry on walking down the hill, trawling with the iPod, and then, suddenly, perching rather unobtrusively by the roadside, is the much-wanted Belted Flycatcher. What a bird! Mexico seems to be full of nondescript, frequently impossible (for us at least) to identify, and basically just very frustrating flycatchers but conversely the family also provided us with some of the major highlights of the trip, with this little beauty winning hands down for RR at least. It poses beautifully for a couple of minutes until RR gives in to his compulsion to reach for the camera, at which point of course it melts away into the background. Sumidero’s stock has risen considerably this morning, and it rises further as we hit a feeding flock on the way back to the car, with a pair of Red-throated Ant Tanagers, a Strong-billed Woodcreeper, a pair of delightful Fan-tailed Warblers allowing a much lengthier perusal than yesterdays drive-by sighting, and a Rufous-browed Pepper-shrike, aptly introduced by DL as “an old friend from Venezuela”. A Northern Violaceous Trogon is perched nearby. We arrive back at the pull-off and while EC rustles up some exceedingly tasty tuna, salsa and mayonnaise sandwiches in the car, RR and DL sit on the wall immediately behind the car poring over Howell (the book, not the man), until we realize that with the engine on for the AirCon, behind the car is perhaps not the optimum seating spot. A movement in a nearby tree attracts DLs attention and we are shortly enjoying good views of Banded Wren, a lifer for us both. Another attractive male Bar-winged Oriole rounds things off nicely before we retreat to the air-conditioned comfort of the car to eat our lunch. Post-sandwiches, it is time to start heading for our next destination, the world-renowned Tuxtla Gutierrez ZooMAT (and Great Curassow sanctuary!). Following this morning’s successful journey to the canyon, RR is feeling bullish about our prospects for finding the Zoo with the minimum of fuss. This proved to be unfounded when, half an hour later, and having not seen a single sign for the Zoo, we find ourselves heading out the other side of Tuxtla on what is quite clearly the wrong road. Turning back and “following our noses” we soon pick up some signs for the Zoo and, after a brief visit to the wrong entrance, arrive at the main carpark. We spend the rest of the afternoon working our way around the truly excellent zoo. It isn’t too long before we found our quarry, walking around in an open wooded area between the enclosures, a huge female Great Curassow. Undoubtedly a great bird to see, and if previous reports are to be believed, genuinely wild and tickable, but there was no denying that the excitement of seeing our first curassow in this way was nothing like what it would have been had we seen one by chance in a forest. We see a further five females wandering free, but the only males seen are in cages. Plain Chachalacas and Crested Guans are both numerous and obliging, and a couple of Russet-crowned Motmots also show well. Other birds added to the list include Orange-fronted Parakeet, Inca Dove, Boat-billed Flycatcher (for DL only) and our only sighting of the regional endemic Yellow-winged Cacique. All in all, an enjoyable afternoon. We successfully find our way out of Tuxtla and head back to San Cristobal for a final very pleasant evening in one of the town’s many restaurants, with RR and DL enjoying mouth-watering steaks as EC tucks into vegetable ravioli.
24th April – Our final morning in the San Cristobal area, and inexplicably the lure of another dawn start and birding session 2km along the Ocasingo Rd proves unappealing to EC so she stays in bed for a lie-in before having a leisurely mooch around the town. No such luck for RR and DL, there are still some birds to be seen, as much as a lie-in would have been appreciated. We park up by the pile of garbage that marks the start of the trail at 06.40, and make a beeline for the promising area of semi-cloud forest that we had found just at the end of our previous visit. It’s not long before we realize that we have made a critical error in bringing out DLs nearly flat iPod while leaving ECs fully charged one back at the hotel! This is a bit annoying as the ‘Pod is likely to be a useful tool in locating some of our remaining targets. We decide to try and manage and get stuck into the birding. Ruddy-capped Nightingale Thrush is seen quickly and is a welcome tick, and within a few minutes we’ve also seen a pair of Band-backed Wrens and a Unicoloured Jay, making two good jays for us at this site. Having heard one of our other targets for the morning we scramble up a small hill to try and get closer and hopefully lure it in before the iPod gives up. As we are doing so Golden-browed Warbler gives brief but good views. We play the call of our quarry on the iPod and it calls back, seemingly much closer. After a little repositioning DL announces he’s on it. “It” being a Mountain Trogon. Unfortunately despite some decent directions from DL, RR is unable to get on it before it does a bunk. Following a swift descent of the hill, good views are had of the pair, much to RRs relief. A brief discussion is held and we decide to head back to the car for 10 minutes to giving the ailing iPod some much needed charging in the hope that it will last us the rest of the morning. En route we have excellent views of 2 Brown-backed Solitaires, 3 Bushtits and the first of several Garnet-throated Hummingbirds. After 10 minutes charging of the ‘Pod, we’re back out there, continuing further along the same trail. The first Crescent-chested Warbler of the morning is seen, these being so much easier to locate when you know the high trilling song. A little further and we find a few feeding warblers, including a couple of Pink-headeds, once again looking a bit like they’ve just come out of a car wash but we don’t hold it against them. The trail eventually emerges at a large clearing of very short grass, presumably used by the locals for grazing their goats. We decide to spend some time birding around the edge of this clearing, which proves quite productive with Plumbeous (Cassin’s) Vireo, Townsend’s and Tennessee Warblers and Northern (Guatemalan) Flicker. Also here we finally satisfy ourselves that we’ve seen Pine Flycatcher, when a pair allows us a decent chance to study them and, importantly, to check their call against what we have on the iPod. It’s starting to warm up now so we decide to start heading back towards the car. We’ve not been walking long when DL calls Red-faced Warbler and we both enjoy superb views of one of the best looking new world warblers. A Hairy Woodpecker is the final bird of the morning before we arrive back at the car. The decision to return to this site was a good one, with a number of quality additions to the list, the only disappointment being our failure to see Blue-throated Motmot. Following a relaxed lunch in San Cristobal we embark on the drive back to Palenque, which proves far more tiring than it had done on the way to San Cristobal, with seemingly even more bends and very few overtaking opportunities. We eventually arrive at Misol-Ha at 17.15 and spend the next hour wandering around and behind the picturesque waterfall. Unsurprisingly there are not huge amounts of birds to be seen, not that we mind as it isn’t really a birding stop, but an exceptionally obliging Northern Waterthrush struts around on the moist rocks immediately in front of the falls as we unsuccessfully try to string it as its’ less common cousin. Following some frantic gesturing by DL, we peer into the undergrowth for a superb view of a Western Long-tailed Hermit sitting quietly in the shade. A couple of Keel-billed Toucans fly over the pool in front of the falls and the scene is completed by a couple of black howler monkeys sat high in the trees, making their customary racket. The final short drive back to the town of Palenque passes without incident and we check back into the clean and air-conditioned Hotel Xibalba. Another visit to Pizza Palenque on the main street rounds off the day.
25th April – Having not totally enjoyed the experience of birding along the Palenque Road before the ruins open on our visit last week, this morning we decide on a different strategy, and dawn finds us about 13km back along the road to Ocosingo, at a site known to birders as the San Manuel Road. Back in the eighties it was apparently a good site for Lovely Cotinga, but no-one seems to have seen them much recently, so it is not entirely surprising when we too draw a blank. Nevertheless by driving a short way down the San Manuel Road, and parking the car, we are able to do some birding in relative peace, albeit in rather degraded habitat. There are a reasonable number of birds as we walk along the road – nothing earth shattering but Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Rufous-capped Warbler and Rufous-tailed Hummingbird are a trio of rufescent additions to the trip list. At about 8.00 it is decided to head back to Palenque ruins for a final few hours. After parking up and entering the site we bear left around the edge of the forest, quickly finding the first of 3 Black-cheeked Woodpeckers, which we hadn’t seen last time, before heading once more in the direction of “Group C”, which had proved quite productive on our previous visit. Unfortunately the gods don’t seem to be smiling on us today, and we are only able to add a meagre number of species to the list. A poorly timed (but extremely necessary!) visit to the lavatory by RR, now in the midst of a bad bout of Montezuma’s Revenge, results in him missing his first potential tick of the morning in the form of Olive-backed Euphonia, although the pain of this dip is somewhat alleviated by a White-breasted Wood-wren, a welcome lifer for all. A repeat performance by the breeding Northern Royal and Sulphur-rumped Flycatchers is all very well, but it’s not enough to shake the feeling that it’s been a seriously disappointing return visit to what should have been one of the best sites on the trip. At 11.00 we call it quits and, after filling up the car, start on what will turn out to be the longest drive of the trip, a cool 603km all the way back to Felipe Carillo Puerto. Fortunately, as we already knew from the journey down, the road is in good to excellent condition for most of the way and following the previous few days around San Cristobal we especially appreciate the lack of hairpins! At about 19.00 we arrive back in Felipe Carillo Puerto and check once more into the El Faisan y Venado Hotel in the centre of town. The resemblance of the somewhat vertically-challenged fellow who shows us to our room to the character Oddjob from the Bond movie Goldfinger is noticed by DL and RR, but we both decide not to say it at the time in case the character’s name is the same in the Mexican version! Having been less than totally satisfied with the fare on offer in the hotel’s restaurant on our last stay, this time we decide to investigate the pizza place over the road. After the meal, EC retires to the room as she’s not feeling too well (not as a result of the meal just eaten), while DL and RR adjourn for a couple of beers in the bar over the road before retiring for the night.
26th April – This is our last proper morning of birding on the holiday, and hopes are high for a productive finale along the Vigia Chico Road out of FCP, one of the key sites for Yucatan endemics. Having concentrated more on the early kms of the road on our previous visit, this morning we decide to head straight down to about 10km and take it from there. Several species were earmarked last night for a concerted effort today, including Grey-throated Chat and Rufous-breasted Spinetail, and we are also hoping to exorcise the demon of the Green-backed/Olive Sparrow debacle from our previous visit. As the morning unfolds, however, it becomes clear that it’s just not our day. There’s precious little activity, and nearly everything we see is stuff we’ve seen before. To make matters worse, there are some large and particularly vicious flies that seem intent on biting us every time we set foot out of the car! The final straw for RR comes when another urgently needed visit to the “bush toilet” causes him to dip on the second euphonia in as many days, this time a Scrub. By 10 o’clock we have well and truly had enough and decide to cut our losses at what has been, for us at least, a very disappointing site. From here it was a relatively stress-free drive back to Cancun airport, the only navigational challenge being posed by the inexplicable lack of a sign informing us which exit to turn off for the airport. RR realizes that a mistake has been made just as we are about to cruise into downtown Cancun, and a swift U-turn is made. We decide to stick close to a bus with “cancun-aeropuerto” to avoid any further problems, and eventually make it to the hire car place at about 13.30. The guy who checks our car over very kindly turns a blind eye to the rather mangled hubcap that had been reattached about ½ km up the road, and we show our appreciation with a slightly more generous tip. From the airport we take a somewhat overpriced taxi to the ferry terminal for Isla Mujeres, and, following a welcome McDonald’s fix, we are soon speeding towards our final destination of the tip, where we intend to relax, catch a few rays and generally not do any birding! On arrival we soon find a hotel, and after a couple of hours snoozing, RR and EC head out for a few drinks, with DL electing to spend the entire evening asleep.
27th April – All day spent on Isla Mujures, with mopeds being hired for much of the day, a great way to see the island and good fun as well. No real birding done although a few common birds are seen and a couple of additions to the trip list in the shape of Eastern Kingbird (which we then realize we also saw in flight and presumably on passage at Sumidero Canyon), and Royal Tern.
28th April – All day spent visiting Isla Contoy, an island some way to the north of Mujures, and home to large numbers of breeding Magnificent Frigatebirds, among other things. The boat trip to and from the island actually takes most of the day, although it is interspersed with some snorkelling. A few birds are seen on the journey out, including several Least Terns, and a migrant Ruby-throated Hummingbird. As we are sailing around the coast of Isla Contoy prior to docking, a number of herons can be seen standing on the shore. DL’s stock reaches an all-time low when he fails to alert RR, whose binoculars are temporarily in his rucksack, to the presence of several Reddish Egrets, which would be a lifer. Various feeble excuses are offered for the lack of communication, none of which are received particularly well by RR. Isla Contoy itself proves to be a veritable tropical paradise, pretty much uninhabited except for a small information centre and the birds. The jetty is located in a bay of white sand and crystal clear turquoise sea. Several times during our visit a large ray swims into the shallows, making for a great photo opportunity. On a small rocky islet in the bay are a number of smart Bridled Terns. A short trail from the information centre leads to a lagoon, the trees bordering which are festooned with the nests of Magnificent Frigatebirds. It’s nice to see these birds actually perched for once, and quite a number of photos are taken (with predictably poor results!). After a truly mouth-watering lunch of Cajun barracuda we embark on the long journey back to Isla Mujures – to everyone’s relief the Reddish Egrets are still standing on the rocks.
We arrive back at 18.00. It has been an enjoyable day, although it has been a second day of serious exposure to the sun, and there are some rather tender shoulders and ankles on display this evening!
29th April – A final day of chilling out and snorkelling on Isla Mujures.
30th April – Early morning ferry back to the mainland and taxi to Cancun airport. Fly to Toronto and then on to London Heathrow.
1st May – After a National Express journey from Heathrow, we arrive back in Sheffield in the early evening, with DL having to endure a further short drive back to Bolton.
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