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A Report from

Mexico (Quintano Roo, Campeche, Chiapas and Yucatan) 12th to 26th Jan 2009.,

Peter Middleton and David Little

Participants -  from left to right:  Pete Middleton, Dave little, Dylan Edwards, Mike Richardson. (Photos: Mike Richardson)


This brief report concentrates on the logistics of a fairly unstructured trip to the Yucatan peninsular, which may be of use to other birders. We didn’t book any accommodation in advance but had no difficulty finding decent accommodation everywhere. The only thing that was booked was car hire, but as the rental company didn’t show up at the airport as promised, this one bit of forethought was wasted. As it turned out, there are many car hire companies touting for business at the airport in Cancun and we soon found an alternative company (Budget).

Steve Howell’s excellent site guide “Where to watch birds in Mexico” is now ten years old but is still largely accurate and essential. His advice on driving in Mexico is worth studying but the fact that HGVs use their outside indicator to show it is safe to overtake makes it feel like an act of faith as you pull out to pass. Another driving hazard is the topes (speed humps) many of which seem home made and some could probably cripple a tank. The best advice is to slow right down when you see the “Poblado Proximo” sign but this is no guarantee as many topes come without warning.

Most Pemex (petrol) stations in this part of Mexico seem to have been modernised with petrol pumps that zeroise automatically, so the scam of not clearing the previous delivery is probably a thing of the past. In fact, contrary to much gringo folklore, we found people to be universally friendly, honest and good humoured.

Day 1 (12th Jan)

Arrived at Cancun airport one hour late. Eventually sorted out the hire car and drove to Puerto Morelos in pouring rain. The hotel was just about OK but seemed expensive and we later realised that prices on the Cancun coastal strip are about twice those elsewhere.

Day 2 (13th Jan) Jardin Botanico

After getting coffee and food at the 7-Eleven shop at the Pemex on Highway 307, we birded the road that begins opposite the entrance to the Jardin Botanico which does not open until 9.00am. The scrub and mangrove-like habitat was a good introduction and we soon located Yucatan Vireo and several American warblers among others.  At 9.00 we paid the entrance fee of $8US to bird in the Jardin Botanico until about 12.30.  We encountered several feeding flocks and an ant swarm that attracted many birds including Yucutan Jay, Ruddy Woodcreeper and Bright-rumped Attila.  At around 13.00 we drove south to Felipe Carrillo Puerto and found some accommodation. 

Day 3 (14th Jan) Felipe Carrillo Puerto

We stayed in a decent and fairly cheap hotel - El Faison y El Venado (The Pheasant and Deer) on the corner opposite the Pemex station in FCP, and were able to get a coffee in the hotel early in the morning before birding. We followed Howell’s directions for the Vigia Chico Road but began in the cleared agricultural area leading to the forest. This is a very birdy place and it was several hours before we entered the forest proper.  We birded the track that goes through the forest all day until dusk.  Many feeding flocks were encountered and the birds responded to the Ferruginous Pygmy-owl playback very well.  We saw Yucatan Woodpecker, Yucatan Flycatcher, Black Catbird, Grey-breasted Chat and Rose-throated Tanager amongst many others and in total we saw more than seventy species that day.

Day 4 (15th Jan) Felipe Carrillo Puerto/Xpujil

Again spent the morning birding at FCP but didn’t add much to the list from the previous day, we had encountered many parrots but didn’t get good enough views to be able to tick Yucatan Parrot.  We had lunch in town before heading south towards Calakmul.  We arrived in Xpujil at about 16.00 and booked into the lovely Calakmul Hotel y Restaurante (fairly cheap).  Just before Xpujil we stopped on the road and did a little birding and got Yucatan Parrot.  In this part of Mexico you can bird almost anywhere; pulling over is the only problem.  The hotel serves good food and nearby (50m) a little closer to the town centre is a very cheap transport café that is open 24hours.

Day 5 (16th Jan) Calakmul

It is 55k from Xpujil to the turn-off for Calakmul so we set off early after a coffee at the transport café.  Contrary to other trip reports we only had to pass through one gate at the entrance.  However, there was a new visitor centre being constructed where the second gate used to be, and that is where we encountered our first Ocellated Turkeys.  From there to the ruins we saw perhaps 100+ turkeys and several Great Currasows.  Birding can be done anywhere along the road and around the ruins.  This place was perhaps the best site we visited, worth visiting for the spectacular Maya ruins alone and well worth the small charge. Birding around the ruins produced many birds including Slaty-tailed Trogon, Blue-crowned Motmot and many American warblers including Worm-eating Warbler.  We climbed one of the ruins and got really close views of a Bat Falcon as well as the impressive views of the jungle in all directions.  We travelled back to Xpujil late afternoon and stayed another night in the Calakmul hotel.

Day 6 (17th Jan) Usumacinta Marhes

We made the long drive to Palenque stopping on route to eat at Escarcega.  We then continued until we reached the Usumacinta marshes north east of Palenque.  We birded this area until late afternoon picking up our main target bird, Pinnated Bittern, in the strip of marsh at the side of the main road.  We then drove the remainder of the journey to Palenque where we found a hotel on the road to the ruins.  The hotels in the Lonely Planet guide proved too expensive but we managed to find somewhere cheaper that was just about ok.  (On our return to Palenque later in the trip we stayed in the town, which is the best thing to do).

Day 7 (18th Jan) Palenque 

The best birding around Palenque is around the major ruins that you have to pay to enter.  We started on the Cascade Trail (See Howell) at first light and soon located a pair of Mexican Antthrushes as well as Red-crowned and Red-throated Tanagers.  After several hours birding we drove into the town and had an excellent breakfast at the Trotamundo Restaurant just below the bus station (30m) on the Avenida Juarez.  We then resumed birding around the ruins for several hours; again, the ruins are good value for money.  Late afternoon we tried birding at the site described by Howell on the Ocosingo highway, but forest clearance has now degraded this site. On our way back to Palenque we stopped at a roadside café just outside of town for a beer and got Yellow-winged Tanager.  In the evening we ate again in the cheap but excellent Trotamundo Restaurant.

Day 8 (19th Jan) San Cristobal

At Palenque in the morning you can get a coffee and something to eat from a street seller outside the bus station, this was very useful at 6.00 in preparation for the days travelling and birding.  We then embarked on the tortuous drive over the mountains to San Cristobal; it took about 4 hours.  Before we got to San Cristobal we birded the Chanal Road (see Howell) in the afternoon, almost all the way to Chanal (30k).  Birds seen there that day included hundreds of Yellow-rumped Warblers (mainly Audubon’s) plus Black-throated Shrike-tanager and Black-throated Jay.  We then drove the rest of the way to San Cristobal and found some accommodation on Highway 190 on the south side of town.  The Chanal road is now paved, however, recent heavy rains have done serious damage to the surface; some parts have been almost completely washed away.

Day 9 (20th Jan) El Sumidero

We made a quick decision to travel to Tuxtla Gutierrez to bird El Sumidero.  We took the wrong road and instead of taking the fast toll road we went over the mountains very slowly.  However, we did see something extraordinary on the way.  On entering a small mountain village we were ‘gob smacked’ by the sight of hundreds of indigenous woman in identical dress at a market.  Tuxtla Gutierrez is a big city and finding the road to El Sumerdero was a little difficult, partly because there were extensive road works.  Eventually we got on the right road and soon got to the entrance gate, which opens at 6am, where we paid a small fee.  The place didn’t prove too good for birding but the scenery made up for it.  We did however add some species to the trip list including Lesser Roadrunner and White-throated Magpie-jay.  At about 5.30 we set off back to San Cristobal on the toll road

Day 10 (21st Jan) San Cristobal

We moved out of the poor hotel and travelled the short distance to the Grutas de Rancho Nuevo area (see Howell) which opens at 8am, where we birded until about 11.00, birds seen there included Steller’s Jay, Red-faced Warbler, Golden-cheeked Warbler and many other American migrants.  We then went to kilometre 2 on the Ocosingo highway where we saw Crescent-chested Warbler and Brown-backed Solitaire together with the usual flocks of American warblers.  Late afternoon we birded the bottom end of the Chanal road where there was good habitat for Blue-and-white Mockingbird (Dense scrubby undergrowth).  There were several birds around calling but they proved very difficult to see and only one person in the party managed to see one.  White-eared Hummingbird was seen in the same area.  On our return to San Cristobal we booked into a Motel at the Pemex station on Highway 190 on the east side of town; comfortable and very cheap.

Day 11 (22nd Jan) San Cristobal

We got our fix of coffee with a bun at the Oxxo outside the hotel at 6.00 before travelling to kilometre 2 to try and find Pink-headed Warbler for the last time.  We birded there until midday but still dipped, but we did manage to add new birds for the trip including Unicoloured Jay and Olive Warbler.  We then left for Palenque.  On arriving at Palenque we booked into the Hotel Canada before visiting our favourite restaurant yet again.

Day 11 (23rd Jan) Dzibilchaltun

We set of early to make the long drive north towards Progresso on the north coast of the Yucatan peninsular.  Our aim was to get to Dzibilchaltun Maya ruin to get some birding done before dark.  We arrived there just before 15.00 and paid the quite expensive entrance fee.  We only had a few hours birding left but it was very enjoyable after spending so much time in the car.  We saw lots of Olive Sparrows there and also flushed two Yucatan Bobwhites from near one of the trails.  On our arrival in Progresso we booked in the Hotel Tropical Suites on the sea front; good value with a great view.

Day 12 (24th Jan) Progresso

The day began with coffee at the Oxxo in Progresso before birding the wetlands described in Howell.  We soon cleared up on all the target species in just a few hours so we decided to take the road along the north coast on our way to Rio Lagartos.  Our first stop was just to the east behind the beach developments, where the scrub supported Yucatan Wren, Mexican Sheartail and White-lored Gnatcatcher.  We made several other stops along the northern coast where we finally saw Orange Oriole; a supposedly common species that up to now had somehow eluded us.  We arrived at Rio Lagartos at about 15.30.  We booked into the Hotel Villas de los Pescadores on the sea front; a nice place to spend the last two nights.  We had several beers and watched lots of Black Skimmers from the comfort of the bar. Thousands of Snowy Egrets and White Ibis could be seen going to roost behind the bus station and American Flamingos could also be seen behind the houses to the east of the village. 

Day 13 (25th Jan) Rio Lagartos

In the early morning we drove east towards Las Colorados to the Rancho San Salvador junction (see Howell) and started birding there. Yucatan Wren was fairly common but apart from brief views of a flushed bird we had no luck with Yucatan Bobwhite until we drove down the track to a small cattle ranch where about 30 Bobwhites were feeding around the buildings. We then went back to the main road and continued to Las Colorados.  We managed to see Zenaida Doves around the buildings next to the church at Las Colorados before driving round the saltpans which held a good variety of waders and thousands of Flamingos.

Day 14 (26th Jan)

We took a leisurely drive back to Cancun airport in the morning and, though forewarned, the one-way system at Tizimin still proved to be ‘a little bit of a nightmare’.   On arriving at Cancun we had time to spare so we birded for an hour the road opposite the entrance to the Jardin Botanico where we had begun our trip two weeks early.


The birding in this part of Mexico is excellent but in January nothing responded to playback.  It is a very birdy place and you can see good birds almost anywhere.  We managed to see 285 species and probably more because we certainly did not identify all the flycatchers.

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