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A Report from

Mexico - Yucatan Peninsular, 23 January – 6 February 2012,

John & Jo Tallon

This report should be read as a sequel to that of Brian & Isabel Eady from January 2011 (also hosted by Birdtours) as reading that gave us the inspiration for our own trip. Feeling the need for some winter sun we did some research over the Christmas holiday and thought Mexico seemed like a good option. As soon as we had seen the Eadys’ report we were convinced. Like them we have previously been to Trinidad & Tobago and Costa Rica so have some grounding in the birds of the region. (Since returning we have also read the report by Val and Alan Greggains who had been there at the same time as the Eadys and returned in April/May).

Once we had found that we could get a very good deal with Thomsons for two weeks all-inclusive at the Hotel Riu Lupita we moved quickly, and also contacted the local bird guide Luis Ku Quinores to arrange the same two birding trips to break up our diet of beaching.

Given the Eadys’ disappointment with the field guides that they had bought, and having seen some better reviews of Ber van Perlo’s book, we ordered it from Amazon in good time for the holiday – until the Post Office lost it! The seller didn’t have any more copies and in a last minute panic we were rescued by our friend Eric Soden, a well-travelled birder, who had an old copy of the Peterson guide which he lent to us. Using a combination of this, the Garrigues and Dean Costa Rican guide, and an old copy of Birds of North America by Robbins, Bruun, Zim and Singer we managed to identify most of what we saw, although trying to check a bird in three different guides at once proved somewhat challenging.

Thus armed we set off from Gatwick and after an uneventful eleven hour flight we landed at Cancun. The weather was very warm, but with some threatening clouds, and we duly passed through a heavy shower on the way to Playacar. This was the theme for the whole fortnight and we didn’t have a single day without at least a few drops of rain, but luckily a lot of it fell at night and we mostly avoided heavy rain during the day. A less appealing aspect of the transfer was the Thomson rep selling rather than giving bottled water to tired and thirsty travellers – not impressive, particularly on an all-inclusive trip. We were much more impressed with the friendly and welcoming Hotel Riu Lupita and during our stay we found all the staff completely charming, from reception to dining room, cocktail bar and room service.

The hotel grounds and surrounding golf course are well described in the other reports so we’ll keep our impressions brief. A number of Cecropia trees in and around the hotel grounds had both fruit and flowers and attracted lots of birds, particularly various oriole species.  The other trees lining the fairways and surrounding the hotel were also productive, with large numbers and a good variety of over-wintering warblers. Coatis and Agoutis also roamed the grounds.

The golf course ponds were an obvious magnet for water birds, and we were again struck by how much closer you can get to American birds than their European cousins.  One thing that really surprised us was a lack of hirundines over the ponds. We only saw one unidentifiable swallow there in the entire two weeks. Another disappointment was the general lack of hummingbirds. We didn’t notice any feeders or many suitable flowering bushes in Playacar and, apart from a couple of Cinnamon Hummingbirds, the only hummers we saw were on our trips with Luis. There were however many butterflies (mostly unidentified as we didn’t have a guidebook) so there clearly wasn’t a shortage of nectar.

We mostly avoided the golf course security by being up at first light and had usually got an hour’s birding in before the somewhat apologetic, and non English-speaking, young guard appeared on his buggy and escorted us back to the public road. On most days we headed off to the beach after breakfast, taking the courtesy bus from the hotel and then walking through the grounds of the Hotel Riu Yucatan where a small group of Howler Monkeys could often be seen. Once at the beach we turned south, walking past all the hotels and dodging the amazingly tame Ruddy Turnstones and Sanderlings, to where we could swim and sunbathe with greenery behind us, and admire the huge Iguanas on the rocks.

Iguana 2.JPG

Our two days out with Luis provided some variety from the diet of golf course and beach. Luis is an excellent birding guide with a great knowledge of the local avifauna and is particularly good at identifying calls. His English is reasonably good and he is good company. It did take us some time to tune in to his habit of suddenly calling “Long-billed Gnatwren – there!” and pointing but we soon got used to it, and it was easier when he started adding “this tree – three o’clock”.

The first of our trips with him was to Coba, one of the many fascinating Mayan sites in the Yucatan peninsula. This location comprises an area of scrubby bushes and secondary growth around Coba village, a large lake (with crocodiles!) and taller, thicker forest inside the designated archaeological site. The latter is somewhat marred from a birding point of view by large numbers of tourists, mostly riding the park bicycles, but Luis gets there early before the rush starts in earnest. After Coba we moved on to Punta Lagunas, an area of older growth forest and lakes before returning to Playacar in the early afternoon.

Our second trip with Luis was to the nature reserve of Sian Ka’an, south of Tulum. We again started early, leaving the hotel at 5 a.m. and arrived at the first spot, a large coastal lagoon, as it was getting light, principally to get Grey-necked Wood Rail. We then moved on to a scrubby area similar to the area near Coba village on the previous trip and this was very productive. Next port of call was an area of mixed swampy and dry forest around the archaeological site of Muyil, still inside the nature reserve, where we ate the light snack that Luis provides. Finally we headed back towards Playacar and stopped off at the Mayan ruins at Xel-ha (on the inland side of the main road, not to be confused with the water park on the other side). This was another lovely place with open forest, two beautiful cenotes (deep pools formed in sinkholes in the limestone rock), and more of the Mayan remains that seem to be scattered everywhere in the Yucatan. Again we were back at the hotel in time for a late lunch.

Our overall impression of the area was very favourable both for birding and relaxing. The locals were charming and if we had felt like a more active holiday we would no doubt have amassed an even better total than the 140 species that we saw. The full systematic list is in this Excel spreadsheet.

John & Jo Tallon, May 2012


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