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A Report from

Yuctán Peninsula, 26 February to 16 March 2004,

Michael Kessler

These notes are based on a trip to the Yuctán Peninsula from 26 February to 16 March 2004. It was partly a family trip with whole days spent on the beach and partly a mixed culture/birding trip. Rather than giving a day-to-day account, I will only give brief summaries of the sites visited, focussing on updated information not found in previous trip reports (though I will not claim that I saw all available reports).

Overall, birding was a bit slow (except on Cozumel), and local birders said that bird activity is higher in November-January than in February-March.

Jardín Botánico Dr. Alfredo Barrera

The gardens officially open at 9 am, but we managed to sneak in at 8 am through the exit gate that was not locked. Noteworthy sightings included a Northern Royal Flycatcher, a female Rose-throated Tanager, Canivet's Emerald, and a Northern Coatimundi. While leaving the garden, we met Luis Kú Quiñones (tel.: 9985772776) who works at the garden and is intimately familiar with the birds. He said that if we gave him a call he would go to the garden with us at 6 am on one of his free days for birding. He certainly seemed to know the voices. He also mentioned that there is a better site about 15 km inland along the road that leaves the highway directly opposite the botanical gardens, where one could see Keel-billed Toucan and Ocellated Turkey (rare), among others. We did not visit the site, but it sounds worth checking out.


By far the birdiest area was the tall, bromeliad-festooned forest right around the first group of ruins as you enter the arqueological site. There is a small trail through this forest leaving at the far right (with the ball court and the "iglesia" to your left) that leads for 100 m or so to the road. In less than one hour, here we saw Rose-throated Tanager, Rose-throated and Gray-collared Becards, Gray-throated Chat, Eye-ringed Flatbill, and many commoner species. You can enter this trail before the arqueological site opens at 8 am by looking for the trailhead on the paved road circling the lake about 100 m beyond the parking lot at the ruins. An early visit is likely to be even more productive than our visit. Just take care not to walk around the ruins and main tracks before 8 am, as there are lots of local people moving around that may wonder how to got in there before the gate open. The rest of the forest around the ruins is secondary and birding was very slow, although we had good looks at White-browed Wrens and an army-ant swarm with attendant Yucatán Jays that picked up grasshoppers 2 m away from us. Great photos!

Río Lagartos

The heron roost at the edge of town (actually, surrounded by buildings) had about 20 Boat-billed Herons in the evening (5:30 pm). Driving out of town (back towards Valladolid), a few hundred meters beyond the last houses of Río Lagartos there is a channel below the road. The road rises slightly and ca. 50 m away bends to the right. If you reach the cemetery at your right, you have gone too far. This channel, which connects the wetlands on both sides of the road allows bonefish to move around and accordingly attracts a lot of wildlife. In the evening we found two Bare-throated Tiger-Herons here and during the day several Morelet's Crocodiles hung out. We also took the boatride through the mangroves to see the flamingos, and while this was a very enjoyable ride and produced good photos of a number of waterbirds, we saw no special birds (no Boat-billed Herons or Bare-throated Tiger-Herons). A huricane in 2002 badly damaged the mangroves and most trees are still dead. This has apparently greatly reduced the abundance of animals in the mangroves and has changed the roosting sites of herons. The scrub habitat was visited on the site detailed by Howell and all specialities (Sheartail, Wren, Bobwhite, Roadrunner) were found within an hour.

Chichen Itzá

We stayed at Hotel Dolores Alba 3 km from the ruins along the highway to Valladolid, and birded two nearby sites. One is a dirt road leaving the main highway about 150 m from the hotel to the right as you go towards the ruins. For the first km the dirt road runs mainly through scrub and secondary vegetation (Botteri's Sparrow), but then there are a number of tracks through very nice dry forest. Several stops early in early morning produced White-browed and White-bellied Wrens and Yucatán Jays, and there were many Thicket Tinamous calling. The other site is the cenote just across the highway from the hotel. The grounds open at 8 am and entrance is about 5 US $. The cenote itself is not worth the visit, but the grounds have lots of Yucatán Jays (three groups seen in about 1 hour), White-fronted Parrots, and the fig trees around the parking lot were full of flycatchers, orioles and tanagers (many Yellow-winged). There are also open, scrubby habitats with buntings, and dry forest areas (wrens, tinamous, and chachalacas heard), and if you can afford staying here (100 US $ a night for nice bungalows), you can probably see all birds of the Chichen Itzá area just on the grounds.

Felipe Carrillo Puerto and the Vigía Chico Road

Birding was o.k. here, but activity died down considerably after 9 am. A 1-hour night drive on an evening only produced a single Yucatán Poorwill and a calling Mottled Owl. Good birds seen during the day included White-bellied Emerald, Wedge-tailed Sabrewing, Rufous-breasted Spinetail, Ruddy Woodcreeper, Mexican Anttrush, Stub-tailed Spadebill, and Thrush-like Mourner, but unfortunately now curassows or turkeys.

Aktun Chen

This site, about 45 km south of Playa del Carmen and 20 km north of Tulum attracts non-birding visitors by its caves and a small zoo with deer, peccaries, spider monkeys, snakes, etc. The entrance road goes through very nice forest for 3.5 km and is known as a reliable site for Yucatán Jay, and indeed on both drives along the road we saw them from the car. Aktun Chen is also a good place to see Ocellated Turkey and Great Curassow, as these are attracted to food and safety in the deer enclosure and around the reception building. According to the local guides, from August/September to January/February up to 15 male Ocellated Turkeys come every morning and evening to feed around the reception building and often hang out in the deer enclose during the day. There are also some sleeping sites in the deer enclosure. The females never show up, and in the breeding season (February-August) the males move deep into the forest to find mates. During this time, only an occasional juvenile male can be seen, as we did. Great Curassows are present throughout the year, although in the breeding season they too are more irregular. We saw a superb pair in the morning in the deer enclosure (the male was booming away), but later in the day they had left. The gate at the highwayn opens at 8:30 am, but you can walk in at any time and nobody seems to care if you bird the road.

Cozumel Island

All endemic species and subspecies, with the exception of the thrasher and the endemic subspecies of Roadside Hawk, were easily seen in a single morning in the Hotel Presidente grid. The large clearing on the left before the actual development site, where previous birders saw many species, now has a house and three big and loud dogs, so we left quickly.


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