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A Report from

Yucatan Mexico and Tikal National Park Guatemala,

Peter and Natalie Nash

21st November 1999 to 5th December 1999


Our trip was based around Steve Howell's books, A Guide to the birds of Mexico and Northern Central America, and Where to watch birds in Mexico. The latter is very comprehensive and gives site finding and access details as well as what birds to expect, anyone visiting Mexico should use these books. I've included some additional information such as Internet addresses and contact telephone numbers.
As North American migrants are not included in Howell's guide, you will need to take one, we used The National Geographic Field Guide.


The most cost effective flight to Cancun at the time of booking proved to be part of a late availability holiday offered by Online Travel telephone 0114 2471656. This consisted of a discounted Unijet package holiday, with 14 nights accommodation with airport transfers included.
The Air 2000 flight departed Manchester on time at 0930 and arrived in Cancun at 1530 local time some ten hours later. We then transferred to the Hotel Real Caribe in the hotel zone of Cancun.

We arranged our flight to Flores Santa Elena, Guatemala, through STP Caribe tours. The cost at £175 included return transfers from our hotel in Cancun, and from Flores to Tikal National Park. We flew with Grupotaca Airlines on a 737 at 0610, and landed in Flores at 0730. We were met by our guide and were at the Tikal NP visitor centre by 0900.


The Mexican car hire deals offered by the major companies in the UK all proved to be expensive so I decided to book locally.
On our arrival in Cancun I got quotes from most of the multinational and domestic car hire desks. The best deal I could find was with the Avis office in Cancun, at The Mayafair Mall, Blvd Kukulcan, Km 8.5. Cancun. Telephone, 011 52 98 830803. £190 per week for a brand new Corsa (Chevy Pop) with A/C, and a full insurance package including CDW. This didn't include the one off bung of 400 Pesos the agent required to get us a discount off the advertised rate of £270.
The car coped well in all conditions, far better than the clapped out VW Beetles that are usually used by birders.


Be aware that sterling is not widely accepted, none of the banks we approached would exchange sterling Travellers cheques or cash. Hotels in Cancun, and most money changers gave around 13 to15 Pesos to the UK£. US$ were accepted everywhere and could be used as normal currency in the resorts, with change offered in Pesos or dollars, the rate varied around 9 to 10 to the dollar. Visa Credit Cards are widely accepted, but note that only cash Pesos are accepted at the ubiquitous Pemex petrol stations.

Mexico was mainly hot and sunny, with just a few afternoon showers. Tikal was a few degrees cooler because of the higher altitude, with afternoon showers a little more frequent.


Almost everyone speaks some English, although an attempt at Spanish is usually appreciated.
We were treated with respect and courtesy wherever we went and at no time felt threatened. Our only unpleasant experience was with a police officer in Cancun who decided to fine us 650 pesos for a supposed traffic violation, even though he had a large gun I still managed to haggle him down to 200!


The resort area of Cancun is not covered by Howell, so a map similar to the ones printed in holiday brochures would be of assistance when referring to my account for there.

Guatemala is not covered by any literature that I've seen so I've tried to elaborate a little.
Site details and Birds seen.


This is a large and impressive resort, with many tourist hotels situated on a figure 7 shaped island known as the Hotel Zone, 22 km in length and joined to the mainland by causeways and bridges at both ends. You can travel from one end to the other on one of the frequent public busses for the standard fare of 4.5 Pesos.

The crook of the 7 forms a mangrove filled lagoon, the mangroves stretch out hundreds of yards in many places. We mostly birded the golf course at the northern end of the hotel zone and the small bushy area around the Mayan ruins at El Rey in the south, but there are gardens and tree lined avenues attractive to birds everywhere.

The seaward side of the resort has many sandy beaches good for waders and seabirds, the most productive area we found was the top of the 7, along this stretch there are rocky coves, harbours and private boat jetties away from the crowds.
The island Isla Mujeres is four km offshore and is easily reached on one of several frequent ferries. The channel between the hotel zone and the Isla is the feeding area for many seabirds, a scope is essential to get good views but at times the gulls and terns rest on the jetties on both sides.

Magnificent Frigatebird  ,  Common around the hotels and lagoon
Brown Pelican, Up to 100, mostly on jetties, piers etc
Anhinga,  ,  One or two on lagoon daily
Double-crested Cormorant  ,  Several seen daily
Green backed Heron   ,  One in lagoon mangroves
Great Blue Heron   ,  One on lagoon
Little Blue Heron   ,  Two on lagoon
Snowy Egret   , A few seen on lagoon
Great White Egret    ,  One on lagoon
White Ibis ,  20 or so, usually on golf course
Roseate Spoonbill, ,  2 on lagoon
American Coot ,  Rafts of 100s on S end of the lagoon
Semipalmated Plover  ,  Small groups on beach and piers
Spotted Sandpiper  ,  Odd ones on beach and lagoon
Turnstone ,  20 on beach
Laughing Gull  , Common
Ring-billed Gull ,  10 seen in channel
Herring Gull,  ,  10 or so mostly on jetties
Gull-billed Tern ,  100 mostly fishing in channel
Caspian Tern  , One or two seen in channel
Royal Tern ,  ,  100s, common in channel
Sandwich Tern ,  100s seen daily
Forster's Tern , 20 or so usually in channel
Least Tern,  A few seen in channel
Osprey ,  ,  A couple seen over the hotels
Black Vulture , 4 or 5, much more frequent on the mainland
Plain Chachalaca       ,  6 easily seen around El Rey
Ruddy Ground-Dove    ,  Small numbers golf course
Common Ground-Dove   ,   Ditto
White-winged Dove    ,  Small numbers everywhere
White-fronted Parrot   ,  20 in mangroves
Vaux's Swift   , Seen occasionally, flocks of up to 50
Cinnamon Hummingbird    ,   Odd birds around any flowering shrub
Belted Kingfisher  ,  2 on lagoon
Green Kingfisher  ,  1 on lagoon
Golden-fronted Woodpecker    ,   1 at El Rey
Great Kiskadee,   ,  Odd ones seen daily
Social Flycatcher ,  Frequently seen
Mangrove Swallow,  ,  Flocks of 50 or so mostly late afternoon
Bank Swallow, 2 seen
Cliff Swallow  , 100s passing occasionally
Grey Catbird  , 1 at El Rey
Tropical Mockingbird     ,  Common
Mangrove Vireo    ,  1 in mangroves
Northern Parula   ,  4 golf course
Yellow Warbler, 2 golf course
Prairie Warbler ,  1 golf course
Palm Warbler , 4 golf course
Worm-eating Warbler, 1 El Rey
Bannanaquit,  ,  1 in Hotel Costa Real gardens
Melodious Blackbird  ,  Common
Great-tailed Grackle, Very common at all sites visited
Bronzed Cowbird,  ,  20 on golf course
Yellow-backed Oriole   ,  2 golf course

Isla Contoy.

Isla Contoy Nature Reserve can only be visited as a day trip from Cancun. Tickets must be booked at least one day in advance at Carlos and Charlie's marina across the road from the huge Mexican Flag post at the northern end of the hotel zone. Tickets cost £40 and include breakfast and lunch, and a snorkelling trip to see the Manta Rays, weather permitting.
Note that the boat is sometimes chartered by tour companies, if there is spare capacity they are happy to take extra passengers but you may have a non standard itinerary, such as more time snorkelling and less time on the island. Check when booking.
You should be at the marina by 0830, and the boat sails at 0915. The boat crosses close to Isla Mujeres, then goes north to reach Contoy at around 1030. There is the option of taking a guided tour around the small area of the island that is open to visitors, or you can do the same walk under your own steam seeing some of the 2000 breeding Magnificent Frigatebirds at pecking distance. Giant Land Crabs scuttle through the mangroves and Iguanas sun themselves unconcernedly.
An optional boat trip around the north lagoon gives views of breeding Bridled Tern, Brown Boobies and Brown Pelicans. This trip should be booked as soon as possible as the boat holds only 10 or so, and costs 100 Pesos.
The boat returns to Carlos and Charlie's marina at 1800.

Magnificent Frigatebird  ,  2000
Brown Pelican, 100
Brown Booby , 60 seen best from the optional boat trip
Double crested Cormorant  ,  200
Yellow-crowned Night Heron   ,   1
Snowy Egret   , 2
Great White Egret    ,  4
Great Blue Heron   ,  2
White Ibis ,  4
American Flamingo, ,  2 over flew the island
Turnstone ,  20
Sanderling,  10
Willet ,  6
Laughing Gull  , 500
Forster's Tern , 20
Gull-billed Tern ,  10
Royal Tern ,  ,  60
Bridled Tern   , 10
Black Vulture , 6
Peregrine Falcon  ,  1 two pairs breed on the island
Belted Kingfisher  ,  1

Jardin Botanico Dr Alfredo Barrera.
Tel 983 2 16 66
Fax 983 2 04 47 
This is a managed patch of jungle and mangrove with a few planted areas of native Central American plants and trees, situated about 35 minutes drive south from Cancun on route 307, 1 km south of Puerto Morelos. The park is open 0900 to 1700 Monday to Saturday, closed on Sundays. Be there at opening time for the best birding.
If you can afford the risk of being turned away, the best day to go is Sunday, hoot at the gate, talk nicely to the staff and they may let you in, I had the place to myself for a whole day. The best trail is marked "jungle trail" it goes off to the left just after the entrance, it is around 1 km in length and had two army ant colonies. This path is marked 17 on the free site map.
Mammals here included Spider Monkeys and Agoutis. Wear a long sleeved shirt and take some repellent or the mosquitoes will eat you alive.
I was assured that dusk would be productive for Owls and other nocturnal birds but as this is the time that the hand sized black and orange spiders choose to go walkabout I cannot vouch for this!
I spent one full day and two half days here.

Black Vulture , 20
Turkey Vulture ,  60
Lesser yellow-headed Vulture ,   1,
Vaux's Swift   , 50
Black-headed Trogon ,  2
Golden-fronted Woodpecker    ,   1
Lineated Woodpecker    ,  1
Ivory-billed Woodcreeper   ,   1
Tawny-winged Woodcreeper   ,   6
Ruddy Woodcreeper   ,  2
Barred Woodcreeper   ,  2
Bright-rumped Attila    ,  1
Thrush-like Mourner,  ,  2
Northern beardless Tyrannulet,   1    , 
Green Jay ,  1
Brown Jay,  10
Greenish Elaenia ,  2
Yellow-olive Flycatcher  ,  6
Tropical Peewee, 1
Dusky-capped Flycatcher  ,  1
Social Flycatcher ,  2
Grey-collared Becard ,  1
Rose-throated Becard ,  2
White-browed Wren    ,  4
Tropical Gnatcatcher      ,  2
Lesser Greenlet,   ,  2
Yucatan Vireo, 10
White-eyed Vireo    ,  2
Yellow-throated Vireo  ,   6
Grey-throated Chat     ,  2
Red-throated Ant Tanager     ,   2
Red-crowned Ant Tanager     ,   2
Grey-headed Tanager, 1
Rose-throated Tanager,  1    ,,    
Black and white Warbler   ,   4
Magnolia Warbler, 4
Blue-winged Warbler, 4
Black-throated Green Warbler,   2    , 
Yellow-throated Warbler,  2
Yellow Warbler, 2
Kentucky Warbler, 2
Hooded Warbler, 2
Worm-eating Warbler, 2
Northern Waterthush       ,  1
Ovenbird  ,  2
American Redstart,  ,  10
Orange Oriole, 1
Yellow-backed Oriole   ,  1

Chichen Itza.
This is one of the most spectacular Mayan sites in Mexico. It is easy to bird around the ruins and forest paths, which offer a mixture of dry scrub and humid forest.
Chichen Itza is 200 km west of Cancun and easily reached on the fast and empty toll highway Route 180D, around 3 hours drive in total. The £15 each way tolls on this route make sure that only tourists use it, making it possible to stop almost anywhere when a promising bird is spotted. We had our only Collared Aracaris in Mexico as roadside birds along here.
We did this site as a day trip from our hotel in Cancun.

Black Vulture , Common
Turkey Vulture ,  Common
Grey Hawk,  ,  1
Short-tailed Hawk   ,  1
Zone-tailed Hawk   ,  1
Laughing Falcon  ,  1
Red-billed Pigeon  ,  2
White-tipped Dove    ,  10
White-fronted Parrot   ,  30
Vaux's Swift   , Common
Violaceous Trogon ,  2
Black-headed Trogon ,  1
Collared Aracari ,  4
Golden-fronted Woodpecker    ,   2
Tropical Peewee, 2
Boat-billed Flycatcher ,  4
Social Flycatcher ,  6
Couch's Kingbird,  ,  2
Masked Tityra, 4
Cave Swallow, 30
Brown Jay,  4
Yucatan Jay,  ,  20 Most seen flying across R180D
Tropical Mockingbird     ,  20
White-eyed Vireo    ,  4
Yellow-throated Vireo  ,   1
Black and White Warbler  ,   1
Yellow-throated Warbler,  2
Palm Warbler , 10
American Redstart,  ,  2
Summer Tanager, 1

Playa del Carmen. 
The resort area is known as Playacar and is situated about an hour south on the 307 from Cancun. Not covered in Howell's books but the Gala Resort Hotel area is worth a mention. The Gala Resort is the southernmost hotel in Playacar, a path at its southern end runs down to the beach and continues south through an area of dry scrub and overgrown fields, which produced among others the following selection of birds.
We had two nights at the Gala Resort visiting Coba as a day trip from here.

White-tipped Dove    ,  10
Tropical Kingbird,  ,  20,,    
Black Catbird , 2
Laughing Falcon  ,  2
Hook-billed Kite      ,  2
Grey Hawk,  ,  1
Roadside Hawk   ,  1
Short-tailed Hawk   ,  1
Zone-tailed Hawk   ,  2
Rose-throated Becard ,  1
Ridgeways Rough-winged Swallow,   60 Easy to see dashing between the Gala Resorts hotel blocks mostly in the late afternoons.
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher  ,  10

This is 4 hours drive from Cancun. The route involves a journey south on the 307 to Tulum, which takes around two hours. Once there take the sign posted right turn to Coba, the "good metalled highway" in the book is a nightmare of potholes and takes another couple of hours. Was it worth the trip? Well the lake was full, and there were no Spotted Crakes, but we did see our only Lesser Roadrunner of the trip at the site marked overlook for Rails.
The Mayan ruins here produced several new birds.
The gardens surrounding the ruins at Tulum provided close views of Painted, Indigo and Blue Bunting.

Pied-billed Grebe   ,  10
Neotropic Cormorant ,  10
Great White Egret    ,  1
Grey Hawk,  ,  1
Turkey vulture, Common
Black Vulture , Common
Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture,   1    ,,    
Ruddy Crake  , 1
Northern Jacana  ,  1
Ruddy Ground-Dove    ,  20
White-fronted Parrot   ,  10
Lesser Roadrunner      ,  1
Groove-billed Ani,  30
Black-headed Trogon ,  2
Ringed Kingfisher  ,  1
Grey-breasted Martin  ,  10
Ruddy Woodcreeper   ,  1
Yellow-throated Euphonia    ,  2
Yellow-bellied Elaenia ,   1
Tropical Peewee, 1  , 
Boat-billed Flycatcher ,  4
Social Flycatcher ,  6
Yucatan Flycatcher ,  1
Black-crowned Tityra   ,  2
Green Jay ,  10
Yucatan Jay,  ,  50
Grey Catbird  , 1
Black Catbird , 2
Tropical Mockingbird     ,  20
White-eyed Vireo    ,  6
Scrub Euphonia,   ,  4
Black-headed Saltator, 2
Greyish Saltator, 2
Painted Bunting ,  10
Blue Bunting   , 10
Black-cowled Oriole   ,  2
Orange Oriole, 2
Audobon's Oriole   ,  1
Black-throated Green Warbler,   1 
American Redstart,  ,  1
Indigo Bunting  ,  6
Bronzed Cowbird,  ,  20

Felipe Carrillo Puerto. 
This small town is 230 km, four hours drive south from Cancun on the 307. Once there the Vigia Chico Road is clearly signposted at the roundabout in the town centre. The "cheap hotel" marked close to this roundabout is adequate and is used by many visiting birders.
The Vigia Chico road leading eventually to the Sian Ka'an Reserve is a rubbish strewn dirt track through scrub and forest with numerous farm tracks leading off it.
In dry conditions it is easily driveable, but because of its narrowness there are limited opportunities to park, its best to park at and bird at the head of each farm track. 
A glance at the list in Howell's book shows the potential offered by this area, indeed we saw our only two Great Curassow of the trip at km12, measured from the school at the start of the V C Road. A pair walked along the road at midday just ahead of our car, only melting back into the jungle when I pointed my camera at them.

Hook-billed Kite      ,  1
Bat Falcon,  1
Grey Hawk,  ,  2
Sharp-shinned Hawk   ,  4
Laughing Falcon  ,  1
Black Vulture , 20
Turkey Vulture ,  40
Plain Chachalaca       ,  6
Great Curassow  ,  2
Thicket Tinamou,  ,  1
Blue Ground-Dove    ,  1
White-tipped Dove    ,  4
Yucatan Parrot ,  8
Squirrel Cuckoo, 1
Wedge-tailed Sabrewing  ,  2
Buff-bellied Hummingbird    ,   2
Cinnamon Hummingbird    ,   1
Golden-fronted Woodpecker    ,   1
Yucatan Woodpecker    ,  2
Golden-olive Woodpecker    ,   2
Olivacious Woodcreeper   ,   1
Ruddy Woodcreeper   ,  2
Barred Antshrike, ,  2
Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher  ,  1
Tropical Peewee, 4
Dusky-capped Flycatcher  ,  2
Yucatan Flycatcher ,  2
Rose-throated Becard ,  1
Masked Tityra, 2
Brown Jay,  20
Green Jay ,  2
Yucatan Jay,  ,  10
White-bellied Wren    ,  2
Grey Catbird  , 2
White-eyed Vireo    ,  6
Yellow-breasted Chat   ,  1
Hooded Warbler, 1
Red-throated Ant-Tanager     ,   2
Olive Sparrow, 1
Rufous-browed Peppershrike    ,   1
Black and White Warbler  ,   1
American Redstart,  ,  20
Yucatan Parrot ,  2
Blue Bunting   , 4

Tikal National Park, Guatemala. 
I booked this trip in Cancun with STP Caribe tours (98) 877325. It was a last minute decision and because of the lack of planning we took the easy option of a guided tour.
There are packages available of differing duration and content, all of which can be arranged in Cancun.
We flew from Cancun at 0610 and arrived in Flores 0730. A military band played Jingle Bells as we passed through the minimal immigration formalities. We met our guide and transferred to the Tikal National Park.
The Mayan Biosphere Reserve is the second largest area of virgin rainforest after the Amazon, it spreads over several countries with the Guatemalan section being the Tikal NP, which covers 576 sq km. There are three forest lodges in the park as well as a campsite.
Hotel Jungle Lodge tel 9261519
Hotel and Camping Jaguar Inn tel 9260002
Hotel Tikal Inn, no phone number available
Visitors are discouraged from straying too far in the evenings as Jaguars and various snakes and spiders are sometimes encountered.
The extensive Mayan ruins are situated amid mature rainforest with easily birded trails and open spaces. One of the best trails follows the old rainwater collection channel down to an overgrown reservoir at the rear of the visitors centre. It was here that we had Blue-crowned Motmot and Pale-billed Woodpecker.
Keel-billed Toucans and Collared Aracaris are common throughout the park. 
Over the road from the visitor centre car park is the disused and overgrown airstrip, the vegetation here is rank grass and bushes and offers a different habitat to the mature rainforest of the reserve. Also here is the short grassy field used as a campsite, Ocellated Turkeys roost in surrounding the trees and can be quite tame.
The Guatemalan currency is the Quetzal, in practice we got by ok with US$.
Birds and animals are easier to see here than in Mexico. Howler Monkeys roar from the treetops and Coati-mundi scurry around. We also saw a Jungle Fox and loads of bats around the ruins.

Pied-billed Grebe   ,  1
Little Blue heron    ,  1
Cattle Egret,  ,  20
Snowy Egret   , 6
Great Egret ,  ,  4
American Coot ,  50
Killdeer,  ,  4
Spotted Sandpiper  ,  6
The above birds were seen around Lago Peten-Itza along the route from Flores to Tikal
Grey Hawk,  ,  2
Roadside Hawk   ,  2
King Vulture   , 1
Black Vulture , Common
Turkey Vulture ,  Common
Laughing Falcon  ,  1
Crested Guan , 10
Ocellated Turkey ,  16
Little Tinamou   ,  1
Northern Jacana  ,  10
Ruddy Ground-Dove    ,  1
Meally Parrot , 2
Red-lored Parrot   ,  2
Brown-hooded Parrot   ,  12
Groove-billed Ani,  4
Crested Owl   , 1
Black-headed Trogon ,  2
Slaty-tailed Trogon ,  2
Keel-billed Toucan ,  20
Collared Aracari ,  30
Blue-crowned Motmot,  1
Golden-fronted Woodpecker    ,   2
Pale-billed Woodpecker    ,   2
Tawny-winged Woodcreeper   ,   2
Streak-headed Woodcreeper   ,   2
Plain Ant Vireo ,  10
Stub-tailed Spadebill, ,  6
Royal Flycatcher ,  2
Sulphur-rumped Flycatcher  ,  2
Northern Bentbill ,  4
Bright-rumped Atilla    ,  1
Dusky-capped Flycatcher  ,  1
Brown-crested Flycatcher  ,  1
Red-capped Manakin,  ,  2
Tropical Kingbird,  ,  10
Social Flycatcher ,  10
Masked Tityra, 1
Thrush-like Mourner,  ,  2
Mangrove Swallow,  ,  6
Brown Jay,  20
Tropical Gnatcatcher      ,  1
Spot-breasted Wren    ,  2
Tawny-crowned Greenlet     ,  1
Lesser Greenlet,   ,  6
Green Shrike-Vireo    ,  1
Grey-headed Tanager, 1
Summer Tanager, 1
Blue bunting,  ,  1
White-collared Seed-eater ,  1
Thick-billed Seed-Finch ,  1
Wood Thrush , 2  , 
Black and White Warbler  ,   4
Hooded Warbler, 2
Worm-eating Warbler, 2
Common Grackle, 50
Great-tailed Grackle, 60

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