Photos with this report (click to enlarge)
Three wonderful and trouble-free weeks in Yucatan and northern Chiapas, combining birding with visits to a number of archaeological sites and cultural cities. Very friendly people, good food and reasonably good roads made for an easy and relaxing trip, highly recommended. We followed pretty much in the footsteps of our friends Guy Anderson and Fiona Hunter, who produced an excellent trip report (also available from Surfbirds) with spot-on directions to some of the most difficult-to-find sites, which we cannot improve on so have not tried. We had a lot of rain at Palenque and on our visits to Yaxchilan and Bonampak, which greatly reduced the number of birds we saw there. Because of this and the time of year, birding was not as easy as we expected, with little song and very little activity after 9am, but we saw great birds every day and notched up nearly 300 species. January might not be the best time to visit, as we missed a few much-wanted birds possibly because they move in winter, there was little territorial activity, and mosquitoes were bad in places where people don’t seem to have a problem at other times of year.
We flew with First Choice from Gatwick to Cancun (£360), which was trouble-free and comfortable. We hired a car from Econocar Rental (http://www.econocarrental.com) in Cancun, much cheaper than the big companies and they will meet you at the airport. We had a Volkswagen Derby, big enough to stash everything out of sight in the boot and fast enough to overtake slow vehicles with no problem. It cost $870 for 3 weeks, and we had no problems. Driving in Mexico is usually fine, if occasionally a bit hairy. Some of the overtaking is extremely imaginative, and it’s not a bad idea to get into the habit of assuming that beyond every bend or blind dip there may be another vehicle heading straight for you at high speed on your side of the road. We came across one fairly horrific accident scene and saw evidence of several others. The road from Palenque to San Cristobal is steep and winding, and littered with topes (speed bumps), it takes a lot longer than you might think. Topes are a bit of a problem everywhere, as many are unmarked and some are almost impassable. But they are probably necessary, as many Mexicans drive too fast, and they are also good places to overtake slow trucks. We came across a few army checkpoints, especially on the road to San Cristobal, but we were always waved through with a friendly smile. Filling up with petrol is always a battle to avoid getting ripped off; make sure the dial is set to zero before delivery and check your change. We got into the habit of asking for a set amount of petrol (M$200 pretty much filled the tank) and having the right money ready in our hand. If the Pemex in Xpuhil runs out of petrol, as it occasionally does, Rick at Rio Bec Dreams can help you buy some locally.
2/1 Arrived Cancun, picked up car, night in Puerto Morelos
3/1 Morning visit to Jardin Botanico Dr Alfredo Barrera M., then to Felipe Carillo Puerto, evening birding along Vigia Chico Road. Night in FCP.
4/1 Morning birding along Vigia Chico Road, then drive to Rio Bec Dreams, Xpuhil. Afternoon visit to Mayan site at Chiccana.
5/1 Early morning birding around Rio Bec Dreams, then to Mayan site Hormiguera. Evening visit to bat cenote.
6/1 All day visit to Calakmul, third night at Rio Bec Dreams.
7/1 Early morning birding along road to Hormiguera, then drive to Palenque
8/1 Wet start at Cascada trail, then all day at Usumacinta Marshes
9/1 Another wet start birding around Palenque and Hotel Shan Kah grounds. Afternoon drive to Rancho Vallescondida, 60km along the road towards Bonampak.
10/1 Visits to Bonampak and Yaxchilan. Second night at Rancho Vallescondido.
11/1 Early morning birding around Ranch Vallescondido, then long drive to San Cristobal.
12/1 Early morning to km2 site on Ocasingo Road. Afternoon visit to Cerro Huitepec.
13/1 Early morning to km2 site on Ocasingo Road. Afternoon visit to Cerro Tzontehuitz.
14/1 Early morning to km2 site on Ocasingo Road. Return to Palenque.
15/1 Birding all day around Palenque and Hotel Shan Kah grounds
16/1 Early morning birding around Hotel Shan Kah grounds, then drive to Campeche with a short stop at Usumacinta Marshes. Night in Campeche.
17/1 Birding along Campeche seafront and in central park. Visit to excellent San Jose Museum, 5km south of Campeche. Then drive to Celestun.
18/1 Birding Celestun area, including boat trip.
19/1 Drive from Celestun to Rio Lagartos via Chichen Itza.
20/1 Birding Rio Lagartos area, drive to San Felipe.
21/1 Birding San Felipe area, drive to Puerto Morelos.
22/1 Morning visit to Jardin Botanico Dr Alfredo Barrera M., afternoon snorkelling in Puerto Morelos.
23/1 Morning visit to Jardin Botanico Dr Alfredo Barrera M., then transfer to airport for return flight.
Howell and Webb is the essential reference, and an excellent guide, but is large and heavy and does not illustrate the North American migrants, so another guide is necessary. We took the new Collins Guide to Mexico and Central America by Ber van Perlo, which was OK for its size and handy for the field, but don’t be tempted to leave Howell & Webb behind. We also took the Mexico Lonely Planet guide (very good) and the Rough Guide to the Yucatan (not very good). Howell’s site guide is a bit out of date but still essential.
The only place we booked in advance was the wonderful Rio Bec Dreams, our base for the Calakmul and Xpuhil area. Everywhere else we just turned up and checked in, only one place we tried, in San Cristobal, was fully booked. We did not come across large numbers of tourists, so maybe this is a quiet time to visit. The great £/$ exchange rate encouraged us to splash out a bit and we stayed in some really nice places.
Puerto Morelos: We stayed at a couple of places here, one just north and another (better one, a terracotta-coloured hotel right on the beach, “Hacienda Morales”?) just south of the main square on the seafront. The restaurant (Boba’s?) next to the latter was excellent, as was the pizzeria with the Mona Lisa theme, just north of the plaza on the second road back from the beach. A lot of the hotels listed in the Rough Guide and Lonely Planet seem to have been converted to apartments, and none of the hotels we stayed in or the restaurants we ate in were listed in either guide, so clearly things change fast here.
Felipe Carillo Puerto: We stayed at the birders’ usual place, the Faisan y Venado, which was OK and has an excellent restaurant.
Rio Bec Dreams: http://www.riobecdreams.com/ Our favourite place, about 10km west of Xpuhil on the main road. Run by an Anglo-Canadian couple, Rick and Diane, this is a charming place to stay, with four double “jungalows” and two larger self-contained cabanas. There is a nice bar and the food is really excellent (ask for Diane’s special chicken fajitas). Diane is an expert on Mayan sites and can give you directions to see places the coach crowds never see. There is a small library of books on the sites on the bar, and they have the only hummingbird feeders we saw on the whole trip. They can also tell you how to get to the bat cenote. This is a great base from which to explore the Rio Bec/Calakmul region.
Palenque: On our first visit, we stayed at the Aldea, on the right of the road from the town to the ruins. They have simple and basic cabanas for $25, or larger and very nice self-contained rooms for $70. The food in the restaurant is really awful, don’t eat here. Second time we threw some money around and stayed at the lovely Shan Kah hotel ($100), fabulous birding from your veranda and a great restaurant.
Vallescondido: (phone: 916 3486011, email: firstname.lastname@example.org) Our base for visiting Bonampak and Yaxchilan, though as it is only 60km from Palenque, it is still a fair drive to get to these sites. A lovely place to stay, with beautifully designed and unusual rooms. The son of the owner, Silvestre, speaks good English. Dinner is a family affair, and the food is excellent. Great birding in the grounds as well. Difficult to find, at km61 look for a restaurant in the forest on the right, this is owned by the family, but the ranch itself is about 200m further down on the other side of the road.
San Cristobal: We stayed at the beautiful Casa Mexicana, around $75. The Sikh-owned Indian restaurant mentioned in the Lonely Planet book was excellent.
Campeche: The Casa Americana was fine.
Celestun: We stayed in the new and very pleasant Hotel Manglares on the beach at the northern end of town. The rooftop El Lobo in the main plaza was a great place to eat, watch birds and chill out, the breakfasts and pizzas are excellent.
Rio Lagartos: The Hotel Villa de Pescadores (email@example.com) on the seafront near the lighthouse was basic but pleasant and the owners speak English. The only place to eat here is the Restaurante Isla Contoy, which does great fish.
San Felipe: Hotel de Jesus is about the only place, but noisy the night we were there and the food was not great.
Sites and birds
1. Puerto Morelos and Jardin Botanico Dr. Alfredo Barrera M.
This area of recovering forest, coast and mangroves lies just south of Puerto Morelos, around 30km south of Cancun, and makes a great place to start. Puerto Morelos is a pleasant, quiet and relaxed seaside resort and is probably a far nicer place to stay around arrival and departure than Cancun (which we did not go to). Snorkelling is excellent (we saw a turtle, a large stingray, barracuda and masses of bizarre coral reef fish). To get to the botanic gardens from Cancun, head south down the main coast road, pass the turning to Puerto Morelos on your left. The entrance to the gardens is about 1km further on the left (east) side of the road, but to get to it you need to drive past it to the next “returno” (U-turn) around 1km further on and come back on yourself, making sure you turn into the slow, right hand lane. The main gate opens at 8am but you can get in earlier (7am should be no problem) through the gate used by the staff, which is about 200m north of the official entrance. The staff do not seem to mind you doing this, so long as you pay on your way out. We went here a few times at the beginning and end of our trip, and saw a few birds we saw nowhere else. Highlights here included Anhinga, Canivet’s Emerald, Yucatan Woodpecker, Yucatan Flycatcher, Spot-breasted Wren, Yucatan Vireo (the only place we saw this species), Mangrove Vireo, White-eyed Vireo, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Ivory-billed and Streak-headed Woodcreepers, Lesser Greenlet (common here), Red-throated Ant-tanager, Summer Tanager, Green Jay, Orange Oriole, probable immature Red-tailed Hawk and a good selection of migrant warblers, including Palm, Yellow-rumped, Black-throated Green, Yellow-throated (a total stunner!), Black-and-white, Hooded, Wilson’s, Magnolia (one of the commonest birds in Yucatan), Northern Parula, Common Yellowthroat, Northern Waterthrush, Ovenbird and American Redstart. Although not in range according to the field guide, we saw what looked like a Plumbeous Vireo here, and other trip reports also mention seeing this species here. Agouti are fairly common and approachable here, and we saw Spider Monkeys. As with many other places, activity died away early here, and we struggled to see much after 9am, except mosquitoes. Entry fee here is now M$70.
2. Vigia Chico Road, Felipe Carillo Puerto
We are not the first to have been slightly disappointed by this famous site post-hurricane. We originally planned a couple of days here, but after one evening and one morning with little activity, we moved on. FCP is a pleasant place to stay and strolling around in the evenings was enjoyable. You will never find any place on earth with so many shoe shops! Despite being quiet, and activity dying early, we still picked up some good birds, best of which was a single Rose-throated Tanager, which people have struggled to see here since the hurricane. Other birds seen here included Red-billed Pigeon, Scaled Pigeon, Golden-fronted Woodpecker (the common ‘pecker in this part of the world), Common Ground-dove, Yucatan Parrot, Vaux’s Swift, Ferruginous Pigmy-owl, Canivet’s Emerald, Plain Xenops, Spot-breasted and White-bellied Wrens, Long-billed Gnatwren, Yellow-throated Euphonia, Black-headed Trogon, Couch’s Kingbird, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Masked Tityra, Mangrove Vireo, Yucatan Jay, Clay-coloured Thrush, Black-headed Saltator and Orange Oriole. What must have been a Singing Quail dashed across the track in front of us.
3. Calakmul and Xpuhil area
A great area, and well worth a few days. We stayed at the excellent Rio Bec Dreams (see above), which has good birding in the grounds and in the maze of trails through the forest behind (Rick can give you a map). Here we saw Black Catbird, Grey-throated Chat (only females, which really had us stumped for a while), Aztec Parakeet, White-fronted Parrot, Ferruginous Pigmy-owl, Canivet’s Emerald, Buff-bellied Hummingbird, White-bellied Emerald (coming to the only hummer feeders we saw in Mexico), Great Kiskadee, Social Flycatcher, Yucatan Jay, Blue-grey Gnatcatcher, White-eyed and Yellow-throated Vireos, Grey Catbird, Wood Thrush, Altamira, Hooded and Yellow-tailed Orioles and the usual migrant warblers.
At Rick and Diane’s suggestion, we tried birding along the road to the Mayan site of Hormiguera (turn south at the only roundabout in Xpuhil and after maybe 10km, turn right onto a very rough but passable road by the huge sign to the ruins; both roads were good birding, but the entrance track to the ruins probably the best; entry to the ruins is free). There are a number of pools along the way which are well worth stopping at. The best bird here, and totally unexpected, was Chestnut-bellied Flowerpiercer (by the large artificial pools on the right (west) of the road heading south from Xpuhil), outside the range shown in Howell & Webb and well below its altitudinal limit. But we got really good views of it (it was a male) and even saw it “flowerpiercing”. We saw the species again near San Cristobal, and have no doubt over the identity. Maybe they move down in winter? The pools also had Least Grebe and American Coot, and elsewhere along the road from Xpuhil to Hormiguera we saw Hook-billed Kite, Grey Hawk, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Belted Kingfisher, Ruddy Ground-dove, Northern Cardinal, Mangrove Vireo, Squirrel Cuckoo, Common Yellowthroat, Orchard Oriole, Couch’s and Tropical Kingbirds, Indigo Bunting and Rose-breasted Grosbeak. In the ruins at Hormiguera, we saw Sepia-capped Flycatcher, White-bellied Wren, Bat Falcon, Collared Trogon, and Turquoise-browed Motmot.
Calakmul ruins are spectacular, and well worth the long drive off the main road. You pay twice, once to use the entrance road and again when you arrive to get into the ruins. Get details from Diane on how to view the ruins, it will add a lot to your visit (especially her directions to find the “secret route” to the top of Structure 13, which gives spectacular views). Stopping on the entrance road to look at birds is a problem because of the traffic. Try to get in as early as possible. Highlight here is Ocellated Turkey, though slightly reduced to the status of a scavenging car park bird (though there are wilder looking ones in the ruins). We failed to see Great Curassow here, but a very obliging Thicket Tinamou was fossicking about by the side of the road when we left. Other birds seen around the ruins included Pale-billed and Yucatan Woodpeckers, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Boat-billed Flycatcher, White-bellied Wren, Yellow-throated Euphonia, Blue Bunting, Montezuma Oropendola, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Grey Catbird, Black-headed Saltator, Summer Tanager and lots of the usual warblers, including our only Prothonotary. Mammals seen here included Yucatan Black Howler Monkey, Spider Monkey, Collared Peccary and Northern Agouti.
If you are staying in the area, do not miss the incredible bat cenote, just north of the main road at km107, near the turning to Calakmul at km99 (Rick and Diane can provide directions and arrange a guide). If you do go here, try to get up high round the back of the cenote, from where you can see a river of bats heading out over the forest. Truly awesome. We also saw our only Wedge-tailed Sabrewing here.
4. Usumacinta Marshes
This huge area of savannahs and wetlands between Escarcega and Palenque offers great birding, and a welcome change from neck-straining forest birding. We stopped on our way to and from Palenque and also had most of a day here, when heavy rain forced us out of the forest at Palenque. This turned out to be one of our best days, bird-wise. Birding this area involves driving along the network of roads covering the area and stopping by wetlands, although we had some of our best birding along a dirt track through savannah farmland with no wetlands. Stopping can be a problem as there are very few lay-bys on the metalled roads, try to find some quieter dirt roads. We spent most of the day in the area south of the main road, around Emiliano Zapata and La Liberdad. Birds seen here included Common Moorhen, American White Pelican, Neotropical Cormorant, Anhinga, Pinnated Bittern, Snowy Egret, Cattle Egret, Little Blue Heron, Tricoloured Heron, Great Blue Heron, Green Heron, Great Egret, Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Limpkin, Jabiru, Wood Stork, Roseate Spoonbill, Glossy Ibis, Black-bellied Whistling-duck, Blue-winged Teal, Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture (quite a high proportion of the Turkey-vulture types here seemed to be this species), Snail Kite, Swallow-tailed Kite, White-tailed Hawk, Osprey, Roadside Hawk, Grey Hawk, Aplomado Falcon, Crested Caracara, Laughing Falcon, American Kestrel, Peregrine, Double-striped Thick-knee, Lesser Yellowlegs, Least Sandpiper, Stilt Sandpiper, Killdeer, Long-billed Dowitcher, Black-necked Stilt, Northern Jacana, Caspian Tern, Pale-vented Pigeon, Plain-breasted Ground-dove, Groove-billed Ani, Ringed, Belted and Amazon Kingfishers, Ladder-backed, Acorn and Lineated Woodpeckers, Vermillion Flycatcher, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, roughwing swallow spp, Barn and Mangrove Swallows, Common Yellowthroat, Blue-grey Tanager, Yellow-winged Tanager (on the roof of the Pemex station by the Palenque turn-off!), Rose-breasted Grosbeak, White-collared and Variable Seedeaters, Blue-black Grassquit, Grassland Yellow-finch, Eastern Meadowlark, Red-winged Blackbird and Northern, Orchard and Yellow-tailed Orioles. It was strange to see Yucatan Black Howler Monkeys in scrawny roadside tree belts.
Access to Palenque seems a bit easier now, in that the gate of the entrance road was open before 7am each time we went, so you can now get to the Cascada trail by first light, rather than having to park by the gate and walking up. However when we were there it didn’t help much because it was raining heavily and the stream was too high and full to cross safely. The gardens of the Shan Kah Hotel (well signposted on left before the main gate) offer excellent birding, and activity here is high throughout the day. We saw our only Grey Fox in these gardens, and probably saw more birds here than in the forest. The Temple of the Inscriptions trail remains closed and guarded, but we had good birding in the forest round the back of the temples furthest from the entrance. We spent quite a lot of time at Palenque, but much of it in heavy rain and we missed quite a few target species here. Nevertheless, we still managed to see Bat Falcon, Broad-winged Hawk, Plain Chachalaca, White-crowned and White-fronted Parrots, White-bellied Emerald, Violet Sabrewing, Stripe-tailed Hummingbird, Long-tailed and Little Hermits, Grey-headed Dove, Green Kingfisher, Collared Aracari, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Golden-olive Woodpecker, Barred Antshrike, Ivory-billed and Streak-headed Woodcreepers, Ochre-bellied, Yellow-olive and Yellow-bellied Flycatchers, Grey catbird, Wood Thrush, Yellow-breasted Chat, Yellow, Wilson’s, Hooded, Magnolia, Black-throated Green, Black-and-white, Chestnut-sided, Worm-eating and Kentucky Warblers, Northern and Louisiana Waterthrushes, Northern Parula, Ovenbird, Bananaquit, Red-throated Ant-tanager, Crimson-collared and Scarlet-rumped Tanagers, Indigo, Varied and Painted Buntings, Blue Grosbeak, Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, Spot-breasted Wren, White-breasted Wood-wren, Yellow-throated Vireo, Green and Red-legged Honycreepers, Yellow-throated, Scrub and Olive-backed Euphonias, Black-headed and Buff-throated Saltators, Montezuma Oropendola and Orchard Oriole.
6. Yaxchilan and Bonampak
The gardens of the Rancho Vallescondido had good birding and we saw a few birds here we did not see elsewhere. Species seen here included Long-billed Starthroat, Green-breasted Mango, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Red-lored Parrot, Common Tody-flycatcher, Vermillion Flycatcher, Black-crowned Tityra, Green Kingfisher, Louisiana Waterthrush, Ovenbird, Yellow-winged Tanager, Broad-winged Hawk, Tennessee Warbler and Southern House Wren.
We did Bonampak and Yaxchilan in a single day, as heavy rain made birding difficult so we gave up on it and concentrated on seeing the temples instead, both very impressive, especially Yaxchilan which is reached only by boat along the Usumacinta River (the far bank is Guatemala). Best birding was along the runway at Bonampak. The trail off to the river between the runway and the ruins was not easy to find and was not well marked, so we did not risk getting lost in the forest in heavy rain. Birds seen here included Spotted Sandpiper, Brown-hooded Parrot, White-tipped Dove, Squirrel Cuckoo, White-bellied Emerald, Little and Long-tailed Hermits, Violaceous Trogon, Keel-billed Toucan, Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, Barred Antshrike, Greenish Elaenia, Sepia-capped Flycatcher, Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher, Least Flycatcher, Masked and Black-crowned Tityras, White-breasted Wood-wren, Worm-eating Warbler, Kentucky Warbler, Bananaquit, Scarlet-rumped Tanager, Olive-backed Euphonia, Red-throated Ant-tanager, Black-headed Saltator, Green-backed Sparrow, Yellow-tailed Oriole and Yellow-billed Cacique. A plover on a sandbar in the river, seen from a speeding boat, was probably Collared Plover.
7. San Cristobal
This is a lovely city, with lots of quaint streets, pretty houses and markets. Also plenty of nice restaurants and bars. We had 3 nights here and could happily have stayed longer. The major disappointment was missing Pink-headed Warbler, despite spending 3 mornings at the km2 Ocosingo Road site (see Howell’s site guide). Maybe they move downhill in winter? We also missed Black-capped Swallow (though a small flock of swallows seen briefly might have been this species), but these are known to move around seasonally. Most of our birding at San Cristobal was at this site, and along another track (with a hand-written sign pointing to some lagoons) on the same side of the road at around km4. Birds in this area included White-eared and Magnificent Hummingbirds, Mountain Trogon, Hairy Woodpecker, Spot-crowned Woodcreeper, Greater Peewee, Brown Creeper, Grey Silky-flycatcher, Steller’s Jay, Hutton’s, Solitary and Warbling Vireos, Rufous-collared and Hermit Thrushes (and possibly also Swainson’s Thrush), Pine Flycatcher, Townsend’s Warbler, Hermit Warbler, Olive Warbler, Crescent-chested Warbler, Yellow-eyed Junco and Red Crossbill. Brown-backed Solitaires were heard but not seen. The trees in the main square in San Cristobal had Townsend’s Warbler, Rufous-collared Sparrow and House Sparrow, we saw a White-eared Hummingbird bathing in a small fountain in a courtyard café in the city centre, and at night a number of Lesser Nighthawks hawked over the square. On the outskirts of town we saw Inca Dove, Bronzed Cowbird, Eastern Bluebird, Lesser Goldfinch and House Finch. On the road between San Cristobal and Palenque we saw White-collared Swift, Violet Green Swallow and Grey-breasted Martin.
An afternoon visit to the reserve at Cerro Huitepec yielded almost nothing except a Mountain Trogon, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher and some Band-backed Wrens. However an afternoon visit to Cerro Tzontehuitz was far better. Getting to this site is easy if you follow the excellent directions in the trip report of Guy Anderson and Fiona Hunter. We mainly birded along the road and went a bit further than the second powerline crossing. It was depressing to hear several chainsaws in this area. We saw Unicoloured Jay, Cooper’s or Sharp-shinned Hawk, Short-tailed Hawk, Northern (Guatamalan) Flicker, Common Bush-tanager, Cinnamon-bellied Flowerpiercer, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Yellow-eyed Junco and Rufous-browed Wren (in the short vegetation beneath the power lines). The deforested gully on the left of the knife-edge ridge just before the paved access road up to the microwave station held White-naped Brushfinch and MacGillivray’s Warbler. We had a stroke of luck on the way down, when we stopped to watch a small flock of Bushtits, and a Blue-and-white Mockingbird flew across the road in front of us.
Not really a birding site, but a few good things. The seafront had Double-crested Cormorant, Little Blue and Tricoloured Herons, both pelicans, Willet, Spotted Sandpiper, our only Grey Plover, Black Skimmer, and Royal and Sandwich Terns. In the main square in Campeche were lots of Cave Swallows, a stunning Yellow-throated Warbler, Summer Tanager and Golden-fronted Woodpeckers.
A very nice place to stay, with good birding. The rooftop Café Lobo in the main square was excellent, good food (the pizzas were great) and good birding, we had Mexican Sheartail (they have nested in the large potted cactus by the loos!) and Yellow-throated Warbler on the wires here and a number of orioles on flowering trees around. Also, what can only have been a Eurasian Collared Dove flew past.
The area is well covered by Howell. There are two main birding habitats here, the coastal scrub and the river and its mangroves. In the scrub around and north of the town we saw Plain Chachalaca, Vaux’s Swift, Mexican Sheartail, Cinnamon Hummingbird, Yucatan Bobwhite, Turquoise-browed Motmot, Yucatan Wren, Northern Cardinal, Yellow-rumped and Palm Warblers, Vermillion Flycatcher, White-eyed Vireo, White-lored Gnatcatcher and Northern and Hooded Orioles. The smelly town dump is a good place to get close views of Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture. Mosquitoes were really bad in the coastal scrub. An evening drive yielded Yucatan Nightjar (over the open grassy area about 12km north of town) and Coati.
We took a fairly expensive but excellent 2-hour boat trip to the flamingos (though we had good views of these from the road bridge), and also into the mangroves and out to the petrified forest. Our boatman was Eddy Pinto, a nice guy who was happy to give us nearly three hours for the price of two, knew lots about the mangroves and could identify quite a few of the birds. Birds seen in this area included Osprey, Common Black Hawk, several Bare-throated Tiger-herons (including a pair at a nest), Reddish Egret, all the usual herons, both pelicans and both cormorants, Roseate Spoonbill, White Ibis, several thousand American Flamingo, Belted, Green and American Pigmy Kingfishers, Blue-winged Teal, Plain Chachalaca, Grey-necked Wood-rail, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Caspian, Sandwich and Royal Terns, Mangrove Swallow, Black-headed Trogon, Ivory-billed Woodcreeper and Mangrove (Yellow) Warbler.
10. Chichen Itza
We only stopped here briefly to see the splendid though tourist-covered ruins but picked up a few birds as well, including Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and Philadelphia, White-eyed and Yellow-throated Vireos. The only toll booth on the toll road between Chichen Itza and Cancun had Ridgeway’s Rough-wing Swallow roosting and nesting under its roof, it was the only place we saw this species well enough to see the diagnostic pale loral spot.
11. Rio Lagartos
Fairly similar in terms of birds to Celestun. Both Rio Lagartos and San Felipe were pleasant places to stay, although mosquitoes were really bad here and choice of accommodation is limited. There are a couple of local bird guides in Rio Lagartos, who have a good reputation. They can be found at the excellent Restaurante Isla Contoy, the best eatery in town (in fact the only one we could find). We birded the waterfront in Rio Lagartos and the roads to San Felipe and to the saltworks at Los Coloradas. Take care here, it is not a good idea to drive along any of the saltwork bunds that have been covered by wind-blown froth, they become very slippery and you could easily slide into the water. Birds in this area included both pelicans, both cormorants, Boat-billed Heron (flying over the waterfront in Rio Lagartos in the evening, the streetlights just bright enough to pick out the diagnostic black flanks and underwings), Reddish Egret, Roseate Spoonbill, American Flamingo, Blue-winged Teal, Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, White-tailed and Short-tailed Hawks, Yucatan Bobwhite, American Golden Plover, American Oystercatcher, Willet, Black Skimmer, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Spotted Sandpiper, Killdeer, Piping, Snowy, Wilson’s and Semipalmated Plovers, Sanderling, Turnstone, Western Sandpiper (including two colour-ringed birds), American Herring Gull, Forster’s, Royal, Sandwich and Gull-billed Terns, Black Skimmer, Zenaida Dove, Lesser Roadrunner (at the Rancho San Salvador junction in Howell, the only one we saw), Ferruginous Pigmy-owl, Mexican Sheartail, Sand Martin, Tree Swallow, (Ridgeway’s?) Rough-winged Swallow, Common and Grey-crowned Yellowthroats, Savannah Sparrow and Blue-grey Tanager.
Paul Donald and Fiona Roberts