We spent 10 days exploring Mexico’s humid southeast with Ebbe Banstorp and Diana Cardoso, each of us with different goals for the trip although birding was our main focus. Jorge had worked in Calakmul and Lacanjá years before, both places are excellent for birding, though this would be a first visit in May. Weather for the first part of the trip was hot, but bearable (~ 35°C), walking through rainforest under plenty of shade. The last four days of the trip, however, were scorching (~ 40°C), shade was mostly limited and forest bird activity practically disappeared after 0930. In the end we encountered 300 species of birds, as well as the following mammals: Yucatán Black Howler, Central American Spider Monkey, Mexican Gray Squirrel, Deppe’s Squirrel, Yucatan Squirrel, Eastern Cottontail, Northern Raccoon, White-nosed Coati, Tayra, Red Brocket, White-tailed Deer.
1. Palenque, Chiapas (HBFG Site 13.1)
2. Lacanjá, Chiapas
3. Bonampak, Chiapas (HBFG Site 13.5)
4. Yaxchilán, Chiapas (HBFG Site 13.6)
5. La Libertad Road, Chiapas (HBFG 13.3)
6. Usumacinta Marshes, Chiapas/Tabasco/Campeche (HBFG Site 13.4)
7. Calakmul, Campeche
8. San Manuel Road, Chiapas (HBFG 13.2)
1. A Bird-finding Guide to Mexico, Howell (1999) or HBFG.
2. May 2002 Chiapas Trip Report, Stephen J. Davies at /mb/trips/chiapas-sd-0802.html
3. Status and Conservation of Yaxchilán Avifauna, Puebla-Olivares et al. (2002) at http://elibrary.unm.edu/sora/ON/v013n04/p0381-p0396.pdf
Major updates to HBFG (some changes also outlined in Davies’ 2002 report)
1. Roads from Palenque to Bonampak & Frontera Corozal are now paved (Palenque-Bonampak ~ 2.5 hours, Palenque-Frontera Corozal ~ 3 hours).
2. The Bonampak ruins are now accessed by a 9 km dirt road, however, the road is driven by employees only. Parking is available at the Bonampak ruins visitor center, a shuttle bus will take you to the ruins & back, or you can walk the road or a forested trail beginning near the visitor center (also, you can pay for a shuttle bus one way and walk either to or from the ruins).
3. The Temple of Inscriptions trail at Palenque appears to be permanently closed <100 meters down the trail (yellow tape strewn across trail with attending guard).
4. Prices of ruins entrance fees ranged from $33 to $45 Mexican pesos/person. Sundays and holidays are no longer free. If you are under 12 or over 60 years of age, you should receive a discounted price.
We rented a VW Pointer (sedan) which easily navigated all roads traveled. Unmarked ‘topes’ (speedbumps) frequented the many small communities along the Palenque-Bonampak road, slowing down near any community is advisable. The road to the Calakmul ruins is very windy, full of wildlife (turkey, curassow, deer, especially after the Biosphere Reserve gate), and is thus a slow trip; the 60 km route can take hours, one way! Information on Yaxchilán – Frontera Corozal boat trip logistics are provided below.
May 1: Palenque, Lacanjá
We began our visit to the humid southeast with an introductory visit to the Palenque ruins. Starting at the museum at 0630, we heard a GREAT TINAMOU calling from the stand of rainforest across the road. We followed the call into the forest ~ 200 meters along a narrow trail finding KEEL-BILLED TOUCAN, WHITE-NECKED JACOBIN, RUDDY WOODCREEPER, SULPHUR-RUMPED FLYCATCHER, ORANGE-BILLED SPARROW and OLIVE-BACKED EUPHONIA, though we never saw the tinamou. Returning to the museum we birded around the parking lot and up the road ~ 100 meters finding mixed flocks of migratory warblers and vireos in the Gumbo Limbo trees, and BLACK-CHEEKED and GOLDEN-OLIVE WOODPECKER in the Cecropias. We drove a short distance to the La Cascada trail and here found LONG-BILLED HERMIT, GREEN-BREASTED MANGO, CHESTNUT-COLORED WOODPECKER and PLUMBEOUS KITE. At the ruins parking lot we found many nesting birds above the crowded vendor stands including YELLOW-OLIVE FLYCATCHER, BANANAQUIT, GOLDEN-HOODED TANAGER and YELLOW-THROATED EUPHONIA. Inside the ruins, we headed to the Temple of the Inscriptions trail only to find it closed <100 meters after the entrance. We pleaded with a guard to let us bird a ways beyond the yellow barrier tape, though within minutes he pished us back across….The forest looks great on this trail, unfortunate it is closed, we did find here, however, WHITE-CROWNED PARROT, WEDGE-BILLED WOODCREEPER and CHESTNUT-HEADED OROPENDOLA. Back out at the ruins we decided to climb the highest structure and were rewarded with SHORT-TAILED HAWK, BLACK HAWK-EAGLE and a pair of BAT FALCON.
After lunch back in town, we drove to Lacanjá (near Bonampak), ~ 2.5 hours from Palenque on the new paved road. We quickly settled in to our cabins in the community of Lacanjá and, with ~ 2 hours of daylight left, birding the grounds we observed: KING VULTURE, BLUE GROUND-DOVE, BROWN-HOODED PARROT, DOT-WINGED ANTWREN, GREEN SHRIKE-VIREO, BLACK-THROATED SHRIKE-TANAGER, PASSERINI’S TANAGER and VARIABLE SEEDEATER. While we ate dinner a very vocal COMMON PAURAQUE serenaded us.
May 2: Lacanjá
We hit the La Cascada trail (cost: $35 pesos/each) near our cabins ~ 0645 and started off our long hike to the waterfalls with a RUDDY-TAILED FLYCATCHER. The trail passes through rainforest and patches of second growth, with several small creeks crossing the trail along the way. On our hike we found: WHITE HAWK, SHORT-BILLED PIGEON, SLATY-TAILED TROGON, WHITE-WHISKERED PUFFBIRD, PLAIN XENOPS, PLAIN ANTVIREO, RUSSET ANTSHRIKE, SEPIA-CAPPED FLYCATCHER, THRUSH-LIKE SCHIFFORNIS, RUFOUS PIHA, SPECKLED MOURNER, RED-CAPPED MANAKIN, TAWNY-CROWNED GREENLET and BLACK-FACED GROSBEAK.
After a late lunch, we walked to the Río Lacanjá for a swim and watched flocks of EASTERN KINGBIRD, VEERY and SWAINSON’S THRUSH gorging on fruits, RED-LEGGED HONEYCREEPER fighting over our heads, and an AMERICAN PYGMY KINGFISHER buzzing by.
Late in the afternoon we walked out the road from our cabins through second growth scrub finding RED-LORED PARROT, COLLARED ARACARI and CRIMSON-COLLARED TANAGER. On our walk back, in the last light of the day dozens of MISSISSIPPI KITE and CHIMNEY SWIFT glided over head with a single SWALLOW-TAILED KITE.
May 3: Bonampak, Frontera Corozal
We drove a short distance to the Bonampak ruins visitor center, ready to walk part of the 9 kilometer road to the ruins. We arrived at ~ 0640 to the visitor center parking lot and immediately found nesting YELLOW-BELLIED ELAENIA and CINNAMON BECARD. We began to walk the road and quickly found our first RUFOUS-TAILED JACAMAR. Along ~ the first 4.5 km of road we discovered: GRAY-HEADED KITE, DOUBLE-TOOTHED KITE, SCARLET MACAW, BLACK-CRESTED COQUETTE, RUFOUS MOURNER, ROYAL FLYCATCHER, WHITE-COLLARED MANAKIN, BUFF-THROATED SALTATOR and BLUE-BLACK GROSBEAK.
About halfway along the road we flagged down a car (ruins employee) and paid $10 pesos/each for a ride the rest of the way to the ruins. At the airstrip we walked west to a small ruin site and a trail leading to the Río Lacanjá through rainforest, where midday we found: GRAY-CHESTED DOVE, TODY MOTMOT, another WHITE-WHISKERED PUFFBIRD, SCALY-THROATED LEAFTOSSER and BLACK-FACED ANTTHRUSH. We returned to the main ruins, finding a SLATY-BREASTED TINAMOU just off the main route at the head of the HBFG’s ‘narrow trail 3 km to Rio Lacanja’. To return to our car back at the visitor center we paid for a shuttle bus at $25 pesos/person.
From Bonampak we headed to Frontera Corozal to book a boat trip to Yaxchilán for the next day. The store owner at Bonampak had recommended we try to book a boat trip with one of his brothers-in-law, both of whom were part of a new local society for tourism called Nueva Alianza. As we entered the town of Frontera we had no problems locating the Nueva Alianza office as there were signs for the Centro Turistico Tsol K’in “Nueva Alianza” directing us throughout (one block away from the Immigration office and Río Usumacinta). When we reached the office/restaurant/cabins/camp site, we were told we could not leave on the boat trip any earlier than 0700, however, we negotiated a return trip time of 1200 (normally their boat trips last a total of 5 hours). We paid then $700 pesos for 4 people, receiving a stamped receipt to give our boat operator the next morning. (Nueva Alianza boat trip prices: $600 pesos for 1-3 people, $700 for 4-5 people, $850 for 6-8, $950 for 9-10, prices valid until 12 December 2006).
The countryside between Bonampak & Frontera Corozal is mostly composed of cow fields, second growth and small patches of rainforest. On our return trip we stopped at some small ponds next to the road and found LEAST GREBE, NORTHERN JACANA, PLAIN CHACHALACA, RUDDY CRAKE, COMMON TODY-FLYCATCHER and COUCH’S KINGBIRD.
May 4: Yaxchilán, Lacanjá
Although we had been told we could not begin earlier than 0700, when we arrived to the Nueva Alianza office at 0645 our boatman waiting for us. Along the Río Usumacinta (35 min to Yaxchilán) we saw LITTLE BLUE HERON, BLACK-NECKED STILT, BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER and AMAZON KINGFISHER. We were the first to arrive to Yaxchilán, and we immediately hit the airstrip. Inga trees were flowering, Gumbo Limbo trees fruiting and we were welcomed by: MEALY PARROT, SCALED PIGEON, GRAY-HEADED DOVE, SCALY-BREASTED HUMMINGBIRD, BLACK-CRESTED COQUETTE, WHITE-BELLIED EMERALD, SMOKY-BROWN WOODPECKER, BLACK-CROWNED TITYRA, BLUE SEEDEATER (in bamboo thickets along the airstrip) and BLACK-COWLED ORIOLE. After the airstrip we headed to the ruins and along the short trail found GREEN-BACKED SPARROW and YELLOW-TAILED ORIOLE. Within the beautiful Yaxchilán ruins we spotted an ORNATE HAWK-EAGLE circling overhead, nesting “RIDGWAY’S” NORTHERN ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOW in the ruins, and GREEN HONEYCREEPER in the forest canopy. We entered a small trail off the east end of the ruins clearing, ignoring the ‘do not cross’ sign. A GREAT TINAMOU walked along beside us about halfway down the trail and a pair of SCARLET MACAW was seen briefly through a window in the forest canopy. We returned to climb the largest temple and were welcomed at the top by another pair of low-flying SCARLET MACAW! From the back of this structure we climbed down then followed the steep&rocky trail up to the Templos del Sur, where in the late morning heat bird activity was low. We returned to the main ruins opening, finding an OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHER on the way.
We met our boat operator at noon as we had arranged (he had waited for us the entire time) and returned to Frontera Corozal, on the way we spotted a crocodile sunning itself on the riverbank. After lunch at the Nueva Alianza restaurant we drove back to our cabins at Lacanjá, finding a nesting PLUMBEOUS KITE on the way. We spent mid-afternoon relaxing at the Río Lacanjá dock near our cabins, and late afternoon returned to the La Cascada trail. With 2 hours of daylight left we found: GRAY-HEADED DOVE, STRIPE-THROATED (LITTLE) HERMIT, another WHITE-WHISKERED PUFFBIRD, DUSKY ANTBIRD and ORANGE-BILLED SPARROW.
May 5: Bonampak, La Libertad Road
We tried the Bonampak ruins again, birding around the visitor center and along several forest trails until the shuttle buses began running at 0800 (NOTE: price for a trip to & from the ruins is $70 pesos/person, you will need to arrange a pickup time for the return trip with the shuttle bus driver). Around the parking lot and on nearby trails we found: LITTLE TINAMOU, WHITE-NECKED JACOBIN, CANIVET’S EMERALD, BLACK-FACED ANTTHRUSH, PIRATIC FLYCATCHER and LONG-BILLED GNATWREN. We arrived to the ruins at 0820 and headed again to the Río Lacanjá trail off the airstrip, finding a STREAKED FLYCATCHER on the way. New species encountered on the trail this time were: GREAT TINAMOU, PURPLE-CROWNED FAIRY, STUB-TAILED SPADEBILL, RUFOUS PIHA, WHITE-COLLARED MANAKIN and GRAY-HEADED TANAGER.
We returned to our cabins for lunch, packed up the car and returned to Palenque. While gassing up just outside of Palenque, we spotted several PALE-VENTED PIGEON on the edge of the highway. With a few hours of light left, we tried the La Libertad road looking for wetland species. There were very few wetlands around, though we did find a few wetland birds: BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING-DUCK, ROSEATE SPOONBILL, WOOD STORK, BARE-THROATED TIGER-HERON, LIMPKIN, GRAY-NECKED WOOD-RAIL and GREEN KINGFISHER.
May 6: Usumacinta Marshes, Calakmul
We left Palenque early to bird the Jonuta-Palizada road, within the Usumacinta Marshes. As per yesterday’s discovery, we found few wetlands on our route. New species discovered this day included: PINNATED BITTERN, BOAT-BILLED HERON, GLOSSY IBIS, LESSER YELLOW-HEADED VULTURE, SNAIL KITE, BLACK-COLLARED HAWK, WHITE-TAILED HAWK, LAUGHING FALCON, APLOMADO FALCON, SOLITARY SANDPIPER, YELLOW-HEADED PARROT, FORK-TAILED FLYCATCHER and GRASSLAND YELLOW-FINCH.
By late morning we returned to Hwy 186 and started driving to Calakmul. We arrived to our cabins with little daylight left and, after checking in, birded around the grounds finding: OLIVE-THROATED (AZTEC) PARAKEET, YELLOW-LORED (YUCATAN) PARROT, YUCATAN JAY, “WHITE-BROWED” CAROLINA WREN and ORANGE ORIOLE.
May 7: Calakmul
We rose early and drove to the Calakmul ruins entrance road (km 98 on the Escarcega-Chetumal highway) finding a trio of young men at a gate requesting an entrance fee for the local ejido: $40 pesos per car, plus $20 pesos per person. At kilometer marker 7 (NOTE: kilometer markers posted all along the road) we stopped to check out a small pond on our left (east), finding few birds there at sunrise. We continued to ~ km marker 21 where the road was gated by friendly Biosphere Reserve guards, we were let through after they signed us in. Immediately after the gate we found our first OCELLATED TURKEY, defending his territory in the middle of the road. This would be our first of many turkeys on this road after the Reserve gate! The hosts at our cabins had told us of another pond on the right (west) at km marker 27, so we headed there. The pond was quite dry, little water remained at the pond’s edge, though bird activity was high along a short trail around the pond: OCHRE-BELLIED FLYCATCHER, NORTHERN BENTBILL, SLATE-HEADED TODY-FLYCATCHER, TAWNY-CROWNED GREENLET, GRAY-HEADED TANAGER, BLUE BUNTING and lots of migratory warblers. We stopped at another trailhead/road on the right (west) at km 28 and walked ~ 100 meters to a small pool of water surrounded by fruiting trees with YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO, ROYAL FLYCATCHER, BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER and many other migratory warblers. Several stops along the road after km 28 produced: THICKET TINAMOU, WEDGE-TAILED SABREWING, BRIGHT-RUMPED ATTILA, GRAY-THROATED CHAT and ROSE-THROATED TANAGER.
Overall, Calakmul appeared very, very dry (especially after the lush forests of eastern Chiapas) and our observations were confirmed by a friendly INAH guard at the ruins who told us of sparse rains over the last several years. Even some of the largest local ponds (formerly full of fish, crocs, aquatic birds) had completely dried out this year. Due to the extreme dryness, we decided to cut our Calakmul visit short by one night, leaving us with one more morning of birding the area.
We explored the ruins in the strong mid-afternoon heat, climbing some of the tallest structures and enjoying a view of uninterrupted forest (save other tall ruins) for dozens of kilometers in all directions! We returned to birding by 4 pm, stopping at the pools again at kms 28 & 27, this time finding CRESTED GUAN, BRIGHT-RUMPED ATTILA, BAY-BREASTED WARBLER and many other migratory warblers. At the Reserve gate, tossed tortilla dough had attracted a small group of (dark!) WHITE-TIPPED DOVE and a tame OCELLATED TURKEY. We stopped at the pond at km 7 again just before sunset, enjoying good looks at GRAY-NECKED WOOD-RAIL, CARIBBEAN DOVE and YELLOW-LORED PARROT.
May 8: Calakmul, Usumacinta Marshes
Off to an earlier start, we found the gate to the Calakmul road void of its ejido gatekeepers. After the Reserve gate, OCELLATED TURKEY dotted the road at an almost continuous rate of 1 turkey per 500 meters. At km 43 we stopped and walked for ~ 1 km birding lusher-looking forest finding BARRED FOREST-FALCON, FERRUGINOUS PYGMY-OWL and tons of VIOLACEOUS TROGON. Shortly afterwards, we met a pair of GREAT CURASSOW on the road affording us excellent views of this beautiful species. Our last stop was at km 59 and we walked to the ruins parking lot, finding nesting YELLOW-LORED PARROT and a TROPICAL GNATCATCHER. The bird activity at the ruins today was unsurprisingly higher at 0900 vs 1 pm the previous day. Within the ruins we found CRESTED GUAN, BARRED FOREST-FALCON, BAT FALCON, OLIVACEOUS WOODCREEPER, EYE-RINGED FLATBILL, MANGROVE VIREO and BLACK-THROATED SHRIKE-TANAGER.
We left Calakmul at 1130 and headed back towards Palenque. En route we tried birding the Balancan road, once again looking for wetland species in the very dry Usumacinta Marshes. We found essentially the same species encountered on the Jonuta-Palizada road two days earlier, save great looks at several DOUBLE-STRIPED THICK-KNEE.
May 9: Palenque, San Manuel Road
We birded the Palenque ruins again, at 0630 walking from the ruins parking lot down to the La Cascada trailhead. On the way we had great looks at a male DUSKY ANTBIRD, and heard SPOTTED WOOD-QUAIL and a far-off GREAT ANTSHRIKE. On the La Cascada trail for the second time we found COLLARED FOREST-FALCON, GRAY-CHESTED DOVE, RUDDY QUAIL-DOVE, SLATY-TAILED TROGON, BLACK-FACED ANTTHRUSH and OLIVE-BACKED EUPHONIA. We tried birding the narrow rainforest trail across from the museum again, though the heat of the day began very early and bird activity dropped quickly.
After a much needed midday break, we headed to the San Manuel road lookout south of Palenque, scouting for the next morning. At 4:30 pm there was not much birding to be had, although the fruiting bushes around the pullout did produce a near heat-stroked THICK-BILLED SEED-FINCH.
May 10: San Manuel Road
We spent our last morning birding the San Manuel road lookout, and a little beyond. We arrived to the pullout at 0630, traffic was mild, and bird activity was surprisingly low. It appeared to be the beginning of another scorching day. The fruiting bushes around the pullout produced COLLARED ARACARI, BUFF-THROATED SALTATOR, BLACK-FACED GROSBEAK and GREEN-BACKED SPARROW. At the cement lookout a little further up the road we found GOLDEN-HOODED TANAGER and BANANAQUIT. We drove further south stopping at various pullouts between kms 40 and 42, taking small trails into the adjacent second growth/plantations. Along these trails we found: LITTLE TINAMOU, STRIPE-THROATED (LITTLE) HERMIT, COLLARED TROGON, RED-CAPPED MANAKIN, GREEN HONEYCREEPER and CHESTNUT-HEADED OROPENDOLA. Our last stops were to the pullout again and down the San Manuel road, trying one last time for Lovely Cotinga or a possible Shining Honeycreeper, neither of which we found. Not that any of us need an excuse to come back to visit the humid southeast!
Great Blue Heron
Little Blue Heron
Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture
American Pygmy Kingfisher
Great Crested Flycatcher
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Black-throated Green Warbler