|Pyramid of Kukulkan, Chichen Itza|
I just got back from a week-long family vacation to the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. It was not primarily a birding trip, but with one morning with a guide and plenty of incidental sightings, I saw 108 species, 40 lifers (in bold), and 5 Yucatan endemics.
We started off the trip in Akumal, a town towards the south end of what is now referred to as the "Mayan Riviera," a tourist area on the northeast coast of the peninsula, on the Caribbean Sea. It is bordered to the north by the city of Cancun, and to the south by the gigantic Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve, a world heritage site. On the way south from Cancun airport, I picked up what would turn out to be the most common birds of the trip: Great-tailed Grackles, both Vultures, Eurasian Collared Doves, and my first lifer, Tropical Mockingbirds. For the rest of the day, I birded a bit around the hotel grounds, and went snorkeling in Akumal Bay, which is famous for its large population of Green Sea Turtles (I saw two, and a couple of stingrays as well). The birds were good, highlighted by multiple Hooded Orioles, Social Flycatchers, Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, Melodious Blackbirds, waterbirds like Brown Pelicans, Frigatebirds, and Royal Terns, and migrants, such as Yellow Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler, and White-eyed Vireo.
|The Temple of Warriors|
|The Astronomical Observatory|
|The Ball Court|
We spent the next day not in a bureaucratic nightmare in Cancun but in the seaside ruins of the Mayan city of Tulum. Tulum is smaller and less important historically than Chichen Itza, but its beautiful location over the Caribbean Sea makes it an impressive spot.
Unsurprisingly, there were birds as well, including the usual suspects, both land and sea, as well as Yellow-throated Euphonias, Palm Warblers, a Northern Waterthrush, Cave and Rough-winged Swallows. The latter are of the "Ridgeway's" subspecies, which is endemic to the peninsula and may someday be considered a full species. The two best birds came just as we were leaving. I first spotted a pair of Aztec Parakeets in a tree just of the trail, and we got good looks at them. Then, just outside of the ruins, there was a Yucatan Vireo, a distinctive endemic that resembles a larger and much browner version of the familiar Red-eyed Vireo.
|A Beach in Tulum|
|Birding the village of Muyil|
|Those two blobs are the owls. If you look closely, you can see the false eyespots on the left bird-- that is actually the back of its head.|
|Returning after a glimpse of the trogon|
|This is one of a few female Ant-Tanagers that approached us to with arms-length|
The next part of the tour began at a different part of Sian Ka'an. While we were preparing to go on the boat trip, it started pouring, so we took shelter in a small hut with a group of park employees (a somewhat less formal job in Mexico that seemed to consist of hanging out and chatting). When the rain finally stopped, we departed, with Antonio, his brother Pastor, and a fellow tourist, Sasha, from Britain. The Yucatan has very few lakes, but near Muyil there are three very large freshwater lagoons, connected by a canal built by the Mayans, and joined to the ocean (5+ miles away) by a meandering, mangrove-lined river through a wet savanna habitat very reminiscent of the Everglades.
|Our shelter from the storm|
We then entered the floating portion of the tour, where we got out of the boat and swam/floated on our own a ways down the river with Pastor, while Antonio stayed back with the boat. It was here that I, somewhat unexpectedly, saw two of the best birds of the trip. First, we heard an odd, gutteral series of hoots/coos/groans. I should have realized what they were, but was thinking along the wrong lines: I thought it was a waterbird until Pastor, who also seemed suprised, said "Mangrove Cuckoo." Sure enough, the bird, known for being virtually impossible to locate in the U.S., quickly popped into view in a mangrove, less than ten feet away. As we floated by, we got what might be the best possible looks at a Mangrove Cuckoo, even without binoculars. A little ways further on, we flushed a small bird with white corners on its tail as it flew away. It landed right next to the water, and we got an awesome look at an American Pygmy Kingfisher, a diminutive gem colored in bright green and rust-orange. Two great lifers, in a part of the trip where I didn't expect to see any birds, was a huge bonus, and brought the day life bird total up to 20!
|Muyil Lagoon in Sian Ka'an|
Unfortunately, that was about it for birding for the trip. I did see a couple of Sandwich Terns and a White Ibis at the resort, but it was mostly devoid of new birds. That was ok though, I had plenty to distract me, including tennis, windsurfing, kayaking, archery, eating as much as possible ("We've already paid for it all! If we don't eat very much, we're being ripped off!), and other typical tropical resort actives.
|Windsurfing is hard!|