I haven't done any birding blog posts in quite a long time. We just returned from the Yucatan and I thought it was a good opportunity to resume. We were there from November 16 to the 24. I am going to combine days when we did little birding due to travel, or we did some cultural stuff.
We arrived in Cancun just after noon on November 16. Our plan was to meet up with one of our favorite birding friends, actually favorite friends period, Dan Peak, grab a rental car and head to Cozumel to bird for at least part of the afternoon. One thing you learn in the tropics is to slow down, take a breath, and be very flexible. I won't go into detail, but we really should have checked to see if there was more than one terminal at the Cancun airport! Finding Dan took a little extra time, picking up the rental car took a LOT of extra time. By the time we left the airport, drove south and arrived at the ferry in Playa del Carmen, it was late afternoon. We did see my first life bird of the trip, Yucatan Jay, flying into a tree out side of town. Our only birding was at the ferry dock, where we had just a handful of terns, gulls and Magnificent Frigatebirds.
I had expected to do some sea birding from the ferry. The trip across to Cozumel is about 18 kilometers. Surely a few birds fly by. They probably do, but seeing them is not easily done. The ferry has benches and you can not get up and stand at the railing. It also started getting dark as we were going across. Instead of being entertained by dolphins on the bow wave and birds zipping by, we had to settle for a two ferry workers with a tape recorder and a cow bell, singing up front. The young man was very enthusiastic and not a bad singer. The Mexican passengers sang along. It was actually pretty entertaining. We were treated to a gorgeous full moon rise on the way.
We had a few more minor mishaps involving our original hotel, Hacienda San Miguel, which was flooded due to heavy rains earlier in the week. They moved us to their sister property, Vista del Mar, giving us sea view rooms. The rooms were fine, though being on the strip was a little noisy. The shower was wonderful. (This is a big deal to me.)
Now for the birding! We left at about 600AM. It was already light. We drove to an abandoned housing development mentioned in Steve Howell's book, A Bird Finding Guide to Mexico. This site was much better than I expected! This development was abandoned years ago and the forest has taken it back. The roads are still in decent shape, so it is the best of both worlds. . Because of its isolation as an island, Cozumel has a few endemic species and sub-species, not found anywhere else. It also is a good place to get Caribbean birds. We were the most interested in any bird with Cozumel in the name, Cozumel Vireo, Cozumel Emerald, a hummingbird, and Cozumel Thrasher, which unfortunately, is probably extinct. There is also a wren, Cozumel House Wren, which is possibly going to be split in the future from House Wren.
We found a fruiting tree and started racking up the species. I thought Black Catbird could be a problem, as they can be skulkers. Wrong! They were everywhere. They were joined by a pair of Western Spindalis, another new bird for me. Lots of warblers were in and out, padding my Mexico list with birds we normally see in Texas. A pair of Yucatan Woodpeckers were down the road, loudly calling. Yellow-lored Parrots, also called Yucatan Parrot, called and flew over. Yellow Warblers, of the golden sub-species, were in and out. We tore ourselves away and started driving side roads. Martin spotted a Cozumel Vireo, which is a really different looking vireo, similar to a Cassin's Vireo, but much browner. We also had Yucatan Vireo, which looks like a Red-eyed Vireo on steroids, along with the Cozumel sub-species of Bananaquit, Rufous-browed Pepper-shrike and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. We had no luck with the hummingbird or the wren.
We drove back into town, and headed north to the country club, which is supposed to be good for the hummingbird. We drove in and found a patch of promising looking flowers by the parking lot. I flushed a Common Paraque, and we found more warblers. A hummingbird darted in and we got decent looks at the Cozumel Emerald. I also got a terrible photo! On the way back to town we stopped along the way and saw quite a few birds in the woods by the side of the road.
We still needed the wren and were torn about what to do. We had a bit of a drive to our next location, after the ferry ride, and were not sure if we wanted to do it in the dark. We decided to keep birding and take the gamble. We drove out towards a set of Mayan ruins in the center of the island, which is known as a birding site, but when we turned down the road, it was really rough and the forest was cut well back, making it difficult to bird. We decided to go back to the abandoned housing development. Driving in we passed a stable with a group of carriages parked off the road. It was really scrubby and looked like a good spot for a wren. Sure enough, we were able to "pish" one out, so the gamble paid off.
The ferry departed at 500PM. We were, again, confined to the benches, so there was no birding. The same couple played the tape recorder and sang with the cow bell. Adding to the experience on the way back were the numerous very inebriated American passengers. What is it in tequila that makes people think they are fabulous dancers, even confined to narrow benches? We got back to Playa del Carmen, went to pick up our rental car with only a small incident with the key. (Note: if you rent a car in Cancun, you can't take it to Cozumel, even on the car ferry. There are secure parking lots in Playa del Carmen, where you can park. You can rent a car in Cozumel very cheaply. I recommend Isis. They have great reviews. We were quite happy.)
We had an uneventful, though rather slow drive to Felipe Carillo Puerto, where we checked into our hotel, El Faisan y El Venado, a decent clean hotel with an ok restaurant.
Bird List in reverse taxonomical order. (Sorry about that. I have some new birding software I can't figure out!)
PAINTED BUNTING -
BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLER
COZUMEL HOUSE WREN
LITTLE BLUE HERON
Playa del Carmen
TURKEY VULTURE GREAT EGRET