Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Yucatan, Should I Stay or Should I Go? Felipe Carrillo Puerto to Calakmul

We had a long day ahead. We were moving south, almost to the border of Belize, and then west to Calakmul. Despite the longish drive, we decided to give Vigia Chico Road another shot. Before we left, Dan ran across the street from the hotel to grab a cup of coffee and brought me a cup of fresh squeezed orange juice. I can't say enough about how good orange juice can be in the tropics!

We decided to work for the Black-throated (Yucatan) Bobwhite in the scrubby fields at the start of the road. We heard a few calls and walked out on a dirt road through one of the fields. Martin whistled a few times, but got no response. Despite the lack of visible quail, we really enjoyed the field. There was a lot of "blue", Blue Buntings, Blue Grosbeaks and Indigo Buntings. Orioles were abundant. We had been looking for Orange Orioles, but had only seen Altamira's and Hoodeds. Finally, a group of three birds flew around us. Martin was concentrating on photographing something, probably dragonflies, and didn't see them. Dan and I both saw the birds had orange backs, one of the distinguishing field marks and less extensive markings on the face. We also had a Black-cowled Oriole, which was new for me.

At this point we started the discussion about what to do next. Should we continue down the road, or cut out and drive to Calakmul and try to maximize our birding there? Dan and I voted to go, but Martin wanted to stay a bit longer. Martin was driving, so we stayed. We drove on and found a few birds, including a Golden-olive Woodpecker. There was a another Gray-throated Chat and a few other nice birds, but it seemed slower than the day before. We finally all agreed it was time to go.

We started south, driving to Chetumal, where you can cross the border into Belize. We kidded around about crossing over to get our passports stamped, but decided it probably wasn't a good idea. Anyway, I am boycotting Belize because of their anti-gay laws. We turned west and headed to the Campeche province. Our base of operations was in the town of Xpujil, at the Hotel Calakmul. Neither Dan nor I could get the hang of pronouncing Xpujil. That X threw us for a loop. By the time we left, a day and half later, we sort of had it, but probably not quite. As we entered town there was a fabulous statue of a very strong looking woman. I have had no luck finding out who she is, but she looks like she could kick your butt!
We checked into our hotel, which was great, by the way. It was immaculately clean, very comfortable and had a beautiful sparkling pool, with the best pool rules ever. (See my photos for the day.) We got our things settled in and jumped back in the car for the drive to Reserva de la Biosfera Calakmul.

When we talked about going to the Yucatan and I started doing research, Calakmul captured my imagination so throughly I really pushed to visit. It was way out of our way, but I just had to go. This is an area that is not well known to most Americans. The biosphere is massive, covering almost 15% of the state of Campeche. It is the site of the ancient Mayan city of Calakmul, an archaeological site comparable to Tikal in Guatemala, with 7,200 rements. The ruins are still mostly buried in the jungle, unlike the manicured Chichen Itza. The jungle holds five species of wild cats, including Jaguar, and well over 200 species of birds. Unfortunately, it is also very remote. The entrance road is 59 kilometers from Xpujil. After you turn on that road it is 20 kilometers to the first gate, then you drive another 40 kilometer to reach the ruins. The good part is the forest begins almost immediately after turning off of the highway. There is a lodge near the entrance gate, but it is very pricey, so we chose to drive from Xpujil.

We reached the turn off and found of local people manning a gate. They charged us an entrance fee and told us that gate is open all of the time. We turned in and started birding immediately. It was like the road at Felipe Carrillo Puerto; it was difficult to decide when to stop, as we were always wondering if it might be a bit better further on. We also wanted to make good use of the time scouting for the next day. The road was excellent, raised and dry. We had an agouti run across the road in front of us, so we stopped and hoped some predator would be chasing after it, but no. He was safe. We also found a Yucatan Squirrel. Then we had a wonderful surprise; a Great Currasow ran in front of the car! That was a very much wanted bird. We pushed on to the second gate, arriving right at 3:00PM, when the museum closes. We talked with the workers, who appeared to live there. They said there were Ocellated Turkeys behind the museum. We went back and one was walking around like a farm yard chicken, extremely tame and eating grain they threw out for it. It always seems a bit sleazy counting a bird like that, but I took it!

We worked our way back, birding along the way. A really awesome tarantula skittered across the road in front of the car. I was able to get some decent photos of it. A friend IDed it as a male Brachypelma epicureanum. We also had our best looks yet at Yucatan Jays, with a flock of adults and juveniles perching right by the road.  We got the main road, and headed back to the hotel. Dan took a quick swim before dinner, making me regret not bringing a swimming suit.

Here are my photos for the day-

Bird list-
Road to Calakmul

Yellow-throated Euphonia      
Summer Tanager                
Black-throated Green Warbler  
Magnolia Warbler              
Black-and-white Warbler       
Wood Thrush                   
White-bellied Wren            
Yucatan Jay                   
Yellow-throated Vireo         
Great Crested Flycatcher      
Eastern Wood-Pewee            
Yellow-olive Flycatcher       
Northern Bentbill             
Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet 
Keel-billed Toucan            
Wedge-tailed Sabrewing        
Squirrel Cuckoo               
Roadside Hawk                 
Ocellated Turkey              
Great Curassow 
Felipe Carrillo Puerto

Plain Chachalaca              
Yellow-billed Cacique         
Orange Oriole                 
Yellow-tailed Oriole          
Black-cowled Oriole           
Great-tailed Grackle          
Melodious Blackbird           
Indigo Bunting                
Blue Grosbeak                 
Blue Bunting                  
Northern Cardinal             
Green-backed Sparrow          
Black-headed Saltator         
Thick-billed Seed-Finch     
White-collared Seedeater      
American Redstart             
Hooded Warbler                
Tropical Mockingbird          
Gray Catbird                  
Spot-breasted Wren            
Brown Jay                     
Mangrove Vireo                
White-eyed Vireo              
Masked Tityra                 
Couch's Kingbird              
Tropical Kingbird             
Social Flycatcher             
Barred Antshrike              
White-fronted Parrot          
White-crowned Parrot          
Olive-throated Parakeet       
Pale-billed Woodpecker        
Smoky-brown Woodpecker        
Ladder-backed Woodpecker      
Collared Aracari              
Cinnamon Hummingbird          
Buff-bellied Hummingbird      
Canivet's Emerald             
Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl         
Groove-billed Ani             
Ruddy Ground-Dove             
Common Ground-Dove            
Eurasian Collared-Dove        
Rock Pigeon                   
Short-tailed Hawk             
Turkey Vulture                
Black Vulture                 
Cattle Egret                  
Snowy Egret                   
Black-throated Bobwhite - heard only       

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