Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Last Day of BIrding. Have the Pancakes!

After returning from Rio Lagartos, we sat at dinner and discussed what we should do on our last day. It was the one day we left open, thinking we could return to the coast or try and find someplace close to Cancun. I suggested we visit Coba, a small near by city with a lake known in the past for having Spotted Rail and a great archaeological site set back in the jungle. Martin and Dan said it sounded good to them, so a plan was made.

We got up and left the hotel, a bit regretfully, I will say. We drove to Coba and scanned the lake, which the town is built around. There was some flooding going on. Several low lying businesses were partially underwater. It didn't look promising for rails at all, but we thought we would give it a go anyway.  We were a bit hungry and Dan and I were craving coffee, so we stopped at a restaurant next to the lake. The waiter told us they opened at 8:00AM, which wasn't too long. We said we would be back. We drove around the lake as far as we could, until flood waters were too deep. Both a Ringed and Belted Kingfisher were hunting from utility wires over the lake. The lake itself was almost devoid of water fowl. In fact, there were no ducks at all, only some Pied-billed Grebes.

Where we ran out of dry road had a small group of trees and some tall grasses in the water. We started scanning the trees and Martin found a female Cape May Warbler. I discovered a great looking lizard with a very long tail. Some friends identified it as a young Basilisk. Martin had moved down to the end of the grasses looking for dragonflies. Suddenly he started waving for us to come over. There was a Ruddy Crake working through the grasses. Crakes are almost always tough to see, but this one was semi-cooperative. We even got a few pictures. Then we saw another one and heard a third. A Limpkin strolled by. It was 8:00AM so we decided to celebrate with breakfast.

We drove back to the restaurant and parked the car. We went in only to find out they actually don't serve breakfast until 9:00AM. The 8:00AM opening was for the ruins, which, unknown to us, were right behind the restaurant. We decided to go to the ruins and come back out at 9:00AM. As we were preparing to go in tourists started to arrive, but not in huge numbers. We passed the souvenir vendors, who were also selling things for "almost free." We purchased tickets and walked in. It was a bit of a walk to get to the ruins. As we passed through the trees we came to a huge lot with hundreds of bicycles and pedi-cabs. This was rather disconcerting. How many people were they expecting?

We walked further in and the ruins were great! They are very similar to the ones at Calakmul, buried in the forest. There was a really cool structure with huge stone rings on either side, that I assume was a game court. The pyramid was awesome. We quickly found Yellow-throated Euphonias and a stunning Gartered Trogon. I found a couple of butterflies, including a Ruddy Daggerwing. It was finally 9:00AM, so we decided to go eat and then return.

We sat down and ordered breakfast. Dan and Martin got Huevos Mexicanos, but I am not all that crazy about eggs, so I ordered pancakes. They both looked at me like I was silly for getting pancakes in Mexico, but boy, were they wrong. The waiter brought our food and as soon as he sat mine in front of me Martin said "Those pancakes smell incredibly nice!" They were incredibly nice. I am not sure what they do to them, but they were the best pancakes I have ever eaten. They were yellowish, and I suspect they had corn in them. They were naturally sweet. I gave Dan and Martin both a bite and they were very jealous!

After we ate we went back into the ruins. Martin wasn't feeling very well and didn't want to walk a long way, so we agreed to meet at the restaurant at about 11:30AM. Dan and I took off to see some structures about a kilometer away from the entrance. We got about half way there when we heard a lot of jays calling down low. There was an ant swarm. Ant Tanagers were all over the ground. Ivory-billed, Olivaceous , and Ruddy-winged Woodcreepers were on the trees. We worked the flock for a bit and then took off walking to the ruins. I got about a city block down the path, when I realized I couldn't leave that ant swarm. I told Dan I was going back and would meet him later.

As I started back, I saw some movement on the forest floor next to the path. A White-nosed Coati scrambled up one of the trees and sat on a branch looking at me nervously. I have seen Coatis before, but I was still excited. I looked up and a family with two kids were approaching in a pedi-cab. I called out "Coati!" to them and pointed up in the tree, but they were not interested at all and didn't even answer. They probably thought I was crazy. All I know is that when I was a kid I would have freaked out seeing a Coati.

I got back to the ant swarm and the birds were still very active. A number of flycatchers were moving in the tree tops. Dan came back fairly quickly and we spotted an Eye-ringed Flatbill, a flycatcher. A Bright-rumped Attila came in for a few seconds. Even though there were no new birds, it was still so much fun to watch. It was getting close to the time we were supposed to meet Martin, so we headed back. We hadn't gone far when we noticed a young man kneeling down taking photos of something on a tree trunk. Of course we had to look. It was one of the creepiest things I have ever seen! A flat mass of huge caterpillars arranged in a large oval, tail to tail. Their mouths were moving. I took a short video of it. It doesn't even begin to show the shivery creepiness of it.
video

 Martin was sitting at a table in the restaurant. I was surprised he didn't have a plate of pancakes in front of him, instead of just a Coke Zero. We all had a drink and then headed back out to bird. We worked the roads above the lake. I took a few butterfly photos. We saw a few birds, but it was getting really hot. We found a different restaurant with a "Mayan" buffet. The restaurant was packed with people from tour buses, probably from cruise ships, but with it being a buffet, we didn't have to wait. The food was actually quite good. We had a bit of a drive back to Cancun, so we decided to wrap things up and head back.

This trip was so much fun! I highly recommend the Yucatan. There are enough wild areas left for it to feel exotic and to see plenty of things you won't see at home. It is easy to get there. It is easy to get around. We did everything with a regular car, an SUV was not needed. The food is so good. You can find reasonably priced hotels if you get out of the tourist areas. There are not the safety issues you have in other parts of Mexico. The people were wonderful! This would be a great first trip to the tropics. If you have any questions please let me know. Thanks for sharing our trip. I can't wait for the next one!

Photos-
http://www.flickr.com/photos/sngcanary/sets/72157638365698434/

Bird List-
Yellow-throated Euphonia      
Orange Oriole                 
Yellow-tailed Oriole          
Great-tailed Grackle          
Melodious Blackbird           
Gray-throated Chat            
Red-throated Ant-Tanager      
Red-crowned Ant-Tanager       
Summer Tanager                
Rose-throated Tanager         
Black-headed Saltator         
Black-throated Green Warbler  
Magnolia Warbler              
Northern Parula               
Cape May Warbler              
American Redstart             
Hooded Warbler                
Common Yellowthroat           
Tennessee Warbler             
Black-and-white Warbler       
Tropical Mockingbird          
Tropical Gnatcatcher          
White-bellied Wren            
Spot-breasted Wren            
Yucatan Jay                   
Green Jay                     
Yellow-throated Vireo         
White-eyed Vireo              
Rose-throated Becard          
Masked Tityra                 
Tropical Kingbird             
Social Flycatcher             
Great Kiskadee                
Bright-rumped Attila          
Eye-ringed Flatbill           
Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet 
Ivory-billed Woodcreeper      
Tawny-winged Woodcreeper      
Olivaceous Woodcreeper        
Pale-billed Woodpecker        
Golden-olive Woodpecker       
Belted Kingfisher             
Ringed Kingfisher             
Gartered Trogon               
White-bellied Emerald         
Wedge-tailed Sabrewing        
Squirrel Cuckoo               
White-winged Dove             
Eurasian Collared-Dove        
Rock Pigeon                   
Ruddy Crake                   
Roadside Hawk                 
Turkey Vulture                
Black Vulture                 
Green Heron                   
Cattle Egret                  
Little Blue Heron             
Snowy Egret                   
Great Egret                   
Great Blue Heron              
Pied-billed Grebe             


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A Bit of Tourism, Then Back to Birding.

We had a bit of trip north on this day. We had decided to relax a bit and leave at about 9:00AM, but I still was compelled to do some birding around the hotel. A White-bellied Emerald was visiting the flame tree by the parking lot. Blue-gray Tanagers and a few other birds came into a fruiting tree behind the building next door. I got a couple of photos of a juvenile Gray Hawk across the road. After a breakfast of eggs with hotdogs (I really need to work on my Spanish!) and a fabulous glass of fresh squeezed orange juice, we took off.

This was our day to visit Chichen Itza. Since this is a birding blog, I won't go into great detail, but I will say it was pretty spectacular. I was put off by the gauntlets of vendors all promising that their kitschy goods were almost free. It was a bit crowded, which I expected. On a positive note, I felt like the open grounds were probably more like what the original inhabitants experienced. I did feel like the constant hawking of souvenirs on the actual grounds seemed disrespectful.

We left and drove to Valladolid and our hotel, Meson del Marques. Vallodolid is centrally located and is a good jumping off point for Rio Lagarto, our next birding stop. The hotel was an amazing surprise! I highly recommend it. The atmosphere is wonderful. Our rooms were beautiful. The restaurant was fabulous, with amazingly cheap prices and fabulous margaritas.  Unfortunately we arrived and left in the dark both days, so I never got to see it in daylight.

Morning came too soon. The drive to Rio Lagartos, which is on the coast, was uneventful, with a few Road-side and Gray Hawks. We came to our first stop, a road leading to Los Colorados. We got out of the car and Dan said he had a hawk. We turned to see a slate gray bird with a longish tail, unlike any hawks we had seen. Martin was thrilled beyond words, it was his long-time nemesis, the Crane Hawk. He had been in its range dozens of times, but had never been able to see one. He was able to take some diagnostic photos. It is always nice to get a "tart's tic" as they call it in the UK out of the way. It was a life bird for both Dan and me, also!

We quickly found a pair of Yucatan Wrens in the bushes near the road. A Vermilion Flycatcher sallied back and forth from a perch in the pasture. We moved down the road, searching for hummingbirds. Our main target was the Mexican Sheartail, which are fairly common in this area. We checked all of the flowering shrubs, but came up short. We also listened for Yucatan Bobwhite and Lesser Roadrunner, but again had no luck. We did see quite a few warblers and vireos working the shrubby woods along the road. I always wonder if I have ever seen any of the birds I am looking at before in Texas. I know the chances are infinitesimally small, but it is still fun to speculate.

We decided to drive into town, as we had read the sheartails can be found feeding in gardens there. Rio Lagartos is a small town, best known as a place to see American Flamingos. This usually involves a local guide taking you out in a boat. We have already seen flamingos, including one on the Texas coast that was banded as a youngster in the Rio Lagartos area, so we decided to pass. Driving into town it was obvious we didn't come from those parts. To be blunt, Martin is the whitest man in North America, with his blond hair and very fair English skin. We stood out like sore thumbs. Immediately guys on motorbike pulled up along the car offering boat trips. We politely declined and they would smile and speed off. We cruised around looking for flowers and didn't have any success finding the hummingbird. As we were driving out I noticed what I thought was a plastic flamingo in a swamp behind some houses. I yelled "Stop! Flamingo!" and we backed up. Sure enough about six were working the wet land. The owner of one of the houses motioned for us to go back and get a closer look, which we did. Martin slipped a guy a few pesos in thanks, which made the guy laugh.

We drove the opposite direction on the road we had birded earlier. We found quite a few flowers along the road and along with them, some hummingbirds. Most of what we were seeing were Ruby-throats, but we finally found our target, a female Mexican Sheartail. We were very happy, to say the least. We also discovered a Great Black Hawk perched. A Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture flew overhead. Our best find, though, wasn't a bird. A car stopped on the opposite side of the road and a very enthusiastic group of local birders jumped out.  They were with Yucatan Jay Valladolid Birding and were scouting for a birding festival, being held the following day. We had a great time visiting with them. The work with local Mayan groups trying to raise awareness of the wonderful birds in the Yucatan. They gave us advice on where to look for birds. We all left with huge smiles on our faces. They have a Facebook page. Check it out!

It was lunch time, so we went back into town. We went to a restaurant we had seen advertised, only to find it was closed. A young man, Diego, one of the guides for the flamingo trips, told us to follow him and he would take us to a different place with good food. We took him up on it. The restaurant was right on the water and we enjoyed terns, skimmers and gulls flying by. During lunch we saw a couple more flamingos across the bay. We pointed them out to a young couple and discovered the young man was from St. Auburns, right next door to where Martin grew up in England.

Diego told Martin he knew where a Mexican Sheartail nest was, so after we ate we followed him there. A nest with two hummingbird chicks was stuck on top of a light fixture hanging in front of a door to a small house. We stood across the street, so as to not disturb them and to make sure the mother felt free to come and go. Soon she arrived, perching on a phone wire over the street. She then flew in, feeding the two young birds. We certainly had not expected this when we started out in the morning. My new camera has a great zoom, so I was even able to get some photos.

We headed back to the Los Colorados Road to look for Lesser Roadrunner and Yucatan Bobwhite. There is a turn off to San Salvador, a decent dirt road. It was supposed to be a good area for the hummingbird, and we still wanted to see a male. We saw a few birds, including a couple of birds we flushed out of the grass that were certainly bobwhite. A beautiful Laughing Falcon perched up cooperatively. We came to a turn off and a man road up on a horse. He seemed agitated and in pain. Our Spanish is not always the best, but we finally gathered that he was injured and needed help. He asked that we drive back about a mile to a ranch house and let them know he was hurt. We took off and were about half way there, when two Yucatan Bobwhites strolled out on the road. We braked, but only stopped for a couple of seconds. We arrived at the ranch house and the communication problems started again. Martin was trying very hard to get them to understand. He usually does a great job, but this time they just weren't getting it. Finally I blurted out "El Caballero necesita ayuda! I am not sure that was grammatically correct, but they got the idea. We pointed them in the right direction and they tore out. Thank you Rosetta Stone!

We moved on, driving down to the beach at Los Colorados. We saw scads of flamingos along the way. We arrived at the beach in late afternoon and immediately found an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull. I also found a friend, a darling five year old boy named Liam. I was actually able to carry on a bit of a conversation with him. He is going to be a heart-breaker someday. His mom came down and talked to us, as we watched fishermen bring their catch in for the day, including a huge pail of octopus. We had a long drive back to Valladolid, so we said goodbye to Liam and started back. As dusk was falling I noticed a bird on a snag in the middle of a field. We stopped and scored a Barn Owl.

Photos from the day-www.flickr.com/photos/sngcanary/sets/72157638334982335

Bird list-
Altamira Oriole              
Orange Oriole                
Orchard Oriole               
Great-tailed Grackle         
Melodious Blackbird          
Indigo Bunting               
Blue Grosbeak                
White-collared Seedeater     
Black-throated Green Warbler 
Yellow Warbler               
Northern Parula              
American Redstart            
Common Yellowthroat          
Northern Waterthrush         
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher        
Yucatan Wren                 
Mangrove Swallow             
White-eyed Vireo             
Rose-throated Becard         
Masked Tityra                
Couch's Kingbird             
Tropical Kingbird            
Social Flycatcher            
Great Kiskadee               
Vermilion Flycatcher         
Least Flycatcher             
Peregrine Falcon             
Merlin                       
American Kestrel             
Laughing Falcon              
Crested Caracara             
Belted Kingfisher            
Cinnamon Hummingbird         
Canivet's Emerald            
Ruby-throated Hummingbird    
Mexican Sheartail            
Barn Owl                     
Groove-billed Ani            
Black-billed Cuckoo          
Mangrove Cuckoo              
Ruddy Ground-Dove            
Common Ground-Dove           
White-winged Dove            
Eurasian Collared-Dove       
Rock Pigeon                  
Black Skimmer                
Sandwich Tern                
Royal Tern                   
Forster's Tern               
Common Tern                  
Caspian Tern                 
Lesser Black-backed Gull     
Herring Gull                 
Laughing Gull                
Western Sandpiper            
Sanderling                   
Stilt Sandpiper              
Ruddy Turnstone              
Lesser Yellowlegs            
Willet                       
Greater Yellowlegs           
Northern Jacana              
Killdeer                     
Black-bellied Plover         
American Avocet
Black-necked Stilt           
Short-tailed Hawk            
Gray Hawk                    
Roadside Hawk                
Great Black-Hawk             
Crane Hawk                   
Osprey                       
Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture 
Turkey Vulture               
Black Vulture                
Roseate Spoonbill            
White Ibis                   
Green Heron                  
Cattle Egret                 
Reddish Egret                
Tricolored Heron             
Little Blue Heron            
Great Egret                  
Brown Pelican                
American White Pelican       
Double-crested Cormorant     
Neotropic Cormorant          
Magnificent Frigatebird      
Wood Stork                   
American Flamingo            
Black-throated Bobwhite      
Blue-winged Teal            

Monday, December 2, 2013

Calakmul. The Road to Ruins.


We had to get up very early to reach the gates to Calakmul before dawn. I think we left the hotel at about 4:30AM and arrived at the first gate a bit after 5:00AM. Even though it was very early for birds, with sunrise not until 6:00AM, this would maximize our opportunity to see mammals, with any of the cats being very high on our want list.  The bio-reserve is the best possible place to see Jaguar. The gate was open and we drove in.

We hadn't gotten 100 yards down the road when our first mammals crossed the road, a pair of Raccoons. Of course they are super common in Texas, but still, mammals are always fun! We drove a bit further and spotted eye glow. We eased up and saw a rabbit, probably an Eastern Cottontail. Guess who also lives in Texas? The next two sets of bright eyes were night birds, a Common Paraque and a Yucatan Poorwill. At least the poorwill isn't in Texas! We pushed on and as it got light we turned a corner and there in the middle of the road was a Gray Fox! Even though they live in Texas, I was still excited. I don't see fox very often. A couple of Great Currasows ran in front of us, allowing me one really awful photo.

We heard several eerie sounding whistles, Slaty-breasted Tinamous! Timamous are notoriously difficult to see. Their calls echo in the forest, but almost all looks, when you get one at all, is a tail end disappearing into the forest. They walk through the forest, camouflaged incredibly well. There were probably four or five calling and they sounded very close. Martin whistled back and one seemed to be coming closer. We peered into the dark forest, but didn't even have a glimpse. Martin whistled again and the bird seemed to be even closer. After several back and forths we gasped when the bird walked into full view! We were incredibly lucky. There were high fives all around and we got back in the car.

We arrived at the second gate and stopped to pay our fee. We heard hammering and saw a beautiful Pale-billed Woodpecker on a pole. The Ocellated Turkeys were still wandering around.  Now came the long slog to the ruins. The forest had been good up to this point. It became even better. All along the road flocks of Brown Jays flew up yelling. It sounded like they were announcing us, "CAR! CAR! CAR!" We had more Yucatan Jays, with their 1960s powder blue tuxedo wings. Much of the woods was flooded; we wanted dry ground, hoping for ant swarms. As we got further in we finally found a small swarm. Both Red-throated and Red-crowned Ant-tanagers were in attendance. We had several species of wood-creepers. The swarm was small and we decided to move on to try and find more.

video
We finally arrived at the site of the ruins. We started down the path towards the main temple and saw something amazing. An ant swarm was moving across the path, with the ants so thick it looked like smoke. We checked for birds, but didn't find any, but the swarm itself was stunning. None of us had ever seen one like it. I was able to get a quick video clip.







Calakmul is not one of the manicured archaeological sites. The pyramid and other structures rise right out of the jungle. We walked through moss draped trees and came face to face with a huge imposing temple. One of the nice things about Calakmul is that you are allowed to climb the structures. Unfortunately, my knees and sense of balance kept me from doing so. Dan climbed up and had incredible views of unbroken forest as far as he could see. I found it difficult to tear my eyes away from the tree draped structures and look for birds.

On the walk in we had passed a small lake. Martin was lusting after dragonflies, so he went back and Dan and I agreed to meet him a bit later. We wandered around and I found what was almost my bird of the day, a beautiful male Golden-winged Warbler, which is considered rare in that area. I photographed a few butterflies and we met back up with Martin. We did a bit more birding and decided to head back out to the entrance road. As we headed back to the car we flushed a Ruddy Quail-Dove.

We hadn't gone very far when we found another ant swarm. This one had five species of Woodcreepers, Ivory-billed, Ruddy, Olivaceous, Tawny-winged and Northern Barred. Ant-tangers were running everywhere. Martin found a Rufous Mourner, a real surprise, at least for me. A Squirrel Cuckoo came in, a bird I never tire of. Different flycatchers, including an Eye-ringed Flatbill, flitted around higher in the trees. It was very difficult to leave, but we were concerned about the gate being closed when we got back. We saw two more mammals, White-tailed Deer and Collared Peccaries, again, both commonly found in Texas. What the heck?

We worked our way back and were able to get through both gates with no problems. We arrived back at our hotel and had an excellent dinner. We discussed what we wanted to do the following day and decided to have a leisurely morning and leave for our next destination, Chichen Itza a bit later. I think we all slept very well.
Photos - www.flickr.com/photos/sngcanary/11172006624/in/set-72157638281416383

Bird list for the day-

Yellow-throated Euphonia     
Indigo Bunting               
Blue Grosbeak                
Gray-throated Chat           
Red-throated Ant-Tanager     
Red-crowned Ant-Tanager      
Summer Tanager               
Rose-throated Tanager        
Black-throated Green Warbler 
Magnolia Warbler             
Northern Parula              
American Redstart            
Hooded Warbler               
Common Yellowthroat          
Golden-winged Warbler        
Blue-winged Warbler          
Ovenbird                     
Gray Catbird                 
Clay-colored Thrush          
Swainson's Thrush            
Tropical Gnatcatcher         
White-bellied Wren           
Spot-breasted Wren           
Carolina Wren                
Yucatan Jay                  
Green Jay                    
Brown Jay                    
Lesser Greenlet              
Yellow-throated Vireo        
Mangrove Vireo               
White-eyed Vireo             
Masked Tityra                
Social Flycatcher            
Boat-billed Flycatcher       
Great Kiskadee               
Brown-crested Flycatcher     
Great Crested Flycatcher     
Rufous Mourner               
Least Flycatcher             
Eye-ringed Flatbill          
Northern Bentbill            
Ivory-billed Woodcreeper     
Northern Barred-Woodcreeper  
Ruddy Woodcreeper            
Tawny-winged Woodcreeper     
Olivaceous Woodcreeper       
American Kestrel            
Pale-billed Woodpecker       
Keel-billed Toucan           
Collared Aracari             
Wedge-tailed Sabrewing       
Yucatan Poorwill             
Common Pauraque              
Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl   
Squirrel Cuckoo              
Ruddy Quail-Dove             
Ruddy Ground-Dove            
Red-billed Pigeon            
Scaled Pigeon                
American Coot                
Roadside Hawk                
Turkey Vulture               
Ocellated Turkey             
Great Curassow               
Plain Chachalaca             
Slaty-breasted Tinamou