Tuesday, December 3, 2013
A Bit of Tourism, Then Back to Birding.
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
Black-throated Green Warbler
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture
Little Blue Heron
American White Pelican