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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Mexico: The Yucatan and Cozumel

2016 Narrative

For such a short tour, we packed in the sightings and wonderful experiences in the Yucatan peninsula and on Cozumel Island. Among the more than 230 species of birds in six days, a bold and inquisitive Ruddy Crake on Cozumel was the group’s favorite sighting, and an even more confiding Cozumel Raccoon that same afternoon will be remembered fondly. Cozumel Emerald also scored high, as we saw this glittering gem very well several times in our one full day here. Cozumel also had other highlights, such as Swainson’s Warbler, Yellow (Golden) Warbler, and Western Spindalis. Our morning boat ride through the Río Lagartos estuary and mangroves was delightful, highlighted by blindingly pink American Flamingos. A Turquoise-browed Motmot on a power line, a family of Yucatan Wrens building their nest, and blindingly colorful Painted Buntings earlier that same morning were also among the tour favorites. The incredibly birdy Vigia Chico road was worth every visit, and one of our first stops featured a huge Pale-billed Woodpecker that foraged for several minutes at close range, and other highlights from there making the list of favorites were Mottled Owl, Common Pauraque, Royal Flycatcher, and Green-backed Sparrow. Finally, beautiful Yucatan Jays and Yellow-throated Warblers, seen almost every day of the tour and also very well, made it to the short list of favorite birds. We also identified more than thirty species of butterfly, such as the Mayan Crescent, a fitting name as we wandered the Maya ruins of Tulum and Chichén Itzá, admiring the structures and pondering the history between distractions provided by birds.

Our first morning’s first stop (after admiring a Peregrine Falcon outside our hotel) provided us with our only Yellow-backed Oriole in a nice mixed flock that also included Black-cowled and Orange Orioles. A Yucatan Jay having just caught a Giant Red-winged Grasshopper was perched on a powerline nearby. At the botanical gardens we had quite a few Yucatan Vireos, among our best views on the tour, as well as a feeding pair of Bright-rumped Attilas and Green Jays. Multiple Yellow-throated Warblers were in our lunch restaurant as well as in the ruins of Tulum, where we had our best views of Yucatan Jay, Cinnamon Hummingbird, and Palm Warblers amongst the Spiny-tailed Iguanas and throngs of tourists. We finished the day at the Vigia Chico road, where we saw the confiding Pale-billed Woodpecker and heard two Yucatan Poorwills at close range, as well not-so-eager Mottled and Vermiculated Screech-Owls. A huge moth flopping about on the road in the headlights turned out to be the little known Metzl’s Io Moth, Automeris metzli.

It was wonderful to experience dawn and dusk in the great habitat along the Vigia Chico Road. A very close Barred Antshrike came in at a clearing where we also saw both White-fronted and Yellow-lored Parrots. A Black-faced Antthrush (someday to be split as Mayan Antthrush) was coaxed to walk part way across the road, the first one we’ve ever seen on this tour. Single Gray-throated Chat of each sex were finally seen, and we lucked into a calling Yucatan Flycatcher in the late morning. In the afternoon a flurry of activity in the open country was a bit overwhelming, and here we found a Yucatan Woodpecker and several Blue Buntings among the wintering passerines from North America. Then as it fell dark locally rare Crested Guans began calling in the distance (a write-in on our decade-old master list), Thicket Tinamous whistled from several directions, and at least four Common Pauraques bounced on the road and sallied out for insects. The same Mottled Owl heard the night before finally cooperated and sat long enough for us to get good views.

We had one last morning on the Vigia Chico road, starting at the big clearing at 14.2 kilometers. A pair of Lesson’s Motmots tantalized us while a Northern Barred-Woodcreeper finally made itself visible to everyone. A pair of Lineated Woodpeckers were on a prominent snag in the distance while we heard a single song phrase of a Sepia-capped Flycatcher, another new one for the cumulative bird list. Canivet’s Emerald finally did more than just zip through like a spark, and couple Black-throated Green Warblers also performed better than ones glimpsed on previous days. We finally got a Golden-olive Woodpecker to perch where we could watch it through the scope, and one of the probable owners of the used Royal Flycatcher nest along the road was briefly seen in a mixed flock just a bit farther down the road. We made one last stop for a “big bird” mixed flock that had our only Plain Chachalacas, Brown Jays, and a Squirrel Cuckoo that tried unsuccessfully to dislodge one of the Giant Red-winged Grasshoppers. On our way to Valladolid, we made a sudden comfort stop at an old cemetery, drumming up a nice mob of birds at the same time, including our best views of Tropical Gnatcatcher.

We had a very full day on the northern coast of Yucatan, well worth the early start. Yucatan Wrens were easier than usual, including at least three groups, one which we watched for some time as they added material to their nest in a dense shrub right next to the main road. Northern Cardinals and Painted Buntings added color to the early morning’s flocks, as did the fancy Turquoise-browed Motmot on the power line. As we headed back to town for the boat trip we stopped for Black-throated Bobwhite that had flushed across the road. We ended up only with a couple glimpses of them in flight as we watched two Yucatan Jays hopping around in the short cactus and agaves out in the open. On the boat trip the almost plastic American Flamingos moved around enough for us to believe they were real, and our boatmen worked hard to get us a Boat-billed Heron as well as a stately Bare-throated Tiger-Heron perched in the mangroves. We had a quick glimpse of an American Pygmy Kingfisher flying deep into the mangroves, saw several Yellow (Mangrove) Warblers, spied our only Forster’s Tern and Marbled Godwits, and watched pair of Northern Raccoons catching crabs up to their bellies in water (but with their tails held high) at the edge of the mangroves. After lunch we added a few more shorebirds such as Wilson’s and Snowy Plovers and Sanderling, but we were stymied by new gates on the salt pond dikes. The Mangrove Swallows, joined by a single Barn Swallow, were on the exact same wires as a year ago. A Laughing Falcon on a power pole by the highway on the way back to Valladolid did us a favor by staying put when we pulled over and got the scope on it, and a little pond by the roadside contained our only Lesser Yellowlegs and Wilson’s Snipe of the tour, along with a few other water birds.

Our early morning at Hacienda San Miguel was chock full of birds – more than 50 species in an hour and a half, including many orioles, our first seen Black-headed Saltators, and good views of Tropical Pewee, Greenish Elaenia, and Ivory-billed Woodcreeper. The throat of a male Rose-throated Becard in the morning sunlight glowed with an unmatched intensity. We then strolled through Chichén Itzá for more than a couple hours, getting even better looks at Greenish Elaenia and Ivory-billed Woodcreeper while adding Masked Tityra and spying two Bat Falcons in flight. Birding would have been over for the day except for a fruiting fig tree at the hotel courtyard where Blue-gray Tanagers were joined by our only Baltimore and Orchard Orioles of the tour. We just barely made the 4:00 p.m. ferry to Cozumel, which gave us at least an hour more sleep than in past years. The lively band on the ferry helped pass the time as we weren’t allowed on the upper deck to scan for birds, even though the seas were relatively calm.

Cozumel Emerald was the first endemic to appear at El Cedral, and we ended up with great views of both males and females. Abundant flowers also provided sightings of Green-throated Mango here. Two Cozumel Vireos were also along this road as was a very cheeky Cozumel Wren whose scolding drummed up quite a mixed mob of passerines. We were lucky to find a fruiting tree favored by several Western Spindalis, and by just waiting we eventually had good views of this spectacular endemic subspecies. Once we were in the woods, playing song or call note of Swainson’s Warbler resulted in one or two birds responding every time, with as many as nine individuals for the morning. Most people ended up with decent views of one or two, but the birds were very shy as usual. In the afternoon we checked some ponds at the Cozumel Country Club to pad the list with several water birds, including American Coot, Northern Jacanas, Black-bellied Plover, and Black-bellied Whistling-Duck. It was here that a Ruddy Crake walked way up on top of the dead cattails, later joined by three other birds in a chorus of trilling. We also saw some passerines here, such as our only Yellow-rumped Warblers and our best views of Yellow (Golden) Warbler. We finished the day with the Cozumel Raccoons taking bread scraps at Isla de Pasión.

We had one last very short outing on the day of our departures, but it was worth it. Besides hearing yet another Swainson’s Warbler, we saw the endemic subspecies of Rufous-browed Peppershrike and finished with a Caribbean Elaenia, a fine last species to add to the list.       

- Rich Hoyer 

Created: 13 December 2016